Quotable Quotes
(on the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the Lutheran Church)

Many people, who do not give much attention to the holy scriptures, think that all the books contained in the Bible should be honored and adored with equal veneration, not knowing how to distinguish among the canonical and non-canonical books, the latter of which the Jews number among the apocrypha. Therefore they often appear ridiculous before the learned; and they are disturbed and scandalized when they hear that someone does not honor something read in the Bible with equal veneration as all the rest. Here, then, we distinguish and number distinctly first the canonical books and then the non-canonical, among which we further distinguish between the certain and the doubtful. The canonical books have been brought about through the dictation of the Holy Spirit. It is not known, however, at which time or by which authors the non-canonical or apocryphal books were produced. Since, nevertheless, they are very good and useful, and nothing is found in them which contradicts the canonical books, the church reads them and permits them to be read by the faithful for devotion and edification. Their authority, however, is not considered adequate for proving those things which come into doubt or contention, or for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogma, as blessed Jerome states in his prologue to Judith and to the books of Solomon. But the canonical books are of such authority that whatever is contained therein is held to be true firmly and indisputably, and likewise that which is clearly demonstrated from them. For just as in philosophy a truth is known through reduction to self-evident first principles, so too, in the writings handed down from holy teachers, the truth is known, as far as those things that must be held by faith, through reduction to the canonical scriptures that have been produced by divine revelation, which can contain nothing false. Hence, concerning them Augustine says to Jerome: To those writers alone who are called canonical I have learned to offer this reverence and honor: I hold most firmly that none of them has made an error in writing. Thus if I encounter something in them which seems contrary to the truth, I simply think that the manuscript is incorrect, or I wonder whether the translator has discovered what the word means, or whether I have understood it at all. But I read other writers in this way: however much they abound in sanctity or teaching, I do not consider what they say true because they have judged it so, but rather because they have been able to convince me from those canonical authors, or from probable arguments, that it agrees with the truth. (Biblia cum glosa ordinaria et expositione Lyre litterali et morali [Basel: Petri & Froben, 1498], Vol. 1, “On the canonical and non-canonical books of the Bible” [translated by Michael Woodward])

We do not call ourselves Lutherans, but are so styled by our enemies, and we permit it as a token of our consent with the pure teaching of the Word which Luther set forth. We suffer ourselves to bear his name, not as of one who has invented a new faith, but of one who has restored the old, and purified the Church. (Johann Gerhard, Loci XI; quoted in Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and its Theology [Philadelphia: General Council Publication Board, 1871], p. 118)

The Evangelical Catholic is a glorious Church; it holds and conforms itself chiefly to the Sacraments. The Evangelical Reformed is a glorious Church; it holds and conforms itself chiefly to the Word of God. More glorious than both is the Evangelical Lutheran Church; it holds and conforms itself both to the Sacraments and the Word of God. Into this Lutheran Church both the others are developing, even without the intentional aid of men. But the way of the ungodly shall perish, says David (Ps. 1:6). (Claus Harms, Theses 92-95 of “Theses of Claus Harms,” Lutheran Cyclopedia [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899], p. 514)

We do not interpret God’s word by the Creed, neither do we interpret the Creed by God’s word, but interpreting both independently, by the laws of language, and finding that they teach one and the same truth, we heartily acknowledge the Confession as a true exhibition of the faith of the Rule – a true witness to the one, pure, and unchanging faith of the Christian Church, and freely make it our own Confession, as truly as if it had been now first uttered by our lips, or had now first gone forth from our hands. (Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, p. 169)

We do not claim that our Confessors were infallible. We do not say they could not fail. We only claim that they did not fail. (Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, p. 186)

The mightiest weapon which the Reformation employed against Rome was, not Rome’s errors, but Rome’s truths. It professed to make no new discoveries, to find no unheard-of interpretations; but taking the Scriptures in that very sense to which the greatest of her writers had assented, uncovering the law and the gospel of God which she retained, applying them as her most distinguished and most honored teachers had applied them – though she made them of none effect by her traditions – the Reformation took into its heart the life-stream of sixteen centuries, and came forth in the stature and strength of a Christianity, grown from infancy in the primitive ages, to the ripened manhood of that maturer period. There was no fear of truth, simply because Rome held it, and no disposition to embrace error, because it might be employed with advantage to Rome’s injury. While it established broadly and deeply the right of private judgment, it did not make that abuse of it which has since been so common. From the position, that the essential truths of the word of God are clear to any Christian mind that examines them properly, it did not leap to the conclusion, that a thousand generations or a thousand examiners were as likely, or more likely, to be wrong than one. They allowed no authority but the word of God, but they listened respectfully to the witness of believers of all time. (Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, p. 203)

