How to Start Reading the Book of Concord

How to Start Reading the Book of Concord:

Hopefully, an Armchair Reader’s Guide

Table of Contents

  1. Let’s Get Started
  2. The Book
  3. The Guide
    A. Let’s go shopping!
    B. Let’s get reading!
    C. Let’s get confessing!
  4. Final Thoughts
  5. tl;dr

Let’s Get Started

First, what is the Book of Concord? It’s the Lutheran Confession, the Lutheran Creed. A Creed is a statement of belief, and that’s exactly what the Book of Concord is. It confesses the core of what Lutherans believe, which is drawn from the Scriptures, God’s Word, alone.

Lutherans are accustomed to Creeds. As we’re taught to do in the Small Catechism, we confess the Apostles’ Creed when we wake up and go to bed. We also confess it at Baptisms. We confess the Nicene Creed at the Divine Service. Finally, we confess the Athanasian Creed, something most Lutheran Churches do on Trinity Sunday, since it is the lengthiest and clearest confession of the Holy Trinity.

Each of these Creeds confess the same faith, but they’re just different lengths. The Book of Concord isn’t any different in what it confesses. It’s just longer—a lot longer! The Lutheran Confession is also made up of many different documents, but it’s still considered one confession. Although it’s one confession, it’s often referred to as the Lutheran Confessions, since it’s made up of several documents. Having many documents yet being thought of as one document is similar to how your Bible has many different books in it, but it’s still thought of as one book. (And it’s all God’s Word.)

God’s Word is the “rule and norm” for our faith and practice, and so it also does that for the confession of our faith, too. The Book of Concord is drawn from God’s Word. It is “normed” by God’s Word. It doesn’t supersede God’s Word. When Lutherans talk among themselves, we may refer only to the Book of Concord, but this is only shorthand. We only do this because we all agree that the Book of Concord is a Confession of the Christian faith as God Himself has laid it out in His Word.

The Book of Concord has the same goal as the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds: to confess “the faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) The Christian faith is all laid out in the Bible, of course. But due to circumstances and really time, it’s a bit cumbersome to read the entire Bible when someone asks, “What do you believe?” The Christian faith is summarized in the Creeds, and it’s the same for the Book of Concord. This is why its title is more fully: “The Christian Book of Concord.”

The Book

So, what’s in the Book of Concord? Well, there are several things you’re familiar with. The Three Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) are in it. The Small Catechism of Martin Luther (1529), the one you studied in Confirmation, is in it, too. The final familiar document in the Book of Concord is The Augsburg Confession (1530). Many congregation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod include “U.A.C.” at the end of their official name, which stands for Unaltered Augsburg Confession (1530).

There are also some unfamiliar parts as well. The Book of Concord contains the Large Catechism of Martin Luther (1529), along with the Smalcald Articles (1537) that were written by him. Closely attached to the Smalcald Articles is Philip Melancthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537). In fact, it’s so closely tied historically that many LCMS congregational constitutions don’t list it because it’s assumed when the Smalcald Articles are listed. Philip Melancthon also wrote the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (1531), which he also penned. Finally, there’s the Formula of Concord, which is articulated in two separate documents: The Epitome and The Solid (Thorough) Declaration.

There are a few related documents that have been included at various time, even though they were not part of the official 1580 Book of Concord. Martin Luther’s Brief Exhortation to Confession, which was first added to a revised edition of Luther’s Large Catechism in 1529. The Catalogue of Testimonies was added to several early editions of the Book of Concord as a support to the Formula of Concord, specifically Article VII: On the Person of Christ. The Preface to the Book of Concord (1580) is also helpful since it includes much historical background to the Book of Concord itself.

Finally, some editions of the Book of Concord may include Martin Luther’s Marriage Booklet and Baptismal Booklet. The Marriage booklet was first published in 1529, and the Baptismal Booklet was first printed in 1523 and republished in 1526. They were both included in some editions of the Small Catechism, even in 1529, although they were not part of the first edition printed in 1529. They were also included in some 1580 editions the Book of Concord.

