What Does It Mean To Be Lutheran
We're a Reformation Church
Lutherans are Christians whose faith is guided by the teachings of Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the Reformation of the church in the 1500's. In the 1500's the church featured many different ways for Christians to earn the blessing of eternal life.
But Luther taught that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we can see that God already loves us. That's the Good News of God's Grace! That's the Gospel! Lutherans are grateful that faith in God's Grace is what gives them hope for the blessing of eternal life.
Luther taught that faith is not something we have naturally; it's not something we can "do" on our own. Otherwise faith would be just another thing we could "do" to earn the blessing of eternal life. Luther taught that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who uses every word of the Gospel we hear (or see) to create faith in us.
Lutherans believe God’s Holy Spirit arrives in our lives in our Baptism and that the Holy Spirit never gives up trying to create faith in us. Lutherans believe Baptism is one of two sacraments. Sacraments are
- Visible ways that our invisible God comes to us to bless us
- that Jesus specifically commanded Christians to continue to do.
- For Lutherans, the other sacrament is Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is based on the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples. (Think famous painting of Jesus and his disciples all sitting on one side of a table.) Jesus asked his disciples to continue to gather for this meal, because he promised to be there with them to offer them forgiveness. Because let's face it: there's lots of times when we're just like the disciples: we run away from Jesus, we deny we know him (like Peter), or maybe like Judas, we'd like to get rid of Jesus altogether. Still, Jesus wanted all his disciples there. To eat a meal with someone in Jesus' day was to offer love and friendship. Jesus is at Holy Communion at Grace Lutheran for every regularly scheduled worship service offering that love still. To you.
Saints and Sinners
Jesus' loving welcome in Holy Communion is an example of the Gospel. We hear the Gospel a lot in Christian worship, especially in the sermon, but also in the words of confession and forgiveness at the beginning of our service and the liturgical music* and hymns we sing throughout the service. Lutherans believe we need to keep on hearing the Gospel, because Lutherans believe we are always both saints and sinners, always loved by God but at the same time always not perfect, always in need for forgiveness from God for our sins, our failures, our doubts.
*Liturgical music: the words of liturgical music are mostly from the bible; some of the words were used in worship in the days of the Old Testament! These words have been set to many different kinds of music over the years, and the church has been singing them in worship for at least 1000 years, often longer!
What is sin? For many Lutherans, sin is defined by Jesus' interpretation of the Ten Commandments. When we fail to obey the Ten Commandments as Jesus taught them, we are failing to obey God. One example of how Jesus taught the Ten Commandments can be found in Matthew 5:21-48. There Jesus teaches being angry with someone is pretty much like murdering them. That's because murder comes from that "I'm angry at you" part of our hearts. Another example of how Jesus taught the Ten Commandments is that they're best summarized as a command to love God and to love one's neighbor as much as one loves one's Self. Failure to love God and neighbor is sin. Luther's teachings about the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism are a great way of restating how Jesus taught the Ten Commandments. All these teachings show us that it's impossible for us be perfect in God's sight. We're always saints and sinners.
Finally. Lutherans believe the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds correctly define who God is, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is. Jesus of Nazareth was a human being in whom God was fully present to welcome the whole world into his family. Religious people and governmental officials arranged to have Jesus executed. In this way, Jesus died trying to offer us the Gospel, trying to offer us the welcome, forgiveness, and healing we need from God. Jesus' disciples believed Jesus was raised from the dead to lead them to continue to bring the Gospel to the whole world. Jesus' disciples believed that the Holy Spirit came to them on Pentecost Day to give them the power they needed to accomplish this tremendous mission!
Lutherans gratefully believe that Jesus' sacrifice is what gave them a place in God's family. We can’t earn the blessing of being called God’s daughter or son. It’s a gift of God’s love and grace in Jesus that makes us so. Gratitude for this gift motivates us to try to live obedient to the Ten Commandments as Jesus and Luther taught them and to try to follow Jesus in bringing the Gospel to the whole world.