You therefore, beloved...take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:17-18)
The doctrine of the trinity is the scriptural teaching that there is one true God in three distinct persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - never confusing the persons or dividing the substance. These three persons, none of whom is greater or lesser than the others, are to be worshipped as the one true God. All three persons are coequal and coeternal - the Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.
In His word, God has told man that He is a spirit. He is a personal being without a body (Jn. 4:24). God is eternal; without beginning or end (Ps. 90:1-2; 1Tim. 1:17). He is unchangeable (Ps. 102:27; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). God is almighty, all-powerful and all knowing (Gen. 17:1; Matt. 19:26; Ps. 139:1-4; John 21:17), and He is present everywhere (Jer. 23:24; Acts 17:24). God has revealed himself as holy (Lev. 19:2), fair and impartial, faithful (2Tim. 2:13), good, merciful and gracious (Ps. 118:1; Jer. 3:12; Ex. 34:6-7). Above all, God is love (1Jn. 4:8; Jn 3:16).
II. The Origin of the Universe
As Luther wrote in the explanation of the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures…provides me with all that I need…defends me against all danger…only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me” (Luther Small Catechism, p. 190). Since man’s fall into sin, human kind has lost the image of God. God, however, redeems us and makes us holy through Christ Jesus. Indeed, it was as Luther writes, for this very purpose he [God] created us (Large Catechism, 439.64).
God, who had no beginning created all things merely by speaking (Gen. 1:3; Ps. 33:6). Scripture records that creation took place over a period of six days. During these six days, God created all things “visible and invisible” (Nicene Creed, First Art.). On the sixth day, after having created everything else, God created man specially, from dust, and breathed life into him (Gen. 2:7). Man, created in God’s image – knowing Him as He wishes to be known, righteous and holy and doing His will – was then given dominion over the other creatures and set as a steward of the earth (Gen. 1:28; 2:15).
III. What God Most Desires of Humankind
Ultimately God desired that Adam and Eve would completely and totally trust him to take care of them in every respect and provide for all their needs. However, because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, because they sought a knowledge of good and evil (moral knowledge) independent from God, their nature – and as a result, ours as well – was changed. Human kind was no longer capable of knowing God as he wanted to be known or pleasing him.
However, through faith in Christ, Christ’s righteousness and all that he has becomes ours. To those in whom God has created faith, he sends his Holy Spirit and enables us to be obedient to him more and more. As Christians grow in their faith, and the Holy Spirit enables them to understand the importance of their trust, faith and obedience, love for God grows – love that is impossible without Christ. It is in worship that this love finds its outlet and expression, as a joyful response to all that God has done for us.
IV. Humankind’s Fall Into Sin
Since the fall, all people are conceived and born in sin. According to Melanchthon, ''...all men are full of evil lusts and inclinations from their mothers' wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear or trust of God," (Apology, art. II). In fact, not only do we, as sinful human beings, lack fear and trust in God, but because of our sinful nature we are incapable of producing these things for ourselves. Because of the total corruption of our human nature, which we inherited from Adam through our parents, we are spiritually blind, dead and enemies of God (Eph. 2:1).
Evil desires were not essential characteristics of our nature as we were originally created. Adam and Eve knew God as he wishes to be known and were capable of doing God’s will (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). This image of God, however, was lost when Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed God’s command (Genesis 3). In turn, Adam and Eve lost the ability to know and please God. This sinful nature was passed on to us, and all of mankind (Gen. 5:3).
Because of this loss of righteousness, concupiscence – the inclination of our nature toward sin and away from God – seeks and loves carnal things. It is only reasonable, that since we no longer retain the ability to fear, love or believe in God, human nature would perversely turn toward that which it could know and understand – the carnal (Apology 2, 115.24). Through baptism, the guilt of original sin is expunged, but concupiscence remains. Human beings still retain their carnal impulses, desires and habit patterns. However, the Holy Spirit, given through baptism, begins the process of creating new impulses and desires within the believer. “In baptism sin is forgiven, not that it no longer exists, but that it is not accounted [as sin]” (Apology 2, 117.35-36).
Because of this state of inherited sinfulness, and our loss of the image of God with which we were created, it is impossible for a man to make a decision to turn to God. God, not man, is the directing agent in the divine-human relationship; man does not choose, but is chosen (Christian Cyclopedia online, Luther, Chief Writings Of). Man does, however, have some manner of free will as far as human reason is concerned. We can decide to get up, or remain in bed. We can choose to wear the black tie or the brown one. We can even choose to do outward acts of “righteousness” such as walking little old ladies across the street. This free will, however, does not carry over into the realm of spiritual matters (Augsburg Confession XVII-XIX, 50-53; Apology 18; 234.7).
