The teaching of every church can be grouped under two headings: source and content. The source of teaching is the church's authority, what voice is heard in the church. The content of a church's teaching is what it believes, teaches and confesses. This introduction will briefly discuss the source and content of Lutheran teaching.
The only voice that is heard in the church is the voice of the Holy Trinity. This voice is heard in the writings of God's chosen instruments, the prophets and apostles, therefore the only source of the church's teaching is the Holy Scriptures, the prophetic and apostolic Word of the Lord. As King David prayed, “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” [Psalm 119:105] This teaching of the unique authority of the Scriptures is called “Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone.”
The Scriptures are inspired. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” [1 Timothy 3:16] The Scriptures are inerrant (without error). “The Scriptures cannot be broken.” [St John 10:35] The Scripture are infallible (unable to err). “It is impossible for God to lie.” [Hebrews 6:18]Most importantly, the Scriptures contain the promise of the Gospel, that is, the promise of the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel is the “means of grace,” that is, it is the only instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to create and sustain saving faith. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.” [Romans 1:16, see also St John 17:17,20; Acts 11:16; Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 1:21]
Under the Scriptures sit the symbols of the church: the Creeds and Confessions. In these symbols the church rightly confesses the teaching of the Scriptures. The Creeds and Confessions are not a source of teaching, rather they faithfully confess the Scriptures and reject those errors that are contradicted by the Scriptures. The Confessions of the church are contained in the Book of Concord (published 1580).
The chief content of the church's teaching is the Gospel, which is the promise of the forgiveness of sins won for all sinners through Jesus' death on the cross. The prophets (the Old Testament) and the apostle's (the New Testament) all testify of the salvation that comes through faith in Christ. “To Him [Jesus] all the prophets give witness, that through His name who ever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins.” [Acts 10:43] St Paul says, “For I determined to know nothing among you save Christ crucified.” [1 Corinthians 2:2] So the Lutheran church has always taught and confessed that the chief article of the Christian faith is justification by grace alone through faith alone.
This, of course, does not mean that there are no other teachings in the Scriptures, or that teachings in the Scripture that are not the Gospel are not to be heard. God speaks to us in the Law (what we are to do to be holy before God, and what we fail to do) and the Gospel (what God has done for us in Jesus to save us). Both the word of Law and the word of Gospel are heard in the church. We do not reduce the teaching of the Scriptures, but delight to hear all of the Lord's words. As the Lord spoke before His ascension to the right hand of God, “teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.” [St Matthew 28:20] It is our hearing and keeping (treasuring) of the Lord's Word that marks us as His people. Again, as the Lord taught, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” [St John 10:27]
The Lutheran Church subscribes unconditionally to the 1580 Book of Concord as "a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God." The Book of Concord consists of ten documents.
1. The Apostles Creed (3rd Century)
2. The Nicene Creed (325 AD)
3. The Athanasian Creed
4. The Augsburg Confession (Philip Melanchthon, 1530)
5. The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (Philip Melanchthon, 1531)
6. The Small Catechism (Martin Luther, 1529)
7. The Large Catechism (Martin Luther, 1529)
8. The Smalcald Articles (Martin Luther, 1537)
9. The Treatise on the Power and the Primacy of the Pope (Philip Melanchthon, 1537)
10. The Formula of Concord (1577)
The entire Book of Concord can be viewed online here.
The following statement is a brief summary of our Articles of the faith.
God- The only true God is one in essence, three in persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. [Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 6:4; St Matthew 28:19-21]
Creation- God created all things out of nothing in six days. [Genesis 1,2]
Man and Original Sin- Mankind was created perfect in the image and likeness of God. This means that Adam and Eve had perfect fear, love and trust in God alone. [Genesis 1:26,27] But this image and likeness was lost in the fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [Genesis 3] From this point onward, every person is born in sin [Psalm 51:5], that is without fear, love and trust in God, and is guilty before God [Romans 3:9-18]. This inherited sin is called “original sin.” The punishment for this sin is death and damnation [Romans 3:23; 5:12].
Jesus, the Son of God- For us and for our salvation, the Son of God took on man's nature in the womb of the virgin Mary, and became man. [St John 1:14] His name is Jesus. [St Matthew 1:21] Jesus is God, coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. [St John 1:1; 20:28] Jesus has two natures: divine and human, which are forever united in the one person. He was truly born, suffered, was crucified and buried that He might be a sacrifice for all sin and reconcile us to the Father. [See Romans 4:25; St John 1:29; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23-25] On the third day He was resurrected from the dead, and, after appearing to His disciples, ascended in to heaven where He sits at the right Hand of God. [1 Corinthians 15:3-6; St Mark 16:19] Jesus is the only Savior of mankind. [St John 14:6; Acts 4:12]
Justification- We cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own strength, merits, or works, but we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness. [Romans 3:21-26; 4:5; 5:1; Genesis 15:6; 2 Corinthians 5:19]
The Means of Grace- That we may obtain such faith, the Lord has instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper). Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. [St John 3:5-8; 17:17-20; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 11:14; Romans 10:17]
Good Works- Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for faith not to be constantly doing what is good. So good works are necessary, not for salvation, but because God has commanded them. [1 Corinthians 9:9; Acts 5:29; St John 15:12; 1 John 4:11]
The Church- The church consists of holy believers and "sheep who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd." [St John 10:3] Said another way, the church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. [Ephesians 4:4,5; 1 Timothy 3:15]
Baptism- Baptism is the work of the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 5:25,26] in which He gives the forgiveness of sins, rebirth, and salvation. [St Mark 16:16; St John 3:5; Acts 2:38,39; 22:16; Roman 6:3,4; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21] In baptism He puts His name on us, graciously making us His children. [St Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:26,27] Following the Lord's Word, we baptize infants. [St Matthew 28:19, 'all the nations'; Acts 2:39, 'and to your children']
The Lord's Supper- In the Lord's Supper (or Holy Communion, or the Sacrament of the Altar) the Lord Jesus Himself serves us His true Body and Blood in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins. [St Matthew 26:26-28; St Mark 14:22-24; St Luke 22:19,20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26] We practice closed communion, the teaching that unity in doctrine is necessary before unity in communion.
Confession and Absolution- The Lord Jesus has given His church on earth the unique authority to bind or loose sins. [St Matthew 16:19; 18:18; St John 20:22,23] The Absolution is the loosing and forgiving of sins. We practice both public and private absolution. [See 2 Samuel 12:14]
Repentance- Repentance consists of two parts: (1) sorrow over our sin and (2) faith in the promise of forgiveness. [St Matthew 11:28; St Mark 1:15; Colossians 2:11,12; Psalm 119:28; 1 Samuel 2:6] Repentance is not a choice or decision of man, but a gift granted by God. [1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:8,9; Acts 11:18; Lamentations 5:21; Psalm 80]
The Second Coming of Christ- Jesus will suddenly come again to the earth, call all the death forth (the resurrection) and judge the quick and the dead. [1 Corinthians 15; St John 14:1-4; St Mark 13:32; St Matthew 24; 2 Peter 3:10] All false notions of an earthly kingdom (called millennialism) are rejected. [St John 18:36]