Full Text for Confessions 1- Volume 1 - Sola Scriptura and the Lutheran Confessions (Video)

Question 1 >> NICK: Hello Drs. Arand and Schulz. All of us are rally looking forward to this course with you. By the way, my name is Nick. If it�s okay, I would like to begin with a question. I thought that the Lutheran Church believed that scripture alone is the basis for its teaching. So why does it place such an emphasis on its confessional writings? >> DR. CHARLES P. ARAND: You know, Nick that�s something I often bring up with my first year seminarians. In fact, when I introduce the class on the Lutheran Confessions I very often open by saying, you know what? I bet when you came to the seminary, you were going to study the Bible, and the first thing we hit you with is a course on the Lutheran Confessions. Why is that? I might begin by saying simply that in beginning with the confessions, we are laying our cards on the table. If there's one insight of postmodernism that I think is very helpful, it is the recognition that nobody reads the Bible purely objectively. In other words, we all approach the Bible with certain presuppositions and assumptions that, in fact, determine what we find when we go to reading the bible. For example, if someone is suffering from an illness, or better yet, if someone is suffering from the loss of a loved one, and they go to the Bible, what kind of passages do you think they�re going to latch on to or find and cling to. I bet when they go to the Bible, they're looking for passages that offer comfort, and more often than not, they may turn to something like Psalm 23. See, that concern, that need that they have is determining which passages they select and which passages they ignore. Or, put it another way. I would argue that no one who reads the Bible reads it without a creed or a catechism, at least in their mind. They may not always recognize this. They may not always acknowledge it, but everybody has an internal catechism or creed that guides their reading. For example, suppose somebody was going to do a Bible class, and they had six weeks to cover the major teachings of the bible. My question is: what teachings are you going to cover? As soon as you identify those six teachings for me, you have identified for me your creed or your confession. So, for example, if you deal with one week on God, one week on Christ, and four weeks on the end times, that tells me quite a bit about what you consider to be the major themes and the central message of the Bible itself. We can illustrate this in yet one other way. We have to recognize that as Americans, that our training, our upbringing, our culture does affect how we read the scriptures themselves. Let me offer one more example. As Americans, we have a certain mindset, a certain world view that shapes how we view other nations and other countries. Very often when we debate whether to enter into a most favored nation trading status with another nation, we do so on the basis of, say, that country's record on human rights, personal liberties and the like. Why, because those are the things that have shaped us and taught us to view the world in certain terms. I think even our American upbringing shapes how we approach the scriptures. For example, what do you think is the most common descriptor, the most common way by which American Christians describe themselves? It's easy. Many Americans, if not most Americans, think of themselves or describe themselves as born-again Christians. Now, I ask why that particular phrase? Why do American Christians not call themselves cross-bearing Christians? I bet there are at least as many passages in the Bible that talk about picking up the cross and following Christ as there are about being born again. In fact, there only about three passages in the New Testament that speak about being born again. So how does one determine which phrase, which Bible term, which name to use to describe themselves? Well, I would argue that born again and being described as a born-again Christian fits the American mentality very nicely. Now, this became very popular, by the way, for those of you interested in history, particularly with the rise of Jimmy Carter and his election in 1976. If I recall correctly, �Time Magazine� declared that the year of the Evangelical. And since then, almost every president or every candidate who�s run for president has had to declare himself to be a born-again Christian in order to appeal to a particular segment of the population. Why born again? Well, I would argue it lies within our roots as immigrants to America. When you stop to think about it, how did immigrants view England, Germany, and generally the continent of Europe from which they came? The Old World. America was the New World. And what went with that kind of division? Well, by leaving the Old World, you left behind its old class and social distinctions. The New World offered a fresh start, a fresh beginning, if you will, where the old class distinctions and social distinctions no longer apply. America was a land that offered hope and a future. As a result, Americans tend to be more optimistic and forward-looking than backward looking. We're not really good historians. In fact when we were celebrating our bicentennial, the city of Augsburg was celebrating its 2,000th birthday, instead of its 200th birthday. It is interesting when you look at sermons around the time of the War of Independence, the biblical imagery that they often employed. More than once England was described as our Egypt, King George as our pharaoh, George Washington our Moses, the Atlantic Ocean the Red Sea and America the promised land. When you think about that kind of mindset, that kind of mentality, it's only natural then that when one goes to the Scriptures one might be more inclined to latch on to a phrase like born again because why? What does it offer? It implies a fresh start, a new beginning, leaving the old life behind, and the like. So that's just one more example, I think, of how--one more example of my contention that we all read the Bible with certain presuppositions and assumptions. And they need to be examined. Well, what has this to do with the Lutheran Confessions? In the Lutheran Confessions, we, as Lutherans and the Lutheran Church, are laying on the table our assumptions