Lutherans have accepted nine historic confessions since the birth of the Lutheran Church in the 16th Century. These confessions served as a witness for their time and are accepted because they accurately describe the Christian faith according to the Bible. The Bible always comes first; confessions are a witness to what we as Christians or Lutherans believe. The following is a short summary of those nine historic confessions. You can find all of the Lutheran Confessions collected in a book called The Book of Concord. The date of their writing is in parentheses.
Apostle’s Creed (ca. AD 100-200) A creed is a short statement of belief, named after the first word, credo, which translates to “I believe.” It was an early Christian creed. Though probably not written by the Apostles themselves, it summarized the Apostle’s teachings. Christian churches have been confessing the Apostle’s Creed in worship for centuries.
Nicene Creed (AD 325) This creed was formerly adopted by the Christian church to defend the teaching of the Triune God. The Nicene Creed was named after the city in which it was written. Christian churches have also been confessing the Nicene Creed in worship for centuries.
Athanasian Creed (ca. AD 450) This creed was named after St. Athanansius, who defended the teaching of the Trinity and the teaching of who Jesus is. This creed is sometimes read on Christmas Day or Trinity Sunday.
The Augsburg Confession (1530) Presented in the German city of Augsburg, the Augsburg Confession was written by Lutheran churches to show the Catholic Church that they proclaimed the true Word of God. The presentation of the Augsburg Confession marked the birth of the Lutheran Church.
Apology to the Augsburg Confession (1531) Contrary to what the name sounds like, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession was not written to say “sorry” for what the Lutherans had confessed, but to offer a further defense and explanation of the original Augsburg Confession. Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s colleague, wrote this confession to refute charges made against the Lutherans against their beliefs.
Smalcald Articles (1537) Martin Luther is the primary author of this confession, written originally as a last will and testament of faith, fearing he would die at the time he wrote it. The Smalcald Articles are named after the German town in which they were accepted.
Smalcald Articles (1537) Martin Luther wrote these articles as a last will and testament at a point in his life when he thought he was nearing his death. Although he lived on for a few years after this, the Smalcald Articles indicated for the Lutherans at the Council of Mantua items which they could or could not accept.
Small Catechism (1529) Martin Luther wrote the “catechism,” a book of instruction so that parents could teach their children the basic truths of the Bible. The Small Catechism includes the 10 Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the use of the Christian “Keys” (practicing forgiveness).
Large Catechism (1529) Martin Luther wrote the Large Catechism as a fuller instruction for the faith of pastors, parents and teachers.
Formula of Concord (1577) Written in the generation after Martin Luther, this confession offered the most comprehensive overview of the Christian faith which Lutherans hold to.