Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
June 25, 2023
“So everyone who confesses Me before men, I also will confess before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
Today, we celebrate the Augsburg Confession, the enduring confession of the Lutheran Church since June 25, 1530. It is called the Augsburg Confession, because it was presented by Lutheran princes to Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire at a diet or meeting held in Augsburg, Germany. Martin Luther did not write the Augsburg Confession nor did he attend the meeting in Augsburg, because that same Emperor Charles declared Luther an outlaw nine years earlier at the Diet of Worms. Luther stayed in Coburg, Germany, where copies of the Augsburg Confession written by his colleague Philip Melanchthon would be sent back and forth for Luther to review and make comments. Luther didn’t write the Augsburg Confession, but until his death he claimed it as his own. Even more, all Lutherans confess it as their own.
In fact, the original signers of the Augsburg Confession were not pastors and seminary theologians, but princes, dukes, and city councils. Laymen presented the Augsburg Confession to Charles V. This was a confession of the people. On June 25, 1530, laymen Dr. Christian Beyer read the confession and Dr. Gregory Brück handed a copy of the confession to the emperor and said, “Most Gracious Emperor, this is a Confession that will even prevail against the gates of hell, with the grace and help of God.” These men were not afraid of the repercussions for their confession. When the emperor insisted that the Lutheran princes not permit their preachers to preach and that they participate in the Corpus Christi festival, which the Lutherans found offensive, another prince, Margrave George, knelt before the emperor and said, “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let him take off my head.”
These laymen so loved the pure Gospel they had learned from Martin Luther and others, who had opened the Scriptures to them, that they were willing to die rather than lose this precious teaching, which rescued their consciences from the depths of hell and gave them certainty of their salvation in Christ Jesus.
The Augsburg Confession has twenty-eight articles. The first twenty-one articles were statements of faith. The last seven articles described abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, which the Lutherans had corrected. These included giving both the bread and the wine of Communion to the laity, permitting priests to marry, correcting abuses of the Mass and Confession, so that people would receive them in faith and piety, repudiating monastic vows, and distinguishing the authority of the Church and State, stating that the authority of the Church is to teach and preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, not to dictate civil laws and ordinances. The most famous of all the articles is the fourth, which we teach our children to memorize:
Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4).
The fourth article emphasizes what the Lutheran Reformation was all about. How are we justified before God? How can we be found righteous in God’s eyes? If we are not righteous, we cannot be saved. And if we rely on our own works to be righteous, we will only fail and fear God’s wrath. But Scripture teaches that sinners are justified before God through faith alone, because Christ Jesus has fulfilled God’s Law for us and suffered and died for our sins. This message comforts the consciences of those who are in distress over their sins. This is why so many were willing to die for this confession.
The fourth article on justification not only marked the biggest difference between the Lutherans and their Roman Catholic opponents, but it was the most important teaching of the Reformation. If we are saved by our works, then we are never certain of our salvation! But the Bible teaches that salvation is a gift received through faith in Christ. Although the article on justification was the most important and flowed into every other article, it was not the only topic in the Confession.
The objective of the Augsburg Confessions was to convince the emperor that the teachings of the Lutheran Church were grounded in Holy Scripture and were not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church, but that they had merely corrected some errors that had recently snuck in over the past few centuries. This was important, because John Eck, an enemy of Luther, had written against Luther and the Lutherans, attributing to them errors taught by heretics of that time. Eck claimed that the Lutherans denied the Lord’s Supper was the true body and blood of Christ, as did Ulrich Zwingli, and that they denied that babies should be baptized or that Baptism saves, as did the Anabaptists, or even that they denied the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity, as certain radicals began to do. So, the first article confessed the doctrine of the Nicene Creed, that God is three persons yet one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as all Christians everywhere have always taught. Article Three confessed Jesus as true God and true man, as is confessed in the Apostles’ Creed. Article Nine states:
Concerning Baptism, our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation [Mark 16:16] and that God’s grace is offered through Baptism [Titus 3:4-7]. They teach that children are to be baptized [Acts 2:38-39]. Being offered to God through Baptism, they are received into God’s grace. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the Baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.
Article Ten on the Lord’s Supper states, “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 10:16]. They reject those who teach otherwise.”