and presuppositions. In a sense we're saying, here is how we read the bible. Check it out, and see whether it's accurate or not. Very often I like to use the analogy of a road map. Namely, the Confessions are like a road map to the scriptures. They help guide our journey through the scriptures so that we arrive at the center and the heart of the scriptures just as a road map helps us to arrive at our destination. But in this case, the Confessions help us arrive at the heart and core of the scriptures, namely, focusing on the person and work of Jesus Christ for our justification. Another way of putting it is you might see it as a road map. They offer a guide, a legend, if you will, for saying, here are the things you ought to look for when you go to the scriptures. These are the must-see sites. A number of years ago, my family took a trip to Niagara Falls, and we got our roadmap and a trip tick and a guide, and it was kind of interesting because on the map they listed a number of things to see while you're in Niagara Falls, and they rated these things on a scale of five stars down to one star. So, for example, five stars, Niagara Falls; five stars, Bouchard gardens. Way down the list, one star, the Elvis Presley Wax Museum. It was almost as if they were saying, if you have limited time, only a week or so, make sure you see these two things, the gardens and the falls. But if you�ve been here two or three months, and you�ve seen everything else, and you don�t know what else to do, well there's always the Elvis Presley Wax Museum that you can go and see. So also with the confessions. They highlight the must-see, don't-miss sites when you go to scripture. I think for a lot of people, the scriptures are a little bit forbidding. They're almost like a labyrinth. When you start reading, you start saying, what should I be looking for? What are the main things? What are the more minor things? It's not to say it's not all inspired. Certainly, the entire scriptures are inspired. It is to say that not everything is of equal importance or equally central within the scriptures. Let me illustrate this with perhaps the most common Lutheran confession of all, namely, the Small Catechism. And how does that help guide us through the scriptures so that we land on, if you will, and stop and see the major themes, the major messages of scripture? Well, consider the 10 Commandments. How does Luther open the explanation to each Commandment? We should fear and love God. In this way, Luther highlights that the First Commandment is, for lack of a better word, sort of the big cheese within scripture. The major focus are on the commandments within scripture. He brings this out in every single commandment. He concludes the commandments with a reference to the First Commandment. You might say it is the chief Commandment in such a way that the other nine commandments are simply nine applications of the First Commandment, nine ways of explaining the First Commandment, nine ways in which the First Commandment is played out in our lives. Well now, let's take a quick run through scripture. If you were to do a quick tour through the Old Testament, and ask yourself this question: every time God punished the people of Israel, every time God sent them into captivity, over which commandment was it? In other words, which Commandment had they broken in order to deserve such a fate? I'm pretty sure that it wasn't because they broke the Ninth Commandment, or the Eighth Commandment. It always comes down to the First Commandment. And so if you go through the entire scriptures, I think the First Commandment will stand out and tower over all the others and say this is the major issue with regard to our relationship with God, namely, we are to fear and love and trust him above all things. Moving on, let�s take the example in the first article of the creed. In the 20th century, the doctrine of creation has come to be seen primarily in terms of the controversy between creation and evolution. I'm not sure that was the major focus either of the Confessions or of the scriptures. It's not to say that it isn't important. When you look at Luther's explanation of the first article, you might say he focuses on what theologians for many years have called the *creatu continua, that is, the ongoing creative work of God, the work of preservation, the work of protection of creation, the work of providing for us all that we need. Certainly, I think the scriptures would bear this out. Genesis 1:1 does begin and open with that God created the heavens and the earth, and that God created all things out of nothing, if you will. But when you find other creation texts in the Bible, I think, by and large, they tend to focus on God's ongoing provision of all that we need in this life. Job 38-40, Psalm 104, �He opens his hands and satisfies the desire of every living thing.� I think of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, take a look at the lilies of the field and the birds of the air and the like. I can say, you know what? I think Luther did pretty well capture the major themes for the doctrine of creation within scripture, both the creation out of nothing, as well as God's ongoing provision. Moving on to the second article of the creed we can say the same thing. If you had 30 seconds to tell someone about Christ, what are you going to tell them? Or put it another way. What is the key to unlocking the significance of Jesus� life, that is, who he is and why he matters to us. Well, it's interesting when you to look at the creeds. They focus on three centers of Jesus' life: His incarnation, His suffering and death, His resurrection and exultation. It's almost as if to say these are the three things, more than anything else, that provide you windows into why He matters and why He's so significant. And by the way, it's very interesting that those are the very three things around which our church year is organized if you think of the high festivals of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. When you move to the letters of Paul, it's interesting whenever Paul talks about Christ, what does he talk about? To my recollection, Paul does not quote a single word from Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. I recall Paul never refers to a particular miracle that Jesus