As we continue to celebrate the commemoration of the Reformation I asserted last month that one of the most important things the member of the Church Catholic of every age not “can” but “must” do is continue to submit to what is divinely revealed in Holy Scripture which alone is the Bible. While this sounds rather obvious to us it is in fact far too uncommon nowadays and that within the lives of many who contend they are Christian. The Biblical declaration: 16“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3) is looked up as at best old fashioned and at its worst, irrelevant. Thus the Small Catechism askes what has become an increasingly important question: “10. What does “by inspiration of God” mean? The answer it provides is as follows: “by inspiration of God” means that God and the Holy Ghost moved the holy men to write, and put into their minds the very thoughts which are expressed, and the very words which they wrote.” It continues by citing the following Biblical words: “21 “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1) and: 13“These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches,…” (1 Cor 2).” The SC then continues with the following words of divine spiritual guidance: “Whatever the Holy Ghost moved these men to write, He so controlled their thinking that they recorded no fact, expressed no idea, taught no doctrine which God did not want them to write. Therefore the entire thought content of the Bible, whether this pertains to our salvation or to fact in history or nature, or to rules of life, is exactly what God wanted them to embody in His Book [note whose “book” it is – my comment]. Hence not only certain parts of the Bible, but all Scripture is given by inspiration.” It is on this doctrinal assertion that the next question militates directly against the far too common practice of our time within the church at large to selectively cast aside verses, chapters and even books of the Bible to meet the popular or personal opinions of our time:
“11. Whose word, then, is every word of the Bible?
Every word of the Bible is God’s word, and therefore the Bible is without error.” Several Biblical citations then follow which include the following: “ 17 “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17); 35 “… to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken)” (John 10). Question 11 is then summarized in these words: “Since all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, all Scripture is the Word of God, and we must receive it ‘not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the Word of God’ (1 Thess 2:13). We may not criticize it, or find fault with it, but it is true and inerrant in all it teaches” (SC, The Bible, Question #10-11 Koehler Edition, pgs. 28-30 (italics in original, underling mine for emphasis).
It is the turning away from and rejection of this divinely established doctrinal standard that has allowed to come to pass in so much of the church of our time the Three Stages of Error that I wrote of in the November issue of our parish newsletter.
It is of great importance to both recognize and remember that the Lutheran Reformation was fundamentally based upon both recognizing and freely and willingly submitting to the divine authority of the Bible not that of mankind. The church of Rome had kept the Bible from the laity for centuries while at the same time burying it and it’s divinely given doctrine under layers of church traditions and official church pronouncements. The result was inevitable, the Bible no longer held an active nor authoritative place in the lives of God the Holy Trinity’s children. It was this spiritual emptiness which moved an equally spiritually desperate young man named Martin Luther to flee to the monastery. There he could have access to the Bible and possibly, just possibly find out how he could have assurance that his sins were truly and even, dare he hope for, fully forgiven in the sight of God the Holy Trinity. And he did; and he did! It was there – in the Bible!
As the struggle of the Reformation continued to unfold the place and authority of the Bible became an increasingly controversial topic between the Lutherans and Romanists. The Lutherans returned repeatedly to the Sola Scripture principle in the discussions and debates while those who represented Rome contended (and still do) that the Bible’s authority was subordinate to “sacred tradition” and decrees of “the magisterium” in essence “official pronouncements” of the papacy. Thankfully, the Lutherans never surrendered the Sola Scripture principle.
This is why it was asserted as clearly as possible when the Lutherans reached the point where they needed to formally codify their doctrine and practice in a summary form. This codification was presented in summary form with the publication of the Book of Concord in A.D. 1580. The title of the seventh confessional document in that Symbolic Book is The Formula of Concord. It was the last document composed as the book was drawing close to publication and as such the Lutheran confessors believed it was the proper place to reassert once again the sole basis upon which both their faith and confession was based. Hence the Epitome of the Formula of Concord begins as follows: [the italics has been added by me for emphasis]
1] We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119:105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And St. Paul: Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed, Gal. 1:8.
2] Other writings, however, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together be subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses, which are to show in what manner after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this [pure] doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.
3] 2. And because directly after the times of the apostles, and even while they were still living, false teachers and heretics arose, and symbols, i. e., brief, succinct [categorical] confessions, were composed against them in the early Church, which were regarded as the unanimous, universal Christian faith and confession of the orthodox and true Church, namely, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, we pledge ourselves to them, and hereby reject all heresies and dogmas which, contrary to them, have been introduced into the Church of God.
4] 3. As to the schisms in matters of faith, however, which have occurred in our time, we regard as the unanimous consensus and declaration of our Christian faith and confession, especially against the Papacy and its false worship, idolatry, superstition, and against other sects, as the symbol of our time, the First, Unaltered Augsburg Confession, delivered to the Emperor Charles V at Augsburg in the year 1530, in the great Diet, together with its Apology, and the Articles composed at Smalcald in the year 1537, and subscribed at that time by the chief theologians.
