Sunday, March 11, 2007

Reflection: What I Like About the Book of Concord

What impresses me most as I read the Lutheran Confessions is how pastoral, practical and personal they are.

They are pastoral. The constant drum beat throughout them is the goal of comforting and caring for souls. The Lutheran Confessions are not theological speculations or abstractions. The times in which it was written called for pastoral care on a scale that could only be compared to a national emergency. Souls bruised and bullied by legalisms and demands placed on them outside of and beyond the Sacred Scriptures were healed by the healing and life-giving Gospel. Persons who were not healing the comforting promises of the Holy Gospel, the free and full forgiveness of all salvation through Christ, received the love of God as they heard of the Savior who loved them and died and rose for them. The Lutheran Confessions speak to us today because they speak of the most important issues any of us ever face in our life. Who am I? What is life's meaning? Who do I know God? Am I loved? How can I be sure? What am I do to with my life?

They are practical. They go right to the heart of the key issues and, even in spite of the length of some articlees in them, never wander off on side paths. It is a book on a mission and that is to deliver the Gospel: purely, cleanly, correctly and practically, again, for the care of souls. They are not journal articles indulging in scholarly pursuits, or the pet interests of their authors in the pursuit of credibility and respect in the academic community. The Confessions are practical resources for people's faith and life, as they live and especially, as they die. Why? Because the golden thread running throughout them is the chief and most important teaching of the Christian faith: justification by God's grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, the teaching drawn from Scripture, alone: the Gospel.

They are personal. The Book of Concord was written by people who had deep and long first-hand experience with the various theological ills they are decrying and had first-hand knowledge of just how powerfully comforting and consoling the Gospel is. Therefore, for example, when you read about monasticism in this book, always behind these discussions stands the man who spent well over a decade of his life in this lifestyle, tortured and tormented no end by the lack of Gospel: Martin Luther. The book could almost be said to be a spiritual autobiography of all those who contributed to it. They are not dispassionate scientific essays. They are not mystical and obscure texts. They are personal statements of faith expressed on behalf of the Church, and for the Church, in order to gather more and more into the Church.

Those are three reasons why I am so passionate about the Book of Concord. Why do you like the Book of Concord? What have you found helpful in it? What do you keep coming back to in it that has been of particular help and meaning to you?

10 comments:

wm cwirla said...

What is this, a praise break? The round table joins hands and gives personal testimonies, just as we were getting nice and edgy about the nature of the church. But if you insist....

I value the Book of Concord in that it provides an objective standard for clergy and laity alike. Too often we hear the claims of being "Lutheran" without the application of an objective standard. Simply put: Lutheran is as Lutherans teach and practice according to the Book of Concord. If a fellow Lutheran says to me, "What you are teaching is not Lutheran," we can both refer to the Book of Concord and check it out.

In my workshop, I don't skimp on measuring devices. They need to be accurate and true or the work I do with them will be off. The same is true of our Symbols - they need to be accurate and true to the Scriptures, or our work will be off.

I'm pleased that efforts such as the Reader's Edition will place the Book of Concord in many more hands around our churches. I never understood how a church can call itself "confessional" without an active, living presence of the Confessions. I've also never understood how the clergy could be sworn to a body of confessions while the laity were left in ignorance of them. How can the hearers judge the teaching of their teachers if they don't have the same rulers in their hands as their teachers do?

Paul T. McCain said...

"Reflections" are opportunities for the blog's authors to...ah...well, reflect on topics that come to mind, pertaining to the Lutheran Confessions. "Roundtable" posts are discussions of specific portions of the Book of Concord.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Ok.. I've been waiting for an excuse to say this ever since we started this blog...

We're knights of the Round Table, we dance whene'er we're able. We do routines and chorus scenes with footwork impec-cable... :-)

That doesn't mean we can't reflect a bit as well.

The Lutheran Confessions are practical, because they embody Lutheran theology which is, by its definition, a practical theology. Hence, for example, the emphasis on the consolation of troubled consciences, and the like, that is not found in other "ivory tower" systems of theology. Lutherans understand that the *words* we use in our theology not only *mean* something, they also *do* something.

The practical side of the Lutheran Confessions comes out most explicitly, aside from with the Catechisms, in the Formula of Concord. It's no surprise that the eariest "embyonic" form of the Formula had been in the form of sermons (AndreƤ's "Six Sermons"). Ultimately, the Solid Declaration is much more accessible to the average layman than another earlier manifestation of it, the Swabian-Saxon Concord, had been (it is full of a lot of Latin phrases, and theological lingo).

The most glaring example, probably, is with regard to FC X on adiaphora. While some of the ceremonies that the Wittenbergers had allowed to be reintroduced according to the Interims, at the pressure of the Emperor Charles V, were not necessarily contrary to the Lutheran confession, the Gnesio-Lutheran critique of the interimists was a concern sprung forth as much out of concern for what external "indifferent" ceremonies, earlier discontinued, might signal to the average layman . The confessions are full of such "practical" examples.

