Q: I’ve read that call yourself a “confessional” Lutheran. What does this mean?
A: Most of us are familiar with conservatism. In the case of our church (and many others), it means those unwilling or unlikely to make hasty change, who are connected to their past, and who interpret the Bible assuming that it is God’s revealed, true Word. We officially reject those who call the Bible a human invention, or a mixture of the divine and the human.
The word “confessional” is not so commonly used. Normally, we think of a confession as an admission of guilt. “Confess” has a root meaning of “acknowledge together.” In matters of error, we state that we have, indeed, done what’s wrong — we “fess up.” But confession also has positive application: It can be used to declare faith. Thus, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” is a confession.
Christians have always made such confessions. Lutherans emphasize the place of formalized confession of Scriptural teaching. We officially accept three of the early Creeds (statements of belief) of the Christian Church. These are the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. Each of these is a summary of Christian, Biblical teaching (doctrine).
During the time of the Reformation, in the mid-1500s, various interpretations of the Bible were being used by the parties involved. The reformers went to Scripture to assemble statements of faith which were topically arranged. For example, how many places in the Bible speak of Jesus’ return in judgment on the Last Day? A formal confession pulls all these references together into a unified article with which all can agree.
Many confessions were produced. Six were drawn together with the Creeds into The Book of Concord (Agreement). All who claimed the title Lutheran (or “Evangelical”) were asked to subscribe to, or agree with, the Holy Scriptures as the source and norm of all Christian teaching and these confessions as being correct expositions of Scripture.
Pastors, other church workers, and congregations of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod and other confessional Lutheran bodies are asked to do the same if they wish to join themselves to our body. A quick summary of this wholehearted agreement with the Confessions may be found at Aardvark Alley in the post Who You Calling Quia?
Confession is finally and ultimately done in the lives of individual Christians. Our confession of faith involves all we say, think, or do. It includes our confession of sins, since this acknowledges our guilt before God. It involves doing everything in life under the cross of Christ, directed ourselves toward a heavenly end. Confession’s goal is to give all praise, honor, and glory to God.
The heart of our confession of faith is that we are justified (declared righteous) by grace through faith in Christ. This is clearly expressed in Article IV of the Augsburg Confession: “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21–26; 4:5].”
Augsburg Confession quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (33). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.
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Revised and expanded from newspaper column #10:1