1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lutherans

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LUTHERANS, the general title given to those Christians who have adopted the principles of Martin Luther in his opposition to the Roman Church, to the followers of Calvin, and to the sectaries of the times of the Reformation. Their distinctive name is the Evangelical, as opposed to the Reformed church. Their dogmatic symbols are usually said to include nine separate creeds which together form the Book of Concord (Liber Concordiae). Three belong to the Early Christian church—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed (in its Western form, i.e. with the filioque), and the so-called Athanasian Creed; six come from the 16th century—the Augsburg Confession, the Apology for the Augsburg Confession, the Schmalkald Articles, Luther’s two Catechisms, and the Form of Concord. But only the three early creeds and the Augsburg Confession are recognized by all Lutherans. Luther’s Catechisms, especially the shorter of the two, have been almost universally accepted, but the Form of Concord was and is expressly rejected by many Lutheran churches. The Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Short Catechism may therefore be said to contain the distinctive principles which all Lutherans are bound to maintain, but, as the principal controversies of the Lutheran church all arose after the publication of the Augsburg Confession and among those who had accepted it, it does not contain all that is distinctively Lutheran. Its universal acceptance is perhaps due to the fact that it exists in two forms (the variata and the invariata) which vary slightly in the way in which they state the doctrine of the sacrament of the Supper. The variata edition was signed by Calvin, in the meaning, he said, of its author Melanchthon.

After Luther’s death the more rigid Lutherans declared it to be their duty to preserve the status religionis in Germania per Lutherum instauratus, and to watch over the depositum Jesu Christi which he had committed to their charge. As Luther was a much greater preacher than a systematic thinker, it was not easy to say exactly what this deposit was, and controversies resulted among the Lutheran theologians of the 16th century. The Antinomian controversy was the earliest (1537–1560). It arose from differences about the precise meaning of the word “law” in Luther’s distinction between law and gospel. Luther limited the meaning of the word to mean a definite command accompanied by threats, which counts on terror to produce obedience. He declared that Christ was not under the dominion of the law in this sense of the word, and that believers enter the Christian life only when they transcend a rule of life which counts on selfish motives for obedience. But law may mean ethical rule, and the Antinomians so understood it, and interpreted Luther’s declaration to mean that believers are not under the dominion of the moral law. The controversy disturbed the Lutheran church for more than twenty years.

The Arminian controversy in the Reformed church, the Jansenist controversy in the Roman Catholic church, had their parallel in three separate disputes among the Lutherans lasting from 1550 to 1580. (1) George Major, discussing the relation of good works to conversion, declared that such works were both useful and necessary to holiness. He was attacked by Flacius and Amsdorf, and after a long controversy, full of ambiguities and lacking in the exhibition of guiding principles, he was condemned because his statement savoured of Pelagianism. (2) The same problem took a new form in the Synergist controversy, which discussed the first impulse in conversion. One party taught that while the first impulse must come from the Holy Spirit the work might be compared to reviving a man apparently dead. It was answered that the sinner was really dead, and that the work of the Spirit was to give an actually new life. The latter assertion was generally approved of. (3) Then a fresh controversy was started by the assertion that sin was part of the substance of man in his fallen condition. It was answered that sin had not totally destroyed man’s ethical nature, and that grace changed what was morally insensitive into what was morally sensitive, so that there could be a co-operation between God’s grace and man’s will.

The controversy raised by Andrew Osiander was more important. He felt that Luther had omitted to make adequate answer to an important practical question, how Christ’s death on the cross could be brought into such actual connexion with every individual believer as to be the ground of his actual justification. The medieval church had spanned the centuries by supposing that Christ’s death was continuous down through the age in the sacrifice of the Mass; Protestant theology had nothing equivalent. He proposed to supply the lack by the theory that justification is a real work done in the individual by the same Christ who died so many centuries ago. Redemption, he said, was the result of the historical work of Christ; but justification was the work of the living risen Christ, dwelling within the believer and daily influencing him. Osiander’s theory did not win much support, but it was the starting-point of two separate doctrines. In the Lutheran church, Striegel taught that the principal effect of Christ’s work on the cross was to change the attitude of God towards the whole human race, and that, in consequence, when men come into being and have faith, they can take advantage of the change of attitude effected by the past historical work of Christ. The Reformed church, on the other hand, constructed their special doctrine of the limited reference in the atonement.

