REFLECTIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION AND BYLAWS
OF LOCAL CONGREGATIONS
THE CONFESSION CLAUSE
Larry D. Harvey
In the previous article, I examined the Introductory Phrase and Paragraph 1 of Article II Confession of the Constitution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In this article, I will look at Paragraph 2 of Synod’s Article II which says:
“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 Apostles’ 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 the previous Article, I raised the question as to whether every member of a Congregation, baptized, communicant, or voting, “accepts without reservation” the confession concerning the Scriptures found within Paragraph 1 of Article II. That question is also relevant to Paragraph 2, particularly since it appears that most of the baptized, communicant, and voting members of the local congregations have never even read the Symbolical Books delineated.
The first question is what do we truly mean when we say every subscriber “accepts without reservation?” Throughout the history of the Lutheran Church, there has been controversy, both within and without, as to the nature or extent of the subscription required in making this statement. That debate has often employed the language of whether or not a “quatenus” subscription or a “quia” subscription is required. The Latin word “quatenus” basically means “insofar as,” while “quia” means “because.” Historically, the Lutheran Church has required a quia subscription wherein the subscriber affirms that he accepts the Symbols because they are in complete agreement with the Holy Scriptures. The quatenus form, on the other hand, is generally used to allow the confessor the freedom to maintain the appearance of agreement in doctrine while also reserving unto himself the right to disagree wherever it may suit him. Accordingly, the quatenus form of subscription is really no statement or confession at all.
Paragraph 2 references “All the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.” What are the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church? To answer that question we must define “symbol.” The Editor’s Introduction to a new translation of the Book of Concord defines “symbol” as follows:
“From the second century on Christians have expressed the biblical faith in summaries that served to identify the church’s public message. The Greek word symbol—a technical word for creed—identified the function of such summaries of the church’s teaching as its identifying statement of belief, purpose, and mission.”
In other words, a symbol is a written confession of faith.
Where are the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Church to be found? The Symbols are contained in the Book of Concord of 1580. Those Symbols or Confessions, are specifically listed in the remainder of Paragraph 2 of Article II, and were published on June 25, 1580, the fiftieth anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. A complete history of the Book of Concord of 1580 and each Confession contained therein is beyond the scope of this Article. I strongly recommend that every Lutheran read not only the Confessions contained in the Book of Concord of 1580, but also Kolb and Wengert’s introductions, explanations, and footnotes contained in that recent translation (see footnote 3).
What constitutes the ‘Evangelical Lutheran Church? I discussed the term “Evangelical” in the prior Article in this series concerning the Name clause. All those whose confession of faith is in complete agreement with the Symbols, by teaching and practice, would fall within the definition of Evangelical Lutheran Church. Simply including “Evangelical Lutheran Church” within the name of a visible body is not sufficient. It is agreement in confession of faith that determines true membership and inclusion.
What do we mean when we say that the Symbols are ‘a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God?’ Most would understand “true” to mean the symbols contain no falsehood, with no deviation or variation from the objective standard provided by the Holy Scriptures, as discussed in the prior Article in this series. That standard is the formal principle of Lutheran theology, namely, that the Holy Scriptures constitute the sole source and norm for all teachings and life within Lutheranism. “Unadulterated” may be a less familiar. Webster defines “unadulterated” as “pure, unmixed.” In other words, nothing has been allowed to mix with that which is taught clearly in the Holy Scriptures, whether by addition or deletion. The Symbols are a “pure” presentation of that which is clearly taught by God in the Scriptures and believed by those with saving faith.
Next consider the word “exposition”. Edmund Schlink wrote, “A confession must in every case be exposition of Scripture, that is, the affirmation of man that he has heard God’s word and acknowledges it.” It is important to note that a confession and therefore an exposition, requires that the Word first be heard and believed in all of its purity. “The Confession does not in the first instance determine what is to be taught, but sums up what is taught in the Church. It does not determine what kind of statements the Bible contains, but which statements are made on the basis of the Bible, what kind of call issues from the Bible.” Accordingly, correct and true exposition of the Holy Scriptures, “…like all hearing and proclamation of the Gospel, does not result from human ability, but from the operation of the Holy Spirit who is given through Word and Sacrament.” In order to be a true exposition, the Confession must not only correctly present the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, but also refute those heresies and false teachings with which the Church is confronted at that time.
It should also be noted that Article II employs the plural “Symbolical Books” and the singular “Statement and Exposition.” Even though we often use plural terms such as “doctrines” or “teachings,” remember that God’s Word is singular. There is truly nothing but the “doctrine” of Holy Scriptures.&nb