Lutheran Confessionalism

Origin of the name “Lutheran.”

Before the Reformation, those not of Roman Catholic persuasion were known as “Evangelicals.” However, as the Reformation (1517) unfolded, those who received and confessed the teachings of the Bible as set forth by Martin Luther (1483-1546) who had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church were called Lutherans–the beginning of the “Lutheran” Church. They thus were distinguished from other evangelicals. Luther did not coin the name. He said, “I ask that men make no reference to my name and call themselves not Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? After all, the doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. . . Let us cast out party names and be called Christians after Him whose doctrine we have. . .”. (1*). The use of his name nevertheless persisted.  He once called himself a “weak Lutheran.” (2) He said, “Luther himself has no desire to be a Lutheran except insofar as he teaches the Holy Scripture in purity.” (3) Further, “But if you believe that Luther’s doctrine is evangelical and the pope’s unevangelical, you must not flatly deny Luther; otherwise you also disown his doctrine, which you admittedly recognize as the doctrine of Christ.” (4)

What defines Lutheran?

The sixty-six divinely inspired books of Holy Scripture are the source of Christian doctrine. The Bible in all its parts is the holy, inerrant Word of God because   “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:21).  Lutherans believe “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [is God-breathed] . . .”  (2 Timothy 3:16). Lutherans believe that the Bible defines what is taught in the Church; the Church does not define what is taught in Scripture. Thus the Law–which exposes sin and condemns the sinner–is preached; at the same time, the Gospel–which sets forth the grace and mercy of God, forgives sins and brings the message of salvation in Christ–is proclaimed.

The cardinal [chief] doctrine of Holy Scripture is justification by grace though faith in Christ Jesus alone.  “On account of the perfect merit of Christ, [God] justifies them, that is, He regards as righteous all those who believe that for Christ’s sake their sins are forgiven.” (5)

The Spirit of God produces the sanctified life of the Christian through the Gospel. The Christian life is not mandated, but is a fruit of faith. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. . . (Ephesians 2:10).

 “The perfectly pure, the only, and the certain Word of God must be the foundation of our faith.” (6) If it is not Scripture, it is not Lutheran!

What is a confession?

In the context of what the Church teaches—its doctrine—a confession is what is taught and believed.  A confession of what is taught distinguishes churches and denominations from one another.  In the Lutheran Church the Holy Scriptures alone determine what is to be taught and believed. What is actually taught and believed in a church body can be discovered  by what is preached in its  pulpits, found in its writings, and taught in its schools. Confessions of the Church are another distinctive public witness of what is believed and taught. The distinctive confessions of the Lutheran Church are found in the Book of Concord of 1580.

         The Ecumenical (universal) Christian Creeds

The Apostles’ Creed

The Nicene Creed

The Athanasian Creed

       Specific Lutheran Confessions

The Augsburg Confession

The Apology (defense) of the

Augsburg Confession

The Smalcald Articles

Luther’s Small Catechism

Luther’s Large Catechism

The Formula of Concord

What is confessional Lutheranism?

Confessional Lutheranism faithfully teaches all Holy Scripture without mixture of human opinion or philosophy, practices the same, and proclaims justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.  Confessional Lutherans believe that the Word of God is as enduring and sure as Jesus Christ Who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, confessional Lutherans do not change, adapt, or bend the Scriptures to satisfy reason, changing social mores, human agendas, or an allegedly more enlightened age. In matters of doctrine two directives of Scripture apply: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16), and again, “He who has My Word, let him speak My word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28).  A confessional Lutheran Church takes doctrine  seriously in keeping with the commission of the Lord to “teach all things that I have commanded you . . .”  (Matthew 28:20).

With respect to truth or veracity on one hand, or practice on the other, confessional Lutherans faithful to the Word make no distinction between what the church calls fundamental or non-fundamental doctrines. If it is in Scripture, it is God’s Word. That said, confessional Lutherans accept the confessions found in the Book of Concord of 1580 without qualification because (quia) they are completely faithful to the teachings of the Bible. Confessional Lutheranism is identified not only by its verbal commitment to the Word of God and the Confessions, but by what is taught and practiced.

Other marks of Lutheranism

Historically, the Lutheran Church is a liturgical church. Its Trinitarian liturgy with confession of sins and absolution reflects its commitment to the truth. It has the Lord and His Word at its center, not entertainment nor the choir or the worship leaders. Its purpose is not to satisfy the senses and emotion, or political or social agendas, but to touch hearts in word and song with the everlasting Word of life which prepares souls for eternity. The Lutheran liturgy is reverent in its tone as worshipers are on sacred ground in the presence of the Lord as His Word is preached. “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God: and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools…” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). The liturgy and the message combine to convince the worshipers that they were in the house of God.

Emphasis on the Means of Grace (Gospel in Word and Sacrament) distinguishes the confessionally faithful Lutheran Church from other protestant evangelicals as well as from the Catholic Church.

Is Confessional Lutheranism dying?

Informed individuals concerned about the state of the Lutheran Church today, as well as for the eternal welfare of their own soul and that of others, will measure the Lutheran Church not according to subjective opinion or reason, but according to God’s Word. Therefore:

  • Does the church accept and teach the whole Bible as the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God?
  • Does the church take seriously the commission to preach the Gospel to all people, as well as all that the Lord commands?
  • Are both the Law and the Gospel proclaimed faithfully, according to the specific purpose of each? Is there a clear delineation of sin and grace?
  • Does the church teach justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone?
  • Does the church subscribe to and confess without qualification the historic Lutheran Confessions drawn from the Scriptures and found in the Book of Concord of 1580?
  • Does the church uncompromisingly confess the Reformation principles: “By Scripture Alone, By Grace Alone, By Faith Alone”?
  • Is the emphasis of the church on the Means of Grace (Gospel in word and sacrament)?
  • Does the church take seriously the Lord’s loving command and will that essential to church fellowship practice is agreement in all that Scripture teaches?
  • Does the church practice what it preaches and confesses?
  • Has a worshiper heard the way of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus?

Comparing what is taught in a church or synod to the Word of God alone, and considering what Luther said about being a Lutheran, and that Lutheran means being loyal to Scripture, (6) would he choose to be a member of the Lutheran Church today?

Now the most difficult question: Introspection

The name of our synod is Church of the Lutheran Confession, a name chosen in a time of conflict for a reason. The question: “Are we still true to the name?”  As we abide by Scripture, and the Lutheran Confessions, we are.  “Heavenly Father, for Jesus’ sake and by the power of the Holy Spirit help us to remain so.” We invite scrutiny by any who will compare what we teach to the Holy Scriptures.

“If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

*) References,1-4, 6 are from What Luther Says, Vol. II pp. 856-858, CPH St Louis

5) cf Concordia Triglotta, Augsburg Confession, Art. IV

 Contend for the Faith tracts, 2017, Daniel Fleischer

Oakdale, MN

Lord, Keep us Steadfast in Thy Word . . .

  Throughout All Generations