The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. The ELCA follows the Lutheran tradition, which is named after a former monk named Martin Luther who sparked the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century. The ELCA shares the same doctrine of salvation as other major American Lutheran denominations, including the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod.
Justification by Faith
Like any Lutheran Church, the ELCA believes that people are justified, or given the right to enter heaven, by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Martin Luther famously called this the doctrine on which his church stands or falls. The doctrine was the main source of conflict between Luther and the Catholic Church, which believes grace can be gained through both faith and good works. Lutherans, on the other hand, are wary of any doctrine which suggests that the actions of people can earn them a place in heaven.
The Three Alones
The ELCA references the "three alones" of Lutheranism on its website, a concept which is commonly used to explain Lutheran beliefs to outsiders. Lutherans believe that we are saved by grace alone, that grace is attained by faith alone and that the Bible -- not church tradition -- is the standard for determining Christian doctrine. For salvation, the first two "alones" are the most important. God's grace is given to people without merit. It cannot be earned, and is attainable only through faith, which is defined as a radical trust in God.
ELCA and the Book of Concord
The Book of Concord contains the confessional documents of Lutheranism. A confessional document, common in the era of the Reformation, is a list that plainly states what a church believes. For Lutherans, the Book of Concord -- derived from the teachings of the Bible alone -- is the authority on justification and salvation. The ELCA website states that it accepts the "Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel" and holds similar esteem for the other documents in the Book of Concord.
Salvation in the Augsburg Confession
Article IV of the Augsburg Confession states "men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith." The Defense of the Augsburg Confession, which is also in the Book on Concord, expands on this concept, emphasizing the inescapability of human sin and the futility of a person who attempts to make himself righteous before God through works. For a Lutheran, attempting to impress God with good works cheapens the sacrifice of Jesus, who died to forgive the sins of mankind.
- The Gospel Coalition: Luther’s Saying - “Justification is the Article by Which the Church Stands and Falls”
- Vatican: Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: What Do Lutherans Believe?
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: ELCA Confession of Faith
- The Book of Concord: The Augsburg Confession
- The Book of Concord: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
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