At the insistence of a different Lutheran-aspirant friend from the one who made me originally read The Augsburg Confession, I have made another analysis of Lutheran confessional documents. I could give a bunch of back history to what all this means, but if it’s the kind of thing you care about, then you’ll already know the context. Suffice it to say that The Book of Concord is the set of documents that conservative Lutherans swear in blood to believe in its fullness.
And again, I have a lot of respect for traditional Lutheranism. They got a lot right that a lot of other protestant groups got wrong. Ultimately I think their flaw was that their vision was short-sighted. What I see in the Book of Concord is a community trying very hard to be faithful to the Bible and to historic Christianity but unsure of what the implications of that are.
Other interesting articles on how Orthodoxy relates to Lutheranism can be found here and here. My previous treatment on Lutheranism is here, and you can also read my very long explanation of what Biblical monasticism looks like. My analysis and philosophy of Greek New Testament critical texts is here.
A big thank you to New Advent and BookofConcord.com for making the primary source documents available. All Bible quotations are NKJV (I’m going to try to start respecting copyright laws regarding citations).
The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of The Book of Concord
The Large Catechism says,
1] As monastic vows directly conflict with the first chief article, they must be absolutely abolished. For it is of them that Christ says, Matt. 24:5,23ff : I am Christ, etc. 2] For he who makes a vow to live as a monk believes that he will enter upon a mode of life holier than ordinary Christians lead, and wishes to earn heaven by his own works not only for himself, but also for others; this is to deny Christ. 3] And they boast from their St. Thomas that a monastic vow is equal to Baptism. This is blasphemy [against God].
The Augsburg Confession has a similar notion.
Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist were all overtly monastic. So were Elijah and Noah in the Old Testament (Noah did not procreate until he was 500 years old and after God told him that the world would end, and only his son Ham had sexual relations during the flood). The Augsburg Confession quotes Augustine and Ambrose as authoritative and says that the Church must adhere to the Nicene Creed, yet all these ancient Christians referenced by The Augsburg Confession were monastic.
Matthew 19:10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
Therefore, according to Jesus, celibacy is a spiritual gift. However, The Book of Concord says that someone would only be celibate if he wanted to earn his way to heaven. So did Paul, whose writings form the basis of faith-only soteriology, wish to earn his way to heaven? Should John the Baptist have left the Jordan River to have a nice house with a television and three square meals a day? Did Jesus waste his life as a lonely virgin who fasted forty days in the wilderness?
This is a minimalist morality, that anyone who wants to do more than the minimum must have something wrong with their soul.
Matthew 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Why does Lutheranism teach that no one should aspire to perfection?
I could understand if The Book of Concord said that late Renaissance Catholic monasticism was very errant and that we need to return to the models laid out by Augustine and Benedict or if it tried to build an ascetic philosophy from the Bible alone. But instead The Book of Concord just wants to burn it all down.
The Small Catechism says,
Confession embraces two parts: the one is, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.
The confessor is instructed to say,
Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness? […] And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive thee thy sins,
To my understanding, the only other part of The Book of Concord that addresses the sacrament of confession is The Augsburg Confession.
1] Of Confession they teach that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession 2] an enumeration of all sins is not necessary. For it is impossible according to the Psalm: Who can understand his errors? Ps. 19:12.
The Large Catechism does not address this topic, except that concerning The Apostles’ Creed it says,
We further believe that in this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution, moreover, through all manner of consolatory promises of the entire Gospel.
What is not stated is who the confessor is. Does he have to be a pastor, or can any layman hear confession? If the confessor does not grant absolution, does this mean that God will not forgive the person? Does this conflict with the protestant notion that Christ alone is the mediator between God and man? Can’t God alone forgive sins [Mark 2]? From where does the confessor receive his power? What if I don’t trust my pastor? Is the confessor under a sacred bond to never reveal what is confessed no matter what? Can I start my own nondenominational megachurch Grace Life River Pointe and tell the people that I have the power to forgive their sins? Does every LCMS parish require all their congregants to confess their sins to the pastor?
