“CONFESSING THE FAITH: IN LIGHT OF THE LUTHERAN CONFESSIONS” is the theme for “A Congress on the Lutheran Confessions,” sponsored by the Association of Confessional Lutherans and the Luther Academy, held in Bloomington, Minnesota. Excellent line-up of speakers: Holger Sonntag, Glenn Huebel, Rolf Preus, Fredrik Sidenvall, Gene Veith, Matt Harrison, David Scaer, Rod Rosenbladt, Detlev Schulz. Good-size crowd here–looks like a couple hundred people. I’ll be live-blogging some notes on the presentations, periodically updating this blog as we go along over the next couple days.
The Lutheran Confessions: The Model for Christian Confessing, by Holger Sonntag.
Confessional Prolegomena and Their Application to Christian Worship.
1. What is confessing? The word for “to confess,” whether in Hebrew, Greek. or Latin, means “to acknowledge,” especially “to acknowledge what was formerly denied.” Hebrew, yada, “to thank, praise, confess.” Greek, homologein, “to say the same thing as.”
2. What is the relationship between what is Lutheran and what is Christian? Our teaching is not reduced to only what all Christian groups can agree on. The Lutheran Confessions claim to confess what God’s Word says, not just what Luther says. At the same time, Luther is held in esteem as our foremost teacher. We believe it is possible for us fallible men to put God’s Word faithfully into our words, to preach and proclaim.
3. How are the Lutheran Confessions the model for Christian confessing? We hold to the truth of God’s Word in our confessing, in both content and formulation. Content and form–both are important.
4. The application: The Lutheran Confessions on Christian Worship. The means of grace are the Lord’s forms and must not be changed. Word and Sacrament inevitably take concrete form, in rites and ceremonies. The rest of the worship service should not contradict the content and form of the means of grace. The COP’s recent theses on worship are not as strong as they should be on these points. President Kieschnick’s new book is weak on the relationship of doctrine and practice.
“The Theology of Ablaze: Confession or Confusion?”, by Glenn Huebel.
Two foci: Universality and identity. How to balance the two?
Ablaze’s stated purpose: To share the gospel with 100 million unreached or uncommitted people by 2017. Stated adversarially, as a challenge to what we have done before. They seem to assume that some people in our synod want to reach out with the gospel and some people don’t.
And . . . they may have a point there, in that the average congregation does fall short of the ideal. The average conservative, confessional pastor often does not spend much time talking to unchurched unbelievers and may not know the community too well.
The Ablaze people often do have a passion for outreach, universality, but are weak on identity. Sometimes it sounds like warmed-over revivalism. Heavily influenced by non-Lutheran sources. Sermons/services urging members to invite people to “Friendship Sunday”: Lays on guilt in firing up people. Like a high-pressure sales campaign. Simplistic emotional manipulation. Cheap, gimmicky. People mistake emotion, subjective experience, as a sign of God’s presence.
Counting: What you measure, governs. But they reduce the Great Commission. Making disciples is not the same as counting critical events or even converts. Satan prefers a quick-growth, shallow church without deep roots. Ablaze counts brief casual conversations, but they don’t count the baptizing and teaching of the Great Commission. Streamlined, quick and easy, pre-membership classes are not the Great Commission. Like living on a credit card: immediate gratification, long-term problems.
Ablaze distorts the distinction between the priesthood of all believers and the pastoral office. Also, it devalues the daily vocation of the layperson, as though that were less important than doing “critical events.”
“Critical Events, Altar Calls, Conversion Experiences, and Other Ways to Avoid a Lifetime Commitment to Jesus and His Word, by Rolf Preus.
Justification is the central article of the Christian faith, and it is an article of faith, since it is hidden. God is in charge, it is his doing: “The wind blows where it wills,” etc. Born-again conversion experiences do not give assurance. Holy Baptism is a sign that conveys what it signifies. God’s work or the sinner’s work? Altar calls, sinner’s prayers replace God’s signs. Decision theology is faith in one’s own faith. The experience of faith becomes the foundation of faith. Faith as decision vs. faith as receptivity.
“Critical event” theology: The person giving the witness to Christ is responsible for the ability of the other person to respond. Evangelism replaces justification as the central article.
The lifelong commitment of the Christian is formed by what the Christian receives.
God’s decision is what counts. This is true Lutheran “decision theology.”
Confessing the Faith in an Anti-Christian Culture, by Fredrik Sidenvall
(Paper read by Charles Henrickson, since Fredrik Sidenvall was “ashed in” over there in Sweden.)
