Study on “Lutheran Identity”

In 2017, the 500th jubilee of the Lutheran Reformation, many churches will ask themselves what exactly it means to be “Lutheran.” What is a Lutheran church or Lutheran theology? What is the “Lutheran DNA”?

The Institute for Ecumenical Research, based in Strasbourg and affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), is taking up these questions because Lutherans are always pressed during ecumenical dialogues to specify the teaching of their church. Ecumenical encounters demand a meticulous study of each side’s tradition. As they regard the teaching of their tradition as a gift to the whole church, Lutheran ecumenists must be able to account for the teaching of their own church in a way that is intelligible to the other churches.

Forty years ago the Institute published a booklet entitled Lutheran Identity. In the first part it discussed “Basic Theological Convictions as Essential Components of Lutheran Identity.” This series of theses was originally drawn up by the Institute’s research professors engaged in intensive dialogue with numerous colleagues. The theses were discussed critically over the course of five regional consultations. The present text takes up these original theses and reworks them to suit the contemporary context. They constitute the First Set of Theses of this book.

The Institute for Ecumenical Research has, for more than fifty years now, been in the service of Lutheran ecumenism, first of all through participation in the international dialogues of the LWF. A theological reflection on the experience of these dialogues constitutes the Second Set of Theses in this book. It also collects the fruits of consultations organized by the Institute for more than twenty years now at the Château de Klingenthal near Strasbourg, which events have been attended by ecumenical specialists from a variety of churches and different countries.

The Lutheran churches today must face many challenges that could prevent a living transmission and development of Lutheran identity. The challenges touching most directly on ecumenical research have been dealt with by the contributors from different churches during the annual international Summer seminars organized by the Strasbourg Institute. A first sketch of these challenges was prepared by the Institute’s staff and discussed intensively during a consultation at Klingenthal by theologians from several countries, whose number included two collaborators from the Geneva office of the LWF. These efforts led to a Third Set of Theses, which pay attention to the considerable challenges that the Lutheran churches must face today.

Through these three sets of theses the Strasbourg Institute wishes to be of service to the Lutheran communion and promote its ecumenical engagement. The review of the essential teachings of the Reformers calls to mind what it is to be “Lutheran.” The presentation of the basics of Lutheran ecumenism shows the “catholic” relevance—which is to say, the relevance for the church universal—of Lutheran teaching. This study intends, finally, to show where Lutheran teaching must especially test itself and develop in order to face the great challenges of our day

Download Study on “Lutheran Identity”: Lutheran Identity

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(Picture: © jmp-bildagentur, J.M. Pietsch, Spröda, mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Stadtkirchengemeinde Wittenberg)