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What Luther Says

What Is The Connection Between The Bible And The Confessions?

If you're anything like I once was (or are reading this as a non-Lutheran), then you probably think it's the height of arrogance and absolutely absurd that we would even have a set of written Confessions that we highly regard.

I get that. Really, I do.

However, it's such things as Creeds and Confessions that give us an anchor to our faith; an anchor to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

Furthermore, having them written down and preserved for all future generations to learn from them also allows those very same future generations to test its claims against the very Word of God itself.

That got me thinking about the important connection between the Bible and the Confessions. I think a great place to start is to prayerfully consider this note I shared on my Facebook page recently...

From the "How To Use This Book" section of the Reader's Edition of The Book of Concord: "For 425 years, the Book of Concord has united and guided Lutheran congregations, schools, pastors, and teachers. Yet today, many Lutherans are virtually unaware of its existence and use. As a result, when someone mentions the Book of Concord, one often hears, 'Aren't we just supposed to follow the Bible?' as though Christians do not use other publications based on the Bible (e.g., creeds, hymnals, catechisms, devotionals). One may even hear the Book of Concord compared to documents like the Book of Mormon, as though Lutherans were trying to add new texts to the Bible. ... Take note that the Book of Concord functions very much like the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, summarizing or clarifying what the Bible teaches on controversial topics. In particular, it thoroughly teaches God's love and forgiveness for all people based on Jesus' life, death, and resurrection -- reminding us that this is the chief teaching of the Christian faith."

I loved the point about creeds, hymnals, catechisms, and devotionals!

Now, if we were to refine things a bit, we might ask a more specific (and important) question that demands an answer and that would help us to better understand the unique relationship between the two.

What Is The Connection Between The Bible And The Confessions? 
We confess that, “The Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine” (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9). What the Bible asserts: God asserts. What the Bible commands, “God commands. The authority of the Scriptures is complete, certain and final. The Scriptures are accepted by the Lutheran Confessions as the actual Word of God. The Lutheran Confessions urge us to believe the Scriptures for “they will not lie to you” (LC,V, 76) and cannot be “false and deceitful” (FC SD, VII, 96). The Bible is God’s “pure, infallible, and unalterable Word” (Preface to the BOC). The Lutheran Confessions are the “basis, rule, and norm indicating how all doctrines should be judged in conformity with the Word of God” (FC SD RN). Because the Confessions are in complete doctrinal agreement with the written Word of God, they serve as the standard in the Lutheran Church to determine what is faithful Biblical teaching, insofar as that teaching is addressed in the Confessions.

Clearly, the Confessions merely summarize and underscore what the Bible already says.

I get that some of you might still be a little uneasy about all of this though. So, if that's you, then please take a few minutes to read this brief summary of the reality titled "The Lutheran Confessions And The Bible" from Robert D. Preus...

