Confession and the Life of the Christian
Before looking at how Confession manifests itself in the Church and individual Christians, we must note that the teachings of Scripture, God's Doctrine, is not a list of separate unique teachings. Rather, these teachings are an organic whole. Discussion of one part will necessarily be affected by consideration of other parts of God's Doctrine. We cannot speak about the teaching of Confession without touching upon the doctrines of Justification, Christology, Church and Ministry, the Means of Grace, etc. This presentation is meant to be brief. This means that some valuable and relevant material will be considered only too briefly. It is my hope that hearers and readers use this presentation as a tool to dig deeper into the Scripture and the whole counsel of God, for this paper is only a short summary.
Christians Confess in Three Ways
The Christian Church is a Church of Confession. The word "Confession" is used by the Christian Church in three basic ways. These uses are given to us by God in Scripture.
"Acknowledgment, admission, or disclosure of one's own sins."1
Lev 5:5, "And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing;
Num 5:6-8, "Speak to the children of Israel: "When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the LORD, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged. But if the man has no relative to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for the wrong must go to the LORD for the priest, in addition to the ram of the atonement with which atonement is made for him.
Ps 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
Ps 51: [The whole Psalm is a confession of sin.]
Matt 3:6, and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
Acts 19:18, And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.
Jam 5:16, Confess your trespasses to one another,
1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
"Profession or open acknowledgment of one's faith in anyone or anything, esp[ecially] in Christ and His Gospel."2
Mt 10:32, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven."
Lk 12:8, "Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God."
1 Jn 2:23, Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
1 Jn 4:15, Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
I Ti 6:13 I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate,
"That which is confessed: creed, confession, symbol".3 These are statements of what Christians believe the Bible teaches. The Scriptures give us examples of such creedal statements and commend Christians to make such summaries of the faith. These confessions of belief are made to God and Man. In the two thousand years since Christ's incarnation the life saving teaching of Scripture has been attacked in many ways. In response to these attacks the Christian Confession has become more detailed.
Examples of Confessional Statements in the New Testament:
Mt 16:16, Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Mk 8:29, He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ."
Lk 9:20, He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."
Acts 4:12, Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Acts 8:37, Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
Rom 1:2-4, which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
I Cor 12:3, Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
I John 5:5, Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
1 Pe 3:18-22, For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
Commissions to Continue the Use of Confessional Statements:
Rom 10:9, that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
I Cor 15:3-4, For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
2 Tim 2:8, Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel,
Php. 2:5-11, Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Heb 4:14, Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
I John 4:15, Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
Confession Is the Acknowledgment That God's Word Is Supreme
As the above examples show, it is Scripture that teaches us to confess our sin, to openly confess our belief, and to formulate our confession as creedal statements. These three definitions of confession are tied closely together by Scripture and by the practice of the Christian Church. At the core of each type of confession is the simple acknowledgment that Scripture is true, right, and infallible.
As Christians, we live and act on the basis of what we believe about God and our relationship to Him. This is the confession of faith shown by our lives even as unbelievers would also testify by their ways of life.
Gal. 5:21-23 ...envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Philp. 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
So we say in our confession called the Formula of Concord:
The law is and remains both to the penitent and impenitent, both to regenerate and unregenerate men, one law, namely, the immutable will of God; and the difference, so far as concerns obedience, is alone in man, inasmuch as one who is not yet regenerate does for the law out of constraint and unwillingly what it requires of him (as also the regenerate do according to the flesh); but the believer, so far as he is regenerate, does without constraint and with a willing spirit that which no threatenings of the law could ever extort from him. (Ep. VI §7)
Christ teaches that by the very kind of words we use, by the kinds of things we are willing to discuss, by these we confess that Scripture is true.
Matt. 12:33-34 "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."
2 Cor. 4:13-14 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.”
Therefore our confession named the Formula of Concord states:
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 New Testament alone. (Ep. Summary §1)
So also, confession of the truth of Scripture is the basis for prayer and meditation:
Christian Confession of sin is not merely the admission that the Law in Scripture is true and correct. Christian Confession of sin is an admission that Scripture teaches truly of God the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and earth, that Adam and Eve fell into sin, that all mankind fell in Adam's fall, that not a prophet, priest, or king of old was able to perfectly fulfill God's Law, that God will come to judge the living and the dead, that there is a heaven and a hell, that sinners will go to hell, and that every other teaching in the Scripture before which we fail is right, true, and infallible. This confession of the truth of Scripture is essential to acknowledging our sin:
1 John 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
Psalm 51:4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight-- That You may be found just when You speak.
Romans 3: 20 For by the Law is knowledge of sin.
Romans 7:7 I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet."
Because of this testimony our Lutheran Confession called the Smalcald Articles states:
This hereditary sin is so deep and horrible a corruption of nature that no reason can understand it, but it must be learned and believed from the revelation of Scriptures. (III, I, §3)
And Christian Confession of Sin is more. Our Confession of sin is done before God who has promised in Scripture to forgive the sin. When the Christian confesses his sin before God he clings to the promise that God will forgive him according to His promises in Christ.
John 20:23 "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This faith in the promises God gives to the penitent is the admission that Scripture is true and correct when it teaches that Jesus Christ is Man and God, the long promised Messiah, the Redeemer, the Prophet, Priest and King, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, that He rose from the dead on the third day, ascended in to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, that there are other redeemed people called the "Church" who live in this forgiveness, that the keys to heaven have been opened, that death is defeated, that Satan is cast down, that there will be a glorious resurrection from the dead and a life everlasting. Scripture is acknowledged as supreme when we confess faith in the forgiveness won for us and given to us in Christ.
Therefore our Lutheran Confession called Luther's Small Catechism states about the confession of sin:
Confession consists of two parts, one that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the pastor or confessor as from God himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are thereby forgiven.
Our worshiping together is a public confession that Scripture forms the basis for our uniting together with others in faith:
1 Cor. 1:10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Eph. 4:2-4 With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;
2 Cor. 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?
Philp. 1:27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.
On this basis our Lutheran Confession called the Augsburg Confession states:
And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. (AC VII 2-3)
This confessional faith, with Scripture as its foundation, is the substance of what we teach:
Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Matt. 28:20 "...teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you."
Mark 16:15 Preach the Gospel to every creature.
Rom. 5:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Thus the Formula of Concord states:
First, then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged. (SD Summary 3)
Consider also confession as the acknowledgment of God's Word as supreme forms the basis for our worship.
Rom. 15:5-6 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Heb. 10:24-25 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
So the Lutheran Confession called Luther's Large Catechism states on the Third Commandment:
...that on such a day of rest (since we can get no other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine service, so that we come together to hear and treat of God's Word, and then to praise God, to sing and pray. (LC 84)
The Central Issue of Confession
Confession of sin, confession of Christ, and the written confessions of our faith are all focused on one and the same issue. We call that teaching of God's Word the doctrine of Objective Justification.
Objective Justification is not really a separate doctrine from the Law and Gospel, nor is it separate from the doctrine of the Trinity or any other facet of Scripture's doctrine. It is objective, that is, it is wholly outside ourselves, and an as such it is an accomplished fact. Every teaching of Scripture focuses on the teaching that we are declared just by God, acquitted of all the charges of God's Law.
This justification is due to the love of God, purely out of His grace. It was accomplished by the Second Person of the Trinity taking on male human flesh through virgin conception, living His life in perfect compliance with the divine Law, and suffering the punishment by humanity and the punishment of hell. All of this is credited to us as if we ourselves lived perfectly, just as all humanity's sin has already been credited to the God-Man, Jesus Christ, on the cross. This great exchange was signed and sealed for us by Christ's resurrection. And it is given to us by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. Through these means, the written and preached Scriptures, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper we are made partakers of this grace and given faith, forgiveness, and new life. Through these means the Holy Spirit renews, regenerates, and sets apart for His own purpose (called "sanctification") sinners who will be united with the Trinity in life everlasting when this sinful world is destroyed, when the new heavens and new earth will be made.
I should, perhaps, have included passage references in the above paragraphs. For, if Scripture is truly our foundation, we should have proof that such statements are accurate and true. However, I did not. I did this without references to show that those here who have been nurtured by the Holy Spirit through Scripture can fill in those references by themselves. This faith has already begun to be inscribed on the hearts and lives of all Christians listening to or reading from this presentation. If someone within the reach of these words finds reason to disagree with what is said about Objective Justification in the preceding paragraphs there are only two possible explanations.
