The Lutheran Church dates back to the Reformation in sixteenth century Europe. A German monk by the name of Martin Luther staged a protest about abuses in the church by posting ninety-five theses or statements on a church door in Wittenberg in 1517. This was one of the first steps in a movement that resulted in the formation of a number of Protestant churches which followed leaders like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Knox.
The Lutheran Church which grew out of this period based its teachings on the Bible and wrote them down in a collection of documents known as the Lutheran Confessions. The central teaching of the Lutheran Church has always been that God sent his son Jesus to save a fallen creation. All people are tainted with sin, but are forgiven and reconciled to God because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Free forgiveness is received through faith for all those who repent and seek reconciliation with God.
The catchcry of the Lutheran Reformation was threefold:
- Scripture Alone – the only authority for Christians in matters of faith and doctrine is the Bible;
- Grace Alone – forgiveness and reconciliation with God are not earned but are free gifts;
- Faith Alone – salvation with God is obtained not on the basis of what we do but available to all through Christ alone.
The Lutheran Church grew to be a major Protestant denomination in Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic states. European migrations spread the Lutheran faith to America, Africa and Australia. Currently the Lutheran Church comprises around eighty million members worldwide, making it the largest Protestant denomination in the world.
There have been Lutherans in Australia since the beginning of European settlement. Some of the first official activities by Lutherans in this country were conducted in the form of mission work among the Aboriginal people. For example, the Gossner missionaries who started a mission station in what is now the Brisbane suburb of Nundah were the first free settlers in Queensland. From 1838 a series of major religious migrations of Lutherans to South Australia took place as the result of persecution of Lutherans in Prussia.
South Australia and Queensland became the strongest states for Lutherans in Australia, but there were also major settlements of them in Victoria and southern New South Wales. In modern times there are around 75 000 Australians who have official membership in the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) as well as many more who claim affiliation.
The LCA has its own tertiary institution in Adelaide called Australian Lutheran College where it trains its pastors, teachers and other church workers. Lutheran parishes are scattered all over Australia and the LCA provides a robust system of Lutheran schools and aged care facilities. It maintains strong links with Aboriginal communities, supports overseas missions and contributes to international welfare causes through Lutheran World Service.