The word "Synod" in The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod comes from the Greek words that mean "walking together." It has rich meaning in our church body, because the congregations voluntarily choose to belong to the Synod. Diverse in their service, these congregations hold to a shared confession of Jesus Christ as taught in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
The congregations of the Synod are "confessional." They hold to the Lutheran Confessions as the correct interpretation and presentation of Biblical doctrine. Contained in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, these statements of belief were put into writing by church leaders during the 16th century. The simplest of these is Luther's Small Catechism. The Augsburg Confession gives more detail on what Lutherans believe.
In its present form, it is dated no later than the eighth century. More than any other Christian creed, it may justly be called an ecumenical symbol of faith.
Fourth and Fifth Century Version
I believe in God the Father Almighty
And in Christ Jesus, his only son, our Lord
Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried
And the third day rose from the dead
Who ascended into heaven
And sitteth on the right hand of the Father
Whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead
And in the Holy Ghost
The holy church
The remission of sins
The resurrection of the flesh
The life eternal
Sixth Century Version
I believe in God the Father almighty.
I also believe in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord,
conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hell,
rose again the third day,
ascended into heaven,
sat down on the right hand of the Father,
thence he is to come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
The Holy Catholic Church, the communion of the saints,
The remission of sins,
The resurrection of the flesh and life eternal
Eighth Century To Present
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic [apostolic or universal] church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
The Nicene Creed, also called the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed, is a statement of the orthodox faith of the early Christian church in opposition to certain heresies, especially Arianism. These heresies, which disturbed the church during the fourth century, concerned the doctrine of the trinity and of the person of Christ. Both the Greek (Eastern) and the Latin (Western) church held this creed in honor, though with one important difference: the Western church insisted on the inclusion of the phrase "and the Son" (known as the filioque) in the article on the procession of the Holy Spirit; this phrase still is repudiated by the Eastern Orthodox church.
In its present form, this creed goes back partially to the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) with additions by the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381). It was accepted in its present form at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, but the filioque phrase was not added until A.D. 589. However, the creed is in substance an accurate and majestic formulation of the Nicene faith. The statements of faith that helped shape the Nicene creed are published below along with the Nicene Creed.
The Creed Of Caesarea
At the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian, suggested the adoption of the creed of his own church. It ran thus:
We believe in one God, the Father All-sovereign, the maker of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life, Son only-begotten, Firstborn of all creation, begotten of the Father before all the ages, through whom also all things were made; who was made flesh for our salvation and lived among men, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the Father, and shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead;
We believe also in one Holy Spirit.
The Creed Of Nicea
Eusebius' creed was orthodox, but it did not deal explicitly with the Arian position. It was taken as a base, and put forward by the council in this revised form:
We believe in one God the Father All-sovereign, maker of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, things in heaven and things on the earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, and became man, suffered, and rose on the third day, ascended into the heavens, and is coming to judge living and dead.
And in the Holy Spirit.
And those that say 'There was when he was not,' and, 'Before he was begotten he was not,' and that, 'He came into being from what-is-not,' or those that allege, that the son of God is 'Of another substance or essence' or 'created,' or 'changeable' or 'alterable,' these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.
THE Nicene Creed
With additions from the Council of Constantinople.
We believe in one God the Father the All-sovereign, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended in the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end:
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver, that proceedeth from the Father [and the Son], who with Father and Son is worshiped together and glorified together, who spake through the prophets:
In one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church:
We acknowledge one baptism unto remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.
Introduction to the Augsburg Confession
In April 1530, the Emperor summoned a conference to achieve religious unity among his people. Since Luther was under ban and could not attend, the Lutheran statement was drawn up by his colleague Philip Melanchthon and privately approved by Luther. The statement was presented on June 25, 1530 to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his Diet (Parliament) at Augsburg in the hope of reaching some kind of peaceful agreement between the Lutherans and the adherents of the Pope, and it stresses the beliefs which the two sides had in common. It repudiates the notion of change for the sake of change, and for example, denies the charge that the Lutherans wish to abolish the Mass, saying that the Mass continues to be celebrated among Lutherans, but with hymns and prayers included in German, in order that the people may clearly understand the significance of what is being done.
Read the complete Augsburg Confession here.
The Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther Published October 31, 1517
"The theses were posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. This was the usual procedure for giving notice of such disputations, which were a regular feature of University life, and there was nothing dramatic in the action. Luther was confident that he would have papal support when he had exposed the evils of the traffic of indulgences." -- Quoted without permission from Henry Bettenson's Documents of the Early Church
A disputation of Master Martin Luther, Theologian, for the elucidation of the virtue of Indulgences.
From a zealous desire to bring to light the truth, the following theses will be maintained at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Rvd. Fr. Martin Luther, Master of Arts, Master of Sacred Theology and official Reader therein. He therefore asks that all who are unable to be present and dispute with him verbally will do so in writing. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
- Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
- The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
- The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
- The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
- God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.
- The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
- Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
- Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
- Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt 13:25).
- In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
- The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.
- Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.
- This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
- Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
- It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
- Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
- Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
- Therefore the pope, when he uses the words "plenary remission of all penalties," does not actually mean "all penalties," but only those imposed by himself.
- Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
- As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.
- If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
- For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.
- That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.
- The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
- They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
- It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
- Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
- No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.
- The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
- Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
- Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.
- For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.
- They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
- Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
- Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
- Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.
- It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
- A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them -- at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
- Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
- Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
- Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
- Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
- Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath.
- Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
- Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
- Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
- Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
- Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
- Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
- It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
- They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
- Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.
- It is certainly the pope's sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
- The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
- That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.
- Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
- St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
- Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
- For it is clear that the pope's power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.
- The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
- But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).
- On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
- Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
- The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
- The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.
- They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
- Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
- But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.
- Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.
- But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.
- Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.
- Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.
- To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.
- We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
- To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
- We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written, 1 Co 12[:28].
- To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
- The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
- This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
- Such as: "Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church? The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
- Again, "Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?"
- Again, "What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love's sake?"
- Again, "Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?"
- Again, "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?"
- Again, "What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?"
- Again, "What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?"
- "Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?"
- To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
- If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
- Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)
- Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!
- Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
- And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).
Luther's Preface to the Small Catechism
Martin Luther to All Faithful and Godly Pastors and Preachers:
Grace, Mercy, and Peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare [publish] this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form. Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the [common] holy Sacraments. Yet they [do not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord's Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts.
O ye bishops! [to whom this charge has been committed by God,] what will ye ever answer to Christ for having so shamefully neglected the people and never for a moment discharged your office? [You are the persons to whom alone this ruin of the Christian religion is due. You have permitted men to err so shamefully; yours is the guilt; for you have ever done anything rather than what your office required you to do.] May all misfortune flee you! [I do not wish at this place to invoke evil on your heads.] You command the Sacrament in one form [but is not this the highest ungodliness coupled with the greatest impudence that you are insisting on the administration of the Sacrament in one form only, and on your traditions] and insist on your human laws, and yet at the same time you do not care in the least [while you are utterly without scruple and concern] whether the people know the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or any part of the Word of God. Woe, woe, unto you forever!
Read the rest of Luther's Preface to the Small Catechism and the Small Catechism in it's entirety here.
Written against the Arians.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.
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