Definition: DOCTRINE = a teaching, whatever is taught (Some take the word to mean unchallengable truth having authority in itself--not so). Since doctrines are only teachings and teachings are only as good as their foundation in the facts of Scripture, it is clear that there can be false and true doctrines--there can be teachings with a false spirit and teachings with a true spirit. We are commanded in 1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
What is a Confessional Lutheran!
The Lutheran Confessions: The Lutheran church is perhaps unique in that since the 16th century we have had written doctrinal position statements which expound at length what (we believe) to be true Biblical doctrine. These documents are collectively called the Book of Concord and consist of several works:
* The (Unaltered) Augsburg Confession
* The Apology of the Augsburg Confession
* Luther's Large Catechism
* Luther's Small Catechism
* The Formula of Concord
These documents are our Lutheran "Confessions," our proclamation of the truth of God to the world. Virtually every Lutheran church body's constitution or founding statement gives at least lip service to these as the defining statement of what makes us Lutheran, and promise full allegiance to the teachings contained therein. A body or individual which CONSISTENTLY does so with honesty and faith and without guile, subterfuge or apology is properly called a CONFESSIONAL LUTHERAN church body or a CONFESSIONAL LUTHERAN.
We embrace these confessional documents, not as a substitute for or as an addition to the Bible, but as a faithful restatement of what the Bible teaches--no more and no less.
The State of the Lutheran Church: The current state of Lutheranism in America and Europe is not good. There is a real risk that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be largely lost in our American Lutheran church bodies as it has been in the European state churches which bear the Lutheran name. As a consequence of the apostasy of many Lutherans, the name "Lutheran" is no longer as clearly associated with Bible-centered teaching, as it once was. Yet there are still many of us who understand and believe the truth.
If you are a Lutheran who is dissatisfied or bored or even ashamed of our Lutheran heritage, you need to know that IT OUGHT NOT BE SO! We are not like other denominations, which, unfortunately, are founded too much on human opinion instead of on Scripture. The Lutheran themes: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fides, Sola Gratia (Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone) are still the right ones to guide the whole Christian church. The doctrines rediscovered in the Reformation laid bare the salvation plan of God, the very heart of the Gospel of Christ. There still are confessional Lutherans and Lutheran church bodies for whom the Reformation is alive and close-at-hand and as important to daily life as it was when Luther lived!
So, down with formalism and dead orthodoxy! Up with the Good News of Christ, the only Savior of the world! And, up with sound, accurate teaching of whatsoever He has commanded us.
Evangelical versus evangelical. In these last days, we happily bear the name "Lutherans," because in this world such labels can help to sort out truth from error.
But in practice (at least when we are doing it right) we strive to be merely Christians, faithful to Christ and interested in whatever He is interested in. We want to be Gospel (Evangel) People. In fact, Luther's choice of a name of the new reformation church was the Evangelical Christian Church, (but history overruled him).
Now, there are other "Evangelicals" in the world, spiritual descendants of other reformers who had fundamental disagreements with Lutheran conclusions about the Bible. We would say they could not get past their human reason to fully believe what God said. These other "reformed" opinions are so dominant today that it is rare to see a really clear presentation of Biblical Christianity. We praise God that salvation by grace through faith is still preached in many reformed churches, but regrettably it is mixed up with things that tend to misdirect seekers toward hazardous dead-end paths.
So read on and discover some of the best things in Christendom.
The Lutheran Legacy - Remembering that God's Ways are not Like Our Ways
Human Reason in Theology
Lutheran doctrine is different. I mean deep down different, different in its fundamental approach. The difference has existed since Luther recognized that human reason after the fall is incapable of steadily following God's thoughts--even when the pertinent facts are all spelled out in the Bible. Luther's answer to this was to subjugate his reason to the Scriptures at each step.
More specifically, he insisted that when two ideas are clearly taught which SEEM to contradict each other, it was necessary to believe and teach both. If this is done, in some cases, a person may eventually grow to better understand and resolve the apparent paradox. But in other cases, human intellect never is able to resolve the paradox in this life and can only accept by FAITH that God is able to reconcile them.
This is what it means for our doctrine to be founded SOLA SCRIPTURA. Consciously taking this approach is what has put us Lutherans where we are theologically and makes everyone else disagree with us in some areas. It also makes it hard to defend our view "rationally"; our only consolation is that the Scriptures themselves defend them. Most Catholic and Reformed Theologians did not recognize or accept this need to "respect the paradox." The result is that they have attempted to resolve many paradoxes by flawed and forced rationalizations. Frequently the result is an emphasis on one side of the Scripture's teaching at the expense of ignoring or distorting the other (as in Calvin's invention of predestination to damnation (an unScriptural harmonizing of two paradoxical Scripture truths).
Lutherans can say that the Bible uses a powerful teaching form:
Express a complex truth with two contrasting or paradoxical, statements.
