Friday, November 20, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions (The Augsburg Confession)

Today we start a new Friday series exploring one of the confessional writings of the Book of Concord: The Augsburg Confession. And why do we start such a series? Because, as the late Rev. Dr. Kurt Marquart wrote, "Lutheran congregations and synods must learn again to treasure the Book of Concord as their best and most authentic 'mission statement,' and to implement its doctrinal and sacramental substance full-strength in the actual shaping of their church-life" (Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Volume IX. pg.185). Thank you, Pastor Sullivan, for bringing these wise words to my mind the other day.

You see, the need for truth is as great in our time of post-modern relativism as it was in the 16th Century when Dr. Christian Beyer presented the true confession of faith set forth in The Augsburg Confession. The church and her mission depends upon the pure Gospel being taught and preached and the sacraments being administered according to Christ's institution. For this mission to continue in this 21st Century, in the face of ongoing persecution from worldly and spiritual forces, we must know that confession.

So what exactly is The Augsburg Confession? Well, here is the introduction from Concordia: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord:

On Saturday, June 25, 1530, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Dr. Christian Beyer stood, walked toward the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, and began reading the Augsburg Confession in a loud and distinct voice. Through the open windows a hushed crowd outside in the courtyard hung on his every word, as did the two hundred or so people gathered in the hall. Beside Dr. Beyer stood Dr. Gregory Bruck, holding a copy of the Augsburg Confession in Latin. The German princes around them stood up to indicate their support for the Confession. The emperor motioned for them to sit down.

When Dr. Beyer finished reading, Dr. Bruck took the German copy of the Confession from him, handed both copies to the emperor, and said, "Most gracious Emperor, this is a Confession that will even prevail against the gates of hell, with the grace and help of God." Thus was the Augsburg Confession presented as a unique Confession of the truth of God's holy Word, distinct from Romanism on the one hand, and Reformed, Anabaptists, and radicals on the other. June 25, 1530, is a date every bit as important for Lutherans as is the more familiar date of October 31, 1517--the day on which Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses.

In article I we see plainly that, along with Luther, Philip Melanchthon (who wrote the Augsburg Confession) and the rest of the reformers in Luther's camp, never set out to start a new and different church. Their intention was to identify the true confession of the Christian Church. To make this clear, they highlight their connectedness to the ancient Council of Nicaea and other Fathers that had confessed the faith previously.

Here are a few example from the first of 28 articles:

Article 1--God

  • The Augsburg Confession confesses the holy Trinity--That there is one God in three persons--as the Council of Nicaea had done in 325, and as the Scriptures plainly teach (Matthew 28:19). "Our churches teach with common consent that the decree of the Council of Nicaea about the unity of the divine essence and the three persons is true. It is to be believed without doubt. God is one divine essence who is eternal, without a body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness."

  • The Augsburg Confession condemns any teaching that is contrary to the holy Trinity, either combining the persons, or dividing their essence. "Our churches condemn all heresies that arose against this article, such as the Manichaeans, who assumed that there are two "principles," one Good and the other Evil. They also condemn the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Muslims, and all heresies such as these. Our churches also condemn the Samosatenes, old and new, who contend that God is but one person."

It is plain to see. There is nothing really "new" here. Simply a confession of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, something that all faithful Christians have confessed from the beginning of the church, and will continue to confess until Christ's return on the Last Day. But it is interesting to note that some of the church's persecutions today are coming from similar sources.

I was at a weekend retreat in 2005 where a "strong Christian" was arguing for a dualistic Christianity, where good and evil were pitted against each other, and the outcome was not already decided with Christ's words, "It is finished." I've spoken with "passionate believers" who speak of God simply working in different "modes" at different points in history. He used to be seen as the Father, and then became the Son, and now is at work as the Holy Spirit. But this denies three eternal persons, and confuses the eternal triune nature of God. And we all know that the Muslim heresy is alive and well, continuing to steal people from the true and saving confession of faith.

All of this is to say...

The Augsburg Confession must not be forgotten, by pastors or laity. We must study it and know it, as it is a true and unadulterated exposition of holy Scripture. What it confesses is the true faith, a truth that is God's truth, a truth that will prevail, as Dr. Beyer boldly proclaimed, "against the gates of hell."

And so we begin our study of The Augsburg Confession so that we continue to be build on the solid rock--Jesus Christ--and His pure Gospel. Amen.

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