At His trial, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” It's a question that has been asked in every culture and every generation. Western culture today has been called “post-modern” and “relativist.” We have shifted from objective to subjective. The question has changed from “what is truth?” to “what is my truth?” If we want to say that there is objective truth, that one can indeed know truth, then we need to be clear about our source of truth.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when and where relativism crept into western thought. Certainly by the mid 1800's the idea that one could know spiritual truth was being dismissed. USA east coast Lutherans had concluded by the 1880's that the Bible “contains” the Word of God. This was in stark contrast to mid-west Lutheran statements in 1919 (Chicago) and 1925 (Minneapolis) that the Bible is God's inerrant Word with infallible authority. While pockets of Lutherans continued to hold to a higher view of Scripture, by the 1960's the east coast view prevailed among the largest Lutheran groups (synods). In 1988 the formation of a 5 million member Lutheran synod formalized the belief that the Bible, instead of being God's inerrant Word with infallible authority, is “normative for faith and life.”
Declaring the Bible to be a “norm” challenged truth. Norms are guidelines, and in this case guidelines authored by men bound by their patriarchal cultures. Instead of looking to Scripture for truth, then, truth was looked for in culture and changing cultural ideas. “Post-modern” sociology and psychology became more valuable than Scripture for determining “truth.” And truth became “my truth” and “your truth.”
Against this subjective view of Scripture, a few Lutheran groups resisted and stood firm on an objective understanding that the Bible is God's inspired Word without error and with faultless authority. We believe that the Bible speaks this way about itself. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17 NASB). “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20, 21 NASB). We believe that all Scripture, the sixty-six canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, is breathed (inspired) by God. We believe the the authors, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God. The Bible is not merely a norm. The Bible does not just contain God's Word. The Bible is God's Word; and because it is God's Word it has no errors, and its authority is faultless.
The challenges the Reformers faced were different than ours, so the language they used to affirm the authority of Scripture is not the same as ours. Their challenges were not so much relativism as they were multiple authorities. Written in the mid 1570's, the Epitome of the Formula of Concord confesses, “In this way the distinction between the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and all other writings is maintained, and Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong.” Terms like “only judge, rule, and norm,” “only touchstone,” “all doctrines ... must be understood,” and “right or wrong” certainly show a view of Scripture that understands the Bible to be God's Word with faultless authority. Our belief that the Bible is God's inspired and inerrant Word is in keeping with this Reformation spirit.
With the Bible, the sixty-six canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, as the source of truth, we can confidently state our fundamental and distinctive beliefs. We can also express without apology positions on the social and moral issues facing our “post-modern” world. This we will do here in the weeks to come.