What Lutherans Believe

An Introduction to Grace

What is a Lutheran?

Lutherans, along with Christians who worship in many other traditions, are part of the one, holy, catholic (meaning “universal”) church. We believe in God who is revealed to us in three persons: as our Creator who made the heavens and earth and all things in the earth; as Jesus Christ, God’s son, who came to us as both divine and as a human being to share our experience, suffer with us and for us on the cross, died, and rose from the dead; and as the Holy Spirit who continues to lead, guide, and inspire us in our daily lives. We baptize in the name of the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Bible is central to our faith. It provides us with the history that ties Christianity to its roots in the early Jewish tradition, gives us the prophecy that foretold the coming of Jesus as our Savior, includes the law that guides us in knowing how to live in a way that is pleasing to God and respectful of each other and God’s creation, and brings us the good news (gospel) that our frail and failing human condition finds its help and strength through Jesus.

We acknowledge that we are all sinners and fall short of God’s expectations for us…but also know that we are forgiven by God. It is not by any act of our own that we earn this forgiveness, but it is a gift to us from God who loves us and comes to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, the price of our sin was paid. Our faith in Jesus Christ assures that we will share in the promise of eternal life.

Jesus said, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” –John 11:25-26

The concept of being set right with God through faith in Jesus Christ is called “justification by grace through faith.”

Our faith can be summed up as: 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.

More information on this topic is available at the ELCA website.

Meet Martin Luther

Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German friar, priest and professor of theology who was a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation. Initially an Augustinian friar, Luther came to reject several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor.

Luther taught that salvation and subsequently eternity in heaven is not earned by good deeds but is received only as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin and subsequently eternity in hell. His theology challenged the authority and office of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood. Those who identify with these, and all of Luther’s wider teachings, are called Lutherans even though Luther insisted on Christian as the only acceptable name for individuals who professed Christ. Today, Lutheranism constitutes a major branch of Protestant Christianity with some 80 million adherents, while Protestantism itself is represented by an estimated more than 800 million people worldwide.

Source: Wikipedia.org

We are Lutheran

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton talks about what it means to be a Lutheran in this 2018 Synod Assembly video, “We are Lutheran.” This video is also available in Spanish.

Rick Steves “Luther and the Reformation”

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is not only a time for reflection on the rich history of this church, but also a chance to look forward to what lies ahead for all of us. It’s an exciting time to be Lutheran as we come together with the Roman Catholic Church on the foundation of our common heritage. Rick Steves’ “Luther and the Reformation” is a wonderful resource for all of us – pastors and lay people alike – to better understand our Lutheran roots and help us in our continued journey of understanding the Gospel. I invite you to stream and share this video with your congregation and use the discussion questions to help guide a conversation in your community.

Thank you to Rick Steves for generously giving all members of the ELCA access to “Luther and the Reformation.”


Elizabeth Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

ELCA Teaching

The ELCA confesses the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In our preaching and teaching the ELCA trusts the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.

ELCA teaching or theology serves the proclamation and ministry of this faith. It does not have an answer for all questions, not even all religious questions. Teaching or theology prepares members to be witnesses in speech and in action of God’s rich mercy in Jesus Christ.

Scriptures, Creeds and Confessions

The ELCA’s official Confession of Faith identifies the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (commonly called the Bible); the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds; and the Lutheran confessional writings in the Book of Concord as the basis for our teaching. ELCA congregations make the same affirmation in their governing documents, and ELCA pastors promise to preach and teach in accordance with these teaching sources. This Confession of Faith is more than just words in an official document. Every Sunday in worship ELCA congregations hear God’s word from the Scriptures, pray as Jesus taught and come to the Lord’s Table expecting to receive the mercies that the Triune God promises. Throughout the week ELCA members continue to live by faith, serving others freely and generously in all that they do because they trust God’s promise in the Gospel. In small groups and at sick beds, in private devotions and in daily work, this faith saturates all of life.

Teaching for a life of faith

This connection to all of life is the clearest demonstration of the authority that the canonical Scriptures, the ecumenical Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions have in the ELCA. The Holy Spirit uses these witnesses to create, strengthen and sustain faith in Jesus Christ and the life we have in him. That life-giving work continues every day, as Martin Luther explained in the Small Catechism: the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

The Topics of the Day

Our parent church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also referred to as “churchwide,” has developed social messages and social statements on a variety of important, relevant topics that effect people living in the United States and around the world. The social messages and statements reflect and inform the thought and policy of the church.

ELCA Social Messages

Social messages of the ELCA are topical documents adopted by the ELCA Church Council to focus attention and action on timely, pressing matters of social concern to the church and society. They are used to address pressing contemporary concerns in light of the prophetic and compassionate traditions of Scripture and do not establish new teaching or policy. Rather, they build upon previously adopted teaching and policy positions, especially from social statements.

ELCA Social Statements

ELCA social statements are teaching and policy documents that provide broad frameworks to assist us in thinking about and discussing social issues in the context of faith and life. They are meant to help communities and individuals with moral formation, deliberation and thoughtful engagement with current social issues as we participate in God’s work in the world. Social statements also set policy for the ELCA and guide its advocacy and work as a publically engaged church. They result from an extensive process of participation and deliberation and are adopted by a two-thirds vote of an ELCA Churchwide Assembly.