Are the Lutheran Confessions a Practical Document Today?



Are the Lutheran Confessions a practical document today? This is the question that has been posed for the purposes of this paper, and this is the question that we will seek to answer. However, before we reach any conclusions about whether or not the Confessions are “practical,” we must first be clear on the question of what the Confessions are.

First, the Lutheran Confessions are sound Biblical exegesis. The Formula of Concord states very plainly

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 appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And St. Paul says in Gal. 1:8, “Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (FC Ep R&N:1, p. 4641)

The Fathers and Reformers firmly believed in the unique authority of Holy Scripture for the faith and life of the church. They accepted St. Paul’s declaration that the Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” and that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:15-17 NKJV) As referenced in the Augsburg Confession, St. Augustine, for example, taught “that one should not obey even regularly elected bishops if they err or if they teach or command something contrary to the divine Holy Scriptures.” (AC XXVIII:28 [G], p. 85)2

In keeping with this principle, those who composed the various Confessional documents were always very conscious of the fact that what they were doing was providing for the church a faithful statement and exposition of Holy Scripture, in response to Gnosticism, Arianism, Pneumatomachianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Romanism, Zwinglianism, Calvinism, or whatever else might have been threatening the apostolic and Biblical Gospel. The Lutherans at the Diet of Augsburg declare that they are offering and presenting “a confession of our pastors’ and preachers’ teaching and of our own faith, setting forth how and in what manner, on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, these things are preached, taught, communicated, and embraced...” (AC Pref.:8, p. 25) The authors of the Formula of Concord echo this thought when they reaffirm their adherence “to the first, unaltered Augsburg our symbol in this epoch, not because this confession was prepared by our theologians but because it is taken from the Word of God and solidly and well grounded therein.” (FC SD R&N:5, p. 504) The same is true of all the other Symbols in the Book of Concord. Their only claim to authority is based on their claim to having faithfully reproduced the teaching of the Bible. As Lyle W. Lange expresses it,

We subscribe to them because they accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture. They are relevant today because they reflect the unchanging and ever timely word of God.3

While the Lutheran Church’s confessional obligation “does not extend to historical statements, ‘purely exegetical questions,’ and other matters not belonging to the doctrinal content of the symbols,” nevertheless, “All doctrines of the Symbols are based on clear statements of Scripture.”4 Consequently, the authority of the Book of Concord, as “a confession of the doctrines of Scripture over against those who deny these doctrines,”5 rises or falls with the authority of Holy Scripture itself. In the words of Charles Porterfield Krauth, “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.”6 And as Joseph A. Seiss aptly remarks, “We do not believe in the Symbols; we only believe with them, and that for no other reason than that we are persuaded that they do fairly and truly grasp and declare what, on adequate examination, is found to be the true sense, intent and meaning of God’s holy Word on the points presented in them.”7


Second, the Lutheran Confessions are preeminent examples of the faithful ministry of some of the most important pastors and teachers in Christian history. St. Paul writes that Christ himself

gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints[,] for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ... (Eph. 4:11-15 NKJV)

The apostles and prophets clearly have a special status in the history of the church. Their teaching was supernaturally guided and preserved from error by the Holy Spirit in a unique way, and through the Holy Scriptures, which they penned by divine inspiration, they continue to carry out their unique calling as the foundational teachers in the Christian church. “Pastors and teachers” are, however, also a part of the divinely-instituted Ministry, and when they faithfully carry out their calling they also do so with divine assistance and with divine authority. To the extent that a pastor accurately reflects and conveys the doctrine of the apostles and prophets in his own teaching, then to that extent his teaching is also apostolic and prophetic. As Krauth puts it,

Our English translation of the Bible is a human explanation of a certain humanly transcribed, humanly printed text, the original; which original alone, just as the sacred penmen left it, is absolutely in every jot and tittle God’s Word; but just in proportion as our translation is based upon a pure text of the Hebrew and Greek, and correctly explains the meaning of such an original, it too, is God’s Word. Our sermons are human explanations of God’s Word, but so far as they explain it correctly, they do set forth God’s Word, and he who hears us, hears our Lord. Our Confession is a human explanation of God’s Word, but so far as it correctly explains it, it sets forth God’s Word.8

St. Paul certainly envisions the continuation of such a teaching office beyond his own lifetime and even to the end of the age, to instruct and guide and console and protect God’s people with God’s Word. The Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church were written by men who held this office, and who fulfilled its duties faithfully. To honor these books is therefore to honor the God-given and God-pleasing ministry of those who wrote them. We do not show special honor to the divinely-given ministry of apostles and prophets by disparaging the divinely-given ministry of pastors and teachers. Rather, we show proper honor to all that God gives to his church by honoring all such ministries precisely in accordance with how God defines them and in accordance with the purposes for which he has given them. In regard to the pastors and teachers who are currently governing the church with God’s Word, the New Testament directs us to “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.” (Heb. 13:17 NASB) In the same context, the New Testament gives us a similar directive regarding faithful ministers of the Word from the past, who are no longer with us in this earthly life:

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings... (Heb. 13:7-9 NASB)

The apostles and prophets are infallible. Those who have been and are called to be pastors and teachers, including the Fathers and Reformers who wrote our Creeds, are not infallible. But as Krauth points out,

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.9

The Confessions are certainly not the same as the Scriptures, just as pastors and teachers are not the same as the apostles and prophets. But if the Confessions accurately reflect and convey the Biblical doctrine, then we are able to recognize that they flow ultimately from God, under divine providence, through the divine vocation of the Fathers and Reformers who produced them at critical times in the church’s history. Krauth again explains

that correct human explanations of Scripture doctrine are Scripture doctrine, for they are simply the statement of the same truth in different words. These words are not in themselves as clear and good as the Scripture terms, but as those who use them can absolutely fix the sense of their own phraseology by a direct and infallible testimony, the human words may more perfectly exclude heresy than the divine words do. ... There is no personal Christianity in the world which is not the result of a human explanation of the Bible as really as the Confession of our Church is. It is human because it is in human minds, and human hearts, -- it is not a source to which we can finally and absolutely appeal as we can to God’s word. But in exact proportion as the word of God opened to the soul by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, is truly and correctly apprehended, just in that proportion is the “human explanation” coincident with the divine truth. I explain God’s truth, and if I explain it correctly, my explanation is God’s truth, and to reject the one in unbelief, is to reject the other.10

