Holy Gospel and the Holy Scriptures
Now that we have
defined the authority of Scripture and the meaning of the Gospel as our
Confessions use these terms, we must address ourselves to the relationship
between the Scriptures and the Gospel.
There is much
discussion today in Lutheran circles about the relationship between
Scripture and the Gospel. Certainly there is a relationship! The Gospel we
preach and teach and confess is set forth in the Scriptures and normed by
them. At the same time, the Scriptures, inspired by God, were written for
the sake of the Gospel.
However, the idea seems
to be current among some Lutheran theologians (perhaps because they have
lost confidence in the inerrancy and absolute authority of Scripture) that
Scripture is not the norm for Christian doctrine and therefore also for
the doctrine of the Gospel. Rather the Gospel which, according to our
Lutheran Confessions, is "the delightful proclamation of God's grace
and favor acquired through the merits of Christ" (FC Ep, V, 7) is
such a norm. This is a dangerous idea, not only because it is wrong and
utterly confusing, but because it sounds so pious. The Gospel is the norm,
the saying goes. There is an attractive, though deceptive, evangelical
ring to that statement.
For instance, one
Lutheran scholar today tells us that according to the Lutheran Confessions
the Scriptures are authoritative not because of their divine origin but
because of their power to judge and pardon. And another theologian says
that the authority of Scripture is the power conferred upon it by God to
save and to judge. The implication in both cases is that the authority of
Scripture is nothing but the power of the Gospel it proclaims.
Now such a position
utterly confuses the function of the Gospel with one of the functions of
Scripture. It confuses the power of the Gospel with the authority
of Scripture. And thus it undermines both.
Scripture is the
authority for the Gospel according to our Lutheran Confessions. When
Melanchthon debates with the Roman Catholics on the nature and content and
function of the Gospel of justification by faith in his Apology of the
Augsburg Confession (IV), his authority is always Scripture. And Scripture
is authoritative, according to our Confessions, not because it contains
and proclaims the Gospel--the Gospel is proclaimed in many writings--but
because it is God's Word (Ap, IV, 108; XV, 14; LC, 1, 121;
, Rule and Norm, 10). Although our Confessions use the term "Word of
God" in a number of senses, there is no doubt that they again and
again identify the Scriptures with the Word of God. And that is why the
Scriptures are authoritative for the teaching and preaching of the Gospel.
But if Scripture is not
authoritative because the Gospel is contained therein, it most
certainly is authoritative for the sake of the Gospel. In other
words, the Scriptures were written for the sake of the Gospel (John 20:31;
2 Tim. 3:15). And so were our Lutheran Confessions. The authority of
Scripture is not an end in itself. Our great Lutheran Confessions do not
just assert their confidence in the divine authority of Scripture and then
leave it at that. Their concern is always that the church under the
Scriptures might propagate the Gospel Word "that alone brings
salvation" (Preface to the Book of Concord, p. 13). And so it is the
function of Scripture to be the divine authority for evangelical teachers
and teachings in the church. And it is the function of the Gospel to be
the power for such teachers and teachings.
It is significant that
the New Testament never calls the Gospel an authority or a norm-nor do our
Lutheran Confessions. Rather it calls the Gospel power, spiritual power,
power to save us forever (Rom. 1:16; 15:16; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; Eph. 1:13; 1
Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:10). And so do our Confessions.
According to our
Confessions it is the Gospel that creates faith in someone's heart, brings
him the Holy Spirit, and comforts him with the treasure of salvation (SA,
III, iv; AC, V, 2; Ap, IV, 73; LC, 11, 38). It is the Gospel that offers
and confers consolation and continual forgiveness (SA, III, iii, 8). It is
the Gospel by which the church lives and flourishes (Ap, VII, 20; Tr, 25;
LC, 11, 43, 56). It is the Gospel that incites true piety which is
pleasing to God (Ap, IV, 122 ff.). And it is for the sake of the Gospel
that God's fallen creation still exists (LC, 11, 61 ff.).
authority of Scripture does not diminish the wonderful and saving power of
the Gospel, but supports it. And the power of the Gospel does not vitiate
the divine authority of Scripture. Let us leave the Gospel its power-not
only when we may read it in Scripture, but wherever it is preached and
taught in the church. And let us leave Scripture its authority. Then we
will not only be talking sense, but we will be talking like confessional
into The Theology of
by Robert D. Preus
Concordia Publishing House, 1977), pgs.7-10.
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