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branch of Protestantism that arose as a result of the ReformationReformation,
religious revolution that took place in Western Europe in the 16th cent. It arose from objections to doctrines and practices in the medieval church (see Roman Catholic Church) and ultimately led to the freedom of dissent (see Protestantism).
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, whose religious faith is based on the principles of Martin LutherLuther, Martin,
1483–1546, German leader of the Protestant Reformation, b. Eisleben, Saxony, of a family of small, but free, landholders. Early Life and Spiritual Crisis

Luther was educated at the cathedral school at Eisenach and at the Univ.
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, although he opposed such a designation. When Luther realized that the reforms he desired could not be carried out within the Roman Catholic Church, he devoted himself to questions of faith rather than form in the new Evangelical churches that developed. His was the conservative attitude, as distinguished from the views of the Reformed (Calvinistic) communions.


Luther's major departures from Roman Catholic doctrine rest on these beliefs: the Scriptures contain the one necessary guide to truth, and it is the right of the individual to reach God through them with responsibility to God alone; salvation comes through faith alone, available to humanity through the redeeming work of Christ; and the sacraments are valid only as aids to faith. The principal statements of faith are found in Luther's two catechisms, the unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Schmalkald Articles, and the Formula of Concord. These are all included in the Book of Concord (1580). Baptism was necessary for spiritual regeneration, but no form was specified. The sacrament of the Lord's SupperLord's Supper,
Protestant rite commemorating the Last Supper. In the Reformation the leaders generally rejected the traditional belief in the sacrament as a sacrifice and as an invisible miracle of the actual changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ
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 was retained, but the doctrine of transubstantiation was rejected.

As to the manner of worship, Luther chose to retain altars and vestments; he prepared an order of liturgical service, but with the understanding that no church was bound to follow any set order. There is today no uniform liturgy belonging to all branches of the Lutheran body; characteristically, however, an important place is given to preaching and congregational singing.

Because of Luther's conservatism and the political conditions of 16th-century Germany, the Lutheran churches originated as territorial churches, subject to the local princes. The local organization still has the most important place in church polity, but there is a growing tendency toward a more organized church.

Lutheranism has traditionally stressed education, and there are many Lutheran schools, colleges, and seminaries throughout the world. Since the mid-18th cent., Lutherans have had a program of Christian service for women called the Deaconess movement. The world membership of Lutherans is nearly 74 million.


In Europe

The history of Lutheranism in Europe is generally divided into several distinct periods. The first period, from 1520 to 1580, was one of doctrinal consolidation. Doctrinal disputes, especially that concerning antinomianismantinomianism
[Gr.,=against the law], the belief that Christians are not bound by the moral law, particularly that of the Old Testament. The idea was strong among the Gnostics, especially Marcion.
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, began during Luther's lifetime, but became more heated after his death, when the controversy raised by Andreas OsianderOsiander, Andreas
, 1498–1552, German reformer. His original name was Hosemann or Heiligmann. Ordained a priest in 1520, Osiander joined the cause of the Reformation in 1522.
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 over the meaning of Christ's death on the cross shook the whole German Evangelical Church. The opposing factions were the strict Lutherans, who refused any compromise with Rome or Calvinism, and the moderate wing, headed by Philip MelanchthonMelanchthon, Philip
, 1497–1560, German scholar and humanist. He was second only to Martin Luther as a figure in the Lutheran Reformation. His original name was Schwarzerd [Ger.,=black earth; "melanchthon" is the Greek rendering of "black earth"].
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, who strove for reconciliation.

