Lutheran Book of Concord

Lutherans are "confessional" Christians -- meaning that as Christians Lutherans believe, teach and confess the Christian faith. The Lutheran Confessions assembled into The Book of Concord contain the public witness of the Evangelical Lutheran faith both as internal documents to learn and study, and also for external use with those outside the Lutheran fold for understanding and dialogue.

Contents of the Book of Concord:

The format of The Book of Concord is as follows:

Preface to The Book of Concord (1580)

This document explains the purpose of the volume:

"We are minded not to manufacture anything new through this work of concord nor to depart in either substance or expression the smallest degree of the divine truth, acknowledged and professed at one time by our blessed predecessors and us, as based on the prophetic and apostolic Scripture and comprehended in the three Creeds, in the Augsburg Confession presented in 1530 to Emperor Charles V of kindest memory, in the Apology that followed it, and in the Smalcald Articles and Large and Small Catechisms of that highly enlightened man, Dr. Luther. On the contrary, by the grace of the Holy Spirit we intend to persist and remain unanimously in this truth and to regulate all religious controversies and their explanations according to it." (The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000], "Preface," p. 15.)

Affirmation of the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds

Lutherans uphold the historic Christian faith. Presenting the creeds helps to continue that faith.

The Augsburg Confession (1530)

The elector princes presented this twenty-eight article document, the Augsburg Confession, written by Phillip Melanchthon to Emperor Charles V at the imperial diet at Augsburg in 1530. To this day it is the primary foundational document outside of scripture for Lutheran churches.

The first twenty-one articles of the Augsburg Confession articulate the Christian faith from a Lutheran perspective. The second part of the Augsburg Confession deals with reforming church abuses.

Click here to read more about the Augsburg Confession »

Apology (or further explanation) of the Augsburg Confession (September, 1531)

The Roman theologians rejected the Augsburg Confession and responded to it outlining several points of disagreement. Phillip Melanchthon wrote a lengthy response clarifying the Lutheran position in this document. The article on justification is the lengthiest exposition.

The Smalcald Articles (1537)

Martin Luther wrote these articles for a meeting in Smalcald among the reformers. A council in Mantua was imminent (it did not meet until 1545 in Trent), and Luther was in ill health. He wrote this document as one last "Here I Stand" piece of where the Lutherans could not concede. The Smalcald Articles were not adopted by the group because of the strong language, particularly against the pope, and instead adopted Melanchthon's Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. However, after the Roman Catholic Council of Trent's rejection of the Reformers and reassertion of papal power, the Smalcald Articles were adopted into The Book of Concord.

Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537)

Phillip Melanchthon wrote this treatise as a history and Bible study on the papal office. His conclusion is the that the office of pope is of human origin and not divine right. Therefore it was still possible to work with the Roman Catholics and the Pope if they could concede this point.

The Small Catechism (1529)

After doing some church visitations, Luther concluded that people knew very little about the Christian faith. Unlike other catechisms that attempt to lay out theological i or deposit the nexus of faith (Compare the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Heidelberg Catechism), Luther's catechism teaches the 10 Commandments, Apostles Creed, Lord's Prayer, Basic understandings of Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion, and gives a list of Bible passages for everyday use. His brief yet articulate explanations have stood the test of time. Most Lutheran churches still use the Small Catechism for instruction with young people and/or new Christians.

The Large Catechism (1529)

Luther wrote a companion volume with more depth for parents, teachers and pastors for use with the Small Catechism.

Formula of Concord (1577)

After Martin Luther's death and political action taken by the Emperor, this document became the unifying statement of the generations that followed. The Formula reasserts many articles in the Augsburg Confession and gives further explanations to address the controversies of their day.

Commentary on the Lutheran Confessions

It should be noted that these documents did not develop within a vacuum but within the context of the Protestant Reformation of sixteenth-century Europe. Therefore they address both a certain historical reference point and specific theological challenges of that setting in order for the church to confess its faith in Jesus Christ with truth and clarity. In the generations that came after Martin Luther - the Evangelical Christians (first called Lutherans by their detractors) found themselves at a great disadvantage politically, and scattered theologically. The Formula of Concord (which means agreement) and later The Book of Concord, became an essential tool to continue the work of the Reformation by setting forth three unifying theological principles or perspectives that capture Lutheran identity.

Lutherans understand themselves as evangelical, catholic, and biblical. These three concepts not only put forward a theological framework from which to understand Christian faith from a Lutheran perspective, but they also provide a consistent Lutheran voice within the documents contained in The Book of Concord even though they were penned by several authors. Understanding these three perspectives sheds great light on how Lutherans not only understand Christian faith, but how they apply it within the life of the church and within their lives in the world. Lutherans continue to use The Book of Concord, particularly in the training of pastors at seminaries, as well as in congregations and institutional structures of their churches, although whether they are followed specifically or referenced more generally varies greatly - even within the same Lutheran denominations. Yet it is consistent to say that Lutherans find them authoritative even if they vary in their practical use of them in daily life.

