The Bethel Confession: August Version
The August Version of the Bethel Confession is the second draft of this confession authored by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hermann Sasse, and others; the text of the first draft can be read here. A summary of its content, along with a brief historical and theological introduction, is available here.
|The text below has been graciously provided to Lutheranwiki by Augsburg Fortress Publishing House (P.O. Box 1209 Minneapolis, MN 55440-1209), and soon will be published in Berlin 1933, the forthcoming Volume 12 of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, English Edition,translated by Isabel Best and edited by Larry Rasmussen. Unless specifically noted, no part of this text may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Augsburg Fortress Publishing.|
 On the Holy Scriptures
The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the sole source and measure of the doctrine of the church. They constitute the witness, valid in its entirety, that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, is the Christ, that is, Israel’s promised Messiah, the anointed King of the Church, the Son of the living God.
All church doctrine must be measured solely by the Holy Scriptures and be revealed as pure doctrine through it alone. The Holy Scriptures alone witness to the divine revelation. They reveal a one-time, unrepeatable and self-contained history of salvation, beginning with the promise given to the fallen Adam and culminating in the founding of the church. This history proclaims that the church is God’s revelatory act, meant for us. In bearing witness to these acts of God, the Scriptures are God’s Word to us. The church can proclaim God’s revelation only by interpreting this Word which bears witness to it.
The history to which the Scriptures bear witness is salvation history, that is, the history of salvation, which God brings to the world. It does not present the people in the Bible as holy, but only shows that, despite their unworthiness, they were called into the church, for the salvation God had prepared for them. The full understanding of this history begins with the New Testament, testifying to the culmination of God’s plan for salvation in the incarnation, words, deeds and miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in the founding of the church. The Old Testament is the Word of God, because it is the one God who calls Israel to be the church, who is rejected by Israel and who founds the church of the New Covenant.
The Holy Scriptures constitute a whole. They have their unity in Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, who speaks throughout the Scriptures. We are not the judges of God’s Word in the Bible; instead, the Bible is given to us so that through it we may submit to Christ’s judgment. Only through the Holy Spirit do we hear the Word of God from the Bible. But this Spirit itself comes to us only through the Word of the Holy Scriptures in their entirety, and therefore can never, except by enthusiasm? [Schwärmerei], be separated from this Word.
In accordance with the confessions of the Protestant churches of the Reformation period, we reject the false doctrine, in whatever form it may occur, that Christ may also testify to himself outside the Scriptures and without them, and that the Holy Spirit may be given without the external words of preaching founded on the Scriptures, and without the sacraments. (A.C. 5: “Damnant Anabaptistas et alios, qui sentiunt spiritum sanctum contingere hominibus sine verbo externo per ipsorum praeparationes et opera.” Smalcald Articles III, 8: “In short, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world—fed and spread among them as poison by the old dragon. It is the source, power, and might of all the heresies, even that of the papacy and Mohammed. Therefore we should and must insist that God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of his external Word and sacrament. Everything that boasts of being from the Spirit apart from such a Word and sacrament is of the devil.” “Et in his, quae vocale et externum verbum concernunt, constanter tenendum est Deum nemini spiritum vel gratiam suam largiri nisi per verbum et cum verbo externo et praecedente, ut ita praemuniamus nos adversum enthusiastas, id est spiritus, qui jactitant se ante verbum et sine verbo spiritum habere et ideo scripturam sive vocale verbum judicant[,] flectunt et reflectunt . . .”).
We reject the false doctrine that considers the Scriptures to be a mere historical document expressing only general religious truths and containing the values of religious convention, illustrated by the facts it reports.
We reject the false doctrine that presents the history of salvation as a parable, for example that the election of Israel as God’s chosen people can be applied to any other people, or perhaps to all peoples. This is a denial of the uniqueness ¦367¦ and the historicity of God’s revelation.
We reject, for the same reason, the false doctrine that concludes from God’s giving the Law of Moses to Israel that the laws of all nations are given to them by God (the doctrine of the Nomoi). The saving acts of God in the Bible are not examples or symbols, to be interpreted as such, but rather revelation to be proclaimed.
We reject the false doctrine that tears apart the unity of the Holy Scriptures, rejecting the Old Testament or even replacing it with non-Christian documents from the ancient pagan history of another people. For the unity of the Holy Scriptures in their entirety and their unity alone is Christ.
For these same reasons we reject the false doctrine that recognizes the Old Testament only as the Bible of Jesus, that is, of the original Christian church, and recognizes its validity only in that context (religious antisemitism).