5] And because such matters concern also the laity and the salvation of their souls, we also confess the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Luther, as they are included in Luther’s works, as the Bible of the laity, wherein everything is comprised which is treated at greater length in Holy Scripture, and is necessary for a Christian man to know for his salvation.
6] To this direction, as above announced, all doctrines are to be conformed, and what is, contrary thereto is to be rejected and condemned, as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith.
7] In this way the distinction between the Holy Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament and all other writings is preserved, and the Holy Scriptures alone remain the only judge, rule, and standard, according to which, as the only test-stone, all dogmas shall and must be discerned and judged, as to whether they are good or evil, right or wrong.
8] But the other symbols and writings cited are not judges, as are the Holy Scriptures, but only a testimony and declaration of the faith, as to how at any time the Holy Scriptures have been understood and explained in the articles in controversy in the Church of God by those then living, and how the opposite dogma was rejected and condemned [by what arguments the dogmas conflicting with the Holy Scripture were rejected and condemned].
It has been faithfulness, faithfulness to the above doctrinal declarations not just of the Formula of Concord but of the entire Book of Concord that has kept us as individuals, as a congregation and as a diocese – within the only true and saving orthodox faith and confession. We have not been swept away by the raging tide of both heterodoxy and heresy that has and is even now sweeping through so much of the Visible Church but only because we have refused to surrender the ultimate and final authority of the Bible on all matters, all matters of both doctrine and life. That no diocesan pastor uses such all-to-common “modern Christian” phrases as “the author of…” and you can list a number of Pauline Epistles – is unique in our time for it is now commonly held that St. Paul “did not” write all of those preserved under his name in the NT. Indeed the very concept of “divine inspiration” and “inerrancy” referenced above has been largely relegated to the category of “historic novelty” which may be interesting to look at – once in a while – but certainly not to be submitted to, for that would be narrow, intolerant, not inclusive and most alarmingly – sectarian.
It is of the greatest of importance to recognize that this still-spreading tragedy has come about because, at its most basic level simply to refuse to submit to: 46Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary… (Lk 24). This is why we must never submit to a changed Means of Grace, that being Law and Gospel and the two Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the holy Lord’s Supper. The first document in the Book of Concord, the Augsburg Confession provides us with further clarification on how this tragedy has come to pass in: “Article VII: Of the Church.
1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”
Note well how the “true Church and her saints” can be identified and continue to be preserved in this sin-filled world: (1) “the Gospel is righty taught” and (2) “the Sacraments are righty administered.” If the Word and/or the Sacraments are changed, either by addition of deletion to be other than they were divinely given and divinely established, then the divine grace, love and the forgiveness of sins by God the Holy Trinity – is removed! This reality is why the Lutheran Reformers wrote the following explanation in the second document of the Book of Concord, Apology to the Augsburg Confession:
5] But the Church is not only the fellowship of outward objects and rites, as other governments, but it is originally a fellowship of faith and of the Holy Ghost in hearts. [The Christian Church consists not alone in fellowship of outward signs, but it consists especially in inward communion of eternal blessings in the heart, as of the Holy Ghost, of faith, of the fear and love of God]; which fellowship nevertheless has outward marks so that it can be recognized, namely, the pure doctrine of the Gospel, and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ. [Namely, where God’s Word is pure, and the Sacraments are administered in conformity with the same, there certainly is the Church, and there are Christians] (Articles VII and VIII: Of the Church.5). The use and reception of these un-changed Means of Grace is of such importance that the Smalcald Articles also declares: “In a word, enthusiasm inheres in Adam and his children from the beginning [from the first fall] to the end of the world, [its poison] having been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and is the origin, power [life], and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Mahomet. 10] Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. 11] It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments. For God wished to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word; and no prophet neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments [or spoken Word (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article VIII On Confession, .9-11).
Dear saint, if you have read this far you probably are an exception and for that I commend you! I realize how “academic” this may seem but the above theological foundation holds a critically important place in our lies every day we are blessed with but especially this time of year. We are now preparing our hearts to commemorate the Nativity of the Christ, the only Lord and Savior of the word Jesus of Nazareth once again and we do so – not on the basis popular opinion, contemporary movies and music, archeological evidence, scholarly theory, or official church pronouncements but – on the basis of what is divinely revealed in an infallible and ever-unchanging Bible! What is revealed therein is truth, the ultimate truth of which will never change until He comes on that last and great Day. This is why we don’t celebrate not a holiday but holy-day season for the days of both the season of Advent and the Christ-mas have been made holy within the realm of space and time by the eternally-existing Only-begotten Son of God descending from heaven and taking on flesh in the young virgin name Mary so He could be born of a Man of true flesh and blood – apart from original sin to be – our Savior, we who are sinners by nature, thought, word and deed.
Thus it is written – and this it must remain in our lives every day we are blessed with if we desire to remain among the communion of saints both here in time and for the rest of eternity in heaven. “Thus it is written – thus saith the Lord.” Thus we must continue to believe, teach and confess for the glory of Jesus, our salvation and those of others around us. Have a most blessed and joyful Chris-mas. Amen and Amen.