Of the Word of God
The Bible is the Word of God. Our teaching about the Word of God is based on the Bible’s own teaching: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17) Because of the inspiration of God’s Spirit the whole Bible is inerrant, living, powerful and eternally unchanging truth. These teachings apply to the Bible: “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18) and “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25).
Because the Word of God is inerrant, it is to be the norm of the doctrine and life of the church. The Lutheran Confessions state: “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 of the New Testament alone.” (Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Par. 1 section 1; Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English)
We teach that the Word of God is a mean of grace. It creates and strengthens saving faith in the only Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Apostle Paul says: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16,17) Using the Word of God by hearing, reading or remembering it creates and strengthens saving faith.
The sole basis for justification, which means that God forgives a person’s sins and makes them fit for heaven, is the atoning work of Jesus Christ. In our stead He has fulfilled the Law of God. For us He suffered the punishment that we have earned by our sins. The Bible says: “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8) This work of Christ means the atonement of the sins of the whole world. God has accepted it by raising His Son from the dead. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) This is also called objective justification.
We become partakers of Christ’s atoning work by believing, in other words by trusting personally that the atonement applies to us, too: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)
God justifies a person by grace alone, by faith alone and by Christ alone. Therefore all the own works of a person and the merits of other people must be excluded. The Bible says: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
Baptism is a mean of grace. Through it God grants forgiveness of sin by clothing us in the righteousness of His Son, creates faith and bestows the Holy Spirit. The Bible says: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children” (Acts 2:38,39) and “In Him (Christ) you were also circumcised … by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Colosians 2:11,12) With the forgiveness of sins and faith Baptism grants eternal life. “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4—6)
Infants are to be baptized, because they too need salvation. By their natural birth humans are under original sin so that what the Bible says applies also to infants: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” (John 3:6) Jesus’ great commission of mission and baptism applies to them as well: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19,20) God is able to generate faith even in infants and to give them the Holy Spirit.
As all the gifts of God, so the gifts received in Baptism are enjoyed only by faith. The one who does not believe does not benefit of the gifts received in Baptism. On the other hand the one who believes may take hold of them on the basis of God’s certain word.
Of the Lord’s Supper
On the night of Maundy Thursday before His great passion the Lord Christ instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. By the power of this institution He gives all communicants His true body and true blood until the end of the world in all times and all places where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated according to His institution. (Matthew 26:26—29; 1 Corinthians 11:23—25). The Lutheran Confessions state clearly: “For the true and almighty words of Jesus Christ which He spake at the first institution were efficacious not only at the first Supper, but they endure, are valid, operate, and are still efficacious [their force, power, and efficacy endure and avail even to the present], so that in all places where the Supper is celebrated according to the institution of Christ, and His words are used, the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed, and received, because of the power and efficacy of the words which Christ spake at the first Supper.” (Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, VII 75; Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English)
The one who believes the words “given and shed for you for the remission of sins” receives the Lord’s Supper to his blessing and receives what they promise, namely forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The one who does not believe the words of institution spoken by Christ is an unworthy communicant and receives the Lord’s Supper to his damnation: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Corinthians 11:28—29)
The Lord’s Supper is also a mean of grace. The Lutheran Confessions state: “[T]he true, essential body and blood of Christ are also orally received and partaken of in the Holy Supper, by all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper—by the believing as a certain pledge and assurance that their sins are surely forgiven them, and Christ dwells and is efficacious in them, but by the unbelieving for their judgment and condemnation” (Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, VII 63; Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English)
Of the church of Christ
We believe that there exists in the world until its end one holy Congregation of Christ, ie. the Church of Christ. It is not a church institution or a building. Neither is it an outward, historical continuity of the original apostolic church transmitted from generation to generation. It is the kingdom of God in the hearts of believers invisible to the human eye, that is “the holy faithful and the little lambs, who listen to their Shepherds voice.” (Martin Luther) Real apostolicity of the church is remaining in the apostolic doctrine. It is abiding “by the Spirit”, not by flesh. (compare Romans 9:6—8; 2 Corinthians 5:16; Galatians 4:23—28).
The Church of Christ are therefore all those and only those who believe that they have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life only for the sake of the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, by faith in Christ alone, without man’s own works or imaginary merits, by grace alone, solely as a gift. The Church is therefore all those who are justified by faith.
The Church of Christ is therefore the same as the “people of God” (2 Corinthians 6:16, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:10), “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 1:23), Christ’s “own” (Romans 14:8, 1 Corinthians 15:23, 2 Timothy 2:19), “the bride of Christ”, whose Bridegroom is Christ (Revelation 21:2,9; 22:17; Matthew 9:15; 25:1,2). The unbelievers don’t belong to it—not one who in his heart puts his trust in something else than the grace acquired by Christ (Revelation 22:15). Christ says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) And the apostle Paul says of those who try to be saved by their works: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)
What is the local congregation
Confessional theologian Dr. C.F.W. Walther defines a Lutheran local congregation as follows: “An Evangelical Lutheran local congregation is a gathering of believing Christians at a definite place, among whom the Word of God is preached in its purity according to the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the holy Sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution as recorded in the Gospel, in whose society, however, false Christians and hypocrites will always, and manifest sinners may sometimes, be found.” (The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation Independent of the State, translated by Dr. Th. Engeler. Preliminary remarks, section 1.)
Walther says that pure teaching of the word and pure distribution of the sacraments are the main marks of the congregation. He also uses the concept of “unfailing marks” in his books. The congregations has many marks that can be listed, possibly endlessly, but these two, right preaching of God’s word and sacraments distributed according to the institution of Christ, are unfailing. Where they are in use, not only temporarily but continuously, there the congregation of Christ must be present, that is, the holy catholic congregation (una sancta). The local congregation is therefore a gathering of the unseen una sancta and its activity in that particular area. Though we see the people and activity we cannot see who are truly believers in their heart.
From the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 18:15—20) and the working of the apostles we can clearly see that the activity of the church is always congregational. Missionary work did not result in believing individuals only. Those who were converted formed congregations. As they were baptized, they became members of the local congregation. This is indicated among other things by the fact that the number of members in the congregation could be counted and reports of its growth could be given (Acts 2: 2:41,47; 4:4; 5:14; 11:21,24; 21:20). Christ has given the power of keys to each local congregation. It is the power to release or bind to sin (1 Corinthians 5:3—5). Each congregation possesses this power even if it is not part of a larger church body.
We believe that Jesus Christ returns on the last day. There will be a general resurrection where His own rise glorified from their graves to eternal joy, but unbelievers go to eternal suffering. On the last judgement the works of believers and unbelievers are evidence of their relationship with God. The decisive factor in entering eternal blessedness is whether a person has in this age believed in Christ as his Savior or not.
The Lord has kept the time of His return secret from His own. Therefore all attempts to guess it are against these words of Christ: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42) The coming of Christ will happen suddenly. It will not be preceded by any such age which could be used to discern the exact time of His coming. For this reason we must always remain watchful.