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Archive for June 25th, 2014

Intro: The Augsburg Confession, the principal doctrinal statement of…Martin Luther and the Lutheran reformers, was written largely by Phillip Melanchthon. At its heart it confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. Signed by leaders of many German cities and regions, the confession was formally presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, on June 25, 1530. A few weeks later Roman Catholic authorities rejected the Confession, which Melanchthon defended in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531). In 1580 the Unaltered Augsburg Confession was included in the Book of Concord. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

This was the scene as described by a Reformation historian (The Book of Concord Historical Introduction) :

“The place where they assembled on Saturday, June 25, at 3 P.M., was not the courtroom, where the meetings of the Diet were ordinarily conducted, but, as the Imperial Herald, Caspar Sturm, reports, the ‘Pfalz,’ the large front room, i. e., the Chapter-room of the Bishop’s palace, where the Emperor lived. The two Saxon chancellors, Dr. Greg. Brueek and Dr. Chr. Beyer, the one with the Latin and the other with the German copy of the Confession, stepped into the middle of the hall, while as many of the Evangelically minded estates as had the courage publicly to espouse the Evangelical cause arose from their seats…The Emperor desired to hear the Latin text. But when Elector John had called attention to the fact that the meeting was held on German soil, and expressed the hope that the Emperor would permit the reading to proceed in German, it was granted. Hereupon Dr. Beyer read the Confession. The reading lasted about two hours; but he read with a voice so clear and plain that the multitude, which could not gain access to the hall, understood every word in the courtyard.” 

This painting by Lucas Cranach, a contemporary and friend Luther and his family, shows clearly our calling to preach Christ and Him crucified, pointing to the Lord,not to ourselves.

Reflection:  What was all the fuss about? In my amateur historical understanding, the center of the fuss was over the following article in The Augsburg Confession presented on this day, these 2 sentences caused the furor:

Article IV: Justification.

Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God  by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received  into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3, 4).

The papal theologians had been teaching and preaching for too long:  Christ, yes, faith in Him, yes, but Christ plus something else:  works, both God’s Law and man-made religious rules.  God’s Law show us our sin so He can show us our Savior. The Gospel, the Lord’s one work of universal (catholic)  salvation in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ means that the whole papal system of rosaries, pilgrimages, indulgences can not save one, they can not atone for Jesus Christ for all the world did atone: He is our Mediator (from “Salvation Unto Us has Come”, TLH, #377).   Christ alone has, by grace alone known by Scripture alone in the life of His Church.  The Law of God can not save (see Galatians 2:19 Galatians 2:21, Ephesians 2:6-8 ).

The papal church knew Article IV meant the undoing of the system.   When the papal theologians responded to the Augsburg Confession with their Confutation, then Melancthon wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession and Melancthon’s apologia (defense) of Article IV, Justification, was the longest. These two sentences summed up, not the faith of the Reformers, but the faith as taught, preached and written in the Bible.  These two sentences undermined the institutional church’s hegemony on the lives of catholics/Christians with a system of works, obligatory works to gain salvation.  

The Reformers presented on this day their Confession, based soundly  upon the Scripture and the 3 Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athansasian), that salvation in Jesus Christ is sheer gift for sinners who can not attain heaven by anything we can ever do.  We celebrate October 31, 1517, when then monk Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg as the beginning of the Reformation, but it is actually today is the beginning of the Reformation when Melancthon and the blessed Reformers set forth the restoration of the true Doctrine of Justification in plain words in the Augsburg Confession.  The Fathers at Augsburg began this Confession of the catholic Church with the Creeds to demonstrate that Justification is the key of Scripture and had been taught and preached and administered since the Apostles through all the ensuing centuries, but lost and forgotten by the papal church.

 Further, the Reformers were as catholic as Augustine and the Church Fathers who also taught  justification in Christ alone.  The Fathers at Augsburg were not really trying to “change” or update the Church, or leave the Church, but change it back to the way it was according to the Gospel.  It was a conservative reformation. They did not want to start a new church, as did Calvin and Zwingli.  The orthodox confessional Church is catholic, literally, “according to the whole”, of the Bible. It was a reformation not a revolution, yet this conservative reformation had revolutionary aspects for a tradition that confused itself as the truth, both Roman Catholic and Protestantism. 20th Century Confessional Lutheran Professor and Pastor Hermann Sasse correctly wrote about the conservative Reformation:

The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Anthanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. (Here We Stand (1932) by Rev. Hermann Sasse, Lutheran theologian and professor, at the time publication at the University of Erlangen)

This lively iconographic image shows Word and Sacraments, the Preaching of Christ and Him crucified, freely given rein for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people for their faith and faith active in love.

Let us pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

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