Confessionalism and Augsburg
Christianity is a “confessional” religion. Lutheran Christians not only confess their sinfulness and their absolute need for Jesus the Savior but they also confess their Christian faith in Jesus, as well as confessing their belief in all Christian doctrine found in the Word of God alone.
To confess is to say (on the one hand) what I am FOR as “I believe” established Christian truth. To confess is to say (on the other hand) what I am AGAINST as “I reject” heretical false doctrine.
See 1 Peter 3:15; 1 John 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:21,22
2 Corinthians 13:8; 2 Timothy 2:17; Galatians 5:9; 2 Corinthians 11:3
Jesus once asked his disciples (Matthew 16) about the false ideas others had about him. Then Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them, “Who do YOU say I am?” Verse 16 contains the answer.
In the face of error, Christians confess the truth that the Holy Spirit has taught them in Holy Scripture.
A Christian declares proudly and openly: “This is what I believe; this is what I have learned from Scripture; this I am convinced is the true meaning of Scripture.”
When told to “recant” Luther stood his ground and made his good confession of trust in Scripture.
Martin Luther knew the Scriptures and declares that he “was ready to be judged by the Lord on the last day on the basis of his confession.” This was not boasting. It was Luther’s conviction founded on the Word of God. The Lutheran Church became a “confessing church” standing on the Word of God alone.
The Need for Confessions: We cannot know the faith people have in their hearts unless they confess it openly. Our testing of a church is on the basis of its written confessions of faith in which they believe.
Romans 10:10; Matthew 12:37
Most churches have a written statement of what they believe and teach. These statements are their confessions. Our Lutheran Church has a number of confessions that arose from the Reformation times during and following the life of Martin Luther. The Small Catechism (written by Luther in 1529)
1. The Large Catechism (written by Luther in 1529)
2. The Augsburg Confession (written by Melanchthon in 1530)
3. The Apology (written by Melanchthon in 1530)
4. The Smalcald Articles (written by Luther in 1537)
5. The Formula of Concord (written by a committee of Lutherans in 1577)
(Note: The Three Creeds of the Christian Church are also accepted by the Lutheran Church as accurate confessions)
On March 11, Elector John (of Germany) received an Imperial Summons for a diet to convene at Augsburg. For the first time since Worms, the emperor would be at the diet in person. One item of business was to take steps to present a united front against the Turk’s (Muslims). The Turks were threatening invasion from the east. However, the second important matter of concern for the diet was the religious problem. The religious goal was noble: “to bring and reconcile men to a unity in Christian truth.” The invitation to the Diet spoke of a “charitable hearing to every man’s opinion” and of leaving all past “errors to the judgment of our Savior.” The Lutheran Princes saw this as an opportunity to be heard – to defend the reforms they put into effect in their territories.
Luther and three other Wittenberg theologians were commissioned to prepare a document to be used in Lutheran defense. They wrote the “Torgau Articles.” Luther could not attend because of the excommunication ban. The others arrived early at Augsburg. It soon became clear that something more thorough was needed – a confession of faith that included ALL basic doctrines of Christianity. Melanchthon became principally responsible for preparing it, though he also used three more writings (besides the Torgau Articles) from Luther to help prepare it (Confession of 1528, Schwabach Articles, Marburg Articles). And thus comes forth the Augsburg Confession.
The first 21 Articles of the Augsburg Confession are doctrinal and based on earlier confessions. The last seven articles (22-28) based on the Torgau Articles treat of abuses that need to be corrected. After Luther read them, he fully approved saying “I cannot step so softy and quietly.” The Augsburg Confession did not become the final, definitive confessional statement for Lutheranism. But it did confess the truth of Scripture.
The Augsburg Confession was read for two hours before the Diet at Augsburg in German. The Princes stated “Here we stand.” When Luther learned of this, he was overjoyed. Of course, Emperor Charles did not accept the Augsburg Confession. Charles ordered that the Augsburg Confession not be published. Instead he asked his Catholic thelogians to prepare a response. It became known as the “Confutation of the Augsburg Confession.” Charles then ordered all to unite “with the Christian Church, the Holy Father, and His Majesty.” In 1531 the Lutherans published the Augsburg Confession with a lengthy defense of it called the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, prepared by Melanchthon.
The role of the Augsburg Confession is considerable in the life and history of the Lutheran Church. IT is the first and basic Confession of the Lutheran Church which gives clear expression to Christianity’s basic doctrines, among which is the ONE central article by which the church stands or falls. ARTICLE IV: Of Justification. “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works, but 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, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Romans 3 and 4.”
The Lutheran Church had a mark of identity thanks to the Augsburg Confession. In 1580 the Lutheran confessions (noted above) were gathered into The Book of Concord. No other church as such a thorough collection of confessions like The Book of Concord. This is our confessional, biblical heritage!