10 February 2014

From the Symbols on the Sacraments and the Conscience

Piepkorn once wrote to a man thinking of leaving the Lutheran Church:

I believe that you have acted wisely in not deserting the Church of your Baptism and Confirmation for another obedience. In my experience there is nothing to which a Christian can legitimately aspire in any other communion that is not implicit in the Church of the Augsburg Confession. If, at a particular time or in a particular place, that which he seeks is not explicit, it may be that God has called him to that time and place in order patiently to recover something that the Church of the Augsburg Confession has lost or neglected or overlooked. Let me counsel you therefore to stay where you are and faithfully to pray, to study, to witness and to work for a restoration of sacramental life to the Church that above all others is capable of most fully utilizing it. 

That last sentence deserves explication from the Symbols. In what way is the Lutheran Church "the Church that above all others" is "capable of most fully utilizing" the sacramental life? Consider these pertinent citations from the Symbols.


We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life in both body and soul.’” LC


Now strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven. It comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror. AC 

The people are very carefully taught about faith in the Absolution…Our people are taught that they should highly prize the absolution as being God’s voice and pronounced by God’s command. The power of the keys is set forth in its beauty. They are reminded what great consolation it brings to anxious consciences and that God requires faith to believe such absolution as a voice sounding from heaven. They are taught that such faith in Christ truly obtains and receives forgiveness of sins. AC


No one is admitted to the Sacrament without first being examined. The people also are advised about the dignity and use of the Sacrament, about how it brings great consolation to anxious consciences, so that they too may learn to believe God and to expect and ask from Him all that is good. This worship pleases God. AC 

In general:

This whole matter was made up by idle men. They did not know how forgiveness of sins happens and how, by God’s judgment and the terrors of conscience, trust in works is driven from us. AP

Spiritually inexperienced people despise this teaching. However, God-fearing and anxious consciences find by experience that it brings the greatest consolation. Consciences cannot be set at rest through any works, but only by faith, when they take the sure ground that for Christ’s sake they have a gracious God. As Paul teaches, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God. This whole doctrine must be related to the conflict of terrified conscience. It cannot be understood apart from that conflict. Therefore, inexperienced and irreverent people have poor judgment in this matter because they dream that Christian righteousness is nothing but civil and philosophical righteousness. AP

A conscience full of fear has need of much consolation. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs that continually remind, cheer, and encourage despairing minds to believe more firmly that their sins are forgiven. AP

Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. LC


Note especially the import of that last summary: how differently might our congregational life look today if everything, absolutely everything in them, and similarly in our transparochial life, were ordered toward that one goal? I think we'd see a genuine and deep renewal in the Church of the Augsburg Confession and it would, in this way, offer profound assistance in other jurisdictions as well. How differently would the Lutheran Church appear in today's world if she lived out and professed by action what she confesses in her Symbols of the relationship between the sacraments and the comfort of the troubled conscience? 

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