Lutherans: The Confessing Church

August 9th, 2013 Post by

concordiaLutherans confess their faith in Christ; that is, we actively give reasons for the hope of Christ in us. Evidence of this is clearly seen with the Book of Concord which spans fifty years and displays the profound seriousness Luther and our fathers took in putting clear Biblical expressions of our faith down on paper to be read by all and especially by any who would dare make these expressions their own confession of faith.

Of course, written expressions of what one believes, teaches, and confesses was not something invented by Lutherans. Perhaps the earliest Christian expression of the faith was given by the Apostle Peter and as recorded by Matthew, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Here Peter is repeating back to our Lord what He has already revealed to him. When Peter confesses the truth, he is making it his own. As the Church taught its new converts and encountered errors, or was otherwise put into a position to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope” (1 Peter 3:15), it has expressed the true doctrine of Christ in the form of written confessions, or creeds. The Book of Concord is one gigantic creed expressing what the Lutheran confessors describe as without a doubt their teaching and belief. In other words, the Book of Concord is a confession where Lutherans make the teachings expressed in it ‘our own.’ Read what our confessors say in the Formula of Concord concerning the entirety of our Lutheran symbols:

“Since now, in the sight of God and of all Christendom [the entire Church of Christ], we wish to testify to those now living and those who shall come after us that this declaration herewith presented concerning all the controverted articles aforementioned and explained, and no other, is our faith, doctrine, and confession, in which we are also willing, by God’s grace, to appear with intrepid hearts before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ, and give an account of it; and that we will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to it, but, by the help of God’s grace, intend to abide thereby: therefore, after mature deliberation, we have, in God’s fear and with the invocation of His name, attached our signatures with our own hands”[1].

The Lutheran Confessions are not merely a set of condemnations of false doctrines existing at the time of their writing. The Confessions also contain positive statements which are also a true exposition of the Holy Scriptures; they are a solemn declaration of what Lutherans believe, teach and confess is the Christian faith today. Our Lutheran fathers unhesitatingly pronounced in the preface to the Book of Concord,

“Therefore we also have determined not to depart even a finger’s breadth either from the subjects themselves, or from the phrases which are found in them, but, the Spirit of the Lord aiding us, to persevere constantly, with the greatest harmony, in this godly agreement, and we intend to examine all controversies according to this true norm and declaration of the pure doctrine”[2].

The confessors could determine “not to depart even a finger’s breadth” from our Lutheran confession of faith, because they had set forth their answer to the question repeatedly found in the Small Catechism, “What does this mean?” and the answers given are explicit statements, given under oath, as to what is accepted by all Lutherans as the divine truth found in the Holy Scriptures. Here conditions are not set, these declarations and their acceptance are unconditional. They are either accepted as true expressions of the Holy Scriptures, or they are rejected. To depart from them is to lose the pure doctrine from heaven, Godly unity and harmony.

SMALLCATToday it is not surprising to find some attending Lutheran congregations who have never heard of the Book of Concord. Sadly, the Small Catechism is the only exposure some have with our Lutheran symbols and heritage. It is little wonder why there is so much confusion amongst us as to what it means to be a Lutheran Christian. Indeed, it is this confusion which serves as a breeding ground for false doctrine. Some identifying as Lutheran are comfortable in approving the teachings of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and Beth Moore, just to name some of the more popular false teachers exercising influence among Lutherans. I suspect much of this has to do with a common misconception that the laity must only pledge to believe and confess the contents of Luther’s Small Catechism and the rest of the doctrines expressed in the Book of Concord are somehow optional. Such a view, however, is misplaced. Luther writes in his short preface to the Large Catechism,

“So a person who does not know this catechism could not be counted as a Christian or be admitted to any Sacrament, just as a mechanic who does not understand the rules and customs of his trade is expelled and considered incapable. Therefore, we must have the young learn well and fluently the parts of the catechism or instruction for children, diligently exercise themselves in them, and keep them busy with these parts”[3].