I call this a teaching form because it is a method used by our Lord, the Master Teacher--it has an immediate effect, an impact. By virtue of the obvious "contradiction" this kind of statement has the capacity to stop us short on our superficial interpretation and make us think deeply to get at the real meaning. My favorite example is Christ's own words:
Matthew 12:30 He that is not with me is against me.
Mark 9:40 For he that is not against us is for us.
Mark 9:40 For he that is not against us is for us.
An unbeliever might start to blaspheme the Scriptures and speak of "errors" and "contradictions" rather than try to make sense of this, but the key is in the context--the situation in which Christ applied these two statements.
Other examples are less trivial:
|SCRIPTURAL TEACHING #1||SCRIPTURAL TEACHING #2||NOTABLE CONCLUSIONS|
|The elect are predestined to salvation (Rom 8:28-30; Eph 1:3-11)||God wants all to come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved (I Tim 2:4)||There is predestination to salvation, but no predestination to damnation as Calvin taught. [How our reason rebels at this hanging conclusion!]|
|Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved (Acts 16:30)||By grace you have been saved through faith and this not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8-9; also 1 Cor 4:7))||We must believe to be saved, but we come to faith not by an act of our will (a "decision") but by the moving of the Holy Spirit to make us believe when we previously were enemies of God & spiritually powerless (dead) in our sins. (Rom 8:7; Phil 2:12-13; Phil 1:6; I Pet 1:5; I Thess 5:24; II Thess 3:3)|
So, is this an indictment of systematic theology? Not at all, for theology still can focus our attention to really recognize what the Scripture is saying in a precise way and to recognize when we have cooked up a false teaching. But in the end, we must always return and judge our theology by the Scriptures with these questions: Does this teaching violate any passage of Scripture? Does it take all of Scripture into account in a Spiritual (correct) way? Thus we subjugate our theology to the Scriptures and keep to the path.
Most sound Lutheran theologians acknowledge this approach more or less explicitly, but it is not emphasized as much as it could be in adult instruction, particularly in the area of apologetics. As a result, we spend time trying to defend the logical consistency of our doctrine, rather than trying to establish its Scripturalness. To promote the furtherance of this uniquely fundamental principle, I recommend the following book:
The Hidden God and the Masks of God - The "Hidden God" is one of Luther's ideas which Becker addresses and which appears only occasionally in Lutheran theological discussions, but which bears more attention. Becker writes;
Luther held that there is no way in which man can find God in his divine majesty. He said that it is possible that God appeared in his bare majesty to Adam before the Fall. But since the Fall man has, and can have, no direct knowledge of God. Since the Fall, God is a hidden God. God is everywhere, Luther says, but is certainly not to be found in our speculations about him nor in the pictures that we form of him in our thoughts and senses. God is everywhere, but he permits men to grasp him nowhere.
Becker's presentation is excellent and I will only give the gist of it: God has many more thoughts than are revealed and He does not want us to speculate about His thoughts other than those that are revealed in the Scriptures and in his natural works (because we will almost certainly be wrong). God hides himself, not because He does not want to be known, but because we would be destroyed (physically and mentally) if we perceived him as He really is. In order to be seen at all, God must put on a "mask" which conceals his true nature and allows to be seen, only a small part of himself. The sounds God made approaching the fallen Adam and Eve; the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness; the anthropomorphic representations of God in the Old Testament poetry; and the supreme mask, the Incarnation--all are masks worn by God, worn, paradoxically, that we may know him.
It is the height of folly to search out the bare majesty of the hidden God apart from the masks in which God chooses to come to men. To ask "Why?" of God apart from what is revealed, is to try to peer behind the mask--to try "to climb into heaven without a ladder," i.e. without the revealed Word. This idea also underlies Luther's views of the sacraments. In the New Testament era, God comes to us through the "means of grace," meaning, the Word, the Lord's Supper, and Baptism. These are considered the ONLY means of grace, because these are the only means Biblically instituted by God by which we may approach Him for forgiveness. Anyone that tries to invent other means than those given, is again, trying to get into Heaven without a ladder. The Reformed (in an anthropocentric pride) accept that a human form is a suitable form for God to take and so they accept the Incarnation as a true doctrine. But when they hear that bread and wine are also forms chosen by God, they (in a blatant exercise of unrestrained rationalism) think it is implausible and most reject it out of hand. Luther's point is that all such masks are only masks and are inadequate to be equated with (all of) God, but, on the other hand, none is too limited to serve His self-revelation.
I hope that those who read this will not conclude that I and other Lutherans are wacko. Please find and read a more detailed presentation of these ideas. You do not know me, but I testify that Luther's insights are subtle, not wacko, and are wholly in accord with the Scriptures. To throw out human reason in this way was how far Luther was willing to go to make himself a slave to the Scriptures--this is what it really means to be guided Sola Scriptura. You owe it to yourself to look into these things more carefully.
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