V. Material Principle of the Lutheran Faith
The Lutheran material principle is the teaching of Holy Scripture that a man is saved by God’s grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and not by a man’s own merit or good works. St. Paul states this point eloquently in his epistle to the Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2: 8-9).
Vicarious atonement is the wonderful truth that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, humbled himself in order to redeem me, and all of mankind, from sin, death and the power of the devil. By suffering and dying on the cross, Christ took the guilt and punishment of all mankind upon himself, and by his resurrection, he has defeated death. Christ paid the penalty of my guilt, and the guilt of all people. Jesus Christ, true God in human flesh, took man’s place under God’s judgment against sin. Through faith in Christ, believers are given pardon for their sin and the gift of eternal life (Is. 53: 4-5; Romans 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 1:3; 2:24; Hebrews 2:17).
The doctrine of justification is God’s declaration that our sins have been imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness has been credited to us because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross; through Christ all men’s sin has been forgiven for all time whether man believes it or not (objective justification).
Unbelievers who reject the Gospel’s message do not receive the forgiveness God freely gives, even though Christ's sacrifice was intended for all mankind (subjective justification).
VI. About Christ
Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. The Scriptures teach that Jesus has divine names, which are not merely titles of honor. Thy tell exactly who Jesus is - such as Jesus calling himself the "Alpha and Omega” (symbolic for the “first” and the “last”) in Revelation; a name by which God is identified to/through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 44:6. Scripture tells us in the first chapter of Hebrews, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus possesses both human and divine attributes. Just as the radiance of the sun is inseparable from the sun itself, so is the glory of God inseparable from Jesus Christ. He is God in human flesh – 100% human and 100% God.
In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul minces no words when he writes, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…”(Col. 2:9). As proof of Paul’s statement, Scripture records that Jesus possesses attributes reserved only for God. Scripture teaches that Jesus is eternal (Jn. 1:1-2), unchangeable (Heb. 13:8) and omnipotent (Matt. 28:18). Jesus is all-knowing (Jn. 21:17) and present everywhere (Matt. 28:20). Not only these things, but Jesus performs divine works - such as forgiving sins, He created, He preserves, and He will judge. Finally, Jesus receives divine glory and honor. See p. 120, LSC.
Jesus’ divine and human natures both have their own distinct attributes. Christ’s divine attributes were transferred to his human nature through Personal Union – the two natures are united in Christ like a person’s body and soul. “For as the rational soul and the flesh are one human being, so God and the human being are one in Christ” (Athanasian Creed, 25.35). Jesus Christ had to come into this world, born of a woman and true man, in order to act in our place and fulfill the law for us. Through his fulfillment of the law, we were made righteous and can be children of God (Jesus as Priest).
Jesus is our prophet, priest and king. He preached this word personally throughout his ministry and backed up his claims with the miracles he performed, especially by the miracle of his resurrection (Jesus as Prophet). Scripture records ample evidence of Jesus’ humanity. Not only is he called a man in Scripture (1 Tim 2:5), the Bible records that he has a body and soul (Luke 24:39; Matt 26:38) and performs other human acts (Matt. 4:2; Jn. 11:35; Jn. 19:28).
Jesus’ priesthood, however, is not Levitical. Jesus is a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek, like Christ, is a high priest who has no beginning or end, one whose office depends not on family descent and who's service never ends. Melchizedek points to Jesus’ superior high priesthood in that unlike Levitical priests, scripture records no genealogy for Melchizedek – he simple appears out of nowhere, and after his interaction with Abraham, he disappears. So is it with Christ. He has no beginning or end and remains a priest forever, as the author of Hebrews states. Further Melchizedek, meaning king of righteousness, and “king of Salem” (which means king of peace) indicate that he was both king an priest, serving the true God. This, again, points to Chirst’s office as our king and high priest, not in the order of Levi, but of this order of Melchizedek.
Because Jesus, who shared in our humanity fully, suffered and died on the cross, we are set free from sin and death. Paul writes to the Colossians, “He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col 1:22). It was also necessary, however, for Jesus to be truly God in order that his fulfilling of the law, his life, suffering and death would be a sufficient ransom for people. Also, only the true God would be able to overcome death and Satan for us. The Psalmist writes, “No man can redeem the life of another or give sufficient ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7).
