Confess And Teach For Unity (CAT 41) seeks to accomplish its goals by simply and sincerely living up to its name, confessing the faith once handed down to the saints (Jude 3) in the face of any and all opposition, and teaching that faith through our words and actions so that Christ's Church might manifest the unity He so earnestly desires for it (St. John 17). It is for this purpose that the Church has historically bound itself to public confessions of the teaching of Holy Scripture and judged later teachers and teachings by those publicly-agreed-upon confessions of previous ages.
In this way, the confession made by adults desiring Baptism was standardized quite early in what we now call the Apostoles’ Creed, a summary in memorable form of the chief teachings of Scripture with regard to the nature of God and the salvation He gives to man. Later, as false teachers arose who corrupted the Bible’s teaching of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Church, through several Ecumenical Councils, set forth the correct understanding of these issues in the Nicene Creed. A further development of this correction of false views of Christ is contained in the Symbolum Quicunque Vult, more generally known as the Athanasian Creed.
As long as the shepherds of the churches (and whatever shepherds they set to oversee them) taught according to these confessions, there could be unity in the Church and among the churches; but as shepherds fell from this Scriptural orthodoxy into the errors of the earlier centuries of the New Testament era, as well as ‘Christianizing’ various Jewish errors (and even adopting some pagan philosophies and practices), it became necessary to call them back to the confessions of earlier days…that is, to again embrace and confess what God had set forth in His holy Word.
Such a calling to repentance and the confession of the truth was made when an Augustinian monk and professor, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, began to openly question a practice that had become common in the churches aligned with the Bishop of Rome, namely, the selling of ‘Indulgences’—certificates for the remission of punishment that was to take place after death (i.e., in Purgatory). As Fr. Luther questioned how it was that the Bishop of Rome had become able to impose and remit penalties beyond this earthly life, he was drawn ever deeper into the study of both Holy Scripture (of which he was already considered a ‘doctor’ and professor) and the writings of the ‘Fathers’ of the Church—especially as regards their understanding of those things confessed in the creeds and, most especially, with regard to the teaching of the person and work of Christ, the righteousness of God, and how a sinner could stand justified before Him.
Luther, knowing that his own faith had been contrary to these symbols even while confessing them with his mouth, was concerned for the laity, who had been suffering under the teaching of men like him—or worse! Conducting a visitation of the area, Luther found that many of the clergy didn’t even know these basic confessions or the Lord’s prayer; what, then, must they have been teaching their parishioners? Beside the writing, then, that Luther was doing for pastors and academics, he sought to make sure that the clergy and laity in even the most remote regions would know at least the bare minimum of Christian teaching by issuing his Large and Small Catechisms. These, along with his purified liturgy for the Divine Service and hymns for each part of the Catechism, became the basic instructional tools of the Church, as well as setting a confessional standard with regard to what was to be taught regarding these ‘basics’ of the Christian faith (The Ten Commandments, The Apostolic Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and, later, The Office of the Keys and Holy Absolution).
As Luther and his co-workers set forth the truth of Scripture, the ancient Symbols, and the Fathers, some misconstrued this teaching or deliberately twisted it in an attempt to discredit it. While the true faith sttod condemned throughout the 1520s, Charles V was preoccupied with other commitments in the empire, so he was not able to call a meeting to deal with the ‘German heresies’ until 1530. On 25 June 1530, the ‘Lutheran’ princes of Germany presented their Confession to the Emperor at Augsburg, declaring their willingness to depart from this life rather than depart from the pure teaching of God’s Word. The Roman theologians prepared the Confutation, a supposed rebuttal of the Augsburg Confession’s arguments…but one of which the German princes and theologians were not allowed a copy. Nonetheless, Philip Melanchthon undertook the task of refuting Rome’s arguments against salvation solely by the grace of in Christ Jesus, producing the document known as the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession.
Following this, Luther and his co-workers sought a legitimate ecumenical council, in which their complaints could be heard and their theology actually discussed (instead of it simply being demanded of them that they recant even though not proven incorrect in a single syllable of their teaching). Luther hopefully prepared a set of articles for discussion at such a council and presented them to the Smalcaldic League in 1537 as a preparatory document for that council…which Rome never allowed. This document, the Smalcald Articles, along with a document prepared by Melanchthon, the Tractate on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, set forth the main areas of conflict between the Roman church and God’s Word, as well as reflecting the relationship between those who held to Luther's conservative, scriptural reformation of the Church over against those who rejected parts of God’s Word simply because they ‘sounded Romish’ or didn’t agree with their human reason.
Because ‘being Lutheran’ doesn’t stop Man from being Man, with even regenerate man having sin clinging to his flesh, controversies arose after Luther’s death even between those who seriously sought to teach in accord with the Creeds, the Catechisms, the Augsburg Confession and its Defense, the Smalcald Articles and the Tractate. Fortuntately, the Lord of the Church raised up men whom He equipped to speak to these controversies in accord with His Word. Refining two earlier documents, in 1577 these men assembled the Formula of Concord in two parts, and Epitome and a Thorough Declaration. As the preface to this confession states, it is by this confession and those that have come before it that we seek to understand and resolve disputes over Holy Scripture and how to teach it. Scripture itself remains ever the norm and standard of our doctrine, but by these ‘touchstones’—these Scripture-proven statements of doctrine—we are kept by God from diverging from His truth into private interpretations that contradict what He has set forth through His Apostles and Prophets. We do not make new confessions, but continue to confess what has been handed down to us, applying it to the needs of each time and place, seeking above all to show forth the free salvation won for all men by the righteous life and substitutionary suffering and death of the Christ and given to us through the channels God has established: the Gospel and the Sacraments.