Sub Cruce The Cross as a Mark of the Church – An Exegetical Perspective

Rev. Roberto Bustamante, New Testament Professor at Seminario Concordia in Buenos Aires, Argentina provided the exegetical reflection on the conference theme.


Suffering always retains its scandalous side. It always demands an answer to its intrinsic “Why?”

“The theme of our conference moves around what Martin Luther did with this problem in his 1539 writing Von den Consiliis ind Kirchen (On councils and the Church[es}) Luther not only accepts the Church’s suffering as a possibility or a fact, but he even lifts it up to the constitutive category of “mark of the Church”, that is to say: suffering, persecution and martyrdom, together with the other six previous marks, allow the “poor confused person” to know “what, who, and where the church is.” Is that not too much?

We will consider three narratives into which the New Testament authors frame their account of the Church’s suffering. … Our attempt is to open three of the several doors that give us an entrance into the multifaceted drama that frames our suffering within the economy of salvation. This, I hope, will help us to have at lease a provisional grasp of how Scriptures handle our hard theodician questions and how Luther’s understanding of the holy cross coheres with the New Testament account.”

Suffering as Participation in Christ’s Own Story

Working through John 15:18-21, Mark 8:34-38 among others, Bustamante made his point:

“Our sharing in this story cannot take place through a mere obedient imitation (a Kempis) 1989; Michaels 1988.262), not even through the dynamic correlation between the penultimate gift of conformatio Chrisit and the still ultimate category of imitate Christi (“imitators of God” — Bonhoeffer 1963,344) Our sharing in this story can only come to us as a gift. Only then, “when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation … the other part follows: that you take him as your example, give yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you.” (WA 10/1/1:11-12; AE 35:120)

But how is it that the Church has a share in someone else’s historical events (i.e. Jesus’ death and sufferings)? The ghosts of a medieval Christo-mysticism and a romanticist /idealist “empathy” with Christ lurk around for our Modern-shaped way of doing exegesis, in which the only possibilities remaining are the human factors either of the rebellious world’s obstinacy in mistreating us just as they did Christ or of the Church’s masochist obsession with reproducing Christ’s stigmata. The New Testament has a different answer to that question:

The Church participates in Christ’s storied-with-suffering body through sacramental mediation. For it is the water and blood that sprang out of the Crucified’s side at the precise moment when the Church was being founded with which we are baptized into His death and resurrection, into that storied-with-suffering body and are given a share in that one suffering and risen body, in spit of us being many.

Suffering as Children of the Lord

There is a second type of narrative that we want to consider here, with which the New Testament frames the suffering of the Church, and that moves along the lines of Jewish wisdom tradition. … A particular characteristic of the wisdom tradition is its down-to-earth understanding of reality, especially in terms of its epistemology and its moral pragmatism. Though the pious or righteous life is undoubtedly understood as cormam deo, the main quest is how to live out this life in the world. God uses all suffering in order to shape us to live out His gifts.(Hebrews 12)

Suffering as Messianic Woes

Jewish apocalypticism came to learn from the prophets and their own experience that this present eon is not all that there is. Another era will be opened when Yahweh will finally manifest his justice, vindicating his “suffering righteous” (the people of Israel), and condemning “the sinners” (the wicked nations and those in Israel that did not remain pure. ) One particular feature of this apocalyptic understanding of reality is the so-called “Messianic Woes.” The story under this motif goes like this: In the very last days, there will be a great tribulation upon the earth.

Bustamante noted that there are varying views of who this suffering will affect but concluded, “In any case, the main function of the woes will be to mark and anticipate the imminent appearance of the Messiah. Thence its labels “Messianic woes” or “birth pangs of the Messiah”. He then examined three texts, Mark 13:4-13, 19-20,24-27; I Peter 4:12-19 and Revelation 12.


“Finally, how does all this cohere with Luther’s understanding of the cross as one of the marks of the Church? (AE 41:143-66) … Framing his understanding of the holy cross within the Third Article of the “Children’s Creed, … The Third Article story transforms the ineffable scandal of the cross into the evangelical indicative that exposes who these poor wretched people are: the una et sancta et catholic ecclesia. Through the cross, the Holy Spirit “mortifies the old Adam and teaches him patience, humility, gentleness, praise and thanks, and good cheer in suffering,” training him in the tres virtues theologicas that correspond to our new life in Christ:
“to believe in God[and] trust Him, to love Him, and to place our hope in Him.(AE 41:165) Finally and more fundamentally, the cross is a constitutive part of that activate with which the Holy Trinity not only creates the eschatological reality of the Church per redemption et vivification et sanctification(AE 41:144), but also “God Himself has revealed and opened to us the most profound depths of His fatherly heart and His pure, utterable love … and moreover, having granted and
bestowed upon us everything in heaven and on earth, He has also give us His Son and His Holy Spirit, through whom He brings us to Himself.” (LC II, 64)

A Confessional (Dogmatic) View of Martyrdom and the Cross

Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast, Jr, president of the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


"Those of you who know me are also aware of the fact that I am, in respect to my discipline, a historian. What that means for this presentation is that, while we will look at the confessional witness to martyrdom and the cross, we will also place this witness in a historical context for the sake of learning how Lutherans have actually lived the relationship that proceeds from their dogmatic commitments."

