Lutherans teach that the Bible is the inspired, true, and reliable revelation of the triune God to humankind, and that this revelation clearly shows how God rescues human beings from the curse of sin and death through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Scriptures were "written for our instruction" (Romans 15:4) as prophets, apostles, and others directed by the Lord Himself, "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). These writings were written and gathered over centuries and "are able to make you wise for salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15). The Bible is the only true and pure fountain of all Christian faith and life and "is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
Lutherans agree with the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) and teach that "the LORD is our God, the LORD is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4), who has revealed Himself in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see Matthew 28:19; John 14:26; John 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:14). All three persons are coequal in all things, and God shows that He "is love" (1 John 4:8) by creating all things, redeeming fallen human beings, and making us holy.
Lutherans teach that, since Adam and Eve fell into sin (Genesis 3), all people are "brought forth in iniquity" and conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). This sin is a hereditary sickness that prevents us from fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things, because "every intention of the thoughts of [humankind's] heart [is] only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). This inborn sickness causes us to commit all kinds of evil deeds and merits only God's eternal wrath.
Lutherans teach that the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, took on human flesh, and was born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38). He became true man in order to ransom the human race from the futile ways of sin, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). In Jesus Christ "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Colossians 2:9) because He is both true God and true man, who was truly born (Luke 2:1-7), who lived a perfect life without sin (Hebrews 4:15), who "humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8), and who "has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds [we] have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). When Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, God the Father "put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church" (Ephesians 1:22), and "from thence He will come again to judge the living and the dead" (Apostles' Creed). Lutherans read the whole Bible with Jesus Christ at the center. The Old Testament prepares for and points forward to Jesus Christ, and the New Testament reveals and proclaims Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen for us sinners. As Martin Luther taught, the Bible is "the manger" that brings Jesus Christ to us.
Lutherans teach that God's Law demands perfection of heart, thought, word, and deed; that it wholly condemns all who transgress it; that it cannot save sinners; and that its chief function since the fall is to lead us to the knowledge of our lost condition. The Law also shows Christians what to do and not do to please God.
Lutherans also teach that no human being can earn or obtain forgiveness of sins or life with God by any human efforts or works. A person is not justified - made right - with God "by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:16). "For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:22-24). Whoever "trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Romans 4:5).
Office of the Ministry
In order that we may receive the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, God instituted the office of preaching the Gospel and giving out His Sacraments (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 4:1; Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 2:42). Through these instruments - or means - of preaching the Gospel (Luke 24:47), baptizing with water (Acts 2:38-39), pronouncing forgiveness (John 20:22-23), and eating and drinking Christ's body and blood (Matthew 26:26-28), the Holy Spirit "works faith, when and where it pleases God (John 3:8), in those who hear the good news" (Augsburg Confession, V 2).
Lutherans also teach that this faith in Jesus Christ will naturally produce the good fruits of good works in the Christian life, "for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Our good works cannot earn God's favor, because He already gives us His forgiveness and favor in Jesus Christ. As new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) Christians do the good works that God commands in His Word, such as trusting Him, calling upon Him in prayer, hearing His Word, and all works that "are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Romans 13:9).
Lutherans also 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).
Lutherans believe and teach that the Sacrament of Holy Baptism was ordained by Jesus Christ as a means of grace through which the Holy Spirit offers forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life; that through the Word of God in Baptism infants become children of God and adults are assured of their adoption through faith in Christ; and that Baptism may be administered by sprinkling, pouring or immersing so long as water is applied in the name of the Triune God according to Christ’s command. References: Matthew 28:19, Titus 3:5; Mark 10:14, Mark 7:4 (cf. various meanings of the original ‘baptize’ here translated as ‘wash’); Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16.
Lutherans teach that in this Sacrament the true body and blood of Jesus Christ are really present under the bread and wine for Christians to eat and to drink, because Jesus said, "Take, eat; this is My body. . . . Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant" (Matthew 26:26-28). Our Lord Jesus Christ is present in this sacred meal to give "the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28), eternal life, and salvation. As He taught His disciples, He also teaches us: "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:54).
For this reason Lutherans agree with and practice the Church's historic practice of "closed communion." Since "the cup of blessing" is "a participation in the blood of Christ" and "the bread that we break" is "a participation in the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:16), all who commune receive the actual body and blood of Christ - believers to their abundant blessing, but unbelievers to their eternal harm. Whoever communes "without discerning the body [of Christ] eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Corinthians 11:29). So in Christian love, Lutherans protect those who are unworthy and unprepared for Holy Communion by first teaching them their need for Christ, and the forgiveness and life that He gives in the Sacrament. When there is unity in confessing the way, truth, and life of Jesus (John 14:6), we joyously commune together.
Lutherans teach that "private Absolution should be retained in the churches" (Augsburg Confession, XI 1), because Jesus commissioned His disciples to forgive sins: "If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you with hold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld" (John 20:23). We do not coerce individuals to go to their pastor for Confession and Absolution, nor do we require complete enumeration of all sins. However, we do encourage people to go to their pastor for private absolution, because it is "the very voice of the Gospel" and "shows consciences sure and firm comfort" (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XI 2).
Lutherans teach that the whole life of the Christian is one of continual repentance, as Jesus proclaimed, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Since all Christians can and do sin after Baptism, all must live in repentance, that is, having sorrow and terror over their sins and receiving and trusting the Gospel's word of absolution, name¬ly that Christ has obtained forgiveness of sins and restores life with God. "[Faith] comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror" (Augsburg Confession, XII 5). In this life of repentance, the Christian learns to forsake sin and amend his sinful life, thus bearing "fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8).
Using the Sacraments
Lutherans teach that Jesus Christ instituted the Sacraments for two purposes. First, the Sacraments outwardly identify people as Christians, and second, they communicate and deliver Christ and His cross-won forgiveness, life, and salvation to individual Christians. Hence, the Sacraments give, awaken, and strengthen our faith in God's mercies, and they are used rightly when Christians receive them in faith for the purpose of strengthening their faith.
Lutherans teach that nobody should teach or preach on behalf of the Church or administer the Sacraments in the Church unless he is ordained by the Church and called to this service. The Office of the Holy Ministry is instituted and given by God "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12 KJV). Just as Jesus first sent the Apostles to baptize and teach (Matthew 28:18-20), to proclaim "repentance and for¬giveness of sins" (Luke 24:47), and to feed His sheep (John 21:17) with His body and blood, He still sends pastors to serve His redeemed people in these very same ways.
Lutherans observe the Ancient Church customs known collectively as the liturgy. Since the Bible does not mandate a particular form of worship, Lutherans "cheerfully hold the old traditions made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and peace" (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XV 38). While Church customs cannot earn our forgiveness before God, we diligently keep ceremonies and customs of the Church that clearly proclaim the Gospel message. "For ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ" (Augsburg Confession, XXIV 3).
Lutherans teach that God ordains and institutes all governing authorities and establishes laws for the sake of good order, that is, to punish the wrongdoer and reward those who do good (Romans 13:3). Christians, therefore, are to "be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). Christians may freely and with a clear conscience serve in civil offices, law enforcement, and the military, and thus serve their neighbors as God's agents of justice.
Christ’s Second Coming
Lutherans teach that our Lord Jesus Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead" (Apostles' Creed). As Scripture teaches, Christ will come once at the end of time, not to "rapture" believers away from earth, nor to establish an earthly kingdom, nor to begin a thousand year reign on earth, but to separate the believers from the unbelievers (Matthew 25:32—33) and to give each of them their eternal reward or punishment. On the Last Day, those who have rejected Christ, along with the devil and his evil angels, "will go away to eternal punishment" while those who trust in Christ and His forgiveness, life, and salvation will go "into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46).
