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Devotion on the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25)

 

Preached on June 8, 2020

 

Audio

 

Readings–Acts 4:23-31; Hebrews 12:1-3; Matthew 10:27-33

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

ACLater this month, on June 25, the church commemorates the presentation of what is considered to be “the principal doctrinal statement of the theology of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformers”—the Augsburg Confession (June 25, The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession).

This Confession of the faith, written largely by Philip Melanchthon, was formerly presented before Emperor Charles V in 1530, not by the clergy, but by leaders, who feared not the wrath of man, but sought to serve the Lord with their very lives.

At its heart, the Augsburg Confession confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. It centers on the forgiveness of sins won for sinners by Christ’s death on the cross.

Continually does this Confession bear witness and give testimony to the Word of God, which reveals Christ as Savior and neither Church, man, nor any other.

For the pastor and the layman, June 25, 1530 is a date to be remembered.

Men of simple faith gave witness to what they believed according to Holy Scripture, even against the powers that be.  They were not willing to compromise the Good News of salvation, the Gospel, for any worldly type of peace, let alone for the sake of unity against a common enemy.

In that day, that common enemy was the Turk, the Muslim.

Rome sought peace with the Lutherans for the purpose of a united front concerning the advancement of that empire.

Such a peace, however, was not based on the peace that passes all human understanding.

Such a peace hinged on Rome’s set manner of peace, not the peace ordained of God, the peace set forth by God in Jesus Christ according to His Holy Word.

The kind of peace that Rome sought was that peace based on agreement with their teaching, with their doctrine, in submission to the authority of the Pope—the kind of peace that was on their terms, not those of our Lord.

That those presenters of the Augsburg Confession on that day of June 25, 1530 were given the platform for declaring what they believed and confessed is reason for thanksgiving.

Even as the Romish church remained Romish, crystallizing their doctrine in the Council of Trent years later (1546ff), that the Reformers said what they said, declared what they declared, testified of the faith revealed by God, such a work was not merely that of man.

And God’s Word does not return void.

Says God through the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-19 NKJ).

As God gives utterance through the prophets and the apostles, giving the words to say, so also does the Lord continue to do so.

The Lord moved those presenters of the Augsburg Confession to declare words of truth amid error. They were seeking genuine unity based on what God said.

They were not seeking a unity based on ‘agreeing to disagree’ or on the ‘acceptable’ kind of teaching having the most popular votes.

Throughout history, God’s people have rarely, if at all, been in the majority.

God’s Word has not, and does not, enjoy high regard from most of the world.

The truth must be spoken, as difficult as it is to do.

The where and the when have their place, to be sure.

Vocation demands it.

Let the chips fall where they might.

The outcome is the Lord’s, always!

Concerning that presentation of the Augsburg Confession commemorated on the 25th of this month, we are heirs of that Confession.

That Confession is also our own, as are also all statements of faith in the Book of Concord. They are our own because, not “in so far as,” they are correct expositions of Holy Scripture.

These include the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, the latter just confessed this past Holy Trinity Sunday, the most articulate of the Creeds concerning the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

In truth, these creeds of the Western Church express a oneness with the church universal.

The Reformers were not at all seeking to venture off on their own. They only sought to remain with the Church of God according to the Bible.

Such holy desire moved them to present at Augsburg.

Such holy desire moved the Christians before them to bear witness to the truth.

Such holy desire moves Christians today to confess the Name of the crucified and risen Christ, to distinguish Law and Gospel, to be in the Word, to receive the Lord’s proclamation of Command and Promise, to partake of Christ’s body and blood, to remember their Baptism into the Name of the Triune God, to beat down the old man and to put on the new.

Pastors, too, have these desires.

But any strength that they show forth in these matters is not of their own.

Whether clergy or lay, the fruit of the Spirit, the creation of a new heart, gratefulness to the Father—these come from the gracious God who bestows upon us what we don’t deserve.

God reveals that life is in, and only in and through, His Son.

