Beliefs and History

Lutherans are Christians who accept the teachings of Martin Luther (1483 – 1546). Luther was a German theologian who realized that there were significant differences between what he read in the Bible and the practices of the Roman Catholic church at that time. On October 31, 1517, he posted a challenge on the door of Wittenberg University, titled “95 Theses” (to debate 95 theological issues). His hope was that the church would reform its practice and preaching to be more consistent with the Word of God he experienced in the Bible.

What started as an academic debate escalated into a distinct separation between the Roman Catholic church of the time and those who accepted Luther’s suggested reforms. “Lutheran” became the name of the group that agreed with Luther’s convictions.

Today, nearly five centuries later, Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation on October 31 and still hold to the basic principles of Luther’s theological teachings, such as Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. These comprise the very essence of Lutheranism:

  • We are saved by the grace of God alone, God’s unconditional love — not by anything we do;
  • Our salvation is through faith alone — a relationship, a connection with God, who in Christ promises us life — life expressed in forgiveness and reconciliation, belonging and caring, being loved and sharing love, in the here and now not to mention in the future; and
  • The Bible is the norm for faith and life — a working, divine inspiraiton that also holds frankness found in life’s challenges, by which its teachings and principles might be lived out with humility and through God’s grace for the sake of all creation.

Because of Jesus Christ, we believe that Christians are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live our lives in service to the world. Through acts of love and justice, worship and witness, we seek to share God’s boundless love with the world.

As such, Lutherans are part of a reforming movement within the whole Christian church; as a part of practicing their faith, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its predecessors have engaged in ecumenical dialogue with other church bodies for decades. In fact, the ELCA has entered into cooperative “full communion” agreements (sharing common convictions about theology, mission and worship) with several other Protestant denominations, including:

  • the Moravian Church
  • the Episcopal Church
  • the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • the Reformed Church in America
  • the United Church of Christ
  • the United Methodist Church

The ELCA has an ongoing dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1999, representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. This represented a historic consensus on key issues of faith and called for further dialogue and study together.

In 2015, a joint effort between the Roman Catholic Church and the ELCA was developed and titled Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and the Eucharist.  This declaration draws together a litany of 32 consensus statements, where Catholics and Lutherans already have said there are not church-dividing differences between them.  You can find more details at: http://www.elca.org/Declaration-on-the-Way.  At the 2016 churchwide assembly, the ELCA overwhelmingly affirmed this collaborative project.

As a public church, we are called to address significant social issues that affect the common good. We seek to bring God’s justice not only in the world but also in the church. The social statements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are social policy documents, adopted by the churchwide assembly in accordance with our policies and procedures. Click here to find out our views around many social topics like immigration, sexuality and genetics to name a few.