WHAT DO LUTHERANS BELIEVE?
ABOUT OUR FAITH
Lutherans believe that they are a part of a faith community. The church is essential to Christian life and growth. It exists solely for the hearing and doing of God's Word. It can justify its existence only when it proclaims the living Word of Christ, administers the Sacraments and gives itself to the world in service and love. Most Lutherans recognize a wider fellowship of churches and are eager to work alongside them in ecumenical ministries and projects.
Martin Luther is known as the Father of Protestantism. While continuing studies in pursuit of a Doctor of Theology degree, he discovered significant differences between what he read in the Bible and the theology 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. Luther's hope was that the church would reform its practice and preaching to be more consistent with the Word of God as contained in the Bible.
What started as an academic debate escalated to a religious war, fueled by fiery temperaments and violent language on both sides. 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 adopted as a badge of honor by them instead.
Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation on October 31 and still hold to the basic principles of theology and practice espoused by Luther, such as Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura:
We are saved by the grace of God alone -- not by anything we do.
Our salvation is through faith alone -- we only need to believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who died to redeem us.
The Bible is the only norm of doctrine and life -- the only true standard by which teachings and doctrines are to be judged.
Scriptures and worship need to be done in the language of the people.
Many 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.
Luther's Small Catechism is still used to introduce people to the Lutheran faith, as is the Augsburg Confession. These and other Lutheran confessional documents included in the Book of Concord may be ordered from the ELCA Publishing House at (800) 328-4648.
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."
WHO IS JESUS CHRIST?
Jesus is God's son, chosen by God to become human like us. In his life and being he broke through the prison of sinfulness and thus restored the relationship of love and trust that God intended to exist between himself and his children. Though he is eternal, with God at the beginning of time, he was born on earth of a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was at once truly God and truly human.
The man, Jesus of Nazareth, lived and died in Palestine during the governorship of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate; and we believe him to be the Messiah chosen by God to show his love for the world. He is God, yet with all the limitations of being human. His relationship to God, however, was not one of sin but rather of perfect obedience to the Father's will. For the sake of a sinful world, Jesus was condemned to death on the cross.
But death could not contain him. On the third day after his execution, the day Christians observe as Easter, Jesus appeared among his followers as the risen, living Lord. By this great victory God has declared the Good News of reconciliation. The gap between all that separates us from our Creator has been bridged. Thus, Christ lives today wherever there are people who faithfully believe in him, and wherever the Good News of reconciliation is preached and the Sacraments administered.
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 founding the story of God's new covenant with all of creation in Jesus.
The New Testament is the first-hand proclamation of those who lived through the events of Jesus' 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 DO LUTHERANS BELIEVE ABOUT CREATION?
Lutherans believe that God is Creator of the universe. Its dimensions of space and time are not something God made once and then left alone. God is, rather, continually creating, calling into being each moment of each day.
Human beings have a unique position in the order of creation. As males and females created in God's image, we are given the capacity and freedom to know and respond to our creator. Freedom implies that we can choose either positively or negatively to respond to God. Doubtlessly, this is God's most generous gift to humankind.
"Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice," an ELCA Statement on caring for God's creation, is available from the ELCA Distribution Service (800) 328-4648 free (+ postage and handling). Order Code: 67-1185.
WHERE DO LUTHERANS STAND ON THE QUESTION OF SIN?
Lutherans believe that all people live in a condition which is the result of misused freedom. "Sin" describes not so much individual acts of wrongdoing as fractured relationships between the people of creation and God. Our every attempt to please God falls short of the mark. By the standard of the Law, of which the Ten Commandments are a classic summary, God expresses his just and loving expectations for creation, and our failure to live up to those expectations reveals only our need for God's mercy and forgiveness.
WHAT SACRAMENTS DO LUTHERANS ACCEPT?
Lutherans accept two Sacraments as God-given means for penetrating the lives of people with his grace. Although they are not the only means of God's self-revelation, Baptism and Holy Communions are visible acts of God's love.
In Baptism, and it can be seen more clearly in infant Baptism, God freely offers his grace and lovingly establishes a new community. In Holy Communion -- often called the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist -- those who come to the table receive in bread and wine the body and blood of their Lord. This gift is itself the real presence of God's forgiveness and mercy, nourishing believers in union with their Lord and with each other.
