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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

13 July 2005

What Is a Confessional Lutheran?

Q: Your blog says that you are a “confessional Lutheran pastor.” What does “confessional” mean?

A: We’re familiar with “conservatism.” In Christianity, 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 are asked to do the same if they wish to join themselves to our body. Most Lutheran bodies demand some form of confessional subscription. Some insist that it be done absolutely without reservation, while others allow conditional subscription. For a discussion of the differences between the two (technically termed quia and quatenus), see Aardvark Alley’s entry, 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.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


Blogger Chris Jones said...


It seems to me that there is more than one sort of "conditional" subscription. Quatenus subscription seems to mean "insofar as I think that the Confessions agree with the Scriptures", which then amounts to a subscription only to one's own views.

But what would you think of someone who said "I subscribe to the Confessions because they are an authentic witness to the apostolic tradition, and I will interpret them in such a way that they are consistent with all of the other authentic witnesses to the apostolic tradition"?

I don't think we should interpret the Confessions in a way that is inconsistent with (for example) the Chalcedonian definition, the Tome of Leo, or the writings of St Cyril of Alexandria. But what about the definition of Constantinople III or the writings of SS Maximus Confessor and John Damascene? Do we judge these by the Confessions, or do we read the Confessions in a way that is consistent with these expressions of the tradition?

Where does the buck stop for Lutherans?

18 July, 2005 08:06  
Blogger The Terrible Swede said...

Pr. Snyder,

Can't I say that a confessional Lutheran is the same as an orthodox Lutheran? I believe them to be the same.

25 July, 2005 19:14  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

I respond in a new post: See Confessional and Orthodox Lutheranism.


26 July, 2005 01:16  
Blogger Carl Vehse said...

"Many confessions were produced. Six were drawn together with the Creeds into The Book of Concord (Agreement)."

Well, closer to seven (AC, Ap, SA, Tr, LC, SC, FC)... or eight, if you separate the FC into the Ep and SD. With the three Creeds, which are part of the Book of Concord, there would be ten (or eleven) Symbols... or eight if the three creeds are lumped together as one Symbol.

The Catalog of Testimonies is not a formal part of the Book of Concord but was included with the printing of the German edition in 1580. It is not mention specifically in the ordination vow of pastors within the Missouri Synod (or the Synodical constitution)... but, then, neither is the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.

29 July, 2009 17:20  
Blogger Carl Vehse said...

Where does the buck stop for Lutherans?”

For Lutherans the “quia buck” would “stop” with the Confessions themselves. However, pastors who have voluntarily become members of the Missouri Synod, along with professors, teachers of the church, and congregations have agreed (since 1852) to recognize C.F.W. Walther’s Kirche und Amt as the definitive statement under Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions of the Synod’s understanding on the subject of church and ministry. That means as a Missouri Synod member, a pastor’s quia confession of the Book of Concord recognizes the Synod’s position on the doctrine of church and ministry to be congruent with the Confessions.

Furthermore, such pastors, professors, teachers of the church, and congregations, as members of the Missouri Synod, have promised to honor and uphold this Synodical resolution on the doctrinal understanding of church and ministry as the official position of our Synod on church and ministry and teach in accordance with it (rather than the heterodox views of Grabau, Loehe, and Hoefling).

29 July, 2009 17:46  

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