Who are Lutherans?
Lutherans Are Sinners
. . . but they are forgiven. Lutherans may identify themselves as students or senators, Texans or Tanzanians, children or senior citizens. But when they consider their religious beliefs, they will confess what you would soon find out: they fall short of God's expectations.
They will go on to tell that this same God, a loving God, forgives them. They believe that it is God acting for and in them, and not their own acts, that brings forgiveness. Lutherans call this "justification by grace through faith." As a result they are new people who are not haunted by guilt or bothered by worry. They trust God who comes to them in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Lutherans Are Evangelical
. . . and as forgiven people reach out to share the message of God's grace. Evangelical refers to the good news, or gospel, of Jesus Christ. As sinners Lutherans sometimes get caught up in themselves as much as everyone else does. But they try to look beyond themselves to bring the gospel to community life with people of other faiths and those of no faith. They welcome others to worship and work with them.
Lutherans Are Born Again Christians
. . . with their own understanding of what it means to be "born again." Lutherans, like other catholic Christians, baptize infants, believing that God works grace in them. In fact, they believe that every day and in every act of serious return to God, they are returning to their baptism. They come forth as new people, which means that they are born again--and again and again.
Lutherans Are Worshipers
. . . who think of worship not as a pastor's performance but as the people's service. They are sacramental. Along with Baptism they celebrate the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper or Holy Communion) frequently, in many churches weekly. They believe that Jesus Christ is truly present when they gather in faith for this sacred meal.
Theirs is a singing church, and Lutherans have contributed and still contribute much to Christian music. These songs are not always on the Christian Hit Parade, but it does not take long to learn them and to appreciate the way they focus thoughts on a gracious God. Lutheran worship includes song and prayer from many Christian traditions.
Lutherans place special emphasis on the Word of God. Lutheran worship stresses preaching in the form of a sermon that addresses the needs of sinners and announces the loving activity of God. God is present when humans speak the divine word, so Lutherans gather to hear it together.
They believe God speaks to people through the Scriptures, and so Lutherans revere personal Bible reading in addition to personal prayer. They are serious about their devotion to God but do not prescribe special postures or mannerisms.
Lutherans Are Stewards
. . . which means they believe that all of life and health, all possessions and capabilities are, in a sense, on loan from God the Creator. So they keep on learning--never rapidly enough, or profoundly enough--how to return on God's investment in them.
Lutherans Want to Make a Difference
. . . as people who do well when God works through them. Lutherans take the divine law with utter seriousness, but they are not legalists. They do not think they can please God by following laws nor can they come to perfection. Remember, the first thing to be said about them is that they are sinners who are forgiven. But they believe that they are to make faith active in love. Where there is no love, no generosity, no service to others, they suspect that faith is weak or absent.
Through organized groups and individual action Lutherans are part of public life. They want to work for justice, as biblical prophets and New Testament believers did.
Lutherans also participate in works of mercy and healing, as the name "Lutheran" on so many hospitals, social service agencies, and relief projects makes clear. These efforts involve non-Lutheran partners.
Lutherans Are Churchly
. . . and learning to be more so. This means they are ecumenical--they want the church to be as united as Christ prayed it would be. Yet they confess their faith through creeds and statements designed to set forth distinctive Lutheran understanding about a gracious God. As sinners, they do not think of themselves as better than others. As confessors, they do believe all Christians should speak clearly of their understandings of faith.
Lutherans Are Protestants
. . . who are also catholic. As Protestants, they continue the reformation begun in European churches in the 15th century. Being catholic they believe that Christ's church is universal, and that they are connected with Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and other Christians who stress their ties to Christ's church everywhere and through the ages.
Lutheran Protestants would not have chosen the name Lutheran; it was acquired accidentally, often from early enemies. The name refers to Martin Luther, a German monk and an Old Testament professor, who came to renewed understanding of the good news almost 500 years ago. Lutherans do not worship Martin Luther, but they do celebrate what God worked through him. Luther's writings called for church reform and led to protests--now known as the Protestant Reformation. His statement on justification by grace through faith, for example, remains a central, distinct characteristic of Lutheran understanding today.
Lutherans Come From Somewhere
. . . and would like to be everywhere. Lutherans originated as people who were involved with church reform in Scandinavia and Germany. They moved from northern Europe first and chiefly to northern North America, which seemed to be a second natural habitat. However, they believe that their message of a God who forgives sinners is for everyone, so Lutherans have moved south from Europe and northern America into all the world.
Most Lutherans believe that the Christian good news knows no racial, ethnic, economic, national, or gender-related boundaries. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is organized to give emphasis to its desire that men and women, white and black, Hispanic and Asian and others, share equally in the benefits and tasks that go with Christian life.
Lutherans Are Congregational
. . . but do not limit their activities to local or regional arenas. Most of the time their neighbors know Lutherans through the local churches which bear their names. And Lutherans put most of their energies into these local congregations. There they baptize, commune, speak the word of God, reach out with acts of love, become friends, receive challenges, pray for others, and test their responsibilities.