The period from 1580 to 1700 was called "the age of orthodoxy." Almost exclusive emphasis was put on right doctrine, and faith was understood as intellectual assent. During the early years of the 17th cent., Germany was racked by the Thirty Years WarThirty Years War,
1618–48, general European war fought mainly in Germany. General Character of the War

There were many territorial, dynastic, and religious issues that figured in the outbreak and conduct of the war.
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, and Lutheranism lost much of its territory. Religious boundaries were stabilized by the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which maintained that with slight exceptions the religion of the prince was to be the religion of his subjects. The latter part of the century saw a reaction against the prevailing orthodoxy in the form of PietismPietism
, a movement in the Lutheran Church (see Lutheranism), most influential between the latter part of the 17th cent. and the middle of the 18th. It was an effort to stir the church out of a settled attitude in which dogma and intellectual religion seemed to be supplanting
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In 1817, Frederick William III of Prussia sought to merge forcibly the Lutheran and Reformed churches of Prussia into a single organization called the Prussian Union. Some conservative Lutherans opposed this move and withdrew from the union to found the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Prussia as a free church. After World War I, the churches were no longer governed by state laws but still received state support.

In the unification of German culture under the Nazi regime, the church did not escape. In 1933 a national organization, the German Evangelical Church, was formed. Under the direction of the Nazi party it tried to develop a national racial church, with pure Aryan blood as a prerequisite for membership. A revolt against this movement, led by Martin NiemoellerNiemoeller or Niemöller, Martin
, 1892–1984, German Protestant churchman. He studied theology after distinguishing himself as a submarine commander in World War I.
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, resulted in the founding of the Confessing ChurchConfessing Church,
Ger. Bekennende Kirche, German Protestant movement. It was founded in 1933 by Martin Niemoeller as the Pastors' Emergency League and was systematically opposed to the Nazi-sponsored German Christian Church.
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 and the formation of the Confessional Synod, which issued (1934) its declaration rejecting the Reich's interference with the church.

The end of the war saw the formation of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKID), which is made up of members of both Lutheran and Reformed churches, and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD), which functions as an expressly Lutheran constituency within the EKID. German churches have also cooperated wholeheartedly in the formation of the Lutheran World Federation (1947) and the World Council of Churches. The Lutheran Church is the established state church of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Finland; Sweden disestablished its Lutheran state church in 2000.

In North America

In North America, Lutherans from the Netherlands were among the settlers on Manhattan island in 1625. A congregation was formed there in 1648, but it was antedated by one established (1638) by Swedish settlers at Fort Christina (Wilmington) on the Delaware River. On nearby Tinicum Island the first Lutheran church building in the country was dedicated in 1646. Early in the 18th cent. exiles from the Palatinate established German Lutheran churches in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. The Salzburger migration to Georgia (1734) introduced Lutheranism in the South.

In the 18th cent., organization of the churches was begun by Heinrich Melchior MühlenbergMühlenberg, Heinrich Melchior
, 1711–87, American Lutheran clergyman, b. Germany, educated at Göttingen and at Halle. He arrived (1742) in Pennsylvania to serve as pastor of several congregations in and near Philadelphia, but he soon became the leader of all the
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, who brought about the formation (1748) in Pennsylvania of the first synod in the country. The Synod of New York and adjoining states followed (1786); that of North Carolina was created in 1803. With the settlement of the Midwest, the West, and the Northwest, many small synods were formed by Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and other national groups.

Once there were about 150 distinct Lutheran bodies, but in 1918 many of the autonomous Lutheran bodies merged into the United Lutheran Church of America. The Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, formed in 1872, broke up in 1960, when the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (with almost 400,000 members, now the third largest Lutheran group in the United States) withdrew. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, with some 2.5 million members, was also formerly part of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. It is now the second largest group of Lutherans. The American Lutheran Church, formed in 1961, and the Lutheran Church in America, formed in 1962, united to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988, now the largest Lutheran group, with nearly 4.8 million members. These groups comprise about 95% of North American Lutherans. In an ecumenical spirit, the Evangelical Lutheran's Churchwide Assembly agreed (1997) on a full communion with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America, and it reached a similar agreement with the Episcopal Church and the Moravian Church in 1999.