The other controversies concerned mainly the doctrine of the sacrament of the Supper, and Luther’s theory of Consubstantiation. This required a doctrine of Ubiquity, or the omnipresence of the body of Christ extended in space, and therefore of its presence in the communion elements. Calvin had taught that the true way to regard substance was to think of its power (vis), and that the presence of a substance was the immediate application of its power. The presence of the body of Christ in the sacramental elements did not need a presence extended in space. Melanchthon and many Lutherans accepted the theory of Calvin, and alleged that Luther before his death had approved of it. Whereupon the more rigid Lutherans accused their brethren of Crypto-Calvinism, and began controversies which dealt with that charge and with a defence of the idea of ubiquity.

The university of Jena, led by Matthias Flacius, was the headquarters of the stricter Lutherans, while Wittenberg and Leipzig were the centres of the Philippists or followers of Melanchthon. Conferences only increased the differences. The Lutheran church seemed in danger of falling to pieces. This alarmed both parties. New conferences were held and various articles of agreement were proposed, the most notable being the Torgau Book (1576). In the end, the greater proportion adopted the Book of Concord (1577), drafted chiefly by Jacob Andreae of Tübingen, Martin Chemnitz of Brunswick and Nicolas Selnecker of Leipzig. Its recognition was mainly due to the efforts of Augustus, elector of Saxony. This Book of Concord was accepted by the Lutheran churches of Sweden and of Hungary in 1593 and 1597; but it was rejected by the Lutheran churches of Denmark, of Hesse, of Anhalt, of Pomerania and of several of the imperial cities. It was at first adopted and then rejected by Brunswick, the Palatinate and Brandenburg. The churches within Germany which refused the Book of Concord became for the most part Calvinistic or Reformed. They published, as was the fashion among the Reformed churches, separate creeds for themselves, but almost all accepted the Heidelberg Catechism. These differences in the German Protestant churches of the second half of the 16th century are reflected in the great American Lutheran church. The church exists in three separate organizations. The General Synod of the Evangelical Church of the United States, organized in 1820, has no other creed than the Augsburg Confession, so liberally interpreted as not to exclude Calvinists. The Synodical Conference of North America, organized in 1872, compels its pastors to subscribe to the whole of the nine creeds contained in the Book of Concord. The General Council, a secession from the General Synod, was organized in 1867, and accepts the “unaltered” (invariata) Augsburg Confession in its original sense, and the other Lutheran symbols as explanatory of the Augsburg Confession.

The divided state of German Protestantism, resulting from these theological differences, contributed in no small degree to the disasters of the Thirty Years’ War, and various attempts were made to unite the two confessions. Conferences were held at Leipzig (1631), Thorn (1645), Cassel (1661); but without success. At length the union of the two churches was effected by the force of the civil authorities in Prussia (1817), in Nassau (1817), in Hesse (1823), in Anhalt-Dessau (1827) and elsewhere. These unions for the most part aimed, not at incorporating the two churches in doctrine and in worship, but at bringing churches or congregations professing different confessions under one government and discipline. They permitted each congregation to use at pleasure the Augsburg Confession or the Heidelberg Catechism. The enforced union in Prussia was combined with the publication of a new liturgy intended for common use. This led to secessions from the state church. These seceders were at first treated with great harshness, but have won their way to toleration, and form the Lutheran Free churches of Germany.

