Let’s not tinker with Article II, More thoughts on the BRTSFG, by Klemet Preus

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.


Let’s not tinker with Article II, More thoughts on the BRTSFG, by Klemet Preus — 6 Comments

  1. Thank you Klemet.
    I think you once again hit the bullseye with this little article.
    The phraseology “symbol of our time” the confessors used when the Formula of Concord was written is wrongly understood to relativize the confession of the FC to a certain time and place. I have heard a DP state publicly that the Book of Concord is no longer applicable and relevant to our unchurched culture because Luther lived in a time of a “churched” culture.

    Drop the “symbols” terminology all together and the BOC becomes an historically relativized collection of documents that may or may not be relevant today.

    There is a strong desire to loose the moorings of the LCMS from the symbols of a bygone era to get with the mission of the present. In other words, the Book of Concord is an impediment to progress.
    Rev. Olson

  2. When I think of the word Symbol when placed in a Lutheran context, the visual image that comes to mind is the elevation of the host. In a sense they represent the same thing and are inseparable. The two little words “symbolic books” shouldn’t be separated from our Constitution.

    The Schwan quote is wonderful.

  3. Rev. Olson :
    I have heard a DP state publicly that the Book of Concord is no longer applicable and relevant to our unchurched culture because Luther lived in a time of a “churched” culture.

    I believe this was the rationale behind GK’s “Not your grandfather’s church” comment. Basically that we now live in an “unchurched” culture so our methods of church growth should not be the same as the methods used by our grandfathers in their “churched” culture. Before the church could count on people to come to a church on their own because it was a cultural norm. Now we need to attract people with programs, fun music and sermons to address the felt needs of a community. Our grandfathers did not need to be missional in their community because of their “churched” culture. Now we do need to be missional. (Missional in this case meaning attempts to grow the church by filling the pews even if biblical teaching is marginalized to accomplish it. I think the church should be “missional” in its proper sense which is only done with correct doctrine. Marginalizing doctrine may bring in more money and fill pews but it does not expand the invisible church.)

    This sort of approach seems to turn the Divine Service into an outreach tool that relieves laymen of the need for properly understanding scripture when talking with the unchurched instead of the gathering of Christ’s church to receive grace through his appointed means. It also presupposes that the service was used to attract people in the past and now it needs to change in order to effectively attract people now. It is not our place to grow the church, we don’t convert people, that is for the Holy Spirit. We can preach the Word of God, administer the sacraments, forgive others and show mercy, just as Christ forgave and showed mercy to us undeserving sinners. We should not underestimate the Means of Grace or the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Back to the main post, all these proposed changes reminds of how TCN always wants to start by changing or suspending the constitution and bylaws of a congregation. Changes can be good to correct errors that have crept into the church or in matters of true adiaphora “whenever it is considered most profitable, most beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, and the Church’s edification” SD 10, 9 . The proposed changes seem to go in the opposite direction.

  4. To change the word Symbol to the word Document changes the import, essence and content of said Confessions to something changeable and unauthoritative.

    Document, from the Latin root word could be taken in the sense of an ‘Example’, one of many examples and not one that excludes all others authoritatively.

    Symbol: The sense evolution in Gk. is from “throwing things together” to “contrasting” to “comparing” to “token used in comparisons to determine if something is genuine.” Hence, “outward sign” of something.

    To compare one teaching with another to see if it is ‘genuine’, genuine to the teaching of the Confessions as the teaching of the Holy Spirit drawn from the Scriptures and set down in Symbols that has endured the test of time and her enemies by the same working of the Holy Spirit in the Church of God.

    To consider the Symbols, Ancient and Modern, as the Book of Concord is the Symbol for our time, in this present age of the Church, as only an example of many examples is to fall into the Reformed Doctrine on the nature of a confession as something that can be changed and done over as the situation demands.

    All we need is Jesus and only Him as the ultimate Gospel Reductionism even in the face of the Apostle Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians that there is another jesus and gospel and spirit that we can receive and worship. Without delineating His Person, Nature and Work we could be worshiping a jesus presented to us by a false spirit, other than the Holy Spirit, in a confession in force and essence and content no more different in force, essence and content as any other denomination.

    The laugh ability of this hubris and arrogance is only offset by it’s danger to the Eternal Life of unsuspecting souls.

  5. Is there a legal distinction between the word document and symbol? “Document” reminds me of canon law. To judge “documents” and issue binding decrees is the domain of appointed committies and legal council. Symbols are of the Spirit, against which there is no law. Does Synod decide doctrine or doctrine decide Synod? Lawyers or theologians? A symbol is the starting point of a vast and rich theology, not contained by human or legal limitations. What a blessing our synod has never had canon law.


  6. By changing these words in the constitution the Symbols of the Missouri Synod become viewed the same as the ELCA views them, as hitorical documents with no real meaning in this day and age.

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