The Reformers in the sixteenth century looked back on the earlier history of the Christian church in this way. They honored God by honoring, referring to, quoting from, and identifying with the men who had so obviously been used by God in history to preach and teach his Word. In their endorsement of the three ancient Creeds, the Concordists declare:

Immediately after the time of the apostles -- in fact, already during their lifetime -- false teachers and heretics invaded the church. Against these the ancient church formulated symbols (that is, brief and explicit confessions) which were accepted as the unanimous, catholic, Christian faith and confessions of the orthodox and true church, namely, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. We pledge ourselves to these, and we hereby reject all heresies and teachings which have been introduced into the church of God contrary to them. (FC Ep R&N:3, p. 465)

The marks of the church are discernible in history, revealing the presence of God’s people and of their faithful shepherds on the timeline of human existence. The Reformers, as students of the history of the church, are thereby able to “hear” the powerful voice of Christ, not only in the preaching and teaching of the apostles, but also in the preaching and teaching of the ancient orthodox Fathers: order to keep the Gospel among men, he visibly pits the witness of the saints against the rule of the devil; in our weakness he displays his strength. The dangers, labors, and sermons of the apostle Paul, Athanasius, Augustine, and other teachers of the church are holy works, true sacrifices acceptable to God, battles by which Christ restrained the devil and drove him away from the believers. (Ap IV:189-90, p. 133)

Regarding the article on justification, Philip Melanchthon is able to say: “We know that what we have said agrees with the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, with the holy Fathers Ambrose, Augustine, and many others, and with the whole church of Christ, which certainly confesses that Christ is the propitiator and the justifier.” (Ap IV:389, p. 166) In regard to another important article of faith, Melanchthon states that “we teach nothing about original sin that is contrary to the Scripture or the church catholic, but we have cleansed and brought to light important teachings of the Scriptures and the Fathers that had been obscured by the sophistic arguments of modern theologians.” (Ap II:32, p. 104) It is clear to the Reformers that God had preserved his church, and the testimony of his Word within his church, even in more recent centuries. Martin Luther writes: “...God has confirmed Baptism through the gift of his Holy Spirit, as we have perceived in some of the fathers, such as St. Bernard, [John] Gerson, John Hus, and others...” (LC IV:50, p. 443) The second-generation Lutheran Confessors look back on the first-generation Lutheran Confessors with a similar attitude. For example, the authors of the Formula of Concord believe that “By a special grace our merciful God has in these last days brought to light the truth of his Word amid the abominable darkness of the papacy through the faithful ministry of that illustrious man of God, Dr. Luther.” (FC SD R&N:5, p. 504) The Concordists themselves, while less pretentious concerning their own importance, nevertheless know that what they are doing they are doing according to the divine authority of their divine office: “As far as our ministry is concerned, we do not propose to look on idly or stand by silently while something contrary to the Augsburg Confession is imported into our churches and schools in which the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed us teachers and shepherds.” (FC SD XII:6, p. 633) And finally, the perspective of people like us, who live and serve in post-Reformation times, but who live and serve in a Reformation-minded church, is summarized well by Seiss:

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.11

Krauth recognizes that the Reformers “may have made mistakes, and nothing but mistakes; they may have known nothing, and we may know every thing; but we have seen no evidence that such is the case, and until it be brought before us, we must beg indulgence for our skepticism.”12 In the last century Charles F. Schaeffer also posed some crucial questions that are just as applicable to our time as they were to his:

Have we really made such progress in the discovery of truth since the era of the Reformation, that we understand the Scriptures more thoroughly than those who framed the Symbolical Books? When Luther and his associates were prepared to surrender their lives, but not the doctrines of the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Schmalkald Articles, and the Catechism, had these men of faith and prayer discovered treasures of divine truth of less extent and less value than we possess in modern times? When the Elector Augustus with holy fervor prayed to God that the authors of the Concord-Formula might be guided by the Divine Spirit in the preparation of that admirable work, was his prayer for the illumination of the Spirit less efficacious than modern prayers are? If the writers of the Symbols were unworthy of regard, or are erroneous in their exhibition of truth, who are the men that are more competent to unfold the Scriptural doctrine? What palliating features have they discovered in man’s corruption, in more recent times? What useful changes do they suggest in the doctrine of the atonement? What improvement do they propose in our old doctrine of justification by faith? What more ready access to the throne of grace have they discovered? Are we wiser, more holy, richer in divine grace, more useful through the inspiration of the “spirit of the times” than our pious fathers were? We are weary of the superior intelligence of the Nineteenth Century in matters of Christian faith.13


Third, the Lutheran Confessions are in fact the received public confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Through them Lutherans fulfill, in large measure, the obligation we have under Christ always to “be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15 NKJV), and “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3 NKJV). At the conclusion of the Augsburg Confession, the Lutherans declare:

Certainly we should not wish to put our own souls and consciences in grave peril before God by misusing his name or Word, nor should we wish to bequeath to our children and posterity any other teaching than that which agrees with the pure Word of God and Christian truth. Since this teaching is grounded clearly on the Holy Scriptures and is not contrary or opposed to that of the universal Christian church, or even of the Roman church (in so far as the latter’s teaching is reflected in the writings of the Fathers), we think that our opponents cannot disagree with us in the articles set forth above. Therefore, those who presume to reject, avoid, and separate from our churches as if our teaching were heretical, act in an unkind and hasty fashion, contrary to all Christian unity and love, and do so without any solid basis of divine command or Scripture. (AC epilog to XXI, 1 [G], pp. 47-48)