We reject every attempt, for one’s own arbitrary reasons or based on one’s personal devotional experience, to separate God’s words from human words in the Holy Scriptures. Luther’s saying that the Holy Scriptures are God’s Word wherever they bring us Christ does not give us room to arbitrarily choose whatever we want from the Scriptures. The entirety of the Scriptures as they have been collected in the canon brings us Christ. But the Holy Spirit may reveal Christ to us anywhere in the Scriptures and at any time. The Holy Spirit that speaks to us through a word in the Holy Scriptures is always the spirit of the whole of the Holy Scriptures, and thus can never be confused with one’s own pious experience in selecting whatever one pleases. Instead, Christ as Lord of the Scriptures must be brought to bear on the Scriptures wherever the Scriptures are in danger of being used against Christ. But such freedom to use the Holy Scriptures comes only from submission to the written Word in its entirety. (Cf. Luther’s introductory remarks on the Letter of James, 1522). This humble submission expresses the realization that the Word of God is never in my power, but rather receives power over me from God, that God’s Word for me is always a foreign one.
 What is Reformation?
Our forefathers sacrificed the outward unity of the Christian church to the supremacy of the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of free grace. Therefore church in the Reformation sense is essentially Protestant church. It is to be distinguished from any church that renounces, for the sake of any historical development, the constant appeal to the Word of God as witnessed in the Scriptures. As the congregation of Jesus Christ, it is and remains just as fundamentally church, and is to be distinguished from the sort of Protestantism that equates the church with any national, cultural or religious movement. The essence of the Reformation is consciousness of the Holy Scriptures, submission to the Holy Scriptures. For the Reformation, Martin Luther is the teacher who is obedient to the Holy Scriptures. To see what he did as the birth of the German spirit or the origin of the modern concept of freedom, or as the foundation of a new religion, goes against his own word. He fought against blind overestimation of human reason, and rejected as a temptation of the devil the human delusion that one could come to God through one’s own spirit, without the divine Word. However, since he knew he had been sent to help the German nation to be more fully Christian, he also served, and still serves all nations today, as an evangelist.
 On the Trinitarian Nature of God
The church teaches that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinguished as three Persons within one divine Being and nature, the one and only God, who created heaven and earth; that the Father was begotten by no one, the Son by the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Smalcald Art. I, Iff.), which is the greatest mystery in heaven and earth (F.C. II, VIII, 34). This is the trinitarian God revealed to us human beings in Jesus Christ, so that the entire Holy Trinity points to Christ as to the Book of Life (F.C. II, XI, 66. The Scriptures testify that no one comes to the Father except through Christ (John 14:6); no one comes to the Son unless drawn by the Father (John 6:44); no one can say that Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3); the Holy Spirit is sent out from the Father and the Son (John 15:16, 14:26). So the trinitarian God is recognized by faith as Father through the Son, as Son through the Father, as Father and Son through the Holy Spirit, as Holy Spirit through the Father and Son. No power of human reason is able to solve this mystery of God’s self-revelation as the Trinity.
We reject any attempt to dismember the revelation of the trinitarian God, to claim to understand the creation or reconciliation or redemption as a concept on its own. Instead, we have in Christ alone the whole revelation of God as Three in One, Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer.
 On Creation and Sin
 Faith in the Creator and natural knowledge
The church teaches that God created the world in the beginning out of nothing and is its Lord. We receive this faith only through the proclamation of the revelation of the trinitarian God, as witnessed to us by the church on the basis of the Holy Scriptures. In this sense, as given by this witness, natural knowledge cannot deceive itself that it comprehends God as Creator and the world as creation. For it deduces the existence of the Creator from the creation, and of the first cause from its effect. God becomes the reason that the world exists. Natural knowledge therefore remains mired in the unresolved contradictions of the world. It continues to see God as awe-inspiring, enigmatic, dark or terrifying. It comes to grief with the questions it asks of God, or becomes lost in speculation on the divine Majesty’s secrets, which the creature is not supposed to know and cannot discover. Natural knowledge can never, by simply hoping, recognize God as the living Lord who calls upon human beings and challenges them in their thinking, their will and their deeds. Faith begins with God and the Word of God. In the face of death and the evil in the world, faith cannot arise from the world itself, but only from God’s own revealed words. That faith which is brought about by God knows that the contradictions and enigmas can only be resolved by redemption through a new creation, that is to say, by the Creator.
Faith and natural knowledge are therefore no longer one and the same because we live in a fallen world, that is, because the world is no longer visibly and unambiguously the Word of God. The fall into sin lies between us and the beginning. Under the curse, God’s blessing is now hidden; under God’s wrath, the grace of God is concealed. In the fallen creation, God and the devil are both at work in everything that happens. God’s blessing and grace are no longer clearly visible to our eyes in this fallen world. Therefore, in order to recognize God, we are entirely dependent on God’s self-revelation, as witnessed to us by the Scriptures and proclaimed through the preaching of the church. Only in obedience to the Word of God in the Scriptures can we know the Creator, and not through any interpretation of events in the world.
We reject the false doctrine that we could know God as Creator and Father without knowing Christ. For without Christ the Creator becomes an angry despot. All our trust in the almighty rule and goodness of God is then only a hope without assurance.
