How can I find out more about what Lutherans believe?
Lutheran Christianity uniquely binds itself to the Holy Scriptures, the Bible (Old Testament and New). The Lutheran Confessions of 1580 do not stand above or alongside the Bible as a man-made source of new teachings. They reflect an understanding of what the Scriptures have to say to us, as the very Word of God, and to explain them clearly as God intended them to be preached and understood. Lutheran pastors and congregations use these confessional documents to state clearly their faith and to judge their own teaching, because they faithfully convey the teaching of Holy Scripture, which is the only reliable rule and norm of all teaching in the Christian Church. Lutheran Christianity refuses to offer anything unique or new to what it means to be simply Christian. Everything we preach, teach, and confess is bound to Scripture and therefore not new or unique to us.
Where can I find these Lutheran Confessions?
The confessions of the Lutheran Church are contained in a book called, The Book of Concord, or, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, published as a collection in the year 1580 to serve as a clear statement of what the Scriptures teach. You can read the Book of Concord online. This site also offers a selection of the more famous Reformation documents, like Martin Luther's 1517 Ninety-Five Theses and 1518 Heidelberg Disputation. Pastor always has a copy of these Confessions and will happily read and study them with you!
That book sounds really old. Is it still relevant to me today?
The Book of Concord is, above all, a practical book (and if you get the new edition, it's full of great pictures,
too!). Every page is concerned with what God's holy Word has to say to you, first of all, as a sinful human
being, and second, as someone for whom Christ, the eternal Son of God, shed his blood and died, to forgive your
sins, to give you life eternal and every good thing by grace alone, through faith alone. No doctrine is
presented in these Confessions that is trivial; rather, each confesses in its own way that sinful man is
declared innocent and forgiven by Christ's blood shed for you. Again, nothing is "specifically Lutheran" or only
for academic theologians, though at times it is a bit weighty. It is good reading for all Christians, as it
summarizes what the Bible says to you. It will change the way you read the Scriptures, helping you to hear
clearly God's Law, which condemns you in your sin, and God's Gospel, the word of grace and forgiveness in Christ
Jesus, with the purity and clarity God intends.
To see an edgy and highly caffeinated endorsement of the Book of Concord and its significance today, check out Rev. Jonathan Fisk's August 2010 Worldview Everlasting post. Or read Myrtle's story at Just A Note.
Ok, I'm interested. What's in the book?
The Book of Concord is actually a book of books. As a beginner, the best place to start
reading is the Small and Large Catechisms, written by Dr. Martin Luther. You
might then move to the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. Continue then with the Smalcald Articles and the
Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. Finish your reading with the Formula of Concord, both the Epitome
and its Solid Declaration. Here's what's included:
- The Ecumenical Creeds - Lutherans confess the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. These ancient creeds (dating from the first four centuries of the Church, and drawn from the Scriptures) say nothing other than the original confession of the Church: Jesus is Lord. And yet, as controversies arise, these creeds specify what it means for Jesus to be Lord. They confess who God is (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), who Jesus is (the eternal Son of God made flesh to save us) and what He has done for us, so that we should believe and trust in Him. These ancient confessions start the book to indicate that the Lutherans don't intend to start "a new denomination" but to retain what the Church has taught since the time of Jesus and the Apostles.
- The Augsburg Confession
(AC) - In 1530, Lutherans were called on by the Emperor to defend their beliefs. They did so in twenty-eight
topics as fundamental as "God, Original Sin, The Son of God,
Justification, The Ministry," etc. (Articles I-V), and also articles
having to do with current disagreements ("Both kinds in the Sacrament,
the Marriage of Priests, The Mass," etc.). The Augsburg Confession is
still the basic statement of what it means to be a Lutheran, and is a
clear and concise (about 30 pages) statement of the Christian faith. Here's a sample:
Our churches teach that people cannot be justified by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (4:5). So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given (John 20:22). He works faith, where and when it pleases God (John 3:8) in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake. (AC IV-V)
- The Apology (Defense) of the
(Ap) - Apology here doesn't mean "I'm sorry" but
"defense" [apologia]. The Roman Catholic Church disagreed with parts of the
Augsburg Confession, so the reformers responded in 1531 with a lengthier, more
detailed Scriptural defense of the doctrine put forth in the Augsburg
Confession. Both the AC and its Apology were written by Martin Luther's friend and colleague, Philip
- The Smalcald Articles - Martin Luther wrote these articles for a 1537 meeting of theologians and lay leaders in Smalcald, Germany. They clearly present "the articles that refer to the office and work of Jesus Christ; that is, our redemption" and work out how these ought to be reflected in how the Church worships and what she teaches.
- The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope - The same meeting that received Luther's articles in 1537 approved this statement by Philip Melanchthon, on the authority of the pope. Using both Scripture and Church history, this writing refutes the claims that the pope spiritually out-ranks common pastors, has authority in the political realm, and alone has power to save. The last part of the document gives the true task of pastors and bishops: "to teach the Gospel (Mt 28:19), to forgive sins (Jn 20:23), to administer the Sacraments, and ... to exercise jurisdiction (i.e., the command to excommunicate those whose crimes are known and to absolve those who repent)."
- The Small Catechism - Luther's Small Catechism of 1529 is only a few pages long, but packed with clear, concise Law and Gospel. It addresses the six chief parts: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Confession and Absolution. It also contains daily prayers and a "Table of Duties" explaining Christian vocations (responsibilities we have to our neighbors: parents, teachers, pastors, employers, children, students, hearers, employees, etc.). This is the chief text for educating our youth in the Lutheran Church to this day; and it's a great place to start figuring out what Lutherans teach as well.
- The Large Catechism - Early in the Reformation, Luther listened to pastors preach and was appalled at how poorly they did it! In response, he wrote (also in 1529) the Large Catechism as a basic summary of Scriptural doctrine. Once you've read the Small Catechism, dig in here for a hearty second course!
- The Epitome and The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord - Written in 1577 and signed by many laypeople, pastors, rulers, and theologians through 1580, the Formula of Concord deals with several issues that threatened to divide the Lutherans in the years after the Reformation. It deals with topics often still disputed to this day: Original Sin, Free Will, Good Works, etc. In each, the controversy is presented, teachings that are affirmed and teachings that are rejected-all on the basis of the Scriptures. The Epitome presents the basic arguments, and the Solid Declaration gives the detailed presentation. Come here last and ready for heavy dosage of careful theology!
Ok, I still have questions. Or, I'm just overwhelmed!
That's understandable! And that's what pastors are for. If you have questions or concerns, or would like to learn
more about the Lutheran teaching, please don't hesitate to e-mail Pastor Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. He'll happily answer any questions or
respond to any concerns you might have. Again, this is rich, delightful stuff. But the more you dig into it, the
richer you are for it!