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Ask the Pastor

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

11 August 2005

Creeds and Confessions

Q: How do Lutherans respond to others who say that they don’t need confessions of faith such as the three historic creeds and the confessional Lutheran writings without sounding like we think that Scripture cannot be understood without these extra-Biblical writings?

A: God’s Word is met by confessions of faith throughout Scripture. Israel confessed, “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh (the Lord) is our God, Yahweh is One (or, ‘Yahweh alone’),” from Deuteronomy 6:4 (my translation). In chapter 24, Joshua asked the people to choose either the true God or the false gods of Egypt or Canaan. He concluded, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (v. 15)” True prophets and righteous leaders continued the example of asking for or making such professions.

Similarly, we have various creedal statements in the New Testament. The earliest confession of faith in Jesus is that of Simon, “You are the Christ,” as he answered Jesus’ question who they thought he was. This is still the center of the Church’s confession of faith.

Yet there is so much God has revealed about himself, our salvation, and his work in the world. This knowledge is scattered throughout Scripture, and is not always easily brought to mind. The creeds serve to “highlight” God by drawing material from Genesis through Revelation and presenting it in an orderly fashion. Also, unless one knows how to read and understand Scripture, interpretation might be an exercise in futility and full of seeming contradictions. Creeds and Confessions work us through this.

While the ancient Creeds (Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles’) show much of God’s person and work, the Lutheran Confessions are more detailed. They also deal with Bible interpretation, church practice, Christian life, and more. They tell others what we believe and why. They show how we understand Scripture in terms of Law (God’s command) and Gospel (God’s forgiveness for Christ’s sake through faith). They lead us through the “contradictions” of the demands of the Law and the promise of the Gospel. They put a Christian’s central focus on Jesus and to lead us to interpret all Scripture with him at the center. They are also helpful in giving quick evaluations of various false teachings and point back to the Scriptures from which they were drawn.

Thus, we have special “tools” to speak the truth in love to those who misunderstand or misapply the Bible. In our confession of faith, God might work to bring them to a full relationship with himself, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)”

ADDENDUM: Related posts include He Descended into Hell and Athanasian Creed: Trinity, Good Works, and Salvation

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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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.


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