Submission to the Lutheran Confessions Frees Us to Preach Christ in Truth & Purity

imagesThe Lutheran Confessions. A public witness to the world of our biblical proclamation and faith.  For Lutherans, those who enter into the office of the holy ministry are invited to join this public witness. They are called to preach and teach according to it so the Gospel will go out “plainly and purely.” Just as St. Paul said: “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The Scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Isaiah 28:16; Romans 10:10).

Our Lutheran Confessions are not canon law. The goal of a confession is to be confessed. That is, to free preachers to give the free word of God in Christ as a promise without any strings attached. Such confession comes “in these last days of this transitory world.” God has time and space we know not of. He gives this as a new creation and new time through sermon and sacraments. So then what time is it when His ministers come to preach? God’s final judgment. The Day of Wrath has already come into the world in the death of His Son. The whole world was found guilty of killing God. We can’t go back and undo that. It is a historical fact. But then God does a new thing! He has mercy on the world by resurrecting His Son and promising what only He can deliver. The end of judgment and wrath. How? By giving a promise through His preachers that creates sinners anew, raising them from death as Christ was raised.

We call this time of preaching, “mercy time.” The time when sinners stand guilty and yet are declared just in such a way as to actually make them right. God does this. He elects sinners to eternal life through His ministers in the preaching office when they give Christ unconditionally. That is, they leave “if…then,” speaking and move to “because ….therefore” speech. This makes them move away from what they are doing to what God is doing to them and for sinners in His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, finally, what we have in these Lutheran Confessions is a cause, as in the Psalmist [43:1]: “Vindicate me, O God and defend my cause.”  We hold this not only to be our cause, but God’s own cause. By subscribing to these Lutheran Confessions all those who enter into the office of the holy ministry enter the fray that is occurring at this time. The end of the times. Lutheran pastors are on the bandwagon of a cause. They joined it freely when they were ordained. Though they might have come to it violently, they are living by it and through it now. The cause is as St. Paul described it: “for freedom, Christ has set us free, stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) This is a daring and bold proclamation. But none should take up this cause without assurance that this cause is God’s own. The rock, as the Formula of Concord VII goes on to say immediately, is not Martin Luther, but the “holy, Divine Word,” like the words of institution at the Lord’s Supper, “for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is our only teacher…hunc audite.” (“listen to him,” Matthew 17:5).

Confessing publicly is an office one may take up or not. We often pretend that we decide our own salvation, but can’t decide our historical, denominational fate. That is, if one is born Lutheran he has to stay Lutheran. But here, in the Lutheran Confessions, if one hasn’t faced that decision yet, this is where he must come to the question about whether he is Lutheran or not. Will he take up this public confession or let it lay.

Our cause is identified in the Lutheran Confessions as “justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law.” This keeps all that we do and say finally as that which forgives sinners on account of Christ alone. Not just talking about it, but actually giving it. Are we ready to give the gift, no strings attached knowing that this kills the old sinner and raises the new saint? Knowing that this opens all to a true vocation? Knowing it ends us as spiritual questors so that God may make us some earthly good to our neighbors and the created world?

If so, why don’t we just open the floodgates? Why not let would-be Lutheran pastors go to make the best of their vocation? Why do theology together at all? Why make public confessions, and have others join us by “subscribing” to them? Not to reform the church, which is “always reforming,” as the popular Calvinist slogan goes now. But so that preaching can actually do what it is intended by God to do in the world. Put out the words whose letter kills, but which by the Holy Spirit makes alive. We work on our theology, submitting ourselves to the authority of these Lutheran Confessions, these faithful expositions of Scripture, to improve our preaching.

images (1)Theology then has to break off explanation and “interpretation” at the right point to give what it contemplates. As Philip told the story to the Ethiopian eunuch on the Gaza Road, for example: “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” 

The glorious light we have in the Confessions for doing this is the distinction of law and Gospel. “The distinction between law and gospel is a particularly glorious light. It serves to divide God’s Word properly and to explain correctly and make understandable the writings of the holy prophets and apostles.  Therefore, we must diligently preserve this distinction, so as not to mix these two teachings together and make the gospel into a law.  For this obscures the merit of Christ and robs troubled consciences of the comfort that they otherwise have in the holy gospel when it is preached clearly and purely.  With the help of this distinction these consciences can sustain themselves in their greatest spiritual struggles against the terror of the law.” (FC V. 581.1)

Here we come back to the matter of our subscription to the Confessions. Do we dare confess what they teach about Scripture? Are we that free to confess them? Do they free us to let fly an unconditional word of God in Christ? Do they free us from political and ecclesial hand-wringing to wait patiently for God to work the end of the law in our churches, while in Christ He makes all-in-all so that we have no other God than this man, Jesus? No other freedom than a death like His and a resurrection like His? Do we dare go out into the world and confess like that, and watch the Holy Spirit elect sinners through us in ways we thought were impossible. Those men who drafted these Lutheran Confessions dared to believe it. For what was impossible for them, and is for us, is quite possible for the God who gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall be saved. Do we dare submit ourselves to these Lutheran Confessions so that we may be freed to preach Christ Jesus in truth and purity? This is the question every generation that calls itself “Lutheran” must answer.