Lutheran congregations are connected by synods and by church bodies like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has over five million members. They pool resources so that together these congregations can better reach out to people in need everywhere.
Together they educate leaders. Lutherans stress learned ministries and cherish skilled professional workers. For this they need jointly supported seminaries and colleges. But their stress on leadership, made possible by the larger church, does not make Lutheranism a priestly movement. Lay Christians as well as ordained ministers make up what Martin Luther called "a priesthood of all believers." All are ministers. Lay people, in teamwork with pastors, take initiatives to help see that Christ is represented among them and in their communities.
Lutherans Are Unfinished Products
. . . though their forgiveness is complete. Aware of human weakness, imperfection, and mixed-up priorities, Lutherans are hopeful people. They respond to God's love by reaching out to others to tell and to demonstrate the good news of Jesus Christ. They believe that with God, anything is possible. They invite others who are not now active in Christian communions to join them in the challenges which a trouble-filled world presents, and to rejoice with them in the promises with which a loving God greets them.
- Martin E. Marty
Copyright ©1989 Augsburg Fortress
Joining Community of Joy
Are you thinking about joining Community of Joy and wondering what to expect? Or perhaps you have decided to join—what an exciting decision you have made!
Joining Community of Joy signifies that you are
Accepting God’s invitation to cultivate a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, the head of the church.
Making a commitment to become inter-dependent with other members of the body of Christ: and
Affirming that you intend to move forward on a journey of Christian growth and service
Most people who join a church have high hopes and expectations of what membership will mean. What about you? Do you want to find new friends here? Do you want to be an involved, active, and vital member of this congregation? Do you hope your faith will grow? What steps will you take to help your church relationship be full?
Yes, it is partly up to you! A congregation can make such hopes easier to fulfill, but you have a choice. You can hang back, or you can choose to be involved and get the most out of joining this congregation.
Worship is the First Step
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
Make regular worship a priority in your life. Worship is at the heart of your spiritual journey and your relationship with God and with other church members. Worship is somewhat like bringing your car to a filling station when its tank is nearly empty and calling to the attendant to “fill it up.” We might think of ourselves coming to worship each week needing to be filled for the miles we will cover throughout the week ahead.
God invites us to pray, praise, and give thanks knowing full well that life without God will deplete us. We need desperately to be filled with God's Holy Word, to be nourished by Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and to receive support from other believers. God knows us well! God knows that worshiping together strengthens us and helps us in our daily task of loving and caring for others. Worship also prepares us to share the good news of Jesus our Lord who died and rose again for everyone.
“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).
Worship is the beginning, but it's not the full answer for those who want to grow in faith. Prayer with others at worship and privately will build and enrich your life with God. You might think of prayer as ''networking'' with God to discern the heart of God.
Be intentional about taking time to talk with God. Communicate with God about your life and listen, wait, and watch for God's answers. Imagine trying to maintain a relationship with someone without ever communicating with that person. There would be no relationship. The same is true of our relationship with God. Don't forget to share your joys as well as your concerns. Make a commitment to support your new congregation by praying for the pastor(s) and other staff, for the congregation council, and for other church leaders.
Grow in Faith
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).
Bible study can be an enriching opportunity for you. When you love someone, you want to know all about that person -- his or her life, likes, and dislikes. Studying the Bible helps us to know God. The Holy Spirit works as we read and study God's Word. You will begin to grow in your knowledge of God. Your relationship with God and your desire to keep learning more will grow, too.
Small groups also offer opportunities to be supported and nurtured by new friends as you study together. And a great blessing is the opportunity you have to nurture and support others in their life journeys.
lf you have children, involve them in church school, confirmation, and other youth activities. These programs offer young people relationships and experiences based on God's Word that will benefit them all their lives.
Avoid the trap of sending your children to church school. Instead, take them with you each week to demonstrate to them the importable of Bible study, worship, and community with Christ at the center. The life you build with your children in activities and study at church can be special for all of you.
Use Your Gifts
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
Get involved! God has given you gifts – abilities, time, unique qualities, possessions – to build up the body of Christ and to care for the whole creation. Answering God’s call to ministry and discovering and using your gifts for these purposes can give joy and satisfaction to you and others. You can be sure that God has called you to use your gifts in some way. Take the initiative to offer those gifts.
Being involved allows you to get to know other members and to begin to feel a part of your new congregation. Attend congregation events and offer to use your gifts to serve.
Your involvement also means financial support. God gives all things to you – your life, your daily food, the roof over your head, your friends, and your family. God gave the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ. The church you are joining might ask for your monetary gifts. By committing to regularly give a percentage of your income when you join this church, you can be helped to grow in care for all God’s gifts and to mature in faith.
God asks us to give knowing that to be fulfilled, we need to give. God knows that in giving we receive blessings abundantly. The gifts of time, skills, and money that you give extend ministry beyond your congregation’s membership to fulfill Christ’s command to love our neighbor. Joining with others can make it possible to help organizations or individuals meet the needs of our neighbors in ways that would be impossible for one person alone.
