A Brief Sketch of the Doctrinal Position of the Concordia Lutheran Conference
NOTE: In the matters to be covered, the following pages are not meant to be an exhaustive treatment, and many things were not included, not because they were deemed unimportant, but simply due to limitations of space. Inquiries concerning our Scriptural position are invited and encouraged.
We teach that the Bible is in all its parts and words the Word of God Himself (Verbal Inspiration).
As such it contains no errors or contradictions, stands forever as the infallible and unchangeable truth, is perfectly clear in and of itself, and contains everything necessary to be known for man’s eternal salvation and to train Christians in holy living. The Holy Scriptures are the only Source from which all teachings in the Christian Church must be taken, and they are the only Standard by which all religious teachings, doctrines and practices are to be judged.
(Bible References: 1 Cor. 2:13; Matt. 5:18; John 10:35; 17:17; Ps. 119:105; 2 Peter 1:19-21; Luke 16:29-31; 2 Tim. 3:16-17.)
We teach on the basis of the Holy Scriptures that the only true God is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost–three distinct but co-equal Persons in one indivisible, divine Being or Essence.
Thus, to deny even one Person of the Trinity is to disavow the entire Godhead.While the existence of God can be known from nature and from man’s own conscience, only the Holy Scriptures reveal who the true God is and what He has done for man’s salvation.
(Bible References: Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; 3:16,17; John 10:30; Romans 1:19,20; John 5:23; John 5:39.)
We teach that man is not the product of an alleged evolution, but was specially created by God in His own image as the foremost of His visible creatures; that man was given a rational and immortal soul, was originally created holy and endowed with a perfectly free will; that man voluntarily yielded to the temptation of Satan and sinned against God by disobeying His command; that he thereby lost the image of God entirely, namely, his holy estate, his free will in spiritual matters, his perfect knowledge of God, and his happiness in such knowledge.
Thus he deprived himself of loving communion with his Creator, became totally corrupt in body and soul, and brought upon himself God’s just punishment in spiritual, temporal and eternal death; and that he cannot by any powers of his own re-establish a right relationship with God and escape His just wrath.
(Bible References: Gen. 1:27,31a; Gen. 2:7; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Gen. 3:1-24 Rom. 5:12,18; 6:23; Ps. 51:5; John 3:5,6; 1 Cor. 2:14.)
We teach that the Law of God tells us what we are to do and not to do, how we are to be and not to be; that it demands perfection in thoughts, desires, words and deeds; and that it condemns all who transgress it in even the slightest detail as being guilty of all, and therefore deserving of everlasting punishment in hell.
God’s Law serves a threefold purpose:
As a curb, it checks to some extent the coarse outbursts of sin in the world, both for the unconverted and for Christians in their sinful flesh; as a mirror, it shows man his sin, his hopelessly depraved and lost condition before God, and his desperate need for a Savior–this being its CHIEF purpose; and, as a rule or straightedge, it shows Christians how to lead a God-pleasing life in proof of their faith. (This third use of the Law is not for unbelievers since, without faith in Christ, they cannot please God, Heb. 11:6.)
The Law, however, cannot save sinners, not because of any defect in itself, but solely because no man, not even a Christian, is capable of fulfilling its demands perfectly. We reject all notions that the Law of God is not intended for Christians, or that men can come to a knowledge of their sins not only by the Law but also by the Gospel. (Antinomianism)
(Bible References: Lev. 19:2; Ex. 34:11a; Matt. 5:48; James 2:10; Gal. 3:10; 1 Tim. 1:9,10; Rom. 3:20; Ps. 119:9,105; 14:3; Is. 64:6.)
We teach according to Scripture that sin is the transgression of God’s Law. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, every human being is conceived and born in sin and deserves to spend eternity in the punishment of hell.
The natural man, that is, the unconverted person, is completely corrupt in body and soul, desires only that which is evil, opposes all that is good in the sight of God, cannot by his own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ His Lord or come to Him, and is therefore unable to please God in the slightest degree.
The original or inherited sin manifests itself in acts against God’s Law–acts of commission and omission, whether one is conscious of them or not. All evil in the world, including not only crime and violence but also sorrow, poverty, wearisome work, and even so-called “natural” calamities which ravage mankind, is the result of sin; and the ultimate consequence of sin, the Bible tells us, is death–spiritual death, temporal death, and eternal death in hell.
(Bible References: 1 John 3:4; Gen. 5:3; Ps. 51:5; Eccl. 7:20; John 3:6; 1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:6-8; Heb. 11:6; Matt. 15:19; James 1:15; 4:17; Gen. 3:16-19; Rom. 6:23a.)
The Gospel in not a new or higher law, but that doctrine of the Bible which reveals what God in His perfect love and mercy has done and still does for the salvation of mankind.
It requires nothing of the sinner, but simply announces to all men the free gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, the Savior, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” and the blessed assurance that God earnestly desires the salvation of every soul.
