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LUTHERANISM. Among all the major individual varieties of Latin Christianity to emerge from the Reformation, Lutheranism stands alone for two reasons. In the first place, it bears the name of an individual. Secondly, its hallmark, more vital even than the reference to Martin Luther (14831546), consists of its formal, agreed-upon confessions of faith, in particular the Unaltered Augsburg Confession (1530), but also (save in Scandinavia) the Formula of Concord (1577) and the other documents contained in the Book of Concord (1580), which claim faithfulness to both the Scriptures and Luther's teachings. To answer the question, "What is Lutheranism?" therefore requires, at least in principle, no more than a careful reading of these theological sources with the understanding that conduct flowed from conviction. It can be no surprise, then, that Lutherans have traditionally relegated all other religious mattersliturgy, polity, hymnody, spirituality, and the liketo the realm of adiaphora or "things indifferent." The teachings were at the time of the Reformation, and remain now, the heartbeat of Lutheranism.

By contrast, even the finest of Lutheran scholarship has little to say about its distinctive characteristics, if any, with respect to its political, social, intellectual, artistic, and cultural preferences over time. Thus, even its hymnody and its vibrant traditions in choral music were put in service to its teachings. For the unengaged student, Lutheranism presents the unavoidable impression that all matters which make it a distinct variety of Christianity have rightly had a theological, as well as musical, standard applied to them. To the uninitiated and the veteran alike, it may well appear that once one has gotten the teachings of the Lutherans correct and arranged them in their proper relationships to one another, one has grasped all that is essential when it comes to understanding Lutheranism in almost any place and time. One is reminded of nothing so much as the words on the back of a coin struck in Württemberg on the fiftieth anniversary of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses: "God's Word and Luther's Teachings are Never to be Forgotten!"

Luther had been in his grave for more than twenty years when this medal was struck. The Formula of Concord, to say nothing of the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy, did not yet exist. But the conviction that true doctrine was the equivalent of true religion did. Indeed, this very characteristic is not a caricature and, no matter how obvious it is, it must be underlined whenever one seeks to penetrate to the core of Lutheranism. Luther himself reportedly declared, "Others before me have contested practice, but to contest doctrine, that is to grab the goose by the neck!"

Even when one rightly approaches the core of Lutheranism by way of its teachings, there remain more and less enlightening ways to do so. One can, as noted above, and rather in the manner of Lutheran Orthodoxy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, turn the exercise into an utterly misleading game of theological pick-up sticks. If, however, the objective is to render an image of Lutheranism that encompasses its whole as well as its many parts, one further and rather subtler characteristic must be given its due. Luther was indeed a theologian, and Lutheranism does indeed remain a highly theological version of even Latin Christianity. But, both Luther and the movement that sprang from him had almost no inclinations to systematic theology in a manner that might be recognized by, for example, Thomas Aquinas.

Neither Luther nor Lutherans in general have sought to create a Summa Theologica in which everything from the creation ex nihilo to human procreation has its own perfectly consistent theological understanding. This is not to say that Lutheran religious thought consisted merely of random insights on one unrelated topic after another in the manner of some types of mysticism. Instead, the consistency or univocality of Lutheran theology derived from its genesis over time from a single, unitary point of departure. Thus it began, by Luther's own testimony, with his personal search for a gracious God. He had been taught that the righteousness of God was a quality of God against which this divine judge measured all humans and found them wanting. On the bases of his lectures and writings from late 1518 through mid-1519, it is now a matter of nearly absolute certainty that he consciously rejected what he had been taught and then gradually came to understand God's righteousness as a gift that God bestowed on humanity and by which he reconciled mankind to himself. Thus, the famous passage, "The righteous (iustus, 'made righteous') shall live by faith" applied directly not only to the theology he taught as a professor at Wittenberg but also to his personal religious life. "Faith" itself was no longer an attribute that played a role in moving the sinner toward salvation but the central, unwilled response to having been made righteous by the benefits of Christ. By comparison with sola gratia, Luther did not even use the terms sola fide and sola scriptura with much frequency. They did not do more than indicate the principal source for and the manner by which the Christian received and held grace.

