"The first thing expressed in my seal is a cross, black,
within the heart, to put me in mind that faith in Christ
crucified saved us. 'For with the heart man believes unto
righteousness.' Now, although the cross is black,
mortified, and intended to cause pain, yet it does not
change the color of the heart, does not destroy nature --
i.e., does not kill, but keeps alive. 'For the just shall live
by faith,' -- by faith in the Savior. But this heart is fixed
upon the center of a white rose, to show that faith
causes joy, consolation and peace. The rose is white,
not red, because white is the ideal color of all angels
and blessed spirits. This rose, moreover, is fixed in a
sky-colored ground, to denote that such joy of faith in
the spirit is but an earnest and beginning of heavenly
joy to come, as anticipated and held by hope, though
not yet revealed. And around this groundbase is a
golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is
endless, and more precious than all joys and treasures,
since gold is the best and most precious metal. Christ,
our dear Lord, He will give grace unto eternal life.
A Brief History of Lutheranism
On the Eve of All Saints Day in the year 1517 A.D., a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther, a faithful priest and
professor of Bible on the theological faculty of the University of Wittenburg, Germany nailed 95 Theses (arguments for
debate) to the door of the Castle Church in the hopes of engaging his colleagues in a serious discussion on the topic of
The practice of indulgences has a long and complex history in the Roman Catholic Church. Briefly, it is a dispensation given
by the Pope to a penitent relieving him of any temporal penances subscribed by the priest in the confessional. It was widely
held in the Medieval Church that any penances not performed in this life would be carried over into purgatory, prolonging
one's stay in
that place where souls are cleaned by fire before entering into the joys of Heaven. However, Christand the saints had done so
many good works (well above and beyond what was actually necessary for the salvation of any sinner) that there was a
treasury of merits to which the Pope, as Saint Peter's successor, held the key. He could therefore open this treasury and
benevolently dispense with these merits and apply them to anyone to whom he chose to apply them. The first indulgences
were offered to crusaders who committed themselves to waging war on Muslims to regain the Holy Land. By 1517, the
practices of selling indulgences became a lucrative means of raising money, and Pope Leo X, a Medici with expensive tastes,
needed funds for his monumental reconstruction of Saint Peter's in Rome. He issued a special indulgence granting remission
of all temporal penances to those who contributed to his elaborate building project. The terms of the indulgence were very
generous indeed. They could be purchased not only for oneself, but for the souls of dead loved-ones in purgatory. This was
a new variation on the old theme of indulgences, and it caused great concern for Martin Luther.
For Luther, through his intense study of Scripture, began to question this practice, as he could find no Biblical warrant for it.
He believed that this could harm the faith of Christians, who would put their trust not in Christ for their salvation, but in the
indulgences themselves. Luther had struggled with the problem of his own sinfulness and ultimately found great comfort in
Saint Paul's teaching that humans are reconciled to God and saved not because of their works, but through faith in the
atoning work of Jesus Christ alone. This faith is itself a gift from God given by the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of
God's Word and the Holy Sacraments. Good works do not save us, though they necessarily follow true faith in Christ.
Justification by grace through faith became the cornerstone of Luther's theology. He found much support for his conviction
in the writings of the early Church Father's, particularly in Saint Augustine.
Angered by the shamelessly irresponsible preaching of Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar who had been appointed by Rome to
sell Leo's special indulgence in the territories under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, Luther began to attack
the practice of indulgences first among his colleagues, and then openly in his public preaching and teaching. Due to the
newly invented printing press, the 95 Theses (not initially meant for those outside of academia) spread rapidly throughout
Germany, and from there to the rest of Europe.
At first Luther remained loyal to the Pope, insisting that it was the enemies of the Pope who were doing harm to Leo by
exaggerating the worth of indulgences in order to boost sales, but after Leo sent Thomas de Vio (Cardinal Cajetan) in April of
1518 to put pressure on Luther to recant his criticism of indulgences, Luther began to change his mind about the Pope and
the papacy. He began to see the Pope not as the successor of Peter, but as a tyrant who oppressed Christian consciences
with man-made rules and regulations, and who withheld from them the good news of man's salvation through faith in Christ
alone. Cajetan was unsuccessful in getting Luther to recant. And Luther continued to write, preach, and teach defending the
Gospel and calling upon the German princes to reform the Church, since the Pope and the bishops obstinately refused to do
anything to improve the situation. Luther finally received a papal bull threatening him with excommunication if he did not
recant his errors. At many of Europe's great universities, Luther's books were publicly denounced and burned. The
students of Wittenburg responded by burning many books of Medieval scholastic theology and Canon Law. Luther himself
tossed the Pope's bull into the flames. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, summoned Luther to an Imperial Diet held in the
city of Worms, Germany in 1521. By this time Luther had become a national hero to many who believed his teaching and were
frustrated with the tyranny of the Pope and the Medieval Church in general. People lined the streets to cheer him on, but at
the Diet, he was again told to recant. However, he held his ground and concluded his defense with the immortal words "Here I
stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
Luther was officially condemned as a heretic and an outlaw, and may have been killed had it not been for the protection of
Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony (one of seven princes and/or bishops who got to choose the Holy Roman
Emperor). Frederick, sympathetic to this great teacher of Bible at the university which the Elector himself had founded,
staged a kidnapping of Luther who was taken to the Wartburg Castle high on a mountain overlooking the city of Eisenach.
