- Lutheranism, a movement founded by Martin Luther (1483-1546) in the early 16th century, has in the 20th given birth to several hundred distinct Lutheran churches scattered in countries around the world. Though divided administratively and by national boundaries, they share a heritage based in Luther's experience of the grace of God and the saving faith it engendered, a faith provoked by his study of the Bible.In 1517, Luther, then a professor of theology at the University at Wittenberg, challenged church authorities over what he saw as the illegitimate practice of selling indulgences. As a result of the acrimonious debates that followed, in which Luther asserted the authority of the Bible over that of the church and the pope, the pope denounced and eventually excommunicated Luther. Luther responded with three long essays in 1520 that essentially defined the doctrines of what became the new Lutheran Church.Luther attacked the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, called for limiting the sacraments to two (baptism and the Lord's Supper) rather than the seven acknowledged by most Catholics, and championed the priesthood of all believers. He later elaborated his basic principles of scriptural authority and salvation by grace through faith alone.in 1521, Luther was condemned before the Diet of Worms, the secular body ruling the Holy Roman Empire, but he was supported by several German leaders. Those who stood with Luther founded the Lutheran or Evangelical Churches.The Lutheran Reformation came to dominate the northern regions of Germany. Luther, not a systematic thinker, bequeathed to the next generation the task of compiling a systemic theological presentation of the Lutheran position. A number of documents were written and compiled to that aim, including Luther's own Small Catechism (1529) and Large Catechism (1529); the Augsburg Confession of Faith (1530); Philip Melanc-thon's Apology for the Augsburg Confession (1531); the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537); the Schmalkald Articles (1537); and the Formula of Concord (1577). Together with the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles', Nicene, Athanasian), these documents were compiled into the Book of Concord (1580). Lutherans acknowledge the Bible as their only rule of doctrine and practice, but give special heed to the three ecumenical creeds, the Augsburg Confession, and Luther's catechisms as particularly accurate summaries of biblical truth.With the confessional statements in hand, Lutheran scholars of the 17th century developed the theology to the point of dogmatism, in the opinion of some critics. During the 18th century, there was a reaction known as Pietism. While not disregarding theology, Pietists placed more emphasis on personal religious experience and intimate church life. Today, Lutherans are characterized by their double emphasis upon word and sacrament, that is, to biblical authority and preaching coupled with liturgy and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.During the 19th century, Lutheran missionaries, many with Pietist backgrounds, and supported by missionary societies in Germany and scandinavia, carried Lutheranism around the world. in the 20th century, most of the missions they founded matured into independent Lutheran churches. At the same time, Europe became the center of two world wars, the last of which was particularly destructive of Lutheranism in Germany. The effort to rebuild war-ravaged Europe became the catalyst for Lutherans to come together in a new ecumenical endeavor, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). As the immediate issue of rebuilding Europe faded, the LWF emerged as the expression of Lutheran unity worldwide and launched a variety of international cooperative activities. The Lutheran World Federation has its headquarters in the same building that houses the World Council of Churches. While most Lutherans are related through the federation, more conservative Lutheran bodies have formed the International Lutheran Council.Further reading:■ E. Theodore Bachmann and Mercia Brenne Bachmann. Lutheran Churches in the World: A Handbook (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Press, 1989)■ J. H. Bodensieck, The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Press, 1965)■ Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, Vol. I: The Theology and Philosophy of Life of Lutheranism, Especially in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, trans. by Walter A. Hansen (St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia, 1962)■ W. H. Arnold and C. George Fry, The Way, The Truth, and the Life: An Introduction to Lutheran Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1982).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.