The constitution of our church (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) contains a confession of faith but it’s written in constitutionese so here’s an attempt to tell what we believe in simple terms.
I hope it would be obvious that we believe in God. In a pluralistic, multicultural, multi-faith world just what that means is not so obvious. Our belief about God is in line with the oldest traditions in Christianity. We know or experience God as the Holy Trinity, three persons yet one God. The Holy Trinity is hard to talk about or explain. The Trinity is: God the Father, creator and Preserver; God the Son, Jesus Christ, Redeemer and Lord: and God the Holy Spirit., Regenerator and Sanctifier. To help us, we are guided by the collective wisdom of the churches throughout the ages as expressed in the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
We believe in the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. God gives the Law to teach us how to live, how to take care of each other, how to be a just society. But the Law doesn’t do anything to make us right with God. The Gospel tells us that God makes us right with God with not a scrap of help from us. Why does God do this? Purely our of God’s gracious, merciful love. We get to know about the grace of God through the Word that is proclaimed and through the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Through these means of grace the Holy Spirt creates believers and unites them in fellowship and community that we call the Holy Christian Church.
We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Bible, are the inspired Word of God, through which God still speaks, and the only source of the Church’s doctrine and the authoritative standard for the faith and life of the Church. Okay, that’ slipping into constitutionese. Basically it’s saying that what we believe and teach about God is found in the Bible and the core of what the Bible tells us about God is the Gospel, centered on the Good News of Jesus Christ. A lot of things get said about the Bible, good and bad. Basically it’s a book of faith that talks about God’s relationship with the people of Israel and with the early Christian Church. Martin Luther described the Bible as the manger that holds Christ. We go to the Bible as the manger at Bethlehem, to find the living Christ.
We are a ‘confessional’ church. The confessions are a collection of statements and writings that explain and defend what our church teaches and believes. These statements were written and assembled in the 16th century as The Book of Concord. This was intended to help Lutheran Christians discuss their faith, and they still help us to do that today.
The Lutheran Church recognizes and celebrates two sacraments. Our criteria for naming something a sacrament is threefold:
- Did Jesus tell us to do it?
- Does God use it to assure us of God’s grace to us?
- Is there something physical connected with it: and earthly element?
The two sacraments that we celebrate, that fit these criteria, are Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
Holy Baptism is a simple ceremony involving water and the promises of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in which we are made members of God’s family purely our of God’s grace. It’s a mystery. It’s a miracle, but it’s not magic. As we grow in faith and the love of God we claim the promise that God makes to us. Most Lutherans are baptized as infants, before we can do anything to deserve God’s love. At some point in their lives Lutherans who have been baptized as babies make and Affirmation of Baptism that we also call ‘Confirmation’. This affirmation is our way of saying yes to the yes that God said to us when we were baptized.
Our regular Sunday worship service is Holy Communion. That’s the name of the Sacrament that is celebrated in the latter part of the serve as well as the proper name of the entire service. Holy Communion is the family meal of the baptized Christians. This meal gives us spiritual nourishment. Through it we are touched by God’s grace, we receive God’s forgiveness, re receive the presence of Christ “In, with, and under” the bread and wine, we are connected to Christians of every time and place, and much more. Our church officially teaches that Holy Communion is the meal of all the baptized, not just Lutherans, not just members of our congregation, but all the baptized of any Christian denomination and any age. In Holy Communion our Lord Jesus meets us in the words of hope and promise: “The body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.” His presence is as real as the bread we eat and wine we drink.