The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
June 27, 2010
Text: John 15:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
What a contrast we have before us in our church today. We celebrate the bold confession of God’s Word that was made at Augsburg by our forefathers on June 25, 1530. At the same time we wonder what will happen with proposals at our convention that would make the by-laws and rulings of commissions more important than the Word of God.
Let us review the facts of the matter. In 1529, Emperor Charles V was determined to end the religious controversies that had racked Germany for more than a decade. He had declared Martin Luther to be an outlaw, but his teachings continued to spread. Charles had been unable to act against Luther and his followers by a series of wars. Finally, defeating the Turks at Vienna, Charles had won the wars. He demanded that all the princes of Germany join him in a Corpus Christi procession - that is a parade through the streets of the city of Speyer following after a piece of consecrated communion bread. Several princes, led by Duke John the Steadfast of Saxony, refused to obey the emperor’s command. Finally, Charles ordered Duke John and the others with him to present their confession of faith. The document was prepared by Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s co-worker. It was presented on a steamy hot, June 25. It was read before the emperor by Wittenberg lawyer and scholar Christian Beyer. The emperor rejected the document, but Duke John and the others held firm. Soon many other leaders in Germany rallied behind the Augsburg Confession. The Lutheran Church was born.
The root of the conflict, then as now, was authority in the Church. Is the Word of God, the only authority in the Church, or is there something else. The Word comes from God. He inspired men to write these things down. These men were termed prophets and apostles. Prophets had to give signs and make predictions that came true. Often God even told people to ask for a sign. Apostles had to have seen the risen Christ and be appointed to their office by Christ Himself. We don’t know who all the apostles were, but we can name fourteen for certain - the surviving eleven disciples, Mathias who was chosen to replace Judas, Jesus’ brother James, and Paul. We cannot say if there were or were not others. These men affirmed the Old Testament and quoted from it frequently. The Epistle to the Hebrews is nothing other than a commentary on the Old Testament. They also add their own writings - what we call the New Testament. This Word of God is also termed the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. We know of no word from God apart from the Bible. Martin Luther was emphatic on this point. We are not limiting God in saying this. Rather we are taking Him at His Word. Revelation 22:18-19 says: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” If I were to claim some other authority, whether it be a direct revelation or some church rules, would I not be adding to the Word of God? And if were to follow this other authority in place of the Bible, would I not be taking away from the Word of God?
Throughout the history of the church on earth, there have been all sorts of attempts to take us way from Scripture alone. It was claimed that the Bible is too hard for people to understand. They must listen instead to the church. Certainly, it is God’s will that His Children listen to faithful teachers. But they are to judge who is faithful and who is not by comparing what is said to Holy Scripture.
Why is this important? What does it mean to abide in Christ? What does it mean to be a branch connected to the vine? It means that we have God’s Word in us. God’s Word is really the sap nourishing us. This is why without Christ and His Word we can do nothing. Without the Word, we are dried up branches to be gathered for the fire. What Christ is saying in our text is really very simple. We must be faithful to the Word of God. That includes reading and studying that Word regularly. It means hearing that Word publically read and preached. It means conforming our lives to the Word of God. It means conducting the affairs of our church in ways that are in accord with the Word of God. It means that the Word trumps all constitutions, by-laws, Robert’s rules of order and other church rules. For these are rules of men. They must always be under the Word of God. And if the word of men is in conflict with the Word of God, the Word of God must rule.
Why do we say this? Why must God’s Word alone reign supreme among us? It is because we are sinners. Our perception of reality is warped and distorted beyond recognition. Even though we are redeemed by Christ, sin still destroys our reason. Being a redeemed child of God only means that we are in the thick of the fight with sin and Satan. We, of our own reason, will never understand the things of God. They must come to us from outside of ourselves. And no man could tell us. For what man is any less of a sinner than each of us? I have no natural knowledge of the things of God. Rather Christ gives us His Word. When that Word flows through us, there is abundant fruit.
The first fruit is forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. The Word convey’s Christ our Savior from sin and death to us. Without the Word we do not know who Christ is or what He has done. Without the Word we would not have the Sacraments, wherein we become participants in the events of salvation history. Without the Word we are lost and damned.
That’s a bad place to be. So forgiveness and salvation are the first fruits of the Word dwelling in us. This then changes who we are. We are no longer the lost and damned. We are the saved. The deed is already done our behalf. Christ paid our debt in full. The law still accuses us because we continue to struggle with sin. But it also now tells us what God’s will is. In short we are to serve our neighbor. We are to help others with their needs. It might be something as simple as two farmers working together to get their hay in. It might be helping an elderly person with errands or some such thing. For those in the Word, these are natural acts, often done without thought. It is impossible to not do them. Yet, these are quite properly the fruit of God’s Word flowing through us.
Christ said: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” We live because Christ, through His Word, lives in us. It is then the Word that creates and governs the Church. Five hundred years ago, our forefathers insisted that the Church be governed by Scripture alone. They were cast out of the papal church for this bold confession formed the Lutheran Church. We too need that same spirit of John the Steadfast. For we also are called to demand Scripture alone.