Posts tagged Augsburg Confession

June 25 – The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

October 31 is rightly celebrated as Reformation Day, the day in 1517 Martin Luther published 95 Theses for debate, an action considered to be one of the sparks of the Reformation. June 25, however, is at least as important. On this date in 1530, Chancellor Christian Beyer, a member of the government of Duke John, elector of Saxony, read before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and a gathering of princes (a “Diet”) in the city of Augsburg, Germany, a confession of faith signed by seven princes and two city councils in whose lands the teachings of Luther and the Wittenberg reformers had taken root in the previous decade. Luther’s colleague, Philip Melanchthon, is the principal author, though he used several previous documents in the preparation.

As he was still under the imperial ban, Luther himself was unable to attend the meeting in Augsburg. When Melanchthon and other Lutheran theologians and princes arrived at Augsburg, they found that they were being accused of just about every heresy known to the church. So they decided to make a united Lutheran defense of their teaching, both confessing the Gospel teaching of the reformation, and also showing that it was nothing new. Not only is Lutheran teaching based solely on Scripture, it is essentially the doctrine of the church universal from the beginning. The purpose of the confession was also to explain why and how the churches of the Lutheran reformation had corrected certain abuses that had sprung up in the church.

The genius of the resulting Augsburg Confession is that, in clear and unambiguous terms, it shows how the Gospel, the good news of justification by grace for Christ’s sake received through faith alone, is the heart of every major teaching of the church. Drawn from Scripture, Lutheran theology seeks to bring the greatest comfort to hurting and broken people, to penitent sinners.

As Lutherans, we subscribe other confessional statements in the Book of Concord – Luther’s catechisms, the Formula of Concord, etc. – but none are more important than the Augsburg Confession. Here we insist 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, 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.  For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5.” (Augsburg Confession, Article IV, Tappert edition, p. 30).

This teaching is not only meant to comfort, but it begs to be confessed and proclaimed in the world. It is the beating Gospel heart of Christ’s mission through His church. Christian Beyer, it is said, proclaimed the text of this confession in a loud voice for all to hear. We also cannot keep it to ourselves, but must bring it to many more that they too might hear and believe. May we in our day faithfully confess this Bible teaching, centered in Christ. More tomorrow.

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice-President, LCMS

Our Connection to the Ancient Church

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

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession — A Tribute

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
25 June 1530 before Emperor  Charles V
(Click for Larger Image)

I will speak of your statues before kings, O Lord, and will not be put to shame.” — Introit Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, Psalm 119:46.

Apart from the Lord’s salvific events recorded in the Old and New Testaments, particularly Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, and ascension, “one of the greatest days in human history” was “when the Augsburg Confession was first publicly read before the emperor.” (Klug, Eugene F A. “Lutherʼs contribution to the Augsburg Confession.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 44, no. 2-3 (1980): 155-172, pg. 159.) Martin Luther called the Diet of Augsburg where the Augsburg Confession was read, “the last trumpet before Judgment Day.” The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession 481 years ago changed the world. Arguably, the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession is even more important than when Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses on the castle door in Wittenberg in 1517. The Augsburg Confession was read in German, not Latin, on June 25 at 3 p.m. by Chancellor Beyer. He read with a clear, loud voice for nearly two hours. At least seven (if not nine) Electors and Princes of the Holy Roman Empire (Germany, for all intents and purposes) signed the Augsburg Confession. George of Brandenburg declared, “Rather than deny my God and suffer the Word of God to be taken from me, I will kneel down and have my head struck off.” (Eh ich mir will das Wort Gottes nehmen lassen und meines Gottes verläugnen, ehe will ich jetzt niderknien und wir den Kopf lassen abhauen.” Corpus Reformatorum 2, 115.) Although the German princes who signed the Augsburg Confession did not lose their heads, others would lose their heads.

The Execution of Twenty-seven Nobles in Prague
After the Bohemian defeat at the Battle on White Mountain.

