“THIS WE BELIEVE”
In ongoing observation of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, we are
presenting a brief overview of those confessional documents that make up the Book of Concord.
The devil deceived Eve in the most unassuming manner—a question: “Has God indeed said?” (Genesis 3:1) Throughout church history, Satan has continued to deceive not only by direct lies, but also through the more subtle form of questions; and the Lord has consistently delineated between truth and error by the sharp edge of His powerful Word.
Shortly after Luther’s death in 1546, several questions arose: “Could the Reformed mean the same thing we do, in essence, only with different words?” “Does not the will of man have some part in conversion?” “Could there not be some concession made with Rome to maintain at least an outward peace?”
These are the kinds of questions any
Christian might wrestle with. But they threatened the unity God establishes by His Word when He requires that His church glorify Him “with one mind and one mouth.” (Rom. 15:6) Some pastors of Lutheran churches were removed from office for overstating their opinions as matters of binding doctrine. Others sought out “likeminded” allies rather than treating all brethren as equal. Such suspicion and sin—if left unresolved—could only tear Lutheranism apart into sects of mutual overreaction or spoil the pure Lutheran confession with the delusion of compromise.
In 1576 Elector August of Saxony gathered seventeen Lutheran theologians to address the various rumors and gossip of divisions within the fellowship. For a year, a subcommittee labored to produce a formal resolution. Their Torgau Book was an eloquent settlement to the controversies in sermon form. But August envisioned a more accessible document, one any man could pick up and read, and thereby understand where his church stood. He tasked Jakob Andreä with formulating this concise confession, the “Epitome.”
For each point of controversy, Andreä used a thesis-antithesis approach to contrast God’s truth and man’s error with a resonant clarity, following the example of the Apostle John: “By this you know the Spirit of God:
[Thesis] Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
[Antithesis] and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” (I John 4:2-3)
The articles of the Formula of Concord (Original Sin, Law and Gospel, the Lord’s Supper, and so forth) might seem like confirmation material, but the devil loves to attack the most basic of doctrines that he might ensnare young and old alike.
Error will continue to intrude itself until Christ’s return, as the devil asks that same first question in different words, but the Epitome shows how the Spirit turns Satan’s wily efforts upside down, so that by the resulting confession of truth, “those who are approved may be recognized among you.”
(I Corinthians 11:19).
This is the way of our God, Who settled the greatest of conflicts—the schism between sinful mankind and his righteous Creator—when the strange and bitter strife of the cross gave way, on Easter morn, to a triumphant resurrection, and therefore forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.
Some Christians think there is something wrong with them if they have a question. Questions will come. The real danger is letting them fester unresolved. Bring them to Bible study, family devotion, your pastor, or a fellow member. God has given you a fellowship for that very reason.
Don’t fear sharing your doubts! You will be calmed and strengthened when your questions are resolved by God’s clear Word.
Timothy Daub is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hecla, South Dakota.