Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer. Luther’s efforts to reform the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic Church launched the Protestant Reformation. Beginning with the 95 Theses, Luther’s writings were disseminated internationally, spreading the ideas of the Reformation beyond the ability of governmental and churchly authorities to control it.

The split between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics began with the 1521 Edict of Worms, which condemned Luther and officially outlawed citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending his ideas. The punishment decreed for Lutheranism was seizure of all property, with half going to the Imperial government and half given to their accusers. The divide centered over the doctrine of Justification. Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification “by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone,” which went against the Roman view of “faith formed by love”, or “faith and works”. Unlike the Reformed Churches, Lutherans retain a high respect for the authority of the Church Fathers, as well as many of the liturgical practices and sacramental teachings of the pre-Reformation Church, with a particular emphasis on the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper. Lutheran theology significantly differs from Reformed theology in Christology, the purpose of God’s Law, the divine grace, the concept of perseverance of the saints, and predestination. Like most denominations, Lutheranism is split between Liberal and Conservative/Confessional camps. (From Wikipedia).

Several European Countries have a Lutheran Church as their State Church as of 2013. They include Denmark (Church of Denmark), Iceland (Church of Iceland, and Norway (Church of Norway). Finland has a special constitutional relationship with The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, including collecting taxes for the church. In 2000, Sweden relegated their former State Church, The Church of Sweden, to the status of a National Church. Up until 1996, membership was compulsory for Swedes. In 2011, 60.8% of Swedes were members of The Church of Sweden, although only 20% of the population acknowledged any religious belief. This anomaly is because those born before 1996 have to formally leave the church to cease membership. It does not happen by default. Read the Wikipedia Article on State Religion.

From a genealogical point of view, the church records in those countries where there is, or was, a State Lutheran Church provide detailed information on individuals and families going back hundreds of years. Such records include births, deaths, engagements and marriages, when children were grown enough to move out of the home, and generally every movement by residents from one place to another in the country or out of the country. These records were kept on an ongoing basis, being updated at least annually. These are far more detailed and consistent records of the citizenry than are found in countries like the United States, where a census occurs every decade. These records are to be found in a small group of books for each parish.