Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 12, Number 2
In this Issue:
Scrapbook of the Lutheran Confessions! Why are they so important? Why do we believe and how?
by Rev. Ralph Spears
The body of Church doctrine is most interesting as it has been gleaned and collected from phrases, statements and teachings from back through the ages. An Old Testament professor of mine often commented that "there is nothing new in the New Testament" and he is nearly right. You can find antecedent documents for almost every New Testament point in the older Testament. Besides all of that fascinating history, the written word came from the oral or spoken tradition as the ages distilled it like fine wine into a conclusion that truth is Truth, with some truths being more important than others!
The Apostles' Creed - as we teach our kids - is not a literal writing of the Apostles. Rather each phrase of the nearly hundred word description of faith was believed and stated by the Apostles and other writers. This Creed, developed for ritual and sacramental purposes, especially the defining act of Baptism, solidified a conviction that "these things are most certainly true!" Some researchers have traced how bundles of words and definitions in the Creed might have come together and again how they were further honed and refined into more definitive statements to meet changing needs and demands. Countless men and women died for these words as well as for the truth that the words represented, making these people even more precious and revered!
The Creeds then took on a life and importance all their own. They were not to be compromised by anyone within or without the Church and often adherence to them depended on whether one was considered in or out. By the sixteenth century, the Scriptural doctrine had been compromised enough that Luther and the Reformers found it necessary to begin again. Luther stated in writing each individual point of Church Creed redefining, with comment, the historical Creeds. He deemed acceptance of each of them of first importance to the purity of the Faith. These confessional points were simple and direct, representing thought and nuance of statement to make them 'water proof' so that they might not spring leaks but ride out the storms on the Church's troubled sea. This includes the troubled seas of today's church where we continue to fight doctrinal compromise. Some among us may remember the sense of scandal in the 1950s when Lutheran pastors went on trial when they had stated that they did not believe in the virgin birth and had reservations concerning the resurrection as the Church believes it.
The remarkable thing is that after all of this time, these collective statements, phrases and creeds remain solid faithful and usable and, when not watered down by editors or compilers, complete. The Unaltered Augsburg Confessions were presented to the Princes of the Church and the general public 475 years ago this July 25th--an event that would be recognized for its importance and defended through the next two centuries (especially) to the present.
Today we pause and say, this was a remarkable work for so many reasons chief of which perhaps - is how they have stood up to the conflicts and challenges of time in those four and three quarter centuries. And there were many of both.
But again, it is most interesting how the truth is carried from age to age in quotes and emphases in bundles, and quotes from group to group, from person to person, yet it becomes a conduit of Faith delivered "to the saints!"
What follows is a kind of word play, at times a play on words - the Old Testament is full of them - that maintained the liveliness of the ideas and kept them indeed from being dry or boring dogma!
Jesus said, "Your faith has made you well!"
Luther, "Only Believe, and you have it!"
Hebrews, "Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen!"
Faith, here is an attempt to make plain or clear, to distinguish from other elements such as Hope and Love.
Paul says, that of Faith, Hope and Love that the greatest is Love. Well then, "God is love!" We should, "Love one another and so fulfill the law of Christ"because "Love covers a multitude of sins!"
What is the answer? God is, but what is God? A well known writer once said that "It is terrible to watch a man who has the incomprehensible in his grasp (and) does not know what to do with it, and sits playing with a toy called - God!" God easily becomes over simplified and somehow domesticated, an easy substitute for the incomprehensible. (A modern theologian insisted that what we call the Almighty in the word GOD is beyond our oversimplified definitions and attempted elucidations. We might even sympathize with a frustrated Pontius Pilate who throws the question, "What is truth?" in the general direction of a silent Jesus!)
Jesus and the world's greatest minds, have tried to simplify; "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets!"
As we know this was our Lord's famous summary of the Torah, the lifeblood of Jewish thought. Philosophers, rabbis and priests, strain to make the complex simple, the unknown and little known, well known, and so gain their reputations. While teachers, preachers and evangelists expound and extrapolate for their hearers so as to show how complex the simple is, how involved, the plainest phrase, and how profound a single word! Yet both are a part of the same process that a twelve-year-old future Rabbi was a part of on the steps of the Great Temple area - until his parents caught up with him.
The mist of darkness that covered the face of the earth where dwelt the Spirit of God contained all things together until they precipitated out into the individual particles; just as in the cloud of that theoretical "Big Bang", all elements of the known periodic table, were about to be individually manifest. And up to that time, all Truth was indeed, One! And all of that Truth came through the preexistent Christ so that God could be known in all of His glory - point by point.
Since we have the full body of Scripture, some ask why it is that we need The Confessions. Isn't it somewhat redundant to be Scriptural AND Confessional as we in the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod - are?
In the light of the above, the resounding answer is - NO! The Confessions delivered nearly 475 years ago, define and particularize the full body of Gospels and Epistles" their greatest explication! In Them is found all Truth!
Explication (from the Latin explicare = to unfold) means to analyze and explain something in detail - and that is precisely what those Confessions do for the full body of Biblical Faith. It is necessary to lay it all out for view and review so that nothing might go missing or be forgotten of "the Faith delivered to the Saints!"
Those Lutheran Confessions are a table of contents of the body of Faith as relevant now as then. Sometimes I think that it is too bad that they are thought to be old, dry and thereby irrelevant, for they represent each an exciting banner of reality, and when rightly understood a refreshing subtitle of treasured knowledge.
