Thursday, August 1, 2013

So What is in a Confession of Faith?

     So what is in a confession of faith? To answer this question I will quote extensively from Charles Porterfield Krauth's book “The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology” (which by the way is a very long, and at times a very difficult book to read, but I found it to be pleasant nonetheless). Krauth writes:

      Standing really upon the everlasting foundation of this Rule of Faith, we stand of necessity on the faith, of which it is the rule. It is not the truth as it lies, silent and unread, in the Word, but the truth as it enters from that Word into the human heart, with the applying presence of the Holy Ghost, which makes men believers. Faith makes men Christians; but Confession alone marks them as Christians. The Rule of Faith is God's voice to us; faith is the hearing of that voice, and the Confession, our reply of assent to it. By our faith, we are known to the Lord as his; by our Confession, we are known to each other as His children. Confession of faith, in some form, is imperative. To confess Christ, is to confess what is our faith in him. As the Creed is not, and cannot be the Rule of Faith, but is its confession merely, so the Bible, because it is the Rule of Faith, is of necessity not its Confession. The Bible can no more be any man's Creed, than the stars can be any man's astronomy. The stars furnish the rule of the astronomer's faith: the Principia of Newton may be the Confession of his faith. If a man were examined as a candidate for the chair of astronomy in a university, and were asked, “What is your astronomical system?” and were to answer, “I accept the teaching of the stars,” the reply would be, “You may think you do—so does the man who is sure that the stars move round the world, and that they are not orbs, but 'gimlet-holes to let the glory through.' We wish to know what you hold the teachings of the stars to be? Do you receive as in harmony with them, the results reached by Copernicus, by Galileo, by Kepler, by Newton, La Place, and Herschel, or do you think the world one great flat, and the sun and moon mere pendants to it?” “Gentlemen,” replies the independent investigator, “the theories of those astronomers are human systems—man-made theories. I go out every night on the hills, and look at the stars, as God made them, through a hole in my blanket, with my own good eyes, not with a man-made telescope, or fettered by a man-made theory; and I believe in the stars and in what they teach me: but if I were to say, or write what they teach, that would be a human creed—and I am opposed to all creeds.” “Very well,” reply the examiners, “we wish you joy in the possession of a good pair of eyes, and feel it unnecessary to go any further. If you are unwilling to confess your faith, we will not tax your conscience with the inconsistency of teaching that faith, nor tax our own with the hazard of authorizing you to set forth in the name of the stars your own ignorant assumptions about them.”
     What is more clear than that, as the Rule of Faith is first, it must, by necessity of its being, when rightly used, generate a true faith? But the man who has true faith desires to have it known, and is bound to confess his faith. The Rule cannot really generate two conflicting beliefs; yet men who alike profess to accept the Rule, do have conflicting beliefs; and when beliefs conflict, if the one is formed by the Rule, the other must be formed in the face of it. Fidelity to the Rule of Faith, therefore, fidelity to the faith it teaches, demands that there shall be a Confession of the faith. The firmest friend of the Word is the firmest friend of the Creed. First, the Rule of Faith, next the Faith of the Rule, and then the Confession of Faith.
     What shall be our Confession? Are we originating a Church, and must we utter our testimony to a world, in which our faith is a novelty? The reply is easy. As we are not the first who have used, with honest hearts and fervent prayers, the Rule, so are we not the first who have been guided by the Holy Ghost in it to its faith. As men long ago reached its faith, so long ago they confessed it. They confessed it from the beginning. The first adult baptism was based upon a “human creed,” that is, upon a confession of faith, which was the utterance of a belief which was based upon a human interpretation of divine words. The faith has been confessed from the beginning. It has been embodied in a creed, the origin of whose present shape no man knows, which indeed cannot be fixed; for it rose from the words of our Saviour's Baptismal Commission, and was not manufactured, but grew. Of the Apostle's Creed, as of Him to who its heart is given, it may be affirmed that it was “begotten, not made.” The Confession has been renewed and enlarged to meet new and widening error. The ripest, and purest, and most widely used of the old Confessions have been adopted by our Church as her own, not because they are old and widely received, but because they are true. She has added her testimony as it was needed. Here is the body of her Confession. Is her Confession ours? If it be, we are of her in heart; if it be not, we are only of her name. IT IS OURS—OURS IN OUR DEEPEST CONVICTION, REACHED THROUGH CONFLICTS OUTWARD AND INWARD, REACHED UPON OUR KNEES, AND TRACED WITH OUR TEARS—OURS IN OUR INMOST HEARTS. THEREFORE, WE CONSECRATE OURSELVES TO LIVING, TEACHING, AND DEFENDING THE FAITH OF GOD'S WORD, WHICH IS THE CONFESSED FAITH OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH. FIDELITY TO THE WHOLE TRUTH OF GOD'S WORD REQUIRES THIS. We dare not be satisfied simply with recognition as Christians over against the Jew, because we confess that the Rule of Faith, of which the New Testament is a part, has taught us faith in Jesus Christ: we dare not be satisfied simply with recognition as holding the Catholic Faith as embodied in the three General Creeds, over against heresies of various forms and shades. Christian believers holding the faith Catholic we are—but we are, besides, Protestant, rejecting the authority of the Papacy; Evangelical, glorying in the grace of the Gospel; AND LUTHERAN, HOLDING THE DOCTRINES OF THE CHURCH, of which the Reformation is the child—not only those in which all Christendom or a large part of it coincides with her, but the most distinctive of here distinctive doctrines, though in the maintenance of them she stood alone. As the acceptance of the Word of God as a Rule of Faith separates us from the Mohammedan, as the reception of the New Testament sunders us from the Jew, as the hearty acquiescence in the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds show us, in the face of all errorists of the earlier ages, to be in the faith of the Church Catholic, SO DOES OUR UNRESERVED ACCEPTANCE OF THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION MARK US AS LUTHERANS; AND THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE APOLOGY, THE CATECHISMS OF LUTHER, THE SCHMALCALD ARTICLES, AND THE FORMULA OF CONCORD, CONTINUES THE WORK OF MARKING OUR SEPARATION FROM ALL ERRORISTS OF EVERY SHADE WHOSE DOCTRINES ARE IN CONFLICT WITH THE TRUE SENSE OF THE RULE OF FAITH—that Rule whose teachings are rightly interpreted and faithfully embodied in the Confessions afore-mentioned. Therefore, God helping us, we will teach the whole faith of His word, which faith our Church sets forth, explains, and defends in her Symbols. We do not interpret God's word, but interpreting both independently, by laws of language, and finding that they teach one and the same truth, we heartily acknowledge the Confession as a true exhibition of the faith of the Rule—a true witness to the one, pure, and unchanging faith of the Christian Church, and freely make it our own Confession, as truly as if it had been now first uttered by our lips, or had first gone forth from our hands. (p. 166-169)