The theology that marked Lutheranism was therefore intensely practical and rarely, before Kant, speculative or philosophical in the least. Two examples will illustrate the point. The first concerns the subject of predestination, which came under dispute during the 1560s in a few places that were, for the most part, south of the Main River and along the Rhinemost notably in Strasbourg. Those who introduced the issue were commonly Italian converts to Calvinism such as Girolamo Zanchi (15161590) and Peter Martyr Vermigli (15001562). The issue, certainly related theologically to Luther's position in De servo arbitrio (1525; On the bondage of the will), nonetheless never caught fire among the German Lutherans. In its eleventh article, the Formula of Concord observed that the subject had not been an issue "among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession" and then addressed it anyway. Taking the approach and even borrowing some of the language that was used at Strasbourg in 15611563, the formulators declared that there were good biblical grounds in support of both the doctrine of election and the assertion that Christ came for all. But, because God's predestining belonged to his hidden will and Christ's coming for all to his revealed will, Lutherans would henceforth ignore predestination and preach only what God had revealed to all. For the most part, Lutherans to this day have carefully observed this self-denying ordinance. They were single-minded about the original insight regarding justification and remained tenaciously within it.

A second illustration from Luther himself may also be revealing. It concerns the subject of "hiddenness" and a similar, related principle of self-denial in general. Luther observed, for example, that everyone of sound mind could know that God existed, that he created all things, that he was omnipotent, and so forth. What humans could not know were God's intentions toward them because God had hidden and continued to hide this knowledge in the folly of Christ. Moreover, this keen awareness of what God has revealed and what he has hidden guided even Luther's exegetical practices. Consequently, his biblical lectures often contained the declaration regarding a particular passage, "It is too dark there. I cannot go there because all is hidden." Indeed, his first reaction to Johann Agricola of Eisleben's (c. 14941566) insistence that the Law should not be preached to the saved (the fundamental issue at stake in Lutheranism's first Antinomian Controversy, which involved the notion that a saved Christian was free from the dictates of the Law) was not to press on to the truth of the matter butin part because he was one of Luther's favorite studentsthat Agricola should stop talking about the matter.

Nonetheless, little more than a generation had passed before Luther's followers had fallen into so many internecine theological quarrels that Jakob Andreae of Württemberg (15281590) and others took up the work that led to the Formula of Concord. In addition to predestination, Andreae and his colleagues addressed ten such controversies that threatened to undo the unity implied in the name "theologians of the Augsburg Confession." To modern ears, some of these issues were truly frivolous and may have derived more from some individuals' vanity than serious theological considerations. Georg Major's (14691550) tactic of expressing Luther's views of the place of works in the economy of salvation may be a case in point. Somehow, his declaration that "Good works are dangerous to salvation" seems intended more to enrage than to enlighten. It is easy to understand Philipp Melanchthon's (14971560) giving thanks at the point of death for at last being released from the rabies theologorum ('the madness of the theologians').

With this much granted to the merely human, the emphasis should fall here on two related practical, political realities that forced theological reflection. The first was Emperor Charles V's (ruled 15191556) victory over the Schmalkaldic League in 15471548 and his determination to establish religious peace within the empire by force if necessary. Thus, the Augsburg Interim required of the Lutheran rulers that they reinstitute the Mass in their territories, provide for an unmarried clergy, and cease secularizing religious foundations, among other, more local, arrangements. In addition, by putting the free imperial city of Constance under siege, the emperor demonstrated that he was more than willing to employ force during this interim before the calling of a general council. Consequently, in order to meet these terms, Strasbourg found itself compelled to negotiate a treaty with its long-time non-resident bishop, while Magdeburg to the northeast resisted imperial pressure successfully by holding firm behind its outlying marshes to defend its choice of resistance. At the same time, Maurice, called on account of his political behavior the "Judas of Meissen," now enjoying the title elector of Saxony (15471553), found so much resistance to the new order in his territories that he felt compelled to negotiate a somewhat milder version, called the Leipzig Interim, whose intent was to defend Lutheran doctrine, albeit without much regard for contrary practices, in the face of these temporary practical concessions.

