What We Believe

A Brief History of the LCMS/Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

The Lutheran Church traces its history to the time of the Reformation. Beginning in the year 1517, the Lord used His servant Martin Luther to call attention to errors and bring about change in the Church. As time progressed, problems in the Lutheran church arose that inspired some people to emigrate to the United States during the late 1830s.

Pastor C.F.W. Walther

In 1847, a great number of the Lutheran immigrants throughout the country joined together under Pastor C.F.W. Walther to form what is known today as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (www.lcms.org). Our beliefs are contained and explained in the Book of Concord (available here: www.bookofconcord.org).

The Holy Scriptures

Holy Scripture

We believe that the Bible is the true Word of God. It  shows us  who God is—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired and uses this Word to create faith in the hearts of sinful people. Our beliefs are based on Scripture alone. With the Bible, we are able to see God’s plan of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. Through the Bible, God speaks to us and points us to His will for us. In the Lutheran church, we interpret Scripture through Law (which shows us our sin) and Gospel (which points us to our Savior). All of our sermons follow this Law/Gospel understanding.

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

Because the Bible shows us that we are born sinful and separated from God, we know that we are unable to do anything to please God or deserve the forgiveness that only He can give. In spite of this, God in His grace saw to it to rescue us from this condition through His Son Jesus Christ. As we are baptized into the name of  our Triune God by water and the Word, the Holy Spirit seals faith in our hearts and our sins are washed away. This comes from outside of us through God’s grace alone. It is an undeserved gift! In Baptism, we are united with Christ’s death and resurrection as we passively receive God’s gift of faith. Because the Scriptures teach that God is doing all of the work through this holy act, we hold to the practice of baptizing infants, who are just as in need of forgiveness as every sinful human being. The moment we are baptized is the most important event in all of our life and it defines each of us as one of God’s believing people for every day we live and into eternity.

Confession and Absolution

All those who are baptized and believe are led to confess their sins before the Lord. God’s Word points us to how we are to live, and as a part of our daily lives and our regular worship we examine the ways we have sinned against God and against the people around us. As we repent of our sins, we recognize the eternal danger that comes with sin but also turn to God in faith and trust in His mercy. Upon our confession, God brings His promise of forgiveness because of our faith alone. In worship, this is proclaimed by the pastor in the Absolution—the pronouncement of forgiveness that is ours through Jesus Christ. Confession and Absolution is performed regularly as a body of believers in worship and is also offered privately to any individual who desires it through the pastor. Every service in which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper includes a time of Confession and Absolution, as these two elements of worship are joined together.

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

As God’s work in Holy Baptism creates faith, Holy Communion strengthens that faith and brings the certainty of forgiveness to each of His people. We constantly fall into sin and fall short of God’s demand for perfection. By His grace, He calls us to repentance through His Word. As we confess our sins, we lean on the promise He made in Holy Baptism and trust with the faith given to us that Christ died on our behalf. To assure us of this promise, Jesus Christ meets us physically in the bread and the wine. In this sacrament, He offers us His true body and blood which were given and shed for us, that we might be sure of our standing before Him. This gift is for those who have been baptized and who share our same confession of faith.

In Holy Communion, we are united with our creating and redeeming God along with all believers in Christ as heaven and earth are brought together. Part of our reverently approaching the altar to receive God’s blessings that He offers us in this gift includes a confession of the common faith we share with those around us. For this reason, we practice closed communion, which means only those who are confirmed members in good standing of an LCMS congregation receive the Lord’s Supper with us. It is our intent to lovingly protect anyone who might come to receive the sacrament unworthily (an unbeliever, a believer from a different Christian tradition that does not agree with our Biblical stance on the Lord’s Supper or other teachings, a believer who refuses to repent of his or her sins, or a believer who refuses to forgive others). 

The Means of Grace

Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and the Holy Scriptures are known as the means of grace. Through these gifts, our Lord creates and strengthens our faith and forgives our sins. The sacraments, both of which were instituted by Christ and combine earthly elements along with the Word of God, bring us the physical promise of forgiveness. God is present and working in His means of grace, so this is what we gather around in worship. We find great comfort in the assurance that God is working outside of us through these means, and that the benefits given in them do not depend on our works or feelings. Christ promises to be present in the Gospel and the sacraments for our benefit. As Martin Luther put it, “If you want to have God, then mark where He resides and where He wants to be found.” The means of grace are the instruments that the pastor is given to bring Christ and His gifts to sinners.

The Creeds

Throughout the history of the Church, God’s people found it useful to summarize the Christian faith for regular use in the life of all believers. The results of this work are three creeds that are held to by Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. At St. John’s Lutheran Church, we draw on one of these creeds in each worship service. This is done to identify and remind ourselves of who we are and what we believe as a result of God’s work in our lives. The full text of each of these creeds is available here: www.lcms.org.

The Purpose and Role of Worship

As a body of believers, we join together for worship every week according to God’s command to us in the Third Commandment. The chief reason to attend a Christian worship service is to receive the forgiveness of sins, which we need more than anything else in this life. In His Word, Our Lord promises to be present and working on our behalf, and in worship He fulfills His promise: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). As we enter the Sabbath rest which He brings us, we are able to rest from wrestling with our sins as we lean on His power and authority to forgive our sins and declare us righteous by the faith given to us.

The primary focus in worship is on how God comes to us and serves us with His blessings of forgiveness and strengthened faith as delivered in Word and sacrament. The order of worship that we use is called the Divine Service. This name points us to what is taking place there: God, the Divine One, is serving us with His means of grace. We respond to these gifts with our prayers, praises, and sacrificial giving as we recognize and experience the love He has for us. From there, we are sent out into the world to share that same love of Christ with those around us in our words and our actions as we seek to point them to the cross and the eternal promises found there.

The Structure of Worship

For more information on the use of the liturgy and the orders we follow in worship, please follow this link: http://www.lcms.org.

The Use of Vestments

In a worship setting, Lutheran pastors wear vestments. They are used out of reverence and they point to the importance of what is taking place in worship. The color of the vestments correspond with the paraments on the altar, pulpit, and lectern and follow along with the various seasons of the Church Year. These vestments are used in order to “hide the man” and remind those in attendance that the words he speaks are not his own, but from God. Another purpose for the use of vestments is to limit the distinctiveness from one pastor to another. This strengthens the understanding that these men are acting for God and not themselves. The pastor only wears vestments during a worship service, so those present for worship only see them being used in that setting. It distinguishes what the pastor is doing at this time from everything else he does during that day or throughout the week.