The most important of these latter is the Evangelical Lutheran church of Prussia, sometimes called the Old Lutherans. It came into being in 1817 and gradually gained the position of a tolerated nonconformist church (1845 being the date of its complete recognition by the state). At the 1905 census it numbered 51,600 members under 75 pastors. Its affairs are managed by an Oberkirchencollegium, with four ordained and two lay members. The Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Synod came into being in 1864, and has a membership of 5300 with 13 ordained pastors. Its headquarters is Liegnitz. The Independent Evangelical Lutheran church in the lands of Hesse arose partly on account of the slumbering opposition to the union of 1823 and more particularly in consequence of an attempt made at a stricter union in 1874. It has a membership of about 1800. The renitente church of Lower Hesse has a membership of 2400. The Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Hanover has a membership of 3050 under 10 ordained pastors. The Hermannsburg Free Church has a membership of about 2000 under 2 pastors. The Evangelical Lutheran Community in Baden has a membership of about 1100 with 2 ordained pastors. The Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Saxony has a membership of about 3780 with 15 ordained pastors. These free churches exist separate from the State Evangelical United Church (Evangelische unirte Landskirche).

The general system of ecclesiastical government which prevails among all Lutheran churches is called the consistorial. It admits of great variety of detail under certain common features of organization. It arose partly from the makeshift policy of the times of the Reformation, and partly from Luther’s strong belief that the jus episcopale belonged in the last resort to the civil authorities. It may be most generally described by saying that the idea was taken from the consistorial courts through which the medieval bishops managed the affairs of their dioceses. Instead of the appointments to the membership of the consistories being made by the bishops, they were made by the supreme civil authority, whatever that might be. Richter, in his Evangelische Kirchenordnungen des 16ten Jahrhunderts (2 vols., 1846), has collected more than one hundred and eight separate ecclesiastical constitutions, and his collection is confessedly imperfect. The publication of a complete collection by Emil Sehling was begun in 1902.

The liturgies of the Lutheran churches exhibit the same diversities in details as appear in their constitutions. It may be said in general that while Luther insisted that public worship ought to be conducted in a language understood by the people, and that all ideas and actions which were superstitious and obscured the primary truth of the priesthood of all believers should be expurged, he wished to retain as much as possible of the public service of the medieval church. The external features of the medieval churches were retained; but the minor altars, the tabernacula to contain the Host, and the light permanently burning before the altar, were done away with. The ecclesiastical year with its fasts and festivals was retained in large measure. In 1526 Luther published the German Mass and order of Divine Service, which, without being slavishly copied, served as a model for Lutheran communities. It retained the altar, vestments and lights, but explained that they were not essential and might be dispensed with. The peril attending the misuse of pictures in churches was recognized, but it was believed to be more than counterbalanced by the instruction given through them when their presence was not abused. In short Luther contented himself with setting forth general principles of divine service, leaving them to be applied as his followers thought best. The consequence was that there is no uniform Lutheran liturgy. In his celebrated Codex Liturgicus Ecclesiae Lutheranae in epitomen redactus (Leipzig, 1848), Daniel has used 98 different liturgies and given specimens to show the differences which they exhibit.

The divergences in ritual and organization, the principle underlying all the various ecclesiastical unions, viz. to combine two different confessions under one common government, and, resulting from it, the possibility of changing from one confession to another, have all combined to free the state churches from any rigid interpretation of their theological formulas. A liberal and a conservative theology (rationalist and orthodox) exist side by side within the churches, and while the latter clings to the theology of the 16th century, the former ventures to raise doubts about the truth of such a common and simple standard as the Apostles’ Creed. The extreme divergence in doctrinal position is fostered by the fact that the theology taught in the universities is in a great measure divorced from the practical religious life of the people, and the theological opinions uttered in the theological literature of the country cannot be held to express the thoughts of the members of the churches. In each state the sovereign is still held to be the summus episcopus. He appoints a minister of public worship, and through him nominates the members of the governing body, the Oberkirchenrath or Consistorium or Directorium. This council deals with the property, patronage and all other ecclesiastical matters. But each parish elects its own council for parochial affairs, which has a legal status and deals with such matters as the ecclesiastical assessments. Delegates from these parish councils form the Landessynode. In cases that call for consultation together, the Consistorium and the Synod appoint committees to confer. In Alsace-Lorraine about half of those entitled to vote appear at the polls; but in other districts of Germany very little interest is shown in the elections to the parish councils.

