Lutheran Identity? – a conversation starter


In the heady early days of Lutherans blogging, I had just opened the tentative predecessor of Blog My Soul for business and somewhat regularly participated in discussions on others’ blogs. One of these discussions ended up in a personal exchange, both in blog comments and in e-mail, with “Martin,” a seminary student who, at the time of the conversation, was serving as vicar. The purpose of posting the conversation is not to evoke a defense of the Scriptures or the Confessions, but to get you thinking about what is it that defines or demonstrates a Lutheran identity (vs. a Christian identity)? Is there a difference? And if there is, what does this mean for us as Lutherans?

Martin: ScotK, Honestly! Just when I think you and I are starting to see eye-to-eye on some things. Do you really think that only the Book of Concord (BoC) has the genuine faith of Scripture?!? I really find it hard to believe that you would make such an assertion. Please tell me I am misunderstanding you.

ScotK: Martin, the only place, no. Anytime the doctrine of Scripture is truly proclaimed I rejoice. …However, what I think will annoy you is that the Symbols and Confessions of the 1580 Book of Concord-in that they faithfully expound the Scriptures-are the benchmark by which I do theology. Yes, Martin, to be Lutheran is a confession. And that confession is, in sum, in the BoC.

Martin: It doesn’t annoy me that your benchmark for theology is the BoC in so far as it correctly expounds Scripture. In fact, I am happy because we agree on something there! The statement that makes me uncomfortable is ” to be a Lutheran is a confession.” I agree that a Lutheran, by definition has a confession. I am not sure that it is helpful to speak in terms of Lutheran, Anglican, Protestant. I is this type of language which I think leads us to practice in such a way as to give the impression that there are many Churches. I would prefer a statement like, “To be Christian is a confession, and I find wonderful expression of that confession in the BoC.” I think that if we begin to speak like this, we will find that artificial barriers may begin to come down, and we can then focus our energy on the real barriers that separate, that is articles of faith.

titlepagesm_confessionScotK: In your most recent comment over at ______’s blog you may want to reexamine your statement on the BoC. I am not sure, but I don’t think you will sail through TI [the seminary’s theological exit interview] with a quantenus subscription to the BoC, more importantly your ordination vow will ask you to make a quia subscription (Agenda LW:221 [LSB:166]).

Martin: “Do you believe that the Unaltered Augsburg Confession is a true exposition of the Word of God and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church ….as these are contained in the Book of Concord are also in agreement with the one scriptural faith?” I do. I really do. If the definite article were in place of the indefinite (“a” replaced by “the”), I would not. I am concerned to limit ourselves to 16th century documents, thought they are in agreement (as far as I can tell) with Scripture. When engaged in dialog, especially at the synodical level, I think it is better to use Scripture than confessions of faith, though those confessions may be correct. It is a question of credibility with the other side. I would rather base our dialog on the right Scripture interpreted rightly (Bucher’s words) than the confessions because it makes us look like we really believe in Scripture. I know that we believe in Scripture, but whomever I am talking to may not think so if I say, “I believe in Scripture” but continue referencing confessional writings. Just some thoughts. Help my Latin: quia vs. quatenus?

ScotK: Martin, the question of quatenus or quia is the distinction that indicates that a person’s stance toward the confessional documents of the church. Does one subscribe to them quia (because) they agree with Scripture, or quatenus (in so far as) they agree with Scripture (probably covered in Confessions I). The latter is the stances common among the Reformed, who from time to time revise and update their statements of faith. The former is the stance of the Lutherans. This is borne out in the subscription to Scripture (norma normans) and the Confessions (norma normata) that are part of the ordination rite.

This is the subscription that each candidate for the Office of the Public Ministry is asked to make:

…In the presence of this congregation and before our Lord God to whom you must give an account now and at the Last Day, I now ask you: Do you acknowledge that the Lord has called you through His Church into the ministry of Word and Sacrament? I do.