We reject the false doctrine that this world, just as it is, corresponds to the original creation according to the will of God and must therefore be fully affirmed. If we thought of the world as unscathed by sin, it would contradict the Bible’s affirmation that sin is mortally dangerous.
We reject the false doctrine that struggle [Kampf] is the fundamental law of the original creation, and that an aggressive attitude is therefore God’s commandment arising from the original creation. Struggle presupposes the condition of being friend or foe. This condition arises only from the existence of good and evil. The goal of this struggle, to annihilate one another, is a consequence of the Fall, according to which good and evil are no longer separate in a human being. Therefore no struggle with evil, that is, with sin, may ever be aimed at the person who carries the evil, for evil is at work on both sides. The fight must be against evil as such. From the human viewpoint there is no promise of victory in this fight. The victory over evil is the end of all things, for God is all in all. It is not human beings who will bring about the end time; it will be decided by the sovereign will of God. Then the peace of God, in God’s kingdom, will begin. It will not be a quiet and motionless peace, but rather the undisturbed reign of God beyond human history, beyond all our human concepts of war and peace. We reject the false doctrine that in a particular “hour of history” God is speaking to us directly and is revealed in direct action in the created world, for it is enthusiasm [Schwärmerei] to think that one understands the will of God without the express words of the Holy Scriptures, to which God is bound. (“God said, ‘Let there be the people [Volk]!’ and there was the people.” Hossenfelder).
We reject the false doctrine that the voice of the people [Volk] could be the voice of God; this is fanatical [schwärmerisch] interpretation of history. It is the voice of the people that cries both “Hosanna!” and “Crucify him!” “They shouted in reply: ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’”
 The Orders
The church teaches that God has patience with human beings, allowing them to live in the fallen world and sustaining them there. To preserve human beings from their unbridled selfishness and keep them from destroying themselves, God imposes firm orders upon human life. These are not the orders of the original creation, but rather orders by which God keeps humankind alive for the sake of its future in Christ and the new creation. These orders of preservation are therefore of no value in themselves, but only in relation to the end to which God will bring humankind, to the new creation in Christ. Their only meaning is that human beings may and must live in accordance with them until we are redeemed. They are the valid orders of God, but have no ultimate validity. They have already been broken down and overcome, from the perspective of the end of history. The orders remain, but their form changes with the course of history.
The orders that we have been given are those of gender, marriage, the family, the nation, property (work and the economy), profession or trade, and government. Human beings cannot escape from any of these orders, nor can any of them be transferred or transformed into another. Marriage remains marriage, the nation [Volk] remains the nation, government [Obrigkeit] remains government. Furthermore, the Bible and confessions understand the human race as one united race in its origin and its final destination (Adam – Christ, Acts 17:26). A human being is a human being, and this unity of the human race calls for our obedience. In the course of history this unity has unfolded as numerous tribes and peoples. But the modern concept of race is not found in either the Bible or the confessional writings. The tribes of Shem, Ham and Japheth, who were the sons of one father, are not the final boundaries of communities based on bloodlines, but rather become thoroughly mixed together. This is the context for the significance given to “thy strangers who are . . . within thy gates” in the Old Testament. Whether they are welcome or not, they are simply there. To speak of the Creator God, who made the entire human race, is to speak of the humanity that exists over and above the distinct peoples. That means, “the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself . . . I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34).
Because of the demands of the various orders, human beings find themselves in a continuous tension. This tension is for us the most highly visible proof that the world is in need of redemption. Worldly authority has the responsibility for resolving the world’s tensions, and it alone defends its legal system by the sword.
Christians receive these orders, which keep human beings alive and preserve them for their future in Christ, in faith from the hand of our Creator. The orders call us to thanksgiving and repentance. We know that besides the resolution of conflicts by the state, to which we bow in obedience, the church’s proclamation assures us of the ultimate resolution of all conflicts through redemption in Christ.
We reject the false doctrine that in this fallen world there could be any orders of ultimate significance that would not be included under God’s curse as a result of the Fall and could thus be recognized and affirmed as the original, unbroken orders of creation. For this would make it possible for humankind to return to a world without sin, and would make Christ’s death on the cross superfluous.
We reject the false doctrine that because the orders of the fallen world mentioned above are not ultimately valid for Christians, they could therefore be a matter of indifference for us or without any validity at all. We therefore reject every attempt to make of the Gospel of love ¦378¦ a law for the construction of a new, harmonious society. “At the same time, it permits us make outward use of legitimate political ordinances of whatever nation in which we live . . . For the gospel does not destroy the state or the household but rather approves them, and it orders us to obey them as divine ordinances. . . We have repeated these things so that even outsiders may understand that our teaching does not weaken but rather strengthens the authority of magistrates and the value of civil ordinances generally.” A.C. 10, Art. 16.
We reject the false doctrine that could consider any particular corporative order as belonging to God’s orders of creation. According to Luther’s teaching, human society is indeed ordered, but in such a way that the same person belongs simultaneously to various orders or groups (ordo oeconomicus, politicus, ecclesiasticus). To say that a certain historical form of society is based upon natural law and is therefore an ultimate order would be to fall back into Catholic social teaching.