A genuine theological problem lay at what became an internecine pamphlet war among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession. Mathias Flaccius Illyricus (15201575) led the defenders of Magdeburg's policy on the grounds that the Leipzig Interim violated the spirit, if not the letter, of true Lutheranism. In this instance, there was no authoritative text to which the parties could turn, if only because the Augsburg Confession's seventh article was silent with respect to any of the specifics regarding what actions (or lack thereof) fell under the umbrella of "things indifferent." According to the Magdeburgers with Matthias Flaccius Illyricus, the "Genesio" or Original Lutherans (as they were now called) insisted that while some practices, such as the celebration of the Mass, might be indifferent in themselves, they were intolerable in a Lutheran territory, because they in fact promoted a false gospel. The outrage was so great that there are present-day Lutherans who still call themselves Genesios. During the late 1570s, its simple existence forced the inclusion of Section X in the Formula of Concord, which basically endorsed the Genesios' position.

The decade from the mid-1540s to the mid-1550s also called for greater theological precision in imperial politics. The Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555) inserted the Augsburg Confession (1530) into the imperial constitution by declaring that adherents to it would be guaranteed a modicum of religious freedom, depending on the confession of the town or principality that was their home. This is the famous provision that is summarized with the anachronistic term cuius regio eius religio, according to which the ruler's confession determined the religion of the town or principality. Some try incorrectly to draw from this provision the beginnings of state-dominated religion. Instead, this provision merely stated that the prevailing religion in any territory or city was to be the one that existed there before the Schmalkaldic War.

There was a problem, however, lurking beneath the easy reference to the Augsburg Confession as the imperial confessional standard. Which Augsburg Confession? In 1540 Melanchthon had been given the task of revising the version that was submitted at Augsburg in 1530 in light of the Wittenberg Concord of 1536. Specifically, he had used the language, approved expressly by Luther, cum pane et vino ('with bread and wine') rather than in pane et vino ('in bread and wine') as a way to describe just how the consecrated elements in the Lord's Supper were presented as the body and blood of Christ. One change of preposition provided certain Reformed theologians, notably those active at the court of the elector palatine, just enough room to assert that their understanding of the spiritual presence of the body and the blood came under the umbrella of "the Augsburg Confession" and therefore of the Peace of Augsburg.

At last an assembly of evangelical princes, meeting at the request of the elector palatine at Naumburg in January 1561, declared that the standard was the invariata (the version of 1530), but that the variata (Melanchthon's version of 1540) might be used to explain its teaching on contentious issues. No sooner had they returned home than they were confronted with a round-robin inquiry from Emperor Ferdinand I (ruled 15581564), in which he asked whether the elector palatine was or was not in harmony with the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530. They replied that, while perhaps technically he was not, the emperor should not presume to take any actions against him.

These festering disagreements and Reformed aggressiveness in northern Germany go much of the way to explaining why, about seventy-five years later, in the aftermath of the Battle of White Mountain, the Lutheran princes decided to sit on their hands when General Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein attacked the Electoral Palatinate, deposed the elector, reduced parts of Heidelberg to ashes, shipped the contents of the university library, the Palatinum, off to the pope as a gift, and inaugurated the Thirty Years' War (16181648). Certain developments within Lutheranism contributed to this decision not to intervene in defense of a generous interpretation of the Peace of Augsburg. Perhaps it was the price the Reformed were called upon to pay for their aggressive attempts over the past seventy years to convert Lutheran princes. In the event, it was Germany, and in particular northern, Lutheran Germany that paid the price by becoming the playground for armies from all over Europe, while the south had the burden of paying for it all.

The reference above to "certain developments within Lutheranism" points to the two paths between which Lutherans chose beginning in the early seventeenth century and continuing on through the mid-eighteenth century. They persist to this day under the terms "Pietism" and "Lutheran Orthodoxy." Both had deep roots. As should be evident, Orthodoxy can claim parentage in the heavily doctrinal character of Lutheranism from the outset, through the Genesio Lutherans, the Formula of Concord, Martin Chemnitz with his monumental Examination of the Council of Trent (15651573), and into the professorial life of seventeenth-century Lutheran theological faculties. Pietism, on the other hand, can claim its origins with Martin Bucer (14911551) of Strasbourg and a tradition that produced such luminaries in the movement toward a more "heartfelt" religion, as evident in two later products of Strasbourg, Johannes Arndt (15551621) and his Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum (1606; Four books on true Christianity), and Philipp Jakob Spener (16351705), the collegia pietatis, and his Pia Desideria (1675), which is still read and cherished by many. That the two parties did not think well of one another is evident from the story about Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750), who was frustrated by a powerful Pietist preacher at the Church of St. Thomas in Leipzig. It was said that whenever he encountered the preacher on the street, Bach would "compose and throw another fugue" at him.