The Small Catechism is intended to be a brief introduction to a greater arena of life long study in the doctrines of the Church. Luther writes in the longer preface to the Large Catechism,

“Therefore, I again beg all Christians—especially pastors and preachers—not to think of themselves as doctors too soon and imagine that they know everything. (For imagination, like unshrunk cloth, will fall far short of the measure.) Instead, they should daily exercise themselves well in these studies and constantly use them”[4].

meme3Luther begs “all Christians… not to think of themselves as doctors too soon….” We don’t want to minimize the standard through which we enjoy understanding of our common confession of faith as Lutherans. Our confessional forbears believed it was necessary to confess each and every article of the faith given to us in the Book of Concord. Pure doctrine is necessary for avoiding errors and confessing such doctrine, as they did, preserves the pure teaching for future generations. If our teachings are not read, taught, and confessed, then they are lost to us and our posterity, being gradually replaced with error. Importantly, too, we lose the unity gained by our agreement, or concord, found in the Lutheran confessions. Or, as stated in the Formula of Concord:

“Since for thorough, permanent unity in the Church it is, above all things, necessary that we have a comprehensive, unanimously approved summary and form wherein is brought together from God’s Word the common doctrine, reduced to a brief compass, which the churches that are of the true Christian religion confess, just as the ancient Church always had for this use its fixed symbols”[5].

The Evangelical Lutheran Church is truly a confessing church.

______________________

[End Notes]

1  FC SD XII, 40  http://bookofconcord.org/sd-sects.php#para40

2  Book of Concord on-line http://bookofconcord.org/boc-intro.php#para23

3  McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 355–356). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

4 ibid.

5 FC SD, Rule and Norm, 1 http://bookofconcord.org/sd-ruleandnorm.php#para1

 






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  1. John Rixe
    August 9th, 2013 at 10:48 | #1

    The creeds, catechisms and Augsburg Confession are interesting and accessible.  The rest of the Book of Concord seems pretty boring and technical to average laypeople IMO.  Why should we feel guilty if we prefer to spend limited spare time reading the Bible instead?

    I respect those who have a specialized interest in studying the BoC.

  2. quasicelsus
    August 9th, 2013 at 11:06 | #2

    @John Rixe #1

    when people find something interesting, it can be hard to see why others do not find it so interesting. i love ancient history. medieval history is fun – feudal japan, and the knights templar woo! for some reason the 1700′s roll around and i lapse into a coma. and my friends are like “come on! high seas privateers! colonial exploration!” and i’m all like “white wigs and wooden teeth.”

    i think encouragement works better than guilt, but at the end of the day, people should be continuing to learn.

    it’s not a matter of “study the bible” or “study the boc” – they go hand in hand. when you’re studying what Jesus meant when he said “on this rock i will build my church” – you get a magnificently clear explanation in the BOC.

    don’t approach it like a novel – you don’t even have to start at page one.

    one option
    read a small chunk
    http://bookofconcord.org/treatise.php

    the power of the pope. it’s not much longer than some of the articles here.
    it’s a great way to get a handle on articulating the LCMS rejection of papal authority. It goes along with scripture. it’s useful when speaking to catholics. it’s useful when teaching your kids about why you’re not catholic. it’s useful when explain that what your church teaches is actually the apostolic doctrine.

    another option.

    hit the index. look at topics. anything jump out at you?

    another option.

    listen for other peoples questions. Do they deny the divinity of Jesus, but still believe in God? (jehova’s witness, etc)? do they think Christians shouldn’t hold office? etc etc etc

    so when you’re digging around for biblical ideas that do this (bearing in mind that the people you’re talking to are reading the same bible) you can talk to them.

    just remember to keep listening as you’re talking. :)

  3. Carl Vehse
    August 9th, 2013 at 11:09 | #3

    @John Rixe #1: “The rest of the Book of Concord seems pretty boring and technical to average laypeople IMO.”

    Other laypeople don’t find the rest of the Book of Concord pretty boring and technical IMO.

  4. August 9th, 2013 at 11:30 | #4

    @John Rixe #1

    John,

    I don’t know that you should “feel guilty.” Do you? Another thought… we don’t pit spending time reading the Scriptures against reading our confessions. This isn’t an either/or. Instead, do both! Why not? As you read the Scriptures you might have a question such as “What does this mean?” and why not go through our confessions to see if our Lutheran fathers provided an answer?

