Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Contributing Authors

If you haven't noticed, our contributing author list has grown in the past several weeks. Welcome Al, Ryan, Bill, Larry, Jay and Dave. You can check out their respective web sites, and other info, by clicking on their names. We'll probably be picking up some more contributing authors as we move along.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Roundtable 2: The Historic Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions

The Book of Concord, the authoritative collection of the Lutheran Confessions, begins by including the Creeds. Comment and discuss the implication of this decision and what the act of putting in the three historic/ancient creeds of the Western Church itself confesses? Talk about the way Creeds are perceived by rank and file general Protestantism in this country and elsewhere. Note the cartoon provided at the top of this post and the web site that declares all creeds to be dangerous. Consider how best for us to help the faithful understand the role and function of Creeds in relationship to the Word of God. In your experience, how have the historic creeds been a help and aid in your ministry and teaching of God's Word. Proper use? Improper use? What is the connection between the principle of sola scriptura and "human Creeds"? The floor is open for discussion. Let the roundtable begin!

Roundtable 2: Reader Discussion

Readers may comment on the Roundtable 2 post here. Comments posted on the post itself are reserved for the blog authors.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Roundtable 1: The Book of Concord - Lutheran or Christian?

On this blog site we will have two types of posts. The first kind are generated by our blog authors, on whatever topic pertaining to the Lutheran Confessions comes to their minds. The second type of post will be a "Roundtable" post. Here, yours truly as administrator, will post a question or topic and ask this blog's authors to react and respond. Expect a cordial give and take on an issue or whatever else one might expect from a lively discussion of an interesting topic. Comments on these posts are reserved for the site's authors. I'll immediately then post a "Roundtable" discussion post so our readers can comment on the Roundtable question, but I would like to keep the two separate. Here then is our first "Roundable" topic, provided courtesy of Dr. Holger Sonntag. Again: if you are an author of this blog, submit your comments on this post, at this post. If you are a blog reader, use the "Reader comment" post that follows just above this post. Thanks for all the great participation and contributions. We are off to a very fine start indeed.

The Book of Concord: Lutheran or Christian?

A little detail almost always is overlooked when we talk about the Book of Concord:the "Lutheran" confessions really aren't (just) "Lutheran!" It is important to highlight this in our relativistic, subjectivistic culture where everybody seems to have their truth -- and so, why shouldn't (some in) the Lutheran church have their Lutheran confessions (so long as the Reformed get to have their confessions and the Catholics their Council of Trent -- and non-denominational groups their bible)? But that understates the ecumenical claim of the "Lutheran" Confessions. The "Lutheran" confessions are not interested in formulating some particular truths (really then: "truths"); they're interested in reasserting the catholic, universal, Christian truths of Scripture. In other words, on the one hand, it does make sense to call the Book of Concord the "Lutheran Confessions" to distinguish them from the, say, Anglican Confession or the Reformed Confessions. Yet that only touches on one aspect. Even though it historically emerged out of inner-Lutheran arguments after Luther's death in 1546, the 1580 Book of Concord was not originally entitled: Lutheran Book of Concord (then the Catholics would have won: "Ha! See? You Lutherans only run after Luther's private opinions -- the "ecumenical councils" are us!"). It is entitled: Christian Book of Concord (as can be seen on the beautiful title page of the German Book of Concord that graces this blog: the German word "Christliche" (Christian) is the biggest, most ornate word on that page -- and that is so for a very good reason!). It gave an account of correct Christian, catholic, universal teaching of the Church precisely because it was drawn from the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. Building on the three "ecumenical creeds," the Book of Concord now formulates the standard of what is considered Christian in the Christian church. That is, at least, the assertion of the churches bearing Luther's name. This claim is indeed controversial, as everybody can easily understand. But since we are now in the time of the church militant -- which truth / interpretation of Scripture is really uncontroversial? In fact, if there's any reason for there being a distinct Lutheran church, then it can only be found in the catholicity of this church's doctrine, once confessed in the Christian Book of Concord of 1580. So we're really saying: even though it sounds very parochial and particular, this one confession defines what is Christian to this day because it correctly expounds Scripture, God's word. Many, no doubt, will call this "sectarianism" (as opposed to the "ecumenical" denominationalism where every "denomination" is just a different, but equally valid denomination, kind of like different dollar bills in your wallet). But in the church of the Crucified, truth is not found in generalizations and abstractions many can agree on "by their own reason or strength". It is found in offensive details, in agreeing on what God's word actually means. What say you authors? How do we teach the faithful what it means to be a genuinely small-c "catholic" Christian who is pledged, at the very least, to Luther's Small Catechism, and that their pastors and other church workers are pledged to the Book of Concord? In what sense is the Book of Concord "Lutheran"? And in what sense is it "Christian"? What's the difference? How do we avoid sectarianism while maintaining an unconditional subscription to the Lutheran Confessions? Let the Roundtable begin!