One may legitimately wonder whether Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss, despite the evident reference to followers of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, was a parody of Lutheran theologians he had met. Research has only begun on these theologians, but two matters are presently apparent. In the first place, they were indeed extremely learned men who brought to their tasks Aristotle, both of the Metaphysics and the Posterior Analytics, the ancient authority whose very dominance of Wittenberg's theological faculty Luther once celebrated. Secondly, it was the Orthodox who turned the substance of Lutheranism into a laundry list of virtually self-standing doctrines that the theologian needed only to memorize. While so doing, they no longer studied Luther himself nor did they cite him in their general histories of doctrine or their works on specific theological topics. Finally, their influence lasted long past the eighteenth century and can be said to have peaked in the nineteenth century. This is not to say that no one read Luther any longer. The Finnish "Luther Readers" both in Finland and in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan read him regularly, but more for the sake of spiritual enrichment than of theological learning. It was left to the Swedish Luther Renaissance of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries to return to a genuinely theological-critical study of Luther himself.

Save in a few synodical groupings and a handful of individuals, notably in North America, Lutheran Orthodoxy is no longer particularly influential. Pietism in both vibrant and decadent forms is a different matter. Beginning with Bucer, who was truthfully more a religious thinker and churchman than a theologian, those with Pietist proclivities have downplayed the theological character of Lutheranism as a distortion that drew the believer's attention away from the inclination of the heart, moral behavior, and the amendment of life that must follow the hearing of the Gospel.

To take but two examples, one at the beginning and the other near the end of the story, in the mid-1530s Bucer wrote a book called The True Care of Souls. In it (among other concerns) he listed Christians by type according to the extent to which they approximated the ideal and then prescribed different forms of pastoral care that would help them advance on the classification table. He did bow toward the central teaching from Luther that a Christian remained simul iustus et peccator ('at the same time righteous and a sinner'). But this was for him merely a background principle to the main task of creating more genuine believers and moral members of the church on earth. Still, Bucer's list of exercises remained some distance from Luther's insistence that true pastoral care occurred in the preaching of God's Word, which did all that could be done to create true people of God.

Spener differed from Bucer first in that he openly criticized the theologians and churchmen of his day for their self-serving lack of attention to improving the tenor of Christian life. Secondly, he favored the establishment where possible of collegia pietatis ('colleges of piety') in which the truly repentant and committed would withdraw to increase their search for true piety and their willingness to perform good works. Bucer, too, had engaged himself in similar work, known as the Christliche Gemeinschaften or ecclesiolae in ecclesia ('little churches within the church'), shortly before being forced as a condition of the Interim to leave Strasbourg for England while under a storm of criticism from both the government and many of his fellow pastors for the tendencies of these small fellowships to split the existing parishes and churches. It should be noted that these efforts were not strictly anti-dogmatic but simply did not evidence much interest in public teachings. The Pietist movement reached its apogee in August Hermann Francke (16631727) with his school and later university at Halle, institutions that came to specialize in the training of servants for the Prussian bureaucracy.

Lutheranism in the main experienced the same fate as most other branches of Christianity during the early modern period. By the end of the eighteenth century, true religion had retreated from the public sphere into the private. Whereas the "two kingdoms" through which God ruled his creationthe world of daily affairs in politics, society, and business, and the world of faithhad once served one another, by the end of early modern times, the kingdom of the world had come to dominate. Lutheranism in both its Orthodox and Pietist forms thus abandoned the public sphere to a heretofore-unknown realm of religious indeterminacy, and it did so well before the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. By their own doing, Lutherans turned true religion into a private matter that was by and large excluded from the "real world" of politics, business, and society. Christendom had died. Europe was born.

See also Luther, Martin ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; Pietism ; Reformation, Protestant ; Schmalkaldic War .


Primary Sources

The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Translated by Charles Arand, et al. Edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis, 2000.

Luther, Martin. D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Weimar, 1883. Comprises Luther's published works, correspondence, the German Bible, and table talks. Commonly referred to as "the Weimar edition" or simply "WA."