St. Mark records in his Gospel that Jesus came to earth to be that ransom that no man could give, “The Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). After Jesus died on the cross and was buried, he was made alive in his grave and descended into hell to proclaim His victory. Then, "He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty." As a man, Jesus fully and always uses His divine powers, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. Now Christ, the God-man, is not only present everywhere, but now fully exercises His divine power over the whole universe (Eph. 1:20-23). Finally, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end” (Jesus as King).
VII. About The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is true God with the Father and the Son. He is not merely a force or energy of God as some non-Christian cults profess. Holy Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is a conscious entity that possesses divine attributes such as omniscience and omnipresence (Ps. 139: 7-10; 1Cor. 2:10). The Holy Spirit does divine work, such as sanctification, which only God can do (Titus 3:5), and is called God by the apostle Peter (Acts 5: 3-4).
Sanctification is the process by which God makes a Christian, or the entire Christian church holy and conformed to the image of Jesus; The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and makes the entire Christian Church holy, and keeps it in the true faith (broad sense). God the Holy Spirit creates faith in the heart of an individual and renews them so that they can then overcome sin and do good works, by the Spirit’s power (narrow sense). Sanctification is a process that continues throughout the life of a believer.
VIII. About Good Works
According to Luther, “a good work is everything that a child of God does, speaks, or thinks in faith according to the Ten Commandments, for the glory of God and for the benefit of his or her neighbor” (Luther’s Small Catechism, #163). Good works are a response to God’s work of salvation in a believers life, and an outgrowth of sanctification – not a means by which we may earn God’s grace (John 15:5; Hebrews 11:6). God’s grace cannot be earned by human action.
Wages are given to someone for doing something. When you go to work and do your job, your employer pays you your wages. He does not give you your pay out of his benevolence, but because you have performed a duty and earned them. A gift is different. You receive a gift, not necessarily because you deserve it, but at the whim of someone else - the giver. For example, a person receives a birthday present because the giver of the present wants to give it to them, not because they have done anything to merit a gift. One could hardly make the argument that they caused themselves to be born so as to merit a birthday gift. Unlike wages, a person does not "earn" a gift. On the contrary, a gift is given because the giver wants to give it.
It is interesting to see what Paul is telling us in this passage about what our efforts are worth when it comes to our salvation. "The wages of sin is death," Paul says. We are not able to earn that which is given to us by God as a gift - eternal life. The only wages we are capable of earning is death. Because of our sinful human nature, inherited from our ancestors Adam and Eve, we are incapable of performing the work that God requires of us. In the law, written on our hearts and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, God requires us to fear, love and trust in him above all things. Jesus also summarized all the law and the prophets like this:
"What is written in the Law?" he [Jesus] replied. "How do you read it?"He [expert in the Law] answered: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind', and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’ "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
This, no matter how good the things we do may look to the eyes of the world, we cannot do. For all of our efforts to come to God on our own terms and satisfy our nature and its desires we earn our true wages - death.
God, however, sees our situation and comes to us. He is not content to simply pay us what we have earned. On the contrary God, who loves us and wants to restore the relationship he had with us in the beginning, gives us a gift - the gift of eternal life through Jesus' death and resurrection. God promised this gift to Adam and Eve after they sinned in the Garden of Eden. He promised this gift of a Savior to Abraham and to all Israel through the prophets. This gift entered the world in Bethlehem's manger and was given in full on Calvary's cross. Through faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man - God in human flesh - God gives us eternal life and makes us his children.
While we are God’s redeemed children through faith in Christ, however, this does not mean that we no longer sin. We live in a corrupted and sinful world and have a corrupt and sinful nature. We are simultaneously “saints” and “sinners” (simul justus et peccator). This is the situation St. Paul describes in the seventh chapter of Romans:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me,that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out…So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work withing my members (Romans 7: 14-18; 21-23).
However, just as an ungrateful birthday boy may turn up his nose at a gift he does not appreciate or understand (lets say clothes or a book, for example), we are able to reject God's gift of a Savior. The Pharisees, who loved their position in life and praise from men more than God, rejected the gift. They hardened their heats to God's Holy Spirit and they, along with all those who do the same, will receive their wages for their labor:
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him - you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it (Acts 7:51-53).