In continuity with this conviction, the writers of the Formula of Concord

again whole-heartedly subscribe this Christian and thoroughly scriptural Augsburg Confession, and we abide by the plain, clear, and pure meaning of its words. We consider this Confession a genuinely Christian symbol which all true Christians ought to accept next to the Word of God, just as in ancient times Christian symbols and confessions were formulated in the church of God when great controversies broke out, and orthodox teachers and hearers pledged themselves to these symbols with heart and mouth. Similarly we are determined by the grace of the Almighty to abide until our end by this repeatedly cited Christian Confession as it was delivered to Emperor Charles in 1530. And we do not intend, either in this or subsequent doctrinal statements, to depart from the aforementioned Confession or to set up a different and new confession. (FC SD Intro.:4-5, p. 502)

At the conclusion of the Formula of Concord (which sets forth and includes all the Symbols in the Book of Concord), its authors declare with all seriousness and solemnity:

Therefore, in the presence of God and of all Christendom among both our contemporaries and our posterity, we wish to have testified that the present explanation of all the foregoing controverted articles here explained, and none other, is our teaching, belief, and confession in which by God’s grace we shall appear with intrepid hearts before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ and for which we shall give an account. Nor shall we speak or write anything, privately or publicly, contrary to this confession, but we intend through God’s grace to abide by it. (FC SD XII:40, p. 636)

And orthodox Lutheran churches to the present time are not ashamed to confess the same Biblical faith, through the same Confessions. Harold Wicke speaks for the Wisconsin Synod, but not only for the Wisconsin Synod:

On June 25, 1580, the Book of Concord was officially published in Dresden, Germany, and presented to the world as the doctrinal position of the Lutheran Church. ... Today our churches still accept this book as their confession of faith. Thus the constitution of our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod states: “The Synod also accepts the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church embodied in the Book of Concord of 1580, not insofar as, but because they are a correct presentation and exposition of the pure doctrine of the word of God.” Our individual congregations have a similar article in their constitutions. Our pastors and teachers also pledge to preach and teach in accordance with these confessions. ... Though these confessions were all written in Germany, they are not German. Though they were written by Lutherans, they are not sectarian. Though they were gathered together centuries ago, they are not obsolete. If you want to believe the gospel, these are the confessions you will want to stand by. It is our conviction that the Book of Concord meets the needs of the church. This is so because it is a positive statement of what the church of God believes according to the Scripture, a rejection of those teachings which do not agree with Scripture, an accurate statement of what we must abide by when asked to give an account, a simple statement of Scripture truth to be taught our children, a clear statement of what we as pastors, teachers, and parents should preach and teach, and a faithful exposition of the word in such a way that schisms and compromises are prevented. These confessions -- from the Apostles’ Creed to the Formula of Concord -- are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Jesus Christ is their cornerstone.14

Krauth also writes:

The basis of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the Word of God, as the perfect and absolute Rule of Faith, and because this is her basis, she rests of necessity on the faith of which that Word is the Rule, and therefore on the Confessions which purely set forth that faith. She has the right rule, she reaches the right results by that rule, and rightly confesses them. This Confession then is her immediate basis, her essential characteristic, with which she stands or falls. The Unaltered Augsburg Confession and its Apology, the Catechisms and Schmalcald Articles, and the Formula of Concord, have been formally declared by an immense majority of the Lutheran Church as their Confession of Faith. The portion of the Church, with few and inconsiderable exceptions, which has not received them formally, has received them virtually. They are closely cohering and internally consistent statements and developments of one and the same system, so that a man who heartily and intelligently receives any one of the distinctively Lutheran Symbols, has no difficulty in accepting the doctrine of the whole. They fairly represent the faith of the Church, and simply and solely as so representing it are they named in the statement of the basis of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. ... The propositions we have just advanced, no Lutheran, in the historical sense of the word, can deny; for the man who would deny it, would, in virtue of that denial, prove that he is not in the historical sense Lutheran; for he, and he only, is such who believes that the doctrine of the gospel is rightly taught in the Augsburg Confession.15

Krauth here touches on the old question of whether a genuine Confessional subscription must of necessity include the entire Book of Concord, or if (as in the Danish-Norwegian tradition) formal subscription can be made only to the three ancient Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, and the Small Catechism. In reality, a sincere and thoughtful subscription to the chief Symbols is a subscription to the theology of all the Symbols. On this basis the Norwegian Synod was admitted to membership in the old Synodical Conference in nineteenth-century America. Its constitution bound it formally only to the Creeds, the Augustana, and the Small Catechism. But the Creeds, the Augustana, and the Small Catechism correctly understood are, for all practical purposes, the whole Book of Concord. At any rate, the fathers of the Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio Synods certainly saw it that way when they embraced the Norwegians confessionally and organizationally in 1872. When the Norwegian Synod, several years later, successfully resisted and overcame a destructive attack on one of the chief elements of its doctrinal basis -- Confessionally embodied most thoroughly in Article XI of the Formula of Concord, to which the Synod had not formally subscribed -- the soundness of this decision was most gratifyingly demonstrated.16

As Henry E. Jacobs expresses it, “The unity of the Church does not consist in subscription to the same Confessions, but in the acceptance and teaching of the same doctrines.”17 This does not mean, however, that any particular group of Lutherans today may, if they see fit, dispense with the historic Confessions of their church and replace them with what they consider to be better or equally good Confessions -- attempting all along, of course, to preserve the doctrine of the old Symbols.18 First of all, it is highly unlikely that any collection of Lutherans in our time would in actuality be able to improve on or match the wisdom, insight, and skill of the extraordinarily gifted Doctors of the Church who wrote the Confessions that have been passed down to us. And second, it would be very difficult if not impossible to protect such a project from the arrogant and sectarian spirit that would so easily and naturally lurk behind an idea of this kind. The Confessions of the Lutheran Church are not our personal “property,” to be tinkered with at will. They are, as it were, the “property” of the entire church, and those who are alive at any given time in Lutheran history are really just the stewards and temporary custodians of this noble legacy. As Wilhelm W. Petersen writes, it is important for Lutherans to be acquainted with the historic Lutheran Confessions

because the Confessions are a correct exposition, or interpretation, of the Bible and it is in our Confessions where we as a Lutheran Church publicly confess our faith before the world and confidently declare: “This we believe, teach, and confess.” They are also the banner under which we march and by which we identify one another as brethren. I believe that it is fair to say that if it were not for our Confessions the Lutheran Reformation would not have gotten off the ground and, consequently, there would be no Lutheran Church today. It is also fair to say that if we depart from our Confessions, as many have, the time may come when there will be no true Lutheran Church.19

Also, the true loyalty of the Lutheran Church to its distinctive Confessions has little if anything to do with the supposed “German-ness” of either or both. As Wicke points out, “Though these confessions were all written in Germany, they are not German.” The Latin Church did not consider the Nicene Creed to be unimportant simply because it had been produced by Greeks. German Christians did not ignore the Athanasian Creed simply because it had arisen among Gallic Christians. The Danish and Norwegian Lutherans did not consider the Small Catechism to be someone else’s catechism simply because it had been written by a German. The Swedish Lutherans did not refuse ultimately to adopt the Augsburg Confession simply because Sweden was not a part of the Holy Roman Empire. And the Slovak Lutherans did not refrain from embracing the entire Book of Concord simply because it had been compiled in the context of theological struggles among Germans. To dwell a bit longer on this example, the Slovak Lutherans as a group, unlike many of the ethnic Germans who lived among them, had little sympathy with the “mediating” theology of the Philippists. They wanted to make a clear confession of their faith, over against both Rome and the Reformed. As David P. Daniel notes,

After 1580, attempts to have the Formula of Concord accepted as the normative statement of Lutheran theology for the Lutherans of Slovakia resulted in a generation of debate. On the one hand, many German Lutherans of the central and eastern cities of Slovakia were reluctant to accept the very precise doctrinal definitions which had been incorporated into the Formula of Concord and accepted by the orthodox Lutherans in Germany. On the other hand, the clergy of Slovak ancestry, often supported by the leading magnates of Slovakia, and seeking a greater voice in the administration of the Church in which Slovaks were now numerically the majority, became the ardent advocates of the Formula.20

Lutherans in Slovakia and elsewhere in the Slavic world have traditionally identified themselves as the “Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession.” As is self-evident, they took “ownership” of that Confession, originally brought to them from Germany, just as much as the new converts in the Grand Principality of Kyiv, at the time of St. Volodymyr, took “ownership” of the Nicene Creed that was brought to them from Byzantium.

The battles and victories chronicled in the Book of Concord are not, at the deepest level, the battles and victories of Germans, or of Gauls, or of Greeks. They are the battles and victories of God, fought and won not for the benefit of one or another ethnic group, but for the benefit of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. We should never think that there is anything “ethnic” about believing

that the three ecumenical creeds, the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian, as well as the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580 give expression to the true doctrine of Scripture. Since the doctrines they confess are drawn from Scripture alone, we feel ourselves bound to them in our faith and life. Therefore all preaching and teaching in our churches and schools must be in harmony with these confessions. ... We reject every effort to reduce the confessions contained in the Book of Concord to historical documents that have only relative confessional significance for the church today.21

Those who suppose that the Lutheran Confessions have little bearing on the theological controversies of our time either do not know what is really going on in modern Christendom, or they do not know what is really contained in the Book of Concord, or both. Although the Book of Concord was published over 400 years ago, its teachings and explanations are demonstrably applicable to many doctrinal issues that are all too contemporary.

When Pentecostals and Charismatics make their extraordinary claims, the Lutheran Church confesses:

On the one hand, it is true that both the preacher’s planting and watering and the hearer’s running and willing would be in vain, and no conversion would follow, if there were not added the power and operation of the Holy Spirit, who through the Word preached and heard illuminates and converts hearts so that men believe this Word and give their assent to it. On the other hand, neither the preacher nor the hearer should question this grace and operation of the Holy Spirit, but should be certain that, when the Word of God is preached, pure and unalloyed according to God’s command and will, and when the people diligently and earnestly listen to and meditate on it, God is certainly present with his grace and gives what man is unable by his own powers to take or to give. We should not and cannot pass judgment on the Holy Spirit’s presence, operations, and gifts merely on the basis of our feeling, how and when we perceive it in our hearts. On the contrary, because the Holy Spirit’s activity often is hidden, and happens under cover of great weakness, we should be certain, because of and on the basis of his promise, that the Word which is heard and preached is an office and work of the Holy Spirit, whereby he assuredly is potent and active in our hearts (II Cor. 2:14 ff.). (FC SD II:55-56, pp. 531-32)

When promoters of the so-called “Church Growth Movement” assert that the Divine Service should be redesigned to serve the purposes of “entertainment evangelism,” the Lutheran Church confesses:

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. (Ap XXIV:3, p. 250)

Places, times, persons, and the entire outward order of worship are therefore instituted and appointed in order that God’s Word may exert its power publicly. (LC I:94, p. 378)

...the holy Fathers themselves had rites and traditions...because they were profitable for good order, because they gave the people a set time to assemble, because they provided an example of how all things could be done decently and in order in the churches, and finally because they helped instruct the common folk. For different seasons and various rites serve as reminders for the common folk. For these reasons the Fathers kept ceremonies, and for the same reasons we also believe in keeping traditions. (Ap XV:20-21, p. 218)