. Luther's Works. Translated and edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut Lehmann, et al. 55 vols. St. Louis and Philadelphia, 19551986.

. Sources and Contexts of The Book of Concord. Edited by Robert Kolb and James A. Nestingen. Minneapolis, 2001.

Secondary Sources

Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. Translated by James Schaaf. 3 vols. Philadelphia and Minneapolis, 19851993.

Elert, Werner. The Structure of Lutheranism. Vol. 1, The Theology and Philosophy of Life of Lutheranism Especially in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Translated by Walter A. Hansen. St. Louis, 1962. Informative but filtered through a neo-Kantian framework.

Kittelson, James M. Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career. Minneapolis, 1986.

. Toward an Established Church: Strasbourg from 1500 to the Dawn of the Seventeenth Century. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Geschichte Mainz 182. Mainz, 2000.

Maurer, Wilhelm. Historical Commentary on the Augsburg Confession. Translated by H. G. Anderson. Philadelphia, 1986.

Nischan, Bodo. Princes, People and Confession: The Second Reformation in Brandenburg. Philadelphia, 1994.

James M. Kittelson

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LUTHERANISM in America traces its heritage to the Reformation of the sixteenth century in Germany and northern Europe, stressing justification by faith and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. While Lutherans may have resided in the Dutch settlements of New Netherland beginning in the mid-1620s, the first Lutheran-majority community was a Swedish colony established on the Delaware in 1638 and subsequently captured by the Dutch in 1655. During the eighteenth century, however, many German Lutherans settled in Pennsylvania and the southern colonies. In 1742, Henry M. Muhlenberg was sent from Germany and helped unite most Lutheran pastors in North America into the Ministerium of North America in 1748. At the close of the American Revolution, there were 120,000 Lutherans in 300 congregations throughout the new nation.

The Rise of the General Synod

In the new Lutheran world, English-speaking synods revealed a willingness to participate in mainstream Protestant culture, showing sympathy for the temperance and antislavery movements. Many German-speakers, by contrast, preferred Lutheran exclusivity and encouraged the establishment of German newspapers and schools. The

changing character of American Lutheranism was epitomized by Samuel Schmucker, who was instrumental in the founding of Gettysburg Seminary in 1826—a bastion of American Lutheranism in the nineteenth century. In 1834, Schmucker published his Elements of Popular Theology, which defended unity with all orthodox Christian bodies who held a common faith based on the "fundamental doctrines of Scripture," and extolled the Augsburg Confession as a model because it left certain theological questions open. After 1820, most Lutheran synods coalesced into the new General Synod, which was given authority to devise plans for seminaries, give missionary instruction, and provide aid to poor ministers and families. A network of orphanages, homes for the aged, and hospitals also began to appear in the Lutheran community, and several new colleges were founded.

The Challenge of Confessionalism

During the 1830s and 1840s, many Lutherans fled from Prussia, Saxony, Norway, and Sweden for a variety of political, religious, and economic reasons. Settling in the Midwest, they brought with them a theology of confessionalism, which stressed adherence to the historic confessions of the Lutheran tradition, most notably the Book of Concord (1580). The greater numbers of European Lutherans helped to cut off Lutheranism in the United States from other Protestant denominations. Most prominent of the new German synods was the Missouri Synod, formed in 1847, which took a confessional stance and opposed Americanization. Its vision was that of super-congregationalism, in which a synod had no authority over individual congregations. Other German and Scandinavian synods took less dogmatic stands, but inclined more to the theology of Missouri than that of the General Synod.

Theological Disputes

In the 1850s, a distinct theological division emerged between advocates of confessionalism and Neo-Lutherans who held to the Augsburg Confession only insofar as it conformed ostensibly to the Bible, rejecting unbiblical teachings such as original sin, private confession, baptismal regeneration, and the "real presence." Samuel Schmucker, the acknowledged leader of the Neo-Lutherans, was a vocal evangelical regarded with scorn by opponents of American Lutheranism. When he issued his Definite Synodical Program in 1855, which sought to rework the Augsburg Confession to conform to American values, it was rejected even by several eastern synods and American Lutheranism suffered a defeat from which it never recovered during the nineteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, moderates continued to search for an acceptable basis on which to unite the synods in the East and the Midwest. In 1867, they formed the General Council, which adopted the Akron Rule in 1872, reserving Lutheran pulpits for Lutheran pastors and Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants. The issues of the Civil War provoked another division: five southern synods withdrew from the General Synod to form what in 1886 would become the United Synod, South. Advocates of confessionalism in the Midwest responded to the withdrawal of the southern synods by forming the Synodical Conference in 1872 to coordinate their activities.

