Martin Luther found no peace with God in the rituals through which the medieval church taught him to seek divine favor by means of his own actions. As a professor of the Bible, he discovered instead that God is a merciful, loving God of conversation and community—the Creator who re-creates by giving sinners trust in the forgiveness won for them by Christ’s death and resurrection. Luther believed that all Christians are called in their baptisms to be God’s conversation partners and His agents for continuing the conversation, as the Holy Spirit gives the baptized the opportunity to witness to the saving work of Christ on the cross and in His resurrection. Luther’s colleague at the University of Wittenberg, Philip Melanchthon, defined what the Christian faith is in biblical terms in the Augsburg Confession (1530), and that document became the foundational statement of Lutheran belief and practice. Luther cultivated the confession and daily life of his followers through his catechisms (1529), which have been used around the world to nurture life in Christ ever since.
Conceived in the lecture halls of the university and born in the national legislative assembly at Augsburg, the Lutheran church took an active interest in promoting learning and influencing public policy throughout its history. Already in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Orthodox Lutherans began to bring the Gospel to those outside the faith in other lands: Swedish Lutherans in Lapland and North America, Danish Lutherans on the West-African coast, and Latvian Lutherans in the Caribbean and West Africa. The first successful Protestant “foreign” mission effort began in India in 1706, when the Danish king sent German Lutheran “pietist” missionaries to Tranquebar.
Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Lutheran theologians continued the effort begun at Augsburg to give testimony to the Wittenberg confession of the truth of Scripture in conversations with other Christians. At the same time, in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, Lutherans resisted persecution from the Counter-Reformation. When pastors were sent to the galleys, the lay people took Bibles, catechisms, and hymnbooks and worshipped in secluded forests, at the risk of imprisonment and execution themselves.
Immigrants from Lutheran lands carried their faith to Australia, South Africa, Russia, and the Americas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and founded there churchly cultures that adapted to new societal and cultural conditions. Friedrich Schmid began ministering to scattered German immigrants in Michigan in 1833, and one of many Lutheran mission organizations—that headed by Wilhelm Löhe in Neuendettelsau—sent lay and ordained missionaries to bring the Gospel to Native Americans in the Saginaw Valley beginning in 1845. These communities joined with other Lutherans committed to the Book of Concord and its witness to biblical truth in organizing the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in 1847. Dedicated to public witness of the faith, the Synod became the largest church body among German Protestant immigrants, and in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has reached out to bring the Gospel of life in Christ to many, many others.
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