So in our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord’s day, and the other more important feast days. With a very thankful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline that serves to educate and instruct the people and the inexperienced. (Ap VII/VIII:33, pp. 174-75) can readily be judged that nothing contributes so much to the maintenance of dignity in public worship and the cultivation of reverence and devotion among the people as the proper observance of ceremonies in the churches. (AC, prolog to XXII,6 [L], p. 49)

When they similarly assert that pastors should adjust their role in the congregation in accordance with “contemporary” leadership models, shaped and driven by psychology, sociology, and modern marketing strategies, the Lutheran Church confesses that ministers of the Gospel

do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ, because of the church’s call, as Christ testifies (Luke 10:16), “He who hears you hears me.” When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they do so in Christ’s place and stead. (Ap VII/VIII:28, p. 173)

The Gospel requires of those who preside over the churches that they preach the Gospel, remit sins, administer the sacraments, and, in addition, exercise jurisdiction, that is, excommunicate those who are guilty of notorious crimes and absolve those who repent. By the confession of all, even of our adversaries, it is evident that this power belongs by divine right to all who preside over the churches, whether they are called pastors, presbyters, or bishops. (Tr 60-61, p. 330)

...a minister who consecrates shows forth the body and blood of the Lord to the people, just as a minister who preaches shows forth the gospel to the people, as Paul says (I Cor. 4:1), “This is how one should regard us, as ministers of Christ and dispensers of the sacraments of God,” that is, of the Word and sacraments; and II Cor. 5:20, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (Ap XXIV:79-81, p. 264)

When defending the efficacy of Christ’s Word and the real presence of his body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the Lutheran Church confesses:

“Here, too, if I were to say over all the bread there is, ‘This is the body of Christ,’ nothing would happen, but when we follow his institution and command in the Lord’s Supper and say, ‘This is my body,’ then it is his body, not because of our speaking or of our efficacious word, but because of his command in which he has told us so to speak and to do and has attached his own command and deed to our speaking.” (FC SD VII:78 [quoting Luther], pp. 583-84)

For the truthful and almighty words of Jesus Christ which he spoke in the first institution were not only efficacious in the first Supper but they still retain their validity and efficacious power in all places where the Supper is observed according to Christ’s institution and where his words are used, and the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed, and received by the virtue and potency of the same words which Christ spoke in the first Supper. For wherever we observe his institution and speak his words over the bread and cup and distribute the blessed bread and cup, Christ himself is still active through the spoken words by the virtue of the first institution, which he wants to be repeated. (FC SD VII:75, p. 583) the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with those things that are seen, the bread and the wine, to those who receive the sacrament. After careful examination and consideration of it, we firmly defend this belief. (Ap X:1, p. 179)

When battling the spiritual deadness and worldliness of “cultural Lutheranism,” the Lutheran Church confesses:

It is, of course, self-evident that in true conversion there must be a change, there must be new activities and emotions in the intellect, will, and heart, so that the heart learns to know sin, to fear the wrath of God, to turn from sin, to understand and accept the promise of grace in Christ, to have good spiritual thoughts, Christian intentions, and diligence, and to fight against the flesh, etc. For if none of these things takes place or exists, there is no true conversion. (FC SD II:70, pp. 534-35) Luther writes in his Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, “Faith is a divine work in us that transforms us and begets us anew from God, kills the Old Adam, makes us entirely different people in heart, spirit, mind, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. Oh, faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good. Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active. Whoever does not perform such good works is a faithless man, blindly tapping around in search of faith and good works without knowing what either faith or good works are... Faith is a vital, deliberate trust in God’s grace, so certain that it would die a thousand times for it. And such confidence and knowledge of divine grace makes us joyous, mettlesome, and merry toward God and all creatures. This the Holy Spirit works by faith, and therefore without any coercion a man is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory, who has been so gracious to him. It is therefore as impossible to separate works from faith as it is to separate heat and light from fire.” (FC SD IV:10-12, pp. 552-53)

When challenged by broadcast-media advocates of the new “gospel” of self-esteem and self-improvement, the Lutheran Church confesses

that a poor sinner is justified before God (that is, he is absolved and declared utterly free from all his sins, and from the verdict of well deserved damnation, and is adopted as a child of God and an heir of eternal life) without any merit or worthiness on our part, and without any preceding, present, or subsequent works, by sheer grace, solely through the merit of the total obedience, the bitter passion, the death, and the resurrection of Christ, our Lord, whose obedience is reckoned to us as righteousness. The Holy Spirit offers these treasures to us in the promise of the Gospel, and faith is the only means whereby we can apprehend, accept, apply them to ourselves, and make them our own. Faith is a gift of God whereby we rightly learn to know Christ as our redeemer in the Word of the Gospel and to trust in him, that solely for the sake of his obedience we have forgiveness of sins by grace, are accounted righteous and holy by God the Father, and are saved forever. (FC SD III:9-11, pp. 540-41)

The examples could go on and on. In summary, the Confessions faithfully proclaimed and applied God’s Word to the historical circumstances in and for which they were written. But since neither human nature nor the Gospel of Christ have changed since then, it should not surprise us that the Confessions faithfully proclaim and apply God’s Word to the circumstances of our day as well. The Book of Concord not only was, it is -- very definitely -- the public confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.


