Many people want to know "What We Believe" as a rundown of important topics. We are glad to answer those questions. Or, you could visit the website of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, who answers many questions about Faith and Practice here. For our part, first we want to say that our belief begins not with disconnected ideas on a handful of topic. For us, trust and belief starts in the Son of God sent as the Light of the World. "Who We Believe" is where we start.
We trust Jesus of Nazareth, a man who lived in the first century in Palestine. He was a Jewish prophet, who believed and taught the Hebrew Scriptures. He was unlike any other man who lived, however. He explained that He fulfilled Holy Scripture, that He is the Christ, the Son of David, the Son of God. The prophets taught "that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light" to all peoples (Acts 26:22-23). So, we have heard the proclamation of Jesus, the Light of the World, and we believe in Him as Lord and Savior.
Jesus taught that the Hebrew prophets from Moses to Malachi spoke for God. He also sent apostles to speak for Him after His death and resurrection. So, we believe their writings from Genesis to Revelation to be God's Word, trustworthy for life and salvation. The Bible is the central focus of our faith.
Jesus revealed clearly what was foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures: God is three-in-one, Triune. At the end of the Gospel According to the Apostle Matthew, we hear, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). We are baptized into this Triune name; the revelation of God's eternal loving nature is central to our faith.
Jesus taught us to pray to God as "our Father" (Matthew 6:9). The Father is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6-7), while also making moral demands on us. "God is love" (1 John 4:8) and He desires His children to love. Love is the fulfillment of His Law (Romans 13:8-10).
Jesus promised to pour out the Holy Spirit on all who believe in Him and are washed clean in Baptism. We believe the Spirit resides within us and inspires our faith and love. Unlike Jesus, who was made man, could be heard with ears, seen with eyes, and touched with hands, the Spirit, Jesus said, is like the wind, known by the effects He has on us (John 3:6-8). So, we have come to know the Spirit's working through what we call "means of grace."
In his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul asked how people would believe if no one was sent to preach. "Faith comes from hearing" he concludes (Romans 10:14-17). We believe the Spirit of God works through the Bible, through sharing of the Gospel, through rites God established in His Word. The sharing of the Gospel occurs in formal settings like a sermon and informal settings when one friend spontaneously encourages another over lunch with God's love. The rites God established in His Word for the church are confession and absolution (John 20:22-23), the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), and Holy Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20).
We confess our sins together in order to hear that God forgives and renews us (1 John 1:8-9). When a pastor speaks absolution, he speaks for the church for God. We hear that we are forgiven in the Bible, but it is comforting to be told directly and personally this message is true for me. We also practice confession and absolution together when we gather on Sundays, to remember who we are together, people who still sin, people who are still claimed and restored by God (James 5:16).
Jews were accustomed to sacrificing at the temple in Jerusalem and once a year remembering the Passover, a meal centered on a sacrificial lamb without blemish. When Jesus came, though, He was the last sacrifice, the fulfillment of the Passover. So, He took the Passover meal and revealed its fulfilled meaning. Not the food that symbolized Him, the Lamb, but the bread was taken, and of it, He said, "This is my body, given for you." We believe Him. He gives us to eat of the final sacrifice and makes us priests fit to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving (1 Peter 2:5-9). Because this holy food offered to us requires faith to be received as a blessing (1 Corinthians 11:27-29), we instruct Christians before they take part in this meal with us.
The word "baptism" means washing. A "holy" washing comes not with just water, but with the Word of God that cleanses us from our sins. In Christian Baptism, the Name of God is placed on the recipient, adopting that person as God's own child (Galatians 3:27-4:7). The promise of this blessing is for all people of every age (Acts 2:38-41). Because Baptism is God's act, it should not be repeated (Ephesians 4:4-6). If you have been baptized, but do not think you appreciated that rite when it occurred, God still honors the promises He made to you and calls you home as His child.
That Jesus is returning fills all our other beliefs with joyful hope. His return will bring an end to death and sin. The heavens and the earth will be remade in a glory that surpasses even this present creation. We do not know when He will return; we know that when He does, we will lift up our heads and rejoice.
There is more that Jesus leads His church to believe, teach, and confess. We believe the Holy Scriptures to be complete, holding the entirety of all God intends for us to believe, teach, and confess. Throughout the church's history, there has been debate among churches about what these Scriptures mean. We believe the Book of Concord, which you can read on-line here, is a sure and trustworthy guide to untangling false teaching from true. Our teaching conforms to the teachings declared in the Book of Concord.
This is Martin Luther's seal. He described its meaning:
"The first thing expressed in my seal is a cross, black, within the heart, to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saves us. 'For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.'
"Now, although the cross is black, mortified, and intended to cause pain, yet it does not change the color of the heart, does not destroy nature-- in other words, does not kill, but keeps alive. 'For the just shall live by faith,'--by faith in the Savior.
"But this heart is fixed upon the center of a white rose, to show that faith causes joy, consolation and peace. The rose is white, not red, because white is the ideal color of all angels and blessed spirits.
"This rose, moreover, is fixed in a sky--colored ground, to denote that such a joy of faith in the spirit is but an earnest and beginning of heavenly joy to come, as anticipated and held by hope, though not yet revealed.
"And around this groundbase is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is endless, and more precious than all joys and treasures, since gold is the best and most precious metal. Christ our dear Lord, He will give grace unto eternal life.
In this stained glass representation of Luther's seal, the Reformation phrases, "grace alone," "faith alone," and "word alone" adorn the golden ring.
"Grace alone" means that we cannot earn our salvation with good works. Though we are sinners, God grants righteousness, life, and salvation as a gift through Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-10).
"Faith alone" means that, while there were witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, much of our salvation remains hidden to our sight. We experience life simultaneously as saint and sinner, needing to cling with faith to God's Word (1 John 3:1-3).
"Word alone" means that God comes to us in the Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments instituted in those Scriptures. That is the only firm foundation upon which to build faith and spiritual life together (Matthew 7:24-27).