IX. About Eternal Election
Holy Scripture teaches that God, from eternity elected, or predestined, believers in Christ to be his own, without any merit of our own, simply by his grace. This Doctrine of Eternal Election is clearly what St. Paul is writing about to the Romans in Chapter eight of his epistle, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8: 28-30)
God gives eternal life to me, and all believers in Christ (Romans 10:9) and at the resurrection on the Last Day all believers, in their glorified bodies, will begin “the full enjoyment of being with Christ forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, #190). Scripture tell us this in 1 Corinthians, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will all be changed” (1 Cor. 15: 51-52).
Concerning this matter, John Calvin taught Double Predestination, which teaches that since only some are elect, others must therefore be reprobate (Christian Cyclopedia, Calvin). God, Calvin said, elected some to be saved, and others to be damned. This was the central focus of Calvin’s theology.
The Armenians, contrary to the Scriptural/Lutheran teaching that salvation is completely a gift of God, believed that man cooperates in his conversion. They taught that God predestined, from all eternity, those people whom he foresaw would remain steadfast in the faith until the end. While Christ died for all of mankind, not just the elect, man may resist and fall from divine grace.
The Universalists teach that God is “too good to damn people eternally” (Manteufel, Churches in America). In effect, because God is good, all people will be saved.
The apparent contradiction that God wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and that He has elected a definite number of people to salvation from eternity (Eph. 1: 3-6) cannot be rectified by reason alone, though many have tried. Thanks be to God, that he has given us all we need to have faith and understand that which he wants us to know in Holy Scripture, by the power of the Holy Spirit. All these things will be understood fully on the other side of heaven. St. Paul writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
X. About The Sacraments
Because of man’s disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world and the nature of man was corrupted. Because of our sin, we are alienated from God, as Adam and Eve were when they were cast out of paradise. However, from the pages of Holy Scripture, we know that through baptism – as well as Holy Scripture and the Sacrament of the Altar, God works faith in us and creates in us a new spiritual life, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ, by his death on the cross and resurrection, won for us and all mankind full forgiveness and salvation. St. John sums it up best in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
What then, is the merit of Scripture, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Through the sacrament of baptism, as well as the Lord’s Supper, Christ distributes the forgiveness he won to us. It is through word and sacrament that God deals with us (means of grace). “This water [of Noah’s flood] symbolized baptism that now saves you also...It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). St. Paul tells the Corinthians also, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
While it is true that only unbelief condemns a man (Mark 16:16), faith cannot exist in the heart of one who despises and rejects the Sacraments and, consequently, the command of Our Lord. It is true that the thief on the cross was saved while unbaptized, however, in his case, circumstances prevented his receiving this sacrament. On the contrary, one who despises the God’s Word and the Sacraments is more in line with the Pharisees and experts in the Law, who claimed to know God and follow his commands, but rejected John’s baptism in unbelief. “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John” (Luke 7: 29-30).
A man who does not prize highly the sacraments, who remains unbaptized, who does not come to the Lord’s Table, who does not exhibit the fruits of the Spirit is deluding himself. He may confess Christ with his lips but his heart is far from him. Such a person does not recognize how much evil is in him, and how much he needs the good things that the sacraments bestow. Our Lord instituted these things for the strengthening of our faith. So we say with the father of the boy with an evil spirit, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). It is through the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – the means by which God bestows his grace on us – that Jesus comes to us, helps us and strengthens us. It is our duty as pastors and teachers to make sure that those entrusted to our care know and understand what Jesus Christ has done for us, and why he blesses us through the sacraments.
Some who teach that there is no merit in baptism other than being a symbolic act use this parable to illustrate their point:
A certain man thought that by being immersed he could find salvation. A friend of his had quite a time explaining to him that it was not so. But this man insisted that, as water could purify the body, so water consecrated by a minister or priest would purify the soul. Finally, to demonstrate that baptism did not mean regeneration, the friend decided upon an object lesson.
“Here,” he said. “I take an ink bottle, cork it tight, put a string round the neck, and drag it through the river. How long will it take to clean out the inside?” The answer was obvious, “You will never in the world clean it out that way.” We must understand once and for all that no outward act will ever cleanse us within. Repentance is an act that takes place within us, while baptism is an outward act that demonstrates to the world what has already happened in our hearts. Thus, neither John the Baptist nor anyone else in the New Testament speaks of “repentance of baptism” but of “baptism of repentance.” Baptism depends upon and is caused by repentance and not vice versa. It does not make sense for the unrepentant to be baptized.
Continuing with this line of reasoning, baptism – which is the application of water by immersing, washing or pouring, in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is merely a symbolic act. It cannot save an adult, let alone an infant, who cannot profess its faith. However, Holy Scripture paints a different picture for us. While infant baptism is not expressly mentioned in Scripture, it is supported by several passages in the New Testament. Further, as for the idea that children and infants cannot have faith in Christ until they reach an “age of accountability”, Scripture shows us that this is clearly untrue, and that infants are capable of receiving God’s blessings, “For he [John the Baptist] will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb…When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy'" (Luke 1: 14, 41-44).
There are several reports in scripture where people bring their children to Christ to have him touch and bless them. One such passage is in the Gospel of St. Mark, “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10: 13-16).
Our Lord clearly indicates that children have a part in the kingdom of God. St. Luke also gives us some insight into this event as well in his Gospel, by identifying the age group of some of the children that were brought to Jesus. St. Luke writes, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them” (Luke 18:15).
Again, children clearly have a part in God’s kingdom. Not only that, being born in the flesh, children have a sinful human nature, and need the forgiveness that Christ offers in baptism. Scripture tells us that all people are sinful from the time of their birth. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” St. Paul tells us in Romans 3: 23-24. Christ distributes this grace to us in the sacrament of baptism. The psalmist also tells us, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).
Those that would argue that children are not sinners but are righteous and innocent, and that as long as they have not achieved the use of reason they will be saved in this innocence without baptism, not only reject the idea of original sin, but also teach contrary to the Word of God.
On the contrary, there is a long tradition in the church of baptizing children, derived from Scripture, dating back to apostolic times. Infant Baptism was common practice in the early church. Scripture lends support to this when it reports that the Apostles baptized entire families – some of which, at least, would normally include children. One example is the conversion of Lydia in Acts, “When she [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us” (Acts 16:15). Again in Acts we are told, “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized (Acts 16:33).
When entire families, and all indeed who belonged to them were baptized, it is probable that if there were a number of children in these families, the Apostles did not exclude them. Not only that, the Apostles could refer Jesus’ command to “let the little children come to me,” to the rite of circumcision from the Old Testament. This rite of initiation was performed on infants eight days old. It would be odd to refer to Baptism as the “circumcision of Christ” if Baptism of infants was to be forbidden while circumcision was given almost exclusively to infants, “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).
In the story of the ink bottle, one must suppose that the ink bottle that is stopped tightly with a cork represents man, and the ink contained within represents the stain of sin. The story is correct that no amount of water could wash the ink out as long as the stopper remained in place. However, the author overlooks two important things: First, the ink bottle cannot remove it’s own stopper. Some outside force must do that. Man is powerless to come to God of his own decision. On the contrary, we are all called by the Gospel, and God creates faith in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He distributes the gift of salvation to us that Christ won on the cross through baptism – in effect, removing the “stopper” of our sinful human nature and washing away the ink stain of our original sin.
Second, the water of baptism is not simply water, but, in the words of Martin Luther, “the word of God in and with the water,” that does these things. Without God’s word, Luther says, the water is plain water and no baptism. However, with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a life giving water, rich in grace and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying” (Titus 3: 5-8).
Thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, for baptism, which works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Concerning The Lord’s Supper
The bread and wine that are Christ’s body and blood and that are accompanied by the Word are the treasure through which forgiveness is obtained (Luther’s Large Catechism, 469.28-29). Jesus Christ at the Last Supper instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, or the Lord’s Supper. In this Sacrament, Christ gives us his true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. The believer receives the gift that is offered in the Sacrament, not through simple eating and drinking, but by faith. Christ’s words put the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation into the Lord’s Supper. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
In the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly distributed with those things that are seen, the bread and wine, to those who receive the sacrament (Apology, 184.1). The words of Our Lord at the Last Supper are not figurative. In the Sacrament of the Altar, a person receives the true body and blood of Christ in, with and under the bread and the wine. Luther explains that Christ’s words (Matt. 26: 26, 28) cannot be figurative because they are the words of a testament, and “even an ordinary person’s last will and testament may not be changed once that person has died” (Luther’s Small Catechism, #288). Further support for this view is found is Scripture (1 Cor. 11:25; Galatians 3:15). Finally, Scripture itself calls the Sacrament of the Altar a participation in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16), and that those who misuse the Sacrament are sinning against the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 11: 27, 29).
