Note : This series of articles appeared in the St. Athanasius Lutheran Church newsletter over four issues from Holy Trinity through Advent 2003. There is, therefore, some repetition between the four parts as these were read over the course of many months. - Pastor

Part 1
teach according to it. But then we need to ask, what do you believe about the Holy Scriptures? Are they fully and completely the inspired Word of God in all their parts? Do they contain errors? How do we read the Scriptures? Are we to understand them literally, or are they an interpretation of history that itself needs to be interpreted through our own experiences today? And even among groups answering all of the above questions the same, there is still sometimes disagreement over the meaning of a passage.

Since the year 1580, Lutherans have had a simple answer to those wishing to know what we believe. Lutherans have a confession of faith which does not change. How we read and understand God's Word does not evolve and develop to suit the times, but remains constant. This confession of faith grew out of the Reformation when the "Lutherans" were forced to compile and present a confession of what they believed, and those confessions of faith still define how we are different than all other denominations today. They are confessions of faith thoroughly derived from the Holy Scriptures and are an exposition of the truth of God's Word. These documents are compiled into a book called the Book of Concord, or The Confessions [of faith] of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. As one believes, teaches, and confesses what is contained in this book, one is properly called a Lutheran, or a "confessional Lutheran." Yet as one deviates from the teaching and confession contained in this book, one is deviating from what it means to be "Lutheran."

So what is in this Book of Concord? There are a number of documents, written by a number of people, across a great expanse of time. These documents demonstrate that the faith we confess as Lutherans is not something new or novel, but is in fact the faith that the church has always believed and confessed - what has been believed everywhere and at all times. And so the first three writings in the Book of Concord are the three ancient, ecumenical creeds: the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. Next come the confessions of faith written during the time of the Reformation: the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Apology [defense] of the Augsburg Confession (1531), the Smalcald Articles (1537), the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537), the Small and Large Catechisms (1529), and the Formula of Concord (1577). These confessions do not take the place of the Holy Scriptures, but are authoritative because they are confessed to be the correct exposition of the Word of God.

Therefore Lutheran theology is not only thoroughly Biblical, it is also confessional. The confessions of the church bind the church together and serve the cause of doctrinal unity, which is the purpose of these confessions. All pastors of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod examine the Scriptures and the Confessions, and only when they are convinced that the Confessions are the correct exposition of the Word of God are they then permitted to teach and preach in the church. At their ordination they promise to teach in accordance with these Confessions - not as a substitute for the Word of God, but because these Confessions correctly teach the Word of God. And with such a promise, the reality of the church is recognized. For the church is not something that is done differently from place to place, where each congregation or pastor does his own thing. No, the church - the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic church transcends time and space. To remain faithful therefore means that we are not free to teach and practice as we see fit, but as members of the church we take seriously the church's history and continuity, and therefore strive to believe, teach, and confess what the church has always believed, taught, and confessed. To do that is what it truly means to be Lutheran . . . a confessional Lutheran.

Yet we find ourselves in our day and age today where this confessional loyalty is being sacrificed at the altars of relevance, experience, and novelty. The Confessions are frequently ignored and some (many?) are choosing to do things as they see fit. And so in such a time we need to ask: what does it mean to be Lutheran? What does it mean to be a confessional Lutheran? Why is this still important? These are questions that will be addressed as we continue this series in the next newsletter.

There are so many different churches in the world today, literally thousands of different Christian denominations. If someone says they are Christian, we ask what kind of Christian? If they say they are a Lutheran, we ask what kind of Lutheran? And even if they say they are a Missouri Synod Lutheran, we might now ask, what kind? How did we get to such a point? How can there be such difference and divergence of teaching?

This question becomes even more important when you realize that most, if not all, of these denominations claim to  believe in  the  Bible,  the Holy Scriptures,  and
What is a Confessional Lutheran?
Missouri Synod
  
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703-455-4003                       Rev. James Douthwaite, Pastor
Saint Athanasius Lutheran Church