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 “one holy Church is to remain forever” (Augsburg Confession, VII 1). This one Church consists of all believers among whom the Gospel of Jesus Christ is purely preached and His Sacraments are given out for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. False Christians and hypocrites may associate themselves with the Christian Church, as weeds that grow among the Master’s wheat (Matthew 13:24–30), but all believers in Christ, “though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). As Luther said in the Smalcald Articles, “Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (Smalcald Articles, III XII 2).
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)