Many will recognize that this is the name of numerous institutions: a large number of universities and colleges, high schools, nursing homes and hospitals, a publishing house — even a small town in Kansas and a dental insurance company! A little further research reveals that in virtually every case (except the insurance company) there is a historic connection to Lutherans. But why?
If you look it up, you’ll find that Concordia is the name of a Roman goddess – a fact which doesn’t do much to explain the Lutheran infatuation! However, the name literally means ‘with one heart’ and was the title chosen for a Latin-language book published in 1584 in Leipzig, Germany – a work better known to English-speaking Lutherans as The Book of Concord. As the name suggests, it is a book of agreement, and specifically, agreement among Lutherans.
The need for agreement became a particular problem for Lutherans after the death of Martin Luther in 1546. The Protestant Reformation that Luther had unintentionally triggered when he posted his Ninety-five Theses in 1517 had opened the door to diverse opinions about the doctrines and practices of the Christian faith, and even among those who called themselves ‘Lutheran’ a lot of contentious wrangling had developed between factions. Thus, a group of Lutheran theologians were commissioned to create a single volume that defined the normative Lutheran teachings. The resulting book consists of ten primary confessional documents, listed here in their order of appearance.
- The three Ecumenical Creeds of historical Christendom: Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian. Placing these at the very beginning demonstrated a commitment to the ‘catholic’ (universal) beliefs of Christianity. In other words, Lutheranism was not a ‘sect’ that held novel beliefs about God.
- The Augsburg Confession & Apology Written by Luther’s close friend Philip Melanchthon, these two might be considered the foundational documents of Lutheranism. The Confession was written in 1530 for a formal presentation to Emperor Charles V to state clearly what the followers of Luther did and did not believe; the Apology was written soon after as a defense against various spurious accusations that were raised. Confusion later arose when modified versions appeared that watered-down some of Luther’s positions and strongly offended those who considered themselves ‘genuine’ Lutherans. In fact, it was just this sort of thing that motivated the creation of the Book of Concord, and the compilers took pride that the included version was the ‘Unaltered Augsburg Confession’ (or UAC for short).
- The Smalcald Articles – Written in 1537, Luther intended this to be a ‘position paper’ for an ecumenical council with the Catholics — which never happened. It states emphatically what Lutherans wouldn’t compromise and why.
- Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope – Written by Philip Melanchthon in 1537, this states the Lutheran understanding of authority in the Church from Scriptural principles, and why we don’t accept a Pope as ‘the vicar of Christ.’
- Luther’s Small & Large Catechisms. Both written in 1529, Luther intended the Small Catechism as a basic primer for teaching of children and the Large Catechism to be a more extensive treatment for adults. However, the brevity and clarity of the former has made it far and away the most popular reference that all Lutherans quote to simply summarize our core beliefs.
- The Formula of Concord Epitome & Solid Declaration – The two-part Formula was written by a group of Lutheran theologians specifically for the publication of the book. The Epitome treats a number of new controversies in summary fashion; the Solid Declaration covers the same issues in depth.
Having been created nearly 500 years ago, it should come as no surprise that some parts of the Book of Concord have not ‘aged’ as well as others. Back then Lutherans and Catholics were mortal enemies and there was a lot of intemperate language used on both sides. At the same time, a lot of issues of modern concern aren’t directly addressed. However, with the authority of Holy Scripture as ‘the source and norm of true doctrine’ again under attack within the Church, the Book of Concord continues to exemplify the fidelity to Biblical teaching on which faith and practice must be based. We’re blessed to have this treasure!