About the Lutheran Church and Martin Luther


The Lutheran Church developed out of the reforms to the Roman Catholic Church proposed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther in 1517.  Luther was a Professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg, Germany.  Together with other faculty members, Luther called for a reduction in church government and clearer worship including Bible reading and worship in the language of the people instead of Latin.  He also advocated for married clergy and free public education.


Luther’s ideas stressed that the Bible is the Word of God and supersedes church tradition, that grace is a free gift of God and is not earned in any way, and that our lives should be a joyful response to the new life we have received in Christ.  These ideas were the foundation of the first reformers who were labeled protesters or “protestants” by the Roman Catholic Church.  All modern non-Roman or Orthodox churches have their roots in Luther and his call for reforms. 


Despite their desire for reform, Luther and his followers saw no reason to change everything.  They kept what they thought was not a problem, so to this day the Lutheran church straddles a line between looking and sounding Roman Catholic with bishops and a structured worship style but being very clearly theologically protestant and holding onto the authority of scripture and the preaching of God’s Word of grace.


Persecuted for his beliefs and eventually excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church, Luther and his followers set up their own church structure.  By 1600 Lutheranism was firmly established as the official (state) religion of most of Northern Europe.  Lutheran came to North America as early at 1620 with a group of Danish explorers, and by 1649 a Lutheran congregation was meeting in New Amsterdam (modern New York City).


With the large influx of Germans into Pennsylvania in the early and middle 1700’s, German Lutherans joined their Swedish Lutheran brethren in Delaware to form a uniquely American Lutheran Church following the Revolutionary War.   In fact, one of Washington’s generals and the first Speaker of the House of Representatives were both sons of the leading Lutheran pastor of the time.


Subsequent immigration from other parts of Germany in the early 1800’s and later immigration from Scandinavia in the late 1800’s made Lutheranism a multi-faceted national body.  The years of the 20th century witnessed a series of mergers as Lutheran bodies overcame their ethnic identity and celebrated their theological unity.  The last major coming together resulted in the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988.


For nearly two centuries Lutherans have been leaders in reaching out to other, founding hospitals, colleges, orphanages, seminaries, and homes for the aged.  The Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia area was a center of this activity for much of the middle of the 19th century.  Today Lutheran Services in America serves 1 in every 50 people in the United Sates with some form of ministry.   A fast growing international church, there are more Lutherans in Africa than in North America.