First, for us the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the sole authoritative source and norm of our proclamation, faith, and life. Having said this, the Bible is a big book that does not neatly tell us about who God is and what God is about and who we are and what God expects us to be about. It is for this reason that men of faith have summarized in other documents what God’s Word says.
For us, we have collected all these documents in one book called the Book of Concord.This book does not in any way replace the Bible. In fact, in this book we confess that, “The Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine” (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9). The authority of the Scriptures is complete, certain and final. The Scriptures are accepted by the Lutheran Confessions as the actual Word of God. The Lutheran Confessions urge us to believe the Scriptures for “they will not lie to you” (LC, V, 76) and cannot be “false and deceitful” (FC SD, VII, 96). The Bible is God’s “pure, infallible, and unalterable Word” (Preface to the BOC).
So why do we have The Book of Concord? The Lutheran Confessions are the “basis, rule, and norm indicating how all doctrines (beliefs) should be judged in conformity with the Word of God” (FC SD RN). Because the Confessions are in complete doctrinal agreement with the written Word of God, they serve as the standard in the Lutheran Church to determine what is faithful Biblical teaching, insofar as that teaching is addressed in the Confessions.
The Book of Concord is made up of five primary groups of writings all based on the Bible.
The Ecumenical Creeds
The three ecumenical creeds in the Book of Concord are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. They are described as “ecumenical” [universal] because they are accepted by Christians worldwide as correct expressions of what God’s Word teaches.
The Augsburg Confession and Apology of the Augsburg Confession
In the year 1530, the Lutherans were required to present their confession of faith before the emperor in Augsburg, Germany. Philip Melanchthon wrote the Augsburg Confession and it was read before the imperial court on June 30, 1530. One year later, the Lutherans presented their defense of the Augsburg Confession, which is what “apology” here means. It too was written by Philip Melanchthon. The focus of these two documents is the most important truth of the Christian faith: the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms
Martin Luther realized early on how desperately ignorant the laity and clergy of his day were when it came to even the most basic truths of the Christian faith. Around 1530, he produced two small handbooks to help pastors and the heads of families teach the faith.
The Small Catechism and the Large Catechism are organized around six topics: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar.
The Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope
In 1537, Martin Luther was asked to prepare a statement of Lutheran belief for use at a church council called by the pope, if it was called. Luther’s bold and vigorous confession of faith was later incorporated into the Book of Concord. It was presented to a group of Lutheran rulers meeting in the town of Smalcald. Philip Melanchthon was asked to expand on the subject of the Roman pope and did so in his treatise, which also was included in the Book of Concord.
The Formula of Concord
After Luther’s death in 1546, significant controversies broke out in the Lutheran Church. After much debate and struggle, the Formula of Concord in 1577 put an end to these doctrinal controversies and the Lutheran Church was able to move ahead united in what it believed, taught and confessed. In 1580, all the confessional writings mentioned here were gathered into a single volume, the Book of Concord. Concord is a word that means, “harmony.” The Formula of Concord was summarized in a version known as the “Epitome” of the Formula of Concord. This document too is included in the Book of Concord.