Against the accusations of the Roman Catholics that Lutherans taught that good works were worthless and unnecessary, Melanchthon wrote in Article Twenty, “Our teachers are falsely accused of forbidding good works. Their published writings on the Ten Commandments, and other similar writings, bear witness that they have usefully taught about all estates and duties of life. They have taught well what is pleasing to God in every station and vocation in life.” Melanchthon even goes so far as to write, “We teach that it is necessary to do good works.” However, he makes clear that good works cannot reconcile us to God or merit forgiveness of sins, but that we obtain forgiveness and grace through faith alone. It is faith, which produces the ability and desire to do good works, which are pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6).
In the summary statement of the first twenty-one articles, Melanchthon wrote, “As can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church universal, or from the Church of Rome, as known from its writings.” The Lutherans did not seek to start a new church with the Augsburg Confession, but to clearly articulate their biblical and catholic faith. Catholic simply means general, the faith which has always been taught and believed by all Christians. The Lutherans hoped that the Catholics would correct the errors that had crept into the church, but more than that, they desired to confess the truth of God’s Word with a clean conscience.
Now, some may say that with this confession, the Lutheran’s have set up a new source of teaching next to the Bible. But that is not true. The Bible is the only rule and norm of Christian teaching. That means that all Christian teaching can only come from the Bible. The Church does not have the right to establish church teaching, which does not come from the Bible. Only through Holy Scripture do we know what God would have us believe and do. However, Jesus commands us to confess Him before men. What does it mean to confess? To confess means to acknowledge what God says is true. The Augsburg Confession simply declares what the Bible teaches, as does the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, which the Church has confessed universally since the 300s AD.
The Augsburg Confession is not a new source of doctrine. It is not placed next to Scripture as a secondary source. The Augsburg Confession is a creed. It simply confesses what Scripture teaches is true. We confess it, because it agrees with Scripture.
Some criticize confessions and creeds, saying that we do not need them. We only need the Bible. But they miss the point. What does the Bible say? What does Jesus teach us? Are we allowed to answer these questions? Not only are we allowed, we are required by God! Jesus says, “So everyone who confesses Me before men, I also will confess before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father in heaven.” St. Paul writes in Romans 10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” And St. Peter writes in 1 Peter 3, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” We are called to confess and to make a defense of our faith! Are we allowed to confess the truth of the Bible in our own words? We certainly are! Are we allowed to use the words of our fathers in the faith? Of course! And so, Christians have done for centuries by confessing the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, each of which confront errors and false accusations against Christians, and so Lutherans have done with the Augsburg Confessions for nearly five centuries.
When you read the Augsburg Confession, you’ll notice that it quotes church fathers like Augustine, Ambrose, and Chrysostom. It doesn’t do this, because we believe the church fathers could invent teachings for the church, but rather we call upon the church fathers as witnesses of the one true faith, which comes from Scripture alone.
But why confess? And why learn the confessions of our fathers in the faith? Because confessing is the natural fruit of faith. Only unbelief prevents confession. We confess what we believe in the heart! (Romans 10:10) When we confess, we acknowledge Christ Jesus as our only Savior. Yet, some will argue that we shouldn’t confess too much, because we end up isolating ourselves and dividing the church. But Christ Jesus makes clear that it is not His voice, which divides the church, but the false teaching of the wolves in sheep’s clothing. We don’t bring unity to Christ’s Church by denying the teachings of Christ. We do not confess Christ here on earth by ignoring most of His teachings. When we do that, we prove that we do not actually trust in Christ.
Are you afraid to confess Christ? Or do you keep your confession vague, because you are afraid to offend others or that they will get angry at you for what you believe is true? Jesus tells us not to fear those who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul, but rather to fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. This is why we need to confess and teach our children to confess. When you confess what Jesus teaches in Holy Scripture, you show that you are not afraid of what people think of you or what they will say about you or do to you. You show that you fear the one true God, who sent His Son to die for you. Reluctance to confess what Christ has taught us in His Word comes from cowardice. Cowardice comes from lack of faith. What can man do to you? Who on earth can touch your soul or overpower God? None. So, do not let your tongue be controlled by fear of those, who reject Christ. Christ Jesus has purchased your soul with His precious blood. So, honor Him with your voice by confessing Him and His teaching. Amen.