Open Bible Lutheran Church was founded in 2003 at The Villages, a Senior Community in central Florida. We realize that there are already many churches in the area and pray that they, too, will proclaim the message of God's good will in Christ. Nevertheless the founders saw a need for another Bible-believing Lutheran Church. As our name implies, we adhere strictly to the teachings of the Bible in all our doctrine and moral positions.
We are affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS). WELS exists to share Jesus Christ and gather worshipers in all the world. Learn more about WELS at www.wels.net.
Our church is a sanctuary, that is, a place apart from the frantic, troubled world around us. It is a place where we connect with God and are in his presence. Because of this our worship experience is not just another version of what we experience in daily life. The fact that we are in the presence of God is what is most important. We come to God to hear his word and to receive his blessing. In response we also offer our prayers and praises. Our worship style is more formal than many because we want to show reverence for God. It is a high and important occasion to come into the presence of the King of heaven.
What we believe about the Bible
That the Bible is the true and inerrant Word of God. We reject any thought that makes only a part of Scripture God’s Word, that allows for the possibility of factual error in Scripture, or error in so-called nonreligious matters (for example: historical, geographical, or scientific matters).
What we believe about Jesus Christ
That Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is the only Savior from sin, death and the powers of the devil.
What we believe about salvation
"That man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:28) Salvation is God's gift to us. It is received by faith alone. Even faith is a gift of God, produced in us by the Holy Spirit, who works through visible means, that is, the Word of God and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
What we believe about good works in the life of a Christian
That faith in Jesus Christ is a living force within the Christian that must produce works that are pleasing to God. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). So a Christian as a branch of Christ the Vine, brings forth good fruit (John 15:5).
Why is our church called Lutheran? (For a more complete theological answer to this question see Why I am a Lutheran printed below.)
The Lutheran Church came into being as a reform movement in the 16th century. Since the first century much tradition and unscriptural doctrines and practices had accumulated which robbed sincere believers of peace and hope. Instead of a gift of God earned by Christ, salvation had become a process begun by Christ but needing to be completed by the
individual believer's good works. This left guilty sinners without any assurance they were saved. Martin Luther, a monk, wanted the church to return to its roots in the Scriptures. It is said that the Reformation can be summarized in three brief principles: Grace alone, Faith alone and Scripture alone. The church of that day flatly rejected and excommunicated Luther. Enemies scornfully called him and his followers "Lutherans". That is how the Lutheran Church got its name.
Today most of the "Lutheran Church" has again turned away from the authority of Scripture and its teachings. It has replaced the Scripture with the ever-changing philosophies and cultural patterns of the world.
Open Bible Lutheran Church seeks to continue in the true Reformation tradition with the Scripture alone as our authority. Our doctrines and moral positions do not change from decade to decade. Furthermore, we believe that salvation is a gift of God, earned fully by the perfect life that Christ lived in our place and the innocent death he died for our sins. This gift of salvation is ours by faith alone. All glory belongs to God. This is clearly the teaching of the Bible: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.That there is only one true God" (Ephesians 2:8-9) Because we can rely on the truth of the Bible as God's word and because Christ has completed our salvation, we live with certainty about God's mercy and eternal life.
Why I am a Lutheran
by Edward G. Kettner, theologian, professor of theology
(This is an slightly abridged version of Dr. Kettner’s answer to questions about how Lutherans differ from other Christians.)
What do Lutherans offer?
. . . what do Lutherans teach that makes them such bold and clear proclaimers of the Gospel? At a gathering of Lutheran theologians I attended last year, the question was asked, "What do Lutherans have to offer the rest of Christendom?" The answer agreed upon was that Lutherans have a law-free Gospel. The Lutheran Church declares that the Gospel is nothing other than the declaration of the forgiveness of sins. Everything else in Christian theology either precedes it (creation, sin) or follows it (sanctification, the Christian life, the last things). For Lutherans, the most important task of the preacher is to properly distinguish between the law and the Gospel. The law of God, which tells us what God would have us do, always accuses us and reminds us that we have failed in living up to Gods requirements. If the law is preached in a way which gives the impression that we can keep it completely, or even worse, that we have done a pretty good job of keeping it, we will end up creating Pharisees. Conversely, when the law is preached properly and drives people to see they have failed to do what God would have them do, and that, because of this they deserve Gods eternal punishment, we have a word of consolation to give them, assuring them that Christ died for them and that all who put their trust in the mercy of God for Christ’s sake will be saved. This, of necessity, includes the bold proclamation, given on the basis of Christ's universal work for fallen humanity and given upon confession of faith, "Christ died for you. Your sins are forgiven."
