Our Lutheran Heritage

Posted by on Nov 18, 2010 | No Comments

Germany in 1517

Lutheranism, a major Protestant denomination, originated as a 16th-century movement led by Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony.  In posting his 95 Theses outlining practices of the church which deeply troubled Luther, it was his intent to bring about a discussion and eventual reformation of the Western Christian church. Luther and his followers were excommunicated by the pope, leading to the development of a number of separate national and territorial churches, thus initiating the breakup of the organizational unity of Western Christendom.

The term Lutheran was deplored by Luther and was initiated by his detractors as an insult.  The church originally called itself the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession or simply the Evangelical Church. The church grew rapidly in Germany and into the Scandinavian countries. As a result of the missionary movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, Lutheranism has become a worldwide communion of Christians and the largest Protestant denomination in the world, with about 63 million members.  You may ask, “How can this be? Aren’t the Baptists much larger as a denomination?”

This can be easily explained when you realize there are more Lutherans in Germany alone than there are Baptists in all of the United States. Many northern European countries are heavily Lutheran. What may also surprise you is that there are almost as many Lutherans in Africa now as there are in the United States. All of this growth is due to the missionary work which is still very important to the Lutheran Church.

The Singing Church

Lutherans are noted for their rich musical heritage and often have been referred to as “the singing church.” Luther himself loved music and was responsible for writing many hymns which are still being sung today. His most famous hymn is, without a doubt, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” for which he wrote both text and music. (Some traditions also credit Martin Luther with  initiating the use of the Christmas tree, but there is really no way to verify the legend which states that he was most awestruck by stars twinkling through the branches of an evergreen tree.) Lutherans are probably responsible for bringing four part harmony to Georgia in the form of hymns that were sung in parts.

Famous early Lutheran musicians include:
Johann S. Bach, George F. Handel, Felix Mendelssohn

Johann S. Bach, George F. Handel, Felix Mendelssohn


The Lutheran church defines itself as “the assembly of believers among which the Gospel is preached and the Holy Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (Augsburg Confession, VII). From the beginning, therefore, the Bible was central to Lutheran worship, and the sacraments were reduced from the traditional seven to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. According to the Lutheran reading of the Scriptures, only these two were instituted by Christ. Worship was conducted in the language of the people (not in Latin as had been the Roman Catholic tradition), and preaching was stressed. Lutheranism did not radically change the structure of the medieval mass, but its use of vernacular language enhanced the importance of the sermons, which were based on the daily Scriptures, and encouraged congregational participation in worship, especially through the singing of the liturgy and of hymns.

Though many Lutheran churches today offer contemporary worship services, there is still always the thread of liturgy that runs through their structure. This is the heritage treasured by Lutherans.

In the Lutheran celebration of the Eucharist, the elements of bread and wine are given to all communicants, whereas Roman Catholics had allowed the wine only to priests. In contrast to other Protestants, Lutherans affirm the real bodily presence of Christ “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper. Christ is sacramentally present for the communicant in the bread and the wine because of the promise he gave at the institution of Holy Communion, when he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:26-28).