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What Luther Says

What Exactly Is A 'Confessional' Lutheran Anyway?

What exactly is a "Confessional" Lutheran anyway?

In short, an almost extinct species of Lutherans within the Body of Christ. All kidding aside, this is a very important question, and one I found myself asking myself recently as I continued to research, study, and embrace the core beliefs of the Lutheran Church that I belong to , and from an LCMS perspective.

I have to admit that, to other Christians, we Lutherans probably appear to be a bit odd. I'm sure the common criticisms we often make regarding Catholicism (about its creeds, councils, and teachings being un-Biblical) are shared by other Christians about us Protestants.

Why? Likely it's because we profess, as we do, the statements made in an old book published in 1580 called "The Book of Concord." However, the critical difference is that the criticisms we make about Catholicism's confessions are warranted, because they are certainly un-Biblical and in direct contradiction to the very Word of God itself (they are blasphemous and heretical in many cases!).

On the other hand, the Lutheran's confessions are legitimate simply because they can be backed up by the Scriptures. And so, these "professions" of faith is what leads to calling them "confessions" of faith. Hence, "Confessional Lutherans" are those Lutherans who still maintain a robust and unwavering loyalty to God's Word in this day and age of political correctness and relativism (2 Corinthians 5:20; Galatians 1:10). Such loyalty is fueled by the statements of faith that exist in the Book of Concord.

At the same time, our belief and faith in the holy Word of God does not require that we first believe what we read in the Book of Concord, or that we even read it at all. If we only had the Holy Bible and not the Book of Concord, that would certainly be more than enough for us, because God's Word is all we need to know the character, heart, and mind of the Lord (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

No, what makes the confessions in the Book of Concord important to us is the mere fact that they are in complete agreement with the Scriptures, and, in a sense, merely emphasize and underscore the truths already revealed to us in His Word (Matthew 4:4; Luke 1:1-4; Luke 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Certainly, Sola Scriptura, or "Scripture Alone," speaks to the primary authority and supremacy of God's Word above all else. In Luke 10:26, Jesus expected even His enemies to correctly interpret the Bible by simply reading and studying it. And then there's 2 Timothy 2:15 for us too. Plus, Jesus also said, "It is written" several times, didn't He?

Getting back to our main focus here, let's take a closer look at what it means to be a "Confessional" Lutheran though, because there's certainly a distinction to be made between Confessional Lutherans and Lutherans in general, especially as we witness the "falling away" in these prophesied last days (John 16:1; Hebrews 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3).

The Lutheran Confessions are a summary and explanation of the Bible. They are not placed over the Bible. They do not take the place of the Bible. The Book of Concord is how Lutherans are able to say, together, as a church, "This is what we believe. This is what we teach. This is what we confess." The reason we have the Book of Concord is because of how highly we value correct teaching and preaching of God's Word.

The Bible itself not only contains numerous confessions and statements of faith by believers, but it also urges us to confess the faith. If a confession is completely in accord with Scripture, we can hardly claim that the content of the confession is merely "man-made" (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).

When used in this context, confession means "to say what you believe." The Lutheran Confessions are statements of faith that Lutherans use to say to the world, "This is what we believe, teach and confess."


The Lutheran Confessions are 10 statements of faith that Lutherans use as official explanations and summaries of what they believe, teach, and confess. They remain to this day the definitive standard of what Lutheranism is.


No. They are for all people: pastors, theologians, and laypersons alike. They are important statements of faith. They are not necessarily easy to understand, but they are so important that everyone who is a Lutheran should be aware of what the Book of Concord is and should have a copy of the Lutheran Confessions. There is an edition of the Book of Concord prepared specifically for laypeople to read, filled with notes, annotations, illustrations, and many other useful materials to aid reading and understanding. It is titled Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord and is available from Concordia Publishing House.

WHAT IS "UNCONDITIONAL SUBSCRIPTION" TO THE CONFESSIONS? Confessional Lutheran pastors are required to "subscribe," that is, to pledge their agreement unconditionally with the Lutheran Confessions precisely because they are a pure exposition of the Word of God. This is the way our pastors, and all laypeople who confess belief in the Small Catechism, are able with great joy and without reservation or qualification to say what it is that they believe to be the truth of God's Word.

Authentically Lutheran churches insist on a subscription to the Confessions because they agree with the Bible, not merely in so far as they agree with Scripture. Otherwise, there would be no objective way to make sure that there is faithful teaching and preaching of God's Word. Everything would depend on each pastor's private opinions, subjective interpretations, and personal feelings, rather than on objective truth as set forth in the Lutheran Confessions.


