The Formula of Concord

After Luther

In 1537, while sick at Smalcald, Luther told the Elector that after his death conflict would arise and his doctrine would be changed. Already Luther saw the trouble that was brewing among the leaders of Lutheranism. Sadly, Luther’s good friend Philip Melanchthon would be a big part of that trouble, as he became increasingly more humanistic and synergistic in his thinking. This change in Melanchthon was a primary contributor to the great and very hostile split within Lutheranism which followed.

After Luther’s death, two parties emerged in Lutheranism – those who followed Luther (known as the Gnesio-Lutherans) and those who followed Melanchthon (known and the Philippists).


The Philippists were unionistic and liberal, and were led by the theologians of Saxony headquartered at the Universities of Wittenberg and Leipzig. Among the Philippists were Joachim Camerarius, Paul Eber, Caspar Cruciger, Jr., George Major, John Pfeffinger, Caspar Peucer, Paul Crell and Victorin Strigel.

The leaders of gnesio-Lutheranism were based in Magdeburg and the University of Jena. Nicholas Amsdorf, Matthias Flacius, Johann Wigand, Matthias Judex, Joachim Westpal and Simon Musaeus were some of the men in this group. As we will see, these men were reactionary and often went too far in trying to defend the truth of Scripture against the Philippists, resulting in teaching falsely in the opposite extreme.

A third group also emerged from this battle in the later years. They sought to bring the opposition of these two groups to an end and to establish the true teaching of Scripture which had been hidden by the opposing extremes. These men were instrumental in the formation of the Formula of Concord, and included Jacob Andreae, Martin Chemnitz, Nicholas Selneccer, Johannes Brenz, David Chytraeus and others.


For over thirty years (1546 - 1577) Lutheranism was plagued with bitter controversy. Interestingly, these controversies centered primarily on the very doctrines that the Reformation had sought to establish against the errors of the Papacy: Sin and grace, justification by faith, good works, and the Lord’s Supper. Like today, both sides maintained that the Bible was the final authority, and that the Word was the foundation for their teaching, but allowed reason to re-interpret it. How often devil uses such treachery to lead people away from Christ! So let us learn from the errors of others and turn to God’s Word alone for truth. We will consider each of these controversies chronologically, which is different from the order presented in the Formula of Concord.

        The Antinomistic Controversy (1527-1560) was, in a way, a natural by-product of the reformation which sought to emphasize the Gospel. John Agricola went so far as to state: “the 10 commandments belong in a courtroom, not the pulpit.” He taught that the Law is not needed by Christians. Many others also adhered to this teaching in the years after Luther’s death. This is answered in Articles V and VI in the Formula of Concord which discuss the difference between the Law and the Gospel and the use of the Law as a guide for Christians (the so-called third use).

        The Adiaphoristic Controversy (1548 - 1555) was occasioned by the re-institution of Roman Catholic ceremonies in Lutheran churches by Elector Maurice. This action was supported by the Philippists who claimed that it was adiaphora, and opposed by the Gnesio-Lutherans who said that is was an offense to the weak and must be rejected. This is addressed in Article X.

          The Osiandristic and Stancarian Controversy (1549 -1566) was brought about by Andrew Osiander who taught that sinners are made righteous by an infusion of the divine nature of Christ. Even though he was opposed by almost all Lutherans, Francesco Stancaro asserted that Christ justified us through His human nature alone. Both of these teachings are condemned in Article III.

        The Majoristic Controversy (1552-1577) concerned the role of good works in our salvation and emerged as a result of Melanchthon’s statement: “Good works are necessary for salvation.” This teaching was championed by one of Melanchthon’s students, George Major. Nicholas Amsdorf, replied with the false statement that “good works are detrimental to salvation.” The proper teaching on the role of good works is declared in Article IV.

        The Synergistic Controversy (1555-1560) dealt with the doctrine of conversion. This was one of the largest controversies during these years, because of the vast number of people involved. The Philippists held that man cooperates in his conversion by his own natural power. The opposing Lutherans held that unregenerate man is spiritually dead in sin and can in no way cooperate in conversion. This dispute was addressed in Article II.

        The Flacian Controversy (1560-1575) was a result of the synergistic controversy. Matthias Flacius went so far as to say that original sin is not an accident but the very substance of fallen man. He continued to adhere to this teaching until his death and was deposed because of it. The Formula discusses this error in Article I where it states that human nature and original sin are distinct.

        The Crypto-Calvinistic Controversy (1560-1574) was the result of the intrusion of Calvin’s teaching within Lutheranism. Melanchthon had gradually been won over to Calvin’s rational understanding of the nature of Christ and His bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper. Already in 1550, Melachthon’s followers began to introduce such Calvinistic phraseology into their teachings. Articles VII and VIII point out these “secretly Calvinist” teachings.

        The Hamburg Controversy was a local controversy involving Christ’s descent into hell. John Aepinus taught that Christ’s descent into hell was part of his suffering and humiliation instead of his exaltation. This is addressed in Article IX.

        The Strasburg Controversy dealt with the doctrine of predestination, and the false teaching of “once saved, always saved.”

The Formula of Concord

The Formula of Concord was originally formed from two separate confessions: The lengthy Swabian-Saxon Formula written by Jacob Andreae, and the shorter Maulbronn Formula written by Luke Osiander and Balthasar Bidembach. These two documents were combined into one by Andreae and Chemnitz and called the Torgau Book (the Epitome is a summary of this document).

After additional review by other Lutheran theologians the Torgau Book was re-worked and elaborated by Andreae, Chemnitz, Selneccer and others at the Bergen Cloister (thus receiving the title Bergen Book). This became the Solid Declaration.

The Formula of Concord consists of two documents, the Epitome and the Solid Declaration. The Epitome has a helpful format: It first states the nature of the controversy, declares the true doctrine, and then condemns the error. While the Solid Declaration does not follow that same format, it is much more thorough (five times longer than the Epitome), and has the added benefit of enlisting passages from Scripture, from the Church Fathers, from previous Lutheran Confessions, and from Luther’s writings.

A Closer Look

A close look at these Lutheran controversies demonstrates that these same errors are alive and well in Christian denominations today, and still threaten the truth of the Gospel. Lord help us to stand firm against the intrusion of such doctrinal errors and not give in to the prevailing wind of unionism in this world. Preserve the truth of Your precious Word in our midst!

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

If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew