[Presented and adopted at the first Convention of the Evangelical-Lutheran Synodical Conference in 1872, Proceedings, pp. 20-68. The following are the main theses of this statement of faith.]
The doctrine of justification is the most eminent chief article of the Christian faith, one the right understanding of which is for the salvation of the individual – and the pure proclamation of which is for the welfare of the church as a whole – of incomparable importance and absolute necessity.
The Reformation of the Church through Dr. Luther had its starting point in a renewed understanding, by God’s grace, of the pure evangelical doctrine of justification and in a corresponding uncorrupted proclamation of this article of faith.
In the pure doctrine of justification, as our Lutheran church has presented it again and again from God’s Word and placed it on the lamp-stand, it is above all a matter of three points: 1.) Of the doctrine of the universal, perfect redemption (Erlösung) of the world through Christ; 2.) Of the doctrine of the power and efficacy of the means of grace; and 3.) Of the doctrine of faith.
As in Adam all men have fallen and come under the wrath of God and eternal damnation as punishment for sins, so also all men are truly redeemed from sin, death, devil and hell, in Christ as the second Adam, and God is truly reconciled with them all.
As through the substitutionary death of Christ the whole world’s debt of sin was wiped out and the punishment for it was endured, so also righteousness, life and salvation have been brought again for the whole world through Christ’s resurrection, and have come upon (über) all men in Christ as the Substitute of all mankind.
This grace, forgiveness, righteousness, life, and salvation, acquired again for all men by Christ’s work of redemption, God brings to men in the Means of Grace. For the evangelical promise, which is contained in the Word of the Gospel and in the holy Sacraments, is not an empty sound or a content-less promise, but a powerful communication (Darreichung) and giving of all the goods which God promises in this Word of His grace.
The Gospel therefore is not a mere historical narrative of the accomplished work of the redemption, but much rather a powerful declaration of peace and a promise of grace on the part of God towards the world redeemed by Christ, and thus at all times a powerful Means of Grace, in which God for His part brings, proffers, distributes, gives, and presents the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness acquired by Christ, even though not all to whom God issues His serious call of grace accept this invitation of the reconciled God, and thus also do not become partakers of the accompanying benefits.
The holy Absolution is a preaching of the Gospel to one or more definite persons, who desire the comfort of the Gospel. Absolution is therefore also at all times valid and powerful (kräftig – efficacious) in itself, for God therein declares Himself, through the mouth of His servant, as a God truly reconciled through Christ’s blood and death, and thus distributes for His part the gift of forgiveness and righteousness to all, who are being absolved, although many do not become partakers of the gifts of grace proffered in the Gospel, on account of their unbelief.
The means, through which alone man comes into actual possession of the gift of grace acquired by Christ and proffered in Word and Sacrament, is faith, which believes God’s promise of grace and thus appropriates to itself the gift of the merit and righteousness of Christ offered in this promise of God, and comforts itself with the benefit of Christ as His Sin-canceller and Savior.
Faith in Christ therefore makes righteous and saves, not because it obtains such and exceeding reward with God as a splendid work of man, and as satisfaction for sin reconciling God with men, but because it is, from man’s side, the taking hand, which actually grasps and accepts the treasure of the merit of Christ and thus of forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation, which are proffered and given in the promise of grace. Nor does faith justify and save before God because God is willing, out of free grace and love, to let it count as a meritorious work of righteousness and of obedience to God’s Word, but because the treasure of the merit of Christ, which even the weakest faith grasps in the promise of the Gospel, embraces in itself truly a perfect satisfaction for all guilt and punishment of sin, as well as a perfect obedience towards all requirements of the Law of God.
The faith of the individual does not by its power bring it about that the evangelical promise of grace, which God speaks in the Word of the Gospel of Absolution, becomes really valid, efficacious, and true, but it simply clings to the promise of grace and forgiveness as a divinely true and efficacious one, and by thus accepting the promise of God, it thereby at the same time grasps the gift of righteousness and salvation, and has what the words say and express.
When an individual sinner through faith grasps the promise of the Gospel in Word or Sacrament, and thus appropriates to himself the treasure of the merit of Christ for his justification and salvation, then he is also regarded, accounted, and declared to be such by God as in a forensic action before the judgment seat of God, so that the sinner now for his own person has part in the merit and the righteousness of Christ for his salvation, and is thus also personally righteous and an heir of eternal life through the personal possession of the benefit of Christ.
Taked over from: Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pfr. Martin Kalish