We have Moses and the Prophets, isn’t that enough? If Holy Scripture is God’s infallible Word and the only source and norm of Christian doctrine, what need do we have for the Lutheran Confessions? If Scripture is the ultimate authority, is efficacious, sufficient, and clear, why do we need anything else?
To answer such questions, the first thing is to state what it is that the Lutheran Confessions are. The Lutheran Confessions are a doctrinal summary of Scripture. They are a confession, a statement of faith, the response of man to the Word of God based on that very same Word. After all, that is what it means to confess – to say the same thing.
Jesus Himself tells us to confess Him before men (Matt. 10:32) and Paul writes in Romans, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (10:9-10). The mouth confesses what the heart believes.
The use of confessions of faith goes back to Old Testament times. Spoken twice daily during morning and evening prayers, Deuteronomy 6:4 was used as an early creed or confession by the people of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This confession separated the people of God from the countless nations around them and their countless gods.
In the New Testament we see individual confessions such as Peter’s “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16) and Nathaniel’s, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). We see short confessions such as “Jesus is Lord” (I Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11) and longer ones such as “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (I Cor. 8:6).
As the devil attacked the church with his lies, additional confessions were needed to correct false teachings that showed up within the church and to prevent heresies entering from outside the church. False teachers were denying the divinity of Jesus, so the Apostle John writes, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (I John 4:2-3) John tells the church to hear the confession of the teacher to determine if he is a false teacher or a teacher of the Truth.
Irenaeus in the second century writes against Gnostic heretics like Marcion who claimed Jesus was only a messenger of God and that the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. Irenaeus thus includes a confession of faith that is awfully similar to the Apostles’ Creed to address such heresy (see Philip Schaff’s The Creeds of Christendom II:13-16). The Nicene Creed was written in A.D. 325 to combat false teachers, especially one named Arius, who started teaching that Jesus is not really God. The Athanasian Creed, written about a century later, further delves into the mystery of the Trinity and precisely confesses what Scripture teaches us about the Triune God as opposed to what false teachers were teaching. In all this we see the need for confessions or creeds that teach the Truth while combating false teaching. When false teachings arise, the church responds with confessing the Truth.
The Lutheran Confessions were also written as a corrective to the heresies and false doctrines prevalent in the church at the time with the intent to return the church to the catholic faith of the Prophets and Apostles as recorded in the Old and New Testaments. The Roman church had degenerated into a Gospel-denying, forgiveness-selling, political enterprise and the Augsburg Confession was written to teach the Truth of God’s Word on various topics to correct the perversion of the Word. The Apology was then written for clarification and to prevent the Lutherans from being lumped in with the enthusiasts who were not seeking to return to the catholic faith of the Prophets and Apostles but to invent their own. For teaching and additional clarification on differing positions within the Lutheran church, other works were added to the Book of Concord to confess the Truth of God’s Word and settle doctrinal disputes.
More than mere historical documents, along with the three ecumenical creeds mentioned above, the Lutheran Confessions remain a confession of the faith against false doctrines and heresies which still attack the church from within and without. They remain for us today an explicit confession of the Truth of the teaching of the Prophets and Apostles, and a corrective against the papacy and its false worship, idolatry, and superstition on the one hand, and the enthusiasm of Evangelicals on the other (FC Ep. Intro. 2, 4). They remain a witness and explanation of the faith, and a guide in dealing with articles of faith under dispute and in rejecting and condemning teachings contrary to Scripture (FC Ep. Intro 8).
The Lutheran Confessions aren’t teaching added to Scripture. The Confessions are Scripture arranged topically so that they can be used to effectively teach and refute errors and heresies of every age. They bear witness to the one timeless, eternal Truth which is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This Truth does not change from generation to generation, but is consistent and intransient. Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matt. 5:18).
Lutheran pastors and congregations have bound themselves to follow the Confessions because they teach what Scripture teaches. Ministers of the Word must pledge to teach according to them to prevent enthusiasts from spreading their own made up doctrine and deceiving the Good Shepherd’s sheep, thus leading them astray. Congregations bind themselves to the Confessions to help prevent them from following pastors who seek to lead them astray.
The Confessions also still exist today to preserve harmony and unity in the church. Every major divisive argument still ongoing within the Lutheran church is addressed in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. If pastors and congregations would study the confessions they have bound themselves to follow and use them to refute false teachings, the possibility for unity would be far greater. It is these very Confessions that unify in the same faith of the Prophets and Apostles. They identify who we are and remain a common standard around which to rally. They are our confession of Truth in this world full of religions and denominations that claim to follow God’s Word, but in reality follow a pope or their own subjective reason or feelings.
Moses and the Prophets are enough. That’s why the Lutheran Confessions unwaveringly teach and confess the faith of Moses and the Prophets. The Lutheran Confessions teach what Scripture teaches. The Confessions take the efficacious, sufficient, and clear Word of God and use it to teach the Truth and correct false doctrines within and without.