See A. R. Wentz, The Lutheran Church in American History (2d ed. rev. 1933); L. P. Qualben, The Lutheran Church in Colonial America (1940); E. Vermeil et al., The Churches in Germany (1949); J. Pelikan, From Luther to Kierkegaard (1950, repr. 1963); A. K. Swihart, Luther and the Lutheran Church (1960); J. H. Bodensieck, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church (3 vol., 1965); E. C. Nelson, Lutheranism in North America (rev. ed. 1980); E. W. Gritsch, Fortress Introduction to Lutheranism (1993).

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Martin Luther, German priest, reformer, and founder of Lutheranism, painted c. 1529. The Art Archive/Galleria degli Uffizi Florence/Dagli Orti.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

When Martin Luther (1483-1546) led the charge away from the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation (see Christianity, Development of), he was not interested in practical reform as much as doctrinal reform. He was appalled at the corruption in the Church, but that was not his main criticism. He was convinced that correct action could only follow correct belief. But within that correct belief, he recognized that there was room for disagreement.

Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), for instance, was a close friend of quite a different temperament who argued many of the same doctrinal points as Luther but was quiet enough not to be confrontational to the point of divisiveness. Luther considered his task in life to "remove the great boulders and cut down the trees," letting the more patient Melanchthon come behind to "plow and sow."

So after Luther's death, it was Melanchthon who carried out the interpretation of Lutheran theological thought. His systematic theology, commonly called Loci Theologici, became the standard "Lutheran" textbook of the times.

That caused problems, of course. This was, after all, a time of upheaval and religious argument. There were those who thought "Master Philipp," as Luther used to call him, had wandered from the path and was too close to the humanistic reform of Erasmus. Luther had rejected what he called "dirty reason." The Bible says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 16:25). Luther believed scripture had to come first, even if it seemed unreasonable. The big proving ground, as far as he was concerned, was in the answer to the question "How are we saved?" Luther was convinced we are saved from sin and accepted into heaven solely on the grounds of God's grace. There was simply no room for good works or "earning" salvation by being a good person. The book of James seemed to disagree, or at least to soften this position, but Luther believed James held a nebulous place in scripture, calling it "a right straw-ey epistle," or "an epistle of straw."

Some believed Melanchthon retreated too far from this position. Because there were other points of conflict as well, one of them concerning Christ's presence at the Communion (see Eucharist), in true Church tradition, a conference was held. This led to the Formula of Concord in 1577. The theological pattern following this declaration led to what is now known as Protestant scholasticism, a technical term that boils down to one point. Lutheran scholars believe Luther "got it right" and filter all doctrine through his lens. This position is summarized in the Book of Concord, a compilation of defining creeds, catechisms, and articles. This triumph of doctrinal correctness has led to a lot of storyteller Garrison Keillor's "Lutheran jokes" on the Prairie Home Companion radio show, but it is an important component in understanding why Lutherans hold their denominational ties so dearly. Lutheran church government, or "polity," tends to follow the original Roman Catholic organizational principle of the synod. This is a church deliberative body, originally a group of clergy, that decides policy and applies general canon law to particular situations. Presbyterian as well as Lutheran churches still follow this practice, as opposed to "congregational" church systems that emphasize local church autonomy (see Congregationalism). The synod has the authority to speak for the church. It is still common to hear Lutherans, before pronouncing judgment, exclaim, "What does synod say?"

On the other hand, church polity can lead to communication problems. In the 1990s, an extensive "pulpit and altar exchange" between Lutherans and members of the United Church of Christ, which practices congregational polity, almost broke down because some Lutherans couldn't quite figure out who spoke for the churches they were dealing with and wondered whether they had to each individual church.

To complicate matters, Lutherans do not comprise a single body. Within Lutheranism are various synods that operate independently of each other and differ on certain doctrinal points. Most Lutherans belong to one of two Lutheran denominations. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the sixth largest Christian denomination in the United States, and the conservative Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod is the tenth largest.

Despite the divisions, there is a traditional position that unites worshipers and makes them distinctly Lutheran. It is best summed up by a phrase coming right out of the Reformation: sola gratia (only grace), sola fide (only faith), and sola scriptura (only scripture). This is what traditional Lutheranism is all about. Only God's grace, experienced through faith and understood through the scriptures, can save humans from sin. Good works are a proof of salvation, not the means by which it occurs. The two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper, are defined and practiced not as simple memorial rituals but as unique means of grace through which God regenerates fallen humanity.

