Book of Concord

The Book of Concord is both a theological touchstone and publishing casserole. In the Lutheran vein of the Reformation, The Book of Concord is the secondary document. The primary document of the Lutheran Reformation, of the entire Reformation, is Luther’s vernacular Bible (1534). He published the whole Bible in German 77 years before the King James Version. Symbolically, and literally, Luther took the Bible from the pope and handed it to priests and princes, to tradesmen and teenagers.

The Book of Concord is a coalescence of theological documents:
• Three Chief Creeds: Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian
• Small Catechism (1529)
• Large Catechism (1529)
• Augsburg Confession (1530)
• Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531)
• Smalcald Articles (1537)
• Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537)
• Formula of Concord (1580)

As Luther’s movement exploded in growth, he sought clarity rather than chaos in disseminating God’s Word. While he translated the Bible, he asked his colleagues to write a home-based teaching guide, a catechism. Dissatisfied with their output, Luther himself wrote two volumes for parents to teach their families (The Small Catechism and The Large Catechism).

As the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor sought to kill Luther and to crush his movement, they repeatedly pressed for debate and for scholarly papers articulating the evangelical, or Lutheran, position. Creating these papers helped Luther, his partner Philip Melanchthon, and other scholars to reach consensus on their fundamental concerns with Roman Catholic theology (The Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession).

In addition to these papers, there was a theological last will and testament written by Luther for a papal council but set aside by Melanchthon (The Smalcald Articles). As the Smalcald Articles were under consideration, Melanchthon wrote a “postscript” on papal authority, although Luther was too ill to work with this short paper (Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope).

After Martin Luther died in 1546, the Holy Roman Empire attempted to outlaw Lutheran teaching. The resulting political navigation and compromise divided Lutherans from each other. Over the next generation these differences were studied and further emphasized. Thus, in the 1570s, Luther and Philip Melanchthon’s former colleagues disputed as “authentic Lutheran” versus Philippists.

To reunify the evangelical movement, they crafted a series of papers aimed at agreement or concord. The concluding act of this drama was the drafting and acceptance of the Formula of Concord in 1580. This Formula was printed and bound together with the church’s ancient creeds, Luther’s home-based teaching guides, and his collaborative papers with Melanchthon for Catholic officials. (Collaborative is a rather loose term here. During Melanchthon’s writing of the most significant declaration, The Augsburg Confession, Luther was in hiding under a death sentence and had limited input through a colleague.)

The sum result is a nonchronological record of Lutheran theology in process over 50 years with a variety of scholars from multiple generations. Lutherans today look to The Book of Concord for guidance in understanding the Bible, themselves and the church in an ever-changing world.

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About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
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