The Symbols of the orthodox Church of Christ are the matured fruits of the deepest devotion, experience and learning of its greatest and wisest members in its most trying ages; and as we may practically learn much from the biographies of the good, so we may learn much more from the Spirit-moved biography of the Church and the principles and testimonies which mark her life of faith. They are the sign-posts set up by the faithful along the King’s highway of salvation to designate the places of danger to those who come after them, to warn and admonish us where we would otherwise be liable to err and miss the goal of our high calling in Christ Jesus. They are not laws to rule our faith, for the Word of God alone is such a Rule; but they are helps and tokens to enable us the more surely to find the true import of the Rule, that we may be all the more thoroughly and sincerely conformed to that Rule. They are the human tracks which the best of the saints have left, by which we may the better detect the way which God has laid out and opened for the fallen and sinful children of men to travel, that they may fill their Christian vocation and come to everlasting life. (Joseph A. Seiss, “Our Confessions in English,” Lutheran Church Review, Vol. I, No. 3 [July 1882], p. 216)

The Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord clarify, as precisely as human language allows, what the Bible teaches about God, sin, Christ, justification, church and ministry, repentance, the sacraments, free will, good works, and other articles of faith. They identify abuses in doctrine and practice, and most clearly state what Lutherans do not believe, teach, and confess. They are declarations of belief, making clear that Lutherans have convictions which are not open to question. The confessions clarify the Lutheran concern that only the Word be taught. Soon after its initial publication the Book of Concord became the standard in doctrinal confrontations with Roman Catholics and with Calvinists. Where a Lutheran position seemed unclear or uncertain, the Book of Concord became a reference point for the authentic Lutheran view. Whereas the writings of Luther, as notable as they are, reveal the insights of one man, the Book of Concord expresses of the theology for the whole Lutheran movement. (James F. Korthals, “Publication of the Book of Concord – 425th Anniversary,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 102, No. 3 [Summer 2005], pp. 227-28)

It is a real joy to be able to say, in gratitude to God, that we have invariably got the impression that they [the Missourians] are all possessed of the same spirit that prevails in the university [Concordia College and Seminary]: a heartfelt trust in God, a sincere love for the symbols [the ecumenical creeds and the Lutheran Confessions] and the doctrines of the fathers, and a belief that in them His holy Word is rightly explained and interpreted, and therefore a sacrificial, burning zeal to apply these old-Lutheran principles of doctrine and order. May the Lord graciously revive this spirit throughout the entire Lutheran church, so that those who call themselves Lutherans may no longer wrangle over questions settled by the Lutheran Confessions. May they rather show their true Lutheranism by truly believing that God’s Word is taught rightly and without error in the Lutheran Confessions. Otherwise, the Lutheran name is but duplicity and hypocrisy. The genuine, old-Lutheran spirit is upheld and disseminated with equal fidelity at the other institution of this church, the Fort Wayne Seminary... (Jakob Aall Ottesen and Nils O. Brandt, “Indberetning fra Pastorerne Ottesen og Brandt om deres Reise til St. Louis, Missouri; Columbus, Ohio; og Buffalo, New York” [1857]; in Carl S. Meyer, Pioneers Find Friends [Decorah, Iowa: Luther College Press, 1963], p. 63)

I have learned to ascribe the honor of infallibility only to those books that are accepted as canonical. I am profoundly convinced that none of these writers have erred. (Martin Luther, WA 2, 618; quoted in Willem Jan Kooiman, Luther and the Bible [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961], p. 78)

In matters of faith, which affect the nature and will of God and our salvation, we must close our eyes, ears, and other senses and listen solely and intently to what and how scripture speaks about these things. We must wrap ourselves simply in God’s Word and be directed by it. We may not attempt to follow our own insights or measure scripture by them. (Martin Luther, WA 54, 158; quoted in Kooiman, p. 229)

The knowledge of lawyers and poets comes from reason and may, in turn, be understood and grasped by reason. But what Moses and the prophets teach does not stem from reason and the wisdom of men. Therefore he who presumes to comprehend Moses and the prophets with his reason and to measure and evaluate Scripture according to its agreement with reason will get away from the Bible entirely. From the very beginning all heretics owed their rise to the notion that what they had read in Scripture they were at liberty to explain according to the teachings of reason. (Martin Luther, Sermon on Luke 2:21; quoted in What Luther Says [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959], p. 1165)

...Christ...says in Matt. 5[:15], “Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Christ allowed his hands, his feet, his sides to be touched so that the disciples might be sure that it was he, himself [John 20:27]. Why, then, should we not touch and examine the Scriptures – which are in truth the spiritual body of Christ – to make sure whether we believe in them or not? For all other writings are treacherous; they may be spirits in the air [cf. Eph. 2:2] which have no flesh or bone, as Christ had. This is my answer to those also who accuse me of rejecting all the holy teachers of the church. I do not reject them. But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they have erred, as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they give me evidence for their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred. This St. Paul bids me to do in I Thess. 5:21, where he says, “Test everything; hold fast what is good.” St. Augustine writes to St. Jerome to the same effect, “I have learned to do only those books that are called the holy Scriptures the honor of believing firmly that none of their writers has ever erred. All others I so read as not to hold what they say to be the truth unless they prove it to me by holy Scripture or clear reason.” Holy Scripture must necessarily be clearer, simpler, and more reliable than any other writings. Especially since all teachers verify their own statements through the Scriptures as clearer and more reliable writings, and desire their own writings to be confirmed and explained by them. But nobody can ever substantiate an obscure saying by one that is more obscure; therefore, necessity forces us to run to the Bible with the writings of all teachers, and to obtain there a verdict and judgment upon them. Scripture alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on earth. If that is not granted, what is Scripture good for? (Martin Luther, “Defense and Explanation of All the Articles,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 32 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958], pp. 11-12)

