Luther's Rose

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What is a Christian?

A Christian is one who places his/her faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Lord and Savior.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
 John 3: 16

Who is Jesus?

For hundreds of years, Christians around the world (Lutherans included) have answered the question "Who is Jesus?" by repeating one of the church's most ancient creeds: the Apostles' Creed. The word "creed" simply means "I believe." The Apostles' Creed summarizes in a few short statements what the Bible teaches about the true God. The creed begins: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." According to the Bible, there is only one God, the almighty, all knowing Creator of all, who mercifully provides for the needs of His creatures. In love, God originally created human beings in His image: perfect and sinless. In sinful pride, our first parents rebelled against God and brought sin, death and suffering to the entire human race. But God's love for His sinful creatures could not be quenched. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue sinful humanity by His perfect life, redeeming death, and glorious resurrection from the dead.

Thus, the creed continues: "I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into Hell.  The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead." According to the Bible, Jesus is both true God and true man. He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity: three persons, but only one God (the "Triune God"). But He is also true man, a human being like us in every way except for sin.  As true God and true man, Jesus lived the perfect life that we could never live.  He suffered and died on the cross to pay the price for all of our sins. He rose from the dead to seal and proclaim His victory over sin, death and the devil. Then He ascended into heaven where He rules in power and glory, until the day when He returns to judge the living and the dead. Jesus has done everything necessary to accomplish the salvation of all people. Therefore, the Bible's answer to the question, "How can I be saved?" is a very simple one: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). According to Scripture, salvation comes not by "living a good life" or "trying to be a good person," since "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  Salvation is a free gift of God, which comes through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

The third and final article of the Apostles' Creed explains how faith in Jesus is possible. The creed concludes: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." According to the Bible, we are not able to trust in Jesus by our own strength, power or wisdom. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, enables us and empowers us to believe. The Holy Spirit also sustains and strengthens our faith and makes us members of Christ's body, the church.  Joining with other believers to hear God's Word and receive His sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), Forgiveness for sins and strength to live lives that are pleasing to God and bring blessing to us and to others. We look forward in hope and eager anticipation to Christ's second coming, when He will bring us and all believers to our true, heavenly home, where the glory and beauty of God's creative work will be fully and perfectly restored.

What is a Lutheran?

With the universal Christian Church, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod teaches and responds to the love of the Triune God: the Father, creator of all that exists; Jesus Christ, the Son, who became human to sufferand diefor the sins of all human beings and to rise to life again in theultimate victory over death and Satan; and the Holy Spirit, who creates faiththrough God's Word and Sacraments. The three persons of the Trinity are co-equaland, co-eternal, one God.

Being "Lutheran," our congregations offically accept and teach Bible-based teachings of Martin Luther that inspired the reformation of the Christian Church in the 16th century. The teaching of Luther and the reformers can be summarizedin three short phrases: Grace alone, Scripture alone, Faith alone.

What Do Lutherans Believe?

The Lutheran Church derives its name from Martin Luther (1483-1546), an Augustinian monk whose posting of the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, sparked the Reformation. The documents which present what Lutherans believe, teach and confess were assembled and published in 1580 in The Bookof Concord. For more than 400 years, these documents have served as a normativestatement of the Christian faith as Lutherans confess it. The confessiona larticle of the constitution of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod offically states that "the Synod and every member of the Synod, accepts without reservation the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and normof faith and of practice," and all the writings in the Book of Concord as "a true and unadulterated statement and expositionof the Word of God" (LCMS Constitution II).

Significantly, the very first documents included in The Book of Concord are the three ancient ecumenical creeds compiled during the early, formative years of the Christian era -- the Apostles' Creed (ca. third century A.D.), the Nicene Creed (fourth century), and the Athanasian  fifth andsixth centuries). In addition, the Book of Concord includes Luther's Small Catechism (1529) and the Augsburg Confession (1530), and five other16th century statements, including Luther's Large Catechism and the Formulaof Concord.

Luther and the other writers of these confessions did not want to be doctrinal innovators. They, together with their contemporary descendants, maintain that we believe and teach nothing more and nothingless than what the Scriptures themselves teach and what Christians throughthe ages have alwaysbelieved. We therefore consider ourselves to be catholic( small "c"), which means "universal." At the same time, we have always thought of ourselves as evangelical (in some countries, the Lutheran Church is still today referred to as simply the Evangelical Church), since the evangel --the Gospel, the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ forthe sins of the world -- is at the heart and core of everything we believeand teach. Lutherans, therefore, can rightly be regarded as evangelical catholics. Standing firmly in the tradition of the trinitarian and Christological formulations of the 4th and 5th centuries, sinners are justified (declared right) with the Creator God by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), on the basis of Scripture alone (sola scriptura). These three great "Reformation solas" form a handy outline of what Missouri Synod Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.

Grace Alone

At the heart of what we believe is the conviction that salvation is the free gift of God's grace (undeserved mercy) for Christ's sake alone. "Since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to thecourse of nature are conceived and born in sin" (Augsburg Confession II,1), the Lutherans confessedbefore Emperor Charles V in Augsburg, Germany,in 1530. This "inborn sickness and hereditary sin" makes it utterly impossiblefor people to earn forgiveness.If salvation were dependent on human initiative,there would be no hope foranyone. But God forgives our sins, says Lutherin his Large Catechism (1529),"altogether freely, out of pure grace" (LCIII, 96).