    The bottom line is as Lutherans we need to know what our confessions state. So read the Book of Concord to see what it means to be a Lutheran. In fact, if you have the time, find a BoC reading group and read it with others. That makes reading the BoC much less boring, for those who find it tedious, I think.

  5. John Rixe
    August 9th, 2013 at 11:36 | #5

    @Jim Pierce #4

    Point well taken. I do consult the confessions when I have a question. I just don’t curl up by the fireplace with a copy of The Solid Declaration. :)

  6. Martin R. Noland
    August 9th, 2013 at 13:48 | #6

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I appreciate Mr. Pierce’s blogpost. It is interesting to see that President Harrison just posted similar thoughts, from Hermann Sasse, at his blog here: http://mercyjourney.blogspot.com/

    Lutherans have a curious idea, which is probably not shared in the same way by other faith-groups. It comes from Luther, namely, the idea of the “Word of God.”

    “Word of God” is found, without error or confusion, in the Scriptures, since all the canonical books were authored by the Holy Spirit. But “Word of God” is also found elsewhere, first and foremost in the sacraments and confession/absolution (when they are properly administered), second in creeds and confessions (because they agree with Scripture), third in preaching (insofar as the preaching agrees with Scripture), fourth in the prayers and hymns of the church (insofar as such prayers and hymns agree with Scripture), etc., etc.

    This means that, for Lutherans, the next best thing to attending divine worship is to read the Scriptures for themselves at home; and the next best thing after that is to study the creeds and confessions of the church. Luther said that he studied the “catechism” every day. In all cases, the “Word of God” is at work to enlighten the hearts and minds of the believer.

    The difference between Scripture and confessions is a matter of how the Word is presented. The Word is presented in a variety of ways in Scripture: history, personal letters, visions, psalms, proverbs, prophetic discourse, etc. This makes for fascinating, even entertaining reading.

    It is no accident that persons with the least amount of religious education are drawn to the most “entertaining” sections, e.g., the book of Revelation, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc–but what they obtain from such reading is often not very helpful to their personal faith or life. Sometimes it is even harmful and bizarre (check out all the apocalyptic titles in your bookstore).

    The Word is presented in only one way in the creeds and confessions: didactic and logical. There is no history, proverbs, visions, prophecies, etc. But everything there is useful for faith and life. All of the confessions are useful for training your mind to resist the confusions that are so prominent in other faith-groups and traditions. Another way to say this is: the church has kept pace with heresy in two millenia of Christian history, by providing creeds, catechisms, and confessions that counteract the confusions of heretics and the heterodox. This is a logical result of Luther’s notion of the “Word of God.” So . . .

    If you want to be confused by heresies and the heterodox, then go ahead and ignore the Confessions, or give them just a cursory reading. But . . .

    If, on the other hand, you want to understand the Word of God in its truth and purity–i.e., what Jesus is saying to us today–then you should study the confessions as much as you study the Scriptures. And this is a necessary practice for pastors; a recommended practice for laymen.

    Thanks again for a great post, Jim!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. John Rixe
    August 9th, 2013 at 14:14 | #7

    Pastor Noland has again provided a fair, sensible analysis.  I heartily endorse the vigorous study of the confessions by pastors. :)

  8. August 9th, 2013 at 14:22 | #8

    @Martin R. Noland #6

    Thank you Pr. Noland! Great comments.

  9. helen
    August 9th, 2013 at 14:45 | #9

    @John Rixe #7
    Pastor Noland has again provided a fair, sensible analysis. I heartily endorse the vigorous study of the confessions by pastors. :)

    It is even better if they gather a group of laity to teach, good for them and good for the laity. You learn a subject even more thoroughly when you have to explain it!
    I believe our Pastors are currently doing a study with the Elders, and another one for anyone who cares to come. :)

  10. John Rixe
    August 9th, 2013 at 15:59 | #10

    @helen #9

    No wonder you have such a hard time getting volunteer Elders :)

  11. JoyfulNoise
    August 9th, 2013 at 18:52 | #11

    I was envious when our pastor began a study of the BOC with the elders. I am waiting for him to do one with the rest of us.

