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.

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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.

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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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