Stay Informed and Offer Support
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Read the information that your congregation makes available, such as bulletins, newsletters, and the annual report. Attend congregation meetings. Stay informed and make a concerted effort to support the staff and the leaders. Keep a positive attitude about the ministry and the mission of this congregation. Negative ideas drag people and ministry down. Be willing to offer your support in constructive and enthusiastic ways.
Be Open to the Holy Spirit
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
Being a new member in a congregation can be a special time in your life. Trust the Holy Spirit to lead you into new and exciting areas. As you worship, pray, study, serve, give, and support, you will discover unexpected blessings and the joy of sharing your faith with others.
May each step you take help you to live faithfully and fully as a child of God.
Writer: Pat Liles Smith
Designer: Koechel Peterson & Associates Illustration: Copyright © 1994 Jeff Camehl. Used by permission.
All scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission.
Copyright © 1994 Augsburg Fortress
LEAFLET MINISTRY SERIES
Augsburg Fortress 23-9906
Who Needs the Church?
When a friend or neighbor invites you to church because of the fellowship ...
You may remember how difficult it was to get to the inner circle of your parents' church, but what great fun you have with the Sunday morning golf foursome.
When a friend or neighbor invites you to church because of the inspirational music ...
You may remember how the organ always reminds you of a funeral home, but how upbeat your latest compact disc sounds.
When a friend or neighbor invites you to church because of the pastoral care ...
Maybe all you can think of are the loud, moralizing TV preachers, but you remember the compassionate nurse who spent time with you in the hospital.
When a friend or neighbor invites you to church because of the nice people there...
You may remember how bad it felt to be "shushed" as a child in church, but how welcomed you feel by the people at the recreation center.
When a friend or neighbor invites you to church because of the great worship ...
You may remember how you counted the church rafters during long sermons, but how awestruck and happy you felt after seeing a great movie.
When a friend or neighbor invites you to church ...
You might not want to go.
So why do people like your friend still go to church? And what are the other people there like?
Some people go to a church because they want religion or values for their children. Others seek help with life's questions of meaning.
Some are lonely in a new community and hope to find new friends. Others are thrilled at the birth of their first child and wish to learn about baptism for the baby.
Some are in love and want a church wedding. Others have lost their jobs and are terrified of the future.
Some have recently divorced. Others come simply because a friend invited them and they didn't want to say no.
Church members are young and old, single, married, widowed, and divorced. They are rich, poor, and middle-class. They come from every culture and ethnic background. Most people come to church because they are looking for something. It might be approval from a parent. Others are looking for guidance to help them raise children. Others wonder about the suffering in their life or the life of someone they care about. Some people are seeking a deeper life with God. Others are hoping to strengthen business connections. Everyone is looking for something.
So people are looking for something. What's so special about the church?
The fornature ones find friendship, good music, and caring people in the church. But more important, everyone gets a chance to glimpse God.
It is God who calls people together in the church. God's love, mercy, and kindness are offered and shared in the church.
There, in songs and sermons, Bible readings and prayers, God reminds people that they are the children in whom God delights.
There, people are reminded that God cares deeply for them, just as they are. There, people can experience the love of God through Jesus Christ in the good and the painful times of life. In the church, God works hard to help people catch a glimpse of the passion that God has for all of creation.
Maybe you sense it!
Maybe you want more.
Maybe that's why you are reading this leaflet
But why should you go to church?
No one is saying that you should! But you might want to go to church to build a deeper and richer relationship with God.
Since Jesus has promised to be wherever two or three people are gathered in his name, you can ask him about the purpose and meaning of your life in Bible study, prayer, and worship at church.
In the church, you can talk with other people who are seeking God's help and healing for their lives. You can ask for help along the way.
It will take some getting used to. Our world seems to run on power, certainty, and control. The church, on the other hand, might seem weak, unclear at times, and often unable to stay away from the worst that the world has to offer.
Yet the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the head of the church. This simple statement brings the laughter of delight and amazing hope to many of God's people who know Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior.
Behind all the good intentions to offer friendship, inspirational music, care for all people, and uplifting sermons, the people of every congregation know that they sometimes fail miserably at these things.
They know that golf can be more fun, that compact discs can at times provide better music, that friends met through the recreation center may be best friends, and that some health-care workers provide richer care for people.
But they trust God to forgive their shortcomings, to make their hearts sing, to give them joy beyond the happiness that the world can so quickly take away, and to provide care even through the doorway of death.
You see, the people at church are proof that this God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, is not stumped or put off by the failure of people to get it right all the time. This God gathers all kinds of people together in the church to help and to heal them. Then God sends these people into the world to share the love and kindness that they have received.
Who needs the church?
Probably nobody needs the church. But everyone needs God. Maybe now is the time for you to seek God in a new way and place. Maybe now is the time for you to come to church.
Stop by soon.
LEAFLET MINISTRY SERIES
Writer: Randolph W. Barr
Design: Koechel Peterson & Associates Illustration: Judy Swanson
Copyright © 1994 Augsburg Fortress