Monday, March 31, 2008

Scripture and Confession

Chris Terry Nelson of Disruptive Grace, provides a good 10 point summary from Edmund Schlink's Theology of the Lutheran Confessions about the relationship between Scripture and Confession. My favourites were # 5 and # 9:

"(5) Dogmatics is bound by the Confessions as exposition of Scripture. This means again, obligation to Holy Scripture as the sole norm - obligation not so much to a specific exegesis as rather to Scripture itself. Not what men say about Scripture constitutes the sole norm, but what Scripture says to men. A Confession has no binding force apart from the fact that it correctly expounds Scripture. If we were bound to the Confessions simply because they claim to see the propriety of this claim on the basis of Scripture, the Confession would be, like the tradition of the Roman church, a second norm for dogmatics alongside Scripture. Doctrine cannot be bound to the Confessions in the sense of a fides implicita, that is, independent of a clear exegetical understanding of their scripturalness. The truth and binding force of a Confession does not rest simply on its claim - no matter how much that claim may be supported by respected church fathers at various times - but in its actual agreement with Scripture which ever anew discloses itself to exegetical study."

"(9) From all this it follows that we must carefully distinguish between a theology of the Lutheran Confessions and a text in dogmatics. If by a theology of the Lutheran Confessions we mean a faithful preproduction of their content in systematic order, this endeavor is not dogmatics. Again, dogmatics is not simply a repetition or repristination of the Confessions. Two facts must be considered: (a) The Confessions are the model of all church doctrine, including all dogmatic endeavor, which teachers of the church undertake and the results of which they present orally and in writing. As the voice of the church Confessions have more authority than the voice of an individual. (b) On the other hand, the norm for dogmatics is not the Confession, but solely the Holy Scriptures. Dogmatics, like the Confession, must teach the summary of Scripture. The possibility must be conceded from the start that dogmatics may, in the process of exegesis, question some of the confession formulations. Unlike a theology of the Confessions, dogmatics must, furthermore, review the consensus of the Confessions with the ancient church as well as the consensus of the Reformation age, develop them further, even call them into question."

In other words, the confessions of the church are not infallible, and Scripture always, always, always trumps the confessions!

HT: Ben Myers


Paul said...

Sorry, small niggling comment -- the Disruptive Grace link doesn't seem to work properly...

Ben said...

Well, Scripture does not trump a confession insofar as that confession accurately reflects Scripture. In that case there is no tension, since both are equally authoritative.

Michael F. Bird said...

Let me get this right. Scripture and Confession are "equally authoritative"? Maybe I'm a little naive here, but did the Sola Scriptura thing ever catch on in your part of the world? I'm guessing "No" from your response. Now I have heard about people who believed what you just said, but I did not think that they actually existed. I shall have to change my assessment on that one.

Ben said...

I think I probably didn't say what I said well :-). What I meant to say is that a confession is meant to express the Bible's teaching. So if a given point of a confession expresses the Bible's teaching accurately it is authoritative, not because men's words are authoritative, but because it is simply restating God's word for a modern audience. I for one would not believe any confession if I did not think it was accurately expressing the truth of God's word. I certainly believe in Sola Scriptura, but I am trying to push a little bit in regard to the dichotomy between creed/confession and Scripture as if the former cannot truly express the latter.

I don't think this is any different than preaching. If I preach God's word accurately and faithfully to a church isn't this also authoritatively speaking God's word to them? If I preach that God has called my church to live lives of holiness and love, this conveys God's authoritative word to them and is also authoritative right? Not because I myself have any authority, but because God intends his word to be preached to express his authoritative word in ever changing circumstances for the benefit of his people.

Hopefully, I have made what I was saying clearer, because I don't think it is as scary as you might have taken it. I don't actually think I was saying something radically different from the quotes you gave, I was just trying to question the radical break I sometimes hear between confession and Scripture: confession is confession of Scripture's teaching (subject to modification by the church) after all, right?

Michael F. Bird said...

That sounds far more nuanced!

Phil said...

From the point of view of one working inside a confessional framework, it seems to me that a confession derives its authority simply from the fact that it stands as an 'agreed view' which has gathered around it a particular community of 'agree-ers.' If you want to start pulling apart the basis of agreement and re-thinking it scripturally, you run the risk of finding you no longer agree, and so no longer 'authentically' belong to the community. Your options then are to persuade the rest of the community... or leave it... or live in an uncomfortable tension between the two.