Living by faith in the Word and not according to sight in the world, our attention is drawn to the Messiah, the Christ, Whom the blessed Father sent, not that we have peace in the world, but that we rest fully in Him, sure and certain of what is to come, sure and certain of what is ours even now, whether there be unrest or upheaval, whether there be trouble or difficulty.

St. Paul, in His godly inspired letter to the Christians in Colossae, writes,

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4 NKJ).

The concern of the Reformers then, and the concern of the Christian Church and her preachers today, is that such confidence be born of God in Christ Jesus that in life or death, the Christian know the Christ who ever holds him, He Who is faithful to His Word, even when all else appears to the contrary.

Even the disciples of our Lord Christ were distraught upon His death. They thought that all was lost, that Jesus was undone.

Three days later, Jesus disproved their unbelief in His Word.

Jesus confirmed what He said.

Jesus still confirms His Word.

Hidden as such confirmation may be, His Word remains and will remain that to which we cling, that of which we proclaim.

The Christian Church has no other Word to declare.

The Christian Church is not about unity at any cost.

Christ’s body is not about the lowest common denominator.

What God says—God says—all of it—None we can deny.

Any confidence in this is not of our own making.

Any confidence in what God says, in what God reveals—this, too, is of God—in and by whom we stand. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Lord 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 reigins with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

Audio

 

 

The Confession at Augsburg

 

Who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:13-17)

 

June 25, 1530. This was the very date that the Lutherans gave a public declaration of faith before Emperor Charles V in Augsburg Germany.

The emperor sought unity against the Muslim threat.

Our Lutheran forebearers sought to clearly present, “the Confession of our preachers and of ourselves, showing what manner of doctrine from the Holy Scriptures and the pure Word of God has been up to this time set forth in our lands, dukedoms, dominions, and cities, and taught in our churches” (Preface to the Augsburg Confession).

The Lutherans did seek unity with Rome, but not at any expense.  They were willing to give up much, but not at all in the realm of doctrine, the truth, the Word of God.

Upon this they stood, standing concretely and without wavering.

In 28 articles, the Confessors state, “The Chief articles of faith” and Roman abuses that had been corrected.  Throughout, Scripture references are plentifully made.

Such demonstrate their faithfulness to the biblical text, in distinguishing themselves from Rome and in distancing themselves from other opponents of Rome.

From such Confession of the Lutherans at Augsburg did not come the unity that all sought.  The truth does divide, for not all are of the truth.

Jesus says, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (Jn. 8:47).

Rome then, as now, as well as other opponents of Rome still to this day with the Lutheran Confession at Augsburg disagree and deny.

We cannot.

Heirs of Christ, sons of the kingdom, do not and cannot deny the truth.

They also do not and cannot avoid confessing the truth.

The truth compels them to sound out.

And if such confession of Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture and testified of at Augsburg not unite in the faith, such is reason not to remain silent, but to continue speaking the truth, as we’ve been given, for there will be those who come to it.

As those before us, so we now have the confidence of God in Christ.

Our Confession is not our own.  The doctrine is God’s.  The testimony of Christ crucified.  The testament of sin’s forgiven.  God’s Word revealing.  The Christian church, living and growing. Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-Canvas Heavenly Father, as you gave our forefathers in the faith boldness to declare the truth at Augsburg, so give us clarity and boldness to declare that same faith before the world, that many more know of Your life-giving Word and believe in Christ as we and so have the certainty of sins forgiven and life eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Augsburg Confession IV, Justification

 

Tappert1 It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, 2 when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. 3 For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5. (Tappert edition, The Book of Concord)

Augsburg Confession, I. God

Tappert1 We unanimously hold and teach, in accordance with the decree of the Council of Nicaea,3 2 that there is one divine essence, which is called and which is truly God, and that there are three persons in this one divine essence, equal in power and alike eternal: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. 3 All three are one divine essence, eternal, without division, without end, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, one creator and preserver of all things visible and invisible. 4 The word “person” is to be understood as the Fathers employed the term in this connection, not as a part or a property of another but as that which exists of itself4

