Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church
Palestine, Texas
"To Give Light to Those who Sit in Darkness" (St. Luke 1:79)
Orthodox - Confessional - Liturgical
What We Believe
WE BELIEVE that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God, and the only source and authority for all matters of faith and life.

WE BELIEVE that humankind is saved by the grace of God through faith alone in Jesus Christ. 

WE BELIEVE that this faith is to express itself in a life of love to God and service to our fellow men.


BELIEF AND PRACTICE
General Information

With the universal Christian Church, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod teaches and responds to the love of the Triune God: the Father, creator of all that exists; Jesus Christ, the Son, who became human to suffer and die for the sins of all human beings and to rise to life again in the ultimate victory over death and Satan; and the Holy Spirit, who creates faith through God's Word and Sacraments. The three persons of the Trinity are coequal and coeternal, one God.

Being “Lutheran,” our congregations accept and teach Bible-based teachings of Martin Luther that inspired the reformation of the Christian Church in the 16th century. The teaching of Luther and the reformers can be summarized in three short phrases: Grace alone, Scripture alone, Faith alone.

Grace Alone
God loves the people of the world, even though they are sinful, rebel against Him and do not deserve His love. He sent Jesus, His Son, to love the unlovable and save the ungodly.

Scripture Alone
The Bible is God's inerrant and infallible Word, in which He reveals His Law and His Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is the sole rule and norm for Christian doctrine.

Faith Alone
By His suffering and death as the substitute for all people of all time, Jesus purchased and won forgiveness and eternal life for them. Those who hear this Good News and believe it have the eternal life that it offers. God creates faith in Christ and gives people forgiveness through Him.
The word “Synod” in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod comes from the Greek words that mean “walking together.” It has rich meaning in our church body, because the congregations voluntarily choose to belong to the Synod. Diverse in their service, these congregations hold to a shared confession of Jesus Christ as taught in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

The congregations of the Synod are “confessional.” They hold to the Lutheran Confessions as the correct interpretation and presentation of Biblical doctrine. Contained in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, these statements of belief were put into writing by church leaders during the 16th century. The simplest of these is Luther's Small Catechism. The Augsburg Confession gives more detail on what Lutherans believe.

                Adapted from A Week in the Life of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, copyright 1996, Concordia Publishing House.


A Brief Statement of the
Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod
of the Holy Scriptures
Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.)
[Adopted 1932]

Of the Holy Scriptures
We teach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God because the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures wrote only that which the Holy Ghost communicated to them by inspiration, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21. We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is not a so-called "theological deduction," but that it is taught by direct statements of the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16, John 10:35, Rom. 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:13. Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10:35.

We furthermore teach regarding the Holy Scriptures that they are given by God to the Christian Church for the foundation of faith, Eph. 2:20. Hence
the Holy Scriptures are the sole source from which all doctrines proclaimed in the Christian Church must be taken and therefore, too, the sole rule and norm by which all teachers and doctrines must be examined and judged. -- With the Confessions of our Church we teach also that the "rule of faith" (analogia fidei) according to which the Holy Scriptures are to be understood are the clear passages of the Scriptures themselves which set forth the individual doctrines. (Apology. Triglot, p. 441, Paragraph 60; Mueller, p. 684). The rule of faith is not the man-made so-called "totality of Scripture" ("Ganzes der Schrift").

We reject the doctrine which under the name of science has gained wide popularity in the Church of our day that Holy Scripture is not in all its parts the Word of God, but in part the Word of God and in part the word of man and hence does, or at least, might contain error. We reject this erroneous doctrine as horrible and blasphemous, since it flatly contradicts Christ and His holy apostles, set up men as judges over the Word of God, and thus overthrows the foundation of the Christian Church and its faith.

Of God
On the basis of the Holy Scriptures we teach the sublime article of the Holy Trinity; that is, we teach that the one true God, Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4, is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, three distinct persons, but of one and the same divine essence, equal in power, equal in eternity, equal in majesty, because each person possesses the one divine essence entire, Col. 2:9, Matt. 28:19. We hold that all teachers and communions that deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity are outside the pale of the Christian Church. The Triune God is the God who is gracious to man, John 3:16-18, 1 Cor. 12:3. Since the Fall, no man can believe in the "fatherhood" of God except he believe in the eternal Son of God, who became man and reconciled us to God by His vicarious satisfaction, 1 John 2:23; John 14:6. Hence we warn against Unitarianism, which in our country has to a great extent impenetrated the sects and is being spread particularly also through the influence of the lodges.

Of Creation
We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God's own record, found in God's own book, the Bible. We accept God's own record with full confidence and confess with Luther's Catechism: "I believe that God has made me and all creatures."

Of Man and Sin
We teach that the first man was not brutelike nor merely capable of intellectual development, but that God created man in His own image, Gen. 1:26, 27; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10, that is, in true knowledge of God and in true righteousness and holiness and endowed with a truly scientific knowledge of nature, Gen. 2:19-23.

We furthermore teach that sin came into the world by the fall of the first man, as described [sic] Gen. 3. By this Fall not only he himself, but also his
natural offspring have lost the original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and thus all men are sinners already by birth, dead in sins, inclined to all evil, and subject to the wrath of God, Rom. 5:12, 18; Eph. 2:1-3. We teach also that men are unable, through any efforts of their own or by the aid of "culture and science," to reconcile themselves to God and thus conquer death and damnation.

Of Redemption
We teach that in the fulness of time the eternal Son of God was made man by assuming, from the Virgin Mary through the operation of the Holy Ghost, a human nature like unto ours, yet without sin, and receiving it unto His divine person. Jesus Christ is therefore "true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary," true God and true man in one undivided and indivisible person. The purpose of this miraculous incarnation of the Son of God was that He might become the Mediator between God and men, both fulfilling the divine Law and suffering and dying in the place of mankind. In this manner God reconciled the whole sinful world unto Himself, Gal. 4:4, 5; 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19.

