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June 2017 - The Augsburg Confession

The Augsburg Confession

            Though October 31, 1517 is recognized as the starting date of the Reformation, every year we also make note of June 25th, 1530 as another date of extreme significance for Lutheranism – in fact you might call it the formal birth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Well, as we are having a yearlong observation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with these monthly articles, it was obvious that I had to do so again!  On June 25th, 1530 at 3:00 in the afternoon, after much posturing, demands and delays, Emperor Charles V allowed the Lutherans to read their confession of faith at the bishop’s palace in Augsburg.   

            The Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire had been long vexed by the religious disunity and uprisings in his realm that threatened to weaken his power and ability to meet the threat of the “Turk” (Muslims) that literally was at his eastern gate.   He wanted to unify the Christians under one banner to be able to overcome the enemy, but the battles between the so-called “Lutherans” and the Papacy threatened this hope.  He had thus ordered the Diet (meeting) at Augsburg to solve the problem and unify the church.

            The Lutherans who had never wanted to start their own church, but only wanted to clean up the abuses of Rome, saw this as the perfect opportunity to defend themselves from the false accusations of their enemies (that they were radical heretics, denying even the most basic tenets of the Christians Faith), and instead, could clearly confess and show that they believed, taught and preached the historic, apostolic faith from the scriptures. 

            However, Charles’ idea of unity was different – unity would come only when the German princes would denounce Lutheran teaching and preaching and come back to the Roman fold – and to demonstrate such unity, they were to forbid Lutheran preaching during the Diet and they were to join him in the Corpus Christi procession the next day.  The choice was clear – come back to Rome or else.

            One of the Lutheran Princes, George, margrave of Brandenburg however replied: “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.”  The boldness and conviction of this German prince shook the emperor who said in broken German, “Not cut off head, dear prince.  Not cut off head.”

            A few days later, in a loud and clear voice, Saxon Chancellor Christian Beyer read the Augsburg Confession in German for two hours – The Christian Faith cleared of the brush of centuries of false teachings had been declared!  And with that clear confession of truth from God’s Word, many who heard it began to listen anew to these “Lutheran” teachings.  In fact, Prince William of Bavaria, a supporter of the Roman Catholic cause, told John of Saxony “I’ve been misinformed about what you Lutherans really teach.”  Then he asked Luther’s opponent and antagonist at Worms John Eck, “Can you prove these teachings to be wrong?”  Eck replied, “Well, I can if I use the writings of the church fathers.  But not if I use the Scriptures!”  William replied, “Do you mean to say that the Lutherans are sitting inside the Scriptures and we outside of them?”   

The Augsburg Confession is the foundational document and confession for the Lutheran Church.  Thus June 25th, 1530 really marks the birth of the Confessional, Evangelical Lutheran Church.   I would hope that this date is one that you mark and remember as much as October 31st, 1517, and that with your eyes fixed upon the faithfulness and sacrificial love of your Lord, you too will be given the grace to remain faithful and steadfast to the Faith and Confession handed down to you, as well as bold in confessing and living that faith to the people around you in your daily life.  What incredible treasures and gifts have been given to you Lutherans!

Pastor Reiser

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