Lutheranism in the Late Nineteenth Century

After the Civil War, German and Scandinavian immigration continued, with the high point being reached in 1882, but the motivations for this were now more economic than religious. Church growth occurred in the East as well as the Midwest, with the General Council's membership being one-third English, one-third German, and one-third Swedish. The Missouri Synod also made gains in the East, although most of their new members were migrants to the Midwest. Twenty-eight institutions of higher education were established between 1870 and 1910. Lutheran church life was influenced by the pietistic strain in Protestant America, but was unaffected by the Social Gospel. All its energy was devoted to home missions and evangelical outreach, for the focus of Lutheran interest was on personal not social ethics.

Renewed Doctrinal Controversy

Biblical criticism had only a slight impact on nineteenth-century Lutheranism. Instead, Lutherans focused on confessionalism and predestination. Divisions arose between those who favored inclusive confederation (the General Synod), confessional subscription (the General Council and the United Synod, South), and complete unity in doctrine and practice (the Synodical Conference). The General Synod acquired a new appreciation for its Lutheran heritage in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and committed itself to the Augsburg Confession, but nevertheless continued a good relationship with evangelical denominations and enacted no bar on altar or pulpit fellowship. Despite this, closer relations did develop between the General Synod, the General Council, and the United Synod, South, at the end of the century. During the 1870s, the Synodical Conference was itself divided over predestination (or the "election of grace"). The Lutheran doctrine of election applied only to salvation, not damnation, and was never a central aspect of the faith. Nevertheless, Friedrich A. Schmitt of the Norwegian Synod accused the Missouri Synod's president, C. F. W. Walther, of Calvinistic leanings. After acrimonious debate, several synods left the Synodical Conference with a consequent decline in funding for education and missionary work.

The First Steps Toward Lutheran Unity

Efforts to celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in 1917 united Lutherans in the United States and led them to establish the Lutheran Bureau to provide ordinary Americans with information on the Lutheran heritage. The outbreak of war that year provided a further opportunity for Lutheranism to acquire national prominence. The entry of Lutherans into military service led to the creation of the National Lutheran Commission for Soldiers' and Sailors' Welfare, a trans-synodical body that established camps, recruited pastors, and raised $1.35 million. The National Lutheran Council (NLC) handled problems on the home front and aided reconstruction in Europe. Even the midwestern synods worked with the National Lutheran Council, though conflict did erupt over cooperation with other Protestant churches. The drive toward Lutheran unity was cemented by the creation of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America (NLCA) in 1917, and the formation the following year of the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA), which united most of the eastern-based synods into one body. Significantly, the ULCA was much more centralized than any of its predecessor synods, with much less congregational autonomy.

Depression and War

Lutheranism remained a conservative force in the 1920s and Lutherans remained rural-oriented, though there was a shift in mission work toward recovering unchurched Lutherans in the cities and the Northwest. After disputes within the National Lutheran Council, moderate midwestern synods formed the American Lutheran Conference, banning cooperation with other Protestants and restricting altars and pulpits, and in 1930 they merged into the American Lutheran Church. The Great Depression of 1929 dramatically reduced budgets and prompted calls for collective social responsibility. The Lutheran Home Missions Council of America was formed to transcend ethnic boundaries and allow for a degree of altar and pulpit fellowship, but most Lutheran churches in the mid– twentieth century remained committed to the confessional viewpoint. The outbreak of war in 1941 gave new life to the National Lutheran Council, which recruited chaplains, supported orphan missions, and ministered to armed forces personnel.

