Lutheranism is a major branch of WesternChristianity that identifies with the teachings of the sixteenth-century German reformer Martin Luther. Luther's efforts to reestablish the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic Church and Carlstadt's Reform movement, launched the Protestant Reformation and, though it was not Luther's original intention, left Western Christianity divided. Augsburg Confession of 1530 established the Lutheran Church; while the 19th Ecumenical Council of Trent of 1543 officially chartered the Roman Catholic Church through the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation. Prior to 1543, Catholics belonged to the old Western Catholic Church from which Martin Luther was an ordained Augustinian monk.
The split between Lutherans and Roman Catholics arose mainly over the doctrine of justification before God. Specifically, Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification "by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone," distinct from the Roman Catholic view of works in addition to faith. Lutheranism is also distinct from the Reformed Churches, another major church which arose during the Reformation. Unlike the Reformed Churches, Lutherans have retained many of the sacramental understandings and liturgical practices of the "Old Catholics". Lutheran theology differs considerably from Reformed theology in its understanding of divine grace, predestination, baptism, sacraments of the altar and to eternity after death.
Today, millions belong to Lutheran churches worldwide; furthermore, the world's 400 million Protestant Christians can trace their tradition, at least in part, back to Luther's reforming work.
Laestadianism is a conservative Lutheran revival movement started in the middle of the 19th century. It is strongly marked by both pietistic and Moravian influences. It is the biggest revivalist movement in the Nordic countries. It has members mainly in Finland, North America, Norway, Russia and Sweden. There are also smaller congregations in Africa, South America and Central Europe. In addition Laestadians have missionaries in 23 countries. The number of Laestadians worldwide is estimated to be between 144,000 and 219,000. Because of doctrinal opinion differences the movement has been split into 19 branches, of which about 15 are active today. All branches share many essential teachings: a central emphasis on the Lutheran doctrine of justification (forgiveness and grace), an essential difference between believers and unbelievers, and that every believer has the authority to testify that others' sins are forgiven. Their central activities are revival meetings, the biggest of them being the annual Summer Services of Conservative Laestadians.
Mark S. Hanson is currently the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In 2003, Hanson was elected President of the Lutheran World Federation, a role which he serves concurrently with his role as ELCA Presiding Bishop. He serves on the executive council on the executive board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Hanson is author of Faithful Yet Changing: The Church in Challenging Times (Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis: 2002). Hanson was reelected on the second ballot, thus becoming the longest-serving Presiding Bishop in the ELCA's history. Previous Presiding Bishops have served only a single term since the ELCA's conception in 1987.