Concord #15: Church Practices

"Concord" is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers' knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them "with one heart" to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.

Church Practices

You worship what you believe—this is the main point of religion. But it also works the other way around. You believe what you worship. False beliefs rarely (if ever) begin as a rejection of religious doctrine as an idea, but as corruption of worship and practice. False teaching becomes the justification for false practice.

In the Reformation, it was a dispute over practice—in particular the sale of indulgences—that led Luther to examine doctrine and rediscover the Gospel. Soon, the reformers had identified a number of corrupt practices that were symptomatic of the false teaching that underlied them. Since doctrine and practice are so wound up with each other, the question is: what practices should we keep, if any? Perhaps we need to toss everything and start fresh.

To this question, the Augsburg Confession answers for the Lutheran Churches: “Of Usages in the Church they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquility and good order in the Church, as particular holy days, festivals, and the like” (Augsburg Confession XV.1). The Lutheran Reformation was a conservative Reformation in the sense that it sought to eliminate the error, but also to conserve what was good, right, and salutary.

But an important caveat is added. “Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation” (Augsburg Confession XV.2). Even good, right, and salutary practices that teach the Gospel, can be a cause of damnation if they are turned into requirements for salvation. This is how the good practices of the Church became corrupted in the first place. And it’s important that we Lutherans always remain vigilant that we never let our practices point us away from the Gospel to our own practicing.

Very simply put, “[Our churches] are admonished also that human traditions instituted to propitiate God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith” (Augsburg Confession XV.3). Monastic vows, dietary restrictions, and compulsory worship, which the Roman Church promised would forgive sins, are contrary to the forgiveness won by Christ. His forgiveness is a gift freely given, without condition. And so the practices of the Church likewise ought to be free, and point to the salvation that is received only by faith in Christ.

You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.

Created: April 28th, 2017