The Guide

Now, let’s get to the practical part, how should we read the Book of Concord? Well, it would be fun to say that you should start with the Solid Declaration, but that sort of fun is like pushing someone into the deep end of the pool! But I won’t, just like you wouldn’t, well, shouldn’t push someone into the deep end of a pool when they don’t know how to swim. This guide will help you swim safely in the Book of Concord. By “safely” I mean in a way where you won’t get discouraged, frustrated, or confused and put it down. Just like the Scriptures, some parts are deeper than others.

Let’s go shopping!

But before you start swimming in the Book of Concord, there’s another question I’ve got to answer: which Book of Concord? Well, there are many versions and translations of the Bible out there, and the same is true for the Book of Concord. Really, in my opinion, there are two very good options, and the only difference between them is how nerdy you want to be!

The first version is Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, A Reader’s Edition to the Book of Concord edited by Paul T. McCain. This version of the Book of Concord is published by Concordia Publishing House. It has some other helpful historical information scattered throughout, it also has introductions to many articles of faith, and it even has pictures! It’s an updated English translation from Concordia Triglotta, which is a German, Latin, and English edition of the Book of Concord printed by Concordia Publishing House in 1917. There are several editions: Kindle, Pocket Book, and full sized. The Kindle and Pocket editions only have the text of the Book of Concord itself and a few Appendices. If you want all the bells and whistles, get the full version. One other benefit of the Reader’s Edition: it includes a schedule for reading the Book of Concord over a year.

The second version is The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert. This version of the Book of Concord is published by Fortress Press. This is a more academic version of the Book of Concord. It also has tons of related information, but it’s delivered in footnotes. It’s related to Book of Concord translated by Theodore Tappert, which was published by Fortress Press in 1959. There’s only one print version of Kolb-Wengert, which is a tad pricier, but you could also spend a little less to get it on CD-ROM through Amazon. (Yeah, those still exist.)

I won’t go into dissecting the differences in translation between them or picking apart the translators, which you can do with either edition and with any translated work for that matter, and, although I think it’s fun, this is an armchairs reader’s guide. You really can’t go wrong with either of these versions. I have both and use both. You just have to ask yourself: how nerdy are you? If you’re more nerdy than most, get the Kolb-Wengert edition. Its footnotes are a cannonball into the deep end of the history and theology surrounding the Lutheran Confession, but the text of the translation itself is very easy to read. (Easier than the reader’s edition at points.) If you’re a little less nerdy, get the Reader’s Edition. Its extra information is presented in a more armchair style. And really it has much of the same information as the Kolb-Wengert edition, plus pictures!

Let’s get reading!

So, how do you read the Book of Concord? Well, you could just read it cover to cover like this:

Preface to the Christian Book of Concord (1580)
The Three Universal or Ecumenical Creeds
The Augsburg Confession (1530)
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531)
The Smalcald Articles (1537)
The Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537)
The Small Catechism (1529)
The Large Catechism (1529)
The Formula of Concord, Epitome (1577)
The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration (1577)

Catalog of Testimonies
Brief Exhortation to Confession (1529)

That’s a bit heavy. Not quite throwing you into the deepest end of the pool, but pretty close.

You could follow the schedule laid out in the Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, or its sister schedule laid out in The Treasury of Daily Prayer. The Reader’s Edition schedule gets you through the entire Book of Concord in 52 Weeks, with its readings scheduled Monday through Friday. The Treasury of Daily Prayer schedule has readings every day. Both schedules offer a slightly easier trek through the Book of Concord.

The Three Universal or Ecumenical Creeds
The Small Catechism (1529)
The Large Catechism (1529)
Brief Exhortation to Confession (1529)
The Augsburg Confession (1530)
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531)
The Smalcald Articles (1537)
The Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537)
Preface to the Christian Book of Concord (1580)
The Formula of Concord, Epitome (1577)
The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration (1577)

Personally, I think there’s an easier way to get through the Book of Concord, especially if you’re an armchair theologian, a Lutheran school teacher or other church worker, or even a Pastor. This is also true whether you’re a life-long Lutheran or new to the Lutheran Confession. So, what is the best order for reading the Book of Concord?