I have stated, that one does not ask how the saints have lived and written, but how the Scriptures indicate that we ought to live. The question is not about what has been done, but about how it is supposed to be done. The saints could err in their writings and sin in their lives, but the Scriptures cannot err, and whoever believes them cannot sin in his life. (Martin Luther, “The Misuse of the Mass,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 36 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959], p. 137)

The Word is so irreproachable that not a single iota can err in the Law or the divine promises. For that reason we must yield to no sect, not even in one tittle of Scripture, no matter how much they clamor and accuse us of violating love when we hold so strictly to the Word. (Martin Luther, “Psalm 45,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 12 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955], p. 242)

That Adam was created on the sixth day, that the animals were brought to him, that he heard the Lord giving him a command regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that the Lord sent a sleep upon him – all these facts clearly refer to time and physical life. Therefore it is necessary to understand these days as actual days, contrary to the opinion of the holy fathers. Whenever we see that the opinions of the fathers are not in agreement with Scripture, we respectfully bear with them and acknowledge them as our forefathers; but we do not on their account give up the authority of Scripture. Aristotle’s statement in the first book of his Ethics is well put and true: “Better it is to defend the truth than to be too much devoted to those who are our friends and relatives.” And this is, above all, the proper attitude for a philosopher. For although both, truth and friends, are dear to us, preference must be given to truth. If a pagan maintains that this must be the attitude in secular discourses, how much more must it be our attitude in those which involve the clear witness of Scripture, that we dare not give preference to the authority of men over that of Scripture! Human beings can err, but the Word of God is the very wisdom of God and the absolutely infallible truth. (Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 1 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958], p. 122)

After the Flood, when the ungodly descendants of Ham had suddenly increased and were filling everything with offenses, Noah, together with his son Shem and his grandsons, guided the church. This shows that the article of our creed is true when we believe one, holy, catholic church in all ages, from the beginning of the world until the end of the world. God has always preserved for Himself a people which retained the Word and would be the guardians of religion and of sound doctrine in the world, lest everything degenerate into impiety and there be no knowledge of God among men. This catalog of the fathers teaches us the principle point that God has never altogether abandoned the church, although on some occasions it was larger and on others smaller, just as also on some occasions its teaching was purer and on others more obscure. Let us sustain ourselves with this hope against the great wickedness of the world and of the opponents of the Word. So Christ also consoles us (Mt 24:22) that the days of the last time will be shortened for the sake of the godly, namely, that the church will be preserved and Antichrist will not overwhelm everything with error and falsehood. These grandsons of Shem were heirs of the promise concerning Christ, which God wanted them to conserve and defend, in order that there might be people among whom the church or the Word might be found. Nor is it possible to separate these: where the Word is, there the church is, there the Spirit is, there Christ is, and everything. (Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 11.10)

It is altogether evident, that none of the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures have been intermixed with error; no deceit has come out of them for anyone – since they have been written under the inspiration of, and brought to mind by, the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of Truth)... (The Tübingen Theologians [including Jacob Andreae], The First Reply to the First Answer of Patriarch Jeremiah [1577], in George Mastrantonis, Augsburg and Constantinople [Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982], pp. 110-11)

The witness of the entire holy Christian church (even if we had nothing else) should be enough for us to maintain this doctrine and neither to listen to nor tolerate any sectarian objections. For it is dangerous and terrible to hear or believe anything contrary to the common witness, faith, and doctrine which the entire holy Christian church has maintained from the beginning until now – for more than 1500 years throughout all the world. (Martin Luther, WA 30-III, 552; quoted in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966], pp. 334-35)

If some were to teach doctrines contradicting an article of faith clearly grounded in Scripture and believed throughout the world by all Christendom, such as the articles we teach children in the Creed – for example, if anyone were to teach that Christ is not God, but a mere man and like other prophets, as the Turks and the Anabaptists hold – such teachers should not be tolerated... For they are not mere heretics but open blasphemers... With their blasphemy such teachers defame the name of God... In like manner, ...those [should not be tolerated] who teach that Christ did not die for our sins, but that everyone shall make his own satisfaction for them. For that, too, is blasphemy against the Gospel and against the article we pray in the Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” and “in Jesus Christ, dead and risen.” Those should be treated in the same way who teach that the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting are nothing, that there is no hell, and like things, as did the Sadducees and the Epicureans, of whom many are now arising among the great wiseacres. ... We are told that when the holy fathers at the Council of Nicea heard the doctrine of the Arians read, all hissed unanimously, and would not listen or permit any argument or defense but condemned them out of hand, without disputation, as blasphemers. ... So, in this case, there ought not to be much disputing; but such open blasphemers should be condemned without a hearing and without defense, as Paul commands (Titus 3:10): “A heretic is to be avoided and let go, after he has been admonished once or twice”; and he forbids Timothy to wrangle and dispute, since this has no effect, except to pervert those who hear (1 Tim. 6:20). For these common articles of all Christendom have had hearing enough. They have been proved and decreed by the Scriptures and by the confession of the whole church, confirmed by many miracles, and sealed by the blood of many holy martyrs. They are testified to and defended in the books of all the doctors. They need no more discussion and clever interpretation. (Martin Luther, “Psalm 82,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 13 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956], pp. 61-62)