Close communion is the policy that says communion fellowship, or the reception of the Lord’s Supper, is limited to members of a Synod or particular denomination. It is proper that only those who have been instructed as to what Scripture teaches about the Sacrament and who know what the Sacrament is receive it.
XI. The Formal Principle of the Lutheran Faith
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 (Gal. 1:8; Formula of Concord, 486.1).
The Roman Catholic Church claims that the church and its tradition is the divine authority, superior to that of even Holy Scripture, since the church existed before, and “created,” the Bible. To put it in a nutshell – church traditions preceded the Bible. However, this is not entirely true. While the early church fathers, in council, codified and collected the scriptures, the scriptures, as we know them were written down before 70 A.D., except for 1st, 2nd and 3rd John, and the book of Revelation. The books that we call the Bible were accepted as scripture by the early Christians before the destruction of the temple.
The scriptures tested everything. This is the viewpoint of the authors of the New Testament, and the early church fathers. However, at the council of Trent, it was proclaimed that tradition was equal in importance and authority with the Bible, and it was at this time that the roman church officially added the apocryphal book to the canon.
When the apostles preached the Gospel, the people who heard them tested what they said against the scriptures they new to be from God (the Old Testament). “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness AND EXAMINED THE SCRIPTURES EVERY DAY TO SEE IF WHAT PAUL SAID WAS TRUE. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men” (Acts 17: 11-12). This happened before the New Testament was collected or the organized church existed. The Bereans tested the Gospel message and the apostles praised them for it.
The doctrine of verbal inspiration is the idea that we who study Holy Scripture should not concentrate our efforts on the men God used to write His words, or how He accomplished this, but we should focus on the words and content of the Scriptures since they are what was inspired – Paul and Peter are dead, but the Scripture God wrote through their pens is still alive and accomplishing God’s purpose perfectly; also, since God, who is the author of all Scripture, is without error, God’s word is also inerrant.
Using the Historical-Grammatical method of biblical interpretation, an interpreter seeks the “native, literal, or intended sense of the text derives the meaning from the text and allows Scripture to interpret itself.” In order to discern God’s intended meaning, the Scriptures must be read as historical, literary documents. This method of interpretation seeks the meaning of scripture in the text itself, not from some special revelation or extra-biblical source. The interpreter must also recognize that the Holy Scripture is the written word of God – not a primarily human witness to revelation, and thus not subject to human failings. In the historical –grammatical approach, the interpreter must always remember that scripture, like our Lord, has two natures – the human and the divine – and has them equally and fully. The Higher criticism method, on the contrary, examines scriptural writings like witnesses in a court of law. Scripture must be “interrogated” and evaluated rationally. Following this method, scripture is treated as any other human writings, subject to human failings. Higher criticism gives the individual interpreter, not Holy Scripture, ultimate authority and is incompatible with the “Sola Scriptura” principle of Lutheranism.
XII. The Nature of Law and Gospel
We must always be careful to distinguish between the Law and the Gospel in the Bible, as the Bible itself clearly shows us. “The law,” Scripture says, “was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And, as St. Paul writes, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter [Law] but of the Spirit [Gospel]; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Therefore we understand that the purpose of the Law is to command obedience to God and condemn and punish sin (Romans 3:20). However, the purpose of the Gospel, we hear the good news of our salvation through Jesus Christ. Through the Gospel, God gives us life. St. Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
The function of law and gospel is no different in the classroom. In the classroom, the teacher is the authority figure and sets rules and guidelines by which the students must abide. Each rule, if broken, carries with it a punishment (Law). When a student breaks the rules, however, he is not banished from the class forever. The penitent student must be assured by the teacher that while there are consequences for sin (i.e. punishment for violating the rules), he is fully forgiven – by us as well as God, for Jesus’ sake – and welcomed back into the classroom (Gospel). That announcement of the good news of full forgiveness in Jesus, proclaimed by a teacher or pastor, is what the Spirit will use motivate a change of behavior in the student.
XIII. About Worship
The church growth movement has faithful, concerned Christians worried that the reason their churches are loosing members is because of their lack of enthusiasm, uncomfortable pews, long and antiquated worship services, outdated music styles and rigid and boring liturgies. If only the church would get with the times, we are told. If we’re going to “win people for Jesus,” it is said, we need to adopt a little of our contemporary secular culture. If we do this, the theory is, we will attract the unchurched, they will feel comfortable in church and our ranks will swell.
