A Clear Lutheran Voice from Germany

2010_07_23_CRW_2382 by The Lutheran World Federation

Dr. Johannes Friedrich, the new Presiding Bishop of the largest Lutheran church in the world, the United Evangelical Lutheran church of Germany (VELKD), recently addressed what it means to be Lutheran today.1 Four points:

  • “The core of scripture, in Christian thinking, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That means that all witnesses of the Old and New Testaments point to God’s salvation of humanity in Jesus Christ. They possess no importance outside of promoting Christ…. At the same time [this understanding] rejects all extreme and narrow forms of biblical interpretation such as fundamentalism, enthusiasm, or shortsighted individual teachings.”

Comment: Therefore in its use of scripture the church is neither lost in historical relativism nor subject to the tyranny of particular agendas.

  • “The central proclamation of the church is that [Christ] reveals himself in the congregation gathered in his name, in the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. So understood, we Lutherans stand in apostolic succession….This understanding of church subordinates all structural models and all forms of service to the working of Jesus Christ; it supersedes them, makes them changeable and renewable.”

Comment: Therefore no particular structure may be required, neither the papacy, nor the historic episcopate, nor congregationalism.

  • “The importance of the Lutheran emphasis on our being sent into the world: recognizing the two ways in which God rules, the so-called Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms….political power was not to put limitations on freedom of faith and conscience, and the church was not to view politics as its appendage, but rather groom Christians to be good citizens, engaged for the common good with Christian responsibilities.”

Comment: The church may not fall into the trap of claiming to be the “public church,” a term that conveys the idea that politics are an appendage to the church’s mission.

  • “… [P]roductive ecumenism ….follows from a common understanding of the Gospel.”

Comment: As Friedrich points out, this is what has happened in Europe and the Third World where churches have grown together using the Leuenberg Agreement.

As we and others work to build a centrist Lutheran future in the USA, Presiding Bishop Friedrich’s clear voice gives hope that we are not alone.2

1Emphasis added. The full text of Dr. Friedrich’s address, which was given after he was elected Presiding Bishop of the VELKD at its October 15-19, 2005, Assembly, is available on our website under “Lutheran Identity” which is under “Resources.” The VELKD has 10,650,000 members.


2 See “Our Charter” which sets forth the same basic Lutheranism as expressed by Presiding Bishop Friedrich.

Read Bishop Friedrich’s speech


Thanks to CrossAlone Lutheran District.

Thanks to flickr and The Lutheran World Federation, for the photo.









The Book of Concord’s Key To Itself

What do Lutherans believe? Some Lutherans say that they simply hold to the Bible and Confessions. Yet in the 1970’s Lutherans in this country split over how to use the Bible as the “only rule and norm.” Thus to say one simply holds to the Bible and Confessions is to fail to engage the dilemma of hermeneutics over which Lutherans are split.

A similar failure to engage hermeneutics marks those who commonly say: “The Bible is perfectly clear …” – as if using the word “clear” were a persuasive argument rather than what it really is – an authoritarian club. To be sure, the Bible contains assertions that are logically clear – women must wear veils in church (1 Cor 11:5), divorce is not permitted except for adultery (Matt 5:32), Jesus is subordinate to the Father (John 14:28) – yet such clear assertions are nevertheless not normative for faith and life today.

 What is the plumb line by which we sort out the varied assertions found in the Bible? The Book of Concord uses a variety of phrases to describe the doctrine of justification as the plumb line for judging all other doctrines. Justification determines scripture rather scripture determining justification.

 (1) Formula of Concord, Epitome, Preface 1, 2, 7; T 464-65, K/W 486-87           We believe teach and confess that 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…. Other writings of ancient or contemporary teachers, whatever their names may be, shall not be regarded as equal to Holy Scripture, but all of them together shall be subjected to it …. Holy Scripture alone remains the only judge, rule, and guiding principle, according to which, as the only touchstone, all teachings should and must be recognized and judged….

(2) Smalcald Articles 2:1-5; T 292, K/W 301                                                                      Here is the first and chief article: That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Rom. 4[:25]) Now because this must be believed and may not be obtained or grasped otherwise with any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:28, 26]…. Nothing in this article can be conceded or given up, even if heaven and earth or whatever is transitory passed away. As St. Peter says in Acts 4[:12]: “There is no other name… given among mortals by which we must be saved.” “And by his bruises we are healed” (Isa. 53[:5]). On this article stands all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world….

 (3) Augsburg Confession 20:8-9; T 42, K/W 53, 55                                                     Therefore, because the teaching concerning faith, which ought to be the principal one in the church, has languished so long in obscurity –everyone must grant that there has been a profound silence concerning the righteousness of faith in preaching while only the teaching of works has been promoted in the church …. To begin with, they remind the churches that our works cannot reconcile God or merit grace and forgiveness of sins, but we obtain this only by faith when we believe that we are received into grace on account of Christ….

