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Are the Lutheran Confessions Just Relics of the Sixteenth Century?

August 24th, 2009
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A Lutheran pastor recently made an observation that I found very well put. What do you think?

I believe there are a whole lot of voices in our theological community who think the Confessions are so 16th century. For me what is at the heart of the Lutheran Confessions, as noted so simply and repeatedly in Luther’s explanation of the three articles of the Creed in his Small Catechism, is that the action that makes a difference is in the hands of our Triune God. The result as the explanation to the second article concludes is that “I might be his own, live under him in his Kingdom, and serve him…”

For me this is simply bedrock truth for all centuries and especially needed today. Look at seminary continuing education offerings and ask yourself if there is much of any sense that our God holds any of the action that is at the heart of our faith. One offering after another focuses on some aspect of our leadership, management, etc. We are the players who must improve our skills at this or that or our witness will be crippled. Yes, we can be helped by some of that learning, but living under the sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ to whom all authority has been given in heaven and on earth is ever so much more important.

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Categories: Lutheran Confessions
  1. August 24th, 2009 at 09:25 | #1

    I would most certainly not consider myself as one who thinks the Confessions are “SO 16th century!” (said derisively with valley girl flair), but I nevertheless do reckon it as a 16th century document, and that’s important. The Confessions had a historical context that affected their emphases; we could point to articles XXII-XVIII of the Augustana, but even the first, “timeless” portion bears the marks, to some degree, of 16th century polemics. For instance, if it were written today would there be the emphasis on penance/repentance? And in light of the proliferation of various dispensationalist and millenialist errors in the 19th-20th century, I think Article XVII would receive a stronger treatment.

    This is all fine and good. It doesn’t make the document any less relevant or authoritative. It is a mistake, however, to simply lift the documents–and their timely concerns–and drop them into the 21st century. Our proclamation is distorted when we are preaching, not to 21st century postmodern folk, but to 16th century Romanists, because we suppose that the Confessions have given us a universal, timeless playbook.

  2. Vernon
    August 24th, 2009 at 10:28 | #2

    So I guess that means that the Bible is outdated too huh? I mean the ten commandments are SO 11th century(BC.)

  3. Steve Newell
    August 24th, 2009 at 10:41 | #3

    Is the US Constitution or the Declaration of Independence a relic of the 18th Century?

    Just as many US Citizens are not properly educated on our key founding documents, many Lutherans are not properly educated on the Lutheran Confessions.

  4. August 24th, 2009 at 12:09 | #4

    An interesting observation is that “Christian” cults, such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Oneness Pentecostals, reject the three ecumenical creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasius) and find church history bothersome, since these expose their heretical teachings.

    I am not saying that Lutherans who are dismissing our historic confession for various reasons are doing so to introduce heresy. Although, minimizing the importance of our confession certainly opens the door for false teachings to go unchecked.

  5. Ed
    August 24th, 2009 at 12:34 | #5

    And, sad to say from very recent experience in trying to promote the wisdom of church fathers, Missouri Synod father, et al,a goodly number do not WANT to be educated. “We need to be forward-looking instead of dwelling on the past.”

  6. Michael Zamzow
    August 24th, 2009 at 12:47 | #6

    Perhaps a better knowledge of 16th century nominalism would disabuse you of the impression that the Lutheran Confessions are distorted when addressing 21st century post-modern folk. The same rhetorical and philosophical slights of hand used in the 16th century are employed by 21st century deconstructionists. The truth is timeless. The witness of the Lutheran Confessions is timely in this 21st century.

  7. Steve Newell
    August 24th, 2009 at 13:21 | #7

    @Jim Pierce
    Many “evanglical” Christians would fit into your observation. They are acreedial in nature as well as ahistoric.

  8. James Crouse
    August 24th, 2009 at 21:27 | #8

    The Lutheran Confessions are certainly still appropriate as a correct exposition of the Holy Scripture. Just yesterday, a new day-school teacher called to our congregation, publicly affirmed her subscription to them (after doing so to the Scriptures) in the excellent installation order in the LSB Agenda. This is very important.
    Now, my question is: What seminary’s continuing education is referred to? The courses I’ve seen listed as being offered around the country by CTS professors the past several years have been, I believe, mostly exegetical and some historical/systematic; I don’t recall seeing any “practical” courses. One can always take “management” or other subjects at secular colleges!

  9. Darin
    August 24th, 2009 at 23:17 | #9

    Funny you should mention management courses being pushed in the seminaries, Pr. McCain. Not more than five minutes ago I just finished re-reading the chapter on the professionalizing of ministers in David Wells’ masterful book, No Place For Truth. It is truly a must-read.

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