The Gospel is also the means by which God makes people believers, changes their hearts and lives, and keeps them in the true and saving faith.While the Law of God must be preached to all men, this Gospel of comfort and peace with God through Christ should be preached only to penitent sinners, those who have already been struck down and terrified by the Law on account of their sins. (See also THE SAVIOR and JUSTIFICATION below.)
(Bible References: 1 John 4:9; Eph. 2:8,9; John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; Rom. 3:23,24; Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Rom. 1:16; Matt. 7:6; 2 Tim. 2:15; Rom. 5:1; John 14:27; Col. 1:20.)
We teach that Jesus Christ is not only true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and co-equal with His Father and the Holy Spirit in every respect, but that He is also true man, conceived in the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Ghost and born in the fullness of time a true human being; that He was made man in order to redeem the world from sin; that He perfectly satisfied the demands of God’s Law in man’s stead (Active Obedience), crediting this perfect righteousness to our account with the Father; and that He bore the punishment which we deserve because of our sins by suffering and dying vicariously, that is, in our place as our Substitute (Passive Obedience).
He rose bodily from the dead on the third day as He had promised, ascended visibly on high to reign in His exalted state, for the benefit of His Church, and will come again visibly for the second and last time at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead.
(Bible References: 1 John 5:20; Matt. 17:5; John 1:1-3,14; 10:30; Luke 1:35,38; Gal. 4:4,5; Matt. 5:17; Rom. 5:19; Is. 53:4,5; Heb. 2:9; 1 Cor. 15:20; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:5-11; Rev. 1:7; Matt. 25:31-46.)
We teach that, because of Christ’s entire work of redemption, by both His active and passive obedience, God declared all mankind righteous in His sight, not charging their sins against them, and thus, reconciled the whole world unto Himself.
This judicial act of general or objective justification is proclaimed to men in the Gospel and becomes the personal property of the individual by faith in the merits of Christ–faith which simply lays hold on God’s gracious forgiveness like the hand of an unworthy beggar.
Only those who thus are personally or subjectively justified by faith are the saints of God.
(Bible References: Rom. 5:18-19; Is. 53:11; 2 Cor. 5:19; Rom. 3:21-24; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 4:5-8; 3:28; Acts 10:43; Gal. 3:26; Rom. 5:1.)
We teach that true repentance consists in a person’s humble acknowledgement of and heartfelt sorrow over his sins (Contrition), together with the sure confidence that for Christ’s sake, all his sins have been forgiven (Faith).
All who thus truly repent of their sins are assured by the Gospel of God’s free and full pardon. True repentance, of course, assumes willingness thereafter to bring forth the fitting fruits thereof.
(Bible References: Ps. 51:17; 2 Cor. 7:10; Acts 16:31; Mark 1:15; Matt. 3:8.)
In faith the penitent sinner gratefully acknowledges and humbly clings to Jesus Christ alone as his personal Savior, disclaims any merit or worthiness of his own, and trusts the assurance of the Gospel that all who remain in this faith to their earthly end will be eternally saved.
Saving faith is not a personal achievement or an act of human merit, but it is a work of the Holy Spirit of God, who works in the hearts of men through the Gospel both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
(Bible References: John 1:12,13; Rom. 4:20-25; Rom. 4:1-5; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 2:8,9; John 3:16; John 17:3; Matt. 19:25,26; Phil. 2:13; Matt. 24:13.)
We teach that conversion is the gracious operation of God the Holy Ghost in which sinful men, recognizing from the Law of God their hopelessly lost condition, their inability to please God, and their prospect of eternal damnation because of their sins, are brought to saving faith in the Gospel.
Conversion is not a mere reformation of one’s conduct or character, nor one’s self- determination to turn to God or to “make a decision for Christ.”
It is neither in whole nor in any degree whatsoever the work of man, but is solely the gracious and powerful work of God Himself, apart from any work, cooperation, right attitude, or lesser resistance on the part of man.
This gracious work of the Holy Spirit, known also as regeneration (or “new birth”), enlightenment, and quickening is wrought in the heart of man, alone through the precious Means of Grace, specifically the Gospel and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and not apart from these God-ordained external means, as the “enthusiasts” (those who rely on human emotions and feelings) teach.
(Bible References: Col 1:12,13; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:6; 1 Pet. 2:9; Eph. 2:1; 1 Pet. 1:23; Tit. 3:5.)
While Scripture uses the term “sanctification” in a wider sense, referring to the entire work of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of men (I Cor. 6:11), nevertheless, Scripture also speaks of sanctification in a narrower sense, namely, with reference to the Christian life.
We teach that sanctification or Godly living follows justification as the result and necessary fruit of saving faith. It never precedes faith, for the Bible states plainly: “Without faith it is impossible to please (God),” Heb. 11:6.
Sanctification, however, is not a self-produced and self-motivated process of renovation in the believer, but the creation of a new man within him who is able, by God’s grace, to avoid sin and do works pleasing to God, walking in the fruits of the Spirit, moved by the Spirit, led and enabled by the Spirit of God through the Means of Grace.
Good works in Christian sanctification cannot be produced by compulsion of the Law, but only by the sweet urgings of the Gospel, which remind us of God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus.