We reject the false doctrine that would make obedience to the orders dependent on whether the person who embodies them is a Christian. It is not whether the authorities are Christian or heathen, but whether they have a right concept of their worldly office, which obligates us to obey them as God’s order. “[The gospel] . . . commands us to obey the present laws, whether they have been formulated by pagans or by others.” (A.C. 16) “Christians therefore are obliged to be subject to political authority and to obey its commands and laws in all that may be done without sin. But if a command of the political authority cannot be followed without sin, we must obey God rather than any human beings.” Acts 5:29; C.A. Art. 16.
We reject the false doctrine that holds that we ourselves are able to restore the orders of creation, which have been destroyed by sin, to their original purity. Only in Christ can the world be restored; not until the new creation will it again stand in visible purity before its Creator. “No one except God alone can separate the corruption of our nature from the nature itself.” (F.C.I.I.III).
 The Law
The orders preserve the world for its end according to God’s will. The orders are equally well known to both heathens and Christians. They are to be distinguished from the law of God. In the law, God speaks through revelation to each human being personally. It represents God’s claim to be Lord among humankind, in which we are called to offer up our complete devotion and love for God and our neighbor. The law is revealed in the Bible in numerous specific demands; these do not have the meaning for us of principles to be applied, but rather carry the authority of true witness to the Lord who commands us freely. (The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are in agreement on this.)
The church therefore proclaims the law of the Scriptures, not as a principle for us each to apply in different ways, but as the concrete claim made upon us by God as our Lord, which binds us again and again to the one Lord revealed in the Bible. A Christian receives God’s law only as it is proclaimed in the church according to the Scriptures. Christians also understand the orders within which they live as God’s law only through the Holy Scriptures.
The Old Testament law differs from the laws for living and the orders of other peoples in that it is given to Israel as the people of God, as the people chosen to be the church. Therefore it is not to be made the subject of comparisons, but only of proclamation.
We reject the false doctrine that the orders of God in the Nomos of nations could be the same as the law of God. This only applies to the Old Testament law of the people Israel. Israel is both people and church. It alone is chosen. That this is fact is expressed in the difference between the laws of all other peoples and the Ten Commandments. The latter’s uniqueness is found in the first commandment, which denies any attempt to call upon any other orders as if they were God’s law. The entire law of Israel as the people of God is valid only by virtue of this first commandment. The first and second tablets of the Ten Commandments form an indissoluble unity, and are to be proclaimed only as such. The Christian who wants to live in obedience to the orders as if they were the law of God can do so only on the basis of the proclamation of the biblical law.
The church teaches that human beings, by freely transgressing against God’s law, have fallen away from God, subsist in the misery of sin, decay and death in their whole nature and all their doings, and have lost the image of God that was in them. The confessions say “that there is nothing sound or uncorrupted left in the human body or soul, in its internal or external powers. Instead, as the church sings, ‘Through Adam’s fall human nature and our essence are completely corrupted.’ The damage is such that only God alone can separate human nature and the corruption of this nature from each other.” (F.C. I.I.III). With the confessions, we are also teaching that human beings are not only sick, but dead, to all that is good, and that from birth they are without faith, without fear of God, full of evil desires and subject to the righteous wrath of God.
We reject the false doctrine that sin is merely cutting oneself off from the organic context of life. That would mean that everything we do within the organic context of life is good and without sin. But this would deny the biblical view that the organic world as well has been corrupted by the fall into sin. There are actions “which do not break apart the organic context of life”, but are still sinful because they are unloving. Sin is rebellion against God’s absolute claim to be Lord through the law of love.
We reject the false doctrine that speculates that creation and sin both originate from the same principle, so that sin would be simply another side of creation. Creation and sin are total opposites, and can never be derived one from the other. They can be seen as God’s world and the devil’s world, although certainly God also overcomes the devil. The Gnostic attempt to understand sin as necessary is only an excuse for sin, as if black were white; it gives people the possibility of justifying themselves, does away with reconciliation through Christ’s death on the cross, takes all seriousness out of the contrast between good and evil, and thus leads to loss of discipline.
We reject the false doctrine that would see sins only as moral or biological errors or imperfections or ignorance, which human beings could correct by doing better the next time. Our sins brought Christ to the cross, and only through the death of Christ are sins forgiven. (F.C. II,I, 487-491)
We reject the false doctrine that because of sin human beings are no longer God’s creatures. For Christ went to the cross for the sake of humankind, and there bore witness to God’s love for God’s fallen creatures. (F.C. II,I, 488).