  12. helen
    August 9th, 2013 at 20:45 | #12

    @John Rixe #10
    No wonder you have such a hard time getting volunteer Elders :)

    Ya think? My Elder told me they had two resignations recently (health reasons) and four names on a “waiting list”. :)

    @JoyfulNoise #11
    I was envious when our pastor began a study of the BOC with the elders.
    I am waiting for him to do one with the rest of us.

    Does he know it?
    Ours did the lay BoC class because several people asked him.
    This year he’s started an “All through the Bible” class… also in response to requests.

  13. August 10th, 2013 at 15:35 | #13

    “Sadly, the Small Catechism is the only exposure some have with our Lutheran symbols and heritage.”

    More sadly yet, some (and by, “some,” understand, all too many) do not even have exposure to this. It is today as it was in Luther’s as per his Preface to the Small Catechism, wherein he writes, “to All Faithful and Godly Pastors and Preachers:

    “Grace, Mercy, and Peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

    “The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare [publish] this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form. Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the [common] holy Sacraments. Yet they [do not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts.”

  14. Hawthorn Giant
    August 14th, 2013 at 15:16 | #14

    Friends, we have got to keep a keen eye on our usage of the term “Lutheran” and of the mention of the “Evangelical Lutheran Church.”

    I have recently moved to Georgia. Outside LC-MS congregations here, the little bit that people know about Lutheranism does not, in any way, describe us.

    In the last hour or so (as I write this), the ELCA has just elected a new female bishop, whose husband is an Episcopalian priest! And yet two of my new friends (one of whom is a neighbor) have already gotten the news. One came to congratulate me on the election in my church, the other, who is a classic southern Evangelical, wanted to take me to task for not understanding God’s Word.

    When I tried to explain to them who and what I am, and what the various Lutheran “denominations” are, all I got was one confused stare, and one dismissive, “If you guys say you are Lutherans, there can’t be that much difference” comment.

    If I were to be asked what to do, it would be to either ask nicely, or just finally demand that the E(L)CA now remove all reference to the name ‘Lutheran’ in their name, doctrine, writings, everything.

    In the meantime, we have got to find a way to thrust “our” Lutheranism back into the limelight, even if most media types (those who care about differences anyway) are antithetical to our message.

  15. August 14th, 2013 at 17:31 | #15

    “If I were to be asked what to do, it would be to either ask nicely, or just finally demand that the E(L)CA now remove all reference to the name ‘Lutheran’ in their name, doctrine, writings, everything.”

    The ELCA can and will do anything they condemned well please. There is nothing we can do to keep them or anybody else from calling themselves Lutheran–or Christian for that matter. All we can, should, and must do is to rebuke, correct, reject and condemn anything and everything that erroneously calls itself by either name, whether outside or inside our fellowship, and distance ourselves from it as best we can.

    With Paul, I, “appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites,[f] and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Romans 16:17-20

  16. August 14th, 2013 at 17:46 | #16

    HG, there really is no way to keep folks from claiming the name Lutheran (or Christian for that matter) for themselves and attaching it to anything they please. The only real way to thrust the confession of the Lutheran faith into the limelight is to do just that–shine it in all its brightness to chase out the darkness. That is, whenever and wherever false teaching and its practice demands to be called Lutheran (or Christian), we can, should, and must counter it with the truth of the matter at hand–lest our people be taken in as well as for the sake currently under the spell of error. Regardless of its genesis, from within or without, we cannot let Christ’s name be joined to false teaching without rebuking, correcting, rejecting, and even condemning it for what it is–distinguishing and separating ourselves from it as bet we can.

    And remember, it is not those who call false teaching and practice what it is that *cause* the divisions.

    With the apostle Paul, I “appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Romans 16:17-20

  17. August 22nd, 2013 at 10:04 | #17

    we need more confessing of the faith like the WELS Michigan District-strong and firm in principles of our Lord

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