Here’s an in-depth explanation of what we Lutherans believe…
Lutherans, like most other Christians, as well Jews, and Muslims are monotheists, meaning that they believe that there is only one God. As the Christian and Muslim religions have their roots in the Judiasm; Jews, Christians, and Muslims actually share some common historical and religious texts (though their interpretations vary) and therefore believe in the same God. These three major monotheistic faiths all believe in a perfect God that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
Christians also believe that God is triune (literally “three as one”). This trinity is called many names such as “The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or equivalently the “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.” The aspects of this trinity center around the God in Heaven who created the universe, the God that came to earth in the physical form as Jesus of Nazareth, and the unseen God that moves in the hearts of men and women today. Since the three parts of the trinity are considered to be indivisible, Christians may pray to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, with the implicit understanding that they are praying to the Trinity. The emphasis of particular parts of the trinity may vary depending on the branch of Christianity.
Lutherans also believe that this Triune God loves all people and delights in personal relationships with them. Thus, Lutherans do not pray to Mary, the mother of Jesus, or to any of the Apostles or Saints. Similarly, Lutherans need not confess their sins to a clergy member but do so through a direct conversation with God.
Lutherans believe people have free will and that it is a gift of God. They also believe that people live in sin as a result of the first humans, Adam and Eve, misusing that gift. Because of this “original sin,” Lutherans believe that all people are born into sin and cannot get out of this state on our own merits. The word “sin” is used as a noun to describe the fractured relationship between the people of creation and God. Lutherans believe that individual sins or acts of wrongdoing are a direct result of the state of Sin into which all people are born.
Our every attempt to please God falls short of the mark. By the standard of the Law, of which the Ten Commandments are a classic summary, God expresses His just and loving expectations for creation, and our failure to live up to those expectations reveals only our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims all generally agree that about 2,000 years ago, a man called Jesus of Nazareth lived and died in Palestine during the governorship of the Roman administrator, Pontius Pilate. Jews, Christians, and Muslims also generally disagree about what Jesus was and what his relationship with God was. Jews consider Jesus little more than an accomplished “rabbi” or teacher in the Holy Scriptures, Muslims generally consider him to be an important prophet of God before the coming of Mohammed. Christians, however, believe Jesus is Christ (literally “the anointed one”) or, equivalently, “the Messiah” or “the Savior.”
To Christians, the relationship between Jesus and God is very special and unlike anything else in creation. As such, the English language (and many others) does not have words to adequately describe exactly who and what Jesus is and how he is related to God. Jesus called himself the “Son of God” and referred to God as “Father” (or “Abba”, which is actually more affectionate like “Daddy” is today). Jesus also calls himself the “Son of Man” indicating that just as much as he is a human with Godly lineage, that he is also God with a human parent. Christians believe that Jesus is simultaneously wholly man and wholly God.
…about Jesus’ earthly life:
Lutherans believe that the purpose of Jesus’ life on earth was twofold. First, it was to be an example of a life devoid of sin— that is, a life in perfect communion with God, resisting all evil temptations. Jesus emphasized that God was the source of all love and that God’s will is for all people to love each other. When asked which of the Ten Commandments was the greatest, he replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
The second purpose was to be a sacrifice for the forgiveness of others’ sins. For many of us, this point is difficult to understand, largely because the practice of human sacrifice is so foreign. In the past, however, many cultures practiced animal sacrifice. In fact, the English word “scape goat” came from the practice of attaching human sins (usually in the form of strips of cloth) to a goat and ritually sacrificing it. In a similar vein, Christians believe that Jesus, in perfect obedience to God’s will, took upon himself the sins of the world and allowed himself to be arrested, tortured, and killed as a sacrifice. This explains what is probably the best known verse from the Bible, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son to die for us.” (John 3:16)
Another crucial tenet of the Christian Faith is that Jesus arose again on the third day of his death, continued to meet and teach with his disciples, and eventually returned to Heaven, where he sits at the right hand of God. Christians believe that Jesus will return to Earth and judge the living and dead before the Apocalypse. To those who follow His teachings, He promises eternal life in Paradise.
Christians also believe in “The Holy Spirit” which was sent to earth by Jesus after his resurrection and ascension into Heaven.
The Christian church is made up of those who have been baptized and thus have received Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. Sometimes it is referred to as “the Body of Christ.” Lutherans believe that they are a part of a community of faith that began with the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with his people, on the day of Pentecost. The church, regardless of the external form it takes, is the fellowship of those who have been restored to God by Christ. Indeed, to be called into fellowship with Christ is also to be called into community with other believers.
The church is essential to Christian life and growth. Its members are all sinners in need of God’s grace. It has no claim on human perfection. The church exists solely for the hearing and doing of God’s Word. It can justify its existence only when it proclaims the living Word of Christ, administers the Sacraments and gives itself to the world in deeds of service and love. Most Lutherans recognize a wider fellowship of churches and are eager to work alongside them in ecumenical ministries and projects.
…about the Bible:
To borrow a phrase from Luther, the Bible is “the manger in which the Word of God is laid.” While Lutherans recognize differences in the way the Bible should be studied and interpreted, it is accepted as the primary and authoritative witness to the church’s faith. Written and transcribed by many authors over a period of many centuries, the Bible bears remarkable testimony to the mighty acts of God in the lives of people and nations. In the Old Testament, we find the vivid account of God’s covenant relationship to Israel. In the New Testament, we have the story of God’s new covenant with all of creation in Jesus.
The New Testament is the first-hand proclamation of those who lived through the events of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection. As such, it is the authority for Christian faith and practice. The Bible is thus not a definitive record of history or science. Rather, it is the record of the drama of God’s saving care for creation throughout the course of history.
Some Christian faiths view the Bible as the unadulterated Word of God; as if God physically pushed the pen when the words of the Bible were first written (and by extension, each time it hasbeen translated.) Lutherans take a more pragmatic approach. They consider the Bible divinely inspired, and certainly the primary reference to the nature of God, but not immune to the effects of the cultural bias of the author, or poor interpretations, or time.
Additionally, the Bible is not an “owner’s manual” of Christianity and does not attempt to catalog all the characteristics and features of God. The Good News of a God who loves us, Jesus Christ who saves us from Sin, and the Holy Spirit who sustains us is much larger than any single book. So while the Bible is our primary source that reveals the Trinity, it is only a partial view of the glory that is God.