 On Christ
The church teaches that Jesus Christ is Son of God and Son of David, true God and true human being, the Sinless One in the sinful flesh, and the sole salvation of humankind; that the world without Christ is lost under the wrath of God. We teach that Christ is the end and the fulfillment of the law, the forgiveness of all sins, the victory over death, the solution to every problem, and that he alone is the turning point of the ages. Jesus was crucified for the sake of the guilt of all people and through their lack of faith, and resurrected that we might be made righteous. With the Holy Scriptures and the confessions we therefore call him our Lord, because he “redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, delivered me and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver and gold but with his holy and precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death, in order that I may be his, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.” (Small Catechism, Art. 2).
We reject that false doctrine that Jesus appeared as a “flare of Nordic light” in the midst of a world tormented by signs of decay. Christ is the reflection of God’s glory (Hebrews 12) in the midst of the world, and the Son of David who was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
We reject the false doctrine that says we confess Jesus as our Lord because of his heroic devotion. He is our Lord only because he is sent by our Father, the Son and Savior crucified and resurrected for us. With the confessions we hereby reject the error of the new Arians, “that Christ is not a true, essential, natural God, of one divine essence with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, but is merely adorned with divine majesty and is inferior to and beside God the Father.” (F.C. I, XII 8 ).
We reject the false doctrine that the cross of Jesus Christ may be regarded as a symbol for a generalized religious or human truth, as expressed in the sentence “The public interest comes before private interest” (Wieneke). The cross of Jesus Christ is not at all a symbol for anything; it is rather the unique revelatory act of God, in which the fulfillment of the law, the judgment of death on all flesh, and the reconciliation of the world with God are carried out for all people. Therefore the death of Jesus is not to be compared with any other sacrificial death, and the passion of Jesus Christ should not be compared with the passion of any other person or people. Christ’s passion and cross can only be proclaimed as God’s judgment on and mercy for the entire world.
We reject the false doctrine that would make the crucifixion of Christ the fault of the Jewish people alone, as though other peoples and races had not crucified him. All races and peoples, even the mightiest, share in the guilt for his death and become guilty of it every day anew, when they commit outrage against the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29). “Thy grief and bitter passion were all for sinners’ gain; mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.” “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6. A.C. XIII 8, XXIV 56.
 On the Holy Spirit and the Church
 On the Holy Spirit
The church teaches that the Holy Spirit, true God for all eternity, is not created, not made, but proceeds from the Father and the Son; that the Spirit is given to humankind only through the external Word and the sacraments of the church; that through the Spirit those persons are drawn from all nations [Völker] whom God has chosen, who will belong to Christ’s church; that the Spirit teaches, judges, punishes and creates faith, conversion and renewal in human beings.
We reject the false doctrine that the Holy Spirit can be recognized without Christ in the creation and its orders. For it is always as proceeding from the Son that the Holy Spirit judges this fallen world and establishes the new order, above all nations, of the church as the people of God. Only because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son does the church receive its mission to all nations. The rebellion against this teaching about the Holy Spirit is an ethno-nationalist [völkisch] rebellion against the church of Jesus Christ. C.A. I: “Therefore all heresies . . . are rejected . . . which hold that . . . the Holy Spirit is a movement induced in creatures.” Ap. XXIV: “For the Holy Spirit works through the Word and the Sacraments.” Art. Sm. III, VIII.: “It must be firmly maintained that God gives no one his Spirit or grace apart from the external Word which goes before. We say this to protect ourselves from the enthusiasts, that is, the ‘spirits,’ who boast that they have the Spirit apart from and before contact with the Word.”
 On Justification and Faith
The church teaches that godless humankind can find its way to a merciful God only through faith in Jesus Christ, who was crucified and resurrected as intermediary for us. This faith is given by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Word. Against human reason, against the pride of the flesh, against conscience, faith clings solely to the biblical Word of the promise of God’s grace. It is through this faith alone that we are justified. C.A. IV.
We reject the confusion of trust in God with faith. There is a heathen way of trusting in God that is limited to ideas of divine providence, an immodest confidence that fearlessly claims God’s mercy as something to be taken for granted and asserts to all the world its own justification by God. This confidence is fixated on what is going on in today’s world and knows nothing of faith in the future, in the end of all things in Christ.
In contrast, Christian faith is wholly bound to Christ as the Word of God, Christ who goes with us to judgment, allows us to die before God and in his unseen mercy and power calls us back to life. Christian faith knows God’s knows of God’s wrath and is repentant, fears God and sees God’s grace as the miracle of miracles that the world cannot comprehend. Thus Christian faith is always oriented toward the end of the world.
Heathen trust in God sees God as a nameless power to which one must submit, as destiny. Christian faith recognizes God, revealed in Christ alone, as the living, holy, just and merciful Father and Lord. For a Christian, to trust in God means to accept this world obediently from the hand of the God who is revealed in Christ, to take Christ’s cross upon oneself and to carry it in the power of the promise that at the end of all things God will create a new heaven and a new earth. Heathen “trust in God” trusts in the inexorable laws of the world, while Christian trust in God lives by the certainty that the Lord who will judge the world on the appointed day is the God who promises mercy.