(4) CA 28:50-52; T 89, K/W 98                                                                                     Inasmuch as it is contrary to the gospel to establish such regulations as necessary to appease God and earn grace, it is not at all proper for the bishops to compel observation of such services of God. For in Christendom the teaching of Christian freedom must be preserved, namely, that bondage to the law is not necessary for justification, as Paul writes in Galatians 5[:1]: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” For the chief article of the gospel must be maintained, that we obtain the grace of God through faith in Christ without our merit and do not earn it through service of God instituted by human beings.

(5) CA 28:65-66; T 92, K/W 101                                                                                                The apostles directed that one should abstain from blood and from what is strangled. But who observes this now? Yet those who do not observe it commit no sin. For the apostles themselves did not want to burden consciences with such bondage, but prohibited eating for a time to avoid offense. For in this ordinance one must pay attention to the chief part of Christian doctrine which is not abolished by this decree.

(6) Apology 4:2-3; T 107, K/W 120-21                                                                                   But since this controversy deals with the most important topic of Christian teaching which, rightly understood, illumines and magnifies the honor of Christ and brings the abundant consolation that devout consciences need, we ask His Imperial Majesty kindly to hear us out on this important matter. Since the opponents understand neither the forgiveness of sins, nor faith, nor grace, nor righteousness, they miserably contaminate this article, obscure the glory and benefits of Christ, and tear away from devout consciences the consolation offered them in Christ.

(7) FC SD 3:6; T 540, K/W 563                                                                                               This article on justification by faith (as the Apology says) is the “most important of all Christian teachings,” “without which no poor conscience can have lasting comfort or recognize properly the riches of Christ’s grace.” As Dr. Luther wrote, “If this one teaching stands in its purity, then Christendom will also remain pure and good, undivided and unseparated…. but where it does not remain pure, it is impossible to ward off any error or sectarian spirit.”

(8) FC SD 10:5; T 611, K/W 636                                                                                                 We should not regard as free and indifferent, but rather as things forbidden by God that are to be avoided, the kind of things presented under the name and appearance of external, indifferent things that are nevertheless fundamentally opposed to God’s Word (even if they are painted another color). Moreover, we must not include among the truly free adiaphora or indifferent matters ceremonies that give the appearance or (in order to avoid persecution) are designed to give the impression that our religion does not differ greatly from the papist religion or that their religion were not completely contrary to ours. Nor are such ceremonies matters of indifference when they are intended to create the illusion (or are demanded or accepted with that intention), as if such action brought the two contradictory religions into agreement and made them one body or as if a return to the papacy and a deviation from the pure teaching of the gospel and from the true religion had taken place or could gradually result from the actions.

(9) FC SD 10:31; T 616, K/W 640                                                                                             For this reason the churches are not to condemn one another because of differences in ceremonies when in Christian freedom one has fewer or more than the other, as long as these churches are otherwise united in teaching and in all the articles of the faith as well as in the proper use of the holy sacraments. As it is said, “Dissonantia ieiunii non dissolvit consanantiam fidei” (dissimilarity in fasting shall not destroy the unity of faith).

(10) FC SD 11:91-93; T 632, K/W 655                                                                     Accordingly, whoever conveys this teaching concerning the gracious election of God in such a way that troubled Christians gain no comfort from it but are thrown into despair by is, or in such a way that the impenitent are strengthened in their impudence, then it is undoubtedly certain and true that this teaching is not being presented according to God’s Word and will but rather according to reason and at the instigation of the wicked devil. For, as the Apostle testifies, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” [Rom. 15:4]. However, any interpretation of Scripture that weakens or removes our hope and encouragement is certainly contrary to the will and intent of the Holy Spirit. We stand by this simple, correct, helpful explanation, which is firmly grounded in God’s revealed will. We flee and avoid all abstruse, specious questions and discussions, and we reject and condemn anything that contradicts and opposes this true, simple, helpful explanation.


[1] “only rule and norm” (Tappert, 464); “only rule and guiding principle” (Kolb/Wengert, 486). See quotation #1. Throughout the quotations, underlining has been added.

 [2] Other terms commonly used this way: simple, plain, self-evident, obvious.

[3] Two kinds of clarity are often confused when the clarity of scripture is discussed: The clarity in the meaning of the words on the page is one thing. But clarity in the theological sense means clarity about Christ and salvation. As Luther writes, “If the opponents use scripture against Christ, then we use Christ against scripture” (LW 34:112, Theses Concerning Faith and Law #49 [1535]).

[4] The varied ways of referring to the doctrine of justification in the citations below include the following: “chief article” #2, #4, “the principle one” #3, “the chief part” #5, “the most important topic” #6, “this article” #7, “the ‘most important’ of all Christian teachings” #7, “this one teaching” #7, “the pure teaching of the gospel” #8, “in teaching and in all the articles,” #9, “this teaching” #10. In context all these ways of referring to justification show how justification by faith alone is not only the chief article but also the article by which all other articles, including the article on scripture in the Preface to the Epitome of the Formula of Concord„ are to be understood.

 [5] The Aristotelian distinction between scripture as the formal principle and justification as the material principle does not accurately describe how the Book of Concord understands justification to be the chief article by which we interpret scripture.