It is that love which “constrains” us to be rich in good works, walking in accordance with His holy Law, as evidence of our love for Him. Sanctification is progressive in the Christian, but perfection in sanctification will not be attained until he enters eternal life.
(Bible References: Col. 2:6; 1 Thess. 4:3; Matt. 5:16; 1 John 4:19; Rom. 6:22; 8:13-14; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24; Eph. 2:10; Rom. 12:1; 7:18-25; Phil. 1:9; 3:12-14; 2 Pet. 3:18; Eph. 4:13; 1 John 1:8.)
THE SACRAMENTS: (Baptism & Lord’s Supper)
We teach on the basis of Scripture that there are only two sacred acts instituted by Christ, in which, through visible elements connected with His command and promise, He offers, gives and seals to believers the forgiveness of sins and the strength to walk in newness of life.
We call these acts “Sacraments,” namely, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar or the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism is the divinely-instituted application of water by any convenient mode, according to Christ’s command and connected with His Word.As a “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3), Baptism is the only Means of Grace revealed by God for little children who, like all men, are conceived and born in sin. Since they are too young to be taught the saving Gospel, faith cannot be worked in them by telling them of Christ; but they are received into the kingdom of God’s grace by the washing of Baptism, are brought to saving faith in Christ, and thereby become the children of God and heirs of eternal life.
In the case of adults who are brought to faith by the hearing of the Gospel (Rom. 10:17), Baptism confirms and seals to them the blessings of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation merited for them by Christ and apprehended by faith.
(Bible References: Matt. 28:19; John 3:5,6; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Gal. 3:26,27; Mark 10:14; Matt. 18:6; Acts 2:38,39.)
The Lord’s Supper is that Sacrament in which the Savior gives, in, with and under the visible elements of bread and wine, His true body and blood for the remission of sins.
While all communicants receive the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, the Bible teaches that only true believers receive this precious food to their everlasting blessing as a visible seal of the forgiveness of sins and for strength to amend their sinful lives. Hypocrites, on the other hand, and those who are not properly prepared to partake of this Holy Sacrament, receive Christ’s body and blood to their condemnation.
We reject the doctrine of transubstantiation taught by the Roman Catholic Church, namely, that the visible elements of bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ by the officiant and are to be adored as such, and that the Sacrament of the Altar is a real but unbloody sacrifice of the body of Christ for the sins of the living and the dead.
We also reject the Romanizing notion, taught in some Lutheran bodies, that the body and blood of Christ are present in any way apart from the eating and drinking of the consecrated elements by the communicants (Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, VII, Triglot, p. 1001, para 83 and 84).
We also reject the Reformed teaching that the Lord’s Supper is merely a memorial observance in which the body and blood of Christ are only symbolically present as representations. Communing together with one’s fellow Christians serves externally as a testimony of oneness in faith and confession and a public acknowledgement that no unremoved offense exists between those who commune at the same altar.
(Bible References: Mark 14:22-24; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24-29; Heb. 7:27; 9:25,26; 10:14; 1 Cor. 10:17.)
In Scripture, the word “church” is used in TWO different religious senses. On the one hand, it is used to designate the Communion of Saints, Christ’s spiritual body, consisting of all and only true believers in Him as their Savior.
Since true faith in the heart cannot be seen, the membership of this Church is invisible to men and known only to God. Hence the Communion of Saints is often called the INVISIBLE CHURCH.
(Bible References: Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:25-27; 2 Tim. 2:19; Luke 17:20,21; Eph. 2:19-22)
The Bible also uses the word “church” in speaking of local Christian congregations. This, of course, does not mean that there are two different kinds of churches; for the local con gregation, as God sees it, consists only of the believers in it. But the word “church” in Scripture, also designates local congregations as MEN see them, that is, where immediate membership is determined (and can only be determined) by the profession of faith. In such VISIBLE CHURCHES or congregations there may, of course, also be hypocrites or pretend-Christians who masquerade as believers. This mixed body is the “church” with which we mortals must deal when, for example, we preach, teach, exhort, admonish and comfort. It is this church, this visible local congregation, to which the Savior refers when He says, “Tell it unto the church,” Matt. 18:15-17.
(Bible References: 1 Cor. 1:12; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Matt. 13:47,48; 22:2,11; Rev. 1:11; Matt. 18:17; 3 John 9,10.)
According to Scripture, it is God’s will and ordinance that Christians establish and maintain local churches
a) for the regular hearing and learning of His Word as it is proclaimed by their divinely-called pastors;
b) for the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper under the loving watchfulness of the flock’s own overseer (inasmuch as the Holy Supper according to Scripture is to be celebrated only in the context of the local congregation;
c) for the continuous exercise of the duties of Christian fellowship and love, and
d) for the careful, evangelical exercise of church discipline in obedience to Christ’s command.
(Bible References: Tit. 1:5; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2,3; Heb. 10:23-25; Col. 3:15,16; Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 11:23-29.)