We reject as Israelite thinking the teaching that at the Last Judgment God will ask people only whether they have been “decent folk”. This is a basic misunderstanding of the Gospel’s meaning and of the faith in Luther’s sense. In judging humankind, God intends only to ask whether we have believed in Christ, and this faith is to justify each of us before God. This faith is the work of God, and it bears fruit in the good works for which God prepared us beforehand. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10). The fruits of faith include trust in God and the sense of one’s duty. But this must in no way be confused with faith itself. One cannot assume that someone has faith on the basis of his or her trust in God and sense of duty. Both can be false images, temptations, thus the work of the devil in a person. Faith that is totally the work of God does not look for the fruits of faith, but looks only to its Lord. It does not live with reference to itself, but only with reference to Christ. The meaning of the Gospel is not lighthearted trust in God, knowing one’s duty, and the will to conquer, but rather repentance (turning back) and daring to believe in the kingdom of God in Christ.
 [The Church, Its Ministry and Confession]
 On the Church
The church is the body of Jesus Christ. The Crucified and Risen One is the Lord who created and still creates his people. Christ’s people is the church. It is present everywhere where people are called by Christ, in the words of the Gospel and in the sacraments, to conversion and faith. In this way the church becomes the communion of “saints”. Its members are saints not because they are without sin; their holiness is not the fruit of human endeavor, but depends solely upon God’s action, God’s call. The church is therefore a community of sinners; it is a community of the godless, of people who are lost. Through God’s forgiving action of justification, that is, only because God reaches out to them, people who are without God become God’s children.
When the church looks upon its people it does not see any cause for self-glorification. It can say with certainty only that it is completely powerless and inadequate. This is why the church confesses that it does wrong, that it sins. On the other hand, when the church looks to Christ, whom it proclaims, it can only be full of praise, in the conviction that Christ is unconquerable. The church confesses that it is the communion of saints. Thus it is not subject to any judgment by the world. It stands under the Word of God, which puts to death and makes alive again – under God’s judgment, which at the same time is always mercy.
What church is can only be understood from within the church, never from outside it. To human reason, the doctrine of the church is presumption or foolishness. No body of knowledge, and no statesman or government, can comprehend what the church is, except through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord, the faith that he gives.
As people of God and body of Christ, the church is hidden from the eyes of humankind. It is nevertheless a reality in the world. Only faith can recognize the true church through the visible institutions and forms in which the church enters into history. The only marks by which it is recognized are the purity with which it teaches the Gospel and its correct administration of the sacraments, not the particular religious or moral status of its members.
 Ministry and Confession
The Christian church acknowledges as its authority only the Word of God, as Christ testified to it in the Gospel and as it is represented visibly in the sacraments. The proclamation of this Word, and the administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, are entrusted to the preaching ministry. It is a ministry of service to the Word and through the Word. It has no foundation before the Word or outside the Word, but stands upon the authority of the Word alone. As such, the preaching ministry does not belong to any individual or community, but is a trust granted by the divine Word through the agency of a call from the Christian community. The Christian community has the duty and the right, at any time when it may be threatened with distortion of the divine Word, to confess and do honor to the Word by stating the doctrine that is recognized as correct over against that which is in error. Such confessions are always to be examined with reference to the Word to ensure they are correct, and are the norm for service in the ministry to a congregation.
We reject the false doctrine that makes the ministry an order that would take precedence over Word and sacrament and would be their source. We reject this doctrine in the form of the Roman church hierarchy and those who aspire to be like it, and in the form of enthusiasm [Schwärmerei]. The power of the ministry does not depend either on an historically established institution nor on the powers with which a human soul may be gifted. We therefore also protest against the attempt to apply the modern leadership [Führungs-] principle to the preaching ministry. The preaching ministry is service to the Word of reconciliation, and is therefore the opposite of any magical powers of leadership. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:11ff.).
As service to the Word of reconciliation, ministry lives by the word of the Holy Scriptures alone, and can only be performed by taking this word as its source. Ministry receives its mission neither from the nation, nor from the state, nor from any political and spiritual movement. The office of bishop is not by its nature set above that of the preaching ministry. Its superior position is that of the authority within the Christian community. It is subject to the law of the Scriptures and of the confessions, and therefore cannot ordain that the tie that binds the community to the confession be loosened or undone.
 Church and Nation [Volk]
Because the foundation of the church is solely the presence of Jesus Christ, who has entered into history in Word and sacrament, the outward forms of the church’s usage and its constitution are not part of its essence as church. They make it possible for the church to fulfil its duty to bring the Gospel to all nations. The church enters with its preaching and its outward forms into the various cultures and into every age. Following the example of the apostles, it can become “to the Jews as a Jew, to the Greeks, as a Greek”, to the Germans, as a German, to the Chinese, as a Chinese, “so that I might by any means save some”.
This adaptability to different cultures finds its parameters in the content of the proclamation. This content alone, from the church’s very essence, determines the ways and forms through which churches enter into history.
