The Book of Concord

What are the Lutheran Confessions? How are documents which were written hundreds of years ago – in another continent across the world – important or valuable for us today? What use should we make of them? In this series we will consider these questions, and evaluate the use and importance of these documents for us today. May the Holy Spirit bless our study!

What are the Lutheran Confessions or the “symbols” of the Lutheran Church? Generally these phrases are used to describe the documents complied in the Book of Concord. The Book of Concord was compiled and printed under the editorship of Jacob Andreae in the year 1580 for the 50th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession. It included:

          The Three Ecumenical Creeds;

          Luther’s Small Catechism (1529);

          Luther’s Large Catechism (1529);

          The Augsburg Confession (1530);

          The Apology (1531);

          The Smalcald Articles , including the appendix, “Concerning the Power and Primacy of the Pope” (1537);

          The Formula of Concord, both Epitome and Solid Declaration (1577).

To view a chart outlining the date, author and a brief explanation of each of the above documents, click here.

Confessions of faith can be divided up into the following groups:

          Ecumenical confessions, which have been accepted by all Christendom (at least in the past), and are still acknowledged by most churches today;

          Particular confessions, which have been adopted by various denominations of divided Christendom;

          Private confessions, which have been formulated and published by individuals but not officially accepted by a larger group.

Scripture records many private confessions: Moses confessed, “Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psalm 90:2); Peter said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16); Thomas declared “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28); and Paul records one of the earliest Christian confessions, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16). These inspired private confessions (and other parts of Scripture) were the foundation for the many ecumenical and particular confessions which would follow in the years to come.

Within the Book of Concord we have different kinds of confessions. The three Creeds would be Ecumenical confessions, since they were accepted by the Christian Church as an accurate description of what it believed and taught. The Small and Large Catechisms were written as a private confession, but came to be accepted by Lutherans and have been used widely since that time. The rest were written as particular confessions in order to state the beliefs of a large number of individuals, and to point out the errors of others (Romanists, Protestants, and other Lutherans). Since that time other particular confessions have been added (e.g. The Brief Statement of 1932).

As we consider the confessions of the church, we will notice how they became longer over time. They began as short and concise confessions, but were added to as false teachings arose within the church, and as it became necessary to clarify the truth and teachings of Scripture.

Our faith is not to be founded on any man-made confession or confessions, but on the Word of God. While such confessions can serve to clarify the teachings of Scripture and instruct, such confessions must always be based on the words of Scripture, and be ever subordinate to Scripture as the only infallible source of truth, doctrine and practice. May our faith and confession continue to rest solely on the Word of God.

Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.

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