The first is the possibility that I, as a sinful human, have erred in my confession of faith. If so, I earnestly desire Scriptural correction.
The other possibility is that such a hearer or reader is erring in his or her own confession of faith. If so, whoever that might be, it is my prayer that such a person diligently search through God's Word to be corrected.
Confession, at all three levels, is the life of a believer. Confession, at all three levels, must never give up on a single teaching of Scripture.
What happens if we were to give up on something? What if, instead of confessing our utter inability to save ourselves, we added to God's Word the idea that we can contribute, however weakly, to our salvation by simply opening our heart to Christ? Do we not then ignore what Scripture says:
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
In such a case would we not be saying that we do not need all of the righteousness which Christ won for us? Would we not then be denying the blood of Christ?
John 1:5-10 This is the message which we have heard from Him and
declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all,
if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we
lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He
is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood
of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
Similar examples could be made from denying any teaching of Scripture, from the Trinity, 6 day Creation, the Exodus, the Virgin Birth, the Miracles of Christ, Election, to the Second Coming, the Judgment, and Life Eternal.
It is no small risk to change, replace, or neglect the smallest of God's teachings.
And so we confess. We confess as we live and live as we confess.
We confess our sin, we confess our faith, and we write confessions which clearly declare the truth of Scripture so that others may judge what we confess on the basis of Scripture.
This presentation is especially directed to Confessional Lutherans to give a taste of the depth and richness of what being a Confessional Lutheran is about. It is geared at showing how intricately related the life of a believer is wrapped up in confession at each level. And it is aimed at encouraging believers to value confession at all levels, but especially that they may discover the treasures and joy of learning the contents of the Lutheran Confessions found in the Book of Concord.
Confession may be done as an individual, or as a group. It may be done toward God alone, toward God and other believers, toward erring believers, or toward those outside the faith.
Personal Christian Confession of sin; corporate worship; Lutheran liturgical worship; the writing, memorizing, and reciting of creeds; the writing, publishing, and subscription to public Confessional statements like the Lutheran Confessions; and the formulation of doctrinal statements and writings are all part and parcel of the same Confessionalism that we have seen established by Scripture at the beginning of this presentation.
Confessionalism is a personal act of our faith. We have seen that personal Christian Confession of sin to God is a proclamation to God that His Word is Truth in all It says about our sinful state and the greatness of our Salvation. Not one jot or tiddle of Scripture can be denied without minimizing what that Confession of sin is and ought to be.
Confession need not be verbose. It may be the simple private whispers of the Publican whose wounded heart prayed, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). It may be the loud and public confession of the blind man who cried out to be heard: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Luke 18:38) Stephen confessed to an assembly of Jews. He confessed of his sin and Israel's sin along with the redemption God gives in Christ alone. He was killed for this confession. (Acts 6).
Individual Confessionalism is described by the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism. This small section of the Catechism is a listing of Scripture passages that apply to us in our normal everyday life.
Home instruction and home devotion are essential acts of confessionalism in the Christian life. God explicitly gives parents the authority and duty to educate their children in the Christian faith.
Eph. 6:4 And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Dt. 6:6-7 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.
This is basically a living confession of the Fourth Commandment. Neither church schools nor state run schools excuse the parents from this duty. Nor must they usurp a parent's authority and duty before God for the Christian education of their children. Therefore the Large Catechism states:
For where a father
is unable alone to educate his child, he employs a schoolmaster to
instruct him; if he be too weak, he enlists the aid of his friends
...first of all, they should earnestly and faithfully discharge their office, not only to support and provide for the bodily necessities of their children, servants, subjects, etc., but most of all, to train them to the honor and praise of God. Therefore do not think that it is left to your pleasure and arbitrary will, but that it is a strict command and injunction of God, to whom also you must give an account for it. ...
...Let every one know, therefore, that it is his duty, on peril of losing the divine favor, to bring up his children above all things in the fear and knowledge of God...(LC 4th Commandment; 141, 168, 174)
When we confess as a group we follow God's command by confessing that Scripture is true in everything is says. Our confession focuses on what Scripture says of our sin and our redemption. God Himself established corporate worship for the purpose of dispensing the forgiveness of Christ. "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20)
Corporate worship, which we call "going to church, liturgy, worship, the divine service, the worship service" and the like may manifest itself in many ways. But it is and must be confessional. It must be based solidly in the Law and Gospel of God. It must be focused on the proper administration of the Means of Grace, through which Christ gives us the forgiveness He won for us on the cross.