5 Therefore all the heresies which are contrary to this article are rejected. Among these are the heresy of the Manichaeans,5 who assert that there are two gods, one good and one evil; also that of the Valentinians,6  Arians,7 Eunomians,8 Mohammedans,9 and others like them; 6 also that of the Samosatenes,10 old and new, who hold that there is only one person and sophistically assert that the other two, the Word and the Holy Spirit, are not necessarily distinct persons but that the Word signifies a physical word or voice and that the Holy Spirit is a movement induced in creatures.11

[Notes are from Tappert, Theodore G. The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959, electronic edition, Concordia Publishing House]


3 The Nicene Creed

4 The term hypostasis in Greek or persona in Latin were used in the ancient church to repudiate Modalism, which regarded the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three modes or manifestations of the one God.

5 A religion based on Persian dualism combined with Christian and other elements, founded in the third century by Mani and named after him. The Albigensians of the late Middle Ages held similar notions.

6 Gnostics of the second century who took their name from Valentinus.

7 Followers of Arius who were condemned at the Council of Niceas in 325 and who held that the Son was created and of different “substance” from the Father.

8 Followers of Eunomius, an extreme Arian of the late fourth century.

9 The Reformers frequently referred to Mohammedianism and an anti-Trinitarian heresy.

10 Followers of Paul of Samosata, who taught in the third century that Jesus was a man specially endowed by the Spirit. The “new Samosatenes” were anti-Trinitarian spiritualists of the sixteenth century like John Campanus and Hans Denck.

11 Followers of Paul of Samosata, who taught in the third century that Jesus was a man specially endowed by the Spirit. The “new Samosatenes” were anti-Trinitarian spiritualists of the sixteenth century like John Campanus and Hans Denck.

 

 

“The Ecumenical Movement-A Brief Assessment”

According to William Rusch, a Lutheran pastor serving as Adjunct Professor at Yale Divinity School and New York Theological Seminary, the ecumenical movement has as its goal “the visible unity of divided churches.”[1] This is a laudable goal, to be sure.  However, such a goal is untenable, for the simple reason that we live in a fallen world.

Current ecumenical efforts have shown (i.e. ELCA, Joint Declaration of Justification by Faith[2], etc.) that in order to “show” such a “visible unity,” the method must be one of compromise and the “appearance” of a unity that does not truly exist.  Genuine unity has to do with doctrine.  It is not the work of man.  It is the work of God.  It expresses itself, not in a diverse array of confessions and statements, but in the united confession of Christ according to His Word.  Where such confession remains nonexistent, regardless of “intentions,” true unity does not yet exist and cannot demonstrate itself.

To report that “substantial agreement,” “common understanding,” and “common views” exist between various church bodies[3] that are in dialogue does not yet indicate visible unity.  It shows that much work still needs to be done.

Defining terms, so crucial in the sciences, is also necessary here.  Also necessary is not only the agreement of the definition of a particular word or phrase, but agreement in its particular usage, and also as it relates to the whole.

Take for example the article of justification.  What is it (definition)?[4] Is this the central article of the Christian faith by which the Church stands or falls,[5] or is it just one article among many?  If it is just one article among many, how important is it?  If the article of justification is only “more” important than others, how is it “connected” with the others, if at all?

Such dialogue may indeed take place, but it appears to be of little concern in many current discussions.  What is of greater desire, it seems, is to look like “one big church,” regardless of what is sacrificed for the sake of a “visible unity.”

Does this mean that ecumenical efforts are truly out of place and have no importance for today’s Christendom?  From the above it might appear so.  Yet it would be premature to jump to that conclusion.  True ecumenical endeavor has as its root the desire of Christians to gather together in unity (a God-given desire, by the way!), but in the genuine unity of true doctrine and true communion with one another.  Thus, wherever there is already agreement in the true doctrine, there already is genuine unity.[6]

In a fallen world, can such agreement in the true doctrine really exist?  Only as sinners (and church bodies) turn away from their own thoughts and opinions and believe the Christ of Scripture, even the very words of the Bible.  Until then, current ecumenical efforts are in vain, even should all claim to have reached the goal of “visible unity.”  Should that “goal” be reached, yet not with unity in the one true faith according to Holy Scripture, it is a sham unity, and a kind of unity with which God is not pleased (1 Corinthians 1:10; Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 4:1-6).