I also like something else I came across in my studies on this topic.

“Why, beloved brothers, do we stand by one another? Why can’t we leave one another? It is because we cannot let go of the one truth that we, in fellowship with all the saints, have acknowledged, believe, and confess as it is in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. These Confessions bear witness to the truth clearly, plainly, and powerfully on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, against all the desires of Satan, to the whole world. And why do we hold so firmly to our Confession such that we happily endure the hatred of the world and also of the rest of Christianity, which is difficult to bear? Why, with God’s help and grace, would we suffer persecution and death before we would give up even a small part of that Confession? We do so because we have come to make the truth set forth in that Confession our own, not in times of good leisure and rest, like we might appropriate other natural or historical truths. The Holy Spirit has revealed this truth to us in the midst of the burdens of troubled consciences as our only salvation. Through the Word, the Spirit has borne witness to the truth in broken and troubled hearts. Our consciences are bound to the Word and therefore to the Confession of the Church. As poor, forlorn, and condemned men, we have learned to believe in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. The peace of conscience, the peace of our souls, the hope of eternal blessedness, our very being and life hang on this truth. To surrender it would be to surrender our salvation and ourselves for time and eternity. Therefore, neither can we let go of the most insignificant portion of the Confession because the entire series of the individual teachings of the faith are for us one chain. This chain not only binds our understanding in the truth, it binds our consciences and lives. The loss of an individual part of the same would break this chain, and we would be torn loose from Christ, tumbling again into the abyss of anxiety, doubt, and eternal death. Therefore we hold fast to our Confession, as to our very life’s life.”

Source: “Predigt zur Eroeffnung der Sitzungen der deutchen evang. Luth. Synode v. Missouri westl. Districts am 25. April 1855, in Chicago, Ills., gehalten von F. Wyneken, und auf Beschluss genannter Synode mitgetheilt,” Der Lutheraner 11, no. 22 (June 19, 1855): 169–173. Translation by Matthew C. Harrison.


Tragically, many Lutheran churches in the world today have been thoroughly influenced by the liberal theology that has taken over most so-called "mainline" Protestant denominations in North America and the large Protestant state churches in Europe, Scandinavia, and elsewhere. For proof, look no further than what took place in Ethiopia within the last month.

The foundation of much of modern theology is the view that the words of the Bible are not actually God's words, but merely "human opinions," or "one person's opinions of what the Word says," and "reflections of the personal feelings of those who wrote the words" instead of the clear, inerrant, immutable Word of God.

Consequently, confessions that claim to be "true explanations" of God's Word are now regarded more as historically conditioned human opinions, rather than as objective statements of truth. This explains why some Lutheran churches enter into fellowship arrangements with non-Lutheran churches teaching things in direct conflict with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.

Of course, most other church denominations have confessions scattered throughout various books (like Catholicism), but the Book of Concord is unique among all churches in the world, since it gathers together the Lutheran Church's most normative expressions of the Christian faith into a single book that has been used for nearly 500 years as a fixed point of reference for the Lutheran Church.

Other churches have various catechisms and confessions they can point to, but few have as complete a collection of confessions that has received as much widespread use and support, for so long a time, as the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord of 1580.

Again, all because The Lutheran Confessions are simply a summary and explanation of the Bible. They are not placed over the Bible. They do not take the place of the Bible.

As one Lutheran website summed up...

To be a Lutheran is to be one who honors the Word of God. That Word makes it clear that it is God's desire for His Church to be in agreement about doctrine and to be of one mind, living at peace with one another (1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11). It is for that reason that we so treasure the precious confession of Christian truth that we have in the Book of Concord. For confessional Lutherans, there is no other collection of documents, statements, or books that so clearly, accurately, and comfortingly presents the truths of God's Word and reveals the biblical Gospel as does our Book of Concord. Hand in hand with our commitment to pure teaching and confession of the faith is, and always must be, an equally strong commitment to reaching out boldly with the Gospel and speaking God's truth to the world. That is what confession of the faith is all about, in the final analysis. Indeed, "Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, 'I believed, and so I spoke,' we also believe, and so we also speak" (2 Corinthians 4:13). This is what it means to be, and to remain, a genuine confessional Lutheran.

Amen! Amen! Amen!

I hope that helps to better explain what a "Confessional" Lutheran is and why it's essential today.

Until next time, grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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