|Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church is a Christian congregation made up of confessional Lutherans. But what are "confessional Lutherans"?
As confessional Lutherans we believe that the Bible is the inspired and entirely inerrant Word of God. We also subscribe (or hold firmly) to all the teachings of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church as they are found in the Book of Concord, since we believe those teachings to be in absolute agreement with the teachings of Scripture.
The Book of Concord was compiled in 1580 by Lutheran theologians who were deeply interested in preserving the pure doctrine of the Lutheran church. This book includes the three Christian or ecumenical creeds (the Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian Creeds), together with six Lutheran confessional writings: The Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology (or Defense) to the Augsburg Confession, the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Martin Luther, the Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord. We subscribe to these six Lutheran Confessions because we believe that they are an accurate summary of all the Biblical teachings that those confessions treat.
The Book of Concord is too extensive to properly summarize on this website, but here are the most basic teachings of Scripture that are preached and taught at Bethany, by her sister congregations in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and by the confessional, Evangelical-Lutheran church.
We believe, teach and confess that there is one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4), who has revealed himself in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). However, we do not have three Gods, but one God. The ancient Christian church used the word "triune" (three in one).
We believe, teach and confess that all people fail to be what God created us and commanded us to be, to live in God's holy image (perfection), to love God above all things and to love our neighbor perfectly. We are all sinful and naturally self-centered from conception (Psalm 51:5), and the divine punishment for this sin is death (Romans 5:12; 6:23). Because of our sin there is nothing we can do to please God or earn his favor, "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
We believe, teach and confess that God does not want us to "try hard" or to "make our best effort" to live a good and decent life. Instead, Jesus says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). In other words, trying hard is simply not good enough because it falls short of God's perfect standard. God rightly demands absolute perfection because he created us to be perfect and is perfect himself. He is not in any way responsible for our imperfections; we are.
We believe, teach and confess that in his great mercy God sent his one and only Son Jesus into the world to be the world's perfect Savior from all sin and death, "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). What we could not do because of our sin, Jesus has done perfectly as our substitute. Only Jesus can be this perfect substitute because he is both fully God (Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:3) and fully human (Hebrews 2:14-18).
We believe, teach and confess that Jesus lovingly sacrificed himself for the sins of the world (John 1:29). He willingly submitted to his Father's will and went to the cross (Isaiah 53:10). He loves all people unconditionally (Matthew 20:28; Romans 5:8). In other words, God doesn't love us because who of we are or what we've done; on that basis he could never love us because he is holy and we are sinful. Instead Jesus loves us because of who he is, because "God is love" (1 John 4:7-10). Since God's love is unconditional, we can always rely on it; his love never fails. God's love and forgiveness is an objective reality in Christ Jesus.
We believe, teach and confess that Jesus is the God-man, 100% God (Romans 9:5) and 100% human being (1 Timothy 2:6). He is the Son of God who was born of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:31-35). He was born into this world to keep God's law perfectly in our place (Matthew 5:17) and to suffer and die for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2). Those who reject Jesus, reject the only true God (Luke 10:16).
We believe, teach and confess that Jesus rose from the dead with a glorified body on Easter morning. This resurrection serves as powerful, divine proof that God has forgiven all sin for the sake of Jesus (Romans 4:25) and assures us of our own bodily resurrection from the dead on the Last Day (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
We believe, teach and confess that because of what Jesus has done, God has justified (declared "not guilty") the entire world freely by his grace (undeserved love) for the sake of Jesus (Romans 3:24-25). God has reconciled "the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19).
We believe, teach and confess that all who trust in Jesus as their Savior freely receive God's forgiveness and eternal life (John 3:16,36) and become the children of God through faith (John 1:12,13). Only those who refuse to trust in Jesus as their Savior will suffer eternal death (Mark 16:16), even though God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
We believe, teach and confess that we are not saved because of our faith. We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). Faith is simple, child-like trust in the freely-given promises of God in Christ Jesus. Through his many unconditional promises and almighty power God inspires us to trust him (Romans 4:20,21). We can take no credit for our Christian faith (1 Corinthians 1:30,31), therefore Christians are wrong whenever they act self-righteously. We are to live as God's humble servants (Luke 17:10).
We believe, teach and confess that the Holy Spirit is the one who creates and preserves saving faith (trust) in our hearts through the hearing of God's Word and partaking in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion (Romans 10:17). Just as God gives us our physical life as a free gift (we do nothing to earn or deserve it), so also he gives us our new spiritual life as a free gift (we do nothing to earn or deserve it). In other words, we do not make "our decision for Jesus." Jesus chooses us simply by his grace, his undeserved love (Matthew 11:25-27).
We believe, teach and confess that in Holy Baptism God makes a commitment to us. In baptism he promises and gives the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Acts 2:38-39; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 3:21). All who believe the promises of God given in Baptism will be saved (Mark 16:16). We baptize infants because they need these promises as well, since they are sinful from birth and sometimes die as a result (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12).
We believe, teach and confess that in Holy Communion Jesus gives us his true body and blood under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-28). Even unbelievers receive his body and blood in this Supper, although it is to their judgment (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). As a result, Jesus wants us to share his holy supper only with those who are properly prepared to receive the supper's benefits and who are united in the true Christian faith (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).
We believe, teach and confess that Christians produce good works not to merit or earn anything from God (something they cannot do anyway). Instead Christians produce good works because that's what Christians naturally do, in the same way that a good vine produces fruit (John 15:1-8). Good works are "fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-25).
We believe, teach and confess that Jesus will return on the Last Day and judge all people. "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). We reject any teaching of a "thousand year" reign of Christ on earth (millenialism). Jesus said very plainly, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).