This doesn't mean that we don’t see good works as important. It means, rather, that we see good works in their proper perspective. I have heard sermons which more or less assume the Gospel. "These people are saved," they seem to say; "Now let's get on with the business of the Christian life, and spend our time telling people what they should be doing." Lutherans, who confess with St. Paul that Christ is the end of the law, and who maintain the significance of the Gospel for the Christian life, would see this as a counsel to despair; as even the best of Christians, as they examine their lives in light of the law, find themselves falling short of God's will. Rather, in preaching the Gospel, Lutherans declare that the message of forgiveness must predominate; for it is only the unconditional message of the forgiveness of sins that frees us for real living, giving both power and motivation for service, and comfort in our shortcomings. This is not to say that the law does not direct our lives. In Lutheran theology, the sanctified life is formed by the Gospel and informed by the law. . . .
The means of grace
Related to the Lutheran understanding of the Gospel is its confession that God gives the Gospel to us through the means of grace. Lutherans declare that for the sake of the sinner God gives the Holy Spirit through means, so we may be sure that it is God who is truly at work and that the work He has done in Christ is truly for us. The objective Gospel, which comes in preached form, in declaratory form in the words of absolution, and in visible form in Baptism and the Lord's Supper, offers forgiveness and creates the faith that receives it. This Gospel is a clear, bold declaration to the sinner, "Christ died for you." "In the stead and by the command of Christ I forgive your sins."
Some have accused Luther of beginning a Reformation of the Church but then not completing it: teaching justification by grace through faith but then retaining the Roman understanding of the sacraments. In fact, the Lutheran understanding of the sacraments is quite different from Rome's. Rome sees the sacraments as good works performed by the recipient which merit grace even apart from faith. God is said to give His grace through the sacraments he has ordained, but this grace is understood as a power poured into the Christians enabling them to gain further merit by which they then save themselves, rather than being purely and simply the favour of God for the sake of Christ. The work of Christ merely sets the stage upon which the Christian must build to save himself. The Church, then, is the visible organization within which one works out one's own salvation by receiving and acting upon the power God gives.
The Lutheran understanding of the sacraments is quite different. Lutherans see the sacraments as Gospel, the means by which God comes to troubled sinners to give them assurance that grace is theirs, their sins are forgiven, and they are truly children of God. The benefits given in the Gospel are received by faith, and the means are instrumental in creating and sustaining the faith that receives them. The fact that God has tied His promise of forgiveness to the proclamation of the Gospel gives the sinner great comfort, for the clear words of grace act to overcome the doubts and fears our sin creates, and turn our focus from our own feelings to the promise of Christ.
Now there are some, unfortunately including some raised in the Lutheran Church, who don't fully understand how Lutherans view the means of grace. For example, some have the impression that Lutherans teach that once you are baptized you are "home free" in the sense that you can live your life anyway you want since you have already been saved. This then makes the sanctified life unnecessary, or something separate from being saved. Nothing could be further from the truth! The Lutheran is just as appalled as St. Paul with the idea, "Let us continue in sin, that grace may abound" (Romans 6:1-2), and recognizes that Baptism creates a new life, a life directed toward God. Lutherans note that Baptism is Gospel, the assurance to us in the face of our sins that we are still children of God. Martin Luther is said to have had a plaque in his study which said, "I have been baptized"; words which comforted him in his times of despair. In contrast, those who take their Baptisms for granted, thinking the fact of their Baptism can become an excuse for sinning, the word of law again needs to be spoken. Once they repent of this idea, the spoken word of the Gospel points them back to their Baptism. This assures them that God continues working in their lives, creating and sustaining faith, and keeping them in the life He has given them: life that avails for eternity.
For Lutherans, Baptism is the centre of the Christian life. In his Small Catechism, when Luther answers the question, "What does baptizing with water indicate?" he says, "It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever."