This topic is woefully under-explained. You could write a seven-to-ten-page-double-spaced college paper on the doctrine of the sacrament of confession. It would be understandable if the Catechism merely said, “Make sure you confess your sins to each other, because accountability is very important and the Devil works best when we are isolated and ashamed of our sins.” But instead they make this into a metaphysical sacrament with eschatological and soteriological implications, and then they never explain how that works in relation to everything else they teach.
The Augsburg Confession, in its first article, says
Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting;
[Nicaea, also spelled Nicea or Nice, was the first of the seven (or eight or nine or maybe ten, depending on how you count) of the ecumenical councils, sometimes called universal councils.]
But do Lutherans accept Nicaea in totality? Nicaea also had various canons about Church governance. For example, the fourth canon [a rule to govern the Church that was often passed at these councils] says,
It is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent [bishops] also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordination should take place. But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan.
So clearly there was a belief at Nicaea that the Church has a strict, formal structure with ongoing succession from the Apostles. Why does The Book of Concord accept only one part of Nicaea and disregard the rest? The same people who wrote that creed are the same people who wrote the above canon and believed in very non-Lutheran things like monasticism and prayer to the saints. Are these men of Nicaea both heretics and God-inspired? Can you atomize the parts of their ideology from each other?
An ideology exists as a whole. You cannot pick out the parts you don’t like and then accept the Swiss cheese as a complete belief system.
Basil of Caesarea (AD 330 – AD 379) wrote,
According to the blameless faith of the Christians which we have obtained from God, I confess and agree that I believe in one God the Father Almighty; God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; I adore and worship one God, the Three. I confess to the oeconomy of the Son in the flesh, and that the holy Mary, who gave birth to Him according to the flesh, was Mother of God. I acknowledge also the holy Apostles’, prophets, and martyrs; and I invoke them to supplication to God, that through them, that is, through their mediation, the merciful God may be propitious to me, and that a ransom may be made and given me for my sins. Wherefore also I honour and kiss the features of their images, inasmuch as they have been handed down from the holy Apostles’, and are not forbidden, but are in all our churches.
This same Basil, who would be a heretic and idolator by Lutheran standards, is quoted as authoritative in The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, articles I “Original Sin” and VIII “The Person of Christ”.
Furthermore, the Nicene Creed quoted in The Book of Concord is not actually the creed formulated at Nicaea. The original said,
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (γεννηθέντα), not made, being of one substance (ὁμοούσιον, consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not (ἤν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν), or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion [τρεπτὸν in Greek; convertibilem in Latin] — all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.
The ending about the Holy Spirit was added at the next council, and so sometimes the full creed is referred to as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver-of-Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And in one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, [and] we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
And yet neither the actual creed of Nicaea, nor the addendum of Constantinople, is recited in The Book of Concord, for their Creed adds the phrase “and the Son” after “who proceeds from the Father”, according to the papists, teaching the double procession of the Holy Ghost. It has been most clearly documented that this is an innovation of the papists and was not confessed by those at Nicaea.
Does the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod believe that the Pope has more authority than the Fathers at Nicaea? By what authority does The Book of Concord include the phrase “and the Son”? The only authority that has ever granted this inclusion is the Pope of Rome, and the LCMS believes that this inclusion is authoritative and absolutely beyond compromise. Therefore, the Lutheran Church believes that the Pope of Rome has the authority to change doctrine and over-ride the conciliarity of the Church, even though later universal councils explicitly taught that the Creed should never be changed (particularly the Council of 431 in its seventh canon).
What does the Lutheran Church really believe about the Fathers of Nicaea? Are they only authoritative on this one document, which is also believed to have been inadequate (since it did not yet say “and the Son”), and that all other doctrine believed by these same ancient Fathers is questionable at best? Was Nicaea a fluke of history, a gamble that happened to get the right answer despite the wrong methodology? Was the later addition of “and the Son” a similar gamble and fluke with the right answer despite all the wrong premises? How much authority does the Pope actually have in Lutheranism?
The Book of Concord does not address these questions. Personally, I NEVER allow the Pope to tell me how to pray or what to believe.
Not only is the phrase “and the Son” a documented papist addition, it is also against what the Bible teaches.
John 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.
John 15:26 But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.
Clearly it is not Jesus Who sends the Spirit, but rather the Father Who sends the Spirit on behalf of Jesus’s prayers. That’s what the Bible says. Double procession is the tradition of man.
