The Lutheran religion was founded in the 1500’s by a German monk and professor, Martin Luther, and is the oldest Protestant denomination. Luther was born into a very traditional German Catholic family, but as he grew into adulthood and became a monk, he studied the Bible very carefully and felt there was a great disconnect between what was written in the Bible and what was actually practiced and taught by the Catholic Church. He also became very discouraged and disillusioned by the corruption and abuses he witnessed within the Catholic Church. His initial hope was to create reform in the Catholic Church by his sermons and writings, but what ended up happening was the creation of an entirely new religion. “Martin Luther taught that salvation comes by the grace of God and faith in Christ alone, and the many rituals and works prescribed by the church were not only unnecessary, but a stumbling block to salvation. He rejected such traditions as the intermediary role of priests, priestly celibacy, the Latin Bible and liturgy, purgatory, and transubstantiation, and advocated for the scriptures to be available to the laity in their own language.” http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominations/lutheranism.htm Even though Luther rejected much of the Catholic teachings, he still accepted and taught the concepts that he felt accurately reflected what was in the scriptures. It is because of this that the Lutheran religion still has a similar “feel” to the Catholic religion and it is what differentiates it from other, more strict, Protestant denominations. Today, Lutheranism is one of the largest Protestant denominations with over 71 million members worldwide, 7.5 million of those in the United States alone. The largest concentration of Lutherans is in Germany with 12.5 million members. http://www.lutheranworld.org/LWF_Documents/LWF-Statistics-01-2008.pdf
There are several different bodies of the Lutheran church in the United States. The two largest are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS). There are many differences between the two bodies, but overall, the ELCA is less conservative than the LCMS. For example, the ELCA will ordain women and homosexuals to the pastoral office while the LCMS will not. Another difference between the two is their disagreement regarding the authority of the Bible. The LCMS believes and teaches that the Bible is actually the Word of God and, therefore is free from any error, while the ELCA “tolerates and encourages methods of interpreting the Scripture that presuppose that the Bible contains error and is unclear about various doctrinal matter.” http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/LCMS/wa_elca-lcms.pdf
To further my research of the Lutheran religion, I chose to attend a local Lutheran church in my town of New Braunfels, TX. It is somewhat fitting that I chose the Lutheran religion to research because the town I live in was also founded by Germans and still has an active German population. The particular church I chose was Cross Lutheran Church, a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It began in 1925 with a group of 6 members who met in various places until they officially organized in 1928. Today the congregation is made up of over 600 people who are led by their Pastor, Don Fraker. Pastor Fraker has been with this church since 1998. Although this particular church is over 80 years old, they have fairly new and modern facilities, dating back to only 2002. According to the bulletin I received at the church, they offer adult Bible studies several times a week, they have 6 different bell choirs, a very active youth group and they also have a school that teaches pre-kinder through 8th grade.
For the interview portion of this project, I chose to interview a friend of mine who is Lutheran and also attends the Cross Lutheran Church. She also happens to have been born and raised Catholic, so I was especially interested in her take on the two religions. It appears that both Catholics and Lutherans celebrate some of the same religious holidays such as All Saints Day, Easter, and Ash Wednesday. However, Catholic rituals and practices such as saying the Rosary, Lenten sacrifices and Stations of the Cross are not practiced by Lutherans. She describes the Lutheran religion as “Catholic Light” and says that it is not as solemn or ritualistic as Catholicism. However, there are enough similarities between the two religions, that she felt very comfortable and at ease through the transition. One of the biggest differences she described was that of the sacraments. Whereas in the Catholic religion there are seven, in the Lutheran church, there are only two. The two sacraments are Baptism and Eucharist (Lord’s Supper), which are also in the Catholic religion. I asked my friend how and why she moved from being Catholic to being part of the Lutheran religion. Her reason was that her husband was born and raised in the Lutheran church and that was his religious preference. When she made the decision to convert, she had to attend a series of classes and make an affirmation of the faith. This apparently is different than being baptized. If you have been baptized and/or confirmed in another Christian church, then you do not have to be baptized again, only make the affirmation of faith.
With all the contrasts between the two religions, there really seems be more similarities than differences in the actual beliefs. The major differences appear to be in the physical aspects of practicing the religions and in the worshipping.