DO LUTHERANS BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER DEATH?
While there is much we do not and cannot know about life beyond the grave, Lutherans do believe that life with God persists even after death. Judgment is both a present and future reality, and history moves steadily towards God's ultimate fulfillment.
This of course is a great mystery, and no description of what life may be like in any dimension beyond history is possible. Anxiety for the future is not a mark of faith. Christians should go about their daily tasks, trusting in God's grace and living a life of service in his name.
WHAT MUST A PERSON DO TO BECOME A LUTHERAN?
To become a Lutheran, only Baptism and instructions in the Christian faith is required. If you are already baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it will be necessary only to attend a membership class in a Lutheran congregation and thus signify your desire to become a part of its community. Active members of other Lutheran congregations usually need only to transfer their membership.
Come To The Welcome Table A guide for preparing children to participate in Holy Communion.
Holy Communion at Redeemer Lutheran Church is offered to all baptized Christians, regardless of age or catechetical preparation. Parents are invited to discern with their children an appropriate age to begin their participation in Holy Communion. The Pastor and congregation will offer all needed support for this discernment process. Below are a list of questions that may be helpful to you during this important process.
AT WHAT AGE SHOULD MY CHILD PARTICIPATE IN HOLY COMMUNION?
This is a question many parents ask as they strive to raise their children in the church. Once we are baptized, regardless of our age, we are initiated into God's Church and welcome to receive Holy Communion. Once a child is born into God's family, that child is welcome to participate in Holy Communion. This represents a change for many of us as parents that may have had to wait until Confirmation or other instructional opportunities before receiving Holy Communion for the first time. Tradition at Redeemer begins Holy Communion with 3rd graders, younger children have received when prepared.
The decision to begin receiving Holy Communion is a decision to be made by parents along with their child. Parents should expect, and are freely offered, ample support from the congregation and pastor in making this important decision.
HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN MY CHILD IS READY?
The Lutheran answer to the question of "readiness" is as simple as this: God is ready for us! God longs for us. God seeks after us. At God's Welcome Table, we receive the real presence of Christ, we receive forgiveness, we are empowered by God's Holy Spirit to experience "new life." God's table is the birthright of the baptized.
Beginning at birth, children come to the communion rail every Sunday. At some point they begin to show interest in receiving Holy Communion. They hold out their hands for the bread, like those around them. Or they will begin to ask questions like: "Why can't I have some 'Jesus read'?" When they do this, children are telling us that they already know something very important about this holy meal. They understand that to eat the bread and drink the wine means that they are a part of God's family. It is only natural that they do not wish to be excluded from such an important event. Their desire presents an opportunity to discuss Holy Communion with them.
Has your child asked about Holy Communion? Have you asked your child if he/she wants Holy Communion? Does your child watch what you do at the communion rail and, perhaps, imitate your actions? Has your child put his/her hands out to receive? These are good signs that your child is ready.
HOW SHOULD I INSTRUCT MY CHILD WHEN THEY BEGIN TO SHOW SIGNS OF INTEREST IN HOLY COMMUNION?
How we learn and understand things changes throughout our development. As we grow in years, maturity and life experiences, our understanding of Holy Communion deepens and changes. God calls us to teach children (and people of all ages) on a level that they can understand.
When you sense a desire for Holy Communion (from your child or within yourself), talk to your child about it. Explain that Holy Communion is a very special time for our church family. When we eat the bread and drink the wine we know that Jesus is very near. Explaining what Holy Communion means should not be done just once, but on a regular basis. Family meal times might be a good time to talk about what Holy Communion means. Parents and older brothers and sisters can offer their own insights. Children should be encouraged to tell you what they think about Communion as well. Here are some conversation starters to help you in instructing your child:
Holy Communion is a celebration of Jesus' love. At the communion rail we remember Jesus' love. During Communion, God feeds us with God's love.
Parents provide food for us because they love us. God feeds us with this special food to remind us that God loves us.
Parents provide food for us because they love us. God feeds us with this special food to remind us that God loves us.
Food we eat at home helps our bodies to grow and give us energy. This special food helps us to grow in faith and gives us energy to do the good things that Jesus wants us to do.
When we misbehave, our parents become angry with us. It feels good to be hugged and reminded that our parents still love us. Holy Communion is a reminder that God forgives us any wrong that we have done. Like a hug, it tells us that God loves us and always will.
