The religious principles of the Lutheran Evangelicism

Rev. Dr Dariusz Chwastek
Translated by Dr Joanna Teske and Barbara Gauze-Gwóźdź

The Lutheran
identity is based in the first place on the Bible. The Holy Scripture
is the only source of belief and life of the Lutheran Church. Whatever
is incompatible with the Scripture is rejected by the Church as an expression
of faith incompatible with the apostolic tradition. From the Holy Scripture
one learns, among other things, that God is invariably directed towards
man. Hence the reading and listening to the words of the Bible does
not require the fulfillment of any preliminary conditions; by itself,
by the might of the Holy Spirit, it can transform the human heart. Man
is solely responsible for his/her own religious life. It is man who,
standing before God, lets God form a relationship with him/her. God
reveals Himself by means of the Holy Scripture, on the basis of which
man has to lead his/her own life. The individual reading of the Bible,
as well as reading it during Lutheran services, lessons of religion
or in other forms of pastoral work is most important for the Lutheran
religiosity. This concentration on the Bible should shape the style
of life and upbringing.

By the might
of the words of the Holy Scripture, one performs also acts of consecration
of various objects such as the ground on which the church or chapel
will be built, the cornerstone, the tower, the bell-tower, liturgical
utensils and the like.

The Symbolic

An accurate
explication of the Bible is given in the so-called Symbolic Books.
These are a collection of confessional books, containing the binding
presentation of the teaching of the Lutheran Church as a criterion of
ecclesiastic orthodoxy. Apart from the three Ecumenical Creeds: the
Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Athanasian
Creed, they constitute the basis for the common Lutheran faith.
The collection of Symbolic Books comprises The
Small Catechism
(1529), The Large Catechism (1529),
The Augsburg Confession
(1530), The Apology of the Augsburg Confession
(1530/31), The Smalcald Articles (1537), The Treatise on the
Power and Primacy of the Pope
(1537) and The Formula of Concord

These books
contain explications of Lutheran principles which can be summarized
as fundamental religious rules:

– Scripture alone
(sola scriptura): the Holy Scripture is the basis for Christian
life and the Church,

– the Word alone (solum
): the Holy Spirit offers salvation through the Word of God
and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist,

– Christ alone (solus
): God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ perfectly and definitely,
Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man,

– grace alone (sola
): by grace alone God may justify and redeem man, man cannot
be justified or redeemed on account of his/her good deeds,

– faith alone (sola
): faith (together with love) is God’s gift, bestowed by the
Holy Spirit, the justification of man is possible by grace through faith
in Jesus Christ; that does not mean, however, that God does not care
for other people, i.e. those who have no faith in Jesus Christ, or that
they have no chance of salvation.

The testimony
about Jesus Christ

The testimony
about Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and people, occupies
a special place in the teaching of the Lutheran Church. As a real God
and real man, He is the only mediator between God and people. Saints
may be held up as models of Christian life, but the Bible excludes their
mediation in salvation: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator
between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Tim 2,5)

The Cross of
Jesus Christ is the only path to redemption and salvation. According
to the Lutheran theology, one cannot please God without faith in Christ;
faith which translates into salvation. Good deeds are a consequence
of faith. This means that a Christian does good not in order to be saved,
but as a result of being saved. The appreciation of faith in the Reformation
derives from the discovery of the biblical truth that justification
is given to individuals by God’s grace only, owing to the sacrifice
of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It is, however, worth remembering that
man cannot claim the credit for faith, as it is God’s gift! It originates
in contact with the word of God that is revealed in the Holy Scripture.
Faith is a special instrument via which man can receive the gift
of salvation. A Christian is obliged, then, to perform good deeds as,
originating in faith, they give testimony to its authenticity. ”For
by grace you have been saved through grace; and this is not your own
doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man
should boast,” (Eph 2,8-9).

The doctrine
of justification

In the language
of theology we can say that the above-mentioned rules of the Lutheran
faith constitute the Lutheran teaching on justification, justification
which has been offered each man by God’s grace. The idea of justification
was one of the most important revelations of the Reformer, Martin Luther,
and also one of the basic elements of his theology. According to Luther,
we do not become pious owing to our own effort, accomplishments or deeds,
but solely by trusting God’s justice. God deems us justified for free
without any merit on our part. Justification is not granted owing to
the piety of a man; it is always a justification of a sinner in virtue
of the life and person of Jesus Christ. This means that the believer,
even though s/he has been recognized as just by God, remains a sinner.
Man is then both justified and sinful, at the same time. This awareness
of justification has practical consequences for each believer, for it
has positive impact on his/her conscience. This means that whoever trusts
God may experience a sense of acceptance and forgiveness. This trust
in God concerns all human life, including also various forms of suffering
and even death itself. The Lutherans believe that God who freely offered
Himself for people on the Cross, has the power to accompany them not
only in suffering but also in the moment of death, when he leads them
into new life. It is in this context that one can best appreciate the
individual, personal character of the experience of justification.

the Lutheran identity, one must not ignore the individual relationship
of a particular believer with God, which places special emphasis on
the sphere of individual piety. One should at the same time remember
that this piety (i.e. the special life style constituted by various
forms of religious behaviour: religious practices and deeds) can never
be a condition of faith. Lutheran piety should only be a manifestation
of faith.

