What is a “Confessional” Lutheran?
By Pastor Rolf Preus (July, 2007)
When people hear the word “confessional” they might think of the little booth into which the penitent goes to confess his sins to the priest. This is not what we mean when we speak of confessional Lutherans. A confessional Lutheran confesses the truth. God tells us to confess the true faith. Read Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:9; 1 Timothy 6:12-14; 1 Peter 3:15; 1 John 4:2. How can we know the truth we are to confess? The Scriptures alone are the source and standard of the truth that we are to confess. (John 16:13; Hebrews 1:1-2; Rev. 22:18)
The word “confess” as it is used in the New Testament means literally “to speak the same thing.” A faithful Christian confession confesses the same truth that is confessed in every other faithful Christian confession. The Holy Christian Church has always confessed the faith in accordance with our Lord’s command. The individual Christian has the duty to confess his personal faith (Matthew 10:32) even as the Church has the duty to confess her corporate faith. (Jude 3) The personal faith and the corporate faith are the same. The three catholic creeds are confessions of the Church’s faith. Other confessions of the Church’s faith are the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), the Smalcald Articles (1538), the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1540), the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther (1529), and the Formula of Concord (1577). These confessions of the 16th century, first published together in the Book of Concord of 1580, are known as the Lutheran Confessions, but they do not belong only to the Lutherans. They are confessions of the Holy Catholic Church since they teach what has always and everywhere been taught in and by Christ’s Church on earth. A confessional Lutheran claims that the teaching of the Book of Concord is from God. Since everything taught in the Book of Concord is drawn from the Holy Scriptures and agrees with them, we voluntarily and unanimously bind ourselves to the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions.
Holy Scripture is the Only Source and Standard for Christian Teaching
“For thorough, permanent unity in the Church, it is necessary, above all things, that we have a comprehensive, unanimously approved summary and form of teaching. The common doctrine must be brought together from God’s Word and reduced to a small circle of teaching, which the churches that are of the true Christian religion must confess. They must do this just as the Ancient Church always had its fixed symbols for this use.” (FC, SD, Rule and Norm, par 1)
“First, then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged.” (FC, SD, Rule and Norm, par 3)
“Therefore, in obedience to Your Imperial Majesty's wishes, we offer, in this matter of religion, the Confession of our preachers and of ourselves, showing what manner of doctrine from the Holy Scriptures and the pure Word of God has been up to this time set forth in our lands, dukedoms, dominions, and cities, and taught in our churches.” (Preface of AC)
The Confessions are a Standard of Doctrine because they Agree with the Bible
“In conclusion, we repeat once again that we are not minded to manufacture anything new by this work of agreement or to depart in any way at all, either in content or in formulation, from the divine truth that our pious forebears and we have acknowledged and confessed in the past, for our agreement is based on the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures and is comprehended in the three Creeds as well as in the Augsburg Confession, submitted in the year 1530 to Emperor Charles V, of kindest memory, in the Apology that followed it, and in the Smalcald Articles and the Large and Small Catechism of that highly enlightened man, Dr. Luther. On the contrary, we are minded by the grace of the Holy Spirit to abide and remain unanimously in this confession of faith and to regulate all religious controversies and their explanations according to it. (Preface to the Book of Concord)
Other Writings are Useful Guides
Writings of Athanasius, Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, C. F. W. Walther, and many others serve as useful guides and should be read and respected. The premier teacher of the Church (after the time of the apostles) is Martin Luther. Lutheran synods have adopted valuable documents such as the Brief Statement and “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles.” However, we subscribe unconditionally only to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
Unconditional Subscription requires: 1) That the Confessions be drawn from the clear Scriptures; 2) That all ministers voluntarily subscribe; 3) That this unconditional subscription be given publicly at ordination; 4) That the confession may not be altered in any way; 5) That the churches served by the ministers also subscribe unconditionally; 6) That the church hold her ministers to the standard of doctrine set forth in the written confessions.