Freedom of the Will
Lutherans also 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.
Lutherans teach that God commands us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and that He promises to hear and answer us according to His gracious will (Luke 11:9; John 14:13; John 15:16). However, prayer is not a means by which God forgives our sins, nor the channel through which He answers our prayers. Instead, Christians pray as a result of, or fruit of, the faith that the Holy Spirit gives. Our prayers are based on God's Word, because we first hear His Word in which He promises His grace, mercy, and every blessing, and then we respond by asking Him for what He has already promised in His Word.
Creeds and Confessions
While many people may say, "No creed but the Bible," Lutherans hold to and confess the historic Creeds of the Christian Church, namely, the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. Creeds help Christians to "regard Christ the Lord as holy" and prepare them "to make a defense to anyone who asks [them] for a reason for the hope that is in [them]" (1 Peter 3:15). A creed simply confesses the central truth of the Scriptures in a brief form that is easy to learn by heart. The ancient Christian creeds do not add to the teachings of God's Word, but they do confess what the Bible reveals about the persons of God and their works to create us, save us, and sustain us in the one true faith. Christians have always used creeds to confess the true faith, especially in the face of false teachings and errors that have arisen through time.
Lutherans also commit themselves to the confessional writings contained in The Book of Concord of 1580. These writings add nothing new to the Christian faith, but rather faithfully explain the essential teachings revealed in the Bible and taught in the Church through¬out the centuries. The Book of Concord includes statements that confess the faith before civil authorities (the Augsburg Confession and its Apology) and before Church authorities (the Smalcald Articles). It also includes documents for teaching the faith (Luther's Small and Large Catechisms) and a document written to refute false teachings and thus restore concord (agreement) in the Church (the Formula of Concord).
Religion and Science
Lutherans teach that science is a gift whereby we can learn and know the wonders, grandeur, and complexity of God's creation, because "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). However, science should not rule over God's Word, but rather should be the servant of God's revealed truth in the Bible. We therefore reject the modern evolutionary theories, because they deny God as the Author of creation and thus undermine the truth of God's salvation in Christ Jesus. Science can, however, be a wonderful tool for humans to understand God's many blessings of the created order.
Marriage and Divorce
Lutherans teach that God instituted marriage and sanctioned that "a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This great blessing from God is designed for husbands and wives to love, honor, and serve each other, to bring forth children, and to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). For this reason, Lutherans teach against divorce, because, as Jesus said, "whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9). Yet when a person contemplates divorce or actually divorces his or her spouse, Lutherans seek to heal that person with the soul-restoring forgiveness of Jesus Christ and bring them into the healing fellowship of the Church. Thus Lutherans encourage those hurt by divorce to ask for and rely on the forgiveness and healing that Jesus Christ gives through His Church.
Lutherans teach that sexuality is a gift from God, but that homosexuality is an aberration of that good gift. St. Paul clearly says that people "who practice homosexuality . . . will [not] inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9—10), and God even judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-29) for this immoral lifestyle. However, Lutherans want to proclaim the healing and strengthening forgiveness of Jesus Christ, so that people who practice homosexuality will rest in God's mercy, resist the ungodly desires, and enter the kingdom of God.
Abortion and Euthanasia
Lutherans also teach that life is a sacred and precious gift from God, "who gives life to all things" (1 Timothy 6:13). Just as God "breathed into [Adam's] nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7), He also forms the inward parts of every human being and knits every person together in their mother's womb (Psalm 139:13). Therefore, when God says, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13), He seeks to protect life from the sin of abortion (killing a baby in its mother's womb) and the sin of euthanasia ("mercy killing"). For such loss of life, God says, "I will require a reckon¬ing for the life of man" (Genesis 9:5). However, the blood of Jesus Christ heals, restores, and gives new life to those who commit murder by abortion or euthanasia, and Lutherans strive to give this comfort of God's forgiveness in Christ.