Of Faith in Christ
Since God has reconciled the whole world unto Himself through the vicarious life and death of His Son and has commanded that the reconciliation effected by Christ be proclaimed to men in the Gospel, to the end that they may believe it, 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Rom. 1:5, therefore faith in Christ is the only way for men to obtain personal reconciliation with God, that is, forgiveness of sins, as both the Old and the New Testament Scriptures testify, Acts 10:43; John 3:16-18, 36. By this faith in Christ, through which men obtain the forgiveness of sins, is not meant any human effort to fulfill the Law of God after the example of Christ, but faith in the Gospel, that is, in the forgiveness of sins, or justification, which was fully earned for us by Christ and is offered by the Gospel. This faith justifies, not inasmuch as it is a work of man, but inasmuch as it lays hold of the grace offered, the forgiveness of sins, Rom. 4:16.

Of Conversion
We teach that conversion consists in this, that a man, having learned from the Law of God that he is a lost and condemned sinner, is brought to faith in the Gospel, which offers him forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation for the sake of Christ's vicarious satisfaction, Acts 11:21; Luke 24:46, 47; Acts 26:18.

All men, since the Fall, are dead in sins, Eph. 2:1-3, and inclined only to evil, Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Rom. 8:7. For this reason, and particularly because men
regard the Gospel of Christ, crucified for the sins of the world, as foolishness, 1 Cor. 2:14, faith in the Gospel, or conversion to God, is neither wholly nor in the least part the work of man, but the work of God's grace and almighty power alone, Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8; 1:19; -- Jer. 31:18. Hence Scripture call the faith of men, or his conversion, a raising from the dead, Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12, a being born of God, John 1:12, 13, a new birth by the Gospel, 1 Pet, 1:23-25, a work of God like the creation of light at the creation of the world, 2 Cor. 4:6.

On the basis of these clear statements of the Holy Scriptures we reject every kind of synergism, that is, the doctrine that conversion is wrought
by the grace and power of God alone, but in part also by the co-operation of man himself, by man's right conduct, his right attitude, his right self-determination, his lesser guilt or less evil conduct as compared with others, his refraining from willful resistance, or anything else whereby man's conversion and salvation is taken out of the gracious hands of God and made to depend on what man does or leaves undone. For this refraining from willful resistance or from any kind of resistance is also solely a work of grace, which "changes unwilling into willing men," Ezek. 36:26; Phil. 2:13. We reject also the doctrine that man is able to decide for conversion through "powers imparted by grace," since this doctrine presupposes that before conversion man still possesses spiritual powers by which he can make the right use of such "powers imparted by grace."

On the other hand, we reject also the Calvinistic perversion of the doctrine of conversion, that is, the doctrine that God does not desire to convert and save all hearers of the Word, but only a portion of them. Many hearers of the Word indeed remain unconverted and are not saved, not because God does not earnestly desire their conversion and salvation, but solely because they stubbornly resist the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, as Scripture teaches, Acts 7:51; Matt. 23:37; Acts 13:46.

As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God's grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it. From Scripture we know only this: A man owes his conversion and salvation, not to any lesser guilt or better conduct on his part, but solely to the grace of God. But any man's non-conversion is due to himself alone; it is the result of his obstinate resistance against the converting operation of the Holy Ghost. Hos. 13:9.

Our refusal to go beyond what is revealed in these two Scriptural truths is not "masked Calvinism" ("Crypto-Calvinism") but precisely the Scriptural teaching of the Lutheran Church as it is presented in detail in the Formula of Concord (Triglot, p. 1081, paragraphs 57-59, 60b, 62, 63; M. p. 716f.): "That one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is converted again, etc. -- in these and similar questions Paul fixes a certain limit to us how far we should go, namely, that in the one part we should recognize God's judgment. For they are well-deserved penalties of sins when God so punished a land or nation for despising His Word that the punishment extends also to their posterity, as is to be seen in the Jews. And thereby God in some lands and persons exhibits His severity to those that are His in order to indicate what we all would have well deserved and would be worthy and worth, since we act wickedly in opposition to God's Word and often grieve the Holy Ghost sorely; in order that we may live in the fear of God and acknowledge and praise God's goodness, to the exclusion of, and contrary to, our merit in and with us, to whom He gives His Word and with whom He leaves it and whom He does not harden and reject...And this His righteous, well-deserved judgment He displays in some countries, nations and persons in order that, when we are placed alongside of them and compared with them (quam simillimi illis deprehensi, i.e., and found to be most similar to them), we may learn the more diligently to recognize and praise God's pure, unmerited grace in the vessels of mercy...When we proceed thus far in this article, we remain on the right way, as it is written, Hos. 13:9: "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help." However, as regards these things in this disputation which would soar too high and beyond these limits, we should with Paul place the finger upon our lips and remember and say, Rom. 9:20: "O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" The Formula of Concord describes the mystery which confronts us here not as a mystery in man's heart (a "psychological" mystery), but teaches that, when we try to understand why "one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is converted again," we enter the domain of the unsearchable judgments of God and ways past finding out, which are not revealed to us in His Word, but which we shall know in eternal life. 1 Cor. 13:12.

Calvinists solve this mystery, which God has not revealed in His Word, by denying the universality of grace; synergists, by denying that salvation is by grace alone. Both solutions are utterly vicious, since they contradict Scripture and since every poor sinner stands in need of, and must cling to, both the unrestricted universal grace and the unrestricted "by grace alone," lest he despair and perish.



You can find out a great deal more about what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess by going to the Book of Concord web site: http://www.bookofconcord.org/