Lutherans see themselves as Evangelical

The witness of good news in Jesus Christ is the central function of the Lutheran Confessions. Throughout them a clear proclamation of Christ - through the tools of Law and Gospel is given, explained, and reiterated. The 16th century took its toll on the church in Europe. In the years that followed Martin Luther - wars, bloodshed, and uncertainty littered the German landscape, and involved international influence to settle. The church that was left in the generations that followed was divided, disorganized, and in need of leadership. Rather than center the church in structures and authority, the Lutherans organized themselves around theology. For Lutherans, the chief and guiding article of faith is the proclamation of Jesus Christ. The controversy that stirred the Protestant Reformation was that the grace and mercy given to sinners was somehow earned or merited by individuals and the good they do. The Lutheran rebuttal to this premise is that it is unmerited grace and mercy is given to sinners through Christ's death and resurrection and received in faith. The documents and statements within them set forth in The Book of Concord are further explanations of what this truth of the gospel means - so that Christians can receive that mercy unfettered, live lives of service to others in freedom, understand the scriptures, and proclaim Christ in their own lives.

Lutherans see themselves as part of the universal body of Christ

The Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther and his companions did not begin as a separatist movement, rather it was a call to reform the existing church. The Book of Concord is arranged by starting with the three ecumenical creeds - Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian in an effort to establish the position that Lutherans were not starting a new church from scratch but rather work for change within the body of Christ. The Augsburg Confession and its Apology (a further explanation) were written as presenting to the Roman theologians a true expression of the catholic faith. The Smalcald Articles were written with an ecumenical council on the horizon at Mantua (it later met in Trent), the treatise on the Power and Primacy on the Pope as a call for working within existing church structures with the caveat that Christ alone is the central church message that cannot be compromised. The Small Catechism and Large Catechism (with longer explanations for parents, teachers and preachers) were written with the idea of teaching Christian basics - The 10 Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, a brief explanation of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion and a list of Bible Passages for everyday use. The Formula of Concord, even after the break with Rome was firmly established an explanation of the faith passed on throughout the generations. Today Lutherans vary in how they approach working with other Christians based on how they understand the Augsburg Confession, "For it is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that there the gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and the sacraments administered in conformity to the divine Word." (Book of Concord, "The Augsburg Confession" Article 7, p. 42). How Lutherans understand the harmony and purity of the preached Gospel and Administered Sacraments varies from a strict adherence to definitions within the Book of Concord, to a more general approach.

Lutherans see themselves as Biblical

The Book of Concord contains numerous Biblical citations and explanations. The Formula of Concord declares:

We believe, teach and confess that the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone, as it is written, 'Your word is a lamp to me feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105), and Saint Paul, ' angel from heaven should proclaim to you something contrary...let that one be accursed!' (Gal. 1:8). Other writings of ancient or contemporary teachers, whatever their names may be, shall not be regarded as equal to Holy Scripture, but all of them together shall be subjected to it, and not be accepted in any other way, or with any further authority, than as a witnesses of how and where the teaching of the prophets and apostles was preserved after the time of the apostles. (Book of Concord. "Formula of Concord," Epitome, p. 486.)

During his lifetime Luther warned against turning him into a new pope or authority on all church matters. Lutherans hold through their confessional heritage that all teachers, even Luther, are subject to God's Word. Fidelity to this Biblical principle has taken several forms. In the centuries that followed the Reformation some Lutherans emphasized doctrinal purity (the orthodox movement) while others stressed the Christian life (pietism). In the 18th and 19th Centuries Lutherans were at the fore of Biblical scholarship. In the 20th century Lutherans struggled with whether or not to use historical/critical methods in understanding scripture. Some accepted them happily while others rejected them outright. In the United States this struggle led to conflict with Lutheran denominations and a realignment of many congregations into new groupings. The rift between how Lutherans understand scripture continues to grow. (A recent book on the subject is, James C. Burkee, Power, Politics and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.

Many Lutherans are painfully ignorant of The Book of Concord, although the clergy are well versed and trained in their contents. In a recent edition, the editor gives good reason for all Lutherans (indeed all Christians) to dwell upon it.

The Book of Concord is a book for all Christians, church worker and laypeople alike. Christians who want to be true and faithful to the teachings of the Bible return, again and again to this book. In these confessions of faith they find agreement, unity, and harmony in the truths of God's Word. These documents never take the place of the Bible. They distinguish between what the Bible teaches and the false teaching of others, which undermine the use of God's Word. They give Christians a common voice to confess their faith to the world. Reaching out boldly with the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the goal of the Lutheran Confessions. They are not to be treated like museum pieces, kept under glass as interesting curiosities. Neither are they holiday decorations taken out once a year and admired, soon to be put away and forgotten. Nor are the Lutheran Confessions clubs used to bash people or shields to prevent contact with others or trophies set on a shelf. The Lutheran Confessions are resources for extending and defending vigorous circumstances, for preaching, teaching, and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all the truths of God's Word in the church, school, home, workplace, community, and throughout the world. Lutherans particularly enjoy 'Concordia' through these confessions. United in common conviction about God's Word, they live together with a common heartbeat, declaring to the world and to one another, 'This is what we believe, teach and confess.'" (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions - A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005], p. 12).

Book of Concord Resources:

The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

Carl E. Braaten. Principles of Lutheran Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

James C. Burkee. Power, Politics and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions - A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

For a deeper look into the Lutheran Confessions, has several resources including the text of each document.

Read More about Martin Luther's Life »

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