The message of the Gospel is equally accessible, or equally inaccessible, to all nations. For it is only God’s Holy Spirit that can bring about faith in people and awaken consensus on the true confession. The communion of the confessing church extends across the borders between nations. The boundaries of nation and church are never the same.
The church of Christ never floats over and above the nations and peoples. It lives within them, and since the resurrection of Jesus Christ it has never lived within only one nation.
In every nation to which the church has brought its message, the church lives. The nation is not the same as the church; but people who belong to both are in indissoluble solidarity with both. They share in the guilt of their nation. At the same time they are members of the people of God, citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
 Church and State
The church teaches that worldly authority is ordained by God and that everyone owes it obedience. Worldly authority bears its sword ready to defend against the disorder which is caused by the works of Christ’s Adversary. The state is set as a fatherly authority over the people by the patience of God, to protect our lives and maintain public order and honor (A.C. XXIII, 55). Both its value and its limitation are inherent in its office. Both heathens [Heiden] and Christians have such worldly authority over them, in the same measure. Thus all worldly authority, whether good or bad, does not belong to the realm of salvation, but rather to the realm of death. The church enters into this realm of death with its proclamation of Christ’s resurrection and of salvation only through Christ. Only in Christ does humankind receive salvation and life in the eyes of God. Thus the Word proclaimed by the church has a total claim on each person.
Worldly authority and the church are both from God. They are separated by boundaries that cannot be transgressed, but they are also wholly dependent on one another.
The church can never be absorbed by worldly authority, that is, it can never be “built into” the structure of a state. The content of its proclamation always places it over against all worldly authority.
Nevertheless, the church is bound together with worldly authority in three ways:
- Its word is addressed to the same person whose life is preserved by the authority that bears the sword.
- Its word tells this person to obey the orders of the authorities as God’s orders.
- The church knows that, in its visible form, it too is subject to the orders of worldly authority.
Worldly authority is bound together with the church only in that the latter is confined within its own orders by the right preaching of the Gospel, and thus does not become an instrument of the devil who, in the end, seeks only to create disorder through which to destroy all life. This is the only service that worldly authorities should expect from the church. Here the church serves the state by keeping the human beings under state authority safe from the devil’s deception, which would urge them to worship the state as the unlimited giver of life and of salvation.
The church and the authorities come into conflict first of all when the church misunderstands its service as that of a state within the state, seeks to be a factor with political power, and wants the state to recognize membership in the church (through baptism) as a condition for state citizenship. In other words, church and state come into conflict when the church lacks the courage or the ability to serve the state solely through its preaching and confession according to the Scriptures.
Church and state come into conflict, secondly, when a worldly authority wants to use the church as its instrument; when the authority can no longer tolerate the church’s witness to Christ as its only Lord; when the state can no longer bear to hear that its own dignity, in this world of sin, is forfeit to death.
We reject the false doctrine of the Christian state in any form. The authorities, whether in a land of heathen or of Christians, only carry out their office rightly when they exercise the power of the sword rightly and remain within their boundaries. “The Word can have no emperor or judge, or protector, other than God alone” (W.A. 17.2, p. 108). The state cannot presume to bring salvation to human beings. It cannot misuse the church as its moral and religious foundation. It is false doctrine to think of the church as the soul or the conscience of the state.
We reject any attempt to set up the visible rule of God on earth, through the church, as interference with the state’s orders. This would mean making the gospel into law. The church can neither protect nor preserve earthly life. This remains the office of worldly authority.
 The Church and the Jews
The church teaches that God chose Israel, from among all the earth’s peoples, to be the people of God. Israel was chosen solely by the power of God’s word and in God’s mercy, not because of any natural merit of its own (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:7-11). Jesus, the Christ promised by the Law and the Prophets, was rejected by the High Council and the Jewish people according to the Scriptures. They wanted a national Messiah who would liberate them politically and make them masters of the world. But this, Christ Jesus was not, and did not do; he died at their hands, and for their sake. Through the crucifixion and raising from the dead of Christ Jesus, the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down (Eph. 2). The place of the Old Testament people of the Covenant has not been taken by another nation, but rather by the Christian church, called out of, and within, all nations.
God has given proof of overflowing faithfulness in remaining faithful to Israel, according to the flesh from which Christ was born in the flesh, despite all Israel’s unfaithfulness and even after the crucifixion. God still wants to complete with the Jews the plan for redeeming the world that began with the calling of Israel (Romans 9-11). This is why God has preserved, according to the flesh, a sacred remnant of Israel, which neither becomes absorbed into any other nation by emancipation and assimilation, nor becomes itself a nation among others through zionistic or similar efforts, nor can be annihilated by measures such as those used by Pharaoh. This sacred remnant has the character indelebilis of the chosen people.
