Reformation Day Study

Originally published at: https://confident.faith/2019/10/31/reformation-day-study/


n.b., the audio may take a minute or two to load, depending on your Internet connection.

Notes

History

Nehmet und trinket alle daraus: Das ist der Kelch des neuen und ewigen Bundes, mein Blut, das für euch und für alle vergossen wurde zur Vergebung der Sünden. Tut dies zu meinem Gedächtnis.

These words were spoken by Karlstadt on Christmas Day in 1521. Now, I know that we are presently in a German Lutheran church, but we are also in the US, so I expect that most people here are monolingual. However, I’m not going to translate what I just said, not until nearer the end of this presentation, anyway. The reason I’m not going to translate that German is that I’m about to tell you why it matters, and then, once you understand why, I’ll translate what it means.


On 02 July 1505, a young man, while returning to university on horseback, was nearly struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. Being, at the time, a good Roman Catholic, this young man cried out to St. Anna to save him (engaging, more or less, in the kind of paganistic quid-pro-quo that Rome had imported into Christianity [and which is arguably endemic to human nature]), and promised, should be be delivered from the storm, that he would become a monk. Surviving the storm, Martin Luther entered St. Augustine’s Monastery in Erfurt on 17 July 1505 — he was twenty-one at the time.

Despite living a life of contemplation, devotion, (constant) confession, prayer, fasting, and all the other outward signs that were considered the hallmarks of a ‘good’ Christian (and some of these works are, in fact, good — after a fashion [we’ll return to this point later]), Luther could never see himself as right before God. This despite confessing so frequently and so thoroughly that Luther’s father confession, Johann von Staupitz, essentially told him to stop:

If you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive — parricide blasphemy, adultery — instead of all these peccadilloes.

But Luther could not find peace, because Roman theology taught that sins must be individually confessed to be forgiven, and to be confessed, naturally, a sin must be not only remembered but also recognized as sin, and all sin separates man from God.

Skipping ahead a bit (as Luther’s monastic and academic career do not immediately concern us, here), Luther, on a visit to Rome in 1510 — and it is worth noting that Luther walked from Wittenberg to Rome, a journey of some five hundred or so miles —Luther found himself exposed to both the widespread veneration of relics and the rampant corruption in Rome. While in Rome, Luther followed the standard pilgrimage customers. One such, was (and still is) the climbing of the steps of St. John Lateran Basilica; the climb is traditionally made on one’s knees, with a pause on each step to recite the Lord’s Prayer. There are twenty-eight steps in the Scala Sancta — the Holy Stairs — and tradition holds that these are the steps leading to Pilate’s praesidium, which is to say that they are, or at least the marble ones under the wooden ones climbed by modern pilgrims are, the steps Christ would have climbed during the Passion.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs, Luther stood and exclaimed: “Who knows whether it is true?” HIs exclamation was in relation to the Roman tradition that holds this work to be penance that can free a soul from purgatory (or at least shorten the sentence). During this trip to Rome, the words of ROM 1:17 came to Luther:

“The righteous shall live by faith.”

Which is, of course, a quote from Habakkuk, ch 2, v 4 (which says the same, but, naturally, in Hebrew, as opposed to the Koine Greek of Romans). This was the true beginning of Luther’s breakthrough — of the rescue of the Gospel. However, it would still be some years before the Reformation would begin in earnest.

Skipping forward to 1516, we must take a quick look at some political intrigue to better understand our context. Now, simony — which is to say the selling of religious offices — has a long and storied history in the Roman church, and it is simony that becomes the tipping point (or, more precisely, it is simony that leads directly to the tipping point). In short: Leo X wanted to build a church; Albrecht von Brandenburg wanted to be an archbishop. Hence, St. Peter’s.

Now, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is a crown jewel not only in Church architecture, but in Western architecture more generally. It is a beautiful building, but it was funded with lies.

The pope, ever inclined to line Rome’s coffers, readily agreed to make Albrecht an archbishop, but for a price. Some accounts claim the pope asked for 14k ducats (a gold coin), that Albrecht countered with 7k, and then they settled on 10k. Whatever the final amount, it was a considerable sum of money.

Albrecht, in fact, did not have this amount of gold on hand, so he took out a loan from a bank (from Jakob Fugger). As part of his deal with Rome, Albrecht was authorized to sell indulgences. Toward this end, Rome sent Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, to Germany in 1516. Now, Luther was, at this point, at Wittenberg, which was under Frederick the Wise, not Albrecht. However, Albrecht sent Tetzel to sell indulgences right across the river from Wittenberg. Naturally, the citizens of Wittenberg simply crossed the river to buy indulgences, even though Frederick the Wise did not allow Tetzel in his territory.

