What we believe: overview of the Confessions

All written confessions of faith, creeds, exist to either answer a question or defend against false doctrine. The confessions of the Lutheran Church are no exception. Indeed, that Christians do confess their faith is a natural outgrowth of that faith.

Jesus said, Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)

Saint Paul understood the importance of this confession of faith when he wrote, That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)

The Lutheran Confessions were collected into the Book of Concord in 1580. These confessions stand under Scripture and are accepted because they agree with Scripture. As Lutherans we accept the following creeds as a proper exposition of Scripture, and therefore as a proper touchstone for all teachings.

  • Ecumenical Creeds
    • Apostles' Creed
    • Nicene Creed
    • Athanasian Creed
  • Lutheran Confessions
    • Augsburg Confession
    • Apology of the Augsburg Confession
    • Smalcald Articles
    • Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope
    • Luther's Small Catechism
    • Luther's Large Catechism
    • Formula of Concord

Ecumenical Creeds

What we believe: Ecumenical Creeds

The Ecumenical Creeds were included in the Book of Concord to show that the Lutherans did not teach anything that was in opposition to the ancient church. Each of these three creeds is drawn from the Bible. Each has existed in the present form for well over 1500 years.

  • Apostles' Creed
  • Nicene Creed
  • Athanasian Creed

Apostles' Creed

What we believe: Apostles' Creed

The Christian writers of the first three centuries make it plain that from the beginning the candidates for Baptism were required to confess their faith. This same confession of faith was also used as the starting point for Christian instruction, and as a touchstone for descerning false doctrine.

First and second century writers, such as Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp,
and Irenaeus mentioned the earliest form of this creed.
By 500 the creed was quoted in its present form by Caesarius of Arles
in France.

The Apostles' Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

Nicene Creed

What we believe: Nicene Creed

In the year 325 Emperor Constantine the Great convened the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea to settle the controversy precipitated by the teaching of Arius. Arius denied the true divinity of Christ. To answer this controversy 318 bishops and assistants gathered to study the Bible and discuss the implications of this false teaching.

When they left Nicaea the bishops had indeed clearly stated the position of the church. Jesus is true God, not the first and foremost of the created beings. He also is true man, born of the virgin Mary.

In 381, because the Arian heresy was still raging, Emperor Theodosius convened the Second Ecumenical Council. Here 150 bishops assembled and reaffirmed the confession of faith made at the Council of Nicaea. They also spoke against the false teachings of Macedonius who claimed the Holy Spirit is not God.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Athanasian Creed

What we believe: Athanasian Creed

Roman tradition says this confession was made by Saint Athanasius, who died in 373, in his audience before Pope Julius. Although the tradition, historical evidence shows that Athanasias is not the

  1. The creed was first written in Latin
  2. It is not mentioned by Athanasius or by his Greek eulogists
  3. It was unknown to the Greek church before 1200 and has never been officially accepted as a creed of that church.
  4. It speaks of controversies concerning the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ that post-date Athanasius.

Research tends to show the creed to come from southern Gaul (France) from between 450 and 600. It is a proper exposition of the Christian faith and is unequivocal in condemning false teachings.

The Athanasian Creed

Written against the Arians.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled,without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty;from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting;and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

Lutheran Confessions

What we believe: The Book of Concord

The Lutheran Church does not teach anything which is not directly drawn from the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, the standard by which we judge all teachings of the church is clearly shown in the introduction of theFormula of Concord:

We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard to which all dogmas together with all teachers should be estimated and judged are the propheticand apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone, as it is written Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. And St. Paul: But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

The Book of Concord contains the creeds and confessions which have been accepted by the Lutheran Church since the beginning. Being a confessional church, the Lutherans have a standard of doctrine which does not change. Thus all we teach stands under the Bible and is explained in our specific creeds. Unlike the other confessional church bodies, the Lutherans do not change the confessions over time or geography. In this we are unique.

