In my previous blog I discussed one of the proposed changes to Article II of the LCMS Constitution and the reductionistic nature of attempting to state the faith in one short sentence especially if this sentence makes no reference to justification by grace, the cross, the gospel, the sacraments, the Holy Spirit etc.
Now I will speak briefly of the second part of the proposed new Article II.
The major effect of the constitutional rewrite is that the word “Symbol” or “symbolic books” is removed.
In our current constitution every member of the synod “accepts all the symbolic books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church to wit:” and then they are listed. The proposed change would say that “every member of synod accepts the confessional documents in the Book of Concord – the three ecumenical creeds, (the apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian) and the writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (the Unaltered Augsburg Confession” and the rest are listed.
Up until now we have accepted the symbols of the church. After this summer, should the changes be adopted, we will accept “the documents of the Book of Concord.” I would humbly suggest that a symbol is more – much more – than a document.
A symbol is a “brief and explicit confession” (FC Epitome Part I, 2). Listen to how the fathers of our church body have used the word “symbol.”
The Formula of Concord says:
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 (FC SD Rule and Norm 1).
Listen to the Epitome:
As to the schisms in matters of faith, however, which have occurred in our time, we regard as the unanimous consensus and declaration of our Christian faith and confession,…as the symbol of our time, the First, Unaltered Augsburg Confession, delivered to the Emperor Charles V at Augsburg in the year 1530 (FC Epitome Rule and Norm 4)
Listen to H. C. Schwan, the fourth president of the LCMS:
It is true that the Formula of Concord is a symbol of a particular party. As the world knows it is the distinguishing mark of the Lutheran Church (“At home in the House of my Father,” translated by Matt Harrison p. 504).
Listen to C. F. W. Walther:
The only help for resurrecting our Church lies in a renewed acceptance of its old orthodox Confessions and in a renewed unconditional subscription to its Symbols (ibid. 137).
Obviously the symbols are also documents. The faith has content which is expressed through words on a page. But just as the church would be reluctant to accept the Scriptures merely as “the documents of the apostles” so she should hesitate to accept the confessions merely as “documents in the book of Concord.”
The Scriptures are the Word of God and the confessions are the symbols of this Word of God. They are brief and explicit explications of this Word.
I believe that the men President Kieschnick appointed to his Task force and who are the authors of the proposed changes have nothing but the best of intentions. I think it is likely that they thought the word “symbol” was not universally used or understood in our circles and should be replaced by more commonly understood words. But the law of unintended consequences needs to be considered. We lose too much by omitted this word.
Whenever we come across a word which may be unknown to the readers or has a meaning which may be a bit unusual to reader then we must decide whether it is better to get a different word or to explain the word we have. The word “Symbol” is such a precious word that it merits a pause. We should slow down and even stop when it is used. We should consider the depth of its meaning and the manner of its use. We should consider the saving gospel and its capacity to identify that saving gospel. We should explain The word Symbol again and then again if necessary much like we explain the words “justify,” “grace,” ” theology of the cross,” “Divine Service” and a host of other technical theological words or phrases.
Listen to how H. C. Schwan uses the idea in his sermon celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Book of Concord.
(The Concordia) is a flag around which the soldiers of the cross gather and rally as they carry out the work of Christ. It is an identifying and unifying banner. Where the banner stands, the general has his encampment. Where it is raised there is the army. Wherever the banner is carried, the multitude follows. Where the flag falls, the columns fall into confusion. But as long as it flutters in the wind, the troop, the squad remains undefeated (Harrison 503).
There is a difference between the original Constitution, the one written by the fathers of the church and the new proposed Constitution put forward by President Kieschnick’s Blue-Ribbon Task Force. The “Symbolic books of the Evangelical Lutheran church” is different than “The confessional documents of the Book of Concord.”
Let’s not change our Constitution.