“Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.”
(1 Peter 3:15)
In the early New Testament church, identifying yourself as a “Christian” (Acts 11:26) was all you needed to say to let others know what you believed. “I am a follower of ‘the Way.’” (Acts 9:2) “We preach Christ crucified and risen.”
It was not too long before the devil began to divide the church by questioning the Word of God and presenting false doctrine. Even at the time of the Apostles, there were many “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” In the epistles of Paul, Peter, and John you can find warnings against false teachers, and also find clear, confessional statements of the truth. We are admonished, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
Throughout the centuries, Christians faithful to the Word of God have made a confession of their faith (“Here I Stand”) in the face of false teaching. The “universal creeds” (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) were all written to make a clear confession of the Christian faith when confronted with false teaching. Likewise the Lutheran confessions (The Augsburg Confession, The Formula of Concord, and others) were written to combat several false teachings that were present in the 1500’s.
In the early twentieth century, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS) was engaged in doctrinal discussions with various other Lutheran church bodies, some of which later merged to become part of today’s ELCA. The Missouri theologians felt the need to present a “Here I Stand” statement on various teachings in the Bible, while also rejecting false teachings on those subjects. For this reason the Brief Statement was drawn up and adopted in 1932. It is a fine summary of confessional Lutheran—and thus Christian—teaching. For this reason, the Church of the Lutheran Confession has adopted it as one of its own confessional documents (as listed in the Constitution of the CLC).
Within the Brief Statement one can find “Here I Stand” statements on twenty-one different teachings of the Bible. While all of the articles state what “we teach,” most, but not all, also state what “we reject.” Some of the teachings which were being debated at the time included predestination, conversion, and “open questions.” It should not surprise us that the Brief Statement includes some “hard sayings” from Scripture. The Apostle Peter referred to similar issues even in the writing of Paul, “in which are some things hard to understand.” (2 Peter 3:16)
Why is the Brief Statement important to us eighty-eight years later? Isaiah writes of God’s Word, “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) Though cultures and languages may change, God’s Word does not. The promises He made through Moses, Jeremiah, and the Apostle John are just as sure and true today as they were centuries ago.
Also, Jesus says of Holy Scripture, “These are they that testify of Me.” (John 5:39) All of Scripture and its teachings, from “the beginning” of Genesis 1:1 to the last “Amen” of Revelation 22:21, focus our attention on Jesus as man’s only Savior from sin and hope for eternal life. When someone attacks or rejects one part of God’s Word, this begins the process of chipping away at the central teaching of all Scripture—salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
May our defense of God’s unchanging Word always be grounded in the Spirit-worked desire to glorify our Savior Jesus and love our neighbor by speaking the truth of God’s Word.
“How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:103-104)
Nathan Pfeiffer is pastor of Berea Lutheran Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.