     So the question becomes, “How seriously do we, members of the 'mighty' Missouri-Synod uphold this exhortation 'to living, teaching, and defending the faith of God's word, which is the confessed faith of the Evangelical Lutheran Church?' Are we allowing our confession of faith to collect dust? Do we, as the Missouri-Synod, do what Walther suggests by providing “a good, inexpensive copy [of the Book of Concord,] and pastors should see to it that every home has one,” the Book of Concord being this most precious confession of faith. Or are we allowing our Church to fall into apathy by hiding from our laity the excellent gift we hold in our Confessions? Walther goes onto say: “If a person isn't familiar with this book, he'll think, 'That old book is just for pastors. I don't have to preach. After [working] all day, I can't sit down and study in the evening. If I read my morning and evening devotions, that's enough.” No, that is not enough! The Lord doesn't want us to remain children, who are blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine; instead of that, He wants us to grow in knowledge so that we can teach others.” It seems much hasn't changed in our day from Walther's time. A lot of our body is either subjected to forced ignorance about our Confession or are willfully so. Whatever the case may be it would seem that Krauth and Walther alike would be disappointed with the position our Synod is in. We are not excising ourselves in the Confession that was so diligently prepared and has been utilized and cherished for centuries rather we are satisfied to do what the non-denominational churches are doing. Like them our laity's theological insights are a mile long and an inch deep. How many individuals in the LCMS, do you suppose, even know what the Book of Concord is? How often are the Confessions, those same Confessions that each and every Pastor must bow a knee to before he is ordained and installed, invoked on a Sunday or in a Bible study? I think the numbers would be embarrassingly low.

     Krauth's exhortation to live in, teach, and defend our Confession of faith faithfully and diligently is not a light suggestion. He recognizes the grave danger that can befall a church body if she refuses to remain steadfast in her confession of faith. We may still carry with us the Rule of Faith, but without a fixed conception of what is contained within its binding we would be better off without it. Do we believe that our Confession was formulated in an easy, lackadaisical way? By no means. The blood of faithful martyrs show that clearly enough and yet now, in our twenty-first century American mind, which is sedated with all the revelries of the world and false doctrines from other Christian bodies decide it better to satisfy ourselves with nothing more than the most minimal devotional materials we can find. Devotional materials which bounce us from one Bible verse to another, potentially conceptualizing them out of their context, and so throwing us into the midst of the wolves. For example, we'd rather tell our children, with the assistance of non-contextual reading, that they are commanded by their boss, Jesus Christ, to witness for him in the world (See previous post).

     I am aware that there are pockets of confessional Lutherans out there “fight(ing) the good fight of the faith” and “hold(ing) fast the confession of [their] hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (1Tim 6:12; Heb 10:23). My thoughts, prayers, and most certainly grinding teeth and raised blood pressure are with you. I'll leave you with Krauth, who might as well have been giving this speech in Braveheart:

      And shall we despond, draw back, and give our names to the reproach of generations to come, because the burden of the hour seems to us heavy? God, in His mercy, forbid! If all others are ready to yield to despondency, and abandon the struggle, we, children of the Reformation, dare not. That struggle has taught two lessons, which must be secured at any price. They are beyond all price. We dare not compute their cost. They are the soul of our being, and the whole world is as dust in the balance against them. No matter what is to be paid for them, we must not hesitate to lay down their redemption price. The other grand lesson is, that their price is never paid in vain. What we give can never be lost, unless we give to little. If we give all, we shall have all. All shall come back. Our purses shall be in the mouths of our sacks. We shall have both the corn and the money. But if we are niggard, we lose all—lose what we meant to buy, lose what have given. If we maintain the pure Word inflexibly at every cost, over against the arrogance of Rome and of the weak pretentiousness of Rationalism, we shall conquer both through the Word; but to compromise on a single point, is to lose all, and be lost. (p. 21)

Lord's blessings.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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