There are several specific corporate acts of confessionalism which God has given to us in Scripture.
How we should pray is taught by Christ in the Lord's Prayer and His discussion of what proper prayer is. (Matthew 5) So we confess in accordance with Christ's word in the Third Chief Part of the Small Catechism on the Lord's Prayer.
Confession and Absolution
As we have seen in numerous passages above (page 1), this is instituted by God. Corporately this means of grace is carried out by the Minister of Word and Sacrament who is called to do so. With it is Christ's promise, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:23)
So we confess:
Since Absolution or the Power of the Keys is also an aid and consolation against sin and a bad conscience, ordained by Christ Himself in the Gospel, Confession or Absolution ought by no means to be abolished in the Church, especially on account of tender and timid consciences and on account of the untrained and capricious young people, in order that they may be examined, and instructed in the Christian doctrine. (Smalcald Articles III, VIII 1)
The Public Reading of Scripture
The Scriptures are the only true source of teaching about God, His Will, His actions, His gifts, and His promises to us. Throughout the Scriptures they testify that they are to be read to the assembly of believers (for example Ex. 24:12; Dt. 17:19; Neh. 8:8; 9:3; Ps. 1; II Cor. 1:13; Eph 3:4; I Tim 4:13; I Thes. 5:27)
Through the Scriptures we are given salvation and the means of grace:
II Tim. 3:14 from infancy you have known (the) sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Rom. 14:23 For what things whatsoever were written were written for our learning: that, through patience and the comfort of the scriptures, we might have hope.
So we confess:
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 New Testament alone. (Ep. Summary §1)
Singing of Hymns, Psalms and the Use of Christian Poetical Statements
The poetry of the Church is as ancient, at least, as Miriam and Moses singing after the crossing of the Sea (Ex. 15). Many of the Psalms were set to musical rhythm, melodies, and instrumentation. Our liturgical heritage includes such poetry from Scripture, and poetry solidly based on Scripture from ancient ancient times to modern, from the continents of Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Whether the song is the Te Deum, the Sanctus, the Kyrie; whether it is written by a Norwegian, a German, an African, a Greek; whether it is set to music, rhythm, or simply read; the essential qualification for the poetry we use is that it accurately reflect the teachings of Scripture. Thus, the hymns and poems are themselves confessions of faith, prayers of the faith, or proclamations of Scripture.
This confessional-poetical form of expression is commended to us by God to be used by the church in its worship:
Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing each other, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, in grace singing in your hearts to the Lord;
Eph. 5:19 speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
Ps. 106:9 Go ye into his gates with praise, into his courts with hymns: and give glory to him. Praise ye his name:
Statements of Faith, the Creeds
We have seen examples of this cited in the passages on page 2 of this paper. It would be a profitable exercise to look up all the statements made in the Apostles' or Nicene Creeds in Scripture. The Second Chief part of the Small Catechism teaches us in particular the meaning of the Apostles' Creed.
Historically, the Christian Church subscribes to the Apostles', the Nicean, and the Athanasian Creeds. The Lutheran Church also subscribes to the Augsburg Confession, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther, the Smalcald Articles of Martin Luther, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord-both the Epitome and the Solid Declaration. All of these statements of faith are found in the Lutheran Book of Concord, originally published in 1580.
The exposition and teaching of Scripture is not merely a good idea, it is commanded by God:
Matt. 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
Mark 16:15 And he said to them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
It is a confessional and necessary act carried out by the Church in its gatherings:
Acts 5:42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Through this preaching of God's Scripture God Himself brings the hearer to faith:
Rom. 16:25 Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
Titus 1:3 But has in due times manifested His word through preaching, which is committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior.
The Scriptural content of the preaching must never be compromised:
II Cor. 11:4 For if he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, or another gospel, which you have not accepted, you might well bear with him.
Gal. 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
II Tim. 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.