The sixth article of The Augsburg Confession says,
Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
Yet they believe that the entire Church, East and West, fell into error by teaching monasticism, icon veneration, a strict Church structure, and prayer to the saints. This article is self-contradictory.
Furthermore, the Church of the first several centuries (and still today in the Orthodox East) baptized with full immersion and used leavened bread in the Eucharist. This is also clear from the Gospels. Jesus was not sprinkled by John the Baptist, nor did he distribute a tortilla to the disciples. Leavened bread is used, because it is the risen bread that becomes the body of the risen Savior.
Sometimes protestants justify a sprinkling baptism because Moses sprinkled blood on the Israelites at Mount Sinai. However, that is not referred to as baptism in the text, nor is it the model that Jesus and the apostles gave. The Greek word “baptizein” means “to dip” — Plato used it in The Symposium to describe getting drunk.
Sprinkling baptism and unleavened bread are the traditions of man, initiated by the papist schism. Why does the Lutheran Church allow the Pope to dictate how they administer the sacraments?
Therefore, because the Lutheran Church does not use the administer the sacraments rightly, it is not part of the Church, according to its own confession.
After the Preface, The Book of Concord opens with the section The Three Ecumenical or Universal Creeds. However, none of these creeds were ever in any way universal to the entire Church. All of them are of uncertain origin and never authorized by anyone except the Pope of Rome, whom the Lutheran Church believes to be an antichrist.
The issues with the imputed Nicene Creed have already been discussed. The Nicene Creed of The Book of Concord has as much in common with the original Nicene-Constantinoplian Creed as the New World Translation of the Bible has in common with the actual Bible.
The Apostles’ Creed and The Athanasian Creed were never confirmed by a universal council, and the universal councils actually forbid the addition of other creeds.
The Apostles’ Creed isn’t really bad, but it’s very insufficient. It does not clarify the doctrines of the Trinity or Incarnation or explain salvation. There is nothing in The Apostles’ Creed that a Mormon would disagree with. I do not understand why anyone would prefer the Apostles’ Creed over the Nicene Creed, except either to accommodate people’s short attention span or to accommodate people’s heresy. The Apostles’ Creed could cast a wide net to extend the hand of fellowship to Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen.
The Athanasian Creed is heresy. For one thing, it teaches the double procession of the Holy Ghost,
The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
This sets the Trinity up as a dualism. Some veins of historic Catholicism taught that the Holy Spirit is a kind of pre-eternal, abstract and impersonal creation generated out of the love between the Father and Son.
Thomas Aquinas in High Theology, Question 36, said,
Now it is a property of love to move and impel the will of the lover towards the object loved. Further, holiness is attributed to whatever is ordered to God. Therefore because the divine person proceeds by way of the love whereby God is loved, that person is most properly named “The Holy Ghost.” […] Now it is a property of love to move and impel the will of the lover towards the object loved. Further, holiness is attributed to whatever is ordered to God. Therefore because the divine person proceeds by way of the love whereby God is loved, that person is most properly named “The Holy Ghost.” […] Furthermore, the order of the procession of each one agrees with this conclusion. For it was said above (I:27:4; I:28:4), that the Son proceeds by the way of the intellect as Word, and the Holy Ghost by way of the will as Love. Now love must proceed from a word. For we do not love anything unless we apprehend it by a mental conception. Hence also in this way it is manifest that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son. […] When the Holy Ghost is said to rest or abide in the Son, it does not mean that He does not proceed from Him; for the Son also is said to abide in the Father, although He proceeds from the Father. Also the Holy Ghost is said to rest in the Son as the love of the lover abides in the beloved; or in reference to the human nature of Christ, by reason of what is written: “On whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, He it is who baptizes” (John 1:33). […] for He proceeds from them as the unitive love of both.
This is the basis for Lutheran theology. One could make the argument that Aquinas did the best he could within his context, but extending that benefit-of-the-doubt does not make the fruit any better. I do not know why Lutheranism relies upon medieval papist theology instead of the early Fathers or even the Bible itself.
The second heresy of the Athanasian Creed is monophysitism.
