Presentation of Augsburg Confession
If I asked you what the birthday of the United States was, I am sure that you would have no problem answering the question. We all know that the birthday of our nation will be celebrated in just a little over a week, on July 4th. That was the day that the members of the Continental congress who had gathered in Philadelphia signed the Declaration of Independence.
However, prior to today, if I had asked you what the birthday of the Evangelical Lutheran church was, I doubt that many of you would have been able to answer correctly. Many of you might have guessed Reformation Day, October 31 – the day that we associate with Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 theses. That would be a good guess. However, the truth of the matter is that in this act even Luther himself did not realize what was about to take place, and as he tells us in his later writings, at this time the gospel had not yet fully come clear.
No, if we want to find the birthday of the Lutheran church, we need to look at today, June 25, for on this date in 1530 in Augsburg Germany, the Lutheran confessors presented the Augsburg Confession to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. On this day they presented the confession of faith that is the foundational confession of the Lutheran Church.
There is a great similarity between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Each event involved great personal risk for those who took part. The Americans who signed the Declaration of Independence were committing treason. As John Adams told his fellow delegates: “We must hang together, or we will hang apart.”
The confessors at Augsburg faced no less a threat. They were advocating a doctrine that the Roman Church had declared in Luther to be heretical, and Charles V was the instrument that the Roman Church intended to use in the repression of this teaching. The laymen who presented the Augsburg Confession were risking their life and property – a fact that became clear seventeen years later when Charles V attacked and conquered them.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is sending out the twelve apostles. He had instructed them: “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” They were to proclaim that in Jesus the saving action of God’s reign – his kingdom – had broken into this fallen world in order to free people from sin, death and the devil. This was God’s doing, and people were called to faith in Jesus. Faith – trust in Christ – is what Matthew’s Gospel sets forth as the way that people receive this blessing of God’s saving reign.
This was big news! This was good news! And it had to be shared. It had to be confessed. Jesus says in our text, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Throughout chapter ten, our Lord tells the apostles that they will meet opposition. But he tells them not to fear – not even the one threatens to kill their body. Instead, Jesus told them to “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” They were to put God first and trust in him because he cared about them – after all he even knew the number of hairs on their head!
Our Lord’s words were spoken to the twelve apostles on a particular occasion. However, as we get to the second half of chapter ten we note that the language becomes more general in nature. It becomes clear that Jesus is saying things that are going to apply to all Christians who share and confess the faith.
This joy about the Gospel and the willingness to share and confess it before the world – even at personal risk – is what shaped the event at Augsburg on June 25, 1530. The confessors at Augsburg declared the freedom of the Gospel. The Augsburg Confession declared that salvation is not a matter of our works, but instead it is a gift from God when it stated about the Lutheran churches, “Likewise, they teach that human beings cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works. But they are justified as a gift on account of Christ through faith when they believe that they are received into grace and that sins are forgiven on account of Christ.”
In the Augsburg Confession we find the declaration that through the Gospel we receive the free gift of salvation. It declares that that we are justified – put right with God – by God’s grace; on account of Christ’s death and resurrection; and through faith in Christ.
And then we also learn in the Augsburg Confession that God has not left the delivery of this gift to chance. Instead, he has provided the Means of Grace: the Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. And he has also provided the Office of the Holy ministry that administers these Means of Grace in the midst of God’s people. As the Augsburg Confession states, “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the Gospel.”
Yet it was not all good news. In fact the second article was about as negative as it can get. There it says about original sin: “Furthermore, it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this same innate disease and original sin is truly sin and condemns to God’s eternal wrath all who are not in turn born anew through baptism and the Holy Spirit.”
In confessing the truth of God’s Word, the Augsburg Confession destroyed the medieval notion that we had to make the first move toward God, or that our doing was in any way part of the reason we are justified and saved. This overturned a massive system built on these assumptions. It threatened wealth and power. There would be opposition.
But the confessors at Augsburg were shaped by the biblical faith. And that included the words we find at the end of our text: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” They were going to confess, because to confess the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession was to confess Jesus Christ. And they were going to confess Christ even before powerful men like the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Today, the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, causes us to face the question: “Do we still believe that it is the truth that must be confessed before all people?” I’m not asking if its ok for us “to have it on the books.” I am asking whether we believe that it is the truth, and that contrary understanding is error. The confessors at Augsburg left no doubt about where they stood on the issue. They not only confessed the truth, they also explicitly condemned those things that were contrary to the truth.
To do so it is to invite disdain from many. This response reflects the post-modern age we live in – the time of “tolerance” which rejects all absolute truth claims. Yet this attitude is absolutely deadly to the church. As Evangelical Lutherans, the only thing that we have is the truth of God’s Word – it is our only reason for existence as a church. And if we lose sight of this fact – if we marginalize the truth claims of the Augsburg Confession – then we become just another social club. When we lose sight of the truth that we confess as Lutherans, we lose our very existence as a church.
Therefore, today, June 25, the birthday of the Lutheran Church is an invitation to return to the truth that we confess. It is an occasion to review what we confess as Lutherans and ask ourselves whether we still believe that it is the truth. Remember, those who confessed the Augsburg Confession were not theologians and pastors. They were lay men who cared about these things; who knew about these things; who confessed these things at risk to life and property. Would we do the same?
We have copies of the Augsburg Confession on our tract rack at the back of the nave and also at the door on the east end of the building. Take a copy and read it – if we run out we will order more. Read it so that you know what this full truth is. And then ask yourself the honest question about whether you still believe this is the truth.
Each of us must face that question on our own, for no one can confess the truth for us. The Augsburg Confession say that we are justified by grace through faith. This faith is created and sustained by the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are administered by Christ through his Office of the Holy Ministry and those who are fed by the Means of Grace are the Church, for as the Augsburg Confession states, the Church “is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.
Justification by grace through faith; the Means of Grace; the Office of the Holy Ministry and the Church – this is the faith that we confess in the Augsburg Confession. This is the truth of God’s Word. This is the truth the Evangelical Lutheran Church has confessed since its beginning at Augsburg. And on this day when the confessors at Augsburg took their stand for the truth of Christ, we are invited to again confess the truth of God’s Word; the truth of the Augsburg Confess; the truth of the Evangelical Lutheran church.
On this June 25 may each of us find this truth to be our own confession. And may our Lord sustain each one of us in this one holy, catholic and apostolic faith until the day of his return – about which Jesus said: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”