We use four words to describe the Lutheran movement: evangelicalcatholicecumenical and reforming. Since several of those words need some definition, read on:


Evangelical means centered in the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) chose to use this word in its name because it expresses the heart of Lutheran theology. (The term evangelicals is often used today to refer to conservative Christians, fundamentalists, and the “religious right.”)

Justification by grace through faith is a defining phrase for Lutherans.

  • Lutheran theology is centered in grace, God’s unconditional love for us.
  • Justification refers to the way we are made right with God despite our sin and self-centeredness.
  • The Church at the time of Martin Luther was corrupt in many ways and the medieval view at that time was that you earned salvation and your way to heaven through good works. Martin Luther taught that we are justified by grace, not works.
  •  Grace means that everything begins with God’s initiative.
  •  Our relationship with God is not determined by our good works, our behavior or our being holy and spiritual. Rather God loves and accepts us unconditionally. In baptism we receive the gift of God’s never-ending love.
  •  Our faith, our service and our good works are a response to God’s gracious initiative, not the way to earn it. Our whole lives are a response to what we receive in baptism.

Lutherans and the Bible

  • Lutherans read the Bible through the lens of the gospel, the good news. The gospel is the message of forgiveness, freedom, new life, unconditional love and acceptance that we receive through Christ.
  • Lutherans do not give equal weight to all of the Bible; Martin Luther taught that the proclamation of the gospel had ultimate authority.
  •  Lutherans define the Word of God first as Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Word is also the proclamation of the gospel (in preaching, sacraments and through word and deed).
  • The Bible is the Word of God in that it bears witness to the gospel of Christ.


Lutherans are catholic—part of the universal Church through the ages and around the world.

In the Nicene Creed we say we believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Lutherans embrace the fullness of the Church’s tradition.

Lutherans claim to be part of the catholic (small c) Church rather than a separate sect.

To be catholic means:

  • + we share in share in common the central articulation of the Christian faith in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds;
  • + we honor and share the scriptures as the authoritative source and norm for our proclamation;
  • + we celebrate the sacraments of baptism and holy communion;
  • + we use a liturgy with a basic form in common with Christians around the world and through the ages;
  • + we use a lectionary (cycle of scripture readings) in common with a majority of Christians around the world.

What makes it catholic?

Though many Protestants may have not observed these traditions in the centuries after the Reformation, many of these ancient practices are being reintroduced. Actually, many of these traditions are not just Roman Catholic, but are observed by Anglicans, Orthodox, many Lutherans and other Protestants.

Some catholic traditions include:

  • stained-glass windows
  •  altar, cross and candles
  •  processions
  •  celebrating the seasons of the church year such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost
  •  seasonal traditions such as the Advent wreath, ashes on Ash Wednesday, a palm procession on Palm Sunday
  •  celebrating Holy Communion every Sunday
  •  wearing albs (white robes) and other vestments
  •  making the sign of the cross, bowing and kneeling
  •  chanting