Scripturally speaking, therefore, the “church” in the local sense is NOT just any chance gathering of Christians, nor a gathering of Christians at different places, nor gathering of Christians without the specific and consistent public function of the Keys. (Examples of such gatherings are: Fellowship socials, ladies’ societies and youth groups, summer camps, conventions, pastoral conferences, and so on.)
The Church, that is, the local visible congregation) may gather together regularly and consistently in various ways for the preaching, teaching, hearing and learning of God’s Word, the administration of Sacraments, and the carrying out of the business of the church including the final stage of church discipline. If such gatherings are, by their very nature, intended only for a certain group within the local congregation, such as, certain Bible classes, confirmation instruction classes, even seminary classes, or whatever other form such gatherings may take, these must not be confused or identified with the local congregation itself, neither do they in themselves constitute local congregations or churches. However, in the light of Holy Scripture, it must be understood that the Voters’ Assembly, as the decision-making body within the congregation, composed only of men, is rightly called “the church” because Christ Himself has committed the leadership and decision-making power to the men of the congregation. In the local sense the word “church” is used only of the LOCAL CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION, which, in its visible form, is the only divinely-ordained external fellowship.
All other uses of the word “church” are of human origin and usage, such as the designation of a building, a denomination, a synod or conference, and a non-Christian cult (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The Church of Christ Scientist, etc.).
Synods and conferences, therefore, are not so-called “super-churches” with the combined church-power of all their member congregations, nor are they churches at all in the Scriptural usage, but are rather humanly-devised organizations OF churches, established BY local churches in their liberty for the purpose of carrying out joint endeavors and projects which may be difficult for an individual church to handle locally.
(Bible References: Titus 1:5; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3; Rev. 1:1-3:23; Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Tim. 2:11-14; 1 Cor. 14:34ff.)
Synonymous terms for this office in the Scriptural usage of our orthodox fathers are: “Public Ministry,” “the Ministry,” “Bishop” (overseer), “Elder” — laboring in the word and doctrine. (It is a purely human, ecclesiastical use of the term “elder” when it is applied to offices in the church other than that of the pastor; also the distinction without Scriptural basis between “ruling” and “teaching” elders as well as the hierarchal distinction between “bishops” and “local pastors.”
These distinctions are used to pervert the Scriptural doctrine of the ministry.) Incumbents of this sacred office must have very specific qualifications according to God’s Word, among which are the requirements that they be men, properly equipped, and apt to teach, faithful in doctrine and practice, and examples to the flock, both in their own life and conduct and also that of their families.
When the Holy Spirit, through the unanimously-issued Divine Call of the local congregation, makes a man its pastor, He makes him the overseer of the work of all other offices which the congregation in its liberty may establish and of their incumbents. Thus, all other offices in the Church are auxiliary or offices of help to the office of Pastor. The congregation may in fact create or dispense with any auxiliary office through the appointment or release of their incumbents as it sees fit according to time, circumstance and need by a simple majority vote, since these are not God-ordained offices but adiaphora. (See ADIAPHORA, below.) But the office of PASTOR must be established in accordance with God’s own ordinance through a call issued by unanimous vote of the congregation (I Cor. 1:10). Likewise, the incumbency of a man in the pastoral office may be terminated only by unanimous vote for proper Scriptural reasons, namely, persistence in false doctrine and/or practice, willful neglect of official duties, or scandalous life. Example of auxiliary officers in a local congregation are: Assistant pastors, church officers and members of committees, Sunday School teachers and Christian day school teachers, organists, directors of music, and the like.
Especially in view of their high responsibility in the Church, pastors are cautioned in Holy Scripture not to lord it over God’s heritage; for there is no difference between pastors and laymen in rank, but in office. This office is conferred upon its incumbents by the Holy Spirit of God, mediately, through the call of the local congregation. It is that call, after it has been accepted, which makes a man a Christian Pastor, and not humanly-devised albeit commendable churchly customs and ceremonies like ordination and installation.
(Bible References: Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12,13; Acts 6:1-6; 1 Pet. 5:3; Matt. 23:8-10; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 2:11,12; 1 Cor. 14:34,35; Titus 1:5-9.)
SHEEPSTEALING OR PROSELYTIZING:
Sheepstealing or proselytizing is the targeting of active members of other Christian congregations for recruitment into one’s own flock simply to increase its numbers, or the flagrant interference by a pastor in another pastor’s flock by ministering to his sheep without his knowledge and consent (John 10:1; 1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28; Rom. 15:20), or a coarse, unsolicited party agitation in the assembly of another congregation or among its membership (1 Pet. 4:15).
These unscrupulous practices are not to be confused with the proper testimony to the truth required by God’s Word (Matt. 28:19,20; Mark 16:15; I Pet. 3:15,16). Accordingly any Christian pastor or laymen should confess his faith when called upon to do so or whenever proper opportunity presents itself. Out of love and concern for souls for whom the Savior died and not merely for the purpose of building a church organization or adding to one’s outward membership, Christians should not hesitate to confess the truth and to give an account of their faith and to seek proper opportunity to do so. When such testimony has been made and a person becomes convinced in his own mind to join one of our congregations out of obedience to Christ’s Word, this is, of course, not sheep-stealing, but the result of the Holy Spirit’s work through the Means of Grace (John 10:27; 2 Thess. 2:14; Rom. 1:16; 10:17).