He goes on to point to Romans 6:4 where Paul says, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Baptism raises us to new life, a sanctified life. As Luther talks about Baptism in his Large Catechism, he makes much of the fact that Baptism is first and foremost a divine act, not a human act. God bestows His own name upon the one being baptized, making them a member of His family with all of the rights and privileges, the first and foremost of these, of course, being the Holy Spirit. For Lutherans, the words "Be baptized," are not so much a command as an invitation to receive the benefits of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation which God has attached to Baptism.
For those who have received the mercy of God and have been instructed in the faith, the Lord's Supper serves as a means by which God continues to strengthen the faith of His people and knit them together in His body. Lutherans confess that Christ gives His true body and blood, the very body and blood given and shed on the cross, to all who partake. The Lutheran insistence on an objective Gospel states that all who commune, whether they believe or not, receive Christ's body and blood with their mouths; those who believe, for the forgiveness of their sins; and those who do not believe to their judgement. This gift of Christ of Himself in His body and blood is a token to those who receive it that Christ died for them and their sins are forgiven. For the struggling Christian overwhelmed by his own sinfulness, and who may even wonder how God could possibly love him, receiving the Saviour's very body and blood with the words "given for you" and "shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins," is a very personal and direct application of the Gospel, and a great source of comfort.
Some may get the impression that Luther did not reform the sacraments (as he did justification) because Lutherans have also retained much of the historic liturgy. Lutheran pastors often wear clerical collars and traditional liturgical vestments during worship. The service also has many parts identical to Eastern, Roman, and Anglican orders of service. But Luther and his followers took care to retain only those parts of the liturgy which were compatible with the Gospel and removed all of those parts which obscured or denied it. This included the canon of the Mass, which saw the Lord's Supper as a re-sacrifice of Christ and an earning of more merit through it, rather than the distribution of the benefits of that once-and-for-all sacrifice on Calvary. Luther and Lutherans saw the importance of retaining the ancient forms of worship; first of all, because for the most part their origins are in Scripture or summarize the universal Christian response to the Gospel; second, because they help us see our connection with the Church of the past and testify of our trust in God's promise that the Church and the Gospel will continue until Christ returns; and third, because they help us see that worship does not merely consist of our own little group getting together on Sunday morning or another time to do something for God. Rather, they help us see that public worship originates with God's activity for us. He gathers us together as He has gathered together His saints throughout history, so that when we worship we do so as members of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, joining with saints on earth, and with angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven, as the liturgy for Divine Service declares.
Lutherans would deny that we are Romanists, but would declare that we are catholic with the small "c." There are some who call themselves "Evangelical Catholics" noting our continuity with the ancient church and with the Church Universal, but noting that the Gospel - the Evangel - stands front and centre in our teaching. We accept much of the tradition of the church, but receive it critically, only when it agrees with the Gospel. We believe that this continuity marvellously illustrates both the unity of the church and Gods sustaining activity within the Church as He continues creating and sustaining the faith of His people. . . .
In summary, Lutherans teach a Gospel that is both universal and efficacious, which declares that salvation is God’s work from start to finish. The Holy Spirit is seen as attaching Himself to the external Word, always working through it to bring about His purposes. As Augsburg Confession Article V puts it, "Through the Word and sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel." The Word which brings life to us who are born into this world spiritually dead, is as powerful as the Word which brought creation into being, as powerful as the Word which told the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to rise. The Lord who did all of those things by His Word now authorizes His Church to forgive sins. He made that clear on the day of His resurrection, when He told the apostles, "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven" (John 20:23). When that Word is spoken, it is to be understood as coming from the mouth of Christ Himself. What a comfort it is to hear such a message which cuts through both our self-righteousness and our self-rejection and tells us that without a doubt we are children of God.
Why am I a Lutheran? For the sake of the Gospel! For the sake of the Word which tells me that Christ, beyond a shadow of a doubt died for me, and which, in telling me that, creates the faith in my heart which lays hold of the promise; for the sake of a word which also comes in visible form, confronting me with Christ's love for me in the waters of Baptism and in the bread and wine which are His Body and Blood.