Formula of Concord

A generation after Luther died, in 1580, Lutheran scholars sought to write the conclusive statement on theology, the Formula of Concord. In 1521 Luther and his followers were outlawed. After Luther’s death in 1546, Emperor Charles V won a military victory in 1548 and was able to suppress Lutheran teaching. When Philip Melanchthon worked out a compromise to maintain Lutheran teaching, many Lutherans felt betrayed.

The next thirty years saw a strengthening of opposing positions, a grasping for Luther’s legacy, a desire for doctrinal purity and a desire for harmony. While acknowledging “Controversy among the Theologians of the Augsburg Confession,” the Formula of Concord titled itself ambitiously the “Final Repetition and Explanation of Certain Articles of the Augsburg Confession…and the Summary Formulation of Our Christian Teaching” (Epitome). This next generation of theologians wanted certainty and finality.

After establishing “the Old and New Testaments alone” as “the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged” (Epitome), the Formula of Concord begins its fine-toothed process of theological articulation on the basis of “the first, unaltered Augsburg Confession” (Epitome). Melanchthon’s later refinements appear to have been rejected by this later generation of scholars. The Formula of Concord likewise cites the first edition of the Apology to the Augsburg Confession rather than Luther’s corrected edition.

The scholars sought “a unanimous explanation of our faith” (Epitome), but settled for approval by about two-thirds of the Evangelical (Lutheran) churches of Germany.

The Formula of Concord’s characterization of the earlier confessional documents describes itself: “The other symbols, however, and other writings listed above are not judges, as is Holy Scripture, but they are only witnesses and explanations of the faith, which show how Holy Scripture has at various times been understood and interpreted in the church of God by those who lived at the time in regard to articles of faith under dispute.”

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About Ben Unseth

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