Fourth, the Lutheran Confessions are effective tools for the preservation and promotion of true Christian unity. St. Paul literally pleads with the church, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10 NKJV) Our forefathers in the faith who in every generation subscribed to the Confessions did so because they were conscientiously “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3 NKJV) They knew that the “unity of the Spirit” is not a sentimental, man-made, superficial unity, but that it is rooted instead in the Trinitarian reality of “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:4-6 NKJV) The Biblical content of the Lutheran Confessions defines and facilitates this God-given unity both within and between the churches that accept and use them. Joseph Stump elaborates on this basic point:

Confessions or symbols are official formulations of the common faith of the Church. They are public testimonies as to the manner in which the Church apprehends and teaches the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures. ... They serve the twofold purpose of exhibiting what the Church believes and teaches, and of guarding against error and heresy. ... They are useful also as criteria by which those who hold the same faith may know one another and join together in one organization. The Lutheran Confessions are contained in the Book of Concord, and include the three Ecumenical Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Schmalcald Articles, Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther’s Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord. Bona-fide subscription to these Confessions is required of Lutheran ministers, because the Church must see to it that those who go forth in her name preach only the pure doctrines of the Gospel as she holds them. No one is compelled to subscribe. But if any minister refuses to do so, he thereby testifies that he is not in harmony with the doctrinal position of the Lutheran Church, and has no right to preach in her name. On the other hand, if he is a Lutheran in his convictions, he will be glad to subscribe to the Confessions and to preach the doctrines set forth in them. 22

Melanchthon very sensibly writes: “In these controversies I have always made it a point to stick as closely as possible to traditional doctrinal formulas in order to foster the attainment of harmony.” (Ap Pref.:11, p. 99) When we are able to use the same terminology with the same commonly-understood meaning, we can indeed more easily understand each other and more easily recognize a unity in faith, if such a unity does exist. For orthodox Lutherans, the formulations of the Book of Concord provide just such a working “lexicon” for fraternal discourse, encouragement, support, and cooperation:

The primary requirement for basic and permanent concord within the church is a summary formula and pattern, unanimously approved, in which the summarized doctrine commonly confessed by the churches of the pure Christian religion is drawn together out of the Word of God. For this same purpose the ancient church always had its dependable symbols. It based these not on mere private writings, but on such books as had been written, approved, and accepted in the name of those churches which confessed the same doctrine and religion. In the same way we have from our hearts and with our mouths declared in mutual agreement that we shall neither prepare nor accept a different or a new confession of our faith. Rather, we pledge ourselves again to those public and well-known symbols or common confessions which have at all times and in all places been accepted in all the churches of the Augsburg Confession before the outbreak of the several controversies among the adherents of the Augsburg Confession and which were kept and used during that period when people were everywhere and unanimously faithful to the pure doctrine of the Word of God as Dr. Luther of blessed memory had explained it. (FC SD R&N:1-2, p. 503)

The Lutheran Confessions recognize the Biblical parameters for church fellowship, and they go a long way in facilitating such fellowship among those who mutually subscribe to them. The Confessions eschew sectarianism in all of its forms. From the perspective of the Book of Concord, church fellowship must not be withheld from those who may exhibit various forms of personal weakness if they are otherwise sound in their confession of faith:

We should forsake wicked teachers because they no longer function in the place of Christ, but are antichrists. Christ says (Matt. 7:15), “Beware of false prophets”; Paul says (Gal. 1:9), “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Christ has also warned us in his parables on the church [Matt. 13:24-50] that when we are offended by the personal conduct of priests or people, we should not incite schisms, as the Donatists wickedly did. (Ap VII/VIII:48-49, pp. 177-78)

...Col. 3:14, “love, which is the bond of perfection.” ... talking not about personal perfection but about fellowship in the church. He says that love is a bond and unbroken chain linking the members of the church with one another. Similarly, in all families and communities harmony should be nurtured by mutual aid, for it is not possible to preserve tranquility unless men cover and forgive certain mistakes in their midst. In the same way Paul commands that there be love in the church to preserve harmony, to bear, if need be, with the crude behavior of the brethren, to cover up minor mistakes, lest the church disintegrate into various schisms and the hatreds, factions, and heresies that arise from such schisms. For harmony will inevitably disintegrate if bishops impose heavy burdens on the people or have no regard for their weakness. Dissensions also arise when the people judge their clergy’s behavior too strictly or despise them because of some minor fault and then seek after some other kinds of doctrine and other clergy. On the other hand, perfection (that is, the integrity of the church) is preserved when the strong bear with the weak, when the people put the best construction on the faults of their clergy, when the bishops take into account the weakness of the people. (Ap IV:231-34, pp. 139-40)

In the words of C. F. W. Walther, “The church militant must indeed aim at and strive for absolute unity of faith and doctrine, but it never will attain a higher degree of unity than a fundamental one.”23 This, too, is a Confessional principle. And so, from the perspective of the Book of Concord, church fellowship must not be withheld from those who exhibit certain differences in theological emphasis, in preferred forms of theological expression, or in non-dogmatic “theological opinions,” as long as there is a genuine “fundamental” agreement in the articles of faith:24

In order to preserve the pure doctrine and to maintain a thorough, lasting, and God-pleasing concord within the church, it is essential not only to present the true and wholesome doctrine correctly, but also to accuse the adversaries who teach otherwise (I Tim. 3:9; Titus 1:9; II Tim. 2:24; 3:16). “Faithful shepherds,” as Luther states, “must both pasture or feed the lambs and guard against wolves so that they will flee from strange voices and separate the precious from the vile” (John 10:12-16, 27; Jer. 15:19). On this point we have reached a basic and mutual agreement that we shall at all times make a sharp distinction between needless and unprofitable contentions (which, since they destroy rather than edify, should never be allowed to disturb the church) and necessary controversy (dissension concerning articles of the Creed or the chief parts of our Christian doctrine, when the contrary error must be refuted in order to preserve the truth). (FC SD R&N:14-15, pp. 506-07)

Hermann Sasse recognizes the fact that there has never been one monolithic “school of thought” within Lutheranism. He notes that Melanchthon

became a genuine Lutheran theologian under Luther’s strong influence, as the first edition of his Loci shows. But he never ceased to be a humanist, and in the course of time the humanist tendencies of his theology came forth again. This did not matter as long as he remained faithful to Lutheran dogma; 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 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.25

To elaborate on one of Sasse’s points, we must remember that the authors of the Formula of Concord truly were a very diverse group in many respects. The mix included Andrew Musculus, who had said of Luther:

Since the Apostles’ time, no greater man has lived upon the earth. God has poured out all His gifts on this one man. Between the old teachers (even Hilary and Augustine) and Luther, there is as wide a difference as between the shining of the moon and the light of the sun.26

The mix also included Nicholas Selnecker, who had said that one of the greatest blessings of his life was that he “had had Melanchthon as his instructor, had heard him, had come into almost daily contact with him, had conversed with him, and had consulted with him.”27 The rest of the committee was comprised of people who stood between these two at various places on the “sliding scale” of Lutheranism’s sixteenth-century theological tradition. And yet, in spite of the many personality clashes, tensions, and suspicions that existed among them, and in the midst of the many controversies that had been raging for decades, the Concordists were able to hammer out a precise, clear, and Biblical statement that has been profoundly appreciated by their theological and ecclesiastical heirs ever since. The Formula does not represent the idiosyncratic views of any one of its authors, but is in every sense the church’s confession of the church’s faith.

