Believe, Teach and Confess: A Call back to the Reformation
“Believe, Teach and Confess…” So begins Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions, Reader’s Edition. From the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, XII 40, those who penned this Confession of Faith wrote:
This declaration…is our faith, doctrine, and confession. By God’s grace, with intrepid hearts, we are willing to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with this Confession.
Today is October 31st. For many, that means dressing up in costumes and going around the neighborhood asking for candy and other treats. Yes, it is Halloween. However, the Church Calendar says it is All Hallows Eve the day before All Saints Day. So, you may ask, Why am I starting this blog post with the Lutheran Confessions? Well, let me answer that.
Halloween or Harvest Festival
October 31st is celebrated as Reformation Day mostly by various streams of the Reformation such as the Dutch Reformed, English/Scottish Presbyterians, Swiss reformed and the like. Not too many current evangelical churches celebrate it as the “watershed” day of reforming the Church. I remember when working at “The Mission” an outstation small church from a Pentecostal church in Brooklyn, NY the leaders decided to have a “Harvest Festival” to counter the Halloween celebrations going on around them. At this festival you could dress in costume, but it had to be a Bible character, no ghost, ghouls or goblins permitted. We sang songs and played games and gave out a lot of candy and treats to these children. It was a way for us to get them off the streets of Brooklyn on what was typically a dangerous night. However, I cannot recall there being any mention of Martin Luther or this important day. Instead, we simply embraced the costumes and candy and gave it an evangelical slant.
Concordia: With Heart
As Bobby, my husband, and I began to reform in our theology and church practice, we learned of the importance of Reformation Day. In fact, many of the Dutch Reformed churches we know of actually celebrated the day but always with the caveat, Luther didn’t go far enough. So, we settled into a more “historic” celebration, often watching movies about Luther, reading some of his 95 Theses (have to admit, most of it is very hard to read or understand). When Bobby was pasturing the home church, Tulip Reformed Church, we had a Reformation Party where we came to learn more about Martin Luther. I remember I made a board filled with Indulgences from Luther’s era on one side and on the other were modern day indulgences, mostly from the televangelists slant that you could send in “seed money” to help save people or heal them. We watched a Luther movie and discussed how, as Reformed, we were carrying on his reformation; Semper Reformandi (Always Reforming).
This morning when I awoke I remembered it is Reformation Day and began to think about the benefits we’ve received from reformers like Martin Luther. However, I no longer think as a Calvinist does, that “Luther didn’t go far enough”, because I’ve now read his Small Catechism (and see how much of it is “borrowed” by the continental and Presbyterian catechisms) and Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions. Instead, Lutherans have not gotten rid of the “comforts” given to the Church. We love art and music, we wear crosses and sometimes crucifixes, we believe baptism saves and that Christ’s Body is truly present in, with and under the Bread and Wine. We believe that God’s Word speaks plainly and truthfully. It is here, within Lutheranism, that one learns that there is objective truth, one absolute truth about God and His Salvation for all People. God has made plain that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, people don’t get to take the schmorgesborg approach; I’ll take salvation by grace here, and faith there, but I think I’ll get to heaven by my own good works, like daily devotions, tithing, being a good neighbor and making sure I hand out tracts at the restaurant. Well, those things I listed are good, but they don’t “keep” you saved. Rather, salvation starts with grace and ends with grace.
My own theological Reformation
As many of you know I’ve gone from growing up Pentecostal to Charismatic (New Apostolic Reformation, which is neither new, apostolic or a reformation) to reformed Baptist, then dutch reformed and finally Lutheran. Why the travel through all these groups? Scripture. God was using the scriptures to straighten out our understanding of God and His salvation for the world. While reformed we came to appreciate the reformers the most and understand the reasons why the Church needed a reform. However, it was there too that we found the law weighted too heavily and rules, such as, no images, sing only the psalms, etc, became the litmus test whether or not you were really “reformed”. That reminds me of how when I contacted our pastor at Faith Lutheran and told him we were looking for a “reformed” church, later he shared how that worried him a bit. Now we understand that we are in a truly “reformed” church that has a respect for the Word of God in such a manner as to rightly balance Law and Gospel.
Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum
The Word of the Lord Endures Forever. This is the “motto of the Lutheran Reformation, a confident expression of the enduring power and authority of God’s Word.” This is the focus of the Reformation: The unadulterated Word of God believed, taught and confessed. This is the focus of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and other faithful Lutheran churches; Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone. Rather than trying to add things into the scriptures (via dreams, prophecies, visions and “words” from the Lord as the Pentecostals and Charismatics do), instead of changing those means of grace (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) into “ordinances” (basically laws we do to show others our faith), instead of peering into the secret council of God (via whether God chose the elect before He decided to create the world or after Adam’s fall, as the Calvinists in their Presbyterian or Continental fashion do), we Lutherans take the Word of God for what it says. No speculation. No addition. No changing words or terms. VDMA! Because God’s Word endures forever we can be assured that He has also made it plain so that we understand the wonderful salvation He offers to all who will believe, without exception.
We believe that Christ is the Only way of salvation for all people
We teach the truth and “reject all errors that contradict the truth.” That truth is found only in the Scriptures
We confess “that creeds and confessions are necessary for the wellbeing of the Church.” Scripture teaches us to confess our faith and if we are to continue to proclaim it, we need to know what we confess to believe.
What is Needed?
Is there a need for reformation today? Absolutely. Both evangelicals and Calvinists should consider that both streams which broke from Rome need a reformation. However, it is not a continued reformation, as Calvinists hold, which peers into things God has not told us, nor is it throwing out everything from Rome as the evangelicals would have us believe. Rather, it is a return to the Reformation best expressed in Concordia’s documents: Creeds, Catechism, Augsburg Confession, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Smalcald Articles, Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope and the Formula of Concord. These confessions of faith keep the Church true to God’s Word and its interpretation. Within the pages of Concordia are “magnificent treasures” which are given to us, not to rest on, but to utilize to bring the Gospel of Free Grace to those dying apart from Christ around us. We should study, mark and read them daily, pondering the truths they hold.
We must, as those who hold the truth, go out and live what we believe, teaching these truths and confessing them always to both our neighbors who do not yet know Christ as well as to those who profess faith in Jesus and yet still have a lot of their theology to be reformed.