The Lutheran churches, most of which are members of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), emerged from one of the prominent strands of the Reformation movements within the (western) Catholic Church in the 16th century. In the course of the doctrinal controversies of that time, the doctrine of justification by faith through grace alone became the decisive issue and the hallmark of Lutheran teaching. It emphasizes that God redeems human beings from the power of sin through the cross of Jesus Christ and confers God's own righteousness upon them. The Lutheran tradition considers the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, received and responded to in faith without any human merit, as central to the life of the church. The Lutheran confessional writings, e.g., the Augsburg Confession and Martin Luther's Small Catechism, interpret core convictions regarding the significance of the gospel for individual and common life in faith. The Bible is affirmed as the sole rule of faith, to which all the creeds and other traditions and beliefs are subordinated.
Lutheran churches are partners in the majority of church communion agreements that have been established, e.g., the Leuenberg Concord (1973, now called Community of Protestant Churches in Europe), the Meissen Agreement (1991), the Porvoo Agreement (1992), and Full Communion agreements in the USA and Canada.
Varying forms of worship have developed over the centuries, in interaction with local cultures. Lutheran worship tradition has sought to maintain liturgical continuity with the ancient church, in the reading and proclamation of the word of God and in the celebration of the sacraments, baptism and holy communion.
Lutheran churches strongly emphasize elementary and secondary religious education as well as theological study and research. The doctrine of the two rules of God has been a well-known part of Lutheran tradition: God reigns both in the secular world through secular and church government by means of law and in the spiritual world through grace. This teaching has at times been discredited through misinterpretation, e.g., in Nazi-Germany in the 1930s and 40s. In recent decades attempts have been made to reinterpret this teaching as a basis for critique of injustice, authoritarian regimes and destructive societal developments.
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