“THIS WE BELIEVE”
In ongoing observation of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation,
we are presenting a brief overview of the Book of Concord. After this month’s introduction,
the series will survey the three ecumenical creeds and the Lutheran confessions.
In the Christian church, the study of ancient Christian creeds and confessions of faith is known as symbolics. The term symbol is defined in theology as “an authoritative summary of faith and doctrine.” A commonly used synonym of symbol is creed.
Most churches that claim to be Christian subscribe at least outwardly to certain well-known confessions of faith, or symbols, including the Apostles’ Creed. Historically, those who have considered themselves Lutheran have held fast to the confessions contained in the Book of Concord, originally published in Germany on June 25, 1580. Unfortunately, many modern church bodies which still bear the name of Lutheran no longer hold to the confessions contained in the Book of Concord, or merely accept them “insofar as they are true” rather than “because they are true.” The Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC), however, still considers those creeds and confessions in the Book of Concord to be a clear and faithful presentation of the truths found in Holy Scripture. When CLC pastors and teachers are installed in our congregations, they publicly acknowledge that the confessions in the Book of Concord are their own confessions.
In the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we found it fitting to acquaint or re-acquaint our readers with the historical confessions of our church body. In this series, each creed and confession contained in the Book of Concord will be examined for its content and historical significance. We pray that this study will be an instructive, illuminating, and faith-affirming series. The New Testament Bereans were faithful in examining Scriptures to see if what the Apostle Paul and Silas were telling them was true. “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed.” (Acts 17:11-12) Martin Luther closely examined the teachings of the Catholic Church and found parts to be in conflict with what the Bible taught. We too should be examining our confessions to see if they are faithful to Scripture.
Overview of Contents
Even though the Book of Concord was not published until 1580, its contents date back to the days of the early New Testament church. The three ancient creeds contained therein are the Apostles’ Creed (1st to 5th century A.D.), the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325 and 381), and the
Athanasian Creed (approximately 6th to 8th century A.D.).
Luther himself penned several of the confessions found in the Book of Concord: Luther’s Small Catechism and Large Catechism (1529) and the Smalcald Articles (1536). A contemporary and scholarly friend of Luther during the early years of the Reformation, Philip Melanchthon, wrote the Augsburg Confession (June 25, 1530), the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), and the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537). Several decades after Luther’s death, the Formula of Concord (1577) was published in an abridged version (the Epitome), and in an unabridged version (the Solid Declaration). These documents were authored by the Lutheran theologians Jacob Andreae, Martin Chemnitz, and David Chytraeus.
May God use this series of articles on the Book of Concord to reassure us in our faith life, and to help us walk with Him in an increasingly hostile world.
Joe Lau is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.