Sola Scriptura, the Formula of Concord, and Lutheran Doctrine

Given the recent (and past) resolutions of the ELCA, it may be appropriate to remind ourselves of our confession of faith. One place to begin might be to re-acquaint ourselves with the authority of the Biblical witness (aka Holy Scripture). As Lutherans, along with selected other Protestant traditions, we subscribe to the principle of sola scriptura. This means that we hold the Biblical witness as set down in Holy Scripture as the only (sola) source of doctrinal authority. We do not acknowledge the authority of Pastors, theologians, Bishops, Popes, Bible scholars, Priests, Senators, moms, or dads as having the final word as to what are our beliefs. Scripture and only scripture counts.

The debates with the ELCA have rightly focused our attention on how the truth of sola scriptura is to be determined. Liberal theologians argue that the Holy Scriptures must be forever [re]interpreted within the reader’s contemporary context. The Formula of Concord has something to say about the idea, i.e., that the meaning of the Holy Scriptures vary according to the context in which they are read. For example, here is how the Epitome of the Formula of Concord begins:

We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writing of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And St. Paul says in Gal. 1:8, “Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on a par with Holy Scripture. Every single one of them should be subordinated to the Scriptures and should be received in no other way and no further than as witnesses to the fashion in which the doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved in post-apostolic times[1]

And further, here’s paragraph 3 of the intro,

In this way the distinction between the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments and all other writings is maintained, and Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong. (p. 465)

The Solid Declaration reads,

We pledge ourselves to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated. (SD, intro 1; p. 503f.)

  1. [1]Epitome, intro 1; p. 464f.
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