 


Comments

Submission to the Lutheran Confessions Frees Us to Preach Christ in Truth & Purity — 46 Comments

  1. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

  2. Thank-you for this article. It reminded me of this quote from Rev. Charles Porterfield Krauth:
    “We do not claim that our Confessors were infallible. We do not say they could not fail. We only claim that they did not fail.”

  3. Actually, the Book of Concord is “canon law” for Lutheran ministers and congregations. It is the norm which is itself normed, but it does serve as norm for all Lutheran preaching and proclamation and teaching of God’s Word. It is the standard to which we hold ourselves accountable and by which we judge the fidelity of the preacher/teacher.

    Let’s not forget this point!

  4. @BOC FAN #3

    Wow… you clearly have no idea what the confessions are. If they are “canon law” it means they are a bunch of rules designed to govern our Church. WRONG! The Confessions SO MUCH MORE! They are THE proper interpretation of the Scriptures in both Law and Gospel.

    It’s a good idea that you use a fake name, otherwise the mocking you deserve would never cease.

  5. @Rev. Brandt Hoffman #7

    Pastor, that sure wasn’t a very nice comment. Even if BOC FAN is wrong to use the term canon law, the balance of his comment seems right on to me. He’s clearly a supporter of the BOC and holds it in high regard. We have enough trouble getting people to recognize the great value of our Confessions without dumping on those who love it.

  6. Rev. Hoffmann, the Lutheran Confessions are both confession and delimiting articulation of what is, and what is not, true and correct teaching and preaching in our congregations. They assert what we “believe, teach and confess” as well as what we “reject and condemn.” They are, in this sense, therefore “canon law” in that they do form the norm by which all preachers and other servants of the church are judged to be either conforming to the truth of God’s Word, or not. You do not seem to be familiar with the normative nature and authority of the Lutheran Confessions within the Lutheran Church. Perhaps you need to brush up on your history of the Lutheran Confessions and publication of the Book of Concord.

  7. @BOC FAN #10

    *sigh*

    “Canon law” … is the body of laws and regulations made or adopted by ecclesiastical authority (Church leadership), for the government of the Christian organization and its members. It is the internal ecclesiastical law governing the Catholic Church (both Latin Rite and Eastern Catholic Churches), the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and the Anglican Communion of churches. The way that such church law is legislated, interpreted and at times adjudicated varies widely among these three bodies of churches. In all three traditions, a canon was originally a rule adopted by a council; these canons formed the foundation of canon law.

    The Book of Concord is the historic doctrinal statement of the Lutheran Church, consisting of ten credal documents recognized as authoritative in Lutheranism since the 16th century. However, the Book of Concord is a confessional document (stating orthodox belief) rather than a book of ecclesiastical rules or discipline, like canon law. Each Lutheran [national] church establishes its own system of church order and discipline, though these are referred to as “canons.”

    Turning the tables won’t work. What’s your real name?

  8. Rev. Hoffman, as I said, you are missing the point I’m making, and you are rather blithely dismissing the concept of the normative character of the Lutheran Confessions. Quoting Wikipedia is probably not a good way to pursue this. Again, with respect, please read Bente’s Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions and pay particular attention to the history of the development of the Formula of Concord and the publication of the Book of Concord. Perhaps you were not required to read this solid material while at seminary? I don’t know, but I’m sure you would find it helpful. I’ll leave you to your studies. This conversation seems only to be making you more and more upset and angry and if I have contributed to your upset, I do sincerely and humbly apologize.

  9. @BOC FAN #10 The closest parallel to the Book of Concord is not canon law in the Roman Catholic but the declaration of the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent was and is the Roman Catholic Church’s confession in response to the blessed Reformers’ confession. Both documents define doctrine. Canon law, just as Pr. Hoffman has correctly pointed out, is their numerous rules and regs. As a canon law website begins: “Canon law is the oldest continuously functioning legal system in the western world.” The Book of Concord is not a legal system. Further, how is the Roman legal system enforced? Answer: the hierarchy, complete with a nation state as the residence of the head of it’s church. The literal etymological definition of hierarchy: rule of priests. Needless to say, in the USA Roman Church canon law is not enforced too strenuously: see abortion and contraception. The Book of Concord does not promulgate a hierarchy but a “Logocracy”, the rule of God’s Word as correctly professed in the Book of Concord and pastors, not priests, correctly teaching, preaching and administering according to the Word as it is rightly believed, taught and confessed in the BoC. There will be times, when by “heresies distressed”, Matthew 18: 1-35 becomes crucial. Excommunication is first self-imposed by the heretic and declared so by the Church. A Roman Catholic at a wedding said to me, I like the Lutheran Church because it doesn’t have all those rules and laws and I said, smiling, “We find the 10 commandments quite sufficient.”