The basis for the grace of God that alone gives hopeto sinners is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe,as Luther put it in his explanation to the second article of the Apostles'Creed, "that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity,and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemedme, a lost and condemnedperson . . . not with gold or silver, but with hisholy, precious blood andwith his innocent suffering and death. . . ." (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanations, p.14). The Scriptures teach that God's grace in Chris tJesus is universal, embracing all people of all times and all places. There is no sin for which Christ has not died. Says the Formula of Concord (1577), "We must by all means cling rigidly and firmly to the fact that asthe proclamation of repentance extends over all men (Luke 24:47), so also does the promise ofthe Gospel . . . . Christ has taken away the sin of theworld (John 1:29)" (FC SD XI, 28). Therefore, there need be no question inany sinner's mind whether Christ has died for each and every one of his orher personal sins.

Faith Alone

While God's grace is universal and embraces all people the Scriptures teach that this grace can be appropriated by sinful human beings only through faith. Here is where Luther's decisivebreak came with the understanding of the doctrine of justification that hadgenerally prevailed in the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.

A thousand years before the Reformation, St. Augustine(A.D. 354-430) had fought strongly against the errors of a monk named Pelagius.  Pelagius taught that sinners could contribute to their salvation by their own efforts, apart from God's grace in Christ. Relying on St. Paul's letterto the Romans, Augustine held that Adam's fall into sin had so corruptedhuman nature that the human will was completely depraved and enslaved to the flesh. But Augustine believed that sinners, following their conversionand infused with renewing grace by means of baptism, begin to be healed,and are actually empowered byGod's grace to perform inherently good works. Christians, according to Augustine,do continue to commit some sins, butthey also begin to do more good things and fewer bad things as they are gradually justified by God.

This Augustinian understanding of justification by grace, later rejected by Luther, was nevertheless of great help to him at the beginningof his career as he fought against the crass work-righteousness of indulgence selling. But try as he might, Luther's troubled heart would give him no rest.Despite his best efforts, Luther could not find in himself that pure lovethat Augustine said Christians were capable of manifesting following conversion. After years of struggle over this question, Luther finally discovered thatthe Scriptures teach that sinners are saved "through faith alone." God's grace is the sole basis of salvation for the sinner only when it is appropriated solely through faith.

Luther had learned from Augustine that only the grace of God could save him. But Luther's rediscovery of the Gospel in all its clarity took place when he came to see that he did not first have to do something to merit God's saving grace. Philip Melanchthon, Luther's colleague at the University of Wittenberg, writes in the Augsburg Confession: "Our churches also teachthat men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, orworks, but are freely justified for Christ's sake throughfaith when theybelieve that they are received into favor and that theirsins are forgivenon account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom.3,4)" (AC IV, 1-3).

The implications of salvation "through faith alone" permeate everything. For example, the conversion of sinners is a gift of God and not the result of any human effortor decision. In the words of Luther's explanationto the third article of the Apostle's Creed: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spiri thas called me by the Gospel." (Luther's Small Catechismwith Explanation, p.15).

The Scriptures teach that the sole object of saving faith is Jesus Christ and his resurrection, and that it is only by the miraculous power of God the Holy Spirit that the Christian can say, "I believe." Faith is not a human workbut a gift from God.

Scripture Alone

Luther's insight that salvation comes by grace alonethrough faith alone cannot be divorced from "on the basis of Scripture alone."For it was directly as a result of his commitment to Scripture that Luther came to rediscover justification by grace alone through faith alone.

Together with his contemporaries, Luther held that the Bible is the Word of God and that it does not mislead or deceive us. But unlike his opponents in the Roman Catholic Church, Luther rejected the notion that an infallible magisterium of the church is necessary for the right interpretationof the Bible. Scripture alone, said Luther, is infallible. The institutional church and its councils, as well as its teachers, including the Pope, can and do err. But Scripture, says Luther, "will not lie to you" (Large CatechismV, 76).

Scripture alone -- not Scripture and tradition, Scripture and the church, Scripture and human reason, or Scriptureand experience -- stands as the final standard of what the Gospel is.

But confidence in the reliability of the Bible is not possible apart from faith in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are held true because of Jesus Christ. Christ is the object of faith, not the Bible. We believe that the inversion of this order compromises "scripture alone" and results in rationalisticf undamentalism, as if an accepted demonstration of the Bible's truthfulnessand reliability -- perhaps a piece of Noah's ark, for example -- could providea foundation for faith in the Gospel. The Bible remains a dark book apart from faith in Christ, for He is its true content. But when sinners are brought to faith in Him, Christ points them back to the writings of the prophets and apostles as the sole authoritative source for all the church believes, teaches and confesses.

The key to understanding Scripture properly is the careful distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The proper distinction between Law and Gospel is exampled within C. F. W. Walther's best known book -- The Law tells what God demands of sinners if they are to be saved. The Gospel reveals whatGod has already done for our salvation. The chief purpose of the Law is to show us our sin and our need for a Savior. The Gospel offers the free gif tof God's salvation in Christ. The whole Bible can be divided into these two chief teachings.It is in the proper distinction between Law and Gospel that the purity ofthe Gospel is preserved and the three solas of "grace alone," "faith alone "and "Scripture alone" are united.

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