This sale of indulgences was too much for Luther, and he particularly disliked a little saying used by Tetzel:

As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs.

And, so, on 31 October 1517, Luther both wrote to Albrecht and posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Castle Church (Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg. Luther did not intend to start a Reformation, and he most certainly did not intend (at the time) to break with Rome. It is worth noting that the Ninety-Five Theses were written in Latin, the language of the Church and of the educated, not in the vernacular. (Although, it must be noted, that the Theses were quickly translated into German and distributed, as the printing press had, perhaps ironically, been introduced not so very long ago in Mainz — one of Albrecht’s two archbishoprics.)

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 Brück, 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. Brück 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.

Whereas Luther had wanted to stimulate debate, Rome wanted no such thing and instead responded by banning publication of the Ninety-Five Theses (a copy of which had been forwarded to Rome by Albrecht). Additionally, Luther received a summons to Rome in August of 1518 — a summons he wisely declined. Although Leo X had initially dismissed Luther, saying:

Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober.

he quickly realized that he had made a grave error in underestimating what was happening in Wittenberg, and spreading to the rest of Germany and, indeed, the rest of Europe.

For his part, whereas Luther had not originally intended a break from Rome, he became increasingly aware that such a break was inevitable. The original summons was canceled (largely due to the intervention of Frederick the Wise, who had advised Luther not to go to Rome), and Luther instead went to Augsburg in October of 1518. In Augsburg, Luther met with Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, who questioned Luther three times, insisting that he recant. Luther, naturally, refused to recant, and was dismissed. Although Cajetan was instructed to get Luther to recant or to deliver him to Rome, Luther managed, with the help of friends, to escape by night and return to Wittenberg. Of Luther, Cajetan said he wanted to see no more until he (Luther) was ready to recant; of Cajetan, Luther, in characteristic fashion, said he (Cajetan) was no more fitted to handle the matter than was “an ass to play a harp”.

A year later, in 1519, the Leipzig Debate took place in Pleissenburg Castle. (It is worth noting that the St. Thomas Church, where a mass was conducted prior to the debate, would eventually become a Lutheran Church — one in which our beloved Johann Sebastian Bach would serve as choirmaster.) At Leipzig, Johann Eck, once a friend of Luther, vehemently condemned Luther and Luther’s publications. Eck accused Luther of being another John Wycliffe or another Johannes Hus.

John Wycliffe was an English reformer who has translated the Bible (from the Latin Vulgate) into English, such translation being completed in 1382. Most likely, he translated the New Testament and associates of his translated the Old Testament. At any rate, Rome opposed such attempts to make the Bible accessible to laypersons and ordered such English Bibles burned. Although he escaped martyrdom (due only to suffering a stroke and an untimely death), the vindictiveness of Rome does not end at the grave: Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed in 1428, burned, and the ashes cast into the River Swift.

Johannes Hus (birth name: Jan Husinec) was a Czech reformer who advocated against the corruption of Rome. (Yes, you may be sensing a theme here.) Under a promise of safe conduct by Emperor Sigismund, Hus agrees to attend the Council of Constance, which was intended to put to rest the increasing dissension in the Roman church (bear in mind, this is during the schism in the Roman church when there were multiple popes [up to three, in fact]). Knowing Rome only too well, Hus drafted his will before setting out for the council. True to form, representatives of Rome convinced Sigismund that he need not keep his word to a heretic. Hus was burned at the stake on 06 July 1415. It is reported, I believe reliably so, that Hus, briefly before being burned, said the following:

You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.

The “goose” was Hus (whose names sounds like the Czech for “goose”) and the “swan”, many would contend, was Luther. In fact, Luther has sometimes been portrayed with a swan in our (Christian) artwork as a reference to this. But back to Leipzig.

Although a number of topics were discussed, the central point of contention (and the one to which the debate continuously returned) was the authority of the pope — Eck defended it as supreme and Luther insisted upon Scripture. Eck called Luther a heretic, and Luther doubled down:

A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it. As for the pope’s decretal on indulgences, I say that neither the Church nor the pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture. For the sake of Scripture, we should reject pope and councils.

Luther had to be smuggled out of Leipzig under cover of night through a hole in the city’s wall.

The final break came on 15 June 1520, when Leo X warned Luther, in the papal bull Exsurge Domine (‘Arise, O Lord’), that he would be excommunicated if he did not recant forty-one statements taken from his (Luther’s) writings — and that within sixty days. Luther had actually already responded with his On the Freedom of a Christian (and other writings), as he knew the papal bull was coming. In further response to Rome, and upon receipt of the papal bull, Luther held a ceremony in Wittenberg on 10 December 1520, and publicly burned the papal bull and the attendant decretals. Alea iacta est.