[1] William Rusch, “Harvesting the Fruits of Ecumenical Dialogue,” Lutheran Forum, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Winter 2010): 51-53.

[2] Some would certainly debate that any “agreement” has really been found, except to “agree to disagree.”

[3] Rusch, 52.

[4] Augsburg Confession IV: It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, 2 when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. 3 For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5 (Tappert ed.).

[5] Augsburg XXVIII: The chief article of the Gospel must be maintained, namely, that we obtain the grace of God through faith in Christ without our merits; we do not merit it by services of God instituted by men (Tappert ed.).

[6] Augsburg Confession VII: It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word (Tappert ed.).

Beck, the government, and the church

What role does church and government have together?  The ‘right’, it appears, says, “Much.” (http://www.religionnews.com/index.php?/rnstext/beck_wants_to_lead_but_will_evangelicals_follow/).  The left might say little (but for their ideologies and the like-separation of church and state; Christianity, however, is off-limits, but not Islam, Atheism, and other -isms).

But when we look at Scripture, we find that the government has one role, the church another.  The government is to establish external peace.  It does this by making and enforcing laws, punishing the evil-doer, etc. (Romans 13).  The government is not to meddle in the preaching and teaching of the church, regulating her in her doctrine.

The church, on the other hand, does not have the authority to use force.  She has the authority of the Word, to preach and to teach, for forgive sins and to retain sins (Matthew 18:18; John 20:23).

The following is from The Book of Concord, Tappert edition:

5 Our teachers assert that according to the Gospel the power of keys or the power of bishops is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer and distribute the sacraments. 6 For Christ sent out the apostles with this command, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).

8 This power of keys or of bishops is used and exercised only by teaching and preaching the Word of God and by administering the sacraments (to many persons or to individuals, depending on one’s calling). In this way are imparted no bodily but eternal things and gifts, namely, eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. 9 These gifts cannot be obtained except through the office of preaching and of administering the holy sacraments, for St. Paul says, “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”2 10 Inasmuch as the power of the church or of bishops bestows eternal gifts and is used and exercised only through the office of preaching, it does not interfere at all with government or temporal authority. 11 Temporal authority is concerned with matters altogether different from the Gospel. Temporal power does not protect the soul, but with the sword and physical penalties it protects body and goods from the power of others.

12 Therefore, the two authorities, the spiritual and the temporal, are not to be mingled or confused, for the spiritual power has its commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. 13 Hence it should not invade the function of the other, should not set up and depose kings, should not annul temporal laws or undermine obedience to government, should not make or prescribe to the temporal power laws concerning worldly matters. 14 Christ himself said, “My kingship is not of this world,”3 and again, 15 “Who made me a judge or divider over you?”4 16 Paul also wrote in Phil. 3:20, “Our commonwealth is in heaven,” 17 and in 2 Cor. 10:4, 5, “The weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God.”

18 Thus our teachers distinguish the two authorities and the functions of the two powers, directing that both be held in honor as the highest gifts of God on earth. (Augsburg Confession, XXVIII. The Power of Bishops, para. 5-18)

Christians and nonChristians can (and do) come together for policies and practices in  society.  This can and does include different religious groups.  But agreeing on governmental policy and the like is a far different cry from unity in teaching.  There might be some parallels between the Christian faith and others, but that’s also where the similarities end.  Only the Christian faith teaches the true and only way to eternal life—through Christ (John 14:6).  All others teach works and keeping the Law for salvation.

The Christian is to distinguish between truth and error.  The Christian is also to distinguish between the affairs of the church and the affairs of the state. The government and society are not the means for saving the world, nor the pulpit from which the church is to preach.  Nor is the church the means for electing one candidate or another.  She is to proclaim God’s Word, courageously and in truth (2 Timothy 4:2).  Where there is a mixing of Church and State, problems ensue.


2 Rom. 1:16.

3 John 18:38

4 Luke 12:14

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