The Postwar World

During the 1950s, the Lutheran churches saw great growth, though Lutheran evangelism was based on a sacramental emphasis rather than revivalism, and Lutherans came closer together in ecumenical ventures. The ALC and ELC (formerly the NLCA) completed merger in 1960 to form The American Lutheran Church and the ULCA and the Augustana Synod united in 1962 to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). New types of ministry were initiated to address contemporary social problems, as theologians tried to enunciate a Lutheran doctrine that allowed for engagement in social justice without denying the action of grace in making a Christian. Throughout these mergers, however, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod stood apart, insisting that doctrinal conformity was the prerequisite for Lutheran unity.

Lutheranism Today

For Lutherans other than the Missouri Synod, merger became an end in itself and in 1987 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was formed from a merger of the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America. In 2000 the ELCA endorsed a concordat with the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., allowing for a high degree of altar and pulpit fellowship. In 1999, membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stood at 5,149,668 members compared with 2,582,440 for the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and 722,754 for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Some smaller groups include the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations with 32,984, the American Association of Lutheran Churches with 18,252, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod with 16,734, the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with 15,012, and the Church of the Lutheran Brethren in America with 13,920.


Avery, William O. Empowered Laity: The Story of the Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1997.

Bachmann, E. Theodore, with Mercia B. Bachmann. The United Lutheran Church in America, 1918–1962. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1997.

Nelson, E. Clifford, ed. The Lutherans in North America. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

Nelson, E. Clifford, and Eugene L. Fevold. The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian-Americans: A History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1960.

Todd, Mary. Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 2000.

Trexler, Edgar R. Anatomy of a Merger: People, Dynamics, and Decisions That Shaped the ELCA. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1991.


See alsoGerman Americans ; Protestantism ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; Religious Thought and Writings ; Scandinavian Americans .

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Lutheranism, branch of Protestantism that arose as a result of the Reformation, whose religious faith is based on the principles of Martin Luther, 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 Supper 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 antinomianism, began during Luther's lifetime, but became more heated after his death, when the controversy raised by Andreas Osiander 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 Melanchthon, 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 War, 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 Pietism.

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 Niemoeller, resulted in the founding of the Confessing Church 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 Mühlenberg, 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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lutheranism. While the views of Calvin were largely expounded in one treatise, his Institutes, those of Martin Luther (1483–1546) had to be gleaned from a number of tracts and sermons, and developed over time. The most definitive statement was the Formula of Concord, drawn up thirty years after his death by reforming scholars and published, with additions, in the Book of Concord (1580). Luther took the Bible as the ultimate authority for Christians and his main belief was justification by faith alone: it was therefore essential for Christians to understand the Bible and Luther made his own celebrated translation into German. He recognized three sacraments: baptism, the eucharist in both kinds, and penitence. He was as committed to predestination as Calvin, finding no freedom for the human will. He disapproved of the mass, came to mistrust monasticism, advocated (and practised) clerical marriage, and taught the doctrine of the real presence in the eucharist. As his quarrel with the papacy developed, he was led to emphasize the supremacy of the secular ruler in religious matters and most of the Lutheran churches accepted the authority of bishops.

Lutheranism's greatest success was in north Germany and in Scandinavia. In England, his reputation was marred by a sharp theological exchange with Henry VIII, to whose Defence of the Seven Sacraments (1521), which had won from the papacy the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ for the king, Luther replied with Against Henry King of England (1522). The sequel was unfortunate for Luther. He was persuaded in 1525 to offer a humble apology for the ‘hasty and speedy’ printing of his book: Henry's retort was contempt for the man and his views, which were ‘abominable and odious.’ Many English churchmen thought it wise to distance themselves from Luther and to insist that the English Reformation, though having much in common with the German, was autonomous and independent. After Luther's death, the influence of Calvin and Geneva on the English clergy, and certainly on the Scottish, was much greater than that of lutheranism.

J. A. Cannon

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Lutheranism Doctrines and Church structure that grew out of the teaching of Martin Luther. The principal Lutheran doctrine is that of justification by faith alone (sola fide). Luther held that grace cannot be conferred by the Church but is the free gift of God's love. He objected to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Instead, Luther believed in the real presence of Christ “in, with, and under” the bread and wine (consubstantiation). The essentials of Lutheran doctrine were set down by Philip Melanchthon in the Augsburg Confession (1530), which has been the basic document of the Lutherans ever since. In 1947, the Lutheran World Federation was formed as a coordinating body for Lutheranism on a global scale.

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