Luther was excommunicated on 03 January 1521, in the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem (‘It Befits the Roman Pontiff’).


Next, Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet at Worms. Frederick the Wise ensured that Luther would be provided safe passage. At Worms, Luther was again confronted by Eck, who presented Luther with a table piled with Luther’s writings. Eck demanded to know if the works were Luther’s and if he stood by their contents. Luther confirmed that he was the author, but requested time to consider whether or not he stood by the contents. He was given a day to consider his answer.

After much prayer and consultation, Luther returned to the Diet and gave his now-famous answer:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand and cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.

Having spoken in German, Luther was asked to repeat his comments in Latin; Luther, instead, threw up his hands and left the chamber. The Edict of Worms came soon after on 25 May 1521. The edict declared Luther a heretic and an outlaw, banned his writings, and required his arrest; it prohibited anyone from providing Luther with food or shelter; and made it legal to kill Luther without consequences.

To his credit (although he later expressed regret), Emperor Charles allowed Luther safe passage back to Wittenberg. En route, however, Luther was ‘kidnapped’ — by men hired by Frederick, Luther’s benefactor. Luther was taken to Warburg Castle. It was during his stay at Wartburg that Luther, in the span of a mere eleven weeks translated the New Testament into German.

Whereas there is a great deal more to be said about Luther and his life, we are here for the Reformation and the foregoing is sufficient as foundation. With two additions: Our Confession and the Book of Concord.


I shall read, here, from the editor’s introduction to the Augsburg Confession (for the record: I am using the Second Edition):

{{p 21 ¶ 1–2}}

It would take some time before the full Book of Concord (or Concordia) as we now have it was published — such publication first taking place in 1580 — but it is the Augsburg Confession that is the central statement of our faith, and we have held to it now for nearly five centuries — God willing, we will all celebrate her quincentenary in 2030.

Now, then, we have our rough outline, we have the history of the Reformation, but why did it matter and does it still matter?


Book of Concord

Let us return to the Book of Concord, in fact, to the Augsburg Confession. It is my firm belief that we, as true Lutherans (which is to say not apostate harlots like, e.g., the ELCA) do not make enough of our Confession. This is the oldest Confession in the Western Church, and arguably the oldest in Christendom. Unless I have overlooked something, the Orthodox did not have anything like a confession until 1640 (in response to the Reformation and to Rome [mostly the latter]), and Rome, despite much hand-waving and other nonsense, did not have anything like a confession until the Council of Trent concluded in 1563 — thirty-three years after our Confession was read at Augsburg and nearly twenty years after Luther’s death. In fact, the Tridentine Creed was not issued until 1564 and the Roman catechism until 1566 (for the sake of comparison: Luther’s Small Catechism was first published in 1529).

Rome, it appears, feels no need to act with dispatch.

Now, claims of antiquity are nice, but we are running a spiritual race, here (as Paul says in various places in his letters) and not a physical one. We do not ‘win’ because we got there first. Why this book matters, and why the Reformation still matters, is the truth — the Gospel. Of central importance to the reformers was the rescue of the Gospel, and of central importance to us should — must — be its preservation.

First, then, we will review, in very summarized form, the theology and doctrine of the Reformation (compressed to the five solae and a brief statement of faith) and, second, we will return to Concordia.

Five Solae

The theology of the Reformation is often summarized by the five solae:

  1. Sola Scriptura
  2. Sola Fide
  3. Sola Gratia
  4. Solo Christo (or Solus Christus)
  5. Soli Deo Gloria

Sola Scriptura

First, Sola Scripture.

Now, it may seem strange to those unfamiliar with Lutheran theology to advance Scripture alone immediately after so highly praising our Confession, but there is nothing of inconsistency or incoherence here. We do not adhere to Scripture and the Confession in the sense that this adds anything to this; rather, we adhere to the Confession because it is wholly, totally, absolutely consistent with Scripture. Our subscription is quiabecausethis is faithful to this. As our theologians have stated it: The Bible is the norming norm and the Book of Concord is the normed norm. Put another way: The Confession (and tradition) have a vote, but Scripture alone has a veto.

Rome did not, and still does not, adhere to this view. For Rome, tradition, which is to say, for Rome, the pronouncements, papal bulls, et cetera, that make up the (often rather fuzzy and indistinct) cloud of Roman praxis and doctrine, is one of the pillars upon which the church rests (the other being Scripture), and, partly in response to the Reformation, Rome tends to lean toward tradition, which is to say that Rome puts human creations before God’s Word.

