Language, Culture, and National Identity in the Mission and Ministry of the Church

A Confessional Anthology

(Confessional excerpts are from The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959].)

As recorded in Matthew 28:19, our Lord Christ said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Small Catechism IV:4, p. 348)

We pray...that God’s name may be praised through his holy Word and our Christian lives. This we ask, both in order that we who have accepted it may remain faithful and grow daily in it and in order that it may gain recognition and followers among other people and advance with power throughout the world. So we pray that, led by the Holy Spirit, many may come into the kingdom of grace and become partakers of salvation, so that we may all remain together eternally in this kingdom which has now made its appearance among us. (Large Catechism III:52, p. 427)

...we must by all means cling rigidly and firmly to the fact that as the proclamation of repentance extends over all men (Luke 24:47), so also does the promise of the Gospel. Therefore Christ has commanded to preach “repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name among all nations.” For God “loved the world” and gave to it his only begotten Son (John 3:16). Christ has taken away the sin of the world (John 1:29); he has given his flesh “for the life of the world” (John 6:51); his blood is “the propitiation for the whole world’s” sin (I John 1:7; 2:2). Christ declares, “Come unto me, all who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “God has included all men under disobedience so that he might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). “The Lord is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9). “He is simultaneously one Lord of all, rich toward all who call upon him” (Rom. 10:12). Righteousness “comes through faith in Christ to all and on all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). “This is the will of the Father, that all who believe on Christ should have eternal life” (John 6:40). It is Christ’s command that all in common to whom repentance is preached should also have this promise of the Gospel proclaimed to them (Luke 24:47; Mark 16:15). (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration XI:28, pp. 620-21)

...I have assembled the main arguments, to testify to all nations that we hold to the Gospel of Christ correctly and faithfully. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Preface: 15, p. 99)

...Paul distinguishes the church from the Old Testament people by the fact that the church is a spiritual people, separated from the heathen not by civil rites but by being God’s true people, reborn by the Holy Spirit. Among the Old Testament people, those born according to the flesh had promises about physical well-being, political affairs, etc. in addition to the promise about Christ. Because of these promises even the wicked among them were called the people of God inasmuch as God had separated these physical descendants from other nations by certain outward ordinances and promises. Nevertheless, these evil people did not please God. But the Gospel brings not the shadow of eternal things but the eternal blessings themselves, the Holy Spirit and the righteousness by which we are righteous before God. (Apology VII/VIII:14-15, p. 170)

The writings of our theologians have profitably illuminated this whole question of the distinction between Christ’s kingdom and a political kingdom. Christ’s kingdom is spiritual; it is the knowledge of God in the heart, the fear of God and faith, the beginning of eternal righteousness and eternal life. At the same time it lets us make outward use of the legitimate political ordinances of the nation in which we live, just as it lets us make use of medicine or architecture, food or drink or air. The Gospel does not introduce any new laws about the civil estate, but commands us to obey the existing laws, whether they were formulated by heathen or by others, and in this obedience to practice love. (Apology XVI:2-3, pp. 222-23)

...the Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence. Almost all the customary ceremonies are also retained, except that German hymns are interspersed here and there among the parts sung in Latin. These are added for the instruction of the people, for ceremonies are needed especially in order that the unlearned may be taught. Paul prescribed that in church a language should be used which is understood by the people. [I Cor. 14:2,9] (Augsburg Confession XXIV:1-4 [Latin], p. 56)

...our clever opponents quibble about how a hearer who is ignorant of the faith of the church benefits from hearing a Mass that he does not understand. Apparently they imagine that mere hearing is a beneficial act of worship, even where there is no understanding. We do not want to belabor the point, but we leave it up to the judgment of the reader. We mention this only in passing in order to point out that our churches keep the Latin lessons and prayers. The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray. Therefore we keep Latin for the sake of those who study and understand it, and we insert German hymns to give the common people something to learn that will arouse their faith and fear. This has always been the custom in the churches. Though German hymns have varied in frequency, yet almost everywhere the people sang in their own language. No one has ever written or suggested that men benefit from hearing lessons they do not understand, or from ceremonies that do not teach or admonish... (Apology XXIV:2-5, pp. 249-50)

...we believe, teach, and confess unanimously that the ceremonies or church usages which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God, but which have been introduced solely for the sake of good order and the general welfare, are in and for themselves no divine worship or even a part of it. “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:9). We believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every locality and every age has authority to change such ceremonies according to circumstances, as it may be most profitable and edifying to the community of God. But in this matter all frivolity and offenses are to be avoided, and particularly the weak in faith are to be spared (I Cor. 8:9-13; Rom. 14:13ff.). (Formula of Concord, Epitome X:3-5, p. 493)

...we reject and condemn as wrongful the view that the commandments of men are to be considered as of themselves worship of God or a part thereof. We also reject and condemn as wrongful the procedure whereby such commandments are imposed by force on the community of God as necessary. (Solid Declaration X:26-27, p. 615)

If human traditions are not acts of worship necessary for righteousness before God, it follows that somebody can be righteous and a child of God even if he does not observe traditions that have been maintained elsewhere. Thus if the German style of dress is not a devotion to God necessary for righteousness before him, it follows that men can be righteous, children of God, and the church of Christ even though they dress according to the French rather than the German style. (Apology VII/VIII:34, p. 175)

We see the infinite dangers that threaten the church with ruin. There is an infinite number of ungodly within the church who oppress it. The church will abide nevertheless; it exists despite the great multitude of the wicked, and Christ supplies it with the gifts he has promised -- the forgiveness of sins, answer to prayer, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Creed offers us these consolations that we may not despair but may know all this. It says “the church catholic” lest we take it to mean an outward government of certain nations. It is, rather, made up of men scattered throughout the world who agree on the Gospel and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, and the same sacraments, whether they have the same human traditions or not. (Apology VII/VIII:9-10, pp. 169-70)

Compiled and Edited by David Jay Webber

Return to the Lutheran Theology Web Site Home Page