Roundtable 1: Reader's Comments

Our readers are invited to respond to the our first roundtable post: The Book of Concord: Lutheran or Christian?

Some comments on sin

I will not venture an in-depth article such as Pr. Weedon's fine first offering but only an observation often made elsewhere but worth remembering: Sin is the starting place for theological reflection. The Augsburg Confession [AC] begins yes, with the doctrine of the Trinity but then quickly establishes that theology is not an abstract, philosophical enquiry into the nature of God or other intellectual matters but is a matter of sin and salvation. We are born, says the AC, without fear or trust in God. The God to whom we are introduced in the first article is lost to us. Theology begins with our lack of God. To begin anywhere else (e.g. the glory of God, the beatific vision, man's ascent to God) is to distort the Biblical witness from the start. Much as the Bible begins with God ("in the beginning, God") but quickly moves to the exile of our parents from that God, theology, devotion and piety must all begin in the fact of sin and our inability to reach to God, know God or follow Him.

This is a practical matter as well as a dogmatic one. Living in our baptism, living our baptism daily means beginning with sin, with death to the Old Adam. Every day we begin with sin, our sin, our condition, our actions, that which we must confess. This we never outgrow. Beginning with sin ensures that our eyes are focused then on Christ. Starting on our lack of God drives us to our only hope : the God who comes Advent!) to us, the God of the Incarnation, the God of the crucifixion, the God of the Gospel.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Church as Congregation: Luther's Focus, the Pope's Realization

There is a certain deliciously delightful irony to the fact that the first substantial post on this new blog site offers a back and forth with the Pope. Some things never change, nor should they. The current Bishop of Rome published these words in 1986. They have a familiar ring to them: "Luther did not have in mind founding a Lutheran Church. For him the focus of the concept of the Church was to be found in the congregation. For relationships that transcended the congregation, in view of the logic of developments at that time, one depended as far as organization was concerned on the political structure, in other words on the princes. Thus there arose the *Land* or provincial Churches in which the political structure took the place of the structure of its own which the Church lacked. Much has changed in this field sinc 1918, but the Church continues to exist in provincial Churches which are then united in Church federations. It is obvious that when the concept Church is applied to this kind of accidental historical formation the word takes on a different meaning from that which is envisaged in the case of the expression 'Catholic Church'. Provincial Churches are not 'Church' in the theological sense but organizational forms of Christian congregations which are empirically useful or even necessary but which can be swapped for other structures. Luther was only able to transfer Church structures to the princedoms because he did not regard the concept of the Church as established in these structures. But for Catholics, on the contrary, the Catholic Church, that is the community of the bishops among themselves and with the pope, is as such something established by the Lord which is irreplaceable and cannot be swapped for anything else." (*Church, Ecumenism, and Politics* p. 114, 115)

What I think the present Bishop of Rome correctly understands in this is that to Lutherans polity is not a matter divinely mandated, not a matter on which the Church's existence hangs. Lutherans now are and have in the past lived in utterly disparate polities - and this does not hinder the recognition of a shared faith. Thus, for example, right now the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is in communio in sacris with the Archbishop of Latvia and the parishes and priests and bishops that he superintends.

