"We only believe in the Bible"
I’ve been having a discussion offline with a Calvinist family member. The argument or discussion if you will, seems to always center on the fact that I keep referencing the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. As I’ve stated in previous posts, the confessions are what Lutherans teach and confess. The confessions will always, always, always point to the Bible as the source of our doctrine. Confessional Lutherans believe that the confessions should be accepted quia (“because”), not quatenus (“insofar as”), they agree with Scripture. As St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” I’m sorry, but it is not possible for a person to be a Christian and not confess doctrine. The only question is this: is the doctrine that you confess, agree or disagree with Scripture. See an excellent post here by Pastor Scott Stiegmeyer on doctrine and God's Word.
“We only believe in the Bible. You’re just like the Catholics, you don’t believe just in the Bible. Who are you to say what the Bible says? ” is something I hear often. Ok, the nasty little swipe of comparing me to a Roman Catholic aside, I do often refer to myself as a small “c” catholic, as in the ancient use of the word meaning universal. But that’s about as close as I get to being Roman. Now sure the Romans are just plain wrong on a huge number of matters, but I will say this much, at least they have retained the Sacraments, something the Calvinist have thrown out because they thought that it would be a good idea just to start all over again from scratch. The enthusiasts thought (and I would argue still think) that the Lutherans of the Reformation just didn’t go far enough because they (once again, it was the Lutherans who) retained the Mass and even held it in higher esteem than Rome (AC XXIV} , continued to baptize infants as well as other serious theological issues. For the radical reformers, the enthusiasts, it was really about throwing the baby out with the bath water. To me this is like saying I’m not going to eat French food because the French are a bunch of cheese eating surrender monkeys. That may be true, but they have some damn good cuisine that I happen to enjoy cooking and eating. And don’t get me started on French wines… But let’s get back to the original reason for the post.
How about this one “We don’t use the word Trinity in our church. We talk about the Father, Son and the Spirit. That trinity “thing”, that’s something that the Catholics teach. We don’t do that in our church. Our church believes in the Bible.” So by this confession one is left to wonder, does this family member of mine reject the ancient, historical, and Scriptural teaching of the Trinity? Apparently, insofar as their understanding of Scripture takes them. But one can only guess where that is.
Or one of my favorites from a previous post. I've been arguing with family members who say we should confess our sins only to God, but our faults, well, those we need to confess to one another. I've tried to point to John 20:23 with no success. As a Lutheran I confess that Christ really means what he says. If Christ says His servants of Word and Sacrament have the authority to forgive sins, then that is what I believe. He isn't starting off this command like He would with a parable"the kingdom of heaven is like this or that." He is not using metaphorical or symbolic language here. I was informed, by said family member that a commentary they had on hand stated that this is one of the misunderstood passages of Scripture. I'm sorry but Scripture trumps a commentary. Of course, oh lucky me, Calvin was quoted as saying Jesus didn't really mean what he said.
So when Jesus proclaims in Matthew 28:18 that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” does he really mean to tell the apostles to baptize or teach? Does He really mean what he says this time? Where else is it possible that the Bible might be misunderstood? Does Christ redeem us from the curse of the Law or is Galatians 3:13 misunderstood? Is there really a hope of a resurrection or is 1 Peter 2:24 misunderstood? I could go on like this forever!
Here’s an example of how playing a guessing game as to what a particular church’s confession is has personally affected me: I wouldn’t commune at a church in my hometown because the pastor reworded the Nicene Creed. Why is this a big deal you ask? This pastor had so butchered the creed that I no longer could tell if this church, which I had visited many times in the past and communed there as well, shared the same confession of faith. And since I didn’t hear said pastor preach Christ crucified in his sermon, it was as if I was in a church that just liked to make it up as they go. There are no words for how angry I was when I left after the service. I was not fed by either Word or Sacrament in the very place that I know I should’ve been fed. Was I making too big of a deal out of a little matter? No I was not! In his epistle to the Romans 10:9,10 St. Paul wrote “That if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” This is why people like me cling to the confessions, because it ensures we are all on the same sheet of music. If you like your music to be of the Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant variety that’s fine, just don’t interrupt my Bach Chorale and tell me we’re listening to the same thing!
My point is this: it is the Calvinist that can’t accept Scripture for what it is. Whether because of human reason or something else, it is the Calvinist who looks inward to understand his or her faith. It is the confessional Lutheran, who by faith looks to Scripture, and in spite of human reason, believes the Word of God because it is the Word of God! It is the confessions that are used to defend against those who say the Bible says this but means that. This is what answers the question “Who are you to say what the Bible says?” Scripture alone determines what Scripture teaches. It is not up to each individual church, or each individual for that matter, to decide which part of the Bible they like or dislike and create doctrines around those likes or dislikes. As I believe a Lutheran once said, “this is most certainly true!”