It is true, I admit, that the church in which you sit [the Papal or Roman Church] derives from the ancient church as well as we, and that you have the same baptism, the sacraments, the keys, and the text of the Bible and gospels. I will praise you even further and admit that we have received everything from the church before you (not from you). ... We do not regard you as Turks and Jews (as was said above) who are outside the church. But we say you do not remain in it but become the erring, apostate, whorelike church (as the prophets used to call it), which does not remain in the church, where it was born and brought up. You run away from this church and from your true husband and bridegroom (as Hosea says of the people of Israel [Hos. 1:2]) to the devil Baal, to Molech and Astaroth. (Martin Luther, “Against Hanswurst,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 41 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966], p. 207)

[Deuteronomy 1:]13: Choose wise men. Beasts are managed by power and skill. Men should be ruled by wisdom and understanding, since man thrives on reason, which cannot be assaulted with a rope or brandished sword but through a word directed to the ear. And when reason has been grasped through a word, the whole man is moved and led wherever you wish. Here you see that the magistrates should be chosen by the votes of the people, as reason also demands. Therefore this nation, too, is taken in charge by this means through the word of Moses, and it gladly follows and praises Moses. For to thrust government upon a people against its will is dangerous or destructive. He calls them “known” because they should be known among the people; much more, however, because they should be experienced and acquainted with affairs, so that you may understand well-known and knowledgeable to be the same. They are the wise men who understand affairs divine and human, especially those who know the statutes and laws and all that is necessary for the life of the people. (Martin Luther, “Lectures on Deuteronomy,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 9 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960], p. 18)

...it is the duty of subjects to obey. They must diligently and carefully do or leave undone what their superiors desire of them, and not allow themselves to be dragged or driven from this task, regardless of what others do. Let no man think that he is living properly or that he is doing good works, be it praying or fasting or whatever, if he does not earnestly and diligently discipline himself in this matter of obedience. But if, as often happens, the temporal power and authorities, or whatever they call themselves, would compel a subject to do something contrary to the command of God, or hinder him from doing what God commands, obedience ends and the obligation ceases. In such a case a man has to say what St. Peter said to the rulers of the Jews, “We must obey God rather than men” [Acts 5:29]. He did not say, “We must not obey men,” for that would be wrong. He said, “God rather than men.” [It is] as if a prince desired to go to war, and his cause was clearly unrighteous; we should neither follow nor help such a prince, because God had commanded us not to kill our neighbor or do him a wrong. Likewise, if the prince were to order us to bear false witness, steal, lie or deceive, and the like, [we should refuse]. In such cases we should indeed give up our property and honor, our life and limb, so that God’s commandments remain. (Martin Luther, “Treatise on Good Works,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 44 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966], p. 100)

When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us – but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people. (Martin Luther, January 19, 1538; Luther’s Works, Vol. 22, p. 202)

I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to according to which it [the suicide’s corpse] is not carried over the threshold, etc. Such persons do not die by free choice or by law, but our Lord God will dispatch them as he executes a person through a robber. Magistrates should treat them quite strictly, although it is not plain that their souls are damned. However, they are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way. (Martin Luther, Table Talk #222 [April 7, 1532], Luther’s Works, Vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967). p. 29)

There should be no trifling with those who are pregnant, but they should be the objects of special care because of the fetus. For there are countless dangers of miscarriages...and various deformities. ... They should be kept from intense strains, whether physical or emotional. For those who have no regard for pregnant women and do not spare the tender fetus become murderers and infanticides. (Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 5, p. 381)

...so-called civil law contains many things which are obviously human affections rather than natural laws. For what is more foreign to nature than slavery? ... A good man will temper civil constitutions with right and justice, that is, with both divine and natural laws. Anything that is enacted contrary to divine or natural laws cannot be just. (Philip Melanchthon, “Loci Communes” [1521], Melanchthon and Bucer [edited by Wilhelm Pauck] [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969], p. 53)

Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Ireneaus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the [First] Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation. For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. And just as the very nature of the Reformed Church emphasizes its strong opposition to the medieval church, so the very nature of the Lutheran Church requires it to go to the farthest possible limit in its insistence on its solidarity and identity with the Catholic Church. It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages, and no more was it romanticism or false conservatism which made our church anxious to retain as much of the old canonical law as possible, and to cling tenaciously to the old forms of worship. (Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1938], pp. 110-11)

...in every living church there must be room for a variety of theological thinkers, provided they are in agreement as to the dogma of the church. Thus, a difference of interest in, or emphasis on, certain points of doctrine, and even a difference of expression, could well be tolerated. Luther always felt that he and his learned friend [Melanchthon] supplemented each other. As Melanchthon had learned from him, so he had learned from Melanchthon. It has great significance for the Lutheran church that its Confessions were not written by Luther alone. As Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession, Apology, and Tractatus are happily supplemented by Luther’s Smalcald Articles and Catechisms, so even the Formula of Concord was written by disciples of Melanchthon and of Luther. This variety in expression of one and the same truth gave the Lutheran Confessions a richness which the confessions of other churches do not possess. Nothing is more significant for the Lutheran church’s independence of human authority than the fact that Luther approved of the Augsburg Confession although he clearly stated that he would have written it in a totally different way. It is the doctrine of the Gospel that matters, and not human theology. (Hermann Sasse, This is my body [revised edition] [Adelaide, South Australia: Lutheran Publishing House, 1977], p. 253)

