What do we believe?
Contrary to popular belief, Lutheranism is not primarily a system of doctrines and dogmas.
Lutheranism is a WAY --
+A Way of Seeing
+A Way of Hearing
+A Way of Teaching
+A Way of Following
A Way of Seeing
The central visual symbol in our worship is the cross. It is here, on the cross, that God meets us. God makes Godself present: hidden in weakness, vulnerable, suffering, forsaken, and dying.
In the abyss of despair, God comes. In our weakness, God encounters us. We do not find God. God finds us - in our darkness, our pain, our emptiness, our loneliness, our weakness.
Because of Jesus, we know that God chooses specific parts of creation where God makes Godself knows as a God who loves and forgives. We call these sacraments, and the Lutheran Church has two sacraments - Baptism and Holy Communion.
A Way of Hearing
We affirm that the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of seeing - God in the infant Jesus, God in Jesus dying on the cross, God in all creation, God in history, God in bread, wine, and water. That same Holy Spirit bestows upon us the gift of hearing the Living Word.
The Living Word is truth manifest in an event, a story, or an encounter through which God addresses us and calls for repentance, revolution, and a redirection of life. The Living Word is a living address that enters our ears calling for a radical change.
The climactic address of God's Living Word is the event of the life, teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we hear the story, God breaks into our lives pleading for us to give up our games, false gods, illusions, vindications, and excuses. God exhorts us to give up our dreams of finding validation in our good works and in our status.
Through Christ, God woos us and pleads with us, "I love you. I forgive you. I want you. Trust me. Obey me. Enter the joy of my kingdom." When we hear this call, we hear the Living Word.
A Way of Teaching
Words are important, because they communicate the living event. Words witness to the Living Word acting in our history. Therefore, the Holy Spirit calls preachers, teachers, and witnesses to explain the Living Word in words.
Since the time of Martin Luther in the 16th century, Lutherans have led a teaching movement within the Western Church. This teaching movement of the Lutherans is catholic, evangelical, and reforming.
What do we mean when we say that Lutherans are catholic? The word catholic means "universal." We are catholic Christians, members of the universal and apostolic church, one family in Christ by baptism. We pray for and work for the unity of the whole church on earth, longing for the day when the Holy Spirit will gather all Christians into a single body, a people who will be one, as Jesus and the Father are one.
What do we mean when we say that Lutherans are evangelical? We proclaim the good news that God has come to us in Christ, in water, and in bread and wine. We are born again, not because we made an intellectual decision, but because God has claimed us in baptism and we trust in God's unconditional love through faith. We joyfully proclaim that God comes in the flesh and says YES to all humanity.
What do we mean when we say that Lutherans are reforming? Lutherans work tirelessly to reform the church; to bring the church into conformity with the Gospel. We constantly pray for the Holy Spirit to show us where our personal and corporate lives must change in order to conform to the Gospel. When the Spirit directs us to reformation, we act in faith and trust.
A Way of Following
Central to our beliefs is that the church should be shaped by the Gospel. That means that we are called to die in order to live. But what does dying in order to live mean? It means meeting God where God chooses to find us - in our sorrow, our pain, our weakness. It means hearing God's gracious word manifest in the death of Jesus on the cross. It means following Jesus in his death and resurrection.
In this light, baptism becomes the overpowering event in our lives, the event which tells us who we are, whose we are, and how we are to live.
In baptism, we died. Our old self was crucified and buried with Christ. We are raised with Christ to live as new human beings in a new order of existence. We return daily to our baptisms, remembering the promises of God and that God has said YES to us.
Because of God's YES, we are able to trust God, we are dedicated to human liberation, we walk in solidarity with those who are in pain, we are freed from sin and death but also freed for a life of service.
We are justified (saved) by grace through faith!
Many thanks to Daniel Erlander for his insights.