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God;
Monophysitism teaches that Christ’s humanity was absorbed into his divinity. The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 dealt with this heresy.
Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.
These things, therefore, having been expressed by us with the greatest accuracy and attention, the holy Ecumenical Synod defines that no one shall be suffered to bring forward a different faith (ἑτέραν πίστιν), nor to write, nor to put together, nor to excogitate, nor to teach it to others. But such as dare either to put together another faith, or to bring forward or to teach or to deliver a different Creed (ἕτερον σύμβολον) to as wish to be converted to the knowledge of the truth, from the Gentiles, or Jews or any heresy whatever, if they be Bishops or clerics let them be deposed, the Bishops from the Episcopate, and the clerics from the clergy; but if they be monks or laics: let them be anathematized.
The papist schism of Western Europe picked up this unauthorized creed with Christological and Triadological heresy laid in it, and then the Lutheranism decided that it was sufficient for confession and teaching merely because it was approved by the Pope.
Why are Lutherans unaware that Jesus Christ was and is fully God and fully man without confusion or division?
One could perhaps make the argument that this is not what the Athanasian Creed is saying. If that be the case, then the Athanasian Creed is, at best, vague and liable towards confusion. It should not be used, because it does not teach clearly.
Furthermore, the addition of any creed would imply that the Nicene Creed is not sufficient. Why, then, is the Nicene Creed insufficient? What information is it lacking that the Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds contain?
There is exactly one creed that was agreed upon by the whole Church at a universal council, and it is recited every time the Orthodox Church partakes of the Eucharist. I do not know why the Lutherans refuse to include it in The Book of Concord.
The Athanasian Creed also states,
He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
This does not seem like a normal Lutheran thing to say. Is The Book of Concord teaching a works- and merit-based salvation? Isn’t eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ alone?
One could make the argument that works are the product of faith and therefore true faith will produce said good works which correlate with “life everlasting”. However, the Athanasian Creed does not qualify this. This is the only place in any of the creeds where the word “works” is used.
Even as an Orthodox Christian, I find this phrasing scandalous. The Athanasian Creed merely states that one must acknowledge that the Incarnation and Trinity are real and then do good stuff. This easily leads to the very Pharisaical attitude that led the Lutherans to reject monasticism.
Jesuits (usually) believe in the Incarnation and Trinity and perform what they believe are good works — is that sufficient for salvation? Or is faith in the blood of Christ alone sufficient for salvation? The Book of Concord is confusing on this topic.
My Church teaches that salvation is the gift and mercy of God apart from any merit you may have, so that you may be transformed into the likeness of Christ. I do not know why the Lutheran Church, in one of its three cornerstone confessions, does not teach this. If for nothing else, because of the Athanasian Creed I could never swear undying loyalty to The Book of Concord as the LCMS requires.
The Apostles’ Creed says that it believes in both “the communion of the saints” and “the life everlasting”. Yet they forbid communion with the Christians who are alive in heaven.
How can one both believe that Jesus Christ has conquered death and also believe that we are separated from other Christians at death? The Small and Large Catechisms do not clarify what the phrase “the communion of the saints” mean. Surely “communion” at least would mean praying together.
And yet, when someone you deeply love dies, do you not speak to their body at the funeral home? Would you really forbid yourself from saying the thing you always meant to say but never got a chance? Do you believe that your hypothetical Baptist pastor grandfather does not care how you live your life, now that he is basking in the eternal rays of the sunshine of the resurrected Lord? Do you believe that Jesus is unable to bridge the gap between you and him, or that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” [James 5:16] only applies to those who have not been perfected yet in the eternal glory? Μη γενοιτο!
But if we are to grant that those alive in heaven have no connection with those on earth, what exactly does this phrase, “the communion of the saints”, mean? In what sense do the saints commune with each other? The Book of Concord does not clarify this phrase — it only knows to accept The Apostles’ Creed because that’s what the Pope usees.
As Basil of Caesarea said above, Christians have always believed in the communion of saints. The Book of Concord‘s prohibition on asking for the prayers of the Christians alive in heaven is as entirely an original innovation as Zwingli’s sacramentology. These are the traditions of man.