...in the moment we set up a doctrine which the Scripture does not actually proclaim we have crossed the dividing line between theology and philosophy, and have left the sola Scriptura (the Scripture alone). That is the danger which all Bible-believing and confessionally faithful theology must again and again guard against. And for that reason we must always again and again inspect the trains of thought of also such theologians of whose orthodoxy we have no doubt. ... We all suffer from the fact that we cannot devote more time to this important task. For success depends after all on this, that we on all sides think these problems through anew and not just repeat the old formulae and slogans. ... We must all try to read the statements of the Scripture, on which we must make our decisions, afresh, and not always only in the pattern of our theological traditions. It is naturally easiest and the most comfortable thing to do: to stay with what we have always said and wait until the other party says the same thing. But that can be the correct method only if we actually are championing only God’s Word and not, in addition, our own theological tradition’s opinion. (Hermann Sasse, Letter to Frederick Noack [1 Nov. 1951], in Scripture and the Church: Selected Essays of Hermann Sasse [Saint Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1995], pp. 172-73)

It is true, brethren, as you well know, that in our day it is common for people to say, “Emphasizing doctrine so much only harms and hinders the kingdom of God, yes, even destroys it.” Many say, “Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should much rather be concerned with souls and with leading them to Christ.” But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing. As foolish as it would be to scold a farmer for being concerned about sowing good seed and to demand of him simply to be concerned about a good harvest, so foolish it is to scold those who are concerned first and foremost with the doctrine, and to demand of them that they should rather seek to rescue souls. For just as the farmer who wants a good crop must first of all be concerned about good seed, so the church must above all be concerned about right doctrine if it would save souls. (C. F. W. Walther, “Our Common Task: The Saving of Souls” [1872], Essays for the Church [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992], Vol. I)

The Book of Concord should also be in every Lutheran home. ...pastors should see to it that every home has one. ... If a person isn’t familiar with this book, he’ll think, “That old book is just for pastors. I don’t have to preach. After plowing all day, I can’t sit down and study in the evening. If I read my morning and evening devotions, that’s enough.” No, that is not enough! The Lord doesn’t want us to remain children, blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine; instead of that, He wants us to grow in knowledge so that we can teach others... (C. F. W. Walther, “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod” [1879], Essays for the Church, Vol. II, p. 51)

It must be added that unity of faith and doctrine in the Church is not a perfect and absolute one in this life; for at times controversies occur between members of the true Church through which this holy unity is torn. We therefore have to distinguish between that absolute, perfect unity, free from every form of disharmony, which is found nowhere except in the Church Triumphant, and that fundamental unity, which consists in agreement concerning the principal articles of doctrine, while with respect to a few less important points of faith (fidei capitibus) or to ceremonies which are a matter of indifference or to the interpretation of some Scripture passages controversies will arise. And this is the unity obtaining in the Church Militant; for in this Church there is never found such a definite harmony that no disagreements arise in it. “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,” 1 Cor. 13:9. ... The truly pious are not yet perfectly renewed but retain remnants of the flesh. Hence they do not arrive at an accurate and perfect knowledge of the mysteries of faith but err and waver with respect to some of them. The flesh in the regenerate still strives against the spirit, for which reason it can easily happen, especially if the temptation of the devil also enters, that, giving way to wrong, carnal ideas, they create dissensions in the Church; however, if they do not become guilty of stubbornness and if the foundation is not shaken, they are not at once cut off from the body of the Church on this account. This is proved by the examples given in Acts 11:2; Gal. 2:11; Acts 15:39. In the Corinthian church divisions had arisen, profanations of the Eucharist had crept in, there were acrimonious debates about adiaphora, some persons doubted the article of the resurrection, etc.; in spite of all this, however, Paul does not refuse to call the assembly a church, but in addressing it, he terms it still a church of God, 1 Cor. 1:2. In the church of the Galatians the article of justification had been corrupted through the adulterations of false apostles; but since the members were still open to instruction and some of them still retained the true faith, Paul still calls the Galatian congregations, churches, Gal. 1: 2. ... Hence it is certain that a total and real absolute unity cannot be hoped for in this life. And therefore not every disagreement at once dissolves union and unity in the Church. (John Gerhard, Loc. de Eccles., 5, 231; quoted in C. F. W. Walther, “The False Arguments for the Modern Theory of Open Questions” [Die falschen Stuetzen der modernen Theorie von den offenen Fragen], Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 10 [1939], No. 5, pp. 351-52 [translated by William Arndt and Alexander Guebert])

