Luther believed that the church should reposition Christ as the center of Christian worship, and he objected to the governance of the Catholic Church, as well as its treatment of communion and plan for salvation. He voiced his dissent by composing ninety-five opinions (known as theses), which laid out his objections. Luther probably did not nail the theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, as legend would have it, on October 31, 1517, but rather sent copies to various bishops, including the archbishop of Mainz. Copies were eventually forwarded to the pope. When Luther
Luther's central doctrine was "Justification through Faith," the belief that salvation can only be attained by faith in the grace of God and not by the performance of good works. The first congregations identified themselves as "evangelical" and after 1530—when the twenty-eight articles basic to Lutheranism were presented to Holy Roman emperor Charles V at Augsburg—as "the churches of the Augsburg confession." Lutheran teachings, which introduced the use of the vernacular and congregational singing, are preserved in the Book of Concord (1580).
Georgia's First Lutherans
Under the direction of German baron Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck, a group of forty-six Lutherans arrived in Georgia in 1734, a year after James Oglethorpe founded the colony. Mostly religious expatriates from Salzburg, the group eventually settled in 1736 at a site they named New Ebenezer, located twenty miles northwest of Savannah. Over the next ten years, approximately 1,000 "Salzburger" Lutherans came to Georgia. They quickly went to work, sponsoring religious schools, building churches, and experimenting with various economic endeavors, including silk making, farming, and lumbering.
Antebellum and Civil War Years
The political and military conflicts of the Civil War (1861-65) era disrupted church attendance and Lutheran commitment to missionary work. Sectional sentiment and the issue of slavery led to the breaking off of southern Lutherans from the General Synod of the United States in 1863, a move that Georgia's Lutherans strongly supported. After the war, Lutheran churches struggled to retain members and raise cash for new facilities. Although in 1869 Atlanta's Lutheran community successfully organized to found St. John's, that city's first Lutheran congregation, church rosters around the state steadily waned into the 1880s. The number of black communicants on Lutheran rosters likewise declined to only a handful.
The Great Depression curtailed many of the denomination's activities, whether church-building campaigns, Sunday schools, or missions work. World War II (1941-45), however, once more resuscitated Lutheran communities, bringing another round of church founding during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in Atlanta's expanding suburbs. By 1960 the American Lutheran Church had joined the synodical family of Georgia's various Lutheran groups, and all together this assortment of synods maintained more than eighty churches in the state. In 2000 metropolitan Atlanta alone boasted more than eighty churches, a fitting testament to the notable presence of Lutheran communities in the state's past and present.
Theodore G. Ahrendt, The Lutherans in Georgia: An Informal History from Spain to the Space Age (Chicago: Adams Press, 1979).
David S. Williams, From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia's Religious Heritage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Darren Grem, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.