Entries tagged with “preaching”.

Book of ConcordThe latest issue of the The Canadian Lutheran included a number of letters-to-the-editor on my recent article “‘Can you hear me now?’: Evangelism for the 21st Century world.” It was exciting to see so many people engaging with the article’s content as well as engaging with another article in the same issue highlighting CFW Walther’s thoughts on the place of the Confessions in the Lutheran Church.

Some of those who wrote in thought they perceived a distinction between these two articles: mine which highlighted the importance of speaking understandably to the world around us, and Pastor Teuscher’s which highlighted Walther’s well-deserved regard for the Confessions. Dr. Edward Kettner (professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton) writes an excellent response to these letters demonstrating that there is no necessary contradiction between the two articles. “The need the world has for a clearly proclaimed Gospel and for compassion,” he writes, “in no way absolves us from the responsibility [of] reminding ourselves what the Gospel actually is.” Well put. If we are to proclaim the Gospel to the world, we must first understand ourselves what the Gospel is. And the Confessions act as a guide to a right understanding of the Gospel, of Scripture, and of the faith we profess.

Individual study of the Confessions can certainly help Lutherans grow in their understanding of Scripture and their faith in God – a method by which we can learn to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). I know that my own personal reading in the Confessions has bolstered my own faith.

That said, it is certainly possible that not everyone will find the Confessions so easily accessible. They do, as might be obvious, speak the language of another time and place. And while it is certainly an admirable goal to want to see the Confessions read and understood in the houses of laity across our nation, it is, I tentatively suggest, perhaps not a realistic goal. The Book of Concord can be a difficult book for those not used to such in-depth theological discussion. It can even be a difficult book for those who are used to in-depth theological discussion.

The common people should be spared such readings if they prove to be too difficult for them. In fact, our Confessions explicitly tell us to take just such an approach when confronting issues of this type. Consider the following passage from the Epitome of the Formula of Concord:

Now, consider the Latin terms substantia (substance) and accidens (a nonessential quality). They are not words of Holy Scripture and, besides, are unknown to the ordinary person. So they should not be used in sermons before ordinary, uninstructed people. Simple people should be spared them.

But in the schools, among the learned, these words are rightly kept in disputes about original sin. For they are well known and used without any misunderstanding to distinguish exactly between the essene of a thing and what attaches to it in an accidental way. (FC Ep 1:23-24).

This passage tells us two important things: one, that theological “jargon” should never be entirely abandoned; it has its place in the discussions of those instructed in theology (“the learned” – both clergy and laity); second, that our public proclamation must focus on being understandable – intelligible – to the “ordinary person.” Our sermons should never descend into academic Churchese. Likewise, the “ordinary person” may well need to be spared reading the Confessions if the language and concepts prove too difficult.

That does not mean however that the Confessions do not have their place in the lives of Lutheran laity. No, the average person in the pew needs to hear the Gospel message of Scripture, a message the Confessions faithfully expound. This is why we need our pastors to speak clearly from the pulpit. They must clearly explain – in everyday common language that everyday common people can understand – the incredible message of Grace found in the Word of God. They must teach the laity the meaning (if not the literal words) of the Confessions, so that the laity may more carefully read and understand the Scriptures.

When it comes to Confessional preaching, we need clear teaching as much as ever.


For those looking for a copy of The Book of Concord to read on their own, I highly recommend Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions – A Reader’s Edition from Concordia Publishing House (see the link here for the hardcover edition). This version is presented in updated English, making it easier for the average person to read than some other translations. Among its features is a reading schedule which can help you read through the Confessions in a year. (And if you get the Pocket Edition, it has the added bonus of being very, very portable. Many’s the day when, out for a stroll, I’ve stopped in at my favourite coffee shop, purchased a London Fog, and sat down for a little theological reading. It takes very little space in my satchel so it’s easy to carry around just about anywhere.)

Luther has a fascinating discussion on the priesthood of all believers, in his Right and Power of a Christian Church, where he discusses the layperson’s duty to preach (even if he has not been called to the vocation of a preacher). I think the implications for mission are obvious, but rather than saying too much about it, I’ll let Luther speak for himself. [Note: The context in which the passage arises is that of all Christians’ duty to judge their pastors, and their right to call their own pastors.]

No one can deny that every Christian has God’s Word and is taught by God and annointed by him to the priesthood. Thus Christ says in John 6 [:45], “They shall all be taught by God.” And in Psalm 45 [:7], “God has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.” By “fellows” are meant Christians, Christ’s brethren, consecrated to be priests with him. As Peter also says in 1 Peter 2 [:9], “You are a royal priesthood, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you into his marvelous light.”

Now, if Christians have the Word of God and are anointed by him, they are in duty bound to confess, preach, and spread this Word. It is as Paul says in II Corinthians 4 [:13], “We have the same spirit of faith, and therefore we speak.” The prophet says in Psalm 116 [:10], “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” and in Psalm 51 [:13] he says in the name of all Christians, “I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.” These passages prove once more that a Christian not only has the right and power to teach God’s Word but is in duty bound to teach it on pain of losing his salvation and forfeiting God’s favor.

But you will say, “How is he to do this? For unless he has been called to do this he dare not preach, as you yourself have repeatedly taught!”

I reply: Here you must consider the Christian from a double point of view. On the one hand, if he is in a place where there are no Christians, he needs no other call than the fact that he is a Christian, inwardly called and anointed by God; he is bound by the duty of brotherly love to preach to the erring heathen or non-Christians and to teach them the gospel, even if no one has called him to this work. That is what St. Stephen did (Acts 6 and 7); the office of preaching was not committed to him by the apostles, yet he preached and performed great wonders among the people. Philip, Stephen’s fellow-deacon, did the same (Acts 8 [:5]) without having received the office of preaching. The same is true of Apollos (Acts 18 [:25-26]). In such circumstances the Christian looks in brotherly love on the needs of poor, perishing souls and waits for no commission or letter from pope or bishop. For necessity breaks every law and knows no law; moreover, love is bound to help where there is no one else to help.

On the other hand, if a man is in a place where there are other Christians who have the same power and right that he has, he should not thrust himself forward but should rather let himself be sought out and called to preach and teach in the stead and by the commission of the rest. Even among other Christians a Christian has the right and obligation to get up and teach without being called by men if he should find the teacher in that place to be in error, provided that this is done in a becoming and decent manner. Such a case is plainly described by St. Paul in I Corinthians 14 [:30], where he says, “If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent.” Notice what St. Paul does here. He commands the man who is teaching to be silent and to step aside (among Christians!) and commands the hearer to speak up, even without a call, because necessity knows no law.

…In the same passage St. Paul gives every Christian the right to teach among Christians whenever it becomes necessary: “You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (I Corinthians 14 [:31]), and, “Desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order” [I Cor. 14:39-40]. Take this passage as a very sure ground which gives more than sufficient authority to the Christian community to preach, to permit men to preach, and to call preachers. Especially in case of necessity this passage itself summons each and every one without any call of men.

A powerful passage, no? It is certainly helpful in clarifying the meaning of Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession : “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.” There are occasionally instances when any Christian must by necessity preach.


(The passage from The Right and Power of a Christian Church or Community to Judge All Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proved from the Scriptures is selected from Steinhaeuser’s translation, as revised by Tappert in Selected Writings of Martin Luther: Volume 2. Fortress Press, 2007.)