Prayer is an act of worship in which we bring our petitions before God and offer up praise and thanksgiving to Him for His blessings. Christians are to pray in the Name of Jesus, that is, with faith in Him as their Redeemer, and with confidence that, for His sake, their prayers are heard and will be answered in God’s own best way and time, according to His Will, and always for their spiritual and eternal welfare.
Prayer is NOT a Means of Grace, nor an act by which merit or reward is earned; but it is divinely commanded and a special privilege which God has bestowed upon His children and should therefore be regularly practiced by every Christian for his own sake, for the benefit of others, and as an opportunity to thank God for His gracious blessings. Since at the time of death the souls of men are judged by God and are either immediately in heaven or in hell, it is futile and a vain use of God’s Name to pray for the dead.
Since prayer is an act of worship, Christians should not engage in joint-prayer with those of a different faith or profession, lest they become guilty of the sin of religious unionism, or ecumenism contrary to the Word of God. (See also FELLOWSHIP, below.)
(Bible References: Ps. 65:2; 19:14; 50:15; 1 Tim. 2:1-8; 1 Thess. 5:17; James 1:6-8; Heb. 9:27; Phil. 4:6; Amos 3:3; Rom. 16:17.)
THE DEVIL AND HELL:
We teach that powerful evil spirits called by the Bible “devils” were originally created as holy angels, but that they sinned against God, lost their blessed estate, and are forever rejected by Him.
These personal spirit-beings have been condemned to spend eternity in hell, a place of unspeakable torment, everlasting regret and despair. Until the Last Day, however, the devils still move about freely in the world, endeavoring to destroy the works of God and especially to lead men to reject Jesus Christ as their Savior and so to join the ranks of the damned. Chief among these devils is Satan, also called “the devil,” “Beelzebub,” “the prince of darkness.”
When Christ died on the cross, He crushed the power of Satan to claim all mankind as His own (Gen. 3:15) and thereby enabled true Christians of all times to resist and overcome his temptations.
Now only those who in unbelief reject the Savior will suffer Satan’s own fate and be consigned to hell forever at the Last Day. The Scriptures teach that hell is a real place of torment and complete desertion by God from which there is no reprieve and no escape.
(Bible References: Eph. 6:12; Mark 5:9; 2 Pet. 2:4; John 8:44; 1 Pet. 5:8,9; James 4:7; Jude 6; 1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:14; Matt. 25:41; Is. 66:24; 2 Thess. 1:8,9; Matt. 10:28.)
THE ELECTION OF GRACE:
We teach that God has in eternity specially elected or chosen some to eternal life. Nothing good in us, not even the fact that God foreknew our faith, but only His grace in Christ, moved Him to do this. We are to know He has elected us, that in time He has also brought us to a saving knowledge of Jesus, our Savior, sanctified our lives, still preserves us in the faith, and assures us of eternal salvation. God has elected NO ONE to damnation.
This idea is completely foreign and opposed to God’s own revelation of His will that ALL come to repentance and be saved eternally. Since the doctrine of election is pure Gospel, it should be used for the comfort of true believers who are troubled by their sins; but it is not to be regarded as a sort of “pillow” for the impenitent and carnally secure to sleep upon.
The Election of Grace is the CAUSE why men are brought to faith in Christ and are saved eternally. It is NOT, however, a cause why men remain unbelievers after having heard the Gospel. The Bible clearly teaches that men are lost forever because they judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life, stubbornly resist the Holy Ghost by rejecting the Gospel in unbelief, and so are damned by their own fault.
Human reason, not bound by the Word of God, considers the two doctrines of Universal Grace and the Election of Grace to be contradictory; but we must impose silence on our sin-darkened reason as being incapable in this life of completely comprehending the mysteries of God. The seeming disharmony between these Scripture truths will disappear in the perfect light of knowledge in heaven. Until that time, we must trustingly accept both teachings and not try to speculate as to how we might reconcile them according to reason.
(Bible References: Eph. 1:3-6; 2 Thess. 2:13,14; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28-30; Ezek. 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 1 Pet. 1:1-5; 2 Pet. 1:3-11; 3:9; 1 Cor. 10:12; Acts 7:51; Matt. 23:37; 1 Cor. 13:12; Rom. 11:33-36.)
At death the Christian’s soul is immediately in the presence of God in the bliss of heaven, while his body is laid to rest to await the resurrection at the Last Day. Thus, for the Christian, temporal death should hold no fear; for it is the entrance of his redeemed soul into the glory purchased and won for him by his Savior.
For the unbeliever, however, the prospect of death is one of terror and dread. For at the time of death he faces the judgment of a holy and just God; and, without the righteousness of Christ to cover his guilt, he faces “the wages of sin,” eternal damnation in hell. Already at the moment of death, his soul will find itself forever forsaken by God, overwhelmed by regret and despair, and consigned to everlasting torment.