The church has received from its Lord the mission to call the Jews to conversion and to baptize those who believe in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 10:5-6; Acts 2:38ff., 3:19-26). A mission to the Jews that refuses altogether to carry out baptisms of Jews because of cultural or political considerations is refusing to obey its Lord. Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:22ff.). He represents the religious ideal of the Jewish soul no more than the religious ideal of any other people’s soul. Neither can a Jew be given faith in Christ through flesh and blood, but only through the Spirit from the Father in heaven (Matthew 16:17).
The fellowship of those belonging to the church is not determined by blood, therefore not by race, but by the Holy Spirit and baptism.
We reject any attempt to compare or confuse the mission of any other nation with that of Israel, which is part of salvation history.
It can never in any case be the mission of any nation to take revenge on the Jews for the murder committed at Golgotha. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35; Hebrews 10:30. We reject any attempt to misinterpret God’s special faithfulness to Israel as proof for the religious significance of Jewish or any other culture.
We object to the assertion that the faith of a Jewish Christian would, unlike that of a Gentile Christian, be a matter of race or blood; this is a Jewish form of “enthusiasm” [Schwärmerei].
We object to the attempt to make the German Protestant church into a Reich church for Christians of the Aryan race, thus robbing it of its promise. This would put up a law based on race at the entrance to the church, making such a church itself legally into a Jewish Christian congregation. We therefore oppose the establishment of congregations for Jewish Christians, because they would be based on the false premise that there is something particular about Jewish Christians at the same level as, for example, the special character that French refugee congregations in Germany have for historical reasons, or that Christians from Jewish backgrounds had to develop a particular Christianity appropriate to their race. What is special about Jewish Christians has nothing to do with their race or kind or their history, but rather with God’s particular faithfulness to Israel according to the flesh. In fact, so long as Jewish Christians are not set apart legally in any way within the church, they serve as a living monument to God’s faithfulness and a sign that the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down, and that faith in Christ must not be distorted in any way to do with a national religion or with Christianity according to race. “Gentile” Christians should be ready to expose themselves to persecution before they are ready to betray in even a single case, voluntarily or under compulsion, the church’s fellowship with Jewish Christians that is instituted in Word and sacrament.
 On the End of All Things
The church teaches that Jesus Christ is the end of the world and its history. He who was born, crucified and resurrected within history will come again to judge the living and the dead. Because the Christ of history, the Christ who is present and the Christ who is to come are one and the same; in him the end time and the judgment are present now as well as in the future. (“The hour is coming, and is now here . . .” John 5:25). Therefore faith and hope are inseparable. Faith says, “now”, “but now”, while hope says “not yet”. (“We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” 1 John 3:2). The unity of both is Christ, who is present to us in the commandment to love and thus brings the end time near.
As Christ went through death, so the whole world and each human, as a whole being, must go to their death. There is no way of going step by step, or progressing, from this world into the new world. Everything must pass through death. But as Christ was raised from the dead, so at the end time God will awaken the dead and call them before his judgment seat. Only those who believe can stand this judgment. But who are those who believe, and who are those who do not believe? This question, which we have to answer for ourselves, is the final thing that can be said about it here.
The new world of the resurrection will be a new heaven and a new earth. It is our earth that will be made new, the same earth on which the cross of Christ once stood. But it is a new earth; “the former things shall not be remembered” (Isaiah 65:1). God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Before the end, the Antichrist will come, disguised as the One sent from God, the Messiah, the Christ, aiming to lead the church into temptation. Dangerous in the world and even more dangerous in the church, he will bring a battle into Christ’s community, and there will be a parting of the ways over him. History will end with Christ’s community divided in two, struggling against the rule of the Antichrist. This end time of history, however, is “coming” and is already “now”.
We reject the false doctrine that would seek to tear the world in which we hope apart from our world, so that the first has nothing to do with the second. We see this as an attempt to escape from recognizing that the present world is “now” already threatened and judged by the end time, and that Jesus Christ, the end of the world, already speaks his word to the world and demands our obedience. People put the emphasis on the “not yet”, as the result both of unbending secularity and of pious escapism from the world. Both cases lie on the same level. Both are unable to think in terms of Christ as the end of the world; they think, as a matter of principle, only in worldly terms.
We reject the false doctrine that would see within the world a gradual development taking place which will culminate in the new world. Even that which is most noble in this world must go to its death. Christ had to go to the cross. Even the most devout must face the judgment. For our sake, Christ was cursed by God upon the cross. No teaching can be given about the outcome of the judgment, neither the restoration of the entire world nor its eternal rejection. Only in prayer is it possible to speak about the outcome of the judgment.
We reject any version of the doctrine of the thousand-year that clearly seeks to interpret certain historical events as the beginning of Christ’s visible reign on earth.
God gives faith through the Holy Spirit wherever the Gospel is preached in all its purity and the sacraments are administered according to their institution; there the one, holy, catholic Church is a reality in the world. If either of these marks of the church is distorted or given short shrift, then it is no longer church, but one among many religious communities and worldviews [Weltanschauungen].