Augsburg Confession

What we believe: Augsburg Confession

All confessions of the church are written either to answer a question or to defend against a heresy. Our Lord desires that such confession be made. Saint Paul wrote, "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."

The first of the Lutheran Confessions was written in 1530 at the request of Emperor Charles V. In early 1530 called for a diet or congress to meet in Augsburg to discuss the Turkish invasion and, "to consider furthermore what might and ought to be done and resolved upon regarding the division and separation in the holy faith and the Christian religion."

Upon receiving word of the Emperor's request, Elector John at Torgau commissioned Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon and several other theologians to write the requested confession of faith. Melanchthon wrote the Augsburg Confession by discussing the teachings of Luther. He also presented the Confession to the Diet at Augsburg because Luther was still under a death sentence if he traveled outside Saxony. The first public reading of the Confession was at Augsburg on June 25, 1530.

Each article of the Augsburg Confession is drawn from Scripture. Indeed, the hallmark of the Reformation is the insistence on Scripture alone for the doctrines and teaching of the church. Melanchthon appealed to the ancient church for additional arguments for the understandings expressed in the Confession.

In all there were twenty-eight articles which set forth the Lutheran understanding of the faith. These articles ranged from God and Justification to a position on the marriage of priests. Many of the articles were controversial because the were directly opposed to the teachings of the Church of Rome.

The Augsburg Confession marks the first time a church had systematically written its beliefs. Before this various articles of faith had been discussed and written, but the entire content of faith had not been documented in one place. Therefore the churches which hold to the Augsburg Confession can rightly claim to be the first "confessional" church. Rome did not document their understanding of the articles of faith until the Council of Trent in 1545.

Unlike later church bodies which can and do modify their basic confessions, the Lutheran Church holds firmly to the Confession delivered to the Emperor on that fateful day of 1530. Later confessions were written, but they built on the framework provided by the Augsburg Confession.

Even today Lutherans can appeal to the confessions because the confessions agree totally with Scripture and are subservient to Scripture. Although the political picture has changed since 1530, the Confession speaks to our world with the same power as to the world in Luther's time. Salvation is still by God's grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ. That will never change.

Text of the The Augsburg Confession in a new window.

Defense or Apology of the Augsburg Confession

What we believe: Defense or Apology of the Augsburg Confession

Before discussing the Apology, maybe a word about the title of the confession is in order. When we hear and use the word "apology" we think of someone saying, "I'm sorry." In fact, "apology" is an explanation and defense of a position. When a Christian author writes to defend the faith, such as did C. S. Lewis, he is issuing an apology of the faith. Such books are studied under the area of apologetics in the universities and seminaries of our synod.

The Augsburg Confession was presented to Emperor Charles V in June, 1530. Although the Roman church was also summoned to the Diet of Augsburg, they did not present their articles of faith. Instead they wrote a reply to the Evangelical (Lutheran) Confession. This Confutation raised questions and gave comments about the Lutheran stand on doctrine.

Philip Melanchthon, the author of the Augsburg Confession also wrote the Apology. The first draft of this confession was offered to Charles V on September 22, 1530. He rejected the Apology because he was not prepared to impartially judge the questions of doctrine. Upon this rejection of the Apology Melanchthon continued to revise and expand the various sections. It was finally published in May, 1531.

The Roman Confutation discussed fourteen articles of the Augsburg Confession. Melanchthon chose to defend these articles. As with the other Lutheran Confessions, the views expressed build on the Lutheran principles of law and Gospel, sin and grace, faith and justification. Throughout the Apology Melanchthon wrote of God's saving grace which He showed through His Son.

With the publication of the Apology and Rome's refusal to discuss the points raised, the breach between Rome and Wittenberg was complete. Luther's cry of "Here I stand" was echoed in the Evangelical church.

