What we believe

Introduction to what we believe
Our liturgy and hymnal
Communion practice
Christian giving
Resources for Lutheran Christian beliefs and culture
How to become a member at First Lutheran Church

Introduction to what we believe

Imagine a church that is both evangelical—proclaiming the free forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ—and sacramental, centering its spiritual life in the regenerating waters of baptism and the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion. Imagine further a church that is strongly grounded on Scripture, but yet avoids the solipsism of individual interpretation in favor of a comprehensive, intellectually rigorous and imminently orthodox theological system. Imagine a worship service that features both strong preaching and the historic liturgy. Imagine that this is a historical church with a rich spiritual tradition, but without legalism. Imagine, in short, a church that has some of the best parts of Protestantism and the best parts of Catholicism. Finally, imagine that this church body is not some little made-up sect, but one of the largest bodies of Christians in the world. Such a church might seem like what many Christians, disaffected by both the vacuity of liberal theology and the shallowness of American evangelicalism, are dreaming of. Such a church exists. It goes by the admittedly inadequate name ‘Lutheran.’ [Gene Edward Veith, Jr., The Spirituality of the Cross: the Way of the First Evangelicals (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 114.]

Above all, the Christian Lutheran faith desires to be faithfully centered in Jesus Christ and strives to let the Gospel of His life, teachings, death, and resurrection from the dead be the center of all we profess and do. The name “Lutheran” indicates a confession within the one holy, Christian church, rather than a denomination. However, the name Lutheran is also used in the title of many denominations across the globe (e.g. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod).

To learn what we believe, teach, and confess we encourage you to take an Adult Confirmation Class with our pastors. Doing so does not obligate you to join our church.

Our church is a member of the The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a Synod formed by Saxon Germans who immigrated to the United States in the mid 1800s and founded our Synod in AD 1847. It intends to remain a member of the Synod as long as the confessions and constitution of the Synod are in accord with the confessions and consititution of our congregation as laid down in Article II:

This congregation accepts and aknowleges all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God, and all the Symbolic Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church contained in the Book of Concord as a true and sound exposition of Christian doctrine taken from and in full agreement with the Holy Scriptures; and in this congregation no doctrine shall be taught or tolerated which is at variance with these Symbols of the Evangelical Lutheran Church:

1) The Three Ecumencial Creeds: Apostolic, Nicene, and Athanasian,
2) The Unaltered Augsburg Confession,
3) The Apology of the Augsburg Confession,
4) The Smalcald Articles [editor’s note: when our congregation wrote this article, they did not list separately, but understood the “Treatise on the Primacy of the Pope” as an addendum to the Smalcald Articles],
5) Luther’s Large Catechism,
6) Luther’s Small Catechism,
7) The Formula of Concord.

According to this form of doctrine, all doctrinal controversies which may arise in this congregation shall be decided and adjudicated.

In a nutshell, here’s what we believe about:

Jesus
We believe Jesus is God. The Scriptures teach that Jesus is both fully God, begotten of the Father (He is the Son in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and is fully man, born of the virgin Mary. He died on the cross for us on a Friday in (or about) AD 33 to make peace between God and the entire world through faith in Jesus’ incarnation and atonement. Jesus also physically rose from the dead for us on Easter to show His victory over death and to give us assurance and hope for eternal life with Him in paradise. We believe, according to the Scriptures, that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and of His Kingdom there will be no end.

The Church
We believe and confess “the one holy Christian and apostolic church,” which consists of all those who hear the Gospel of Jesus and so have been called to believe and confess Him as Lord by the Spirit who works true faith through the Word and the Sacraments.

Martin Luther
First, it should be noted that Lutherans do not worship Luther. We worship none other than the Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have access to the Father by the Spirit. Christ alone saves us and is worthy of our adoration and praise. Luther is someone God set apart as sort of our “patron saint” of Christ-centered, cross-focused theology (study of God). He’s an interesting fellow if you’d ever give him a chance to speak to you through his writings. We believe God used him in his day to help reform the Western church, that is, to help restore the church’s teachings and practices to orthodoxy (agreement with the Scriptures—God’s Word, rather than the wavering and or faulty opinions of councils or individuals).

