In 1517, Martin Luther posted ninety-five statements (or theses) for debate in Wittenberg, Germany. His action was the beginning of the Reformation. Luther sought to reform the unbiblical teachings and practices that had crept into the Church, eclipsing the great good news that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting [people’s] trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Luther and the Lutheran Reformation did not introduce new teachings to the Christian Church. Instead, the Lutherans showed how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always the vibrant, beating heart of the biblical and historic Christian faith and life. This blog summarizes the teachings of the “one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church,” and thus what Lutherans teach.
Lutherans teach that all human beings possess free will to live outwardly honorable lives that show kindness and charity. However, neither this free will nor any outwardly honorable life can make a person acceptable to God, because “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14) and “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6). The Holy Spirit must, by His miraculous grace, enliven people “to become children of God, who [are] born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12–13). Once a person receives the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit, then he or she can use his or her will to fear, love, and trust God and worship His Son, Jesus Christ.
One of the sayings that came out of the Reformation was, “The Church always needs to be reformed.” This does not mean that the Church, the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7), becomes unfaithful to her bridegroom, Jesus Christ. After all, “the church of the living God” is always the “pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). However, this Reformation slogan does mean that the Church always needs to devote herself “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). When human opinions and ideas creep in and eclipse the message of “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) for the forgiveness of sins, for life, and for salvation, the Church must always “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Therefore, Lutherans teach what Scripture teaches and what faithful Christians have taught through the centuries: Since “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), Lutherans boldly and consistently teach that “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)