On the surface, the argument seems to hold water. All one need do is look at a mega-church congregation like Saddleback or Willow Creek. Churches such as these have done much more than adopt a token bit of our American culture by working some contemporary Christian music into the worship service. On the contrary, such places have gone all out to make non-churchgoers feel comfortable and at home. In these places you will see pews replaced with folding theater-style seats, hymns replaced with Christian rock music and the centuries old liturgy of Christendom replaced by something less “rigid.” These mega-churches, in order to fill the seats, have assimilated American culture. Well, what’s wrong with that? At least it gets people to church, right? Slowly, this attitude of “gimmick the people to church” is creeping its way into mainstream Christianity, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and it must be rebuffed.
Some claim that our style of worship falls completely under “adiaphora,” however, it does not. Why must this attitude be resisted? Why must we not adopt this outlook, and totally conform corporate worship to something that looks more like the world in which we live? St. Paul, in writing to the Galatians, gives us something to think about, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Galatians 5: 16-18).
In this passage, St. Paul tells us that, since we have been made a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit, we should no longer live like we used to before we were changed. We should no longer conform our lives to the patterns of this world, since we are now “citizens” of heaven, in exile here on earth. “Join with others in following my example, brothers,” Paul tells the Philippians, “and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you…But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3: 17, 20-21).
It is for this reason that Luther envisioned a liturgy and worship style that was unlike anything in secular culture. Worship was to conform to “heavenly” culture. Luther wanted worship to be a bit of “heaven on earth” where believers could gather, worship and fellowship, and learn God’s word. For a time, at church, the believer would get a glimpse of heaven, even if it was an imperfect one. If we adopt aspects of our human, secular culture in worship, in order to make people comfortable, we draw people’s attention away from God’s word and worship of him. If church and worship look and feel like everything else that we are exposed to in our daily lives, they become less helpful to us as we try to live in conformity with our Spiritual nature instead of our human nature.
The real heart of the matter is this: Do we focus on technique, methodology and emotionalism, or the power of the Gospel transmitted through the means of Grace, in order to evangelize? If a person’s thoughts, emotions and experiences become the focal point, according to John Pless, campus pastor of University Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, God’s Word, absolution and the sacraments become incidental. These things, perhaps, even become a hindrance to what some would call a “real worship experience.”
We must not try to trick people into the church by conforming it to fit the corrupt culture of this world in which we live, or by abandoning the liturgy. Our liturgy, which is Biblically grounded, serves to teach and strengthen those who would speak the Gospel to an unbeliever and nourish the faith of the new believer. We must use worship and the liturgy as it has been used for centuries – to proclaim Gods’ word and administer the sacraments. When we do this, those people who participate are taught not merely “of” Christ, but His nature, who He is, what He did for us and why.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, these people will grow in faith and go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel, and God will see to it that His word does not return to Him void. He will evangelize the world through the lives and words of the people who know and worship Him. And the people we have charge of as pastors and teachers will come to know and love Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the liturgy – which is a glimpse of the world to come, and has served as our teacher for centuries.
XIV. About The Church
The invisible church (the church in its true sense) is the whole number of people who believe in Christ Jesus, and only those who believe. The church is a dynamic, living body - those who are intimately related with their head, Jesus. The visible church (the church in it's improper sense) is the whole number of people who profess the faith, administer the sacraments and use the word of God (these things are the marks of the church). The visible church includes all believers, as well as those who profess the faith falsely.
The marks of the true church are those things - preaching of the Gospel and administering of the sacraments - that identify the true church as being present.
XV. About the Divine Call
Peter, talking about a “holy priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:5, is really describing the whole body of believers. This body of believers, who in addition to being the “living stones” that make up the spiritual house in which the Holy Spirit dwells, as priests are to offer spiritual sacrifices in this holy temple. They are also to pray for man before God, represent God before man and reflect the holiness of God and our high priest Jesus Christ (1Peter 1:15).
The word vocation comes from the Latin term, vocatio, a term used by Luther when talking about the application of the believer’s faith to their everyday life. According to Luther, everyone has a call to serve the Lord – something we do through our profession as well as our role as parent, child, husband, wife, etc. When our faith works through everything we do, out of fear, love and trust in God, we serve Christ and glorify our heavenly Father.
