25 June 2014
Text: Matt 10:26-33 (Neh 8:1-2. 5-6, 9-12; 1 Tim 6:11-16)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
To most people, what happened on June 25, 1530 is irrelevant. And I fear that it is equally irrelevant to most Lutherans. But it truly is of great relevance.
Today is an important day, because on this date, the reformers presented a statement of their faith to the emperor in the city of Augsburg. It was an attempt to reunite the church from division. It failed to meet that goal. But there was another more important goal: to publicly confess the truth, the biblical truth, the Christian truth, the truth of the ancient Catholic faith that had been corrupted over the centuries. And insofar as the Augsburg Confession did that, and still does today, it was, and is, a great success.
These men who gathered at Augsburg to confess, the vast majority of whom were not pastors but laymen, laid their lives on the line. At one point, when the Emperor attempted to bully them into abandoning their confession of faith, prince after prince approached the emperor and bared his neck, saying that he would rather die than surrender his confession. The emperor was stunned, but did not cut off any heads that day.
But in time, his armies would invade Lutheran lands, seizing people’s property, making war against the small nations that existed in those days, and burning Lutherans at the stake. And these martyrs indeed heard Paul’s words: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” For these men and women, like Nehemiah and Ezra, rediscovered the ancient faith as recorded and proclaimed in the Word, a Word that the rulers and powers sought to silence and distort. But they made the good confession, clearly confessing, that is to say, repeating, what Sacred Scripture teaches with clarity: namely that we are saved by grace through faith, not through works, and that the object of our faith is Christ Jesus, whose death on the cross atones for the sins of the world. And that He comes to us in Word and Sacrament: in Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, delivering forgiveness, life, and salvation, by virtue of His victory over sin, death, and the devil.
This is the ancient Catholic faith that had nearly been lost by the then-current Roman Catholic hierarchy. Our reformation was a bottom-up phenomenon, driven by God’s Word, newly discovered and liberated from corrupt popes and bishops.
And though this document was written in 1530, it remains fresh today. It outlines what we believe, teach, and confess. It shapes both our doctrine and practice. It is a living document, not in the sense that it can change and evolve – God forbid! But rather in that it lives in our churches. For it’s only an accident of history that we bear the name “Lutheran.” Luther himself hated this label. It was put on us by our opponents. In fact, we are the Church of the Augsburg Confession. That is our true name and our true heritage. We believe this confession because it is true. It is true because it is rooted in God’s infallible Word, not fallen man’s feeble and corrupt word.
It is not a complicated or long confession. And it proves that we have not added or changed any ancient belief. It consists of 21 articles of faith and 7 articles explaining our position on controversies.
Quite simply, we believe: 1) in the Triune God, 2) in original sin, 3) in Jesus as the Son of God, 4) in our justification by grace, not works, 5) in the office of the holy ministry through which we are given the gift of faith, 6) in a new life of new obedience, 7) and 8) in the Christian Church, 9) in Holy baptism for all believers, infants included, 10) in the true body and blood of the Lord in the Holy Supper, 11) in confession of sins to the pastor, 12) in repentance, 13) in the effectiveness of the sacraments, 14) in only ordained pastors preaching and administering sacraments, 15) in the retention of traditional worship and customs in our churches, 16) in that Christians may serve in civil government, 17) in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18) in the limitations of free will, 19) in the devil and our wickedness as the cause of sin, 20) in that good works are indeed necessary, and 21) in that we do not pray to or worship the saints.
In addition to these simple articles, we addressed timely controversies: 22) we receive both the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist, 23) we allow our priests to marry, 24) we retain the Mass as our weekly service of worship, 25) we retain private confession to the pastor, 26) we don’t insist on certain types of fasting, 27) we believe monastic vows are voluntary, and 28) we believe that church and state are separate offices.
And as our confession asserts: “This is about the sum of our teaching. As can be seen, there is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church or the church of Rome, in so far as the ancient church is known to us from its writers.”
Dear friends, this document is important: not because of its history, and not because of the courage of its original confessors, but because it is true. We are Lutherans not because it is our preferred brand, not because of who our ancestors are, not because of what language they spoke, nor where they were baptized. We confess this Augsburg Confession because, as the Roman Catholic bishop of Augsburg candidly admitted on June 25, 1530: “It is the truth! We cannot deny it!”
Indeed, dear friends, it is the truth! We dare not deny it! We must believe, teach, and confess that which is true. And it is true because it is grounded in the Holy Scriptures. This is indeed as relevant to us in 2014 as it was to them in 1530, because the Scriptures continue to testify to our Redeemer, who was crucified for us to atone for our sins, and give us everlasting life. And our confession is grounded and rooted in the one whom our entire confession is about: Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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