Of course, none of this means that the Formula of Concord, or any of the Symbolical Books, are doctrinal compromises rooted in anything other than a thorough and consistent submission to God’s Holy Word. As the authors of the Formula declare:

From our exposition friends and foes may clearly understand that we have no intention (since we have no authority to do so) to yield anything of the eternal and unchangeable truth of God for the sake of temporal peace, tranquillity, and outward harmony. Nor would such peace and harmony last, because it would be contrary to the truth and actually intended for its suppression. Still less by far are we minded to whitewash or cover up any falsification of true doctrine or any publicly condemned errors. We have a sincere delight in and deep love for true harmony and are cordially inclined and determined on our part to do everything in our power to further the same. We desire such harmony as will not violate God’s honor, that will not detract anything from the divine truth of the holy Gospel, that will not give place to the smallest error but will lead the poor sinner to true and sincere repentance, raise him up through faith, strengthen him in his new obedience, and thus justify and save him for ever through the sole merit of Christ, and so forth. (FC SD XI:95-96, p. 632)

The Concordists in the late sixteenth century, and we in the late twentieth century, recognize clearly (in harmony with Article VII of the Augsburg Confession) that the proper basis for church fellowship is agreement in the pure marks of the church, and in all that Holy Scripture plainly teaches -- that is, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the widest sense. Lutheran churches and church bodies accordingly “will not condemn each other because of a difference in ceremonies, when in Christian liberty one uses fewer or more of them, as long as they are otherwise agreed in doctrine and in all its articles and are also agreed concerning the right use of the holy sacraments, according to the well-known axiom, ‘Disagreement in fasting should not destroy agreement in faith.’” (FC SD X:31 [quoting St. Irenaeus], p. 616)

Publicly preaching and teaching the Word of God in or on behalf of the church is not a right. It is a privilege, granted by God’s call, through the instrumentality of his believing and confessing church. The church certainly expects its ministers to preach, to teach, and to carry out all other aspects of their office in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, as believed and confessed in its midst. For this reason the orthodox Lutheran Church has always demanded a quia subscription to the Confessions, in which the candidate for ordination declares that he embraces the Symbolical Books of the Church because, not “insofar as,” they agree with Scripture. The idea that someone would subscribe to a document of any kind “insofar as” it agrees with Scripture is an idea that would make sense only before the person has read and studied the Bible and/or the document in question. Once the Bible and the document have both been studied, the person can then be asked in a straightforward way, “As you now see it, do the two agree? Yes or No?” The Confessional subscription that the church demands of a pastor is not a statement of his hermeneutical method, but a statement of the results of his hermeneutical method. We could in all honesty subscribe to a whole host of books and documents “insofar as” they agree with Scripture, if there is even a remote trace of Biblical truth contained in them. It would, however, be nothing more than a waste of everyone’s time to say that we subscribe to the Koran, the Talmud, the Book of Mormon, or the Communist Manifesto “insofar as” they agree with Scripture, even though we could say this truthfully. A subscription to the Book of Concord “insofar as” it agrees with the Bible is just as useless to the church.

The Preface to the Book of Concord, signed by Lutheran princes and magistrates, recounts the original instances of a procedure that the Lutheran Church, under various forms of ecclesiastical government, has carried out in regard to its ministers and potential ministers ever since:

...some of us have had this document read article by article to each and every theologian, minister, and schoolmaster in our lands and territories and have had them reminded and exhorted to consider diligently and earnestly the doctrine contained in it. When they had found that the explanation of the dissensions which had arisen was agreeable and conformable first of all to the Word of God and then to the Augsburg Confession as well, the persons to whom it had been presented, as indicated above, gladly and with heartfelt thanks to almighty God testified that of their own volition and with due consideration they accepted, approved, and subscribed this Book of Concord as the correct Christian interpretation of the Augsburg Confession and publicly attested this with their hearts, lips, and hands. Therefore this Christian agreement is called and also is the unanimous and concordant confession not only of a few of our theologians but generally of each and every minister and schoolmaster in our lands and territories. (pp. 7-8)

The Lutheran princes and magistrates knew, of course, that it would be improper to ask people to subscribe to a confession with which they were not thoroughly familiar. (Such a procedure would border on one of the chief sins of the Masonic Lodge, namely, requiring an oath in uncertain matters.) For this reason they asked the theologians, pastors, and teachers in their territories to study the Formula of Concord carefully before signing their names to it. For the same reason they also specify that the theological students in their territories are to be trained in the Confessions as a part of their ministerial education, in preparation for the day when the church will ask each of them in his ordination vow to confess his and its faith, and in preparation for a life of faithful service to God’s people:

...our disposition and intention has always been directed toward the goal that no other doctrine be treated and taught in our lands, territories, schools, and churches than that alone which is based on the Holy Scriptures of God and is embodied in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, correctly understood, and that no doctrine be permitted entrance which is contrary to these. ...we have directed our churches and schools first of all to the Holy Scriptures and the Creeds, and then to the aforementioned Augsburg Confession. We desire particularly that the young men who are being trained for service in the church and for the holy ministry be faithfully and diligently instructed therein, so that the pure teaching and confession of the faith may be preserved and perpetuated among our posterity through the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit until the glorious advent of our only Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ. (p. 12)

