Who are Lutherans?
Lutherans are Christians and they are found throughout the world! They represent the world's third largest block of Christians and are the oldest Protestants. There are nearly 70 million Lutherans living on every continent, speaking hundreds of languages. In the USA alone there are more than 12 million Lutheran Christians.
In 1517 a Catholic monk named Martin Luther posted a list of 95 thesis to protest various theological and practical abuses that existed in the church. (The background to this page is of this event.) This lead to a firestorm of theological discussion. Soon Luther and his followers would be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic Church and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire tried to prevent the spread of Luther's ideas, but to no avail. God's Word, and especially the Gospel, was being preached again and put into the hands of the common people, and nothing could stop this "reformation".
Martin Luther was the first voice in a long time, and the first to do so in a way that made a difference: to proclaim the Bible's teaching that people are saved not through their own works but through the forgiveness of their sins because of Christ's death on the cross. Luther's message could be summed up this way: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, because Christ died for us on the cross, which is declared through the Scriptures alone.
Luther was the first voice of the Protestant Reformation. Since his time, the clear proclamation of Christ's Gospel to the world has not been silenced.
The Roman Catholic church commanded Luther to retract his words, but instead Luther became a public voice calling for reform, saying and writing that the church should return to the Scripture and not be governed by human philsophies and human traditions. Luther was threatened with excommunication. In an act of defiance he burned the bull (a official document) symbolizing his break with the Roman Catholic tradition. Hence forth he would stand on Scripture alone.
The Holy Roman Emperor hoped to stop the revolt, and summoned Luther to a Diet (official gathering) at Worms in Germany in 1521. Once again Luther was ordered to recant. His response: here I stand. I can do nothing else. Following the Diet Luther went into hiding as his life was in danger. During this time he began translating the Bible into the common language. Luther also continued to write and his writing were published widely. These publications were very influential in leading people to Gospel and away from the errors of the Roman church.
Luther came out of hiding and returned to Wittenburg when some misguided leaders sought to bring reform by force in that town. These were not the only ones who sought to bring reform by force. 1524 saw the peasants revolt seeking to force reforms. Luther wrote against these revolts reminding all what the Scripture says about respecting government.
In 1526 the Catholics and the Lutherans met at Speyer coming to an agreement that if a regions prince was of a certain faith, that faith would be the one officially endorsed in the region.
1530 was a key year. The Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, once again called all parties together. Phillip Melangthon, a follower of Luther, composed a document called the Augsburg Confession to present the Lutheran confession of faith to the court. The Catholics responded with the "Confutation" to which Melangthon wrote "The Apology to the Augsburg Confession". (apology is from the latin word apologia meaning defense).
Eventually the Roman Catholics under the leadership of the emperor brought war against the Lutherans and other protestant churches. Though many were killed and much suffering caused, he could not triumph. In 1555 ws created what has been called "The Peace of Augsburg". This allowed those states that comprised the Roman Empire, to choose between Catholicism and Lutheranism. Hence Lutheranism became a "legal" religion of the empire.
Lutherans thorughout the world are descendents of this great movement: to depend on Scripture alone for our understandings relating to God, to trust in Jesus alone for our salvation, to trust in grace alone for Scripture declares no one shall be saved by works (Romans 3). In the Lutheran faith the ancient battle cry and confession still rings out: Scripture alone! Faith alone! Grace alone! Christ alone! In America many take for granted the ability to have the Bible in one's own language and the right to interpret it for oneself. In America, many believe the Bible is the only source for what we know about God. In America many people have come to trust that we get to heaven through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Lutherans were the first to rediscover these great truths. Lutherans were the first to proclaim these great truths to the world. Lutherans were the first to call for a return to the Bible and to Jesus, a call for Reformation. And Lutherans continue to stand on these truths and to call for return to the Scriptures and to the Lord whom they proclaim.
Lutherans are found throughout the world. How did they get to the US? Many came as immigrants. Some came as missionaries. And a small band of Saxons, some 750, fled Germany in 1839 seeking religious freedom, as the leader of Germany sought to force the Lutherans and the Reformed into once church body. These 750 Saxons would become the seeds of the 2.6 million member Missouri Synod.