Dr. Luther lived from AD 1483 to 1546. He was a pastor and professor in Wittenberg, Germany, a former monk of the Augustinian order, a hero in the eyes of many German people of his day because of his teachings and convictions, and an enemy and heretic to those who took offense at the things Luther said and did.

Luther wrote many things we love (only 35 volumes have been translated into English), including but not limited to: The Small Catechism, The Large Catechism, The Freedom of a Christian, and his Galatians Commentary. His work and influence also appears in the documents written to defend the faith Lutherans boldly believe, teach, and confess. These writings are contained in The Book of Concord of 1580.

He also wrote some things that he regretted, as do we. Luther was but a man, not God—a man who readily admitted fallibility and was sure of his great need of Christ Jesus and the forgiveness He brings. But when Luther spoke the things of God, the truth rings loud and clear—the sheep hear Jesus’ voice. Praise God for raising up men like Luther to declare boldly and give out the mysteries of God according to His Word. We continue to love the best from Luther, to promote His Christ-centered and cross-focused teachings, and to reject the things he and the reformers rejected for the sake of the one Christian faith.

Our liturgy and hymnal

Our liturgy and hymns are shaped and formed by the Scriptures. They often echo God’s Word, word for word. We use only those Christian practices through the centuries that are faithful to the Gospel and agree with Scripture’s central teaching that we are saved by grace, through faith, on account of Christ Jesus alone. The musical settings are varied, but we strive to use music that is set apart—different than the music that sounds familiar to our culture. In God’s House, we are reminded that we belong to a unique and more majestic Kingdom than our own.

We realize the service may be unfamiliar to you at first and that some parts of the service are recited from memory, like the Lord’s Prayer. If you don’t know something by heart, you’ll probably find it in the very back of our hymnal. Otherwise, please ask a neighbor if you need help finding your place. The good news is that if you keep coming back and if you take a class to learn about our liturgy, you’ll come to love and appreciate the liturgy just as we do.

Services at First Lutheran are found in Lutheran Service Book. Our Synod’s latest hymnal is a wonderful treasure for weekly worship at church and for daily worship in the home. Visit http://lsb.cph.org/ for more information.

The lectionary we use for worship can be found here: Church Calendar of the LCMS (Note: We use the three year lectionary calendar, Series A, B, or C).

Communion practice: We practice closed communion

Closed communion means not everyone who worships at First Lutheran receives the bread and wine, Christ’s Body and Blood, during the Lord’s Supper. Not, that is, until they’ve been faithfully instructed and confirmed in the very same faith that is taught here. God desires us all to have the same mind concerning His teaching (1 Cor. 1) before recieving His gifts at the table (1 Cor. 10-11). Closed communion is a reflection of our unity in doctrine and common confession and witness before the world.

Our concern and practice of closed communion is rooted in the Scriptures and has been reflected in the history of the church in her early days (see for example Werner Elert’s Eucharist and Fellowship in the First Four Centuries), though we sadly acknowledge that many churches today have dropped the practice for various…but unsatisfactory…reasons. Given the opportunity, our pastors will gladly and lovingly explain our practice further, the reasons from the Bible, the demonstration from church history, and invite you to take a class to learn more and become a member. We believe that when Christians agree in the confession of Jesus and the truth of God’s Word, God is pleased and that He blesses us.

Everyone is welcome to come forward for a blessing, but if you have not yet been confirmed in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod or have joined a church not in fellowship with our church, or have not been active in the church for some time, then please cross your arms to indicate your desire to receive a blessing. We encourage you to speak to our pastors before the service (if you have never visited) and afterward if you are interested in learning more or reviewing what we believe, teach, and confess.

Please also pray for the unity of the church that we may one day commune together in perfect union and all divisions cease.

The questions and answers were adapted from “Questions and Answers on Christian Giving” by the Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart.