  1. The Three Ecumenical Creeds
  2. Luther’s Small Catechism (1529)
  3. Luther’s Large Catechism (1529)
  4. Brief Exhortation to Confession (1529)
  5. The Smalcald Articles (1537)
  6. The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537)
  7. The Augsburg Confession (1530)
  8. The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (1531)
  9. The Formula of Concord: Epitome (1577)
  10. The Formula of Concord: The Solid (Thorough) Declaration (1577)
  11. The Catalogue of Testimonies
  12. The Preface to the Book of Concord (1580)

Why this order? It’s actually deeply rooted in what the Lutheran Confessions themselves say, and this is also connected to another reason. This order is also based upon what the documents are and who wrote them. Four out of the first five pieces were written by Martin Luther, and the other one you’re familiar with from church!

But before I lay it all out for you, there are two more things I need to clarify. First, The Augsburg Confession is the primary confession of the Lutheran Church (Rule and Norm, SD §2, Ep §4). The entire Book of Concord, and especially the Formula of Concord, was written and formulated not to change the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession but to support and confess it anew and clearly (Rule and Norm, SD §20) Second, when you read the Small Catechism, do so not from either of these editions, but use the version you studied in catechism class, though you may have to read the preface of the Small Catechism in whichever Book of Concord you use. To go back to the Small Catechism you’ve already studied follows Luther’s advice not to change catechism versions. (SC, Preface §7 and §15)

So, why should we leapfrog the primary confession with five other documents? Well, because four of them were penned by Luther. The Scriptures are the sole rule and norm of our faith and practice, but the primary teacher of the Lutheran Church, the Church of the Augsburg Confession, is Martin Luther. (Treatise §32; SD VII §34) This order, which for the three documents follows The Reader’s Edition, actually is rooted in Luther’s own teaching of the Christian Faith.

In his prefaces to the Small and Large Catechisms, Luther says that the 10 Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer are the Chief Parts of the Christian Faith. (SC Preface §10, LC Longer Preface §7–8) (He himself used them daily.) He also says that once a Christian has sufficiently learned this Catechism, they should also learn what it means, and this is done through the Small Catechism itself. (SC Preface §14) Finally, once they have learned the simpler meaning of the Small Catechism, they are to then take up “a longer catechism,” like Luther’s own Large Catechism. (SC Preface §17)

We retain these Catechisms in the Book of Concord because the Christian Faith isn’t just for Academic Theologians and Pastors to learn, but “because these matters also concern the laity and the salvation of their souls, we pledge ourselves also the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Luther, as both both catechisms are found in Luther’s printed works, as a Bible of the Laity, in which everything is summarized that is treated in detail in Holy Scripture and that is necessary for a Christian to know for salvation.” (Ep, Rule and Norm §5; see also SD, Rule and Norm §8) This is also the reason behind why I choose to list the Smalcald Articles next. They also were written by Luther, “of blessed and holy memory.” (SD, II: Free Will §44)

Luther has a knack for writing deep matters simply. His writing is also the most engaging of the Lutheran Reformers. His passion and zeal are palpable. Not that the other Lutheran Reformers aren’t engaging in their own way, but there’s a reason Luther was the leader of the movement that later bore his name, and not Philip Melanchthon, though he was later forced into that role.

Melanchthon was a polymath and genius. He was Luther’s younger contemporary, protégé, and colleague. He wrote the lion’s share of the Book of Concord, including our primary confession the Augsburg Confession, along with its Apology and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. This last document is put before the Augsburg Confession and the Apology because its scope is more narrow and more simply confessed. This allows you to wade slowly into the more academic nature of Melanchthon’s writings.

Finally, you pick up the Formula of Concord. Taking this document last, allows you to build a theological foundation from all the preceding documents. While the two portions (The Epitome and Solid Declaration) were from different authors and had different preceding documents, they are joined together as one. First, you read the Epitome, which is a summarized confession. This again builds a foundation for reading the Solid (Thorough)—think “long”—Declaration.

Let’s get confessing!

All Christians are to cherish and learn God’s Word. Through the Word we learn about Jesus our Savior and also our need for Him to save us. We confess what we believe from God’s Word. That’s what the Creeds are all about. That’s also what the Book of Concord is all about, and all the documents that are in it.

