Rev. Dr. Martin Luther first became a historical figure because he wanted to clear something up. In 1517, ten years after he was ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood, he felt compelled to question the claims that were being made with regard to a popular religious practice known as “indulgences.” Defined by the Catholic Church as “a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin,” during that year, Pope Leo X had declared them for those who financially supported the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
Whether Rome intended to say that one could “buy one’s way out of punishment,” or bribe God through His representative, the Pope, this is how these indulgences came to be understood. People purchased indulgences, not only for themselves, but for their departed loved ones. Luther’s challenge to this practice was, for him, the first step of a journey that would lead him and others to seek the reformation of what had become a carnal institution to its divine spiritual purpose. Luther understood that the Church was not simply a hierarchical institution that existed to dispense grace to those who sought peace with God. Through his reading of the Scriptures, Luther saw that God gathered together those who, in response to the free promise of grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, believing the Good News.
Over the next decades, Luther, along with such men as Philipp Melanchthon, Jakob Andraea, Martin Chemnitz, and Nickolaus Selnecker, taught, preached, and wrote what would become the essential doctrines of the Evangelical or Lutheran faith. By 1580, the Book of Concord, containing the Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles’ Creed, Nico-Constantinopolitan Creed, and Athanasian Creed), the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), the Smalcald Articles (1537), the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537), Luther's Small and Large Catechisms (1529), and the Formula of Concord (1577), gave to both friend and foe, Catholic, Protestant, and the curious, a clear, pure exposition of what it means to be a Lutheran Christian.
This book discusses the main themes of the Lutheran understanding of Christianity, as explained by these documents. Along the way, we’ll look at the history of what began as a dispute between a man and his religious superiors about a point of doctrine, but was, in God’s hands, a pruning away of false, unbiblical notions about what it means to love God, have a relationship with God, and serve God and His Church in His world. Hopefully, you will understand what makes Lutheranism unique, as well as how, although the Lutheran Church has existed for 500 years, the faith which she preaches reaches back to the Apostle’s doctrine, and reaches forward to this moment. By God’s help, may you become both a hearer, and a doer, of His Word, and may this book help encourage you in the Faith.