Q: “We note in the Augsburg Confession and in other confessions of the Lutheran Church that the words ‘We condemn. . .’ often appear. My question is: Isn’t this rather antagonistic—impudent—loveless?”
A: Confessing Scriptural truths requires the clear refutation of error. Our Lutheran confessors strove to write without misunderstanding about any Scriptural doctrine, which required them to testify against any known false teaching. This holds true whether the false teaching is identified as a tenet of a specific group, or whether it is a pervasive philosophy transcending church lines. The Augsburg Confession, Article IX (on Baptism) shows an example of the former. After stating the positive teachings of Scripture about Baptism as a means of grace for all people, the article negatively concludes: “Our churches condemn the Anabaptists [identified today as ‘the Baptists’] who reject the Baptism of infants and declare that children are saved without Baptism.” Article XII of the Augsburg Confession on Repentance contains an example of condemning a more general heresy: “Rejected also are those who teach that forgiveness of sin is not obtained through faith but through the satisfactions made by man.”
To some people, such statements are “loveless” or at least “tactless.” This reaction is typical of those who may not hold deep convictions about the absolute truthfulness of God’s Word. Or people may be misinformed about the doctrinal position espoused by an erring church body.
True Christian love exhibits a double concern – love for God’s Word and love for people. This love glorifies God and His Word because the Bible reveals the one way for sinners to obtain everlasting life and to avoid eternal destruction – namely, faith alone in Christ alone. “What you heard from me,” says the Apostle Paul, “keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). Christian love for people means that they be warned against what is false and the consequences of believing false teaching.
In the first booklet of his “I Believe” series, Dr. B. W. Teigen discusses the appropriateness of “the damnatory clauses.” He mentions that these anathemas follow the example of Paul’s warning to the Galatians. The Galatians should reject anyone – even an angel – who would teach a different kind of Gospel (Galatians 1:8,9). Then Dr. Teigen makes this pertinent remark: “Many, both theologians and laymen, have taken exception to these damnatory clauses. . . in the interest of teaching a type of milquetoast doctrine of the Gospel that won’t offend anyone. But this is to overlook the fact that the revealed doctrine of Christ is exclusive (Acts 4:12)” (page 18).
To a world which rejects the concept of absolute truth, condemnatory statements seem to be “impudent” and “loveless.” But when the Holy Ghost leads people to see Jesus as their only Savior, such statements will glorify God and help people know the truth.