ER Bible Study 03
As noted in our discussion of modern and post-modern views of reality and observation, no one can approach the text as a neutral observer. Thus, we have to examine our own presuppositions because that will inform how we approach the text. We are Christians who confess the faith as Lutherans. So let’s take a look at what we mean by that.
Chief Article of the Christian Faith (What matters most)
For us, this chief article is clearly stated in Article IV of the Augsburg Confession.
Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
The shorthand phrase is: justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. For a more complete statement of this teaching, see the Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession (http://www.bookofconcord.org/defense_4_justification.php#article4).
Canonical Principle (the Bible is the Source for the above)
We start with the recognition historically of the distinction between the writings of the New Testament. There were 20 writings in the NT that were universally accepted as Scripture, called homologoumena (speaking the same): Four Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, and 1 John. The other 7 writings were not universally accepted, and the term used is antilegomena (“spoken against”): Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Historically the homologoumena are used to establish doctrine and the antilegomena are used to confirm doctrine.
We use other terms to describe the Scriptures:
Inspired (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)
Inerrant (John 10:35; Acts 24:14) (“without error”). Note that the referent for this word changed after 1880. Prior to that date, the referent was to the existing original language texts. After that date many has changed the referent to the original writing (autographs). The problem with this shift is that we do not have an autographs, and probably never will.
Perfection: Without defect
Perspicuity: Scripture is clear in the main teachings of the Bible
Efficacy: Scripture accomplishes what it says (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Uses of the Bible
Worship, using pericopes in lectionaries
Bible Study (formal)
Personal reading and devotion
Note that we believe in Jesus Christ, which then leads to accepting the Bible as God’s Word, not the other way around, as some teach. That is, some claim that a person has to believe the Bible is the Word of God in order to believe in Jesus Christ.
As Christians who confess the faith as Lutherans, this implies something about how we publicly confess that faith. The three Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian) establish the public confession of the Christian church throughout the ages. Note that the creeds do not add to the Bible, but rather, they are short statements that summarize what Scripture teaches.
Likewise the Confessional writings that form the rest of the Book of Concord are statements drawn from Scripture. We do not hold the creeds and confessions above Scripture, nothing is above Scripture in terms of the source of all teaching and preaching. Rather, the creeds/confessions address false teachings that have arisen over the centuries. For the Book of Concord two statements reflect this position:
“The Church has always taught” — noting that what the papal church was teaching in the late middle ages and the Reformation era had deviated from Scripture and the historic church. The Reformers (Luther, Melancthon, et al) write that what is presented matches Scripture and what the Church has always taught.
“We believe, teach, and confess” —the church and its pastors and teachers commit themselves to publicly accept the doctrinal statements.
The church has faced many challenges to the Christian faith. Perhaps the most significant was and is the anti-Trinitarian challenges. The first was the teaching of Arius, a Bishop of North Africa, who taught that Jesus was God, not the true God. The matter was discussed at the Council of Nicea in AD 325, and resulted in the writing of the Nicene Creed. It was latter slightly revised in the council of Constantinople in AD 381.
As Christians who stand in the light of that Creed, we still battle against the anti-Trinitarian teachings. The most prominent today is the Jehovah Witnesses, but also the Oneness Pentecostal movement. Even the view that God is “progressing” calls into question the Triune God.
The historic use of “ecumenical” was to establish unity for the church as a whole, which was based on doctrinal unity. Sadly in the late 19th and 20th centuries, the term was used in a different way, denoting unity as outward unity, without regard to doctrine, or minimal doctrine.
There are three aspects to that unity that still are pertinent today for us as Christians.
Holy: the Church of believers in Jesus Christ is called holy. Paul uses the phrase frequently to describe the Christians in various churches in the first century Mediterranean region (i.e. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2).
Catholic: The word means “universal” and refers to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. The Church catholic has nothing to do with a denomination or outward church body (i.e. the papal church), but identifies all who believe in Jesus Christ regardless of outward association. Obviously this does not include heretical groups such as Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses (and others).
Apostolic: As Christians we are conscious that the writers (and companions) were the source of teaching about Jesus Christ and the early church. We cannot move beyond that foundation. Thus, when we begin any kind of ecumenical discussions, the apostolic nature of the Scriptures and the Church must be front and center.
Thus, in the creed we use the phrase “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.” Beyond these terms two others have been used in reference to the church at large.
Orthodox: Originally the word meant “straight praise” and soon became synonymous “straight doctrine.” Worship and teaching/preaching need to be straight for the ecumenical principle to be effective.
Evangelical: The Greek word , is “good news” or “Gospel.” Historically this belonged to the Church catholic. During the time of the Reformation the term designated the followers of Martin Luther who recovered the Gospel. So for centuries the Lutheran Church in Germany was known as the Evangelishe Kirke (Evangelical Church). In the past century one portion of Protestants in the US have coopted the term to refer to themselves, and so we hear of the “Evangelical movement.” But that is a narrow, even sectarian use of the term.
This concludes part 1 of the presuppositions of faith by which we approach the Scriptures. Our next study will focus on the remaining five principles.