The Confessions, and especially the Catechisms, can and should fulfill a similar function in the religious education of the laity. In his Shorter Preface to the Large Catechism, Luther writes that it

has been undertaken for the instruction of children and uneducated people. Hence from ancient times it has been called, in Greek, a “catechism” -- that is, instruction for children. Its contents represent the minimum of knowledge required of a Christian. Whoever does not possess it should not be reckoned among Christians nor admitted to a sacrament, just as a craftsman who does not know the rules and practices of his craft is rejected and considered incompetent. ... I well remember the time when there were old people who were so ignorant that they knew nothing of these things -- indeed, ever now we find them daily -- yet they come to Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar and exercise all the rights of Christians, although those who come to the sacrament ought to know more and have a fuller understanding of all Christian doctrine than children and beginners at school. As for the common people, however, we should be satisfied if they learned the three parts which have been the heritage of Christendom from ancient times [the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer], though they were rarely taught and treated correctly, so that all who wish to be Christians in fact as well as in name, both young and old, may be well-trained in them and familiar with them. (LC Sh.Pref.:1-2,5-6, p. 362)

Luther gives these directions to pastors in the Preface to the Small Catechism:

Begin by teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc., following the text word for word so that the young may repeat these things after you and retain them in their memory. If any refuse to receive your instructions, tell them that they deny Christ and are no Christians. They should not be admitted to the sacrament, be accepted as sponsors in Baptism, or be allowed to participate in any Christian privileges. (SC Pref.:10-11, p. 339)

According to the Formula of Concord,

Since these matters also concern the laity and the salvation of their souls, we subscribe Dr. Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms as both of them are contained in his printed works. They are “the layman’s Bible” and contain everything which Holy Scripture discusses at greater length and which a Christian must know for his salvation. (FC Ep R&N:5, p. 465)

But of course, the other Confessions are also accessible to the laity of the church, and should be familiar at least to the better educated among them. Let us not forget that the original audience to which the Augsburg Confession was addressed was not a clerical audience but a lay audience -- Emperor Charles V to be exact -- and that it was written specifically so that it could be clearly understood by him (and by laymen in general).

We have been asked if the Lutheran Confessions are “a practical document today.” Now that we have spent some time considering what the Confessions actually are, we are ready to answer that question. Is sound Biblical exegesis practical in our day? Yes. Are preeminent examples of the faithful ministry of some of the most important pastors and teachers in Christian history practical in our day? Yes. Is the received public confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church practical in our day? Yes. Are effective tools for the preservation and promotion of true Christian unity practical in our day? Yes. Are the Lutheran Confessions a practical document today? By all means, Yes!


1. Standard abbreviations will be used for Confessional references. All Confessional quotations are from The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959).

2. St. Athanasius, the great defender of Nicene orthodoxy, unambiguously stated that “the sacred and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth.” (Against the Heathen I:3.)

3. Lyle W. Lange, in Our Great Heritage, edited by Lange (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1991), Vol. 1, p. 326.

4. Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod, Section 48. Emphasis in original.

5. Brief Statement, Section 45.

6. Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology (Philadelphia: General Council Publication Board, 1899), p. 169. We will be referring to Krauth quite often in the course of this paper. We beg indulgence to do so, since in our judgment he wrote so eloquently, pointedly, and correctly on the subject of the practical authority of the Confessions in the life of the Lutheran Church.

7. Joseph A. Seiss, “Our Confessions in English,” Lutheran Church Review, Vol. I, No. 3 (July 1882), p. 215. Emphases in original.

8. Krauth, pp. 185-86. Emphasis in original.

9. Krauth, p. 186.

10. Krauth, pp. 184-85. Emphases in original.

11. Seiss, p. 216.

12. Krauth, p. 206. Emphases in original.

13. Charles F. Schaeffer, Evangelical Review, Vol. I, p. 482; quoted in Theodore E. Schmauk, The Confessional Principle and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: General Council Publication Board, 1911), p. 684.

14. Harold Wicke, “The Book of Concord,” Our Great Heritage, Vol. 1, pp. 327, 330.

15. Krauth, pp. 179-80.

16. While in the throes of the Predestination Controversy, the Norwegian Synod had tactically withdrawn from formal membership in the Synodical Conference in 1883, but remained in fellowship with the Conference and with its constituent synods.

17. H. E. Jacobs, “The General Council,” The Distinctive Doctrines and Usages of the General Bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1914), p. 100.

18. We are not here discussing the question of whether or not a new statement may or should be added to the corpus of the church’s official Confessions, in response to contemporary doctrinal issues that were not matters of controversy in the sixteenth century. That is a different subject, not addressed within the parameters of this paper.

19. Wilhelm W. Petersen, “Pastor, I Have A Question,” Lutheran Sentinel, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Feb. 1985), p. 4.

20. David P. Daniel, “Highlights of the Lutheran Reformation in Slovakia,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan. 1978), p. 28.

21. This We Believe: A Statement of Belief of the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod, I:9,13.

22. Joseph Stump, The Christian Faith (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1942), pp. 24-25.

23. Quoted approvingly in the “WELS Statement on Church Fellowship” (1970); in John F. Brug, Church Fellowship (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1996), p. 168.

24. “Fundamental agreement in the articles of faith” is not the same as “agreement in the fundamental articles of faith.” The former concept is Confessional; the latter is unionistic.

25. Hermann Sasse, This is my body (Adelaide, S.A.: Lutheran Publishing House, 1977), p. 253.

26. Quoted in Krauth, p. 311.

27. Quoted in James W. Richard, The Confessional History of the Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1909), p. 441.

This essay was delivered at the meeting of the European Region of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference near Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 28, 1998. It was published in Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 3 (September 1999), pp. 244-78. The printed version of this essay differs slightly from the online version that appears here.

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