The Book of Concord – What is it and how to read it?
The Book of Concord (bookofconcord.org)
The Bible and the Lutheran Confessions
Every Christian denomination has its own confession of faith, either written or unwritten. Even where there are negative views regarding written confessions and doctrines, there exists, in fact, a confession of faith. In such cases, it is often closely linked to certain influential teachers or to the ideas of a small group of people. As is common to all old Christian denominations, also the Lutheran Confession has been put in writing, and that is just fine, because now the teaching of our Church is not vague or vacillating. It is written in the Bible and in the Book of Concord of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In the Lutheran Church, the teachers adhere to the Bible and the Confession. Those two are not regarded as parallels. The Bible is the standard by which the Lutheran Confession is gauged. By committing ourselves to the Lutheran Confession we wish to say that this is what we teach because this is what the Bible declares. If someone should teach otherwise, let them prove our teaching wrong by the Bible.
The Book of Concord – too thick a book?
The Book of Concord is a collection of books, and each of these documents has its own history. They were put together as the Book of Concord for the Lutheran Church at a later time.
When you get the Book of Concord in your hands, you may feel a bit frustrated by its thickness. But after you get some necessary tips and instructions of use, you will see that there was no need to be anxious. It is worth your while to read the Book of Concord – but it is worthwhile to know where to start! I recommend that you use the following order.
1. Much of it is already familiar to you
The first surprise for those who hold the Book of Concord in their hands is that much of it is already familiar to them. Some of it you know by heart, some of it you know in part, and the rest is easy for you to understand.
Begin by going through the following. The Lutherans have never believed that Christianity was born in the 16th century, or that it leaped straight from the Apostolic Age into the days of Luther. Therefore, the Book of Concord includes, of course, the Three Universal or Ecumenical Creeds:
- The Apostles’ Creed
- The Nicene Creed
- The Athanasian Creed
Luther’s Small Catechism also fits extremely well in this bundle. The Small Catechism presents the heart of Christianity – the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, Confession, the Lord’s Prayer, and some other matters. We are advised to go over these every day.
2. Easy to understand, and you will learn a lot!
The next bundle requires a bit more, but still not enormously. Now, the common Bible reader is beginning to learn a great deal.
It is said that the primary confession of faith of the Lutheran Church is the Augsburg Confession, which was presented to the Emperor in 1530. It states briefly the faith that the Lutherans were teaching and how they wanted to reform the Church.
The Schmalcald Articles, written by Luther, was a considerably more comprehensive doctrinal document. After the disputes broke out, the Emperor asked Luther to group the articles of faith into two categories: one was for the issues that were negotiable with the Catholics and the other for those that were absolutely non-negotiable. Luther prepared the document, and the others signed it.
Also, The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, a brief document written by Melanchthon, has its place in this context.
Luther's Large Catechism is an excellent manual of faith and a delicious read particularly concerning the Commandments. You will learn a great deal when you read this, too!
3. Something robust
There are now only two more Confessions left, and when you get this far, you will have learnt a lot. Now, you are dealing with some robust tomes. The Defence of the Augsburg Confession (about 170 pages) and The Formula of Concord (about 150 pages) constitute more than half of the total of 550 pages.
To understand the The Defence of the Augsburg Confession, you first need to know about the history of the book. The Lutherans presented the Augsburg Confession to the Emperor. The Catholics responded to it by writing a confutation. Melanchthon responded to this Confutation by a work that disproved it. Of all the Confessions, this will be the last read, and it can very well be used only as a reference book and a commentary on the Augsburg Confession, that will be consulted only when necessary.
However, I warmly recommend The Formula of Concord to everyone who takes even the smallest interest in more theoretical thinking.
This book has quite a background. Shortly after Luther’s death, the Emperor’s troops invaded nearly the whole Northern Germany. Many lost their positions, offices, or even their lives because of their faith. Others gave in and either renounced their faith or yielded in part. When the Emperor’s troops left the region, the Christians there had difficulty trusting each other. It was the Formula of Concord that brought this group together after some eventful developments. It deals with the disputed issues of the time in a peaceful, composed, and biblical manner. When reading this book, you will notice that these issues are still topical – we discuss just the same questions in our Bible study groups. “What is the point of looking elsewhere for answers, when they are found here,” declared someone who got hold of the book.
4. In other words…
We are living at a time when people are not interested in dogmas. Anyone who has learnt from the Book of Concord knows that this is a great pity. There are less and less people who will not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine but who are deeply rooted in the Bible and in the Lutheran faith. The less there are of those people, the more urgently they are needed. People who have understanding and who know how to guide others to the cross of Christ will be needed also in future. Will you be one?