This isn’t as much from The Book of Concord itself, but the LCMS frequently uses translations of the Bible like the NIV and ESV which are not based on the Textus Receptus. The WELS claims to normally use the 1984 version of the NIV.
Why does the LCMS and WELS use Bibles created by unitarians, higher critics and liberal mainline protestants? If they, as The Book of Concord says, believe in the unending continuity of the Church, shouldn’t they only use a Bible which is based only on manuscripts preserved by Christians?
For the same reason, the Lutherans began using an Old Testament preserved by non-Christians. Historically the Church has always used the LXX and included the so-called Apocrypha as regular canon without qualification. If The Book of Concord teaches an unbroken succession of the Church and frequently quotes the Fathers of the Church, why does it not use the Bible preserved by that very same Church?
Just as I do not allow the Pope to tell me how to pray or administer sacraments, I also do not allow Jews to tell me what the Old Testament really means.
2 Corinthians 2:14 But [the Jews’] minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
As far as I can tell, nowhere in The Book of Concord is the canon of Scripture laid out, nor is the rationale for what books should go into Scripture stated. Why are the books after the prophets but before the New Testament, which do not exist in Hebrew, removed from the Bible? How did the Lutherans decide that James and Hebrews should be kept in the canon of Scripture?
Why does this collection of documents, which is supposed to be the ultimate and final summary of Christianity, not include a list of which books it considers to be Holy Scripture? Is the canon of Scripture irrelevant? Am I free to believe whatever I wish to be Scripture?
If there is no formal Church structure, such as that which produced the ecumenical councils, how does one determine that there are only 66 books, and not 65 or 67? In the 300s and 400s, Revelation was in doubt, because heretical groups often used it. To my understanding, it is almost never quoted or commended during that time from the Fathers of the Church otherwise referenced by The Book of Concord. I know Augustine and Athanasius reference it, but Chrysostom never once preached on it, and many lists of Scripture at the time only had 25 or 26 books of the New Testament. Should we therefore believe that The Book of Concord does not consider Revelation to be Scripture?
How does the LCMS know that Revelation should be included in the canon of Scripture? It cannot appeal to Church Tradition, because that Tradition always included the “Apocrypha”. Nor can it appeal to the ecumenical councils, because the councils never formalized a canon of Scripture, except perhaps in the second canon of the Quini-Sext Council, which ratified the Carthaginian councils, which had ratified the “Apocrypha”.
This is a major oversight of any group wishing to restart the Church from scratch.
The original Reformers, unlike later groups of protestants, often appealed to the Fathers of the first seven or so centuries. They believed in a conciliarity of the Church. For example, John Knox, in his sermon on Isaiah, said,
This saw that notable servant of Jesus Christ, Athanasius, who being exiled from Alexandria by that blasphemous apostate Julian the emperor, said unto his flock, who bitterly wept for his envious banishment, “Weep not, but be of good comfort, for this little cloud will suddenly vanish.” He called both the emperor himself and his cruel tyranny a little cloud; and albeit there was small appearance of any deliverance to the church of God, or of any punishment to have apprehended the proud tyrants, when the man of God pronounced these words, yet shortly after God did give witness, that those words did not proceed from flesh nor blood, but from God’s very Spirit. For not long after, being in warfare, Julian received a deadly wound, whether by his own hand, or by one of his own soldiers, the writers clearly conclude not; but casting his own blood against the heaven, he said, “At last thou hast overcome, thou Galilean:” so in despite he termed the Lord Jesus. And so perished that tyrant in his own iniquity; the storm ceased, and the church of God received new comfort.
The Protestant Reformers at the time truly believed they were returning to the Church of Nicaea, even if this was never explicitly defined. This is especially apparent in The Book of Concord.
The Reformed Episcopal Church, which is a part of ACNA, says,
For these reasons, Anglicans have been manifestly reluctant to definitively enumerate those general or ecumenical councils claimed to have universal affirmation, though the first four ecumenical councils have always been held in special regard within historic Anglicanism.
