Let’s Not Tinker with Article II of the Constitution, by Klemet Preus

The final report of President Kieschnick’s Blue ribbon task force is on the synod’s web site and the conversation surrounding it has continued. Much ink will be invested during the next nine months discussing the relative merits of the far reaching changes anticipated by President Kieschnick’s men.

One recommended change on the face of it may seem godly and pious. But all that glitters is not gold. I speak of the suggestion that Article II of the constitution be changed. Currently this article states:

Article II Confession

The Synod, and every member of the Synod, accepts without reservation:

1. The Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice;

2. All the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, to wit: the three Ecumenical Creeds (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Large Catechism of Luther, the Small Catechism of Luther, and the Formula of Concord.

President Kieschnick through his task force’s proposal wants to do two things. First he wants to divide Article II into two parts. The first part will be called, “Confession of faith,” and the second part will be called “Confessional Basis.” Second he wants to tweak the “Confessional Basis” section. I will speak to the tweaking later. For now let’s analyze what will go into our constitution under the title “Confession of faith,” if the recommendation are accepted by the synod.

Here is the statement which is suggested as our “confession of faith”:

The Synod, and every member of the Synod, believes teaches, and confesses without reservation that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Triune God, alone is the savior of the world, and that only through faith in Him is there forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation (John 3:16-18; I John 2:2; Acts 4:12).

OK, on the face of it who could argue with this statement? But it is not the theological truthfulness of the statement which should give us pause. Rather it is 1 that President Kieschnick’s task force felt compelled to summarize the content of the faith into one single sentence and 2) that their summary statement is not the central teaching of the Scriptures and the church.

1. Do we need a sort of summary statement?

 When you think of it there are a lot of sentences which the synod and every member of it believes. We all believe, for example, in the two nature doctrine of Jesus. He is true God begotten by the Father from eternity and also true man born of the Virgin Mary and he is my Lord. Why not include some assertion of the true humanity of Jesus in our “confession of faith?”

 The new “confession of faith” also does not say anything about the Holy Spirit. Why not say that we believe that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him, but that the Holy Spirit has called us by the gospel?

 For that matter this confession of faith says nothing about the Father. Couldn’t we at least assert that we believe that God has made us and all creatures and still preserves us?

 You get the point. And you may respond that the “confession of faith” is not intended to include everything we believe. Ok, but then what is its intent?

Is it supposed to be the one unassailable statement of the faith upon which we all agree? It can’t be because there are dozen’s of unassailable articles like that.

Is it supposed to capture in a nutshell the essence of the faith? But why not choose the Apostle’s Creed to do that or the explanation of the second article, or article four of the Augsburg confession?

In fact, what is needed in Article II of our Constitution is not a pithy little statement which attempts to summarize the faith, but a statement which tells you exactly where you can find those documents upon which the faith is based. For you theologians – it is not the material principles which is needed here but the formal principle. President Kieschnick’s task force doesn’t seem to understand this and inserts the material principle into a discussion of the formal. What we need is a statement that says where we find the truth. And that is precisely what we have already in Article II of the Constitution. No change is needed.

But, the problem is even worse than that.

2. Is the statement adequate?

Let’s grant for the sake of discussion that we should summarize the entire content of the faith into one easily understood statement upon which we can all agree. What should that one short sentence say?      

Is it intended to assert that one thing that an unbelieving world must know in order to be saved? Isn’t the doctrine of the necessity of faith paramount? Well actually, not exactly.

According to Luther, we can talk about the forgiveness of sins in three ways: How it is earned by Christ on the cross, how it is bestowed by Christ through the gospel and Sacraments and how it received – through faith. Of these three our new “Confession of Faith” mentions only the third. There is no mention of the life and death of Christ as a sacrifice for sins. There is no mention of the necessity of the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments. In our “post modern” age, where historical truly is bunk, wouldn’t it be better to ground our faith in history? The creed does it. “Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” And in an age where the mission and ministry of the church are attacked and misunderstood wouldn’t it be a good idea to assert that forgiveness comes through precisely word and Sacrament. The Augsburg Confession says so, “That we may obtain this faith God has provided….the Gospel and the sacraments”

What our new “confession of faith” does, inadvertently I am sure, is to talk of faith without its true object. Faith in “Jesus as savior” is not adequate. What is needed is a precise statement of what Jesus did for us and what He gives to us that we might trust in Him.

How’s this?

The Synod, and every member of the Synod, believes teaches, and confesses without reservation that we receive forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5

Yes, as I think of it, I like this “confession of faith” more than the one suggested by President Kieschnick’s men..

Or maybe we could add just one more sentence to our new “confession of faith.”

The Synod, and every member of the Synod, believes teaches, and confesses without reservation that we receive forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5. That we may obtain this faith God provided the Gospel and sacraments.

I think you get it. If we want a summary let’s use one we already have. In case you didn’t catch it, the last statement of faith is articles four and five of the Augsburg Confession abbreviated a bit.

Our confession of faith is not broken. Let’s not tinker with it.

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