The Reformation and the Power of Lutheran Social Ministry Continue Today
In 1517 Martin Luther, a theologian and Roman Catholic monk, set out to reform the Roman Catholic Church.
At the time the Pope and certain bishops insisted that believers could become more certain of their salvation by making gifts or purchasing special dispensations—known as indulgences—for past sins. Luther objected to this doctrine arguing instead that Christians were saved solely by the grace of God through Christ and that individuals did not bear the responsibility for their salvation.
Luther laid out his reform proposals in a series of ninety-five theses. In doing so he set the groundwork for what would become the Protestant movement. But Luther also created a new approach to charity and service. He argued that because people are saved by grace, in gratitude, they are free to serve others.
Luther’s call for people to care for one another in response to God’s grace created the framework for modern social services. Today when churches and congregations organize to fulfill a need in their community the work is known as social ministry. In the United States social ministry grew significantly after the Civil War. Today there are over 300 Lutheran social ministry organizations in America and in 1997 they united—along with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod—to form Lutheran Services in America.
Luther’s call for Christians to care for all is as relevant today as it was 500 years ago. That call lives on today with Lutheran Services in America as we lead broad system change in the health and social services sectors. As we look to the future our network is united in our mission to strengthen communities, to solve complex problems and to ensure that all people can live abundant lives—delivering on the promise of the Reformation.