The Lutheran Denomination
"Lutheranism retains much of the tradition of the ancient and medieval church, including a sense of participation in the historic people of God and in the traditional liturgy, revised to accord with Protestant bilblecism. Lutherans are devoted to sound doctrine systematically developed and expressed in thoughtful preaching...
Faith, for Lutherans, is not subscription to the dictates of the church, but 'the heart's utter trust' in Christ. 'The just shall live by faith' was the beginning and the end of Luther's thought...
All the churches represent a single type of Protestant Christianity built on Luther's principle of justification by faith alone. Lutherans maintain that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the rule and standard of faith and practice."
(Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 12th Edition)
As to the manner of worship, Luther chose to retain altars and vestments and prepare an order of liturgical service, but with the understanding that no church was bound to follow any set order. As a result, there is today no uniform liturgy belonging to all branches of the Lutheran body. However, an important place is given to preaching and congregational singing. Lutherans practice both infant baptism and baptism of believing adults. In the Lutheran perspective, baptism is a sacrament that is commanded by God and "cleanses from sin, snatches us from the power of Satan, and gives us everlasting life."
Lutheranism is one of the largest Protestant denominations. It is also the oldest Protestant denomination. Membership of Lutheran churches worldwide is approximately73.8 million. Most of these people belong to organized national church bodies. Many of these national bodies belong to one of three world organizations: (1) Lutheran World Federation (2) International Lutheran Council, and (3) Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.
The two largest Lutheran church bodies in America are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), with about 5 million members in 2003, and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), which had about 2.5 million members in 2003. Other large Lutheran churches include the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS).
In 2010, critics of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA left to form the North American Lutheran Church or NALC. The split was the result of the ELCA's more open stance toward gay clergy. There are 10,239 ELCA churches with about 4.5 million members, making it by far the largest Lutheran denomination, or synod, in the U.S. As of early August, 199 congregations had cleared the hurdles to leave the ELCA for good, while another 136 awaited the second vote needed to make it official.