Just a decade shy of a century after the Augsburg Confession was signed, twenty-seven Bohemian nobles were executed for their confession of the Protestant faith (The Bohemian Confession of 1575 based on the Augsburg Confession), and in some cases for their confession of the Augsburg Confession. The nobles were various shades of Lutherans or Calvinists. Among those executed was Jan Jesenius, physician to the Prince of Saxony 1593, and professor of anatomy in Wittenberg from 1594 until 1600, when he relocated to Prague. He was executed along with twenty-six other nobles for refusing the Roman Catholic faith. In 1621, the Emperor ordered all Calvinists and non-Lutherans to convert in three days to Roman Catholicism or to leave the Czech lands.  In December 1621 under Archbishop Lohelius, “The last Administrator, the Lutheran Jiřík Dykastus, was exiled from Bohemia with other Czech Protestant clergy.”(David, Zdenìk V. “THE WHITE MOUNTAIN, 1620: AN ANNIHILATION OR APOTHEOSIS OF UTRAQUISM?” Communio Viatorum 45, no. 1 (2003): 24-66, 35.) A few years later the Silesian Lutherans would come under persecution for their confession. From the 16th century until the present day, many would stand before kings and confess the faith confessed at Augsburg.

Title Page of Confessyon Of The Fayth
Of The Germaynes
London, 1536
Translated by Richard Taverner

Richard Taverner (c. 1505 – 14 July 1575) best known for his translation of the Bible into English, first translated the Augsburg Confession and the Apology into English in 1536. Taverner’s commitment to Lutheran theology is questionable, at the very least he was unwilling to lose his life for it. The English Ten Articles of Religion are based on the Augsburg Confession. The effects of Taverner’s translation largely are limited to a brief period of time in the 1530s.

Acta et Scripta Theologorum Wirtembergensium et
Patriarchae Constantinopolitanti D. Hieremiae,
1584.

After Luther’s death, the Lutheran’s continued to reach out to others with the Augsburg Confession. Melanchthon is believed to have sent a letter to Patriarch Joasaph II (1555-1565) in 1559. After Melanchthon’s correspondance, Demetrios Mysos came to study in Wittenberg for about six months. During this time, Melanchthon and Mysos are believed to have translated the Augsburg Confession into Greek. Melanchthon died in 1560 and there is no evidence that Mysos returned to Constantinople with the Greek version of the Augsburg Confession.

The Augsburg Confession’s Title in Greek Reads,
“A Confession of the Orthodox Faith.”
A second attempt to contact the Eastern Orthodox church was made by Jacob Andreae in 1574 when he sent a copy of the Augsburg Confession in Greek to Patriarch Jeremiah II. The title of the Augsburg Confession in Greek reads, “A Confession of the Orthodox Faith.” The Patriarch responded to the Augsburg Confession article by article. Agreement was not found. The entire fascinating story with a translation of the correspondance can be read in Augsburg and Constantinople: The Correspondence between the Tubingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg … Library of Ecclesiastical and Historical). The original Acta et Scripta Theologorum Wirtembergensium et
Patriarchae Constantinopolitanti D. Hieremiae,
1584, can be downloaded here in PDF.

Philipp Melanchthon
Das Augsburger Bekenntnis von 1530,
ergänzt durch die Apologie des Bekenntnisses
Wittenberg: Georg Rhau, 1531

The Augsburg Confession confesses, “Ecclesiae magno consensu apud nos docent,” that is, “The churches among us with great consensus teach.” This is an ecumenical statement that the Augsburg Confession is a universal creed, that correctly expounds the Scriptures and believed by all Christians. On this Dr. Charles Arand writes, “And so in the Augustana they proclaim, “This is the one holy catholic and apostolic faith” which is proclaimed among us. Therefore the one holy Christian church exists among us in its fullness. In this claim of catholicity the confessors issue a call, inviting others to confess their catholicity by confessing the Gospel as it is set forth in the twenty-eight articles of the Augustana. And then they issue a bit of a challenge: And we hope that it exists among you.” (Arand, Charles P. “The Future of Church Fellowship : A Confessional Proposal.” Concordia Journal (July 1999), 248-249.)

The Augsburg Confession is the bold confession of the Lutheran, rather of the Christian Church, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Read the Augsburg Confession here.

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