Alas, dear brethren, how often do we not get into arguments and quarrels! Therefore, when I notice that if I carry the fight out to its bitter end our whole communion will suffer as a result, then – unless God’s honor and the salvation of souls are at stake – I should say, “Let’s drop this subject. It is clear that we can’t reach any agreement. Let us not destroy our precious fraternal harmony.” Everyone must keep this in mind: When people get worked up at conferences or conventions, you must immediately ask yourself, “Where will this end?” Then the officials have to say, “This will never do; there will be no further discussion of this subject, because it is not only a matter of someone’s feelings getting hurt, but the devil is trying to rob Synod of its precious possession.” When someone has gone too far but says, “Dear brother, I didn’t intend to be so mean,” I should immediately forgive him. But if I would respond, “Do you realize the full enormity of your conduct? Do you really repent of what you’ve done?” then I am being too legalistic (da wird die Goldwage genommen). That is wrong. We should not do that unless the offender has clearly demonstrated that he is a hardened and unrepentant sinner. In that case we must firmly inform him, “If you do not repent of your sin, you are lost.” ... Two men in a Synod/District may disagree about something, and that disagreement can easily become a fire that inflames the entire Synod/District, for both of them then often try to gather support for their own position. We cannot prevent bitter thoughts from arising. Unfortunately our hearts are such touchy tinder that such sparks can immediately start a fire; but we should immediately get water and put it out. ... As important as it is to be concerned with purity of doctrine, we dare not become irrational about it. If a member of a communion says something that is not correct, we must avoid attacking him immediately as a heretic. ... Very sternly the apostle Paul writes, “Let there be no divisions among you!” [1 Cor. 1:10], and then he sharply rebukes [the Corinthians] because there already were divisions among them, and he adds, “Those who make divisions are carnal” [1 Cor. 3:3]. Let us take that to heart! Let us watch and pray that no unnecessary disputes will ever arise and be fostered, and that no one will go public in uncertain matters until he has informed others about it, so that, whenever possible, the fire can be quenched. ... Only when God’s glory or the salvation of souls are clearly at stake, then we must engage in battle, even if it means the destruction of a synod that previously enjoyed God’s blessing. What does God care about a synod, when the saving truth hangs in the balance? When it comes to insignificant matters that have nothing to do with the salvation of immortal souls, we should never get involved in a serious dispute. But if someone who is always itching for a fight starts one, we must firmly put such a fellow in his place. Appropriate is 2 Tim. 2:14: “...warn them before God against quarreling about words.” A person may express an idea in a way that is completely wrong, even though he intended to say the right thing. That is why Gerhard writes: “It is wicked to interpret a poor choice of words as error, when you know that the right meaning was intended” (Locus on Good Works, sec. 38). Let us avoid ever doing that in this District! When someone makes “a poor choice of words,” we should avoid immediately labeling him as either a heretic or a false teacher. If necessary, we should instead correct him gently. (C. F. W. Walther, “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” Essays for the Church [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992], Vol. II, pp. 57-59)

The church depends upon the faithful use of this Word both for gathering people into its fold, and for edifying them in the Gospel of Christ. Other means for the accomplishing of these purposes may seem more popular. But nothing can take the place of the Bible, inasmuch as it alone presents the Lord Jesus and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is the only effective instrument in reaching and regenerating human souls. (A. A. Zinck, What a Church Member Should Know [Philadelphia: United Lutheran Publication House, 1937], p. 20)

It is not only the European churches bearing the Lutheran name which are so under the spell of Barthian theology that they imagine, the only way to ensconce themselves against the threats of a resurgent Rome is to unite so-called Evangelicals; that spirit of surrendering the sola Scriptura of a Luther and his fellow reformers is making itself felt throughout large sections of American Lutheranism. And what is at the root of it all? May it not be that there has been too little study of Martin Luther in our seminaries of late, too little searching of that monument to the Christian faith, the Book of Concord? ... What was it that made a Walther the tower of strength which he became in our American Lutheran Zion? Walther was an assiduous student of Luther, even as a Luther had been but an humble follower of Paul. Yes, we hear ever so often, even within our Synodical Conference: “Let us forget the fathers, and get back to Scripture.” Again that may sound very pious and praiseworthy. But what if Scripture, to which they appeal, has something to say about those fathers who have spoken unto us the word of God? Can we then do as we please about what they have spoken? Not unless we want to violate this injunction of the Word itself. And this is what Holy Writ enjoins upon us all: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” Heb. 13, 7. ... Is it isolationism to hold aloof from those whom God Himself has admonished not to fraternize? Is it narrow legalism to be bound to the clear-cut statements of our Lutheran Confessions? A Niemoeller may tell us that “God is not bound by any such confessions.” But God is bound by His Word. And until it be shown that the Confessions to which we stand pledged are not a proper exposition of that Word, let us not be over-troubled by those who accuse us of sixteenth century confessionalism. Let us continue to ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein. (Norman A. Madson, “The Crying Need of our Beloved Conference” [sermon preached at the 75th Anniversary gathering of the Synodical Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 10, 1948], in Preaching to Preachers [Mankato, Minnesota: Lutheran Synod Book Company, 1952], p. 203)