As one of my professors at the seminary used to say, "Lutheran systematic theology is practical. If it isn't, it isn't Lutheran systematic theology."

William Weedon said...

Well, if we're chiming in on what we like about the BOC...

...I like that it for all the reasons Paul listed and for one more: it's part of a conversation that the Church has been having for a very, very long time. I think you can consider the whole of it a discussion of the meaning of the words: "who for us men and for our salvation" of the Nicene Creed.

Yet that also means that we are in danger of misreading it if we take them as the starting point of conversation, or if we assume that the Confessors in their day are the amnesiacs that we are in ours - as though the discussions involved didn't have very specific contexts with historical roots.

So I love the Confessions because they are one glorious part of the Church's long and joyous explication of what it means that for us men and for our salvation the Lord Jesus became incarnate, suffered, died and rose.

Paul T. McCain said...

I'll challenge my very good friend Pastor Weedon, as a fellow knight of the Roundtable here, to show me any other formal collections of church confessions that so clearly and beautifully and purely articulates the Gospel, in as simple and to the point manner as the Book of Concord. I agree with you that it is part of the Church's larger conversation, but...we simply do not have the Gospel so clearly and consistently taught, with all its implications, as we have it in the Book of Concord.

William Weedon said...

Oh, pooh. You obviously haven't been enjoying the code of canon of law. LOL!

No, there is no other collection so beautiful in "pulling it all together." But what is pulled together in those books is the conversation that the Holy Spirit has been having with the Church from the first days.

Or said in the way of Sasse, all any Confession of the church seeks to do is explicate the primal confession: Jesus Christ is Lord.

wm cwirla said...

Nicely said, William! We don't give the Book of Concord and the confessors who wrote it due credit when we fail to see it in the greater context of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit working through the Word. It is not simply a "Lutheran" book but it is fully evangelical, catholic, and orthodox in all the lowercase senses of those words.

A late night thought that occurred to me is that the Book of Concord is rare in bringing together the faith in a variety of literary forms from the political Augustana and Apology to the polemical Smalcald Articles and the precise Formula of Concord. Then there are the devotional and practical (even poetic at times) Small and Large Catechisms.

While we can find all these literary types in the various writings of church history, I know of no other example of such a collection.

Mike Baker said...

I am impressed by its continued relevance and vitality. Alot of the conviction and frustration that is so clearly expressed in in the Book of Concord struck home for me when I first read it. Boy was I right there!

As a convert to Lutheranism, it is easy to step right in the shoes of men who suffered under similar false notions and false teachings for much of their lives. To these great men, this was more than an impersonal theological debate. They held it up as a revelation of the Gospel which snatched them from error and dispair.

I have heard from some that the more "current event" parts of the Confessions have lost much of their relevance. They site that we live in a different world now and that the situations have improved or at least changed.

They point to the fact that indulgences are no longer sold the way they used to be or they hold up the Joint Declaration on Justifcation as an example of how things have progressed. They site that issues of relevance and unity are the more important focus for the church in the modern age. The temptation exists to read this book as a historical record of the church and not as an essential theological explination of Scripture.

That view can't be further from the truth. Today there are just as many (if not more) souls who are just as mislead, just as vexed, and just as in need of the sweet gift of the unaltered truth as there were during the time of the reformation.

The truth is that very little has actually changed. If you think that indulgences are no longer sold, you've missed the cable TV channel that I had the displeasure of catching recently. If you think that we won the victory over sola fide and justification, you have not spent enough time listening to non-Lutheran sermons. If you think that people are not mislead by superstition and a focus on worthless spiritual gimics, you have yet to receive your "annointed prayer hankerchief" in the mail. If you believe that any of our historical opponents have conceeded an inch over the centuries, then you have been fooled by strawmen and sweet talk.

The Book of Concord continues its vital work to this day. It continues to point people to Christ and guide them back to the truth of the Holy Word. What could be more relevant than that?

While it is true that the flickering spark of Confessional Lutheranism has grown into a steady and bright flame over the last 500 years, it is important to recognize that - although the flame has grown - it still burns on the same fuel and still casts light upon the same darkness.

Rev. Alex Klages said...

I truly appreciate the Confessions. They are a wonderful preaching resource for the struggling pastor. I look up a citation in the index, and see what doctrine any given passage is connected to. Then that gives me another facet to consider as I prepare to preach God's Word to His people.

Edwin said...

Of all the Confessions, I think the Formula most strikes the laity "where they live" so to speak, if they want to be serious about really being Lutheran. Straight up, no holds barred. This we believe, teach and confess; this we reject and condemn. Can't be much clearer than that.
I led an adult class in the Formula over 25 year ago and was surprised how little some of the "old timers" really knew, even after 30+ years in the congregation And pleasantly surprised that they were thrilled to find out what Lutheranism is really all about, and eager to learn more.
BTW, is "Getting into the Formula of Concord" (Klug/Stahlke) still in print? I'm thinking of asking my pastor if it'd be o.k. if I started a class.