  10. @Rev. Brandt Hoffman #7

    “It’s a good idea that you use a fake name, otherwise the mocking you deserve would never cease.”

    Do you realize how scary and weird this sounds to a layman?  I am so glad I’ve never met an über-confessional pastor in person.  Please stay away from my neighborhood.

  11. @BOC FAN #13
    I have read them. They are required in Seminary.
    I was pointing out that the use of “canon law” is not appropriate for our Confessions.
    End of story. I’m not upset in the least.

    @John Rixe #15
    John,
    You are right. I am sorry for my snarky tone. I am also sorry to BOC Fan for that.
    I simply tire of the attempt at using Roman Catholic (and other) words in Lutheran vernacular.
    It’s the same as people telling me I need to “Accept Jesus in my heart” or other such terms.
    Please forgive me.

  12. @BOC FAN #13

    BOC FAN, you sort of had me in your corner until this comment. Really condescending and annoying. Also, pretending to apologize after making a bunch of intentionally aggravating statements is poor form.

  13. BOC FAN – We asked you not to post any more on BJS and you agreed that you would not. Then you started using a pseudonym. We asked you not to do that. You promised that you would not use any pseudonyms either.

    I ask that you publicly apologize for breaking your promises.

  14. @Pastor Donavon Riley #20

    Pastor Donavon Riley :Is BOC FAN, Mr. Paul McCain?

    This is fun; it reminds me of the old 1950’s program “What’s my Line?”

    Doing my best John Charles Daly…ahem,….

    Now we come to the special feature of our program; the appearance of our mystery celebrity for which I ask my friends from the panel to blindfold themselves. Blindfolds all in place panel??… Would you come in mystery challenger and sign in please!

  15. >> Actually, the Book of Concord is “canon law” for Lutheran ministers and congregations.

    Quotation marks are also used to indicate that the writer realizes that a word is not being used in its current commonly accepted sense. (Wikipedia, sue me)

  16. Still it’s an inappropriate use of the quotation marks. Canon Law was not, is not, will not ever be appropriate verbiage in describing the Lutheran Confessions. They aren’t LAW, they are Confessions of the one, holy catholic and apostolic faith.
    The gates of hell will burst open under canon Law.

  17. The Lutheran act of “confessing” is inherently different than the Roman Catholic notion of “Decrees” and “Canons”- the latter being assumed in the formation of canon law. The issue is how one thinks about the subject/object relationship when dealing with the Word of God. For Roman Catholics, Scripture is a lifeless object, interpreted by special persons who have the Spirit. The person judges the object’s qualities based on their gifts of the Spirit and then decrees what the content is. In this schema, the reader is in control of the read object.

    In confessing, the person of faith responds to the Word which is he or she has suffered. The Word is God’s Word and therefore omnipotent. The person of faith suffers God’s Word and becomes the object of its address. The consequence is the derivative response of the Confession. One proclaims with their mouth, what through the omnipotent power of the Word they have come to believe with their heart. In this schema, God and his Word are in control, and the reader suffers this Word passively.

  18. Pastor Gaven Mize :
    I thought Walther was our “cannon law”

    For it’s hi-hi-hee in the Field Artillery

    I think there’s a little slack to be cut over the “” but saying it twice is more than enough…

  19. BOC FAN :
    Rev. Hoffman, as I said, you are missing the point I’m making, and you are rather blithely dismissing the concept of the normative character of the Lutheran Confessions.

    I know BOC FAN (or whatever he calls himself this week) is gone, but it’s too bad that he never really got past the Romanist legalism of “canon Law”. The funny talk about normative character was simply strange. BOC FAN skipped an important tidbit from our BOC.
    Namely, the Normative writings for Lutherans are the Holy Scriptures themselves. The Confessions reflect that.

