Over the last few months, we have been discussing how to answer the question “What does it mean to be a Lutheran?” Thus far, we have answered that question using the words evangelical, catholic, and sacramental. This month’s word is confessional.
When you ask some Christians what they believe, they might say something like this: “I believe the Bible.” Sounds good, right? Only one problem. There are many churches and non-Christian cults that use the Bible as their source of religious beliefs, yet they come to different conclusions about central doctrines of the Christian faith.
Similarly, some Christian churches pride themselves on not using any man-made creeds in order to summarize their beliefs. “No creed but Christ,” they might say. Ironically, these same churches probably have some kind of “statement of faith” which they publish. That becomes their “creed” whether they realize it or not. After all, the word creed simply comes from the Latin word credo, which means “I believe.”
Lutherans have the advantage of having a set of documents which summarize what makes someone a Lutheran. These documents are the “Lutheran Confessions,” as they are called, and are contained in The Book of Concord or Concordia of 1580. The first of these documents are the historic, ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian), placed there to show that the Lutherans at the time of the Reformation were not trying to teach anything other than what the ancient church believed and taught. Other than the creeds, Luther’s Small Catechism of 1529 is probably the most familiar of the Lutheran Confessions. It is important to note, also, that we do not place The Book of Concord on the same level of Scripture. The Bible is our only source and norm for our faith and our life. It alone is divinely inspired. Yet, we still declare that The Book of Concord is a true exposition of what God’s Word teaches.
Sadly, some contemporary Lutherans do not hold the Lutheran Confessions in such high regard. They believe that they are important historical documents, but it is not necessary to pledge unconditional agreement with them. On the contrary, our LC-MS pastors are expected to subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions in their ordination vows. “Confessional” Lutherans believe in the importance of making an unconditional subscription to the Lutheran Confessions because they are an accurate and truthful exposition of the Word of God. Other Lutherans will say that they hold to the Confessions in so far as they agree with Holy Scripture. But that is really not much of a confession. It leaves the door open to one’s own private interpretations based on subjective feelings, rather than a bold, clear, united confession of faith given to the world, as was the original intent of the Lutheran Confessions.
The Book of Concord closes with these words, and sums up what it means to be a “confessional” Lutheran: “In the sight of God and of all Christendom, we want to testify to those now living and those who will come after us. This declaration presented here about all the controverted articles mentioned and explained above – and no other – is our faith, doctrine, and confession. By God's grace, with intrepid hearts, we are willing to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with this Confession and give an account of it [1 Peter 4:5]. We will not speak or write anything contrary to this Confession, either publicly or privately. By the strength of God's grace we intend to abide by it.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article XII, paragraph 40)
In Christ’s service and yours,
P.S. To read more about The Book of Concord, go online at bookofconcord.org. You may read the Confessions online there along with helpful articles. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions is also a wonderful edition for laypeople, with helpful explanatory introductions and notes. Cool pictures, too! Or you can get a handy-dandy pocket-sized edition (no pictures). Order online from CPH or call them at 1-800-325-3040.