The income of the state churches is derived from four sources. The state makes an annual provision for the stipends of the clergy, for the maintenance of fabrics and for other ecclesiastical needs. The endowments for church purposes, of which there are many, and which are destined to the support of foreign missions, clerical pensions, supply of books to the clergy, &c. are administered by the supreme council. The voluntary contributions of the people are all absorbed in the common income of the national churches and are administered by the supreme council. Each parish is legally entitled to levy ecclesiastical assessments for defined purposes.

Appointments to benefices are in the hands of the state (sometimes with consent of parishes), of private patrons and of local parish councils. The number of these benefices is always increasing; and in 1897 they amounted to 16,400, or 300 more than in 1890. The state appoints to 56%, private and municipal patrons to 34%, and congregations to 10% of the whole. Customs vary in different states; thus in Schleswig-Holstein the state nominates but the parish elects; in Alsace-Lorraine the directorium or supreme consistory appoints, but the appointment must be confirmed by the viceroy; in Baden the state offers the parish a selection from six names and then appoints the one chosen.

The Lutheran state churches of Denmark, Sweden and Norway have retained the episcopate. In all of them the king is recognized to be the summus episcopus or supreme authority in all ecclesiastical matters, but in Norway and Sweden his power is somewhat limited by that of parliament. The king exercises his ecclesiastical authority through a minister who superintends religion and education. The position and functions of the bishops vary in the different countries. In all the rite of ordination is in their hands. In Denmark they are the inspectors of the clergy and of the schools. In Sweden they preside over local consistories composed of clerical and lay members. The episcopate in all three countries accommodates itself to something like the Lutheran consistorial system of ecclesiastical government.

The two leading religions within Germany are the Evangelical (Lutheran) and the Roman Catholic, including respectively 58 and 39% of the population. The proportions are continually varying, owing to the new migratory habits of almost every class of the population. Generally speaking, the Roman Catholics are on the increase in Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemburg; and the Evangelicals in the other districts of Germany, especially in the large cities. There is a growing tendency to mixed marriages, which are an important factor in religious changes.

Bibliography.—Richter, Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des sechzehnten Jahrhunderts (Weimar, 1846); Sehling, Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des 16ten Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, 1902, &c.); Richter, Lehrbuch des katholischen und evangelischen Kirchenrechts (8th ed., Leipzig, 1886); Hundeshagen, Beiträge zur Kirchenverfassungsgeschichte und Kirchenpolitik inbesondere des Protestantismus, i. (Wiesbaden, 1864), or in Ausgewählte kl. Schriften, ii. (Gotha, 1875); Höfling, Grundsätze der evangelischen-Lutherischen Kirchenverfassung (Erlangen, 1850, 3rd ed., 1853); Drews, Das kirchl. Leben d. deutschen evangelischen Landeskirchen (Tübingen, 1902); Erich Förster, Die Enstehung der preussischen Landeskirchen unter der Regierung König Friedrich Wilhelms III., i. (Tübingen, 1905); Emil Sehling, Geschichte der protestantischen Kirchenverfassung (Leipzig, 1907); articles in Herzog’s Realencyklopädie für protest. Theologie (3rd ed.), on Kirchenregiment, Kirchenrecht, Kirchenordnung, Konsistorien, Episcopalsystem, Gemeinde, Kollegialsystem, Territorialsystem; Schaff, History of the Creeds of Christendom (London, 1877).  (T. M. L.)