Examples from Scripture about preaching and its value could be multiplied. The whole book of Acts is full of examples as are the Gospels, the Prophets, and the Books of Moses. Our confession called the Apology to the Augsburg Confession states:
There is nothing that so attaches people to the church as good preaching. But our adversaries preach their people out of the churches; for they teach nothing of the necessary parts of Christian doctrine; they narrate legends of saints and other fables. And the true adornment of the churches is godly, useful, and clear doctrine, the devout use of the Sacraments, ardent prayer, and the like. (Ap. XXIV 50-51)
Baptism, of course, as given to us by Christ in Matthew 28 is an essential corporate act. One does not baptize one's self. Numerous examples from the Apostles own work in Acts could be listed. Here are only a few: Acts 2:41; 8:12-16, 36-38; 9:18; 10:47-48; etc.
As we confess in our Catechism, it is not the water but the Word of God which enables the water to cleans us from sin and enable us to walk in newness of life. Baptism itself unites us with the body of Christ in His death and resurrection. It also unites us as one.
Rom. 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
I Cor. 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
The Lord's Supper
The Lord's Supper was established not only as a means of giving us the forgiveness of Christ, but also as a corporate confession. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes." (I Cor. 11:26)
The Lord's Supper cannot be celebrated by an individual alone. According to Christ's institution it was given as a corporate act through which God gives us the forgiveness of Christ.
So the Smalcald Articles state:
But if anyone should advance the pretext that as an act of devotion he wishes to administer the Sacrament, or Communion, to himself, he is not in earnes he would commit a great mistake, and would not be speaking seriously and sincerely. For if he wishes to commune in sincerity, the surest and best way for him is in the Sacrament administered according to Christ's institution. But that one administer communion to himself is a human notion, uncertain, unnecessary, yea, even prohibited. And he does not know what he is doing, because without the Word of God he obeys a false human opinion and invention. (SA II, II 8)
This is one of the oldest parts of our corporate worship. The oldest form goes back to the establishment of the Levitical priesthood under Aaron:
Num. 6:22-27 And the LORD
spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, On
this wise you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them,
"The LORD bless you, and keep you: The LORD make his face shine
on you, and be gracious to you: The LORD lift up his countenance on
you, and give you peace."
And they shall put my name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.
The Calling and Ordaining of Ministers
God wills that the church call men to administer the means of grace. The Church calls only by Christ's authority, and those men called administer the means of grace only by Christ's authority. This is true of God's ministers in both the Old and the New Testaments:
Jer. 23:21 I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
Romans 10:14-15 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!"
From this it is apparent that no one should presume to take this office on himself. Thus our Augsburg Confession states:
Of Ecclesiastical Order they [our churches] teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called. (AC XIV)
It is God who gives men into this office:
Eph. 4:11-12 And God gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
The Church has the authority to appoint these ministers by the will of God.
Titus 1:5 For this cause left I you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you:
Specific qualifications are given for offices in II Tim. and Titus. Here we merely note that the calling we do today is given to us in God's Word, but it is God who gives these men and their duties. So we confess in the Treatise:
For wherever the Church is, there is the authority to administer the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers. And this authority is a gift which in reality is given to the Church, which no human power can wrest from the Church, as Paul also testifies to the Ephesians. (Treatise 67)
Writing of Confessional Statements
Our Lutheran Confessions have been referred to and listed in this presentation. The importance and need of making such confessional statements has been discussed already. Their usefulness in the defense of the faith has, hopefully, been demonstrated by their use in this presentation.
Why write them down? People change. Popular theology changes. What worked as an attack in the past might be, and will be used again. Writing these confessions down enables us to see how sinful men may begin to twist the teachings of Scripture. If confessions were only spoken, how could anyone verify whether that confession had changed over time? In writing these confessions they become witnesses to us as we become witnesses to them. Such writings are
a testimony and declaration of the faith, as to how and 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. (Ep Summary 8).
Let Paul's words to Timothy, then, encourage us to likewise live confessionally at all levels.
I Tim 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto you are also called, and have professed a good profession before many witnesses.
To God alone be the glory.
1The Lutheran Cyclopedia, Revised Edition, Concordia Publishing House, 1975, p..193. These were the most useful and concise distinctions I have seen on the topic. Some may choose to make more sub-categories, but such detailed nuances tend to distract readers and listeners to a survey presentation.
2Same as footnote 1.
3Same as footnote 1.