At the Last Day, the souls of believers and unbelievers alike will be reunited with their bodies in the resurrection of the flesh. The believer’s body will be changed and purified from all imperfections and received with the soul into everlasting glory. The unbeliever, body and soul, will be sent to spend eternity in the fires of hell. According to Scripture, the wicked will not merely be annihilated and thus be spared lengthy torment; but they will be punished with endless suffering.
(Bible References: Eccl. 12:7; Phil. 1:23; Luke 23:43; Rev. 14:13; Luke 16:23,24; Matt. 10:28; John 5:29; 11:24; Job 19:26,27; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 4:14; Is. 66:24; Matt. 25:46.)
THE LAST THINGS:
We teach on the basis of clear Scripture that Christ’s kingdom on earth will remain under the cross until the end of this world, that up to Christ’s Second Coming spiritual conditions in the world and even in outward Christendom will grow ever worse, but that, nevertheless, true Christians are assured for their comfort that Christ, at the right hand of God, rules everything for their spiritual and eternal welfare.
We hold that the time of the Last Day is and will remain unknown, and that the purpose of Christ’s Second and Final Coming will be to judge the living and the dead and to receive His beloved Church into heavenly glory. This present earth and universe will be destroyed by fire.
We reject every form of Millennialism or Chiliasm (i.e. the teaching that Christ will come again to rule on earth for a thousand years) as being in direct contradiction of and opposition to God’s Word, that it fosters a false conception of the true nature of Christ’s kingdom, turns the hope of Christians to earthly goals, and preys upon the emotions of sincere but unwary Christians and thus deceives the hearts of the simple.
(Bible References: John 15:18-21; Matt. 24:1-51; Acts 14:22; John 16:33; Rom. 8:28; Acts 17:31; Mark 13:32; Matt. 25:31; 2 Cor. 5:10; John 14:3; 18:36; 2 Pet. 3:10.)
We teach that, inasmuch as God has ordained that the Holy Scriptures be the only source and standard (norm) of Christian doctrine and practice, every Christian should carefully distinguish between ORTHODOX and HETERODOX churches, their teachers and their followers (Rom. 16:17a; I John 4:1), and to avoid the heterodox as dangerous to their very souls (Rom. 16:17b; Matt. 7:15; Tit. 3:10).
Orthodox churches and church-bodies are those which teach the Word of God in its truth and purity, administer the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution, and consistently apply the pure doctrines of Scripture, not only in word but in deed–not only in theory but in practice. (Note that Practice must not be confused with the Christian’s personal life of sanctification.)
Official PRACTICE, that is, the application of God’s Word in our congregations, must BE in conformity with sound doctrine, if it is not to deny what is taught. The Christian’s life must of course be BROUGHT into harmony with God’s Word, but this sanctification is a gradual process and unable perfectly to be achieved here on earth.
If doctrine is to be sound, practice must be sound to the same degree; or else a mockery is made of Christian orthodoxy and of the Lord’s Word through Paul in I Corinthians 1:10.
Congregations and church-bodies in which false doctrine is persistently taught from the pulpit, in the classroom, and in official publications, as well as those which tolerate false doctrine and/or practice to stand side-by-side with the truth, are heterodox bodies. When false doctrine and practice rears its ugly head in an orthodox body, it must be actively combated and removed without long and dangerous delay if the body is to remain orthodox.
True Christian unity is based upon PERFECT AGREEMENT AND ONE-MINDEDNESS IN DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE (Amos 3:3; John 8:31,32; Eph. 4:3; 1 Cor. 1:10). When those who truly share an orthodox position both in doctrine and in practice mutually acknowledge and confess the same, they are said to be in “confessional fellowship.”
(In this connection, we deplore the perversion of the true sense of Article VII of the Augsburg Confession by which the word “Gospel” is taken in its narrower sense; for if that were the actual and intended meaning, this article would stand in opposition to clear and certain passages which require agreement in ALL of God’s Word: Matt. 28:20; John 8:31,32; 1 Cor. 1:10,13. It should be obvious then that “Gospel” in the context of Article VII is the Gospel in the wider sense, including the entire Word of God. See. p. 47, Triglot.)
Unless one’s actions are to belie one’s words, “Church Fellowship” (that is, altar-and-pulpit fellowship, prayer fellowship and joint church work) can be practiced only by those who are in “confessional fellowship” with one another (Amos 3:3; Rom. 16:17).
Standing in violation of this clear principle of Holy Scripture are those who practice this sin of religious unionism or “ecumenism” (practicing fellowship without true unity in doctrine and practice, 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 1 Tim. 6:3-5),
its opposite counterpart sinful separatism (standing aside or separating from true brethren contrary to God’s command, 2 Tim. 1:8; I John 2:19),and selective fellowship (practicing church fellowship between individuals without complete and committed unity in doctrine and practice and without the simultaneous agreement of already-established brethren in the faith, 1 Cor. 1:10; Amos 3:3).