did in his earthly life. Now that's not to say those things are unimportant, but it is to say those aren't the keys to unlocking the significance of Jesus Christ. What does Paul focus on? Descended from David according to the flesh, crucified and risen. In other words, it creates captured beautifully the main emphases of the New Testament itself. One last illustration, the third article of the creed. There's been a great deal of talk about the Holy Spirit in the last 30 years with the charismatic movement and the neo-Pentecostal movement. A great deal of attention focused on the Holy Spirit. One of the criticisms of more traditional main-line churches is that they have not focused on the Holy Spirit. Well to some extent, that criticism is justified, but in other respects, I'm not sure that it is. When you take a look at the opening line of Luther's explanation to the third article, I believe that I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit calls me by the gospel, there you have the key. In other words, the Holy Spirit is entirely focused on Jesus Christ. You might say we have a Christocentric understanding of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit's task is not to draw attention to himself, but to draw attention to Jesus Christ. You might use the illustration of the Holy Spirit as almost like a stage manager whose job is to make sure the main actors are out on center stage. In this case, the Spirit�s task is to make sure Jesus Christ is on center stage. Or you might compare the Spirit to the floodlights on Notre Dame Cathedral. You don�t pay attention to the floodlights. You pay attention to what the floodlights illumine, namely, the cathedral itself. Well, is this, in fact, the main emphasis of the Bible? You know, I think it is. Consider this: The word spirit, *ruh, is maybe mentioned 100 times in the Old Testament, give or take a few, because you can translate *ruh as spirit, wind, or breath. Following Pentecost, the Spirit is mentioned over 240 times. The natural question arises. Why the difference? I would argue the difference is going to be the glorification of Christ. Consider further. When the Spirit appears in the gospels, what are the contexts of the situations? In every instance, the Spirit is tied to the mission of Christ. Jesus is conceived by the Spirit. You might say the Spirit not only inspires scripture, but it brings the Word of God into the world itself. Next instance. The Spirit is at the baptism of Jesus. The spirit inaugurates and commissions Jesus for his public ministry and immediately drives him into the wilderness to do battle with Satan. In other words, at key moments in Jesus� life, the Spirit is there moving the mission of Christ forward. The Spirit is entirely focused on the mission of Christ. And maybe a key passage in all this would be John 7:39, the Spirit was not yet given for Christ was not yet glorified. What does that mean? We would say the Spirit was not given in all his fullness for Christ had not yet been glorified. In the book of John, to be glorified would include certainly the resurrection and glorification of Christ. In other words, the Spirit was not given in its fullness until Christ had suffered, died, and risen from the dead. Why? Because it's the Spirit�s job to proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ. And so when you get to Pentecost, the Spirit comes upon the disciples and what does Peter talk about in his sermon? Note that Peter doesn't say, brethren, remember how timid we were? Remember how scared we were? Now we are imbued and filled with power. No, he doesn�t do that. The entire sermon is about Christ, concluding with the call for baptism for the remission of sins. Well, I may have gone longer than I should have on that, but my intention was to illustrate that the creeds and the confessions provide a road map that highlight the major themes. They give us landmarks so we don't lose our way when we read the scriptures so that we keep our sights focused on the main themes while we explore other areas of scripture. But it sort of keeps us on the road, on track, if you will, so that we arrive at the destination, namely, the centrality of scriptures themselves. I should mention one final benefit of thinking of the confessions as a road map to the scriptures. A road map never replaces the journey. No one goes to AAA, the auto club, and gets a map or trip tickets and says, aha, now I have the map. I don't have to go on the trip. The entire point of having a map is to take the trip. And you consult it as you take the trip to make sure that it is congruent, that it is reliable and the like. I also like the analogy of a road map for maybe yet another reason, namely, we're not the first ones to travel through the scriptures. We're not the first ones to journey through the scriptures. Instead, we follow in the train of millions of people over the past 2,000 years. With our creeds and confessions, you have what millions of people within the Christian church for 2,000 years have said, we've taken the journey, and this is what we have found. It only makes sense as part of that church that we rely upon and begin with, you might say, the recommendations, the insights and the results of what others have found as they have journeyed through the scriptures themselves. It's sort of like me asking someone, how do I find my daughter's friend�s home to go pick her up, and they gave me directions. Why? Because they've been there before. I don't simply discard their recommendation or their advice. Now as I indicated, the analogy of confessions to road map allows us to find, to think of them as helping us arrive at the destination of scripture, helping us to find the major themes of scripture. I think they help us yet in maybe another way. They help us to put all the pieces of scripture together, if you will. In this regard, one might think of the scriptures almost like a jigsaw puzzle. Scriptures talk about many, many topics. The scriptures in some ways are like a labyrinth of wonders. How do you put everything together? How do you identify what are the major themes and where they fit, if you will? For example, how many passages in the Bible are there on the Lord's Supper? I think I can probably think of three or four. Certainly, you have the institution