REFLECTIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION AND BYLAWS
In previous articles, I have examined the Preamble, Name and Purpose Clauses of constitutions of local congregations. In this article, I reflect upon the Confession Clause. Once again, I have encountered various titles assigned to this particular clause, including “Confession(s)”, “Confession of Faith”, “Confessional Standard(s)”, and “Doctrinal Standard(s)”. I suggest that you choose a name for this particular clause only after serious consideration is given to the purpose and contents of this clause.
Article II of the Constitution of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, entitled “Confession” states:
“The Synod, and every member of the Synod, accepts without reservation:
1. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice;
2. All the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, to wit: the three ecumenical Creeds (the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Large Catechism of Luther, the Small Catechism of Luther, and the Formula of Concord.”
In this article, I will examine the introductory phrase and paragraph 1 of the above quoted Article II Confession of the Constitution of the LC-MS. I will look at the contents of paragraph 2 of Synod’s Article II in the next article in this series.
As you look at Synod’s Article II, note first that the statement is being made by “The Synod, and every member of the Synod”. In order to follow the pattern set forth in Synod’s Article II, the language in the constitution of a local congregation would have to read “The Congregation, and every member of the Congregation”. However, there is the question of whether or not the congregation, as a corporate body, and every member, whether baptized member, communicant member, or voting member, is making this confession.
In prior articles about the Preamble Clause and the Name Clause, I examined the definition of “the Congregation”. Synod defines “member of the Synod” in Article V of its Constitution where it states “Membership in the Synod is held and may be acquired by congregations, ministers of religion – ordained, and ministers of religion – commissioned…” The constitution of a local congregation must also provide a definition for membership in the congregation in a subsequent Article, which I will examine in a future article in this series.
In contrast to the language used by the Synod in its Article II, many constitutions of local congregations have only the congregation itself making this unconditional and absolute statement to the Lord and to all people. Even though a baptized infant has received the gift of saving faith from Christ Himself, that infant, as a baptized member of the congregation, may not yet be prepared to make the full confession set forth in Synod’s Article II. However, I submit that the statement is appropriate for every communicant member of a local congregation, and is therefore certainly appropriate for every voting member as a subset of the communicant members.
Paragraph I of Synod’s Article II speaks of the Holy Scriptures. Many people read this sentence, or ones like it, and reply with something like “well, of course.” However, there is nothing “of course” about this affirmation if this sentence is compared to the teachings of the other church bodies within visible Christendom today.
In order to examine the theologies of the various church bodies in existence today, it is first necessary to ascertain that church body’s “formal principle”. The “formal principle” of any theology is a statement of the source of doctrine, the authority for the teachings, and the standard of measurement of the teachings and life or practices within that particular church body. The formal principle of Lutheranism is that the canonical books of the Old Testament and New Testament, as the inspired and revealed Word of God, constitute the sole source and norm for all teachings and life within Lutheranism. (SA, II, II, 15; FC Epit., Sum. Con. 7) A quick and general overview of the contrary formal principles of other church bodies would indicate the following overall descriptions:
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Holy Scripture, and
The Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church
Holy Scripture, and
Divine Tradition, and
Reformed Calvinistic Churches
Holy Scriptures as Code of Conduct for all realms of life; and
Armenian Reformed Churches
Holy Scriptures and
Human Reason, and
The teachings of the ancient church, and
Protestant Episcopal Church
The Holy Scriptures, and
The Authority of the Church, and
Human Reason as the interpreter of the Bible
The simple sentence setting forth the formal principle of Lutheranism separates Lutheranism from all other church bodies in the world today. If others are placing anything else beside, much less over, God’s Word, then how can Lutheran church bodies possibly consider incorporating the teachings, practices, or methods of other church bodies within the life of Lutheran local congregations? For that matter, what kind of meaningful dialogue can occur between truly Lutheran church bodies and other church bodies if there is no agreement on source and norm of authority?
Lutherans should be living their entire Christian lives in a growing and strengthening of their knowledge, understanding and wisdom from the Holy Scriptures alone. The preparation, amendment, or simple review of the constitution of the local congregation requires constant diligence in holding steadfastly to the formal principle of Lutheranism derived from the Holy Scriptures themselves.
Synod stated that “The Scriptures…[are] the written Word of God” in the above quoted Article II of its Constitution. The question that must be understood and answered before such an affirmation can be made is “What do we mean when we say ‘the Written Word of God’?”.
Many church bodies within Christendom distinguish between the Bible and God’s Word. However, Scripture itself teaches the identity of Scripture and God’s Word. Therefore, there is no real difference between the statements “Holy Scripture says” and “God says.”
The Holy Scriptures also teach very clearly why they are the Word of God. The Bible says clearly that they were inspired, that being breathed into the writers, by God Himself. This teaching is known as the “verbal inspiration of the Scriptures”. That teaching states that the Scriptures, which consist of words, is inspired. This does not mean that inspiration was merely of the content or the persons who wrote the books. Rather, we affirm in this sentence that, as affirmed by Scripture itself, the written words of Scripture are the very words of God. Accordingly, it is necessary to adhere to Holy Scripture’s exact words. These written words were supplied or given by God. The Bible does not simply “contain words of God.” No, they are all words God spoke and continues to speak.
