Thursday, June 22, 2017

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25)

Sunday, June 25 marks the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.  This occasion is just as important as Reformation Day (October 31, 1517) and is worthy of celebration.  Here is some of the background.

In 1530, the princes of Lutheran territories in Germany were summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V in Augsburg.  Though he wanted to attend, Martin Luther was urged not to appear before the Diet (that is, Council) at Augsburg for fear that he would be arrested and/or executed.  So, Luther journeyed as far as the Coburg Castle--still safely in the protection of Electoral Saxony, and the princes went to Augsburg.  (Luther was still a marked man – marked both as a heretic and an outlaw.  Had his prince not been his defender, Luther surely would have been executed years prior.)

Philip Melanchthon, a colleague of Luther’s at the University of Wittenberg, was the theologian who was to be the guide for these princes.  However, it was the princes, not the theologians, who were to make their stand and confess the Christian faith before the Emperor.

The Emperor was in no mood to have a divided Christendom in his realm.  His goal at Augsburg was to force the Lutheran princes submit to the Roman church.  Arrest, confiscation of lands, loss of power, and loss of life were real threats that faced the Lutheran princes if they did not renounce their faith.

The Lutherans were hopeful that the issues which separated them from the Roman church might be debated or discussed.  But such hopes were quickly dashed when they arrived at Augsburg.  It was clear that the Emperor had no interest in such a debate.  He did not want to give time or credence to the Lutheran confession. 

In order to be heard, the Lutherans prepared a statement.  They knew they would have one chance to be heard before the Diet of Augsburg, so they prepared a confession.  Philip Melanchthon wrote it, and Martin Luther reviewed and approved it.  One of Luther’s comments about the confession: “I have read Master Philip’s Apology*.  I am well pleased with it, and know nothing to improve or to change in it; neither would this be proper, since I cannot step so gently and softly.  Christ, our Lord, grant that it may produce much and great fruit, which, indeed, we hope and pray for.  Amen.” (Historic Introduction to the Symbolical Books, Frederick Bente.  Printed in Concordia Triglotta © 1921, p 18)  [*Note: An “Apology” is a defense.]

The Augsburg Confession was publicly read before the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530.

The Augsburg Confession can be divided into two parts. 
1)                  Articles I-XXI confess that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is catholic, that is, it is part of the holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.  Lutherans did not invent new teachings or abandon the historic Christian faith.  It is not in rebellion against the Church.  Luther began a reformation, not a revolution.  We believe, teach, and confess what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. 
2)                  Articles XXII-XXVIII confess that the Lutheran Church has found abuses in Roman teaching and practice.  These abuses are highlighted and reasons are given for their correction or omission from the Lutheran churches.

All Lutherans do well to be familiar with the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530 (Melanchthon later edited it without the authority or consent of the Evangelical Lutheran Church), as it is the most basic confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  To date, it has not been refuted or shown to be false.  It is a faithful confession of Scripture, and it describes what Lutherans believe and practice.

Lutherans also do well to uphold this confession and to follow its descriptions so that we remain faithful in our teachings and practice.  In doing so, we assure ourselves that we do not fall into the errors of the Roman church or swerve too far the other way and fall into the errors of Protestant churches.

For a reading of the Augsburg Confession (and please do read it!), you can consult our church library or go to this link: http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php .

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