History of the Lutheran Church

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The beginning: Martin Luther and the Reformation

The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) understands itself to be a community of faith within the one holy catholic and apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ. Along with all other Lutheran churches, the LCA traces its roots directly to a 16th century movement for renewal of the church known as the Reformation. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk assigned to lecture in biblical theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. Even though he lived the life of a conscientious monk Luther felt that he was not able to please God, but as he studied the Bible he began to realise that its central message is about God’s overwhelming love for us in Christ. read more

The Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by our own efforts to please God. And so Luther began protesting against church practices of that time which gave people the impression they must contribute to their salvation. Good works don’t earn us salvation, Luther taught, rather faith active in love is fruitful in a good life and good works. Luther’s teaching, sermons, and writings inspired others to join him in working for reform of the church. Beginning at Wittenberg, evangelical reform spread to many areas of Northern Europe, especially in Germany and the Nordic countries. In 1530 Lutheran leaders were summoned to give an account of their faith before the parliament of the empire gathered at Augsburg.

The confession of Christian faith they presented to the emperor is known as the Augsburg confession, and this has become the charter of Lutheran churches all round the world. As the movement for reform spread, other leaders came to the fore, and sadly divisions appeared among them. Those who followed Luther were nicknamed ‘Lutherans’. Luther himself would have preferred them simply to be called ‘Christians’, but eventually the name took on. close

Reformation to the current day

After the Reformation, the Lutheran church went through times of internal dissension, and was beset by external perils of various kinds, culminating in the horror of the Thirty Years War. In these years Lutheranism had to define and defend itself, and this is called the period of Orthodoxy. Eventually it was agreed that people should basically follow their leaders: if the duke is Catholic, his people should be too; if the prince is Lutheran, his people should follow him. Following this pattern, various regional churches developed in Germany, whereas in the Nordic sphere entire nations followed their rulers in becoming Lutheran. read more

When northern Europeans began to be involved in colonial expansion, those from a Lutheran background took their faith with them and over a period of time established new Lutheran churches. German and Nordic Lutherans settled in the new world of the Americas, and later in countries such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. A movement for renewal in the life of the church called Pietism was the impetus for mission both at home and abroad. Lutheran missionaries took their evangelical faith to many parts of the world such as India, Asia, Africa, Madagascar, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Over a period of time these missions grew up to become young independent Lutheran churches with indigenous leaders. The faith communities that grew out of the Lutheran movement are often called evangelical Lutheran churches. The word ‘evangelical’ shows that they are committed to preaching and teaching and living out the gospel of Christ.

In 1838 a group of devout Lutherans led by Pastor August Kavel left Germany because of persecution and settled in the new colony of South Australia. A month before their arrival Lutheran missionaries arrived at the same place to begin work among the Aboriginal people. These two events mark the beginning of the Lutheran story in Australia. close

What were the 95 Theses?

In the 16th century it was common practice for scholars who wanted to get a discussion going to put up topics (‘theses’) for discussion. Luther was concerned about the church’s practice of selling indulgences, so he posted 95 Theses for debate on the university notice board, which happened to be the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Technically, indulgences were sold to people as remission of the temporal penalty or punishment of sins. Many people thought they were actually buying God’s forgiveness, or buying their relatives out of purgatory. Here are a couple of Luther’s theses:

(No.36) Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.

(No. 43) Christians are to be taught that those who give to the poor or lend to the needy do a better deed that one who buys indulgences.

Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on 31 October 1517 is regarded as the beginning of the Reformation.

What is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?

After many years of study and dialogue Lutherans and Roman Catholics reached a common understanding of the doctrine that was at the heart of the division of the church in the 16th century. The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was signed in Augsburg on 31 October 1999. In this document we read:

In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.