The Sacraments

The Lutheran
Church recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar
– the Last Supper (the Eucharist). Both were established by Jesus
Christ Himself, who thereby bestowed upon the world the invisible Grace
of God under visible signs. God offers the believers salvation gained
by the passion of Jesus Christ, not only via the Word of God
but also via the sacraments. Metaphorically speaking, the Word
of God and the sacraments are special channels of God’s grace.

Baptism –
God’s covenant with man

Baptism is
a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ. The relevant evidence can be
found in the words of the Gospel according to Matthew: “All authority
in heaven and on earth has been given me. Go therefore and make disciples
of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Mt 28, 18-19).

Martin Luther
aptly expresses the essence of Baptism in The
Small Catechism
: Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water
contained within God’s command and united with God’s Word.

This means
that although water is the visible sign of Baptism, the true power of
the sacrament lies in the working of the Word of God, which establishes
the covenant between God and man. The essence of the covenant consists
in God’s working in man; man’s sins are absolved by virtue of this

For Baptism
to be effective, it must be received in faith. When baptism is administered
to small children, as is most often the case in the Lutheran Church
(though some exceptions happen), the will of the child’s parents and
God-parents to bring the child into faith is necessary for the reception
of this sacrament. In front of God, it is they who bear the responsibility
for the baptized child.

Baptism is
usually administered during the service. Three times water is poured
over the head of the baptized child. The clergyman who performs the
sacrament utters the following words: “I baptize you (the child’s
name) in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Then he speaks the words of the blessing. At the end of the ceremony
of Baptism, the child’s parents and God-parents together with the
congregation gathered in the church profess their faith and pledge to
bring the child up in the faith in Jesus Christ.

The act of
Baptism is equivocal with the introduction of the newly baptized into
the congregation. Baptism is a one-time act that cannot be repeated.
Yet its value does not pass away after it has been administered, but
should be present in the whole spiritual life of a man.

The Eucharist

The most concise
and informative “definition” of the Eucharist can be found in
Small Catechism of Martin Luther: It is the true body
and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under bread and wine for us Christians
to eat and to drink, established by Christ Himself.

In The
Large Catechism
one can read also that:

the Sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine, such as
are ordinarily served at the table, but bread and wine comprehended
in, and connected with, the Word of God.

It follows
that bread and wine are not the Sacrament of the Altar beyond the moment
when the Word of God is announced to the man who eats the bread and
drinks the wine. The Word of God during the sacrament of the Eucharist
is the Words of Institution uttered by Jesus Christ. The consecration
happens, then, as a result of the pronouncement of the words of Jesus
Christ. All this should take place in the community of believers.

Even though
the Words of Institution were uttered only once – during the Last
Supper – they invariably preserve their power and ensure that in the
Sacrament of the Altar we deal with the true body and blood of our Lord
Jesus Christ. The importance of the Last Supper consists in the very
real bodily presence of Jesus Christ.

In the Last
Supper the Word of God does not merely tell us about the absolution
of sins but actually brings it about. Whoever, therefore, adheres to
the Word of God, does not merely hear the news of absolution but can
truly experience it. The word of the pledge, promising us the absolution
of sins and eternal life is the proper gift within the sacrament. It
is worth noting that out of the two elements of the sacrament – the
Word and the Sign – it is the Word which has the decisive power. The
Word of the promise is understood as the active Word of God, that can
be accepted only in faith.

One must not
speak in this context of a privatization of the relationship of the
believer with God. Every believer lives in the community of the congregation.
The emphasis that falls on the individual can well be seen in the Last
Supper, which takes place in the community. The Eucharist, however,
is not for Lutherans first of all a meeting of a local parish or congregation.
To take part in the Eucharist a particular man comes with his/her consciousness
of his/her sin and its absolution, for sin is of individual character.
The absolution of sins is based on one’s individual relationship with
God. There is no ecclesiastic commandment telling Lutherans to receive
the Eucharist; this is a question of individual decision. A Lutheran
knows that human conscience will be judged by God alone, not by the

External manifestations
of Lutheran identity

External manifestations
of Lutheran spirituality are very important and include respect for
work, responsibility and education. Lutherans, who wish to live in agreement
with the Reformer’s teaching, must live not only piously, but also
judiciously, because God requires this from them. Their life runs simultaneously
in two dimensions, the religious and the secular, since, being human,
they belong to two orders – that of salvation and that of secular
life. Such thinking has had a positive impact on the development of
culture, civilization, education, science, art and economy. It is of
great importance that after hundreds years of the existence of the Churches
originating from the Reformation, there is nothing in the Lutheran identity
hostile to Catholicism or the Orthodox rite. On the contrary, the Lutheran
Church cooperates with other Christian churches in many areas of life,
which is a sign of its reliability.

Passages from
the Catechisms of Martin Luther have been taken from the following

The Large
, by Martin Luther. Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T.
Dan. Published in: Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the
Ev. Lutheran Church
. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921).

Luther's Small Catechism
(1529) In English (Smith Translation of
1994): Translated by Robert E. Smith, June 10, 1994

Both can be
found at the following web site:

The Bible:
Revised Standard Version. The British Foreign Bible Society, 1971.