What I am not sure the present Bishop of Rome understands is HOW for "Luther the concept of Church was to be found in the congregation."

For Luther and for the Lutheran Church first and foremost the Church "is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd." SA III, XII:2 This is in perfect accord with the Apology's assertion: "at its core, it [the Church] is a fellowship of faith and the Holy Spirit in hearts." Ap VII/VIII:5 Thus while the marks which locate the Church are invariably bound up with local congregations, the Church so understood is "no Platonic state, as some wickedly charge. But we do say that this Church exists: truly believing and righteous people, scattered throughout the world." Ap VII/VIII:20.

The Church is not then congregations, but congregation. The singular in AC 7 is vital. The Church is NOT in the Lutheran understanding a series of unrelated congregations. The Church is rather "the congregation of saints" among whom the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. Not enough thought is given to the force of that singular: *congregatio sanctorum* in Latin, but even more explicit auf Deutsch *die Versammlung ALLER Gläubigen.* This is to look at the Church from the view afforded in the Revelation of St. John.

The Church is the one assembly of all believers. It is not many local assemblies, but ONE assembly. And the reality that is confessed behind this is that what the local congregation manifests is never merely community with a broad spectrum of similar-minded folk alive now. No. The congregation manifests the assembly of ALL believers. When we worship together, gathered in the Divine Name and receiving the saving Gospel and interceding for the world, and partaking of the Lamb's Feast, we are not present with some piece, some miniscule fraction of the Church. We are present with the whole of it. Hebrews 12 bears this out when it describes what you have come to when you gather as Church, where there is the blood that speaks a better word than Abel's. But it is also shown in numerous other ways in the Sacred Scriptures. Find Jesus the Lord, the Head of the Body, and you will invariably find not pieces, but the whole of the Body with Him.

When Paul directs the Corinthians to excommunicate a man, he assures them that he will be there with them in s[S?]pirit. When John is worshipping on Patmos, the veil is drawn back and he finds that he is not worshipping alone, but with the whole Church. When in the confiteor at Compline we confess "to almighty God before the whole company of heaven and to you my brothers and sisters" you should not be thinking that "brothers and sisters" are only those you can see in the room. The Church remains whole, one, indivisible, and entire. It is the assembly SINGULAR, the congregation SINGULAR of all believers. To come together as Church [1 Cor. 11] and partake of the Eucharist is to be manifest that we are NOT one of many, but ONE Body.

This is a reality which by its very nature must be believed and cannot be seen. But it is confessed and manifested in the Scriptures and in the liturgy. "Holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd." What this means for the ecumenical task is not resignation to the mess that now is, but it does mean that we are given the responsibility of manifesting rather than creating this churchly unity, for the churchly unity always will be and remain a gift given by God the Holy Spirit as He binds hearts to Jesus Christ and so one another and brings us into unity with the inner communion of the Blessed Trinity.

In that sense, remembering the definition of Church that Luther was working with, the congregation was indeed the locus of his thought on "church." How could it be otherwise?

Saturday, December 9, 2006


Welcome to the first post on this new blog site. Another Lutheran blog? Aren't there already enough? Perhaps. But this blog will try to do something a bit different than is usually the case with blog sites. We are devoting this blog to one topic: the Lutheran Confessions. We believe that the Lutheran Confessions, as contained in the Book of Concord, are a treasure for all people because of how powerfully, clearly and beautifully they confess the truth about Jesus Christ.

What is a Lutheran? What are the Lutheran Confessions, you ask? Good question. Here is one way of answering those questions.