The Lutheran Confessions And The Bible 
Scripture Is Divinely Authoritative 
The average Lutheran layman today may not know any Latin, but he probably knows what the phrase sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) means. It means that we Lutherans base our theology solely on the Scriptures of God and nothing else, not tradition, not human speculation, not modern scholarship, not our experiences or feelings or anything else. Sola Scriptura is a watchword, a guide for action, for every true Lutheran, pastor or layman. 
This was the position and practice of Luther and our Lutheran Confessions. "The Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine" (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9). "We pledge ourselves to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged" (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 3). This is the spirit in which our great Lutheran Confessions speak. Everything we need to believe and do as Christians is told us in the Scriptures. Just as our Lord Jesus was a man of one Book and drew all His teaching from that one divine source and submitted Himself to it utterly in all He said and did, so we too who are His disciples today place ourselves joyfully under that prophetic and apostolic Word. And with our Lutheran Confessions we say: "No human being's writings dare be put on a par with it, but ... everything must be subjected to it" (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9). 
What persuades us as Christians to render such an exalted place to the Scriptures in our lives and teachings? It is the marvelous content of Scripture, which is the Gospel -- as Luther said, "Christ is involved in Scripture through and through, like the body in its clothes" (WA, 12, 418). And it is 20 the Spirit of Christ who witnesses in our hearts that as Scripture speaks judgment and grace it proclaims God's judgment and grace to all men. We believe in the absolute authority of Scripture because Christ accepted the absolute authority of the prophetic Word of the Old Testament and because He guaranteed the absolute authority of the apostolic Word of the New Testament by His promise of the Holy Spirit to His apostles. 
Why Is Scripture Authoritative? 
Edmund Schlink of Heidelberg answers: "Because God saves through the Word proclaimed by it." But this is no answer to the question and confuses the issue. God saves also through the Word proclaimed in hymns and sermons and Christian literature. No, Scripture is authoritative because it is God's Word. How often do our Confessions contrast God's Word in Scripture to any human being's writings and insist that all our doctrine be drawn "out of God's Word" (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 3,4,5,9, 10, 16; Ep, 1, 7, 8)! And Luther says: "The Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel" (SA, II, ii, 15). In contrast to all other writings and human authorities, God's Word carries with it God's authority. 
And this authority is absolute and final. What Scripture asserts God asserts, what it commands He commands, what it promises God promises! Because our Lutheran Confessions believe in such infallible authority, they cite the Scriptures hundreds of times and regard Scripture's answers to the great problems and issues of their day as God's answers. 
Today such a conviction regarding Biblical authority is rejected by many theologians. The Bible cannot carry divine authority with it, because it is not the very Word of God, they say. Although it may somehow "convey" or "contain" or "become" the Word of God, it must be read like any other human book. This is exactly the posture taken by many who use the "historical-critical method" (also called "higher criticism"), employed within the church by some scholars for about 200 years, since the time of Rationalism and the Enlightenment in Europe. 
It is quite clear that such modern views -- which were shared by unbelievers in the early centuries of church history -- are not compatible with the position of Luther and our Confessions. The approach of higher criticism is likely to result in questioning, again and again, the 21 evangelical doctrine which is drawn from the right reading of the Sacred Scriptures. Today, after 400 years, we need have no doubt concerning the divine authority of Scripture and therefore of our Gospel message drawn from it. And today Scripture still authenticates itself as the only source of our knowledge of God and of His grace. 
Threefold Tier Of Authority In The Church 
Now that we have talked about the authority of our Confessions and creeds as norms for teaching in the church and also about the authority of Scripture, the reader may be a bit confused. Are there, then, levels of authority? Yes. Precisely. Specifically there is a threefold tier of authority in the church, according to our Confessions. 
(1) "The prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments" are "the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated" (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 3). That statement means two things: (a) Scripture is the one divine source from which, as from a spring or fountain, we draw all our theology; and (b) Scripture is the only norm to judge teachers and teachings in the church. 
(2) The Confessions, on the other hand, are the "basis, rule, and norm, indicating how all doctrines should be judged in conformity with the Word of God" (ibid., Heading). This means, quite simply, that the Confessions state what we Lutherans believe to be the teachings of Scripture and what we therefore believe, teach, and publicly confess. 
(3) Other good Christian writings, that is, "good, useful, and pure books, such as interpretations of the Holy Scriptures, refutations of errors, and expositions of doctrinal articles" have their place too. They are not to be rejected or spurned. "If they are in accord with the aforementioned pattern of doctrine [namely, the Confessions], they are to be accepted and used as helpful expositions and explanations" (ibid., 10). 
Scripture, the Confessions, other good Christian literature! Scripture's authority is divine and absolute. The Confessions' authority is derived from their agreement with Scripture and is binding for everyone who professes to be a Lutheran. Other Christian writings are authoritative and useful too when they agree with Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. 
The Confessions And Scriptural Inerrancy 
Do our Lutheran Confessions teach that the Scriptures are inerrant? And do they interpret the Scriptures in such a light? There has been much debate on this issue lately, and therefore we must give the question our attention. 
When we call Scripture inerrant we are using a relatively modern word to express the utter reliability and truthfulness of Scripture and of all its assertions. The term we use may be somewhat modern, but the conviction it expresses is as old as Scripture itself. The Scriptures teach and assume everywhere their utter truthfulness, and so do our Lutheran Confessions. 
When our Confessions take for granted the divine origin of Scripture, they likewise take for granted its reliability and inerrancy. In our Confessions the Bible is called "the Holy Scripture of God" (FC SD, V, 3), "the clear Scripture of the Holy Spirit" (Ap, Preface, 9). Again and again "God's Word" and "Holy Scripture" are used interchangeably in our Confessions. This assurance concerning the divine origin and nature of Scripture is fundamental to a proper reading and approach to Scripture. The Lutheran Confessions consistently read Scripture as God's Word, carrying with it God's authority, God's power, God's truthfulness. 
In other words, the inerrancy, or truthfulness, of Scripture is a definite result of its divine origin. And so our Lutheran Confessions speak of Scripture as "the eternal truth" (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 13). They urge us to believe the Scriptures, for "they will not lie to you" (LC, V, 76; cf. IV, 57) and cannot be "false or deceitful" (FC SD, VII, 96). And why? Because God, who is eternal Truth, cannot contradict Himself in Scripture (FC SD, XI, 35). It is His "pure, infallible, and unalterable Word" (Preface to the Book of Concord, p. 8). 
This childlike trust in the truthfulness of Scripture permeates our Confessions as they confidently go about the business of citing and interpreting and applying the Scripture to the great issues of their day. The power of our Confessions rests in great measure on their joyful and total submission to the divine Word. 
SOURCE: Getting Into The Theology Of Concord By Robert D. Preus (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977), pgs. 7-29.

Hopefully, that did a much better job of explaining things for you.

Remember, even the writers of the Confessions wanted everyone to clearly understand that "no human being's writings dare be put on a par with it, but ... everything must be subjected to it" (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9).

In a Lutheran layman's terms, the Confessions are not intended to take the place of the Bible (or to even be on par with it), but they are there to help us understand what it is we believe, teach, and confess and they are there to explain it all in layman's terms.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Useful and informative post! I heard the role and importance of the Confessions best summed up by two individuals, paraphrased below:

    "You say you believe in the Bible, ok. But what do you believe the Bible says?" This was in the lecture on the Book of Concord by Rev. Will Weedon (http://www.lutheranlayman.com/search?q=book+of+concord) that you linked a while back.

    "Our church will survive because we have the strongest confession." Dr. Leo Mackay, speaking at a leadership forum, for Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries. He spoke about the grounding of our church on the BOC and how it is vital for our church.

    It's a shame we can't get more people to read the BOC, but as I am currently slogging my way through Melanchthon's "verbal diarrhea" (as Rev. Weedon put it!) in the Apology, I can understand it.


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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