Among recent confessional statements there is one, little known to the English-speaking world, that stands out. The controversy that later gave birth to this confession came to light in 1961, when fifty persons in Württemberg, Germany, addressed an open letter to their church authorities and to the Lutheran faculty at the University of Tübingen. Signers of the letter, all non-professional theologians, were protesting the demythologizing influence of Bultmann on their younger pastors. The controversy thus pitted the congregational piety of the Lutheran laity against the prevailing theology taught in the German Lutheran faculties. From it came a remarkable confession composed by the presidium of the European Evangelical Alliance, a ministerial association. The following free translation was made by Dr. Henry Hamann, president of Concordia Seminary in Highgate, Australia:

Our Confession of the Holy Scripture

We remember with gratitude those theological instructors at universities and theological seminaries who as believing Christians led us into the treasures of the Holy Scriptures and who are still doing so.…

However, we declare with deep anxiety that certain movements of modern theology are gaining more and more ground which question truths of the Holy Scripture that cannot be surrendered, which falsify the Gospel through improper biblical criticism, confuse men by the importation of ideas foreign to the Gospel, and which endanger the full power of the message of salvation. Accordingly, we can no longer keep silent and feel ourselves obligated to utter a public warning against a theology which threatens the heart of our faith.

1. We confess the whole of the sacred Scriptures to be the Spirit-inspired revelation of God, which possess absolute authority, and which as the Word of God determine the teaching and life of believers. We reject the movement which views the Bible like any other document in the history of religion and which sees in it only the witness of special men favored by God, which, however, has no binding or authoritative meaning for us.

2. We accept our task to be that of setting forth the whole content of the sacred Scriptures in our exposition and proclamation of the Word of God, and of placing in its centre the heart of the Scripture, salvation in Christ. Accordingly, a proclamation which is based on an existential, demythologizing interpretation of Scripture we hold to be not only inadequate, but also misleading, because it does not give its full value to the work of God in Christ, which is the foundation of our faith, and because it thus robs preaching of its effective power and fulness. A proclamation with merely anthropocentric direction, making the new self-understanding of man its decisive principle, we reject, because it obscures the inner connection between the event of salvation and the witness to salvation.

3. We confess the reality of the living God who rules in holiness and majesty over the world, who deals with men in judgment and grace, in order to call them to Himself and to free them from sin and guilt. Accordingly, we cannot speak of God merely as the highest principle, the ground of being, the central point of our existence that defies closer definition, or understand Him even as a special form of love for humanity. Such a God is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In such a god we cannot trust, nor can we pray to him.

4. We confess Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Redeemer, who as God’s Son was sent by His Father into the world to bring to it salvation, and who died on the cross as an expiatory sacrifice for our sins to establish His eternal rule, until He comes again and brings about the completion of all things. Accordingly, we refuse to see in the historical Jesus only the rabbi of Nazareth, whose true person can no longer be known by us. We likewise hold it to be wrong to say that it was only the disciples who on the basis of their Easter experience made Him the one in whom we believe. On such a view His Messianic dignity and divine glory are taken away from Him. If it is only the honor of a prophet which is accorded Him in the days of His flesh, then He is no longer the incarnate Word in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells, nor the Son of God with the authority to forgive sins.

5. We confess the saving acts of God which form the basis of our salvation and faith. Accordingly we reject the attempt to divest the saving acts of their decisive importance and to find the only valid saving occurrence in the word which is proclaimed here and now. The word of proclamation which has no anchorage in the action of God for our salvation becomes a freely floating word which no longer attests the truth.

6. We confess the powerful deed of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Where the resurrection of Christ and with it the eternal divine existence of Christ are denied, as happens so widely in modern theology, there no personal access to Christ exists and no fellowship with Him. And then also the fact that the Church is the body of Christ is not something to be believed.

Article continues below

7. We confess the reality of the Holy Ghost and the powerful effects which come from Him. Therefore we add our testimony to that of the Holy Scriptures, that the Holy Spirit grants believers His gifts to the present day, keeps them in the true faith and the pure teaching, and brings forth in them the fruits of the Spirit. Where no reality is granted to the exalted, living Christ and His presence in the Church, there it is also difficult to believe in the Holy Ghost.

8. We confess the Scriptural teaching of the Last Things, the plan of God for the world and salvation, which will reach its goal at the end of time, beginning with the return of Christ. Therefore we reject that teaching which limits Biblical eschatology to the creation given with faith, and which rejects all statements of the Scripture which go beyond this as mythological and, therefore, as ideas not suitable for men of our age. The theology characterized by us in brief outline is determined by a reduction, or reinterpretation, or even falsification of fundamental Biblical truths. And it is for that reason also that its spiritual influence has been so extraordinarily meagre. But may God grant us the Spirit which leads into all truth and makes us fit for the service which is prescribed us and which we can properly carry out when we range ourselves in the full obedience of faith beneath the authority of the Holy Scriptures.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.