Lutherans, then, historically differentiate between law and Gospel. The law reveals God's wrath—"This is what you should be like. You have been tried in the balance and found wanting!" The Gospel reveals God's love—"But I love you anyway!" The Old Testament gave the law. The New Testament reveals God's love.

For Lutherans this is the central theological teaching and the essence of Christianity. All the rest comes later. Of course, there are other forces holding Lutherans together. Germany was the place Lutheranism began—its fatherland. When Germans and Scandinavians immigrated to America, it was only natural they would bring their faith with them. Worship services were conducted in their own language. It felt like home. This is the sense Garrison Keillor remembers in his Lake Wobegon material. He is not so much poking fun at Norwegian Lutherans in Minnesota as fondly remembering something meaningful. There is a shared tradition, an important tradition. It was the religion of both Johann Sebastian Bach and the everyman Midwestern farmer. It gave birth to the magnificent hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" as well as the rollicking "Good Christian Men Rejoice." It is carried out in great cathedrals and little prairie meeting houses.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the principal movements in Protestantism; it arose in Germany during the Reformation in the 16th century and was based on the teachings of Luther and his followers, including F. Melanchthon. Lutheranism spread to Scandinavia and to some other countries in the 16th century and later to a number of non-European countries, including the USA.

All of the main tenets of Protestantism were first formulated in Lutheranism, including the thesis of “justification by faith alone”—that is, without the mediating role of the clergy in the “salvation” of the believer—and the primacy of the Holy Scriptures. However, Lutheranism, allying itself with the power of the princes, implemented these teachings less consistently than bourgeois Calvinism. The Lutheran churches in the German Lutheran principalities were headed by the princes; in Scandinavia they were headed by the kings.

Rejecting the complex church hierarchy (headed by the pope), which was characteristic of the Catholic Church, as well as monasticism and the worship of saints, Lutheranism retained from Catholicism all that did not directly contradict the Holy Scriptures, such as the altar, cross, organ, and religious paintings (not icons). The two main sacraments were retained—baptism (carried out by sprinkling water over the infant) and communion. (The Catholic dogma of the sacrament of the Eucharist involved the transubstantiation, or transformation, of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and was replaced in Lutheranism by a similar teaching of consubstantiation, according to which the body and blood of Christ were mysteriously “present” in communion.) The rights of the church parish in Lutheranism are restricted. Supreme power is held by the bishops and archbishops, but their supremacy over rank-and-file believers and pastors, who head the Lutheran parishes, is only administrative, since there is in Lutheranism, in principle, no opposition between the clergy and laity, and every believer can, in principle, perform the service. In addition to the Holy Scriptures (the Bible), Lutheranism is based on the Book of Concord (1580), compiled from the Augsburg confession, Luther’s Apology, the Greater and Lesser Catechisms, and some other theological works.

Lutheranism is the largest branch of Protestantism and had approximately 75 million adherents in 1970 (approximately one-third of all Protestants), broken up into numerous independent churches, usually known as Evangelical Lutheran. The greatest number of Lutherans (approximately 37 million) live in the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland are Lutheran; there are approximately 20 million Lutherans in these countries, and the Lutheran churches are state churches. There are nine independent Lutheran churches with approximately 9 million believers in the USA. In the socialist countries, in addition to the GDR, there are Lutheran churches in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the USSR (the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, both headed by archbishops).

The Lutheran World Federation, founded in 1947, unites 82 Lutheran churches in 48 countries (1970). The Lutheran churches are members of the World Council of Churches, founded in 1948.


Chanyshev, A. N. Protestantizm. Moscow, 1969.
Vimmsaare, K. A. “O religioznoi ideologii sovremennoi liuteranskoi tserkvi.” In Kritika religioznoi ideologii. Moscow, 1961.
Lutheran Churches of the World. Minneapolis, 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.