Noting that For Luther, the Gospel centered in the cross of Jesus Christ was the center of the biblical witness.

"His well known thesis 20 of the Heidelberg Disputation captures this reality: "He deserves to be called a theolgoian, however, who comprehends the visible and maifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross." W

With his excommunication from the church and condemnation at the Diet of Worms (1521), Luther lived under the reality, for the last quarter century of his life, knowing that his life might be forfeited at any moment.

In the context of that reality, Luther lived a remarkably "normal" life. He married and had children; he suffered health issues, as many of us do as we age; and he did rather well for himself financially. Yet each day was lived under the threat of death — of martyrdom and the cross. This realty and the difficulties of life in sixteenth century Germany, led Luther consistently to think about death. He would argue that this was not born of moribity, but that it was part of the Chrsitian Life."

The Augsburg Confession and Life Under the Cross

Walking participants through the history of the Second Diet of Speyer (1529) Diet of Augsburg (1530), Rast noted that the church was about to fracture and proceeded to uwrap the Augsburg Confession in terms of its nature as a representative document of the evangelical cause.

“The first article of the Augsburg Confession treats God. …The Evangelicals placed this article first, not only because it is a fundamental teaching of the Srciptures but also to show the catholic nature of the evangelical movement.

Articles II and III, which speak of original sin and the Son of God respectively, also are catholic in nature. In them, “Melancthon has still provided a clear espousal of the Reformation teaching of sola gratia and sola fide.”

Articles IV-VI form the heart and center of the Augsburg Confession and inform all of the preceding and following articles. These brief articles define what it means to be evangelical. Foremost among these is article IV.

Immediately following the affirmation of justification by faith apart from works is the article on the ministry of the church. … This article takes the thought of article IV and develops the thought more fully.

Furthermore, article VI also develops the personal ramifications of the article of justification as it pertains to the individual and his Christian life when it begins, “Item docent, quod fides debat bonos furctus parere:

The Death of Luther and the Interims–Context for Martyrdom and Confession

Luther had consistently expected to die during the great part of his adult life — either from bad health or at the hand of his antagonists. He lived until February 18, 1546. Shorty after his death, martyrdom and the cross came upon his followers through the efforts of Moritz of Saxony and Charles the V.

The Magdeburg Confession

In Magdeburg were Lutherans who held that they were truly committed to Luther’s doctrine, which they believed Melancthon and Wittenberg had surrendered. From this small pocket of resistance was soon to come forth one of the most significant Lutheran Confessions of the sixteenth century.

The Magdeburgers professed that they were following the tradition of thought first established by Luther and as such were not the ones who had transgressed the law. …Their actions arose from a responsible conviction that they held to the true teaching of Luther and that it was their God-given responsibility to ensure that the maintained the evangelical principle, even if it meant that they and to face persecution because of it.”

Rast made the connection between the Magdeburg confession and the formal principle in Augsburg IV-VI “derived from and standing in the stream of the church catholic.”

Examples of Martyrdom: Antonious Corvinus and Baldo Lupetino

Two examples of Luther’s followers among whom suffered imprisonment and deprivation of their livelihoods were recounted.

Conclusion– Peace, the Cross, and The The Formula of Concord

By 1555, the political and military situation had calmed. … Perhaps because the threat of martyrdom at the hands of the state had largely been removed, martyrdom and the cross were largely translate into the arena of the individual Christian. In The Formula of Concord (1577), persecution and the cross appear, notably int the article on the election of grace. (Paragraphs 20, 30 and 48)

Seminary Education Worldwide

Through out the day on Friday, representatives from each world region shared the state of seminary education in their region. The range of the seminaries in regard to student body and faculty size was interesting to note. Each one expressed the concern to form pastors who are faithfully Lutheran. In this photo are representatives from the Latin American countries making their presentation.


Several common themes arose:

    • Faculty Development
    • Fiscal Challenges
    • Liturgy and Hymnody
    • Library and technology resources
    • Textbooks and new technology
    • Challenge of building and maintaining Lutheran identity
    • Development or proper inclusion of Distance Learning Models
    • Continuing education for parish pastors
    • Move toward accreditation

    The greatest challenge facing Confessional Lutheran Seminaries Worldwide: Imparting a theological attitude

    World Region Conferences

    In the afternoon, small meetings by world region took place allowing participants to discuss specific joys and challenges, compare notes and encourage one another.

    The European Delegation


    The Latin American Delegation


    The North American Delegation


    The Asian Delegation


    The African Delegation


    The day ended with Vespers, Supper and a social hour prepared by the gracious hosts at Palanga Lutheran Church.