The principles of God-pleasing fellowship based upon true unity in doctrine and practice are not man-made or humanly-devised principles, but they are principles set forth in clear and certain passages of God’s Word. They apply equally to pastors and to laymen, and they must be carefully followed if the full truth of the Word is not to be compromised for the sake of mere temporal peace and tranquility. (Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, XI, Triglot, p. 1095, para 95.) Failure to observe these principles results in indifference to the Word of God and ultimately to total denial of the truth (Gal. 5:9; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; Col. 2:8).
(Bible References were interspersed in this section for greater facility in reading.)
WOMAN SUFFRAGE IN THE CHURCH:
We teach that, according to God’s ordinance, women are not publicly to teach in the church, nor even to speak in the public assembly where such speaking may usurp the authority of the men.
Consequently women are not to have the right of suffrage in the voters’ assembly, since their vote may indeed cancel out the vote of a man to whom Christ committed the decision- making power in the local congregation. Neither may women hold offices in the congregation since these involve the leadership which Christ has given only to men. It goes without saying, therefore, that women may not serve in the pastoral office — the office of preaching and teaching, of admonition and rebuke, of oversight and rule.
The teaching of Sunday School or day-school classes of children and of adult Bible Classes consisting of women only does not fall under the Lord’s prohibition since no instruction of men nor usurpation of their authority is involved; and these auxiliary offices are always under the oversight of the pastor.
These principles are not based upon mere custom nor upon arbitrary discrimination against women, but they are God’s own ordinance since creation and the fall into sin.
(Bible References: 1 Cor. 14:34ff; 1 Tim. 2:11-14.)
Such offerings are to be given cheerfully, richly, and sacrificially according as God has prospered the giver, regularly as part of Christian worship, and cooperatively so that all the Christians share in the responsibility of giving and that some are not unnecessarily burdened because of the neglect of others. The Christians’ offerings are to be motivated by the love of their Savior — first of all His for them, and then also theirs for Him to prove the sincerity of their love.
We reject the practice of merchandizing in or on behalf of the church, either to substitute for or to supplement Christian giving. Nowhere in Scripture is merchandising even suggested as a legitimate, God-pleasing method of financing the Lord’s work.
On the contrary, the Savior Himself condemns merchandising in the church outright in John 2:16, regardless of whether the business aspects of the money-making activities are honest or not. Instead we find numerous passages in which free-will offerings are enjoined.
(Bible References: 2 Cor. 9:7; 1 John 4:19; 2 Cor. 8:7-9; 1 Cor. 16:2; Matt. 6:33; Acts 5:11; 2 Cor. 8:13,14; 5:14,15; 8:8; John 2:16.)
SUPPORT OF THE MINISTRY:
The Word of God plainly commands and ordains the full financial support of the pastoral office. Therefore it is not a God-pleasing situation when a congregation calls a pastor with the expectation that he provide all or even part of his living by engaging in secular work, or for pastors to volunteer themselves for such work outside of their office.
It is our position on the basis of Scripture that the pastoral office is indeed a full-time work and that it is not to be despised as an easy part-time arrangement.
Also we affirm our stand on that Word of God which solemnly obligates the members of a Christian congregation to “communicate,” that is, to share or sacrifice of the temporal blessings which the Lord has bestowed upon them toward the financial support of their pastor, and that they make every effort to sacrifice to the extent that their pastor enjoys the same living conditions with which the average among them is blessed.
We hold according to Scripture that only when these injunctions of the Lord are upheld and followed among us are we truly demonstrating our sincere concern for retaining the pure teachings of God’s Word and our faith and love in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
(Bible References: 1 Cor. 7:9-14; 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:2; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 4:12-16; 5:17; Gal. 6:6,7; Luke 10:7; Gal. 6:8.)
Where a pastor because of unusual conditions finds it necessary, in obedience to another Word of God, 1 Tim. 5:8, to be engaged in some secular work for the provision of his household, he himself cannot be faulted for seeing to the support of his family under conditions over which he has no control. His congregation, however, should strive to rectify such a deplorable situation as soon as possible in an evangelical manner and arrive at arrangements which are in full accord with God’s Word; for this is the Scriptural duty which hearers owe to their pastors (Gal. 6:6).
We do not speak of “exceptions” being made to an ordinance of God, except where God Himself makes such exceptions in clear and certain passages. Mere examples in Scripture, without a corresponding injunction, are not sedes or proof-texts which establish Christian doctrine; neither do mere examples of unusual situations and seeming exceptions have any binding force in the general case, namely, for all Christians of all times, unless clear and certain passages establish this. The mere example of St. Paul engaging in secular work, therefore, does not determine an “exception” for us, since the clear statement of God’s ORDINANCE in 1 Corinthians 9:14 is the principle which is binding upon all Christians.
While we cannot presume to make exceptions to God’s ordinances, we do recognize that particular cases arise in which we find the application of clear Scripture principles difficult (cases of casuistry). Nevertheless we dare not, for the sake of expediency, set aside a divine ordinance, but must apply it properly and evangelically as the will of our Lord and Savior (Matt. 28:20).