of the Lord's Supper in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. You�ve got 1 Corinthians 10:11. That gives us four. Some might include John 6, and some might even include Acts 2:42. How many passages in the Bible, do you think, deal with the issue of warfare? Many, many more, especially in the Old Testament. Well, why is it the Lord's Supper is more important and more central in our lives and worship than, say, warfare? Well, I would argue because even though there are fewer passages, the Lord's Supper is more closely connected to and tied to the person of Christ. See, already now, you're beginning to assemble pieces in terms of what's more central and what's not as central. Here I like to use a modern analogy of one that St. *Ireneus used in dealing with the ancient Gnostics. Ancient Gnosticism was a heresy within Christianity in the second century, perhaps one of most important ones. Had it won out, Christianity would not exist today as we know it. Gnosticism, in brief, believed that the world and the body were basically evil. The soul was a divine spark trapped within the tomb of the body, and the goal of life was for the soul to escape the body and to ascend into the spiritual realms of the eons, as they spoke. And how does the soul do that? Primarily through knowledge, a secret knowledge that not everybody has, the secret knowledge that Christ came to provide. Well, *Ireneus said, you know, the problem with the Gnostics is not that they don�t use scripture. They do use scripture, and they use a lot of it, but they put it together in the wrong way. He used the analogy of a mosaic. He said that when you put the scripture together, you should get a picture of a king, but what the Gnostics do is they rearrange the tiles of scripture, the pieces of scripture, so that instead of getting a picture of a King, you get a picture of a fox. And he provided a different way, you might say, a creedal way of putting the pieces together. I can illustrate this in another way. You all know that people can make scriptures say almost anything they want. You can open the Bible in one place and read, David slew 10,000 Amalekites. The Bible, a few pages later, and read the passage, go and do thou likewise. Well, you can assemble pieces in almost any way you want. Another example, suppose somebody says, you know what? I'm really not happy with this woman to whom I'm married. But goodness, I know at the same time that Christ forbids divorce. What am I to do then? Because on the other hand, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7, says a man does not burn with lust. So I've got that problem. I can't divorce. What is a person to do? If you go to the Old Testament, you can say, aha, more than one spouse, polygamy. And Solomon was the example par excellence of this, right? Well, again, that may be somewhat silly but it does illustrate that people can assemble the pieces of scriptures to get almost any picture or conclusion that they desire. To update *Ireneus� analogy then, I would say to many people scripture is almost like a jigsaw puzzle, a thousand pieces. If you're like me, what do you use to help put the pieces together? I use the picture on the box, you know, the picture on the cover of the jigsaw box. Because then, if I find a piece that's blue, and I look at this picture, and there is no water in the picture, then I assume that the piece goes up on top of the puzzle, namely, as part of the sky, not part of the water down below. So that allows me to see what pieces belong on the periphery, the frame of the picture, if you will, which pieces go in the middle and how they are all connected. In like fashion, that's what the creeds and confessions do. They allow us to see what's central, what pieces are connected to that center, what pieces are perhaps more on the periphery, and how they are all interlocked and interconnected. I've given you a couple silly examples, I suppose, of how to assemble the pieces of scripture, the one with regard to David and the Amalekites, and the other regarding the matter of divorce. But on a more serious note, this was a critical issue during the time of the Reformation. You can see this especially in the �Apology of the Augsburg Confession.� One of the debates is: what do you do with the passages that talk about keeping the law of God? And that those who are righteous are those that fulfill the law. On the other hand, you have those passages that we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law. So one of the critical questions is: how do you put those two pieces together? One answer was to make the works of the law nonnegotiable. And so what do you do with the passages that talk about we're justified apart from works of the law? You might say, well, that's talking about those works that are performed without the Holy Spirit and somehow try to bring those two together. In fact, the answer to the reformers was passages about works of the law have to be interpreted in one of two ways: one, the law is not kept without Christ. Therefore, those passages are not talking about getting justified or how we become justified. Secondly, works that are exhorted by scripture deal with sanctification, not justification. In other words, they're saying, these passages belong in, for lack of a better word, the category of justification. These passages belong in the category of either the accusation of the law, or they belong in the realm of the Christian life and Christian good words after justification. And the problem arises when you take passages out of this category and put them in this category, or vice versa. So the first thing they did is they identified which passages go in which category, and then they explained how do they relate to one another either in terms of the works of the law accusing us or preparing us for the work of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the promise of Christ to us and create faith within us, or after that's done, to talk about the works of the law as fruits of faith flowing from faith in the same way that apples flow from a good and healthy tree. And so that's on a more serious note an important example, I think, particularly for us Lutherans, as to how the confessions help us sort out and fit together different passages and topics of scripture.