When we receive Holy Communion, we remember that Jesus gave his life for us on the cross. He shares this life with us each time we receive Holy Communion. This is why we say that we eat his body and drink his blood: because he gives us his life!
WHAT OTHER WAYS WILL MY CHILD LEARN ABOUT HOLY COMMUNION?
First and foremost, children learn from attending worship. At worship, they can see and be a part of the service and begin to understand what they are seeing, hearing, and saying. Additionally, from your actions and discussions with your child, he/she sees that Holy Communion is important and that participating in Holy Communion is something you do on a regular basis. Children recognize your reverence at the altar from your body language. For them to imitate you and your actions indicates that they have some understanding of Holy Communion's importance. This is evident in the youngest of our children, even before they have had any formal Christian education. ??As they grow in their faith, your child receives formal education about Holy Communion in several important ways including Sunday School classes, Holy Communion classes, Confirmation Classes, sermons, and retreats. These opportunities strive to increase their knowledge and understanding, using the foundation that you as a parent have laid. If you feel that your child might not receive adequate education about Holy Communion from you, don't worry: attending church and actively participating will provide your child with many opportunities to grow in their understanding of Holy Communion.
Please note: Formal preparation is an important part of learning about Holy Communion that everyone is encouraged and expected to participate in. It is NOT, however, a requirement for receiving Holy Communion. Every baptized Christian is called to learn throughout life.
WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE FOR PARENTS?
Our congregation has promised to be an active partner in the lifelong faith formation of every member. Helpful resources will be made readily available to assist families in the task of discernment. Parents are encouraged to seek support from one another and from other members of the congregation. This is a wonderful conversation to include others in as we grow in faith together! The pastor will also gladly offer assistance to any family discerning this important matter. Your own active participation in worship and adult faith formation programs (such as Sunday School and Bible Study/Spiritual Formation events) is also a valuable source of assistance.
HOW CAN WE MAKE FIRST COMMUNION SPECIAL?
Your child is welcome to begin receiving Holy Communion at any time. You may, however, want to mark their first Holy Communion with a special event. It may also be helpful to structure your discernment process around a particular schedule. For these reasons, Redeemer Lutheran Church will host an annual "First Communion Sunday" during the season of Easter. This event will always be preceded with age appropriate Holy Communion classes and formal preparation for the event.
Please note: these classes are NOT required prior to receiving Holy Communion. Children who begin receiving Holy Communion at other times during the year will also be invited to attend these classes and be recognized on "First Holy Communion Sunday". Even if it is not the very first time they have received Holy Communion, it is still reason for our family of faith to celebrate with them!
WHAT DOES THE LUTHERAN DENOMINATION SAY ABOUT HOLY COMMUNION?
Our denomination (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) includes the following in the doctrinal statement The Use of the Means of Grace (1997):
"Admission to the sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized."
"In all cases, participation in Holy Communion is accompanied by catechesis appropriate to the age of the communicant. When infants and young children are communed, the parents and sponsors receive instruction and the children are taught throughout their development."
"Catechesis, continuing throughout the life of the believer, emphasizes the sacrament as gift, given to faith by and for participation in the community. Such faith is not simply intellectual understanding but trust in God's promises given in the Lord's Supper"
"There is no command from our Lord regarding the age at which people should be baptized or first communed."
"The members of this church are encouraged to make the sacrament a frequent rather than an occasional part of their lives."
Making Communion open to all who are baptized makes a strong witness to what we, as Lutherans, believe about God's grace. We believe that the gifts we receive in Holy Communion are given freely by God. That is, that God doesn't demand that we earn or deserve them as the "price of admission". They are gifts to which God calls us as God's people. God meets each of us where we are and brings us to where God wants us to be. All God asks is that we believe that these gifts are "for us."
Communing younger children is Biblically sound, faithful to our Lutheran heritage, and clearly expresses the heart of the Gospel: the love of God given to all of us freely in Christ. It is an important way that we live out our mission together: To know Christ & make Christ known.
Jesus, our host at the table, told the disciples: "Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." [Mark 10:15]
If the kingdom belongs to them, it is right that they share the meal of the kingdom!
If you have any questions or concerns about preparing for or receiving Holy Communion, you are encouraged to share them with the pastor and other members of Redeemer Lutheran Church