LODGES, SCOUTING, AND SIMILAR ORGANIZATIONS:
We hold to the principle of Holy Scripture that a Christian should avoid all false churches and other organizations which teach a religion that is false (Rom. 16:17, etc. See also section on FELLOWSHIP.) Hence a Christian should not affiliate with or join organizations that are decidedly anti-Christian or that deny certain truths of the Bible, expecting their members to share, confess and practice their principles.
Most lodges, their auxiliaries, scouting organizations, some fraternities and sororities, and some other fraternal and service groups fall into this category and share many identifiably false principles which are inconsistent with Christian faith.
Some of these are the following:
1) They profess belief in a god which is not the Triune God, and they require their members to do likewise.
2) They claim to be dedicated to the moral betterment of man by his own efforts, insisting that man can do good and God-pleasing works apart from faith in Christ.
3) They deny the deity of Christ, His vicarious atonement, and the central doctrine of the Christian religion, that a man is saved eternally alone by God’s grace in Christ Jesus, through faith in His blood, totally apart from works or merits of the Law.
4) They require of their members oaths in sinful, uncertain and unimportant matters. In these and still other principles, these organizations are diametrically opposed to the religion of Christ.
Our people are encouraged thoroughly to investigate all organizations in which they may be interested as to whether their programs involve prayer, ritual, or other religious aspects before they become involved in their membership or support.
(Bible References: 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 1 John 4:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:21.)
Since such matters are not settled by Scripture, they are left to the Christians in their liberty to decide for themselves, not by the rule of one over the other, but by their mutual consent according to love.
In dealing with adiaphora, a vote is taken to ascertain what the majority regards as best; and for love’s sake, it is expected that the minority will cheerfully yield to the majority, not by compulsion, but because Christians according to their New Man of faith desire to serve one another. This is not to say that a majority vote in non-essential matters is binding upon the individual conscience, as would be the case with a resolution passed in accordance with a direct command of God; and it may happen that, for love’s sake, the majority may yield to the minority in an adiaphoron, or at least postpone the passage of a proposition until sufficient time can be given to patient and loving discussion and study.
While the majority should never tyrannize the minority, neither should the minority or an individual arbitrarily insist on having his own way and thus use Christian liberty as an occasion to the flesh. In discussion of adiaphora, it is essential that vehemence and acrimony be put aside, and that a spirit of love, humility and brotherliness prevail, as becometh saints walking in the Spirit.
(Bible References: Matt. 23:8-12; 1 Cor. 7:23; 14:40; Phil. 4:14,15; Gal. 5:13-16,25,26; Eph. 4:31,32; 1 Pet. 5:5,6.)
These are defined as questions in the domain of Christian doctrine which Holy Scripture itself has not answered definitively. They are “open” only in the sense that they are incapable of being solved in this life because the Word of God furnishes no conclusive data.
Unlike adiaphora which are settled by mutual consent, OPEN QUESTIONS are not subject to the decisions of men; for not human authority but only the authority of Scripture determines what is to be taught in the Christian Church. In agreement with the scope and purpose of Holy Writ, we find that it does not answer every question which men may desire to have answered.
Attempts to speculate as to their solution and to know the mind of the Lord, where He Himself has not revealed His thoughts and will in His Word, are anti-Scriptural and unscientific; for the Christian is to speak as the oracles of God, that is, according to Scripture, and not to presume to know what cannot be known. Rather, when confronted with truly open questions, the Christian must take his reason captive to the obedience of Christ in His precious Word and humbly admit and confess, “I do not know.”
(Bible References: Matt. 28:20; 2 Thess. 2:15; John 8:31,32; 1 Pet. 4:11; Rom. 11:33,34; 1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 10:5.)
Not to be included among open questions are such matters as the following, which are clearly taught and defined in Scripture:
1) The local visible congregation is the only divinely- ordained external fellowship.
2) The pastoral office of the local congregation is the only-divinely- ordained office in the Church.
3) The Roman Pope, with his entire system, is the very Antichrist spoken of in II Thessalonians chapter two.
4) Women are prohibited from incumbency in the pastoral office and from any public speaking in the assembly so as to usurp authority over the men.
5) Homosexuality is not a legitimate “sexual preference,” but is clearly an abomination to the Lord (Rom. 1:26-32).
6) Pre-marital sexual intercourse and the widespread practice of “living together” outside the bond of holy marriage is a sin against God’s Sixth Commandment.
7) Sunday is not the so-called “New Testament Sabbath,” nor has Sunday been ordained as the day of worship in the New Testament, nor has the frequency of public worship in the New Testament been established at a minimum of one day each week (Col. 2:16,17).
8) The whole of Millennialism (Chiliasm) is contrary to Holy Scripture and therefore must be rejected as false doctrine.
9) Agreement to disagree in matters of doctrine and practice (religious unionism) is sin and a mockery of true Christian unity.