    7 In this way the distinction between the Holy Scriptures of the Old and of the New

    Testament and all other writings is preserved. The Holy Scriptures alone remain the judge, rule, and norm. According to them—as the only touchstone—all teachings shall and must be discerned and judged to see whether they are good or evil [1 Thessalonians 5:21–22], right or wrong.
    8 The other symbols and writings mentioned above are not judges like the Holy Scriptures. They are only a testimony and declaration of the faith. They show how the Holy Scriptures have been understood and explained in regard to controversial articles in God’s Church by those living at that time. Also, they show how the opposite teaching was rejected and condemned ‹by what arguments the dogmas conflicting with the Holy Scriptures were rejected and condemned›.
    (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9)

  20. As I read the comments posted at John the Steadfast my thoughts often turn to the words of Saint Paul: “If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another… Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 5:15, 6:1). No doubt we have all at times been guilty of intemperate language, the impugning of motives, lack of charity, but there seems to be far too much of this here day in and day out.

  21. Pr. Mark Schroeder :
    Thank-you for this article. It reminded me of this quote from Rev. Charles Porterfield Krauth:
    “We do not claim that our Confessors were infallible. We do not say they could not fail. We only claim that they did not fail.”

    Could you elaborate on how this claim is substantiated, and how you yourself came to believe it? For example, did you independently scrutinize every word in the BOC?

  22. Pastor Mize,
    Walther, is not canon law. If any Lutheran has a canon law, it’s on Luther’s Seal, & Concordia.
    W/o those, where would anyone b4 1600 be?

  23. The Confessions are full of condemnations. That’s about as law as you can get.

    When you claim something is what we teach, believe, and confess you can’t then say it is not binding.

    Here’s an example:

    Preface 21 – “In our lands, dominions, schools, and churches no other doctrine should be proclaimed and accurately set forth except that which is founded upon God’s Word and contained in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology (when properly understood it its genuine sense). Opinions conflicting with these are not allowed.”

    So, that is merely a suggestion?

    When our congregation constitutions list unconditional subscription to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions as an unalterable part of their constitution and requires voting members to sign that constitution, how can that not be canon law?

  24. Rev. Brandt Hoffman :@BOC FAN #3
    Wow… you clearly have no idea what the confessions are. If they are “canon law” it means they are a bunch of rules designed to govern our Church. WRONG! The Confessions SO MUCH MORE! They are THE proper interpretation of the Scriptures in both Law and Gospel.
    It’s a good idea that you use a fake name, otherwise the mocking you deserve would never cease.

    Yes, they are much more, yet they are also a bunch of rules designed to govern our Church, just as Holy Scripture, which is much more than that, also contains a bunch of rules designed to govern our church.

    Pastor, your “sighing” (on a later post) and “you just don’t get it” attitude can be offensive too.

  25. Rev. Brandt Hoffman :@BOC FAN #13 I have read them. They are required in Seminary.I was pointing out that the use of “canon law” is not appropriate for our Confessions.End of story. I’m not upset in the least.
    @John Rixe #15 John,You are right. I am sorry for my snarky tone. I am also sorry to BOC Fan for that.I simply tire of the attempt at using Roman Catholic (and other) words in Lutheran vernacular.It’s the same as people telling me I need to “Accept Jesus in my heart” or other such terms.Please forgive me.

    So is the entire point of this blog thread is that the BOC is not canon law? I’ll grant that the Book of Concord was approved by the Evangelical pastors and nobles in various territories (a council?). The princes who signed were rulers of the territorial churches and had the authority to issue calls and tell churchmen what to do. Is that not canon law? If this entire thread is about the use of the word canon, or that it is not being used correctly, all I can say is what is the point? and what a waste of time.

  26. Seems to me the problem is that some of the Lutheran Jedis here do not know about or have forgotten what the status of the Confessions as “Norma normata” is all about. Yes, they are normed by Scripture, but they are still norms!!

  27. The explanation in the Christian Cyclopedia of “Canon Law” includes:

    8. The Lutheran* Confessions contain no canon law but provide basic and theol[ogical] principles for ch[urch] law (AC V, VII, XIV, XV, XXVIII).

    The Christian Cyclopedia is edited by Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson, and coincidentally, is published by Concordia Publishing House (2000).

  28. The BoC is no canon law. Canon law BINDS the CONSCIENCES of the faithful. Canon law is what it is – LAW.

    The BoC is the CONFESSION of a church FREED from bondage to canon law.

    This freedom is granted solely by the PROCLAMATION of the Gospel in Word and Sacraments – as the highest authority and power and jurisdiction of an evangelical catholic Church.

  29. and let us always remember-that subscribing to this wonderful body of truth(BOC) may require any or all members pastors and families-to be on blacklists by leadership in the LCMS who do not want faithful servants to make waves and calling some leaders to account for being miserable failures steeped in arrogance and false doctrine and practice-including ignoring the faithfuls written concerns about leaderships failures which only feeds evil and destroys souls-this indicts cc’s and bod’s as well for putting up with those unfaithful PIED PIPERS—Shame!!!
    Come, Lord Jesus!

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