What We Believe

Christian First

A Lutheran is first and foremost a Christian. Our "Lutheran" forebears were the first "Protestants," trying to reform the church in their age. Perhaps the best way of defining who we are as Lutherans is to say that we are Christians in the Lutheran tradition.

What You Need to Know About the Lutheran Church

Just about 500 years ago in Germany, Martin Luther led a movement to reform the church. Because of Luther's creative and charismatic work in the Reformation movement he came to be known as the Father of Protestantism.  After becoming an Augustinian monk and a priest, while continuing his studies in pursuit of a Doctor of Theology degree, Luther discovered significant differences between what he read in the Bible and the teaching and practices of the church.  On October 31, 1517, he posted a challenge on the church door at Wittenberg University to debate 95 theological issues (now commonly referred to as the "95 Theses").  Luther's hope was that the church would reform its practice and preaching to be more consistent with the Word of God as he saw in his reading of Holy Scripture.

What started as an academic debate escalated beyond that, as so often happens in the debate of religious doctrine and practice.  As a result, there was not a reformation of the church but a separation.  "Lutheran" was a name applied to Luther and his followers as an insult, but was wholeheartedly seen by those seeking change as a badge of honor instead.

Lutherans still consider themselves as a reforming movement within the Church catholic, rather than a separatist movement, and Lutherans have engaged in ecumenical dialogue with other church bodies for decades.  In fact, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has entered into cooperative "full communion" agreements with several other Protestant denominations and has reached recent consensus with the Roman Catholic Church on many issues that centuries ago seemed to divide us.

Luther's theological work, especially the Small Catechism, which contains teachings on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion and Morning and Evening Prayers, is still used to introduce people to Christian faith as understood through the Lutheran tradition. The primary Lutheran confessional documents included in the Book of Concord from the Reformation period may be ordered from the ELCA Publishing House at 800/328-4648 or www.augsburgfortress.org.

"Is Lutheranism the Only True Religion?"

"Do Lutherans believe theirs is the only true religion?" This question was once put to the late Dr. Elson Ruff, editor of The Lutheran.  His answer was, "Yes, but Lutherans don't believe they are the only ones who have it.  There are true Christian believers in a vast majority of the churches, perhaps in all."  The ELCA Confession of Faith says "This church confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe ..." Lutherans continue to have an important perspective on the purpose and work of Jesus Christ in whom we find salvation, peace and purpose for our lives.

How Do Lutherans Look Upon the Bible?

To borrow a phrase from Luther, the Bible is "the manger in which the Word of God is laid."  While Lutherans recognize differences in the way the Bible should be studied and interpreted, it is accepted as the primary and authoritative witness to the church's faith.  Written and transcribed by many authors over a period of many centuries, the Bible bears remarkable testimony to the mighty acts of God in the lives of people and nations.  In the Old Testament is found the vivid account of God's covenant relationship to Israel. In the New Testament is found the story of God's new covenant with all of creation in Jesus.

The New Testament is the proclamation of those in the early church who first understood who Jesus was in his life, death and Resurrection.  As such, it is the authority for Christian faith and practice.  The Bible is thus not a definitive record of history or science. Rather, it is the record of the drama of God's saving care for creation throughout the course of history.

What Must a Person Do to Become a Lutheran?
To become a Lutheran, only Christian Baptism and instruction in the Christian faith is required.  If you are already baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, some churches ask you to attend a membership class in a Lutheran congregation and thus signify your desire to become a part of its community.  Everyone joining or transferring to Bethlehem is invited to participate in our Journey of Faith process. For more information click here.