Do you believe and confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice? Yes, I believe and confess the canonical Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

Do you believe and confess the three Ecumenical Creeds, namely the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds, as faithful testimonies to the truth of the Holy Scriptures, and do you reject all the errors which they condemn? Yes, I believe and confess the three Ecumenical Creeds because they are in accord with the Word of God. I also reject all the errors they condemn.

Do you confess the Unaltered Augsburg Confession to be a true exposition of Holy Scripture and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church? And do you confess that the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord-as these are contained in the Book of Concord-are also in agreement with this one scriptural faith? Yes, I make these Confessions my own because they are in accord with the Word of God.

Do you promise that you will perform the duties of your office in accordance with these Confessions, and that all your preaching and teaching and your administration of the Sacraments will be in conformity with Holy Scripture and with these Confessions? Yes, I promise, with the help of God.

Will you faithfully instruct both young and old in the chief articles of Christian doctrine, will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you? Will you minister faithfully to the sick and dying, and will you demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel? Will you admonish and encourage the people to a lively confidence in Christ and in holy living? Yes, I will, with the help of God.

Finally, will you honor and adorn the Office of the Holy Ministry with a holy life? Will you be diligent in the study of Holy Scripture and the Confessions? And will you be constant in prayer for those under your pastoral care? I will, the Lord helping me through the power and grace of His Holy Spirit.

The vow of a pastor is to preach and teach this doctrine and this one only, because it-quia not quatenus-agrees with God’s Word, and to prefer to resign one’s office if one can no longer do this. When one wants to keep one’s confessional vow but soften it in the Reformed direction they quite simply do not know or understand the kind of confessing which runs from Luther’s confession of 1528 in the Smallcald Articles right through the Formula of Concord, the confession made “before God and all Christendom, both those alive and those who will come after us” [FC SD XII 40] (Sasse).

By virtue of your future ordination vows you will subscribe to the Confessions in the quia sense. By this point of your seminary training I would expect it to simply be a public confession of what you already hold and practice to be true. That is why I am concerned when in your e-mail you reiterated: “I am concerned to limit ourselves to 16th century documents, thought they are in agreement (as far as I can tell) with Scripture. When engaged in dialog, especially at the synodical level, I think it is better to use Scripture than confessions of faith, though those confessions may be correct.”

If we do not know what we teach as a church and why we do so, if we leave the question open as to what or our doctrine is correct or perhaps false, then it is actually more correct to replace the pledge to Scripture and the Confessions [made in our ordination vows] with a pledge to teach the Holy Scriptures according to our best understanding and conscience. And this we must reject in the strongest way as Lutherans. I am only ordained on the basis of the Confessions because (quia), after the most serious study of the Scripture, I am convinced that the Confessions are the correct explication of the Gospel. You too will be called to make this same pledge.

For a fuller discussion of quatenus and quia I might suggest Volume 1 of Sasse’s “The Lonely Way”-essay 26. If you don’t have access to Sasse, maybe open the textbook you purchased, probably for Confessions I, Koehler’s Summary of Christian Doctrine,” page 247: “On examination we find the doctrines of the Lutheran Church, as they are laid down in the Book of Concord of the year 1580, agrees with the Word of God in every respect…”

So here again is the question that drives this blog entry: What is it that defines or demonstrates a Lutheran identity (vs. a Christian identity)? Is there a difference? And if there is, what does this mean for us as Lutherans?

POSTSCRIPT: Oh, and yes, the conversation continued. The vicar who hosted the blog, as well as “Martin” and I, came to realize that many looked at public blogging and comments as a information that could be used to assess a Sem student’s readiness to be considered for a call. This put the two vicars, myself and a Sem representative in “close conversation” for several days. “Martin” clarified his words to the point of everyone being able to put “fini” on the issue. Ultimately the two vicars closed their blogs. If they are blogging on the web today, I am not aware of it.

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