Luther soon learned that it was not his enemies who kidnapped him, but his gracious prince in order to protect him. He
remained at the Wartburg for almost a year disguised as Knight George. While there, he translated the New Testament
from the original Greek into popular German, so that ordinary people could read and study the Word of God. Upon hearing
the news that some self-appointed reformers in Wittenburg, more radical than Luther, were taking things too far too fast
(smashing images of saints and making changes in the Mass), Luther returned to Wittenburg even though the Elector
Frederick forbade him for fear of his safety. Luther quickly calmed things down and again took up his professorship and his
duties as a pastor in the city church; He never again left his post, but stayed for the remainder of his life. He married a former
nun, Katherina Von Bora who bore him six children. Luther was a prolific writer, preacher, teacher, theologian, musician,
translator, and administrator. His work on behalf of the reformation was tireless, and he was astounding in his productivity. A
faithful pastor concerned with the care of souls, he preached the Gospel, taught the Christian faith to the young, cared for the
poor, and visited the sick. Even in his own day, he was a legend. Respected by many princes and noblemen, he was also
called upon to settle political disputes throughout electoral Saxony and in other territories where the reformation had taken
root. It was during arbitration between two nobles in Eisleben that Luther died, apparently of heart failure, on February 18,
1546. Luther had been born in that very city of Eisleben sixty-three years earlier. He was far from perfecthe could be
intolerant, stubborn, and crude (his literary attacks on the Jews, with whom he was frustrated for not receiving the truth of the
Gospel, are among his most vitriolic and embarrassing writings). He has often been criticized for urging the German nobility
to put down the Peasant's Revolt with ruthless violence. But his personality must be understood against the backdrop of his
own timestimes much different than ours. Luther feared revolution and chaos; he never understood himself to be a
revolutionary, but a faithful son of the Catholic Church, a priest, and a theological doctor charged with teaching the truth of
the Bible. He did not set out to start a new church (such a thing he would have regarded as a work of the devil!), but rather, to
reform the old onethe one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which he knew and always loved.
By 1530, Luther's reform movement had spread throughout Germany and was having an impact in other lands as well.
Charles V summoned the Lutheran (as followers of Luther were now called) princes to a Diet in Augsburg in the hopes of
reconciling the two parties: papalists and Lutherans. Philip Melanchthon, Luther's fellow reformer and teacher of Greek at the
University in Wittenburg, wrote the Augsburg Confession, a document which sets forth the core theological convictions of
those who embraced Luther's evangelical reforms. Luther himself was still an outlaw and could not attend the Diet, though he
went as far south in Saxony as he was able, staying at the Coburg Castle, in order to correspond with Melanchthon. The
Augsburg Confession received his full approval.
At the time (though there was much common ground), some of the differences between the papalists and the Lutherans
proved irreconcilable, and from 1530, the Church of the Augsburg Confession and the Church of Rome have been
separated. Nevertheless, Lutherans believe they are members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion
with all true Christians from every time and place. Today, there are roughly 70 million Lutherans worldwide, the majority of
whom live in Germany and the Scandinavian countries. However, Lutheranism has spread throughout the world, and in the
United States there are about 6 million.
The Lutheran contribution to Christianity has been enormous. The whole universal Church has benefited from the work of
Lutheran Biblical scholars, theologians, pastors, hymn writers, liturgists, composers, artists, and social activists. Lutherans,
acknowledging their part in the disunity of the visible Church have been actively engaged in the ecumenical movement, and
have made great strides in promoting reconciliation among the churches of Christ. In the last fifty years Lutherans have
worked with Catholics to reconcile differences between the Church of the Augsburg Confession and Church of Rome, which is
happily no longer viewed as an enemy, but a separated sister in Christ with whom true unity and full communion should be
achieved. In 1997, the Roman Catholic Church and member churches of the Lutheran World Federation signed The Joint
Declaration on Justification which states that there is essential agreement between the two Christian bodies on the doctrine of
justification, and that the condemnations of the 16th Century regarding this doctrine (which both parties hurled at one
another) no longer apply today in light of much fruitful scholarship and dialogue. This is a significant milestone on the road to
The following is a concise overview of what Lutheran Christians believe:
We confess the faith of the Nicene, Apostles' and Athanasian Creeds. Our doctrine is rooted in the Holy Scriptures, and is
summed up in the 16th Century Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord.
We believe that the Holy Bible tells us who the true God is and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ.
We believe that the Bible contains the Law (which condemns sin) and the Gospel which gives us forgiveness and the promise
of new life in Jesus Christ.
We believe that we are saved not on account of our works or merits, but on account of what Jesus did for us on the cross.
We believe that God accepts us because of our faith in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith when we're
baptized, when we hear God's Word proclaimed, and when we receive the Lord's Supper.
We believe that good works naturally follow true faith in Christ, but we do not trust in them for our salvation. We trust the work
of Jesus for us.
Since God's grace is a free and unearned gift, we believe that infants should be baptized.
We believe that Jesus' true living body and blood are really and truly in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord's
Supper (or Mass, Eucharist, Holy Communion).
We believe that ordained ministers of Word and Sacrament are necessary to the Church.
We believe that the Church exists wherever God's people gather around the Word and Sacraments of God.
We believe in both individual confession of sins (for those who desire it) and corporate confession.
We believe that Christian liturgy should be in the language of the people and all God's people should participate in it.
We love Mary and the saints, and we strive to follow their example in response to God's grace, but when we pray, we pray to
God alone, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We believe in being good citizens and taking an active part in government and other worldly affairs for the sake of peace and
prosperity. We pay taxes, hold political offices, and fight in just wars.
We believe that we are called by God to live out the Christian life in our various callings: parenting, career, as employer, as
employee, etc. All Christians are priests because we are all called to share God's Word and offer our lives in sacrificial love
for the good of our neighbor.
We believe that we are not a break away group or a sect, but part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which was
founded by Christ and will remain forever.
Reverend Jack R. Whritenour
Trinity Lutheran Church, Shelton, CT
January 17, 2005 A.D.
|183 Howe Avenue
Shelton, CT 06484