We esteem the fathers highly, far higher than ourselves as far more learned and more devout than we are. Therefore, we want to use them, particularly Luther, as guides to Scripture, and to test their doctrines a hundred times before we reject them. But authorities equal to Scripture or opposed to Scripture they may never become for us, or we shall be practicing idolatry. (August Pieper, “Foreword to Volume 10” [of the Quartalschrift] [translated by Philemon Hensel], in The Wauwatosa Theology [edited by Curtis Jahn] [Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997], Vol. I, p 117)

The Lutheran Church has never despised or even disregarded the traditions that have come down from the ancient fathers of the Church. What has been preserved by the teachings and doings of Christian men from the apostles’ time down to the present day is precious. The light which it gives in regard to the faith and the labors of love which the Holy Spirit wrought in other days, the lives which were rendered luminous by rays from heaven – as others were rendered dark by obscuring blackness from hell, in its rage against the Anointed of the Lord – the Church is not willing to forget. She desires to learn the lessons of history and rejoices in her fellowship with men of God who lived and suffered in the same glorious cause in which she is still engaged with the same assurance of faith which made believers strong in other days. But she knows that some professed to be Christians who were not such, and that Christians could err in the past as in the present, and therefore she applies to the Christians of other times the same unerring rule that she applies now, and holds fast as God’s truth only what is declared in God’s Word. (Matthias Loy, The Augsburg Confession [Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern, 1908], p. 179)

The Lutheran Reformation was no revolutionary movement. It looked with disfavor upon all novelties. It did not break with tradition, except where tradition broke with Scripture. (Henry Eyster Jacobs)

I am a Christian, profoundly committed to the Confession of Augsburg in which my parents reared me. And I am also committed to it as a result of my constantly renewed and considered reflections, and of a daily struggle against every sort of temptation. (Paul Gerhardt)

...“Lutherans have far more in common with Romanists than with Calvinists.” ... This famous dictum of [Polykarp] Leyser was the common opinion of orthodox Lutherans during the lengthy conflict with the Reformed in the early seventeenth century. (Gaylin R. Schmeling, “Polykarp Leyser (1552-1610): A Theological Bridge Between Chemnitz and Gerhard,” Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. 50, Nos. 2-3 [June-September 2010], p. 197)

A very strong tendency toward sectarianism and even secularization is found in the increasing number of special days that are celebrated, at least with a special “program” in the Sunday-school, if not with a similar perversion of the regular service in the church itself. We have with us to-day Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day, Rally Day, Father-and-son Day, Decision Day, Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, Roosevelt’s Birthday, Armistice Day, and a host of others, and apparently the end is not yet. “All these,” Rev. F. R. Webber says (Lutheran Church Art, November, 1928), “are anthropocentric. We have a church-year that is highly Christocentric. Any so-called Lutheran who sets aside the old church-year and out of desire to ape the sects indulges in the sloppy sentimentalism of the sectarian, Christless world-year is a traitor to the Word of God. What warrant have we to observe festivals, ferias, and fasts in honor of people?” The stricture, though severe, is well taken and well worthy of serious deliberation. (Paul E. Kretzmann, Magazin für evang.-luth. Homiletik und Pastoraitheologie [June 1929], pp. 218)

It is a bad sign when those who mean the same thing use different words. Let us be satisfied with the form of creed which we have hitherto used. (St. Jerome, Letter 15 [to Pope Damasus])

Our prayers should be shaped by the richness of God’s Word, not the poverty of our own hearts. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

...the doctrine of law and gospel, as the twofold form of the word of God, stands at the heart of Luther’s entire system and provides the structural framework for his doctrine of justification. ... The duality of law and grace has a good biblical foundation, especially in Paul. The law-gospel dialectic, proposed in an unacceptable form by Marcion, is detectable in certain passages of Origen and Augustine. Medieval scholastics such as Robert of Melun and Thomas Aquinas, in their treatises on the relationship of the old law to the new, foreshadowed some of Luther’s insights. Thus the law-gospel contrast...has a Catholic past. Nevertheless it was not thematically taken up by Trent, nor has it been in modern Catholic systematics. Walter Kasper regards it as regrettable that law and gospel never became a major theme in Catholic theology. (Avery Dulles, “Justification in Contemporary Catholic Theology,” Justification by Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985], pp. 275-76)

...to the Catholic, the church is central to the act of faith itself: only by communal belief do I partake of the certainty on which I can base my life. This corresponds to the Catholic view that church and Scripture are inseparable while, in Luther, Scripture becomes an independent measure of church and tradition. ... The unity of Scripture which had hitherto been interpreted as a unity of steps toward salvation, as a unity of analogy, is now replaced with the dialectic of Law and Gospel. ... I would say that the dialectic of Law and Gospel expresses most poignantly Luther’s new experience and that it illustrates most concisely the contradiction with the Catholic concepts of faith, salvation, Scripture, and church. (“Luther and the Unity of the Churches: An Interview with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,” Communio, Vol. 11, No. 3 [1984], pp. 219-20)