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The LMS 5th Annual Youth Conference
You're a Lutheran, but you may or may not know who Martin Luther is. Here's your chance learn about your rich Lutheran heritage. As Hebrews tells us, knowing about the "cloud of witnesses" that came before us helps us keep the faith today and for future generations. Join us for the 5th Annual Youth Conference as we discover:
Youth Conference List -- We recommend that you bring the following items with you:
~ Questions? Call (888) 637-8880 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org ~
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Religion and Christianity, part 2
From Religious or Christian by O. Hallesby, translated by Clarence J. Carlson,
Copyright (c) 1939 Augsburg Publishing House. Used by permission of Augsburg Fortress.
May not be reproduced further without permission from the publisher (www.augsburgfortress.org).
(Continued from the February 2005 issue of Table Talk)
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The Lutheran Confessions
By Rev. Jeffrey A. Iverson
As we prepare to commemorate the 475th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession at our June Conference, it is appropriate that we briefly review the Lutheran Confessions in general. What are the Lutheran Confessions? How did they come to be? What does it mean when we say the LMS-USA is a "confessional" church body? Where can one read the Lutheran Confessions?
What are the Lutheran Confessions?
Specifically, the Lutheran Confessions are those theological treatises and statements of faith that were gathered into a book we call The Book of Concord, first published in 1580. The Book of Concord contains:
How did the Lutheran Confessions come to be?
The times following the death of Martin Luther in 1546 were not good for his followers. The Roman Church addressed some of its more grievous abuses and clarified its teachings at the Council of Trent (1545-47; 1551-52; and 1562-63). The Catholic princes were gaining victories on the battlefield. The reform movement itself had splintered into many directions, including the Reformed and Anabaptist movements. There was even disagreement among the Lutherans themselves. Some, including Luther's protégé Philipp Melanchthon, were willing to compromise the pure Gospel that Luther had rediscovered, particularly as regards Christ's Real Presence in the Lord's Supper. Those who agreed with this position became known as the "Philippists." Those who disapproved of these compromises became known as the "Gnesio ('genuine') Lutherans."
To make a long story short, the Gnesio position generally held the day and in the late 1560's and throughout the 1570's, groups of theologians, including Jakob Andrea and Martin Chemnitz drafted documents that harmonized Lutheran theology. These documents eventually became the Formula of Concord. The Formula and the other confessional documents mentioned above were gathered into the Book of Concord in 1580. A new preface was written by the theologians and signed by dozens of princes and magistrates. Subscription to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord has been a mark of true Lutheranism ever since.
What does it mean when we say the LMS-USA is a "confessional" church body?
The English word "confess" comes from Latin roots meaning to declare or avow. The theologians and politicians who bravely wrote and signed the Augsburg Confession in 1530 and the Book of Concord in 1580 risked their lives for what they believed in. Yet, over the centuries, many efforts have been made to compromise the confessions over and over again. One controversy involved the Latin words quia ("because") and quatenus ("insofar as"). Compromisers found some "wiggle" room by saying that their subscription to the Confessions was quatenus ("insofar as") the confessions agreed with Scripture. Some American Lutherans in the 19th century went so far as to attempt to re-write the Augsburg Confession.
The attacks on the confessions continue in our day. Large "Lutheran" church bodies in our own country and around the world have compromised their confessional loyalty by agreements with the Roman Catholic church and Reformed church bodies.
The pastors and congregations of the LMS-USA have never wavered in their confessional loyalty. In its "Deerfield Statement on the Lutheran Confessions," the LMS-USA proclaimed that the Lutheran Confessions "are to be accepted, not insofar as [quatenus], but because they are [quia] the presentation and explanation of the pure doctrine of the Word of God and a valid summary of the faith of the Lutheran Church, and recognizes them as normative for its theology." The Deerfield Statement" is one of our "Subscriptional Statements" by which all pastors and congregations are bound.
Where can I read the Lutheran Confessions?
The first English translation of the Book of Concord was published by the Henkel brothers of the Tennesee Synod in 1851. In 1882, Henry E. Jacobs of Pennsylvania edited a new English version. In 1921, the faculty of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis produced the Concordia Triglotta, a German-Latin-English version. This work is now in the public domain and an electronic copy of the English translation is available at http://www.bookofcon- cord.org. The English edition that most of us cut our theological teeth on was edited by Theodore Tappert in 1959.
A new translation was published in the year 2000 by Fortress Press. It was co-edited by Robert Kolb of Concordia Seminary (LCMS) and Timothy Wengert of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (ELCA). Although one can take issue with the language neutering that characterizes this work (along with most scholarly writing these days), there is much to commend this translation. The scholarly apparatus (introductions, footnotes, annotations, and indexes) is the best ever available in an English translation. (The definitive scholarly edition remains the German/Latin, Bekenntnisschriften der evangelische-lutherischen Kirke, now in its eleventh edition.) An electronic version of the Kolb/Wengert edition is available in the Logos/Libronix format.
So now that you know a little background on the confessions and where to get them, happy reading! Seriously, it would do well for all Lutherans to own a copy. If you don't feel like tackling the whole thing, I recommend starting with the Augsburg Confession. Next read Luther's Large Catechism (I assume most Lutherans are already familiar with the Small Catechism). Finally, read the Epitome of the Formula of Concord. By that time you'll be so hooked you won't be able to wait to read the whole thing!
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The LMS-USA is a Biblical, Confessional, Evangelical, Liturgical, Congregational
expression of the universal (catholic) orthodox Church on earth. It is a
'Forum by Subscription.' As a 'Forum' the intent is that there will be an
ongoing discussion of theological issues and concerns among clergy and lay
alike. The LMS-USA meets annually for a Theological Conference and this
publication, besides carrying news of the Ministerium and Synod, functions
also as a vehicle for this continuing dialogue.
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