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Lutheranism: It began with a monk and his mission

Mass appeal » In light of the anniversary of the Reformation, a look at what its founding father brought to bear.

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Lutherans follow the Catholic "liturgical calendar," which laid out the order of Scripture reading and celebrations throughout the church year. They wear robes and kneel before altars much as their fellow Catholics and some Protestants do. Music is a central part of Lutheran worship.

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What are the similarities between Lutherans and other Christians?

Lutherans, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics share a common liturgical tradition, meaning they follow an order of worship they believe is traced back to the apostles.

"We see ourselves as catholic (meaning part of the whole Christian Church), evangelical (meaning our witness to the good news of Jesus Christ is based on scripture), and reforming (meaning we are open to ways of communicating the good news in ways that are always relevant to modern society," Nichols writes in an email.

Worship services of other reformed churches such as Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, "are more free form," he says. "If you went into their sanctuary, you would see that the pulpit is the focus, while the central focus of Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic sanctuary is the altar. This is an important distinction."

How many Lutheran groups are there?

There are at least 14 separate groups in the United States. The three largest are the ELCA, with 4.2 million members, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, with about 2.6 million members, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, with about 400,000 members.

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What issues divide them?

Like other Protestant denominations, Lutherans are divided on theological and social issues.

The ELCA is the most liberal. It ordains women, allows same-sex marriage and believes that Holy Scripture is historical but not always literal.

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not ordain women, but does allow them to be church officers. Gays cannot be ordained nor is same-sex marriage allowed.

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran is the most conservative. Women cannot be ordained or serve as officers. The Bible is considered inerrant.

How do Utah Lutherans fit in the picture?

In Utah, the Religion Census shows, there are 12 ELCA churches with 3,186 members. The Missouri Synod has 19 congregations and 4,070 members, and the Wisconsin Synod has two congregations, with 484 members.

Utah’s ELCA churches are "the conduits for ecumenical conversation and cooperation," says Pastor Jeffrey Louden of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Taylorsville. "We work together with Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian (USA), Church of the Brethren and United Church of Christ pastors and congregations."

Such collaborations are especially important in Salt Lake City suburbs, he says. "They are places that don’t build communities easily. Our community of faith could make a real difference, could be a place of respite and hope."

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