Christian giving: What is Christian giving?

Answer: Worship.

The only correct view of giving is that our offerings are part of our worship, our service to God. God saved us by His Gospel, not simply that we might sit and wait for eternity, but that we might be a “holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pet. 2:5). The whole life of Christians as priests of God is a “living sacrifice” ( Rom. 12:1 ). And since much of our life has to do with money, it must be included in our life of sacrifice. To be sure, it is a small part of our worship compared to such other spiritual sacrifices as faith itself, patience, and forgiveness toward others, for Christ’s sake, the incense of public and private devotion to God, and so on. But just because money is small compared to the really great things in the Christian life, let no one imagine that money doesn’t matter.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Lk 16:10-11).

How much should I give?

Answer: A thoughtful and orderly amount.

In the Old Testament, the faithful were commanded by God to give the tithe (10%) of their net income to the church. Consider Malachi 3:8-12:

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. … In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse. Bring the full tithe … [Then see] if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. … Then all nations will call you blessed … says the LORD of hosts.”

Note especially the promise of blessing for compliance and the threat of divine curse for non-compliance. In the New Testament, we are not bound by the ceremonial law. But shall we, who have greater gifts from God, serve Him less zealously than His Old Testament people? The tithe is a good starting point, and many Christians tithe and find joy and blessing in the practice, even material blessing. But we must remember that material gain must never be a purpose in our giving—else it is mockery—though it may please God to give it to us as a result.

In determining how much we shall allot to God through His church, we must not think of “our fair share” because that is a form of merely “meeting the budget.” In our giving we must forget about others, how much they are or should be doing. We must not think, for example, that if the budget is $100, and there are 100 members, “our fair share” is $1. If I am a poor widow living with others and without any income, even $1 is too much. But if I am a prosperous farmer or business professional and earn thousands per year, even $100 is too little under some circumstances. It all depends. We shall not make any laws for one another. Whatever our situation, St. Paul writes: “On the first day of every week, let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper…” (1 Cor. 16:2). In other words, we are to give in proportion to our income. In every case it should be a sacrifice; and giving away what we don’t need anyway is not a sacrifice.

What is percentage giving?

Answer: It simply means selecting and giving a percentage of your income as part of your worship.

First, select a percentage that you are blessed to be able to give cheerfully in grateful response to God’s love. There are no rules or laws here. If you desire and can give 50%, then give 50%. If only 5%, then 5%. If at anytime in the year, blessings increase or decrease, you would adjust your giving proportionally.

It helps to have a budget and to know your monthly expenses in case you need to adjust them in order to make your gift. To be sure, you may be prompted to make life changes to reduce your expenses (indeed, making sacrifices) so that you are able to give a thoughtful and orderly amount. If you can no longer afford certain activities you were enjoying, perhaps this is an opportunity to dedicate time to study, prayer, and service to others.

Examples

A family of three with a annual income of $40,000 prayerfully determined they would start giving 5%. This equates to $2000 (roughly $40/week). An individual with a $60,000 salary prayerfully determined that she could give 15% of her income. This equates to $9000 (roughly $175/week). A family earning $200,000 prayerfully determined that they could give 25%. This equates to $50,000 (roughly $1000/week).

Can I really do this?

After reading this information, some may conclude that their giving has been far too haphazard and, out of gratitude to God, begin giving a thoughtful and orderly amount. Praise be to God! Others may desire to give more but seriously struggle each month and feel overwhelmed with the thought of giving a percentage. To you we humbly suggest speaking to one of the pastors and/or to review your giving again in a few months after prayer and meditation.

Above all, remember this: “Fear not…it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom!” (Luke 12:32). And: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

Resouces for Lutheran Christian beliefs and culture

The Bible

Lutheranism 101

The Small Catechism by Martin Luther

The Book of Concord (The Confessions of the Lutheran Church)

Sermons from Martin Luther

Issues, etc. (Christ-Centered, Cross-Focused Talk Radio)

How to become a member at First Lutheran Church