Here at Bethlehem, we have some core beliefs that make us who we are:
1. Jesus is Lord and Savior.
2. We pray first, last, and always.
3. God wants everyone included in God’s work.
4. We live by grace, forgiveness, and with humility; people and relationships are primary.
5. Faith/trust in Jesus encourages us to take risks and stretch beyond our comfort zones for the sake of the gospel.
6. God’s Spirit will always empower and gift us to be disciples and witnesses.
7. Caring for others and acts of love change hearts and lives, others and our own.
We also subscribe to some of the particular beliefs and doctrines that make Lutherans distinct among Christian. So what makes a Lutheran a Lutheran?
Lutherans are, first and foremost, Christians! We share the basic doctrines of orthodox Christianity. We believe in God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God who created the world and all that is in it; who redeemed the world by sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die for us, and who raised him from the dead; who gave the gift of the Holy Spirit which has sustained the church through the centuries. Lutherans also have some “distinctive doctrines”:
The doctrine of grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) There is nothing we can do to merit God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness; God gives it to us simply because God is God!
The doctrine of faith.
Faith is the other side of the same coin: it is our response to God’s grace! Faith is not belief in some intellectual system; it is, plain and simple, trusting God. Faith is the “clinging of the heart to God.”
The doctrine of the Word.
For Lutherans, the “Word of God” is, first and foremost, Jesus Christ. In a secondary sense, the Holy Scriptures are also understood as the “Word of God”— not because the Bible in and of itself is “holy” but because it conveys Christ to us. Christ is, in the end, the foundation of our faith.
The doctrine of the sacraments.
For Martin Luther, the two sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion “convey Christ” to believers. They are “means of grace.” In other words, we believe that in the sacraments, something actually happens. They are not just nice little pictures that remind us of some abstract reality; they are Christ, touching us. Lutherans believe that Baptism is God’s action, forgiving us our sin and incorporating us into His family. God actively claims the person–child or adult–as His own, and promises that He will always be there for this child of God. For Lutherans, Holy Communion is not just a memorial; we believe that Christ is truly present in the sacrament, offering us “forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.” We can be sure, when we come to the Table, that Christ truly is present, and that he gives his body, again and again, “for you.”
The doctrine of the Church.
The true Church exists, Lutherans say, wherever the Word is purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered. The Church is the Body of Christ, gathered around the preaching of the Word of God, and the receptionof the sacraments Christ has given us. Bethlehem Lutheran is a part of the Upstate NY Synod, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but ultimately, we are a part of all churches and all denominations which confess faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.