Lutheran church

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Lutheran churches trace their history and doctrines directly to Martin Luther, the man that started the Protestant Reformation.

Most Lutheran churches accept conventional Protestant theology. They are distinguished by a belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God, the priesthood of all believers, a belief in the efficacy of infant baptism, a sung liturgy, and an emphasis on faith in God as the basis of christian experience. Notably, they do not believe that the church has the ability to grant expiation of sins. This is thought to be between an individual and God.

Because of the prophecy of Jan Hus, (whose name means 'goose'), a swan is the traditional symbol of many Lutheran congregations. According to tradition, as Hus was being burned, he said "Today you burn a goose, but in a hundred years will come a swan whose voice you will not be able to still." By tradition, a hundred years later to the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg church door.

Music is a large part of a traditional Lutheran service. Martin Luther is said to have said, "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" Luther himself composed hymns and hymn tunes, including "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" {Ein Feste Burg} Many Lutheran churches have active music ministries, including choirs, hand-bell choirs, children's choirs and sometimes carillon societies (to ring bells in a bell tower).

To prevent spiritual harm to curious non-Christians, some Lutheran churches limit communion, the ritual sharing of bread and wine, to church members.

Children's ministries are considered fundamental in most Lutheran churches. Almost all maintain Sunday Schools, and many host or maintain private nursery-schools, primary schools, regional high schools and universities, as well as social groups for high school students and young adults. Lutheran pastors and staff are repeatedly reminded that most evangelism occurs within the church, with children.

The social groups are essential, not decorative. Most Lutheran churches actively teach young persons not to marry out of the christian faith.

Lutheran churches usually maintain an active set of charitable organizations focused directly on their community, as well as regional and international groups. In the U.S., these even include insurance companies.

Pastors usually teach in the common language of the country in which they live. Pastors almost always have substantial theological educations, including Greek and Hebrew so that they can refer directly to the canonical christian scriptures in the original language. Pastors are traditionally encouraged to marry.

The primary governance of a Lutheran church is usually a board of elders. Eldership has relatively few privileges, and many responsibilities. Elders are selected for piety, good reputation, demonstrated willingness to contribute to the church, and administrative ability. In the U.S., many churches are nonprofit corporations, with the elders acting as the board of directors.

Lutheranism in the United States

In the U.S., congregations are grouped into over 20 different denominations. The three largest Lutheran bodies in the United States are, in order of size, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the even more conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). These denominations provide seminaries, pastoral care, and Sunday-school and liturgical materials. Local congregations pay money to support them and get services. Denominations help start new churches belong to them.

ELCA is divided into 64 geographical and 1 non-geographical synods. LCMS and WELS each constitute a single synod for the entire denomination.

U.S. denominations differ on doctrine and practice. Doctrinally the denominations differ primarily based on their acceptance of the theory of "higher criticism." LCMS and WELS mistrust this set of critical literature, which explcitly denies the miraculous provenance of many events described in the Bible. In contrast, many members of the ELCA believe that higher criticism represents the best efforts of modern scholarship. The most divisive issue of practice is the ordination of women, which has caused individuals and whole parishes to move from one to another synod affiliation. Another dividing point is whether atheists may be permitted to teach in seminaries and perform pastoral care.

Modern Lutheranism in Europe

Lutheranism is the state religion of many countries in Northern Europe, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and parts of Germany. In these countries, the churches are supported directly by taxes. Notably, the state churches have very low attending memberships, and most state-supported seminaries embrace modern and contemporary movements in biblical criticism and theology.

In northern [[Europe] many persons attend religious services only for baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals. Confirmation is treated much as a coming-of-age ceremony. The training for confirmation usually constitutes the largest exposure of Northern Europeans to Christian doctrines.

Many major seaports contain an outpost of the Norwegian Lutheran church to provide aid, social opportunities and pastoral care for visiting Norwegian seamen.