While there are a variety of ways one could answer this question, one very important answer is simply this, "A Lutheran is a person who believes, teaches and confesses the truths of God's Word as they are summarized and confessed in the Book of Concord." The Book of Concord contains the Lutheran confessions of faith.

Perhaps you have attended an ordination of a pastor and heard him promise that he will perform the duties of his office in accord with the Lutheran Confessions. When people are received into membership into a Lutheran congretation through confirmation they are asked if they confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as they have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true.

These solemn promises indicate to us just how important the Lutheran Confessions are for our church. Let's take a look at the various items contained in the Book of Concord and then we will talk about why the Lutheran Confessions are so important for being a Lutheran.

What are the Ecumenical Creeds?

The three ecumenical creeds in the Book of Concord are the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. They are described as "ecumenical" [universal] because they are accepted by Christians worldwide as correct expressions of what God's Word teaches.

What is the Augsburg Confession and Apology of the Augsburg Confession?

In the year 1530, the Lutherans were required to present their confession of faith before the emperor in Augsburg, Germany. Philip Melanchthon wrote the Augsburg Confession and it was read before the imperial court on June 30, 1530. One year later, the Lutherans presented their defense of the Augsburg Confession, which is what "apology" here means. It too was written by Philip Melanchthon. The largest document in the Book of Concord, its longest chapter, is devoted to the most important truth of the Christian faith: the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

What are the Small and Large Catechisms?

Martin Luther realized early on how desperately ignorant the laity and clergy of his day were when it came to even the most basic truths of the Christian faith. Around 1530, he produced two small handbooks to help pastors and the heads of families teach the faith.

The Small Catechism and the Large Catechism are organized around six topics: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. So universally accepted were these magnificent doctrinal summaries by Luther, that they were included as part of the Book of Concord.

What are the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope?

In 1537, Martin Luther was asked to prepare a statement of Lutheran belief for use at a church council, if it was called. Luther's bold and vigorous confession of faith was later incorporated into the Book of Concord. It was presented to a group of Lutheran rulers meeting in the town of Smalcald. Philip Melanchthon was asked to expand on the subject of the Roman pope and did so in his treatise, which also was included in the Book of Concord.

What is the Formula of Concord?

After Luther's death in 1546, significant controversies broke out in the Lutheran Church. After much debate and struggle, the Formula of Concord in 1577 put an end to these doctrinal controversies and the Lutheran Church was able to move ahead united in what it believed, taught and confessed. In 1580, all the confessional writings mentioned here were gathered into a single volume, the Book of Concord. Concord is a word that means, "harmony." The Formula of Concord was summarized in a version known as the "Epitome" of the Formula of Concord. This document too is included in the Book of Concord.

What is the connection between the Bible and the Confessions?

We confess that, "The Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine" (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9). What the Bible asserts, God asserts. What the Bible commands, God commands. The authority of the Scriptures is complete, certain and final. The Scriptures are accepted by the Lutheran Confessions as the actual Word of God. The Lutheran Confessions urge us to believe the Scriptures for "they will not lie to you" (LC, V, 76) and cannot be "false and deceitful" (FC SD, VII, 96). The Bible is God's "pure, infallible, and unalterable Word" (Preface to the BOC).

The Lutheran Confessions are the "basis, rule, and norm indicating how all doctrines should be judged in conformity with the Word of God" (FC SD RN). Because the Confessions are in complete doctrinal agreement with the written Word of God, they serve as the standard in the Lutheran Church to determine what is faithful Biblical teaching, insofar as that teaching is addressed in the Confessions.

What is the main point of the Lutheran Confessions?

