Concerning the Unity of the Lutheran Church

Would it not be appropriate at this time, that people on all [different] sides should first pause and study again the Lutheran confession, and honor it? It is, indeed, still a powerful force in the churches of our faith in America. Behind the formulas of the old orthodoxy, which is still vital there, and of modern fundamentalism, which attempts to seep into Lutheranism from the Reformed environment; lies buried the Lutheran faith, which can still distinguish between Law and Gospel, and which knows what the means of grace are. But nobody knows what will become of the next generation, if the fleeting agreement of [various] theological schools, with its pseudo confession made [only] for the [present] moment, takes the place of consensus of the Church which lasts over time, as the Lutheran confessions express it. It is a false concept of unity in doctrine, if a complete uniformity in the explanation of all passages of the Bible with dogmatic content is demanded, and if this demand is justified with the warning of Paul, That you at all times speak unitedly, and do not let divisions be among you, but rather hold firmly to one another in one mind and in one belief. (1 Cor. 1:10). It is the same false concept of doctrinal unity, if one directs the warning That you watch those, who start divisions and disagreements contrary to the teaching which you have learned, and avoid them. (Rom 16:17) toward every brother in faith who has a different theology. The teaching which Paul mentions in both passages is clearly the pure doctrine of the gospel, the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae, the doctrine of justification of the sinner, which he announced in Corinth with Peter and Apollos, although he did not come from the same theological school as these men. These passages, and equally the great passage about the unity of the church in Ephesians 4, which are the basis for article 7 of the Augsburg Confession, really assert clearly nothing else at all than that which the Lutheran Church has found in them, the consensus de doctrina evangelii et de administratione sacramentorum. But what is here called doctrina should really be clear: not a theological theory about the gospel together with a system of theories about all the questions connected with it, but rather the teaching or the gospel itself, which happens in the church in the pulpit and lectern, in the confessional and in pastoral counseling. There, where the unity of the church of Christ is at all, there is also the unity of the Lutheran Church to be sought. Thus the great satis est of the 7th article of the Augsburg Confession is also the foundation of all unity among Lutherans. What this satis est includes in particular, what the consensus about the teaching of the gospel is in detail, this is what the confessions of our church tell us. Therefore, these confessions are, as they are collected in the Book of Concord, the only means of real ecclesiastical unification for the Lutherans of the world.

Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 25, Concerning the Unity of the Lutheran Church Pentecost 1952 (Trans. by Rev. Matthew Harrison)

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