Antichrist in the New Testament: 2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 1 John 2:18-22; 4:3; 2 John 7; Revelation 13:5-18
Summary of NT on Antichrist: There is both the spirit of Antichrist in the world and many antichrists in persons through history. In the end of time there will come the Antichrist in his full substantial manifestation with extraordinary powers. Antichrist is as close the devil will come to be incarnate. He is evil but he seems to be good, yea, “gooder” than God. He is in uproar against God’s authority because he claims authority for himself alone. He hates the truth of God. Especially he knows that the truth about Jesus being God incarnate is a lethal truth for him. He can come as a horrible enemy from outside the Church but also as an apostate insider. As the man of lawlessness, he can pervert the natural orders of social and cultural life. On the other hand, as a false Christ he can present another gospel that really is law, not from God but from man. He is an inversion, a caricature of Christ. He will be defeated by Christ.
Luther on Antichrist: Luther saw the pope as Antichrist, in that a human being was exalting himself above the Word of God and corrupting the Gospel.
Lutheran Confessions on Antichrist: Apology Article XV; Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope; Smalcald Articles, Part II, Articles II and IV
Some experiences from the Eastern Front – in Scandinavia: Manifestions of Antichrist today.
Antichrist in social life and culture: Traditional social patterns broken down. Attack on holy matrimony.
Antichrist in the Church
As destroyer of God’s law: The Church of Sweden, supposedly “Lutheran,” has led the attack on God’s laws.
As destroyer of the gospel: The notion of God as the great confirmer of our egos and lusts.
As destroyer of truth: The notion that God speaks through the people and the spirit of the times.
Confessing the Faith: The Christian Vocation, by Gene Veith
The Lutheran Confessions affirm Christian involvement in civil affairs and civil offices, over against the world-withdrawing views of both the Anabaptists and monasticism. The Lutheran emphasis on salvation by grace and not by works does not mean that good works are unimportant. Vocation, “calling.” Lutherans affirmed vocations such as husband, wife, father, mother, magistrate, etc., as being God-pleasing callings. God works through human vocations. Vocation: God gives his gifts through human beings. Luther’s catechisms develop the theology of vocation: under the Ten Commandments, the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the Table of Duties, etc.
At Home in the House of My Fathers (Part One), by Matthew Harrison
Ten Opportunities/Challenges toward 2017. “Ten Things I Learned from My Daddy.”
Many German immigrants in the 1830s were from Union churches. Often, a group of real Lutherans broke off and formed confessional churches, so they could have the Bible and Catechism taught. Many of us continue to be blessed today by those churches. What we do today will matter to people generations later.
Confession (Greek homologeo) in the NT: Confession of sins. Confession of the content of the faith. Confession of the praise of God in the church’s liturgy and worship. (Sasse makes these three points).
Lutheran history, from anniversary to anniversary of the Reformation
1517: Beginning of Reformation. 95 Theses. Starts with call to repentance.
1617: Large and wide celebration. Heavy Reformed influence in Lutheran areas.
1717: Pietism had made inroads in Germany, as also Rationalism was beginning to do.
1817: Prussia Union, forced union of Lutherans and Reformed, ordered by King Frederick Wilhelm. Schleiermacher, rationalist with sentiment. “Absolute dependence.” Claus Harms’ 95 Theses begins confessional revival.
Every great leap forward in the history of Lutheranism says: “Back to Luther! Back to the Confessions! Back to the Scriptures!”
At Home in the House of My Fathers (Part Two), by Matthew Harrison
1917: Every daughter Lutheran church in America is more conservative than its mother church back in Europe.
Nothing new under the sun: In its history, Missouri has already faced many of the same problems–or worse–it is facing today.
“Ten Things Learned from Daddy”:
1. Back to Luther! Forward to Luther!
2. Back to the Word! God’s Word and grace, a passing rain shower.
4. Worldwide view.
5. Seminaries and missionary endeavor.
7. Mercy as corporate vocation and machine for stewardship.
8. Lutheran missions must lead to Lutheran churches.
9. The craft of caring for clergy.
10. Affirmation of vocation.
Conclusion: Let’s dare to be who we are!
Confessing the Faith in a Sea of Baptists, by Rod Rosenbladt
Today’s American Evangelicalism is in complete free-fall. Evangelicals, at their best, still do believe the Bible is God’s Word. Emphasis on rules for living. On sin: “I am what I am because I do what I do.” Emphasis on sins rather than on Sin. The key shift in dealing with Evangelicals is moving the gospel from out of their hearts to history, from the subjective to the objective. The gospel is extra nos, “outside of us.” Don’t let the effects of the gospel creep into the gospel itself. Encourage the Evangelical to read good Lutheran theological works–and he may do it. Evangelicals will be surprised to hear that we believe still-sinning Christians will make it into heaven, that we sin much daily.
The Confessing Luther, by Detlev Schulz
Which Luther to celebrate in 2017? Luther the Confessor. We are “Lutheran,” not because of the person of Luther, but because of his teaching, the teaching of Christ, the gospel.
Luther’s teaching: 1) Justification by faith, imputed righteousness. 2) How salvation is delivered, through the notae ecclesiae, “the marks of the church,” i.e., God’s visible means, the external Word.
Missiological thrust: Christ died for all sinners. The gospel continues to radiate out. Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” What the world needs to hear is the gospel that saves.