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Smalcald Articles

What we believe: Smalcald Articles

During the early years of the Reformation Luther and the others proposed again and again that a general council of the church be convened. This council would discuss the questions of doctrine and practice which divided the Roman and Evangelical (Lutheran) churches. Pope Paul III called a council in June, 1536, to meet the the following May in Mantua.

Although the council did not actually take place until 1545 in Trent, the call for a council meant the Lutherans had to examine their beliefs again. Even though Luther had desired a council, by this time the situation had changed. The two sides had become farther apart. Also, since 1530 the Romans had time and again refused to discuss doctrine with the Evangelicals.

In December, 1536, the elector of Saxony directed Luther to prepare a statement indicating the articles of faith in which concessions might be made for the sake of peace. He was also directed to indicate the articles in which no compromise could be made.

Luther immediately went to work and finished by December 28. A small group of theologians met in Wittenberg and reviewed Luther's work. Among the proposed changes was the section on the invocation of saints. At this time the first eight people signed this confession.

The elector of Saxony then took the Articles to Smalcald. On February 8, 1537, the Smalcald League met in hopes of having the document adopted. This hope was not realized, however, partly because Luther was ill and unable to attend the meetings.

Although not officially adopted by the Smalcald League, many theologians and clergymen signed the Articles because they agreed with Luther's writing. Finally the articles were accepted by the Lutheran church and incorporated in the Book of Concord which was published in 1580.

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Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope

What we believe: Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope

In 1537 the representatives of the Smalcald League who met in February did not adopt the Smalcald Articles as written by Luther. They did, however, see the need for a statement on the power and position of the Pope. Pope Paul III had called for a council of the church to be held at Mantua later that year. This statement about the power of the Pope was in direct answer to the call for the council.

Philip Melanchthon, who also wrote the Augsburg Confession, was asked to author the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. This he did, taking his clue from Luther's writings and teachings.

Such a statement was to have been included in the Augsburg Confession, but was not presented to Emperor Charles V because of the controversial nature of the statement. As you recall from previous articles, the Diet at Augsburg was convened in an attempt to reconcile the Roman and Evangelical viewpoints. After Augsburg, however, the situation changed as both sides realized they could not come to an agreement.

The Lutherans rejected the Pope as the spiritual and temporal leader of the church. They argued from Scripture and from history that the Bishop of Rome was not, and never was, and would never be Christ's vicar on earth. All ministers are equally called by God to proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments. Only by human order are there ranks of clergy. Bishops are overseers of other pastors, not because of Scripture, but for the sake of human convenience.

More controversial for today's church is the second half of the Treatise. We certainly do not wish to offend nor do we wish to have uncalled for controversy. Yet we also remain faithful to the Scriptures and to the Confessions. This is an important consideration, for this church body and this congregation subscribe without reservation to the confessions contained in the Book of Concord.

Philip Melanchthon wrote concerning II Thessalonians 2:3-4, and other verses, and compared the Papal office to the Antichrist as written by Paul. He said the office has usurped the power of Christ, changed the doctrine of justification by grace to a doctrine of justification by works.

Finally the Treatise speaks of the necessity for the true church to elect and ordain ministers. This right belongs to the church, and not to any individual. "Wherefore it is necessary for the church to retain the right of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers." So has the Lutheran church done from the beginning.

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Luther's Small Catechism

What we believe: Luther's Small Catechism

Several years before Luther wrote the Small Catechism he had asked several others to prepare a catechism for the instruction of the young. Finally Luther decided to fill the need. During 1528, when he had visited various churches in Saxony, Luther saw the poor instruction which the people received.

By December, 1528, Luther started writing the text of the Small Catechism. As each of the chief parts were finished they were printed on large charts. Finally an illustrated booklet was published in May, 1529.

Each of the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism covers a different aspect of the doctrines of the church. In true Lutheran fashion, it starts with the Law, for the Law terrifies the sinner and shows the need for the Gospel. Following the Ten Commandments, Luther presents the Triune God in the explanation of the Apostles' Creed. He then instructs us how to speak to God through prayer. Finally Luther shows the sacraments and the Office of the Keys where the individual Christian comes to know our gracious God.

