Monday, June 25, 2012 is the 482nd Anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, at the Diet (meeting) of Augsburg on June 25, 1530. Remember, and thank God for our Lutheran forebears who gave us this wonderful confession of faith. The Augsburg Confession, along with Luther’s Catechisms, are considered foundational for the Lutheran Church.

The genius of this confession of faith is not only that it briefly summarizes the main points of Scripture. Everything we teach as Lutherans, everything we live by, needs to be drawn from Scripture and judged by the Word of God. Even a quick reading of this confession of faith shows that the whole purpose of Scripture and Lutheran teaching is to bring the greatest possible comfort to penitent sinner, to hurting and broken people. But even that’s not all.

The Augsburg Confession also shows that what the Lutherans of 1530 taught and practiced was nothing new, but was completely in step with the church’s teaching and practice for centuries. This point becomes plain when the reformer Philip Melanchthon, the author of the document, not only explains doctrine but also shows how the Lutherans had corrected abuses in the medieval church.

For example, the practice had arisen that the cup with the Lord’s blood shed for us was to be kept from the laity and consumed only by the priest. The common people received only the bread.

Article XXII of our confession explains why this rather late abuse was corrected so that, in the Lutheran churches, all the people are given both the break and the wine in the sacrament. Christ commands with clear words that all who receive the supper should also drink of the cup: “Drink of it, all of you.” (Matthew 26:27).

St. Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 11 that the whole assembly received both the body and the blood of Christ (11:27). Melanchthon points out that “this usage continued in the church for a long time, as can be demonstrated from history and the writings of the Fathers” (Augsburg XXII, Tappert, p. 50). Therefore, the confessors said, the practice of withholding the cup from the lay people was contrary to God’s command, contrary to the ancient practices of the church and was unjust.

Why is this important? First of all, for the sake of the consciences of believers. The Lord Jesus gave us His Supper whole and intact. It is “not proper to burden the consciences of those who desire to observe the sacrament according to Christ’s institution or to compel them to act contrary to the arrangement of our Lord Christ.” (Tappert, p. 50)

In other words, it is the Lord’s Supper and we must listen to Him. He both tells us what it is (His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins) and also how it is to be given (everyone coming to the Supper receives both kinds). You cannot divide the Supper.

Second, this is important because it shows that our Lutheran forebears did not leave the ancient church. They were not innovators bringing in something never seen before, but they intended to return to Scripture and to the teaching and practice of the ancient church.

In this area, they considered the Roman Church to be the innovators while the Lutherans had the ancient catholic practice – understanding the word “catholic” here in its original meaning: “universal,” “orthodox,” “found wherever there are Christians.”

So it is today. The Lutheran Church at its best desires nothing more than to be found in Scripture and in the teaching drawn from Scripture. Thus we are not surprised when we discover that our teaching and practice also fits that of the ancient church. And when we find ourselves drifting from that teaching and practice, our confessions call us back. We trust the promise of Jesus that “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-14).

What about issues we face today? The church is ever in need of reformation. And the best route to that is through our confessions, which always drive us back into the Bible. So if it’s been a while, take another look at the Augsburg Confession (you can just “google” it on the internet). June 25th would be a great day to do so. I think you will be surprised at how relevant it is today. Remember – look for maximum comfort for broken people.

+ Herbert Mueller