FROM THE PASTOR
by Pastor Daniel A. Hinton
The Book of Concord: What is it?
Part 1 – The Creeds
At the confirmation of every Lutheran, they are asked if they believe that the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as they have come to know them from Luther’s Small Catechism are faithful and true. Since the Small Catechism is merely a small portion of the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – also called the Book of Concord – I thought that a series of articles which describe the documents contained in The Book of Concord might prove useful to your understanding of the importance of our Confessions.
The first question that ought to be answered concerning the Book of Concord is "What does ‘Concord’ mean?" Most commonly, it refers to a firm and unwavering agreement among people. In its most ancient form, the word ‘concord’ comes from the Latin words for with/together and heart. As the introduction to "Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions" puts it, "(Concord) describes a commitment to the truth so strong and so deep, it is as if those who share it have a single heart beat." And this is what the Book of Concord is all about, a unified commitment to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ over and against a plethora of false teaching and practic-es. While such false teaching and practices were of primary concern to the reformers in the 16th century, it is also true that the same or similar issues still exist in corners of the Christian Church today, and so the Book of Concord has not lost any of its relevance.
The Lutheran Church is not a new faith. It is not some new and innovative version of the Church. It is merely a continuation of the historic Christian faith as it originated from Christ and His Apostles. It came about as a result of a reaction to false teaching and practices which had sadly taken hold in the greater Church in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is simply what God’s Word teaches—nothing more, and nothing less. It is about restoring (as needed) and preserving the truth of Christ’s Word handed down over the centuries. For this reason, it is appropriate that the first confession of faith found in our Confessions, are the most ancient confessions of the Christian Faith known to the Church:
the three Ecumenical Creeds; the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian.
The Reformers wanted to emphasize that they were not espousing any new or innovative teachings, but simply seeking to restore to prominence the already accepted teachings of the Church. Putting the Creeds first in their confession helped to make the point to the Emperor and others who opposed them from the side of the Papacy, that the Reformers fully accepted the ancient creeds of the Church.
The Apostles’ Creed is sometimes referred to as the Baptismal Creed as it has been used in the administration of that Sacrament for many centuries. It is the creed used by the baptized in prayer offices and in private devotion, as Luther encourages us: "In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: ‘In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the [Apostles’] Creed and the Lord’s Prayer." While it was likely not written by the Apostles themselves, it comes from not long after their ministry and contains an accurate summary of their teaching, which the Lutheran Church happily maintains.
The Nicene Creed is so named because it was written during the Council of Nicea which began in 325AD. Its final form was adopted in 381 at a council in Constantinople (the city we now know as "Istanbul"). For this reason it was originally called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. It was written in response to a heresy that would come to be called Arianism. A priest by the name of Arius began spreading teachings that denied that Jesus Christ is true God. If you compare the Nicene Creed to the Apostles’ Creed you will notice that the former spends more time emphasizing how God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son are of one substance, and how Christ was begotten (not made) from before time began. It also reiterates the teaching of John 1 that Jesus is the one "through whom all things are made." This extra emphasis on the
divinity of Christ was specifically written to counter those who denied that Jesus was God. The Nicene Creed is used in the divine service and has been used this way for many centuries.
The Athanasian Creed is so named because it was for a long time believed to have been written by Athanasius (a bishop who was instrumental in combating the teachings of Arius during the Council of Nicea). It has since been proven to have been written sometime after Athanasius’ death, but the name remains because it certainly reflects the theology which Athanasius vehemently defended. It is a helpful creed as it enumerates clearly what the Scriptures teach concerning the Trinity, as well as the truth of Christ’s divinity and humanity. The Athanasian Creed is spoken on Holy Trinity.
So when someone for good or for ill tries to assert that Martin Luther and the other reformers started a new church in the 1500’s, a good place to point them is to the very front of our Book of Concord where one will find the three Ecumenical Creeds. Their presence as the fundamental truths on which our confession of faith is based shows that the Reformation’s work was not creating anything new, but rather restoring something which had been all but lost: The teaching of Christ and His Apostles, handed down through generations, and consistently taught and preached through the centuries by such Church fathers as Polycarp (a student of John the Apostle), Cyprian, Ambrose, Athanasius, Augustine, Gregory the Great, and many more. These from the first six centuries of Christianity, sought the very same thing as those who wrote and assem-bled the Book of Concord in the Sixteenth Century: the preservation and sharing of the truth of Christ and His Word. Yours in Christ,