 [6] “Accordingly, whoever conveys this teaching concerning the gracious election of God in such a way that troubled Christians gain no comfort from it but are thrown into despair by it, or in such a way that the impenitent are strengthened in their impudence, then it is undoubtedly certain and true that this teaching is not being presented according to God’s Word….” See #10 below.

[7] Philip J. Secker, “The Gospel and All Its Articles,” Lutheran Forum (Fall, 2005) 42-51, points out that the famous words here underlined “are the doctrinal articles contained in the Ecumenical Creeds and the Augsburg Confession,” not “all the doctrines of the Scripture,” and that rest of the Book of Concord is an explication of these articles (49).


Thanks to CrossAlone-Lutheran-District.











The Treasure in the Field

Treasure chest by Dominik Gruszczyk

Here’s Pastor Mark’s sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost. Or is it the 7th?

Anywho, I hope this does something to you (I hope it does something to me):



click here >What is it that you would do almost anything to get?



 Thanks, Pastor Mark.

And thanks to flickr and Dominik Gruszczyk, for the photo.









Someone laid the “yeah, but…”…on me…


Entering the Cave by ninaksimon


That’s right. I was accussed of using the “yeah, but…” because my “yeah, but…” was used to defend the pure gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Christ…alone.

I may be a slow learner, but it is finally starting to dawn on me that many people just DO NOT WANT Christ alone, and will NEVER (I know, I should never say never) accept the life of “faith” on those terms.

Truth be told, I guess that I am one of those people, too, because I need to hear it (the pure gospel), and to receive it (the pure gospel in the Sacraments) over and over and over again, myself.

This is all strangely different from the folks who have made their ‘decision for Jesus’ and are now on their way upward and onward, isn’t it?

We do have the same Lord, but our view of the Christian faith is so radically different.


That’s it. Back to my cave.




Thanks to flickr and ninaksimon, for the photo.






How does God work in the Sacraments? Through ordinary means….WHAT!?

0112 by artusk

I’ve mentioned this Lutheran principle many times in the last several days. Pastor Mark unpacks this idea as he reads from and expounds on the late Dr. George Forell’s piece titled, “Why Bother with Lutherans?”





 Listen to 5 minutes of this one:

click here>The finite contains the infinite 



Thanks, Pastor Mark.

Thanks to flickr and artusk, for the photo.

(notice the halo around the pastor’s head and the glowing water that has never before been on earth)



If I could pick a Bible with a perfect, inerrant text, or a Bible that was both a product of man and God, and all that that entails…I would pick the Bible that is a product of both God and the ordinary. Does not God come to us through ordinary means that he attaches His Word to? Isn’t that the Lutheranism, the Christianity that walks by faith? Is that NOT how God works through His preachers and His Sacraments?

I’d rather be a Lutheran than a Southern Baptist/Calvinist/Pentecostal/Evangelical/Non-Denom.,  anyday.

Are not those poor folks constantly looking for proof, over and above walking by faith? Those folks NEED inerrant texts. We do not. We have the Word…Christ alone…and that is enough.   That is enough.

I think it was Luther who said if he saw a vision of Jesus Christ he would tell Him to get lost.


At least listen to the first 5 minutes of the class, above. Whether you agree or disagree…you will have a better of understanding of why we believe as we do.




“The Lord’s Supper”



 The treasure of the Church is the good news that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Christ is the living Lord of his Church. He alone is our Great High Priest. Because he has done all that is necessary on the cross, we have no further need for priests. He is the sole Mediator (1 Tim 2:5). He is living today and comes to us through the means of Word and sacrament.

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, that is, a gift from God to us. It is not essentially an act or rite in which we give something to God. Therefore we do not use the term “Eucharist,” which means “Thanksgiving.” This term is commonly used by those who regard the sacrament as the church’s sacrificial offering, through the action of a sacramental priest, to God.

In his Supper, our Lord gives his last will and testament to us, his heirs – promised forgiveness of sin (Heb 9:15-22) and life. The Words of Institution are God’s address to us; therefore the appropriate form for them is a free-standing proclamation to us, his heirs, and not buried within a “eucharistic prayer” offered by the pastor/priest to God.

For the sake of good order our pastor administers the sacrament. However, we also allow appointed lay leaders to serve in this role when needed. We are free to adopt this practice because all the power of the sacrament is in the Word alone: “The gospel is the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16).

[See also Section 5 of our Charter of Freedom]




Thanks to CrossAlone for this article.

Thanks to ‘Waiting For The Word’, for the photo.




The Total Luther

Career of the Reformer III, Works of Luther #33

Luther said many things in many different situations. He even said “unLutheran” things, such as good works are evidence of true faith. If you can find quotes in Luther’s Works that support works-righteousness, does that mean Luther had no coherent stance?


To the contrary, when looking at the total Luther, it’s evident that his theology (the cross alone; the bondage of the will, the freedom of the Christian, and the like) has a dynamic that is consistent from the young Luther to the older Luther in spite of what he may have said in a particular sermon on a particular occasion.


Thanks to CrossAlone Lutheran District.