...More than this building or congregation! The Christian church is made up of those (everywhere!) who are baptized and receive Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. Lutherans believe that they are a part of a vast, varied and ancient community of faith that began with the gift of the Holy Spirit, God's presence with his people, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2 in the Bible). The church, regardless of the external form it takes, is the fellowship of those who have been restored to God by Christ -- who chose us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1). Indeed, to be called into fellowship with Christ is also to be called into community with other believers.
We in the church are literally all members of the Body of Christ
(Romans 12). Jesus is the true Vine and we are its branches (John 15).
The church is essential to Christian life and growth because Jesus
nurtures believers through its work. The Church exists to proclaim the
living Word of Christ, administer the Sacraments and gives itself to the
world in deeds of service and love.
A Lutheran is a member of a Christian denomination (also known as Evangelical) named after Martin Luther, the 16th-century German pastor who believed the Roman Catholic Church was in need of reform. On October 31, 1519, he began the Protestant Reformation (see resources for more on that) when he nailed 95 debating points on the door of the church at Wittenberg in eastern Germany. The result (after much theological and political struggle), was a reform of the whole Church that restored the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection as our means of salvation, as revealed in the Bible.
Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation on October 31 (why
you may hear somebody call a cheery "Happy Reformation Day!" instead of
"Happy Halloween!") and still hold to the basic principles of
theology and practice espoused by Luther (also embraced by ALL
Christian churches! Including (OK, more or less...) our Roman
Catholic brothers and sisters in the faith), expressed succinctly in
Latin: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura:
Unfortunately, Lutherans themselves are organizationally and doctrinally divided. Statements made here apply to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest U.S. Lutheran body, of which St. Mark is a member congregation, and the Lutheran World Federation, to which the ELCA belongs.
Because of human sin (including hurts and choices that go all the way back to the 16th Century -- Some even to Roman times!), the church remains divided. Islamic writers point to this divisiveness as proof that Christianity is doctrinally weak and based on false assumptions from a corrupted, patched together scripture (nothing like their Qu'ran, for example -- pieced together from followers' memory after Mohammed's death -- and their own Shia - Sunni rift). However abused, the Holy Scriptures endure and witness to the central message of God's love and care for us. The Church is periodically renewed and refreshed by reform, and many Lutherans still consider themselves as a reforming movement within the Church universal (catholic).
Lutherans have engaged in dialogue and close fellowship with other church bodies for decades. Recently, we in the ELCA have concluded full communion agreements with Reformed churches, the Moravian Church, and the Episcopal Church USA, and the Lutheran World Federation concluded a Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Lutheran movement came to America with German and Scandinavian immigrants. Differences in language, culture and practice were difficult to overcome (you get a taste of this if you listen to Praire Home Companion on National Public Radio or "Sven and Ole" jokes), and North American Lutherans were once were divided into 150 bodies! We as Lutherans are trying to move beyond these ethnic labels, and there are many fewer groups now. St. Mark is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a body of 5.2 million people in 11,000 congregations that is one of the many Lutheran (Evangelical/Evangelische) churches worldwide. The ELCA and Lutherans of St. Mark work and worship side by side with other Christian churches in the community under Christ's banner in building the Kingdom of God.
Yes, in the true sense of Jesus' words. In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, as Jesus is talking with a Pharisee (devout Jewish scholar) named Nicodemus, our Lord says, "You must be born from above" (or again, in a spiritual sense). Lutherans believe we are born from above at our baptism when God publicly proclaims his acceptance of us, forgives our sinful nature, and plants the gift of faith in us through the Holy Spirit. The Lutheran Christian (with the help of "the great cloud of witnesses" (read the letter to the Hebrews) who help us along!) grows in understanding in the community of Christ and at some point is asked to take responsibility for his or her own faith life. Although many Lutherans have emotional "born-again" experiences, many do not, and that's OK! Lutherans emphasize the importance of the loving nurture of the community (the responsibility of all in the church) which grows the seed of faith day by day, and most committed Lutherans can point to a period in their life when they decided to make a commitment for Christ.
Lutherans are Evangelical and Pentecostal too -- Proclaiming the Word of God in Christ and very active in domestic and international missionary work and service (we could obviously do better...). While typically (but not always :-)) calm in worship by tradition we believe our work for Christ and our worship is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So what do Lutherans say when asked, "When were you saved?"
Perhaps the best answer for any Christian is, "Some two thousand years ago on a cross outside of Jerusalem." Scripture (our central guide and "norm" for answering such questions) gives a sense of the "timelessness" of salvation. The Gospel of Luke points to Jesus' birth as the beginning, John, in his Gospel, points to the Cross, 1st Peter to a future salvation, for example. To a Lutheran, "being saved" is that daily walk with God through the struggles and joys of life. God the Holy Spirit sustains and refines us throughout our lives, and God in Jesus Christ has brought/will bring/is bringing us home to eternal life with Christ.
What's it like being a Christian in this Christian community?
The ELCA is one church body that doesn't ask you to "check your brain at the door." And St. Mark is an accepting, nurturing community (come and see!). We recognize that ALL believers have struggles in their lives and faith. Many of us are wounded Christians and most of us must confess being mired in the things of the world. Regardless of our weaknesses, we believe that our God is an Awesome God and capable of guiding us to His truth (if we're willing, that is) through the guidance of the Holy Spirit as revealed in Scripture, the teaching and example of the "great cloud of witnesses" around us in the church, and by direct inspiration. Come join us as we seek to know and worship the Lord in grace and truth.
Christians are well aware that they have failed many people over the centuries. Current popular (or is he now past his prime?) shock-rock artist Marilyn Manson (who is, so they tell us, attractive to many) is glaring proof of that -- brought up in a nominally Christian home in Canton, Ohio, sent to Christian school where he was treated poorly, and now on a mission to encourage disbelief in God (and bad taste). Ted Turner, founder of WTBS and CNN, has proclaimed "Christianity is for losers..." echoing his own experience of the church failing him when he needed it. Governor Jesse (the Body/the Brain) Ventura of Minnesota (whose wife is an active Christian) declared "organized religion" not worthy of his participation. These are tragic (and we trust, not permanent) losses from the Body of Christ.
Christians often self-righteously condemn others, kick them when they're down ("you shoulda stayed married, you dope..."), fail to comfort, say stupid things ("It was God's will that your father was hit by that truck... He must have needed a welder..."), and generally seem to be people who are not much fun or even very interesting. Maybe being brought up Christian did not seem to do much for you, either...
For whatever reason, God has chosen to use us imperfect people and our institutions to spread his Gospel. We often fail to do the job properly because we don't listen well enough to instructions. Look past your hurts and our failings to what JESUS REALLY SAYS AND OFFERS YOU. You can find this in the New Testament of the Bible.
Jesus Christ loves you with an eternal love, stands beside you in your pain and failures, and offers you eternal salvation and present peace you can never achieve yourself or by any other means in this world.