Lutheranism came about as a result of the Protestant Reformation in Germany which was begun by Martin Luther in 1521. Luther was a German theologian who realized that there were significant differences between what he read in the Bible and the practices of the Roman Catholic church at that time. He is known as the Father of the Reformation.
In America, there are two main branches of Lutheranism - the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and the Missouri Synod. Apostles is affiliated with the ELCA, the largest Lutheran body in the USA.
Grace alone - we are saved by the grace of God, not by anything we do,
Faith alone - our salvation is through our faith in God and the salvation we receive through Christ's death,
Scripture alone - the Bible is the standard by which all teachings and doctrines of the Church are based.
The Lutheran Church places great emphasis on a liturgical style of worship that follows the form of the historical Roman Catholic mass. A visitor to a Lutheran worship service will find themselves doing a lot of singing - both of the service and of hymns. Luther himself wrote many beautiful hymns with deep theological meaning, such as the well-known A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the greatest musicians of all time, was a Lutheran cantor - the leader of music for a cathedral.
Two sacraments are recognized: baptism and holy communion (also called The Lord's Supper or The Eucharist). In most congregations, including Apostles, communion is celebrated weekly as a sign of the importance it has in the life of Christians. Children are communed, in some churches even as infants as a sign that the Eucharist is God's gift to all people. We believe the body and blood of Jesus Christ comes to us through communion, not merely symbolically but as a true presence. ELCA congregations practice open communion, where any baptized Christian is welcome. Baptism is seen as a gift of God freely given for all, not just to those who have made a decision to accept Christ. Therefore, babies are baptized as soon as possible. Baptism is usually by pouring water onto the head of the person, although full immersion is practiced in some places.
Lutherans recognize the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as the sole source of revelation from God. ELCA Lutherans recognize the Bible as the inspired word of God but not as a literal document. We understand the Bible as containing two distinct types of content: Law and Gospel. This forms the basis for our belief in justification by grace through faith. Good works are signs of God's grace working through us, not something we do to earn our salvation. Lutheran worship is based on the texts from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible.
Lutherans do not believe in any sort of millennial kingdom on earth at the end of time. We teach that, at death, the souls of believers are taken into the presence of Jesus, where they await his return at the Second Coming when they will be resurrected. We also do not accept the Calvinist doctrine of salvation by predestination.
Christian education is central to Lutheranism. Sunday School for all ages is still practiced in most congregations. Adolescents study Luther's catechism in preparation for confirmation around age 13, at which time they take on the commitments their parents and sponsors made for them at their baptism. A seminary education is required for all pastors of the church. Only after receiving a call from a congregation can they be ordained. Both women and men are ordained and can also be married. The ELCA allows ordination of gay and lesbian candidates who are in a committed, monogamous relationship. Same sex partnerships are recognized by the ELCA, but the decision on how to interpret that is given to the individual congregations.
To become a member of a Lutheran congregation, a person must be baptized and confirmed. Lutherans do not require re-baptism for those who have been baptized in another Christian denomination. Confirmation from denominations in which we have ecumenical relations is also accepted.
The local congregation is served by an ordained minister we call a Pastor. Our regional organization is called a Synod and is lead by a Bishop. The synod for Apostles is the Virginia Synod of the ELCA. The national church (ELCA) is headquartered in Chicago and the head is designated the Presiding Bishop. Our current Presiding Bishop is Elizabeth Eaton, who was elected in 2013 as the first woman to head the ELCA.
The ELCA has been involved in ecumenical dialogues with several denominations, and has full communion (recognition of the ordained ministry and the validity of the sacraments and agreement on theology) with the Moravian Church, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ. Ongoing dialogues with the Roman Catholic church continue in the hopes of someday reuniting all people together in one Christian church. The ELCA is a member of the World Council of Churches.