I have argued before that the stance of “confessional” Lutherans of having 100% agreement with the book of concord is unable to be maintained in the face of the evidence within the Book of Concord itself. That is, I believe that one must adhere to the Book of Concord “in so far as” it agrees with the Bible as opposed to “because” it agrees with the Bible. See my post on the topic for in-depth discussion of this distinction and its importance. I argued there, also, that the “because” position largely leads to a kind of inerrancy of the Book of Concord. After all, if the Book of Concord is to be agreed with because it agrees with the Bible, and the Bible is inerrant, it follows that anything that agrees with Scriptures 100% of the time will be without error.
Another example of defining Lutheranism according to strict adherence to the Book of Concord may be found in a recent post by Christopher Maronde entitled “What does the name ‘Lutheran’ mean?”:
Its meaning is simple: The name Lutheran refers to a person, congregation, or church body who unconditionally holds to the teachings contained within the Book of Concord, first published in 1580. A Lutheran is someone who declares that these specific documents rightly confess the truth of the Scriptures. It’s that simple; if you want to know what a Lutheran believes, if you want to know what that label means, you go to the Book of Concord. If you want to know if someone is using the label properly, you evaluate what they believe, teach, and confess according to the Book of Concord. (here)
These positions are generally considered to have a monopoly on the term “Confessional Lutheran” because they teach 100% affirmation of the Book of Concord and restrict any notion of Lutheran to that same adherence. My position, however, is that such a position cannot be maintained, nor should it have a monopoly on the term “Confessional Lutheran.”
Maronde’s definition above seems to provide a small loophole: it states that the Lutheran is to “unconditionally [hold] to the teachings contained within the book of Concord.” The key term here is “teachings.” At this point, if we grant this definition, one could argue that some purported errors in the Book of Concord may not be what the Book of Concord is teaching. However, later in the same quote, we see Maronde writes, “[I]f you want to know what that label means, you go to the Book of Concord…” which once again implies adherence to the totality, word-for-word truth of the Book of Concord. Yet the fact is the Book of Concord is not 100% true in every word-for-word instance.
I ran across another example of this in my readings the other day. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther wrote,
This, I think, is why we Germans from ancient times have called God by a name more elegant and worthy than found in any other language, a name derived from the word ‘good,’ because he is an eternal fountain who overflows with pure goodness… [The Large Catechism, Part I, 25]
As Kolb and Wengert, editors of the critical edition of the Book of Concord published by Fortress Press note, the words for God and good in German (Gott and gut) are not derived from the same etymological root after all- “German: gut. This derivation is etymologically incorrect. The words for ‘God’… and ‘good’.. are not related in either Gothic or in Middle High German” (footnote 41 on page 389, cited below). Thus, within the very text of the Book of Concord, we have a clear error. Indeed, one that cannot be skirted around by arguing it is not something being taught therein; instead, it is clear that Luther is trying to teach about the meaning of God from an etymological derivation which is non-existent.
Therefore, it seems to me that the position of so-called “Confessional Lutheranism” and those who, like them, define Lutheranism narrowly to mean 100% adherence to the Book of Concord is clearly and demonstrably mistaken. The burden falls upon them to demonstrate that their position is actually viable in light of real, taught errors within the Book of Concord itself.
What does this mean for Lutherans–and indeed, Lutheranism? It certainly doesn’t mean we should all go chuck our Book of Concord editions in the trash. What it means is that, like any book, we should read the Book of Concord with a critical eye, checking it against God’s Word as found in the Scriptures and against the facts that we can discover in other studies as well. The Book of Concord is not inerrant, but that doesn’t mean a Lutheran cannot confess agreement with it so far as it agrees with Scripture, and, in doing so, remain a Confessional Lutheran.
Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).
Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.
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