- History of Lutheranism
Lutheranismhas its origins in the early 16th centurywith the work of Martin Luther.
Lutheranism as a movement traces its origin to the work of Martin Luther, a German priest and theologian who sought to reform the practices of the
Roman Catholic Churchin the 16th century. The symbolic beginning of the Reformation occurred on October 31, 1517, which Lutherans and other Protestants regard as Reformation Day, when Doctor Luther posted an open invitation to debate his 95 thesesconcerning the "power and efficacy of indulgences": the idea that time in purgatory could be reduced by making donations to the church. Luther's insights are generally held to have been a major foundation of the Protestant movement. The relationship between Lutheranism and the Protestant tradition is, however, ambiguous: some Lutherans consider Lutheranism to be outside the Protestant tradition, while some see it as part of this tradition. ["Protestant?" The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod [http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=4409 (Website FAQ)] ]
Between 1517 and 1520, Luther preached and published his criticisms of what he considered false doctrine of the church of his day in
books and pamphlets. His ideas were supported by many other Christian theologians, and they also had a certain populistappeal. As a result, Luther gained many supporters and followers from all levels of society, from peasants who considered him a folk hero, to knights who swore to protect him, to rulers of German lands who wanted more independence from papal interference in their domestic policies. Luther also gained some powerful enemies, including the Popein Rome and the youthful Holy Roman EmperorCharles V.
Concerned about the "problem" of Luther, the
Popeand Roman officials decided to send representatives to Luther to discuss his concerns and to persuade him to retract his challenges to papal authority. The effort was largely unsuccessful. Luther continued to discover new areas in need of reform. Finally, the papal bullcalled the Exsurge Dominewas issued in 1520, calling on Luther to condemn and abandon his ideas. Luther replied by burning the bull and volumes of canon lawin a bonfire at Wittenberg. Finally, a new bull excommunicating Luther and those who agreed with him was issued, Decet Romanum Pontificem(January, 1521).
Charles V wanted to outlaw the now excommunicated Luther and his followers, but he was warned by advisors that doing so outright would cause a revolt, since Luther had become so popular. More importantly, the ruler of Luther's land, Elector
Frederick the Wise, refused to allow any of his subjects to be condemned without trial. So instead, Luther was to be summoned to appear before the Diet of Worms. Luther went to Worms, but when called upon by imperial and papal officials to retract his ideas, Luther replied: "I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it is clear as day they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore, I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture and plain reason ... I cannot and will not recant ..." --Martin Luther, April 16, 1521
The emperor had granted Luther a promise of safe conduct to travel to and from his trial, but remembering how a similar promise had been violated in the case of
Jan Hus, Luther's supporters prevailed upon him to escape from Worms in the dark of night, before he too could be seized and executed. Luther remained in hiding for some time at the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, all the while continuing to write and develop his ideas. Shortly after Luther escaped, Charles V issued the Edict of Worms, which outlawed Luther and his followers, declared Luther and his followers heretics, and banned Luther's writings and teachings.
What had started as a strictly theological and academic debate had now turned into something of a social and political conflict as well, pitting Luther, his German allies and Northern European supporters against Charles V, France, the Italian Pope, their territories and other allies. The conflict would erupt into a religious war after Luther's death, fueled by the political climate of the
Holy Roman Empireand strong personalities on both sides.
In 1526, at the
First Diet of Speyer, it was decided that, until a General Councilcould meet and settle the theological issues raised by Martin Luther, the Edict of Wormswould not be enforced and each Prince could decide if Lutheran teachings and worship would be allowed in his territories. In 1529, at the Second Diet of Speyer, the decision the previous Diet of Speyer was reversed — despite the strong protests of the Lutheran princes, free cities and some Zwinglianterritories. These states quickly became known as Protestants. At first, this term "Protestant" was used politically for the states that resisted the Edict of Worms. Over time, however, this term came to be used for the religious movements that opposed the Roman Catholic tradition in the sixteenth century.
Lutheranism would become known as a separate movement after the 1530
Diet of Augsburg, which was convened by Charles V to try to stop the growing Protestantmovement. At the Diet, Philipp Melanchthonpresented a written summary of Lutheran beliefs called the Augsburg Confession. Several of the German princes (and later, kings and princes of other countries) signed the document to define "Lutheran" territories. These princes would ally to create the Schmalkaldic Leaguein 1531, which lead to the Schmalkald War, 1547, a year after Luther's death, that pitted the Lutheran princes of the Schmalkaldic League against the Catholic forces of Charles V.
After the conclusion of the Schmalkald War, Charles V attempted to impose Catholic religious doctrine on the territories that he had defeated. However, the Lutheran movement was far from defeated. In 1577, the next generation of Lutheran theologians gathered the work of the previous generation to define the doctrine of the persisting Lutheran church. This document is known as the
Formula of Concord. In 1580, it was published with the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Large and Small Catechisms of Martin Luther, the Smalcald Articlesand the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. Together they were distributed in a volume entitled " The Book of Concord". This book is still used today.
Results of the Lutheran Reformation
Luther and his followers began a large exodus from the Roman Catholic Church known as the
Protestant Reformation. In the years and decades following Luther's posting of the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenbergchurch, large numbers of Europeans left the Roman Church, including the majority of German speakers (the only German speaking areas where the population remained mostly in the Catholic church were those under the domain or influence of Catholic Austria and Bavaria or the electoral archbishops of Mainz, Cologne, and Trier). Because Luther sparked this mass movement, he is known as the father of the Protestant Reformation, and the father of Protestantism in general.
Today, approximately 82.6 million people call themselves Lutheran, while there are an estimated 2.1 billion
Christians. Thus, about 1 in 25 Christians are Lutheran.
High Church Lutheranism
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