Why Theology of the Lutheran Confessions?

LutherRose-smallEdmund Schlink in his “Theology of the Lutheran Confessions” (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1967) elaborates that besides looking at the Confessions merely historically and even theologically, they need to be recognized as Confessions and/or confessional exposition of the Bible. What does this mean? He goes on to clarify and in the process goes a long  way explaining why even today we here at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane go to great lengths with our students from across the African continent to come to grips with this Book of Concord too – and why we rejoice so profoundly at the translations of this ecclesial treasure in the mother tongue of many millions of Africans using Amharic, Swahili, isiZulu and also seTswana. The venerable Schlink writes – and I quote the translation of Koehneke and Bouman:

“Confessions in their proper sense will never be taken seriously until they are taken seriously until they are taken seriously as exposition of the Scriptures, to be specific, as the church’s exposition of the Scriptures. Confessions are not  free-lancing theological opinions; they are statements of doctrine that must be understood even to their last detail in terms of that exposition of Scripture which is the church’s responsibility, entrusted to it in and with the responsibility of proclamation. Confessions are primarily expositions of Scripture, more particularly summary presentation of the whole of Scripture, that is, a witness to the heart of Scripture, a witness to the saving Gospel. Resting on Scripture as a whole, the Confessions aim to summarize the multiplicity of statements from Scripture in doctrinal articles directed against the errors of their day and designed for the protection of the correct proclamation then and for all time to come. But exposition of Scripture in which a single member of the church takes his stand against false doctrines cannot yet be called a Confession. As long as Confessions are regarded merely as the writings of Melanchthon or of Luther, they are not yet taken to be Confessions. In the Confessions it is precisely not an individual, but the church which expounds Scripture. Even if the Confessions came from the pen of Melanchthon or of Luther, they no longer belong to these individual members of the church. On the contrary, the teaching church has assumed responsibility for them. They are now a sacrifice of praise offered by the whole congregation of believers, who therewith glorify the grace of God in common repentance and in common faith.

This fact, that here the church (not an individual) witnesses to the sum of Scripture (not an incidental exegetical discovery), is the basis for the claim of the Confessions that they are the norm according to which the thinking and speaking of the believers is to be tested and determined. Specifically, they claim to be the obligatory model of all of the church’s preaching and teaching. This claim admits of not limits, either of time or of space. At least the Confessions which comprise the Book of Concord make this claim not only with respect to the members of the Lutheran churches, but with respect to the whole Christian church on earth. It is not the “Lutheran” church (this designation is repudiated in the Confessions themselves) but the una sancta catholica et apostolica ecclesia which has spoken in the Confessions. They therefore make their claim not only with respect to the time in which they arose, but for all time to come, even until Christ’s return. From the beginning the Confessions confronted all people with a comprehensive claim; they confront every man with that same comprehensive claim even today.

Theologically the Confessions have not been taken seriously until one comes to grips with this claim of theirs.”  (xvi-xvii)

From this follow two desiderata according to Schlink and his book strives to answer them meticulously:

  1.       We must take cognizance of the claim of the Confessions that they are the church’s normative exposition of Scripture.
  2.       We must take a definite stand with respect to the claim of the Confessions that they are the church’s normative exposition of Scripture. 

Edmund SchlinkRead more about Edmund Schlink in the biography by Eugene M. Skibbe or under http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Schlink


About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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