The Holy Scriptures also possess certain divine properties or attributes, including divine authority, divine efficacy, perfection, and perspicuity.
Scripture’s divine authority means that all that Scripture says is entitled to the same faith and obedience that is due God Himself. Such authority is absolute.
Scripture’s divine efficacy means that it effects in man such knowledge of sin that man realizes and despairs of his condition before God and has the inherent power to work faith in the Gospel and to thereby deliver man from the fear of sin, Satan and death, i.e. to impart saving faith.
The perfection or sufficiency of Holy Scripture means that it teaches everything that men must know in order to obtain salvation. It certainly does not reveal all divine matters, but it is a completely sufficient source of knowledge for every Christian, including particularly those who teach within the Church.
The perspicuity of Holy Scripture means that the Scriptures present, in language that can be understood by every ordinary person, whatever men must know to be saved. Contrary to those who would present the Scriptures as an obscure book, requiring special knowledge or revelation to certain individuals, the Scriptures present themselves as sufficient for all Christians to read and thereby believe on the basis of the written word of the Scriptures and to then be able to judge truth and falsehood based thereon. With these thoughts in mind, consider the following examples of the introductory phrase of the Confession Clause in the constitutions of local congregations.
Confession Clause: Alternative
One (Introductory Phrase)
“The congregation accepts, without reservation:”
Confession Clause: Alternative
Two (Introductory Phrase)
“The congregation, and every communicant member of the congregation, holds:”
Confession Clause: Alternative
Three (Introductory Phrase)
“The Congregation, and every communicant member of the congregation, acknowledges and accepts, without reservation:”
Which Introductory Phrase to the Confession Clause would you prefer to include in the Constitution of your congregation? Ask yourself why you prefer one over the others.
Now let us ask specific questions about each of these Alternatives.
· Which Alternative best reflected the obligation of every Christian to be able to judge doctrine?
· Which Alternative best reflected a complete belief and trust in that which is to follow?
Now, with the above discussion of the Holy Scriptures in mind, consider the following examples of the first portion of the Confession Clause in the constitutions of local congregations.
Confession Clause: Alternative
One (Holy Scriptures)
“The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and practice.”
Alternative Two (Holy Scriptures)
“The Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament as the revealed Word of God, verbally inspired, and the only rule and norm of life and faith.”
Alternative Three (Holy Scriptures)
“The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the inspired and inerrant Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and practice.”
Alternative Four (Holy Scriptures)
“The Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament as the inspired Word of God and submits to them as the only trustworthy and reliable authority in all matters of faith and life.
Alternative Five (Holy Scriptures)
“The Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament as the revealed and inerrant Word of God, verbally inspired, and submits to them as the only infallible authority in all matters of faith and practice.”
Which of these Alternatives would you prefer? Again, ask yourself why you prefer one over the others.
Now let us ask specific questions about each of these Alternatives:
· Which Alternative best reflected the verbal inspiration of the Holy Scriptures?
· Which Alternative best reflected that it is the written words of the Holy Scriptures that are verbally inspired?
· Which Alternative best reflected the formal principle of Lutheran theology?
· Which Alternative best defined what books are included within the Old and New Testaments?
No one outgrows the Holy Scriptures nor is removed from the obligation and privilege to confess faith in the Person and work of Christ Jesus. As I have previously stated, I consider the constitution of the local congregation to be first an instrument for proclaiming and teaching God’s Word. Therefore, everything within the constitution should certainly be derived from and tested against this Clause.
The Confession Clause, Part II.
Mr. Harvey is an attorney practicing in Houston,
Texas, USA, a member of Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, Texas and was the
lay representative on the Committee on Constitutions and Bylaws of the
Texas District, LCMS, 2001-2003. The
views expressed herein are Mr. Harvey’s personal thoughts and opinions,
and are not meant to represent the position of the Committee on
Constitutions and Bylaws of the Texas District, LC-MS.
 Handbook of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod 2001 edition, ©2001 The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Page 6.
 Handbook, Page 7.
 An excellent discussion of the teachings of the various church bodies can be found in The Religious Bodies of America, Fourth Edition F.E. Mayer, © CPH 1954, 1956, 1958, 1961.
 Note the present tense used in the quotation.
 2Tim. 3:16; 2Pet. 1:21
 I strongly recommend that everyone read, at the least, the section on the Holy Scriptures found in Christian Dogmatics, Volume I, by Francis Pieper, D.D., Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo., 1950, p.p. 193 ff, or every Congregation offer an adult Bible Class based thereon. Statements in this article concerning the Holy Scriptures are derived there from. In addition, I recommend a study of the development of the Biblical Canon, including the “Homologoumena” and the “Antilegomena”. Studies will learn from such a study that certain New Testament books were universally accepted, while the authenticity of others was doubted. Such doubtful books cannot serve as the basis for any doctrine. Such matters are, of course, beyond the scope of this article.
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