The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
June 28-29, 2008 (June 25)
Text: Romans 10:5-17
Dear Friends in Christ,
Often we are told that we must draw a hard line. Our founding fathers drew a hard line with Great Britain. Our leaders drew a hard line during World War II with Germany and Japan. Even Willy Nelson and Toby Keith have it as a line in a song - you have to draw a hard line. What does that mean? A line does a couple things. It divides. It shows who’s on what side. Who is standing with the truth and who is standing with falsehood. It also says we will let you come so far and no farther. You have to draw a hard line.
Who was the first Lutheran? That is a good question. The answer is not readily obvious. We could look to the theologians like Amsdorf and Melanchthon. But theologians rarely, by themselves, start movements. Duke Frederick the Wise had protected Luther but really didn’t fully embrace Luther’s theology. But his younger brother Duke John the Steadfast did indeed embrace Luther’s theology. In 1525, when he succeeded his brother as Duke of Saxony, John did two things. First he declared that the churches in his territory were to practice Lutheranism. Second, he ordered a visitation of the churches of Saxony to make certain that they were doing as he had ordered. The Small Catechism was written in response to what the visitors, which included Luther himself, found. How was this heroic? First, he defied both emperor and pope. Second, when he assumed his throne, his cousin, Duke George the Bearded, who ruled the other half of Saxony pressured John to arrest Luther and his followers. John refused and continued to protect Luther.
The situation escalated in 1529 at the imperial diet or parliament in the city of Speyer. The emperor, Charles V, who was also King Charles I of Spain, had recently defeated the Turks who had laid siege to the city of Vienna. He convened the diet to settle the religious questions dividing the Holy Roman Empire. When the diet gathered, Charles ordered all the princes to join him in a Corpus Christi procession. This is a parade through the streets of the city led by a priest carrying a consecrated piece of communion bread. John, along with Philip of Hesse and George of Brandenburg refused. Because they protested the emperor’s command they were termed “Protestants.” The Diet was deadlocked. Neither side could move forward. Finally, in frustration, the emperor ordered the Lutheran princes to present their creeds at the next meeting of the diet.
That winter it was agreed to have Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s fellow professor at Wittenberg, prepare a statement. This statement was presented on behalf of seven German princes and the governments of the cities of Nuernberg and Reutlingen on June 25, 1530. It was publically read before the emperor by Wittenberg attorney Christian Beyer. This date, this event, we mark as the true beginning of the Lutheran Church. The Augsburg Confession remains our confessional standard to this day.
On that day, June 25, 1530, John the Steadfast and his allies drew a hard line. They divided themselves from Rome and from the radical reformers. They made it clear that they stood with Holy Scripture and the ancient fathers. This is the beginning of what we would consider classic Lutheran theological argumentation. Today we start with Scripture, then support the Scriptures with the Confessions, the writings of the ancient fathers and then finally the Lutheran fathers. In 1530, they were writing the Confessions and the Lutheran fathers were just getting started. In this way we show that we are introducing nothing that is new to the church.
This two pronged approach was important, for many lies were being spread about the Lutherans. It was in fact probably more important at that moment to distinguish the Lutherans from those whom Luther called Schwermer - the radicals - than it was to distinguish themselves from Rome.
What was at stake? The very Gospel of Jesus Christ. The very words of our text. The belief that we are saved by grace, alone, though faith, alone, in Jesus Christ, alone. The belief that we know this from the Scriptures alone. We don’t know this because the institutional church tells us this. We don’t know this because we have some experience or feeling. We know this from the objective words of Holy Scripture, alone. We know that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” The Papal church tries insist upon allegiance to their organization, as a condition of salvation. They would further insist upon this work or that work - all of which have been made up by men. The radicals, then and now, would insist upon some sort of experience and a perfectly holy life. The radicals have no place for forgiveness and grace. In fact in one of the most shameful episodes in the whole history of the Church, people tried to say it wasn’t a sin when contemporary Christian singer Sandi Patti abandoned her husband and children and ran off with her manager. It couldn’t be a sin, because those of Sandi Patti’s ilk believe Christians don’t sin any more. In contrast, we have the strongest doctrine of sin in all Christendom. We teach exactly what the Scriptures say - that we are born dead in sin and are born enemies of God. We teach that we sin many times every day. We teach that we cannot possibly know all of our sins. We teach that everything we do is tainted by our sin. We teach that there is no human power than can change this. Then we have the strongest and clearest teaching on God’s grace. We believe, teach and confess that Jesus Christ, God the Son came down to earth and died as payment for our sins. Because Christ has paid for our sins He would raise us to life in Holy Baptism, forgive our sins in the Absolution and have us claim His sacrifice as our sacrifice in the Holy Supper. We believe, teach and confess that Christ and Christ alone is the cause of our salvation. Luther’s last words are instructive - “This is certain, we are beggars all.” We are indeed beggars before God’s throne. All we can do is beg for God’s grace. But we approach boldly because we have His Word and promise that all beggars will be raised up to life with Him forever.
On June 25, 1530, John the Steadfast, Duke of Saxony and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, drew a hard line. He and his fellow princes declared before all the world, at the risk of their very lives, that they rejected all man made teachings. They declared that they rejected all human works as a cause of salvation. John and his fellow princes declared that they too were beggars before God’s throne of grace. And they declared they would kneel down and let the emperor strike off their heads before they would surrender a syllable of their confession. In fact they declared that their confession would stand against the very gates of hell itself. Let our prayer today be that we would be filled withe same bold spirit as John the Steadfast. Let us be so bold, even in the face of death, to declare that we are saved by grace alone, through Faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, and this we know from Scripture alone. Amen!