What do Lutherans believe?

What are the beliefs of the Lutheran denomination? How did this branch of Christianity begin? What is the Catholic stance on the Lutheran faith?


I would begin with the three ecumenical creeds – Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian. That is to say, we believe in the triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Following that, you can learn much of Lutheran belief from the Augsburg Confession and the other documents in the Book of Concord. These are available online. The Augsburg Confession was written in response to the command of the Emperor, Charles V, to the Lutherans to explain what they believed. It begins by emphasizing the continuity of Lutheran belief with those of the church through the ages. It then explains the perceived abuses within the church that the Lutherans sought to correct.

The AC is best read together with the Confutatio Pontificia and the Apology of the Augburg Confession.

Wow! Huge topic. If there’s not a particular issue or issues you have in mind, you might try reading the Lutheran Confessional documents contained in the Book of Concord.
The book starts with the three ecumenical creeds. Then follows the Augsburg Confession, which is the central confession of faith for Lutherans.

While Lutheranism has its roots in the Church Catholic, and therefore considers our Church history back to the apostles, we recognize October 31, 1517 a day of particular importance, as that was the day Dr. Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Church at Wittenburg.

The Catholic Church considers us separated brethren, lacking the fullness of truth. It considers a number of our teachings as heretical, though we share much in common.
The two communions have been in close dialogue since Vatican II, which has produced not only a number of joint statements, but also a warming in relationship.


Wow! Huge topic. If there’s not a particular issue or issues you have in mind, you might try reading the Lutheran Confessional documents contained in the Book of Concord.

I suppose the logical starting point would be the history of the Lutheran movement. Luther is the father of the Reformation. His ideas changed the face of the earth forever. He certainly revolutionised Christianity, and he even influenced Catholicism.

Why did Luther choose to revolt against the Catholic Church? And why did the Lutheran Community choose to remain separate from the Bishop of Rome?

I know you have provided reading materials on this subject, but I would prefer a short summary of your personal beliefs and attitudes as Lutherans. Thank you.

Luther’s (first) single big issue was the sale of indulgences. He believed that to be unscriptural, and the way it was being done, a burden on the poor. But the 95 theses were an attempt to fuel discussion of a theological issue, not start a revolt. He believed the pope would listen. He believed he was serving the interests of the pope and the church, and that it was corrupt people who were hurting the Church and the pope.

Others like Pastor Gary may be better able to explain these things, but Luther’s excommunication, along with the civil strife that resulted, led to further distance and greater hostility. I am not implying that it was all the fault of Rome. I think there is shared blame. Words became harsher, condemnations more permanant.

My attitude now is that we don’t live in 1530. We are just over 8 years away from the
500th anniversary of the Reformation. My attitude: we must all pray that the Holy Spirit move our communions closer together. I pray that on All Saints Day, 2017, that Lutherans and Catholics could join each other in either Church and share His body and blood.



Which denomination of Lutheranism do you believe is the closest to what Martin Luther believed?

God bless

Hoo boy, this one could get ugly.

Nobody fights with Lutherans more viciously than other Lutherans, in my experience.

However, the simple truth is that all of them do certain things differently now than in Luther’s day. Some reform quicker than others. For example, it is an old axiom that Wisconsin Synod follows Missouri Synod by about 20 years on doctrinal issues. This is not absolutely true of course, but like many of these generalizations, there are some hints of truth.

There are also things that I doubt will ever really be reconciled among some Lutheran denominations- female pastors being one example. There are ELCA (the largest Lutheran group in America) congregations who think nothing of having a female pastor, but I can tell you it would cause no small amount of consternation in certain LCMS and WELS circles.

I generally take the same attitude as JonNC upthread, with one caveat: I think that there are institutional parties on both sides of the gap who are invested in making the differences between Lutheran communions, and the differences between Lutheran and Catholic, out to be much more than they actually are. That is, there are those who have an institutional incentive to see that the battles of the last 500 years continue for another 500.

One positive development of the last few decades is the marginalization of some of those voices in both communions, leading to greater cooperation. While many in the Church are, as I understand, opposed to Vatican II, from an outsider’s perspective, I have to consider it a net positive; as JonNC notes, I think it played a role in opening the door to better communication with us outsiders. Similar but less noteworthy things have been happening within the various Lutheran denominations over the past century that I believe have made them a bit more open to a positive dialogue as well.

The history of the Lutheran/Catholic split reads like a divorce gone horribly wrong. In divorce, people cling to positions, and do things, that one might not normally have considered before the relationship fell apart.

I think James 1982 made some good observations. Just to add:
The ELCA has done things that are hard to justify under the confessions - women clergy, and some of the positions they’ve taken on gay issues and the like.

OTOH, the LCMS has adhered, in many was, more closely to traditional teachings, but we seem to have adopted a more congregational polity, that I don’t believe Luther would approve of.

He also would have a fit that: 1) not all Lutherans have the Eucharist weekly, 2) we have allowed private confession and absolution to fall into disuse, 3) that some of our Eucharistic practices are not what he would demand. And other things.

There are pockets of “evangelical Catholics”, such as myself, in both synods that are much more dedicated to and rediscovering these traditional teachings, including marion doctrine, than some of our church leaders, similar perhaps to the Traditional Anglicans as compared to Canterbury. In short , it’s hard to say.


First you must identify which particular Lutheran denomination you are asking about. You may think there is one unified body of believers called “Lutherans” but you would be mistaken.

Here’s a list.

I’ll echo the “big question” comment above. There have been whole books written on the subject without covering it in every last detail.

