Pastor, last week in Bible study you referred to us a “confessional church.” What did you mean by that? Anonymous
The term “confessional” refers to a church’s statements of doctrine that forms the basis for their understanding of the Bible. If it were enough to simply say, “we believe in the Bible” then there would be no disagreements among denominations. But there are. It was for this very reason that the Creeds were written. They are the first confessional documents of the Church.
As Missouri-Synod Lutherans we believe that the documents from the Reformation that form the Book of Concord are a true exposition of what the Bible says about those things. Written between 1529 and 1580 there are nine documents penned after serious debate and discussion from some of the most thoughtful scholars of the Reformation. The topical questions they deal with are fundamental to our identity and beliefs.
A Pastor in the LCMS takes an oath that he agrees with all of the content of the Book of Concord “without reservation.” This is important to preserve our doctrine through preaching and teaching. You, as laity of the LCMS, can be certain that whoever you call as your Pastor teaches the same fundamental concepts of Biblical truth as the rest of the Church because he agrees with the Book of Concord.
A primary doctrine that was and remains at the heart of what makes us different from other christian churches concerns how we are saved from our sins. Article IV of the Augsburg Confession says,
“Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.”
More than any other statement Augustana IV speaks to what fundamentally makes us different from many other churches. This was historically the disagreement between Dr. Luther and the Roman church.They taught (and still do) that human works matter and cooperate with Christ’s work. We do not believe this is what the Bible says.
We believe that God’s work through Christ is the only means of justifying us before God. We can do nothing to save ourselves or help to save ourselves. With that said, our works do matter as they reflect Christ’s goodness to the world by projecting His image of grace through our vocation.
Because Dr. Luther and the other Confessors agreed that this is a basic doctrine of the Bible we can use their statement as a quality control standard to protect us from preaching or teaching false doctrine.
With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 we will be visiting this topic and others like it more frequently. Thank you for your question.