What is Christianity?
A basic overview of our church’s foundations
Who was Jesus?
As a person, Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew who lived and died in biblical Israel under Roman rule in a province the Romans called Palestine. He spent his adult life in ministry with his disciples, traveling around the region, teaching about God and spreading a message of God’s love, peace, hope and forgiveness. He healed the sick and fed the hungry. He gathered many followers who were passionate about his teachings. As his following grew, some of the religious leaders became more and more distrustful and angry with him, until he was eventually turned over to the Roman government by Judas, one of his own disciples. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate then sentenced him to execution. He died by being nailed to a cross in the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem.
But death did not contain him. On the third day after his crucifixion, the day Christians call Easter, Jesus appeared among his followers as the risen, living Lord. He continued to teach, spreading the Good News, sharing the story of his life and resurrection to people here on earth for forty days before returning to heaven. His story and teachings are depicted in the New Testament of the Bible.
As Christians, we believe that Christ lives among us today by the power of God’s Spirit, present when the Good News is preached and the sacraments are administered.
Living a Christian life
Because of Jesus Christ, we believe that Christians are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live our lives in service to the world. Through acts of love and justice, worship and witness, we share God’s boundless love with the world.
As members of the ELCA, we share with all Christians a worldwide community of faith. Through Christ, we are united with other Christians and we recognize a wide fellowship of churches. We work alongside them in ecumenical ministry and service, both in the United States and across the globe.
What do Lutherans believe?
A faith founded on good news
Today, nearly five centuries later, Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation on October 31 and still hold to the basic principles of Luther’s theological teachings, such as Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. These comprise the very essence of Lutheranism:
- We are saved by the grace of God alone — not by anything we do;
- Our salvation is through faith alone — we only need to trust God made known in Christ who promises us forgiveness, life and salvation; and
- The Bible is the norm for faith and life — the true standard by which teachings and doctrines are to be judged.
Over the years, different Lutheran church bodies have been established and organized to meet the needs of Lutherans in communities and nations all over the world. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the largest Lutheran group in North America, founded in 1988 when three North American Lutheran church bodies united: The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America. Learn more about the History of the ELCA.
Lutherans are part of a reforming movement within the whole Christian church; as a part of practicing their faith, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its predecessors have engaged in ecumenical dialogue with other church bodies for decades. In fact, the ELCA has entered into cooperative “full communion” agreements (sharing common convictions about theology, mission and worship) with several other Protestant denominations, including
- the Moravian Church
- The Episcopal Church
- the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
- the Reformed Church in America
- the United Church of Christ
The ELCA has an ongoing dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1999, representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. This represented a historic consensus on key issues of faith and called for further dialogue and study together.
To learn more about these ecumenical relationships, visit Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.
Lutheranism is a faith tradition that is open to all, regardless of background. The ELCA alone is almost five million members strong, with nearly 10,500 congregations across the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. We welcome you to learn more about our church and find out how we can help you along life’s path.
ELCA Confession of Faith
What we believe in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- This church confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- This church confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe
- Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, through whom everything was made and through whose life, death, and resurrection God fashions a new creation.
- The proclamation of God’s message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.
- This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.
- This church accepts the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this church.
- This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledging as one with it In faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.
- This church accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.
- This church confesses the Gospel, recorded in the Holy Scriptures and confessed in the ecumenical creeds and Lutheran confessional writings, as the power of God to create and sustain the Church for God’s mission in the world.
The Confession of Faith is published in the Constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
How We Worship
Be a part of God’s saving story
There is a basic pattern for worship among Lutherans. We gather. We encounter God’s Word. We share a meal at the Lord’s table. And we are sent into the world. But we do not think about worship so much in terms of what we do. Worship is fundamentally about what God is doing and our response to God’s action. Worship is an encounter with God, who saves us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Think about it like this. God’s Spirit calls us together. God speaks to us through readings from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, through preaching, prayer, and song. God feeds and nourishes us in a saving way. And God blesses us and sends us in mission to the world.
Taken together, the Word proclaimed and the sacraments — both Holy Baptism and Holy Communion — are called the means of grace. We believe that Jesus Christ is present in these means through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we describe worship as a “gathering around the means of grace.” This is a way of saying that we trust that God is genuinely present with us in baptism, in preaching, and in sharing the bread and wine of Holy Communion. In that sense, Lutherans believe that God’s presence permeates all of Christian worship.
The cross is the central symbol that marks our worship spaces and when Lutherans worship, singing fills the air. The voices of all the people joined in song and the participation of all the people in the worship is a witness to our conviction that in worship we are being drawn in to God’s own saving story.
Get deeper into worship — including arts, worship, liturgies and lectionary resources. Find it in our Worship section.
Most Americans, religious or not, have heard of and read part or even all of the Bible. It is arguably one of the most often referenced books — or set of books — in our culture. In its most basic definition, the Bible is a diverse collection of writings, divided into two main sections:
- the Old Testament, which tells the story of God’s relationship with and work on behalf of the Hebrew people
- the New Testament, which shares the story of Jesus, God’s Son, and his teachings, death and resurrection, as well as the experiences and faith of the first followers of Jesus
But its meaning — and its significance to the Christian faith — is far more complex and profound. As Lutherans, ELCA members believe that the Bible is the written Word of God. It creates and nurtures faith through the work of the Holy Spirit and points us to Jesus Christ, the living Word and center of our faith. And in reading the Bible, we are invited into a relationship with God that both challenges us and promises us new life.
In these pages you’ll find information about this incredible collection of writings and new insights into how it can help to strengthen and develop your faith.