From a Lutheran perspective, Luther didn’t choose to revolt against the Catholic Church. His 95 Theses were not a declaration of independence nor were they intended to lead anyone away from the Church. Luther’s purpose in posting them was to invite debate on indulgences and to speak to their misuse, something that even later Catholic theologians admit had happened. The fact the he stood his ground and did not simply cave in when challenged led to his being excommunicated. I suspect that intransigence on both sides led to the complete break.

Of course, history shows that much more happened. Aside from the essential theological issues, politics – both civil and ecclesiastical – reared their ugly heads. Secular rulers saw a chance to eliminate the influence of the Church in civil governance and to retain money that would have been sent to Rome. The Church sought to maintain its power in the civil realm. This led to Lutherans remaining separate as their identity was tied to that of state churches with political loyalties to the sovereign rather than to the Pope.

As time went on, the divisions solidified. This was exacerbated by continual attacks from each side against the other. There was little effort to focus on the beliefs held in common and lots of effort to magnify the causes of division. I think progress has been made, at least in the realm of theological discussion. The Lutheran/Catholic dialogues, beginning after Vatican II and continuing to the present, have helped Lutherans and Catholics to understand each other better, helping to heal the conflicts that characterized the past. This doesn’t mean that major differences cease to exist but respect between Catholics and Lutherans has increased.

Like Jon, I consider myself an Evangelical Catholic and pray that those who lead us will, through the power of the Holy Spirit, bring back the unity that has been lacking for so long.

I think this is on topic. What are the posibillities of common ground regarding purgatory?
What types of explanations would we need to find the Catholic teaching scriptural and acceptable?

(In 25 words or less. :stuck_out_tongue: Just kidding)


Love it. btw, my kids are allowed to date Catholics, but not Baptists :dts: :smiley: (kidding)

Oh, and the Peace of the Lord be with you.


Jon and James,

Thanks for the replies.

God bless you both.

It is always a pleasure when our paths cross here at CAF.
God bless you, as well

Sadly, that is a real possibility. In just 5 years we will hit the 1000 year anniversary of the year 1014 A.D.

1014 is significant because it was the first year when the “filioque” was included in the Creed in Rome (having already been included in the Creed in other parts of the West for about 200 years, despite papal orders to leave it out) which led to the Patriarch of Constantinople omitting the Pope’s name from liturgical commemoration.

In twenty-five words or less, I don’t know.:shrug: If I use more than twenty-five, I still don’t know.:confused:

I’ll try to give you my understanding of purgatory (with apologies to our Catholic brothers and sisters if I get it wrong). As I understand it, purgatory is needed because even forgiven sin leaves a stain on the soul of the forgiven sinner. As nothing imperfect can enter into heaven, there needs to be a way for that stain to be removed.

The example often given in these discussions is that if a child hits his baseball through a neighbor’s window, the neighbor may forgive the child but the replacement window has to be paid for and the child, or someone on his behalf, must make that payment. The replacement of the broken window is an obligation that must be fulfilled before the situation returns to normal.

From our Lutheran perspective, a sin that is forgiven erases the slate. There is no further need for any action to redress the effects of the sin. I can give a personal example: many years ago, shortly after my wife and I married, we had an old friend as a houseguest. For dinner one night, we pulled out all the stops – all the fine china, silver, and glassware that we had received as wedding gifts. After dinner, our friend, being a good guest, took it upon himself to help with cleaning up. In the process, he broke two of our fine crystal wineglasses, which in those days were worth $30-$40 apiece. He expressed his remorse and offered to pay for them (having absolutely no idea what they were worth). We simply said, “don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it.”

From a Lutheran perspective, we believe that God operates more like my wife and I did (although I don’t want to put us in the same league as God – no one is) rather than like the neighbor whose window was broken. In a sense, we believe that forgiveness of sins wipes them from the slate, leaving not even a trace of chalk dust that has to be removed in some final cleansing.

The question that keeps us from agreement about purgatory is whether or not the sacrifice of our Lord was, in and of itself, completely cleansing, leaving nothing to be done by the living for those who have died. We’ll undoubtedly (and I use “we” in a rather global sense) debate this for a long time.

I find Pope Benedict’s description of purgatory as a kind of non-temporal purification at death a whole lot more appealing than what I always thought purgatory was - a kind of post-death prison sentence marked by a term of years where one is eventually released into heaven because they were paroled though indulgences.

There’s a thread on Pope Benedict’s statement on purgatory here:


So, about those sins that occur after one’s last confession and absolution? We depend on God’s mercy for Christ’s sake, to cleanse us before entering heaven? Correct? And if so, the Catholic will then ask, why then do you pray for those who die?


Jon, the following prayer is part of the commital at graveside:

Almighty God, by the death and burial of Jesus, your anointed, you have destroyed death and sanctified the graves of all your saints. Keep our brother/sister, whose body we now lay to rest, in the company of all your saints and, at the last, raise him/her up to share with all your faithful people the endless joy and peace won through the glorious resurrection of Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

We pray that the deceased will know the joy and peace that is our inheritance through the resurrection of our Lord. We pray that, not because our prayer might change the eternal status of the deceased but because we trust in the power of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.

Thank you for that well thought-out post.

The thing that I would like to point out is, the vast, vast majority of Catholics are Latin-Rite Catholics. Hence, on issues like Purgatory you will very seldom hear about the Eastern Catholic perspective.

I think that Dr. Anthony Dragani does a good job of comparing and contrasting both the Latin Catholic and the Eastern Catholic perspectives on Purgatory, and explaining what is essential (i.e. what all Catholics are required to believe about Purgatory):


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