Earlier, I mentioned this reader’s edition of the Book of Concord earlier: Concordia, The Lutheran Confessions. As I said, it’s a great read, a great resource to have. Sometime in the (near?) future, I’ll show some areas of similarity and difference between the Reformed/Presbyterian confessions and the Lutheran ones. Though there are significant differences, there are also many significant similarities. Below are a few notes about Concordia, stuff that I’ve noticed and appreciated.
1) This translation of the Lutheran confessions is clear and understandable, yet the reader still gets the “voice” of Lutheranism. Though I only know some Latin and no German, I understand translation principles, so I agree when the editors/translators changed the long and complex Latin sentences into a shorter modern English style (xvii). I also like how they updated the tougher words, words that have changed meaning over time – they used the modern-day words that matched the older meaning (i.e. remission and forgiveness; they also updated every Scripture reference to ESV). I’m a believer that confessions should be in clear, modern language so “modern” people can pick them up and get the gist of them, even if the person isn’t familiar with deep theological language.
2) Speaking of language, I love how the editors explain some of the sharp rebukes of Roman Catholicism – “it leaves little to the imagination” (p. 257). “When clear confession is necessary, it is wrong to speak in ways that can be interpreted to fit everyone’s opinion. Faithfulness and clarity demand a precise twofold presentation that (a) rejects error and (b) affirms truth” (ibid.). Exactly! Many church struggles would certainly be avoided if we’d use clear, purposeful language that cannot mean different things. For example, by the end of article IV of the Smalcald Articles, the reader knows exactly why Luther(ans) cannot tolerate the papacy. It’s not “mean,” it’s Luther standing up clearly for the gospel and speaking clearly against those who distort the gospel.
3) Article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession is one of the best pieces I have ever read on justification by faith alone. It is quite long and detailed, but it clearly spells out sola fide in terms that cannot be twisted to mean just anything. Melanchthon is at his gospel-best in this article. I counted (roughly) over 40x where the term “received” was used in the context of faith – Melanchthon’s way of showing that justifying faith is not faithfulness, but receiving a gift from God. Here are a few excellent examples.
“Faith justifies and saves, not because it is a worthy work in itself, but only because it receives the promised mercy.”
“By faith alone in Christ – not through love, not because of love or works – we receive the forgiveness of sins, although love follows faith. Therefore, by faith alone we are justified.”
“Forgiveness of sins is something promised for Christ’s sake. It cannot be received except through faith alone. For a promise cannot be received except by faith alone.”
Great stuff. This article must be read by everyone who considers themselves in agreement with the 5 solas.
4) I won’t go into it in detail now, but I appreciate how the Lutheran confessions take great pains to protect Christian liberty and freedom of conscience. The sections in these confessions on human tradition(s) are well worth studying (i.e. AC XV; Ap XV, SA III-IV, FC Ep X, and SD X). Here are a few blurbs from the Apology XV. “We do not merit the forgiveness of sins or grace by celebrating human traditions…[they are not] necessary for justification.” Traditions quickly become “traps of consciences.” “We cheerfully maintain the old traditions made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and peace. We interpret them in a more moderate way and reject the opinion that holds they justify.”
I could go on, but I’ll save it for another post. Though confessional Reformed guys like myself will have quibbles with certain parts of these confessions, I firmly recommend that all serious Christians purchase and study Concordia. Though it is a big book, it is easy to read and use because it is a good translation and it was written to help readers “use” it more productively. This is, among other things, a great resource for studying faith, repentance, justification, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, vocation, (truly) good works, and the Apostle’s Creed.