Today my blog surfing led me to one of those uncomfortable moments in which I found myself feeling the need to provide a bit of a correction to a commonly heard mantra to which confessional Lutherans are sometimes expected to subscribe, viz.,
"We don't use the Scriptures to interpret the Confessions; we use the Confessions to interpret the Scripture."
I understand the principle behind this idea, but I disagree.
Yet not with the first part; only with the second.
Confessional Lutherans rightly reject the idea that one can subscribe to the Confessions only insofar as they agree with Scripture, for by this ruse people have tried to sell themselves as true Lutherans. So they will say, "Sure, we subscribe to the Confessions, just like you." And then comes the asterisk: "insofar as they agree with the Scriptures." By this token one could as well subscribe to the Koran. It renders the confessional subscription meaningless.
I get that, and I agree. We do not subscribe to the Confessions insofar as they agree, but because they agree. Right.
But that doesn't mean the reverse is true, and here we also need to be clear.
To say we use the Confessions to interpret Scripture is in principle the same as someone else saying he uses the Pope or the Councils to interpret Scripture, or the Book of Mormon, or anything else. Rather, we say that Scripture is clear, and we let Scripture interpret itself. Scripture interprets Scripture. Period.
We use the Confessions to express what we believe according to Scripture, but we ought never think of the Confessions as some sort of tribunal giving us the official interpretation of the Word of God, for that would be to place them over the Word of God.
For example, we do not believe that the Sacrament is truly Christ's body because the Confessions have authoritatively interpreted the Scripture on this for us; rather, we believe it because we have Jesus' own word on it, recorded in Scripture. When the Scriptures speak, God speaks. That is His word. On the basis of that word, we then confess our faith. Our Confessions become, then, our own declaration of what we take the Scriptures to mean, especially against erroneous views.
We could say they are our interpretation, or better, our declaration, of what Scripture has revealed to us, but we should not say that they interpret the Scripture for us. The difference here may seem subtle, but it is highly significant.
When the word "interpretation" is used, it carries with it an implication of authority.
We must be careful never express ourselves in a way which even appears to place any authority over God's own authority.