Ever since Luther wrote this simple Catechism it has been used for the instruction of young and old alike. Even after 450 years the church looks to the Catechism as the resource for explaining the Christian faith to those people who desire to become communicant members.

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Luther's Large Catechism

What we believe: Luther's Large Catechism

When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, he sparked an examination of the doctrines of the church. The news of justification by grace through faith for the sake of Christ spread quickly. Yet among those who subscribed to the Biblical principle of salvation by grace still needed instruction.

In 1525 Justus Jonas and John Agricola began working on a book of instruction which taught the basics of Christianity. This book was never completed. Again in 1528 Philip Melanchthon began to write such a catechism, and it, too, was not finished. Meanwhile the people needed a clear explanation of God's Law and Gospel.

Melanchthon did write the "Instruction to the Visitors of the Clergy in the Electorate of Saxony" in 1528. Here was a brief handbook of instruction for the pastors of the various congregations. The visitors, which would be like our Circuit Counselors, reviewed the teaching and procedures of each congregation. Their findings were appalling.

The Preface of the Large Catechism says, "It is not for trivial reasons that we constantly treat the Catechism and strongly urge others to do the same. For we see to our sorrow that many pastors and preachers are very negligent in this respect and despise both their office and this teaching itself."

Where Luther wrote the Small Catechism for the instruction of the children, he wrote the Large Catechism for the instruction of the pastors and teachers. The visitors found some pastors who did not know the six chief parts of the catechism, namely the Ten Commandments, The Apostles Creed, The Lord's Prayer, Baptism, Confession, and The Lord's Supper.

Since the publication of the first edition of the Large Catechism 1529, pastors and other adults have used it as the basis for teaching the Small Catechism. Luther could go into more detail because this book was intended for adults, not children. He answered many of the questions and gave background information which children simply could not grasp.

Today the seminarian who is learning to become a pastor will study the Large Catechism as well as the other confessions of the Lutheran Church. It still forms an integral part of his study and review. The truths taught here are timeless, and deserve our continued attention.

Text of the Large Catechism in a new window.

Formula of Concord

What we believe: Formula of Concord

Martin Luther died in 1546. He had spent his life defending the Scriptures, speaking boldly for justification by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ. As a strong and powerful leader people looked to him for guidance during the battles for the faith. But he was now dead, and the infant Lutheran Church foundered for the want of a leader.

Initially the church split into two groups, the Gnesio-Lutherans who claimed to adhere to the original teachings of Luther, and the Philippists who followed Melanchthon. Because of pressures from both Rome and the Calvinists, the two groups of Lutherans tried repeatedly to come to agreement.

Various controversies wreaked the church. What was commanded by God, and what was forbidden? What is the nature of the Lord's Supper? What part does free will play in salvation? What do we teach about the person of Christ? These and other questions threatened to kill the church.

A number of documents were written as the various theologians sought to reconcile the two sides. Finally, in 1577 the two groups were united with the adoption of the Formula of Concord, written by Martin Chemnitz.

The Formula of Concord is divided into the "Epitome" and the "Solid Declaration." The Epitome summarizes briefly the condemnations and beliefs of the Lutheran Church. The Solid Declaration provides much more detail.

Martin Chemnitz, and the assembled theologians, firmly stated the only place from which a church can rightly draw doctrines. The opening of the Epitome sets the standards for this and all future documents.

We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be judged. ... Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on par with Holy Scripture. Every single one of them should be subordinated to the Scriptures and should be received in no other way and not further than as witnesses to the fashion in which the doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved in post-apostolic times.

As we accept the Formula of Concord, we, too, confess that Scripture is the only rule and norm of faith. Therefore all our teachings must conform to Scripture, be drawn from Scripture, and point us back to Scripture.

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