The Lutheran Reformation was not a "revolt," but rather began as a sincere expression of concern with the false and misleading teachings, which, unfortunately, even to this very day, obscure the glory and merit of Jesus Christ. What motivated Luther was a zealous concern about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is how the Lutheran Confessions explain what the Gospel is all about:

Human beings have not kept the law of God but have transgressed it. Their corrupted human nature, thoughts, words, and deeds battle against the law. For this reason they are subject to God's wrath, to death and all temporal afflictions, and to the punishment of the fires of hell. As a result, the Gospel, in its strict sense, teaches what people should believe, namely, that they receive from God the forgiveness of sins; that is, that the Son of God, our Lord Christ, has taken upon Himself the curse of the law and borne it, atoned and paid for all our sins; that through Him alone we are restored to God's grace, obtain the forgiveness of sins through faith and are delivered from death and all the punishments of our sins and are saved eternally. . . . It is good news, joyous news, that God does not want to punish sin but to forgive it for Christ's sake (FC SD, V, 20).

What is a "confessional" Lutheran?

The word "confession" is used in a variety of ways, but when we speak of a "confessional" Lutheran we mean a Lutheran who declares to the world his faith and most deeply held belief and conviction, in harmony with the documents contained in the Book of Concord. You will catch the spirit of confessional Lutheranism in these, the last words written in the Book of Concord:

Therefore, it is our intent to give witness before God and all Christendom, among those who are alive today and those who will come after us, that the explanation here set forth regarding all the controversial articles of faith which we have addressed and explained--and no other explanation--is our teaching, faith, and confession. In it we shall appear before the judgment throne of Jesus Christ, by God's grace, with fearless hearts and thus give account of our faith, and we will neither secretly nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to it. Instead, on the strength of God's grace, we intend to abide by this confession (FC SD, XII, 40).

What is an "unconditional subscription" to the Confessions?

Confessional Lutheran pastors are required to "subscribe" unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions because they are a pure exposition of the Word of God. This is the way our pastors, and every layman who confesses his belief in the Small Catechism, is able with great joy and without reservation or qualification to say what it is that he believes to be the truth of God's Word.

Dr. C. F. W. Walther, the Missouri Synod's first president, explained the meaning of an unconditional confessional subscription in words as clear and poignant today as they were then:

An unconditional subscription is the solemn declaration which the individual who wants to serve the church makes under oath that he accepts the doctrinal content of our Lutheran Confessions, because he recognizes the fact that they are in full agreement with Scripture and do not militate against Scripture in any point, whether the point be of major or minor importance; and that he therefore heartily believes in this divine truth and is determined to preach this doctrine.

So what is it to be a Lutheran?

Being a Lutheran is being a person who believes the truths of God's Word, the Holy Bible, as they are correctly explained and taught in the Book of Concord. To do so is to confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Genuine Lutherans, confessional Lutherans, dare to insist that "All doctrines should conform to the standards [the Lutheran Confessions] set forth above. Whatever is contrary to them should be rejected and condemned as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith" (FC Ep. RN, 6).

Such a statement may strike some as boastful. But it is not; rather, it is an expression of the Spirit-led confidence that moves us to speak of our faith before the world.

To be a confessional Lutheran is to be one who honors the Word of God. That word makes it clear that it is God's desire for His church to be in agreement about doctrine, and to be of one mind, living at peace with one another (1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11). It is for that reason that we so treasure the precious confession of Christian truth that we have in the Book of Concord. For Confessional Lutherans, there is no other collection of documents, or statements or books that so clearly, accurately and comfortingly presents the teachings of God's Word and reveals the Biblical Gospel as does our Book of Concord.

Hand-in-hand with our commitment to pure teaching and confession of the faith, is, and always must be, our equally strong commitment to reaching out boldly with the Gospel and speaking God's truth to the world. That is what "confession" of the faith is all about, in the final analysis. Indeed, "It is written: ÎI believed; therefore I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak" (2 Cor. 4:13). This is what it means to be a Lutheran.

For Further Study:

Robert Preus, Getting into the Theology of Concord: A Study of the Book of Concord (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977).

David Scaer, Getting into the Story of Concord: A History of the Book of Concord (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1977).