Saturday, March 31, 2007

Who I Am -- The Lutheran Confessions

In recent discussions with some fellow LCMS pastors, I was asked whether I consider the Lutheran Confessions descriptive or prescriptive. This question was asked after I gave my reasons for holding to the historic liturgy and the one-year lectionary and for advocating weekly communion.

t has been my observation that when people call the Lutheran Confessions descriptive, they are implying that the Lutheran Confessions are merely historical documents which describe that point in the history of the Lutheran Church and thus have no true relevance today. This is not much different than some theologians who want to move the study of the Lutheran Confessions from the dogmatics/systematics department to the historical department. I thought this problem was simply isolated to the 1960s and 1970s of the LCMS. But the relegation of the Lutheran Confessions to mere historical documents is alive and well in the LCMS of the 21st century.

On the other hand, when people call the Lutheran Confessions prescriptive, they are implying that these documents are a ball and chain that hold us captive or a leash that leads us around. This is a rather legalistic view of these doctrinal masterpieces of the Lutheran Church.

I used to have trouble answering this question, because either answer -- 'descriptive' or 'prescriptive' -- seems to be the wrong one. But when I was recently asked this question at a winkel, I chose 'descriptive' BUT NOT in the historical sense, but in a me sense.

The Lutheran Confessions describe me. When I subscribed to the Lutheran Confessions, it was as if I was standing beside those 16th century theologians and laity who made their confession before emperor and pope. The Lutheran Confessions are not their words, they are my words.

Each pastor, who subscribes to the Lutheran Confessions, should be able to read any portion of these documents and say, 'This is what I believe, teach, confess, and practice.'

And so when it comes to the Lutheran Confessions --I will quote a country-western song -- that's 'Who I Am!'


B. E. Hanner said...

I think part of the problem is that the question is wrong. If you place it too highly you run the risk of like a certain LCMS seminarian who would choose to take it over the Bible as his one book on a desert island. To do so is to simply make them into a pope of paper. To call it simply historically descriptive is to cast it off as irrelevent, which is also wrong.

Personally I think holding all of them together as one and holding them all equal is part of the problem. The Confession of Augsburg should be held above all other Lutheran works as the true statement of what Lutherans believed in the face of Rome's innovations. One problem with the books in the Book of Concord is that Philipp tends to write to the ages whereas Luther tends to write to his time, with the exception of the small Catechism. So it is hard to give some of what Luther says the weight of perscription as it was really written for a time and place. Having not been raised confessional Lutheran but just mainline and having come back to Lutheranism from the direction of the study of history I would say that the majority of the work should now be viewed as policy. The basic ideas should be adheared to but they should be implimented in ways that reflect the realities of the world we live in and not trying to impose the realities of 16th century Germany on today.

For example the US does not hold the Monroe Doctrine as the final statement of US foreign policy but it has been a guiding principal for US foreign policy ever since. Sometimes it has been added too but it has also been used practically and even over 150 years later we still allowed the British to retain the Falkland Islands from Argentina.

To place it in an even broader perspective they should be held as the great teachings of two of the Doctors of the Church and placed next to the works of the Church Fathers and Doctors that came before them such as Peter Martyr, John Chysostom and Augustine of Hippo.

Lutheran Enigma said...

I don't know if you are agreeing with me or disagreeing or helping to clarify my point. Whatever the case, thank you for your input.

My post was not intended to place the Lutheran Confessions over the Bible, may it never be.

I agree that asking 'do you think the confessions are descriptive or prescriptive?' is a bad question. But I think my answer that's who I am best describes how I view the Lutheran Confessions. They are neither mere historic documents nor are they a new law. They boldly and correctly confess the Christian faith as revealed in God's Holy Word.