The Book of Concord really is important for all Lutheran Christians. It’s not just for pastors or academic theologians. The main reason for confessing the Christian Faith the way we do in the Book of Concord is for the sake of troubled consciences, that sinners would believe in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins.

This, of course, means the Book of Concord would be important not just for Lutherans but all Christians. (It is the “Christian Book of Concord” after all.) But the Book of Concord is most important for Lutheran Pastors and also for all Lutheran Church workers! In fact, all professional Church workers within The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, make this confession: “I make these Confessions my own because they are in accord with the Word of God.” (There’s also a corresponding on specifically for the Ecumenical Creeds.) And you can only make these Confessions your own, if you read them!

These Confessions aren’t an academic exercise. They are confessing the Christian Faith that Jesus alone is our Savior. In a sense, they’re preaching that faith into you as you read it! Luther even thinks of his Large Catechism as sermons. (LC, Short Preface §1) So, we take up the Book of Concord not to be right and smart, but to learn what we believe about Jesus and His Salvation. There’s no end to receiving this great treasure. The entire Christian life is summarized receiving all the Gifts that our Triune God has to give us.

Here is one final thought about the life-long gift of reading and re-reading the Book of Concord. It comes from the Preface Luther wrote for his Large Catechism. Now, he is talking about God’s Word as taught in the Catechism, but, since the Lutheran Confessions are in accord with the Word of God, and since they have been normed by God’s Word, and since they are really just an expansion upon the Catechism, I think it’s appropriate to consider his wisdom, as he is our primary teacher, in relation to the entire Book of Concord.

“God himself is not ashamed to teach [the catechism] daily, for he knows of nothing better to teach, and he always keeps on teaching this one thing without proposing anything new or different. And all the saints know of nothing better or different to learn, although they cannot learn it to perfection. Are we not the most marvelous fellows, therefore, who allow ourselves to imaging that, after reading and hearing it once, we know everything and need not read and study it anymore? We think we can learn in one hour what God himself cannot finish teaching, though he were to teach it from the beginning of the world until the end! All the prophets and all the saints have had to learn it, but they have always remained its pupils, and they must continue to be so.” (LC, Long Preface §16)

Final Thoughts

Different times, different needs mean different words must be used when confessing the Christian faith. Lutherans make confession of this faith in the Book of Concord. Our Confession is drawn from Scripture alone, everything else is just a witness to this one scriptural truth. God speaks, we listen, we confess what He speaks.

This is a life-long pursuit. This is the Christian life! To receive from God: His Word, His Sacraments, and even the fruit of Spirit! (Gal 5) Once heard, once received, then comes our learning, our confessing. The Lord Jesus always has more to teach us by the Spirit through “preaching and His Word.” (Small Catechism, 10 Commandments) He commands us to hear and receive in the 3rd Commandment. We cherish His Word, we cherish His Gifts, and we cherish Him in the process—thus we prove to be His disciples (Mt 28; Jn 15).

“Let us hold fast our confession.” (Heb 4) We receive with joy, “the implanted Word which is able to save our souls.” (James 1) “With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Rom 10) We confess “the faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) The mystery of our salvation, that Jesus saves all men by His death and resurrection, is “certainly great.” (1 Tim 3)

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a Light to my Path.” (Ps 119) “Sanctify them in Your Truth. Your Word is Truth.” (Jn 17) “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Rom 10) “It pleased God to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching.” (1 Cor 1) “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.” (Rom 1)

Such are the Gifts Jesus gives in His Word and its preaching (Lk 24; Mk 16), but also its confessing.

tl;dr

Read the Book of Concord in this order:

  1. The Three Ecumenical Creeds
  2. Luther’s Small Catechism (1529)
  3. Luther’s Large Catechism (1529)
  4. Brief Exhortation to Confession (1529)
  5. The Smalcald Articles (1537)
  6. The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537)
  7. The Augsburg Confession (1530)
  8. The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (1531)
  9. The Formula of Concord: Epitome (1577)
  10. The Formula of Concord: The Solid (Thorough) Declaration (1577)
  11. The Catalogue of Testimonies
  12. The Preface to the Book of Concord (1580)

If you’re a little extra nerdy use this edition: The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

If you want a version with pictures in a less academic format, use this edition: Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.

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