by Matthew C. Harrison
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
The orthodox Lutheran church of all times and places confesses the verbally inspired and inerrant Scriptures to be the very Word of God and “the only source and norm” for all teaching and preaching. Every one of our 6,000 LCMS congregations, every pastor, teacher, DCE, deaconess and church worker, every LCMS entity (whether the Concordia Plans, Lutheran Church Extension Fund, Lutheran Hour Ministries, Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, Lutheran Federal Credit Union), every preschool, grade school, high school, and every university is pledged to this truth. Those who believe in Jesus recognize His words and voice in Holy Scripture. “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). This is asserted in every ordination, installation and consecration service. Every LCMS teacher and institution makes this pledge. Faith in Christ’s vicarious (for us) life, death and resurrection is not compatible with a smorgasbord approach to Christianity. Our culture has gone mad. There are well-meaning but misled individuals also among us who would like to put a veil over what Jesus says about marriage (Matt. 19 — one man, one woman) or quietly snip the “unwoke” bits — like Romans 1 — out of the Bible. “Too much doctrine,” they say.
But we are also pledged — every one of us — to the 1580 Book of Concord. This issue of The Lutheran Witness is all about our public confession. Other great churches are focused on their form of governance (Rome, Anglicanism), the authority of their liturgy (Eastern Orthodoxy), or the Bible over against the ecumenical creeds (Baptists). We Lutherans recognize the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. To be a Lutheran is to confess that the catechism rightly interprets the Bible. And our Book of Concord further elaborates the faith of Luther’s catechism (Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Absolution, Lord’s Supper) in the face of wrong interpretations of the Bible.
Thus, we confess the Book of Concord to be “a true exposition of the Word of God.” One may believe that the catechism gets wrong what the Bible teaches, but he will have to do that outside of the Lutheran church, particularly if that person is a called pastor or servant of the church. This is solemn, serious business. It may be rarely acknowledged and is often violated, but in our confirmation vows, we promise to uphold the faith of the Bible and Small Catechism and suffer all, even death, rather than depart from it. Pastors do the same in ordination and installation vows. “I make these Confessions my own because they are in accord with the Word of God” (LSB Agenda, p. 166; emphasis added).
Our confession of the Gospel of Christ and all its articles of faith is done in view of eternity. “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,” says Jesus (Matt. 10:32).
Luther knew well that rascals would come after he died and lie about what he really taught, especially about the Lord’s Supper. Before he died, he penned his Confession concerning Christ’s Supper. And then he added,
Hence if any one shall say after my death, “If Luther were living now, he would teach and hold this or that article differently, for he did not consider it sufficiently,” etc., let me say once and for all that by the grace of God I have most diligently traced all these articles through the Scriptures, have examined them again and again in the light thereof, and have wanted to defend all of them as certainly as I have now defended the sacrament of the altar. I am not drunk or irresponsible. I know what I am saying, and I well realize what this will mean for me before the Last Judgment at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let no one make this out to be a joke or idle talk; I am in dead earnest, since by the grace of God I have learned to know a great deal about Satan. If he can twist and pervert the Word of God and the Scriptures, what will he not be able to do with my or someone else’s words? (LW 37:360–61)
Right now, we Lutherans stand before Christ clothed in His sacred righteousness. Yes, there are Christians wherever the true Jesus is believed and confessed, thank God. But we confess the true faith in the true God in all its Gospel-filled truth and purity. And so we confess along with the authors of our Book of Concord:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rom. 10:9–11)
With the authors of our Book of Concord and faithful teachers in the generations since, we confess the truth of Christ and His Word before an unbelieving world. With this confession, on the Last Day we will stand before Christ without fear.
In the sight of God and of all Christendom ‹the entire Church of Christ›, we want to testify to those now living and those who will come after us. This declaration presented here about all the controverted articles mentioned and explained above — and no other — is our faith, doctrine, and confession. By God’s grace, with intrepid hearts, we are willing to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with this Confession and give an account of it [1 Peter 4:5]. We will not speak or write anything contrary to this Confession, either publicly or privately. By the strength of God’s grace we intend to abide by it. Therefore, after mature deliberation, we have, in the fear of God and by calling on His name, attached our signatures with our own hands. (FC SD Conclusion 40)