The Office of the Keys is that power that Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of those who are repentant and retain the sins of those who are not repentant as long as they remain so. Ministers do not have the power to forgive or not forgive sins – they announce the grace of God according to His Word. If a person is penitent, they can assure the person with confidence that their sins are forgiven. If a person is not penitent, they can assure them with the same confidence that they remain in their sin (see Matthew 16: 13-19). Pastors/ministers, as well as called teachers publicly perform this function in the name of Christ in the congregation by which they are called to do so. This office of public ministry is instituted by Christ himself (Matt. 28: 16-20; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4: 10-12).
Christ instituted the office of the public ministry. However, the teaching ministry, while related to that divinely instituted office, was created by the Church. The teacher and the pastor share some responsibilities – such as teaching – while Word and Sacrament ministry is reserved for the pastor alone. In effect, the pastor of a congregation has the role of “shepherd” of that flock and the called teacher acts in an auxiliary capacity to the pastor.
XVI. About The Lutheran Confessions
The Apostles' Creed is the oldest of the three ecumenical creeds. By 150 A.D. this creed was in use at Christian centers throughout the world. It most likely developed over time out of the responses to the questions asked of a person at their baptism. For this reason, it is associated closely with the sacrament of Baptism today. In the Apostles’ Creed are the fundamental principles of the Christian faith.
The Nicene Creed was written in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea as a response to the false teaching, which stated that Jesus was not true God. For this reason, the Nicene Creed gives a more detailed exposition of the divine/human nature of Christ.
The Athanasian Creed was probably written between 435-535 A.D. It has been attributed to Athanasius, an apologist during the 4th-century debates over the deity of Christ; however, theologians now believe that certain parts of it could not have been written by him. This creed is an exhaustive explanation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
The Small and Large Catechisms, written in 1528 and 1529 by Luther, were intended to be used in the instruction of laity and clergy in the foundation of Christian doctrine, thereby ensuring structure and stability within the church. The Small Catechism is geared more for use in the households of ordinary people, particularly in the instruction of children, while the Large Catechism was addressed to clergy for their instruction, and was to be used in their teaching.
The Augsburg Confession was written by Phillip Melanchthon in 1530 to prepare a common Lutheran statement of beliefs and practices to be presented to Emperor Charles V at the imperial diet, which was to meet at Augsburg. The Confession emphasizes the Evangelical's agreements with Rome rather than their differences and making it clear that the Evangelicals did not wish to be lumped together with the many other opponents of Rome.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession was written as a response to the Roman Confutation - the response to the Augsburg Confession by Rome - and the insistence by Emperor Charles V that the Evangelicals acknowledge that their position set forth in the Augsburg Confession had been refuted. The Apology, prepared by Melanchthon in 1530, was enlarged and published in 1531. The Apology systematically answers the objections raised in the Roman Confutation, and attempts to explain to the emperor why the Evangelicals could not, and would not, accept that document.
The Smalcald Articles were written by Martin Luther at the request of the Elector of Saxony in December of 1535 in order to set forth a statement indicating the articles of faith where the Evangelicals for the sake of peace might make concessions, and articles of faith where no concessions could be made.
The Treatise on the Power and primacy of the Pope was written by Melanchthon in 1537 as a kind of addendum to the Augsburg Confession, addressing the issue, which had gone intentionally unaddressed so as not to offend Rome and close the dialog. The treatise states the scriptural position of the Evangelicals concerning the nature and power of the Bishop of Rome. The treatise conclusively examines the power and jurisdiction of bishops, and Rome's claim that the Roman bishop is above all other bishops and pastors, has the power of conferring royal authority, and the declaration that it is necessary for salvation to be subject to the Roman Pontiff (which is stated in the papal bull "Unam Sanctam" of Pope Boniface VIII). The treatise correctly concludes, in light of scripture and history that Rome is in error.
The publication of the Book of Concord was an attempt to heal the divisiveness characteristic of the Lutheran movement since the death of Martin Luther 30 years earlier. The Formula of Concord appeared in 1580, after long and drawn-out conferences, and was approved by 86 of the German states. It was written by a committee of four theologians; Andreae, Chemnitz, Chytraeus and Selnecker, and contains articles addressing original sin, free will, the Eucharist, predestination, the rule of faith and the creed, justification, good works, the Law and the Gospel, the third use of the law, the person of Christ, the descent of Christ into hell, and the customs of the church, as well as an appendix concerning heresies and sectaries. Although it was not accepted everywhere as binding, it came to serve as the source book for Lutheran orthodoxy.
I believe that the Lutheran Confessions are a correct exposition of God’s Word and subscribe to them fully.