The Holy Gospel and the Holy Scriptures
Now that we have defined the authority of Scripture and the meaning of the Gospel as our Confessions use these terms, we must address ourselves to the relationship between the Scriptures and the Gospel.
There is much discussion today in Lutheran circles about the relationship between Scripture and the Gospel. Certainly there is a relationship! The Gospel we preach and teach and confess is set forth in the Scriptures and normed by them. At the same time, the Scriptures, inspired by God, were written for the sake of the Gospel.
However, the idea seems to be current among some Lutheran theologians (perhaps because they have lost confidence in the inerrancy and absolute authority of Scripture) that Scripture is not the norm for Christian doctrine and therefore also for the doctrine of the Gospel. Rather the Gospel which, according to our Lutheran Confessions, is “the delightful proclamation of God’s grace and favor acquired through the merits of Christ” (FC Ep, V, 7) is such a norm. This is a dangerous idea, not only because it is wrong and utterly confusing, but because it sounds so pious. The Gospel is the norm, the saying goes. There is an attractive, though deceptive, evangelical ring to that statement.
For instance, one Lutheran scholar today tells us that according to the Lutheran Confessions the Scriptures are authoritative not because of their divine origin but because of their power to judge and pardon. And another theologian says that the authority of Scripture is the power conferred upon it by God to save and to judge. The implication in both cases is that the authority of Scripture is nothing but the power of the Gospel it proclaims.
Now such a position utterly confuses the function of the Gospel with one of the functions of Scripture. It confuses the power of the Gospel with the authority of Scripture. And thus it undermines both.
Scripture is the authority for the Gospel according to our Lutheran Confessions. When Melanchthon debates with the Roman Catholics on the nature and content and function of the Gospel of justification by faith in his Apology of the Augsburg Confession (IV), his authority is always Scripture. And Scripture is authoritative, according to our Confessions, not because it contains and proclaims the Gospel-the Gospel is proclaimed in many writings-but because it is God’s Word (Ap, IV, 108; XV, 14; LC, 1, 121; FC SD, Rule and Norm, 10). Although our Confessions use the term “Word of God” in a number of senses, there is no doubt that they again and again identify the Scriptures with the Word of God. And that is why the Scriptures are authoritative for the teaching and preaching of the Gospel.
But if Scripture is not authoritative because the Gospel is contained therein, it most certainly is authoritative for the sake of the Gospel. In other words, the Scriptures were written for the sake of the Gospel (John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:15). And so were our Lutheran Confessions. The authority of Scripture is not an end in itself. Our great Lutheran Confessions do not just assert their confidence in the divine authority of Scripture and then leave it at that. Their concern is always that the church under the Scriptures might propagate the Gospel Word “that alone brings salvation” (Preface to the Book of Concord, p. 13). And so it is the function of Scripture to be the divine authority for evangelical teachers and teachings in the church. And it is the function of the Gospel to be the power for such teachers and teachings.
It is significant that the New Testament never calls the Gospel an authority or a norm-nor do our Lutheran Confessions. Rather it calls the Gospel power, spiritual power, power to save us forever (Rom. 1:16; 15:16; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; Eph. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:10). And so do our Confessions.
According to our Confessions it is the Gospel that creates faith in someone’s heart, brings him the Holy Spirit, and comforts him with the treasure of salvation (SA, III, iv; AC, V, 2; Ap, IV, 73; LC, 11, 38). It is the Gospel that offers and confers consolation and continual forgiveness (SA, III, iii, 8). It is the Gospel by which the church lives and flourishes (Ap, VII, 20; Tr, 25; LC, 11, 43, 56). It is the Gospel that incites true piety which is pleasing to God (Ap, IV, 122 ff.). And it is for the sake of the Gospel that God’s fallen creation still exists (LC, 11, 61 ff.).
The infallible authority of Scripture does not diminish the wonderful and saving power of the Gospel, but supports it. And the power of the Gospel does not vitiate the divine authority of Scripture. Let us leave the Gospel its power-not only when we may read it in Scripture, but wherever it is preached and taught in the church. And let us leave Scripture its authority. Then we will not only be talking sense, but we will be talking like confessional Lutherans.
Getting into The Theology of Concord by Robert D. Preus
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977), pp 7-29.
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