Lutheranism: History & Beliefs

Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels. He has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

Lutheranism is a major sect of Christianity. We'll examine its origins, its founder Martin Luther, and the beliefs of Lutherans worldwide. We'll then briefly compare Lutheranism to Catholicism.


What does it take to get into heaven? Does one have to be righteous? Does one have to do good deeds? Or maybe follow the ten commandments? Or does one have to live a good and moral life?

Whatever your answer to the question, you probably didn't answer that you had to pay money to get into heaven. But during the time of Martin Luther, the eventual founder of Lutheranism, the Catholic Church was charging indulgences. Indulgences are like a pardon from the Catholic church for your sins. The problem was that the Catholic church was charging people money for indulgences, which pretty much amounts to charging a person to go to heaven. The Catholic Church would sometimes even charge indulgences to help a person's dead family members get to heaven. This practice was especially enacted by Johann Tetzel, a leader of the Catholic Church in Germany.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther fiercely objected to Tetzel's practice of charging indulgences. Luther objected so much that in 1517 he wrote his 95 Theses, a long document stating his objections to the Catholic Church. As was the practice at the time, Luther then proceeded to nail his 95 Theses to the door of the Church in Wittenburg, Germany.

A copy of the 95 Theses from 1522.

Luther's act of protest was a major slap in the face to the Pope of the Catholic Church, Pope Leo X, and to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Luther eventually became excommunicated, meaning that according to the Catholic Church, he was no longer in communication with God, and that he was destined for hell.

Martin Luther was a German monk who founded Lutheranism.

Luther's response to excommunication was to start his own church. This is a major moment in history known as the Protestant Reformation. For the first time, the authority of the Catholic Church in Europe was being questioned. For the next few centuries, major wars and conflicts would break out across the continent between Catholics and Protestants.

Beliefs of Lutheranism

Today, Lutheranism is practiced by nearly 80 million people worldwide, making it the third largest Protestant sect in the world. Lutherans believe that the way to heaven is not through doing good deeds or paying money. Rather, they believe that the only way to salvation is through faith and the grace of God. The doctrine of Lutheranism can be summed up as 'by grace alone through faith alone on the basis of Scripture alone'.

A key part of Lutheranism is its complete rejection of the Catholic Church's contention that the Catholic Church's teachings and practices supplemented the word of God. For Martin Luther, the only thing that Christians should study was the Bible.

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