The God of Isaiah and Ezekiel is the God of Jesus: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name – a God who always remains distant in some way, whose name, whose essence is sacred, holy, set apart from any reality we can comprehend. The God of the Bible is the God of the liturgy. He is different, other. Fortunately, God is this and more. ... Like most people, I’m desperate for intimacy with God, so my instinct is to glom onto prayers and songs that make God seem close. But when I begin here, I am tempted to identify God with the warm feelings such prayers and songs generate. I sing a “worshipful” song, and I get “worshipful” feelings – and I assume that’s God. Do this habitually, thoughtlessly, prayerlessly, and it’s easy to end up with a relationship with a glorified self. But the liturgy puts a brake on narcissism right up front. When we are forcefully reminded that we are not worshiping an idealized form of the self, but a God “in heaven,” a “holy” God, a genuine Other. At that very moment, intimacy with God becomes possible. The possibility of mistaking God for the self has been taken off the table. Now a human self and the Divine Self – utterly unlike each other – begin to relate to each other. Union can come of these two. (Mark Galli, Beyond Smells & Bells [Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2008], pp. 42-43)

Luther’s main intention was to go back to the New Testament, to revive the sense of the God of the Bible, the living God, the Creator and the Sovereign. He recovers the primitive concept of salvation as a drama, a battle between God and the evil powers of sin and death which have usurped God’s sovereignty over the world... Lutheran theology was indeed a re-establishment of the basic Biblical and Patristic elements in this drama. His concern for the catholic tradition of the church was obvious, and the Augsburg Confession itself claims to be nothing else than a reestablishment of the ancient apostolic faith liberated from all human philosophical systems. (John Meyendorff, Catholicity and the Church [Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press], pp. 68-69)

Many Romanists have alleged that Martin Luther took liberty with Scripture, adding the word “alone” when he translated Romans 3:28 into German, to read “...a man is justified by faith alone.” However, recent study done on the Irish Würzburg Glosses revealed that this is not a novel innovation by Luther. Codex Paulinus Wirziburgensis is now kept in the university library of Würzburg, Germany. It was the work of Irish scribes circa A.D. 800 and consists of the Latin text of the Pauline epistles (plus Hebrews). What is remarkable about this manuscript is that there are thousands of old Irish glosses in the margins and between the lines. These glosses provide explanations and applications of the text from Patristic sources. Intriguingly, for the Latin text of Romans 3, the Irish scribe added the gloss, in Latin, “by faith alone” (per fidem solam) over verse 24, “justified freely by his grace” (Iustificati gratis per gratiam ipsius), and then expanded it with a Gaelic gloss relating this justification by faith alone to faith in Christ. This 8th century Irish theologian interpreted Romans 3:24 as teaching justification per fidem solam. Luther, apparently, was not alone in his interpretation of Paul’s writing. (Martin Yee, http://lutherantheologystudygroup.blogspot.com/2013/03/luther-is-not-alone-justification-by.html)

If there’s anything Lutheran that’s not Christian, I don’t want to be a Lutheran. (C. F. W. Walther)

The Lutheran Church is a Church of theologians, and has the most learning and the finest hymns. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 7, p. 26)

The mysteries of God are to be adored, not investigated. (Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes, 1521)

Be thou comforted, little dog. Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail. (Martin Luther)

I just received a letter from [Justus] Jonas. He wrote that a dog had defecated into the grave of the bishop of Halle. I believe it's fatal, for it has also happened to others before. Once when there was a procession with banners around a church, the verger put the holy water pot on the ground. A dog came along and urinated into the holy water pot. A priest noticed this because he was sprinkling the water, and he said, "You impious dog! Have you become a Lutheran too?" (Martin Luther, Table Talk #5418 [1542] [translated by Wade Johnston; translation slightly revised])

We don't say 'back to Luther'; we say 'forward to Luther!' Luther is so far ahead of us that we haven't even caught up to him yet. (Ulrich Asendorf)

In one case Luther is known to have issued a letter of recommendation for an Ethiopian deacon Michael. The intention is apparently to make it possible for Michael to receive the sacrament; the similarity between the outward forms of the Lutheran and Ethiopian eucharistic liturgy being stressed. Michael was said to have accepted all our articles of faith, “omnibus nostris articulis.” (Tom G. A. Hardt, “The Confessional Principle: Church fellowship in the Ancient and in the Lutheran Church”)

I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity. (C. S. Lewis)

Christianity..., if false, is of no importance; and, if true, [is] of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important. (C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock)

I never understood why it should be considered more courageous to despair than to hope. It takes courage to hope; it doesn't take courage to despair. Freud said that religious faith is the illusion - the comforting illusion - that there is a father figure. But a religious believer could say to Freud that atheism is the comforting illusion that there is no father figure and you can get away with whatever you feel like doing. So I don't know why atheism is somehow considered more heroic than theism; I call that an adolescent dream. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

The goal of the principal service of the church has always been the celebration of the Communion or Lord's Supper. The observance of the Lord's Supper was the core; the parts of the service before and after always stood in relation to it. This is the case in the Eastern churches, in the Roman Church, and also in the Evangelical Church. A principal service without the celebration of the Lord's Supper was not considered complete; it looked like a column in ruins, like a flower stem without its crown. (Wilhelm Loehe, "Vorwort," Sammlung liturgischer Formulare der evangelish-lutherischen Kirche, vol. 3 [1842])

Return to the Lutheran Theology Web Site Home Page