Lutheranism is a Protestant Christian denomination rooted in the teachings of Martin Luther. It emphasizes justification by grace through faith, the authority of Scripture, and the sacraments. Because of its history and influence, many people want to learn more about what Lutherans believe.
Lutherans believe in justification by faith alone, emphasizing that salvation results from God’s grace received through trust in Jesus Christ. They recognize two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, affirm the priesthood of all believers, and distinguish between the Law and the Gospel.
How does the Lutheran view of baptism and communion compare to the Catholic and Baptist views of those doctrines? What is the opposite of the priesthood of all believers? What does the Lutheran church teach about the means of grace, and how is it different than Catholicism? See answers to these questions and more below.
Also, compare Lutheranism with other churches on the Christian Denominations Comparison Chart.
Lutheranism Believes Justification is the Result of Faith
Lutherans believe that God justifies or declares individuals righteous through faith alone, a doctrine often summarized as “Sola Fide.”
“Sola Fide,” a Latin phrase that translates to “by faith alone,” is a key doctrinal stance in Protestant Christianity. It posits that faith in Jesus Christ is the only means by which humanity can attain justification or be declared righteous before God.
This doctrine asserts that good works or adherence to religious rituals are insufficient for salvation. Instead, individuals are justified through trust and belief in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What are the five solas?
The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Protestant Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity.
- Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is the sole authoritative source of divine revelation and the only guide for Christian faith and practice, not subject to the authority of the church or tradition.
- Sola Fide (“faith alone”): Justification, being declared righteous by God, is received through faith alone, without any mixture of or need for good works.
- Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): Salvation is a result of God’s grace alone, unmerited favor, not something we can earn or deserve.
- Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity, and there is salvation through no other.
- Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): All glory is due to God alone since salvation is accomplished solely through His will and action.
Also, see What’s the Difference with Lutheran and Episcopalian? to learn more.
Lutherans Have Two Sacraments
Lutherans recognize only two sacraments – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist) – as true sacraments instituted by Christ.
Comparing the Lutheran and Catholic views of baptism
In Lutheranism, baptism is a Means of Grace through which God creates and strengthens the gift of faith. In Catholicism, baptism is a sacrament that removes the guilt of both original sin and personal sin.
|Aspect||Lutheran View||Catholic View|
|Recipients of Baptism||Both adults and infants can be baptized. Infant baptism is practiced as a sign of God’s unconditional grace.||Both adults and infants can be baptized. Infant baptism removes original sin and confers grace.|
|Mode of Baptism||Traditionally, Lutherans baptize by sprinkling or pouring water. Immersion can also be practiced.||Baptism is typically performed by pouring water, though immersion is also accepted.|
|Necessity for Salvation||Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation, but it’s a means through which God works. Faith in Christ is ultimately what saves.||Baptism is necessary for salvation as it removes original sin, infuses sanctifying grace, and incorporates the person into the Church.|
|Baptism and Faith||Baptism nurtures faith. In the case of infants, it anticipates future personal faith and repentance.||In infant baptism, faith is not a precondition but is nurtured and expected to develop as the child grows and is catechized within the Church.|
Comparing the Lutheran and Baptist views of baptism
In Lutheranism, baptism is a Means of Grace, a sacrament through which God creates and strengthens the gift of faith. In the Baptist tradition, baptism is a symbol, an outward expression of an inward transformation that has already occurred.
|Aspect||Lutheran View||Baptist View|
|Recipients of Baptism||Both adults and infants can be baptized. Infant baptism is practiced as a sign of God’s unconditional grace.||Baptism is reserved for individuals who have professed faith in Jesus Christ. Hence, Baptists do not practice infant baptism.|
|Mode of Baptism||Traditionally, Lutherans baptize by sprinkling or pouring water. Immersion can also be practiced.||Baptists emphasize baptism by immersion as symbolic of death to sin and resurrection to new life.|
|Necessity for Salvation||Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation, but it’s a means through which God works. Faith in Christ is ultimately what saves.||Baptism does not contribute to salvation, but is a public testimony of the believer’s faith. It is an act of obedience after salvation.|
|Baptism and Faith||Baptism nurtures faith. In the case of infants, it anticipates future personal faith and repentance.||Baptism is a profession of faith. It follows belief and is a public identification with Christ.|
How is the Lutheran view of communion unique?
The Lutheran view of communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is unique in its understanding of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the elements of the bread and wine. This perspective is known as “sacramental union” or “consubstantiation,” although Lutherans typically avoid this latter term.
Lutherans believe that when Jesus said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-28), he meant it literally.
Therefore, they believe Christ’s body and blood are truly present “in, with, and under” the forms of bread and wine during the sacrament. This presence is not physical in the sense of a natural or local presence but sacramental and supernatural.
While Catholics believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ, Lutherans affirm that the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but that Christ’s body and blood are truly present in a mysterious, supernatural way.
Additionally, unlike many Protestant traditions, which view communion as merely a symbolic remembrance, Lutherans hold that this sacrament is a means of grace through which God conveys the forgiveness of sins.
Also, see What’s the Most Conservative Lutheran Synod? to learn more.
The Priesthood of All Believers
Lutherans uphold that all baptized Christians have direct access to God and can interpret the Bible personally, a principle known as the “priesthood of all believers.”
In some religious traditions, there is a hierarchical clerical structure where a select group of individuals, often known as priests or clergy, hold specific authority and perform certain religious rituals and functions on behalf of the community.
This hierarchical structure stands in contrast to the principle of the priesthood of all believers, which emphasizes the equal spiritual status and direct access to God for all individuals within the religious community.
The opposite of the priesthood of all believers implies a system where religious authority and spiritual responsibilities are concentrated in the hands of a limited group of individuals, often based on their ordination or hierarchical position within the religious organization.
These individuals may be regarded as intermediaries between the divine and the rest of the community, guiding and leading others in faith, administering sacraments, and performing religious rituals.
Law and Gospel
They distinguish between Law (God’s demands and standards) and Gospel (the grace and mercy God offers through Jesus Christ). The proper distinction between Law and Gospel is a key interpretive principle.
The Gospel, according to Lutheran theology, is the central message and core belief that emphasizes salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It highlights the teachings of Martin Luther, a key figure in the Protestant Reformation.
Also, see What Bible Translation Do Lutherans Use? to learn more.
Means of Grace
In Lutheran theology, the “means of grace” refers to the specific channels through which God’s grace is communicated to individuals. These means of grace are the Word of God (preached and read), the sacraments (particularly Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and prayer.
Lutherans believe that God’s grace is conveyed and received by faith through these means. The Word of God is considered central, and the sacraments are seen as tangible signs and instruments of God’s grace.
In Catholic theology, the “means of grace” are also associated with the sacraments, which include Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.
Catholics believe that these sacraments, when properly administered by ordained priests, confer sanctifying grace, which is understood as the divine life of God in the soul of the recipient. The sacraments are regarded as efficacious signs of grace instituted by Christ himself.
While both Lutheran and Catholic views recognize the sacraments as means of grace, there are significant theological differences. Lutherans emphasize justification by grace through faith and view the sacraments as visible manifestations of God’s grace received by faith alone.
They do not hold the same understanding of the sacraments as conveying sanctifying grace in the same way as the Catholic Church does. In Catholic theology, the sacraments are seen as necessary for the ongoing sanctification and salvation of individuals.
Also, see What’s the Difference Between Lutherans and Baptists? to learn more.
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