The Episcopal Church’s website says,
From NT times the church has relied on the decisions of councils called by recognized authority to settle disputes over doctrine and discipline. When a council involves representative bishops from the whole church, it is called “general.” When the decisions of a council are recognized by the whole church, it is called “ecumenical” (from the Greek oikoumen’, “inhabited world”). The terms “general” and “ecumenical” are not quite synonymous. Seven councils are recognized as ecumenical by both eastern and western churches: Nicaea (325), which dealt centrally with the divinity of the Logos; Constantinople (381), which established the formula for expressing the Trinity and dealt with the divinity of the Holy Spirit; Ephesus (431), which decided against Nestorianism and promulgated a definition of the person of Christ; Constantinople II (553); Constantinople III (680-681); and Nicaea II (787). The latter three councils did refining work on the person of Christ and defined the role of images in worship.
Because of their crucial role in defining the doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation, Anglicans often regard the first four councils as the most important.
The appendix to the 1580 Book of Concord, which is not part of the official book, although the LCMS specifically adheres to the 1580 edition, states,
But since we must not only know and firmly believe that the assumed human nature in the person of Christ has and retains to all eternity its essence and the natural essential attributes of the same, but it is a matter of especial importance, and the greatest consolation for Christians is comprised therein, that we also know from the revelation of the Holy Scriptures, and without doubt believe the majesty to which this His human nature has been elevated in deed and truth by the personal union, and of which it thus has become personally participant, as has been extensively explained in The Book of Concord; accordingly, and in order that likewise every one may see that also in this part the book mentioned has introduced no new, strange, self-devised, unheard-of paradoxes and expressions into the Church of God, the following Catalog of Testimonies — first of all from the Holy Scriptures, and then also of the ancient, pure teachers of the Church, especially, however, of those fathers who were most eminent and leaders in the first four Ecumenical Councils — will clearly show, from which it may be understood how they have spoken concerning this subject.
This is a common attitude among mainline protestants, both conservative and liberal, that the first four councils are authoritative and the three afterwards are authoritative so long as they agree with Scripture, and that there must be a continuity and a conciliarity of the Church to at least the 400s. This may not be an outright dogma, but it’s clearly felt.
Yet the mechanism for another council does not exist. If we need a council to make an authoritative statement for all Christians, there is nothing. At most groups of Christians can produce something like The Book of Concord or The Westminster Confessions, but there are just theological opinions with which onecould make an honest disagreement.
This loss of any conciliarity gives rise to the gross relativism of ecumenism, such as the WCC and the 1999 “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
How then does the Lutheran Church believe itself to be in the same continuity of Augustine, Athanasius, Chrysostom and Basil, if it neither holds all the doctrines of those people, nor exists in the same ecclesial structure?
Surely then the Lutheran must admit that even with the best efforts of the best of the Reformers, the Church was not so much reformed as marred, and that the original conciliar structure of the Church of Nicaea is forever gone.
Early Lutherans appealed to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople for some kind of recognition, but they could not come to an agreement. As for the Anglicans, the nineteenth of The Articles of Religion states,
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.
So the Reformers soon found themselves not just distanced from the western papist organization, but also from the Eastern Church, which had always rejected the magisterial structure of Catholicism. If one sought to return to the Church of Nicaea and submit himself to the historic Christian faith and all the ways in which The Book of Concord claims the Holy Ghost moved in early centuries, if one wishes for the fullness of the Biblical exegesis of Chrysostom and Basil and Augustine, surely he would become an Eastern Orthodox Christian. For in what regard does the Eastern Orthodox Church disagree with these very Fathers? Indeed, the Ecumenical Council of 553, the fifth in the sequence, states,
We further declare that we hold fast to the decrees of the four Councils, and in every way follow the holy Fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Theophilus, John (Chrysostom) of Constantinople, Cyril, Augustine, Proclus, Leo and their writings on the true faith.
Therefore, the claims of historicity and conciliarity of the Lutherans are a fraud. This obvious short-sightedness gave rise to American evangelicalism, in which history doesn’t matter and the text of the Bible is used as a kind of case law.
Thus, as Patriarch Jeremias II wrote to the Lutherans of Tuebingen in 1581, after they tried to seek some form of recognition,
[You] treat these luminaries and theologians of the Church in a different manner. You honor and exalt them in words, but you reject them in deeds. For you try to prove our weapons which are their holy and divine discourses as unsuitable. And it is with these documents that we would have to write and contradict you.