Really is a Lutheran?
What really is a
Lutheran? This is a question which has not only perplexed non-Lutherans
who have observed Lutherans in our country and all over the world split
into a confusing plethora of territorial churches and synods; but the
question is asked, and very sincerely, by more and more Lutherans who are
distressed over the disunity so apparent the world over. It is surely a
valid question, and vital for millions who studied and believe Luther's
Small Catechism and wish to remain faithful to its teachings and to their
confirmation vow. And it is a question, ironically, which is really quite
simple to answer.
This is a question that
is of importance for Lutheran lay people and anyone else who is interested
in understanding better what, exactly, a Lutheran is.
The answer is simple
because we Lutherans for over 400 years have been guided in our belief and
teaching and preaching by a number of Confessions which are collected
together in one volume called the Book of Concord.
This Book of Concord
contains a quite divergent assortment of creeds and formal confessions
which have one thing in common, a doctrinal unity, a united commitment to
the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this book are the
ecumenical creeds, developed and written from the second to the sixth
century, long before the Reformation. Included also are Luther's Small
Catechism and his Large Catechism (1529),which were not originally
intended to be confessions at all in the usual sense, but were written for
children and ordinary adults to summarize the Christian faith and the way
of salvation for them. Perhaps the most important confession included in
our Book of Concord is the Augsburg Confession (1530), written by Philip
Melanchthon and presented on behalf of the Lutheran princes of the day at
a very important meeting with the emperor to testify to the world exactly
what the Protestant churches in their lands taught about the Christian
religion and the Gospel. A year later (1531), Melanchthon wrote a defense
of this great confession called the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, a
very lengthy treatise in which he defends the theology of the Augsburg
Confession, especially on such crucial issues of the Reformation as
justification by faith, the importance of good works, the work of Christ,
repentance, and the like.
In 1537, Luther was
asked to write a confession for a church council the pope suggested he
might hold but which never came about. It was written at a little town
called Smalcald and is called the Smalcald Articles. It is a bold and
militant document, but at the same time exhibits Luther's great heart and
concern for the Gospel and for the church, and it wins the reader by its
sincerity and conviction. Later in the same year Melanchthon wrote a short
Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope because Luther had seemingly
not said enough about this in his Smalcald Articles. This too was included
in our Book of Concord.
After Luther died in
1546, all kinds of controversies and misunderstandings broke out among the
. After years of debate and monumental attempts at settling the doctrinal
issues the Formula of Concord was written in 1577. This was a joint
undertaking of a great many Lutheran theologians who wanted only to settle
the disputes and remain faithful to their Lutheran heritage. They were
eminently successful. The Formula of Concord was signed by thousands of
Lutheran pastors in the German empire; at a later date the
also signed this document. Now peace (concordia) was established. The
Reformation and the cause of the Gospel went on, uninhibited by doctrinal
In 1580 all these
creeds and confessions were incorporated into the Book of Concord, which
Lutheran pastors subscribe and pledge themselves today because they are a
pure exposition of the Word of God. Although the Book of Concord contains
documents written over 400 years ago, what is taught in these documents is
precisely, or ought to be, what is believed and taught and confessed by
every Lutheran pastor, and layman today.
No collection of books
or statement has so adequately, so accurately, so comfortingly reflected
and exhibited the Biblical Gospel as do the Lutheran Confessions.
Soli Deo gloria: to
God alone the glory!
into The Theology of
by Robert D. Preus
Concordia Publishing House, 1977), pgs.7-10.
To order a
copy of this book call 800-325-3040