Search Scripture for purgatory — you will not find it, but Rome teaches it — for indulgences — you will not find them, but Rome still issues them — or for celibacy being commanded for priests — you will not find it, but Rome demands it. Scripture warns us about such false teachings; for instance, 1 Timothy 4:1–5:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

If, Heaven forfend, we were to lose all the trappings of Christendom, all the church buildings, every hymnal, all our music (no matter what some Calvinists may claim), the candles, the stained glass, the vestments, the baptismal fonts — all of it — and were left with only the Bible — if even our Confession should burn — we would be perfectly capable, by the grace of God, of continuing the Church, for Scripture alone is our truth, the Church’s truth and foundation. Now, reverse the situation: If we lost only the Scriptures, would we be able to preserve the Church? no, we should lose her within a century, if not a generation.

Do I seek to denigrate tradition? Let me echo Paul: By no means! Tradition is of the utmost importance; I advance only that it does not surpass and must be consonant with Scripture. The candles may stay, but purgatory and indulgences must go.

Sola Fide

Second, Sola Fide.

We believe, teach, and confess Faith Alone. Man is not saved by works, whether faith is present or absent; Christ’s merit is necessary, sufficient, and complete — we contribute nothing to our salvation.

As our Confession puts it in Art. IV: Justification:

Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4).

This is the article upon which the Church stands or falls.

Rome still rejects this truth — the very heart of the Gospel. Over and against the truth of Scripture, Rome advances a works righteousness, a semi-Pelagianism. According to Rome, men can perform good works such that God (de condigno) must grant grace and ultimately salvation; we categorically deny this. To take any position other than Sola Fide is to diminish the work of Christ — a more contemnable blasphemy may very well not exist (except, perhaps, that against the Spirit).

Now, we do not, as some have accused, deny or dismiss works — in fact, we require them. Think of the words of Paul in Romans 3:27–31:

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Also, in our Confession, Art. XX (in parT):

Our teachers are falsely accused of forbidding good works. Their published writings on the Ten Commandments, and other similar writings, bear witness that they have usefully taught about all estates and duties of life. They have taught well what is pleasing to God in every station and vocation in life. Before now, preachers taught very little about these things. They encouraged only childish and needless works, such as particular holy days, particular fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, services in honor of the saints, the use of rosaries, monasticism, and such things.

Furthermore, we teach that it is necessary to do good works. This does not mean that we merit grace by doing good works, but because it is God’s will [Ephesians 2:10]. It is only by faith, and nothing else, that forgiveness of sins is apprehended. The Holy Spirit is received through faith, hearts are renewed and given new affections, and then they are able to bring forth good works. Ambrose says: “Faith is the mother of a good will and doing what is right.” Without the Holy Spirit people are full of ungodly desires. They are too weak to do works that are good in God’s sight [John 15:5]. Besides, they are in the power of the devil, who pushes human beings into various sins, ungodly opinions, and open crimes. We see this in the philosophers, who, although they tried to live an honest life could not succeed, but were defiled with many open crimes. Such is human weakness, without faith and without the Holy Spirit, when governed only by human strength. Therefore, it is easy to see that this doctrine is not to be accused of banning good works. Instead, it is to be commended all the more because it shows how we are enabled to do good works. For without faith, human nature cannot, in any way, do the works of the First or Second Commandment [1 Corinthians 2:14]. Without faith, human nature does not call upon God, nor expect anything from Him, nor bear the cross [Matthew 16:24]. Instead, human nature seeks and trusts in human help. So when there is no faith and trust in God, all kinds of lusts and human intentions rule in the heart [Genesis 6:5]. This is why Christ says, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That is why the Church sings: “Lacking Your divine favor, there is nothing in man. Nothing in him is harmless.”

Another old hymn also captures well our position:

Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone And rests in Him unceasing; And by its fruits true faith is known, with love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply The proof that faith is living.

What we teach, then, is that works are necessary, as they flow from true faith in Christ, but not salvific, in that they cannot justify or save. Faith Alone — Sola Fide — saves.

Sola Gratia

Third, Sola Gratia.

The last of our main three solae is Grace Alone. But what is grace? Grace is God’s undeserved favor toward sinners. Grace resides in God, not in man. Sin creates a debt that we can never repay, but God, in His mercy and grace, planned for our salvation: He sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins on the Cross and to rise again — the firstfruits from the dead. Rome would have us ‘earn’ salvation, but Scripture clearly refutes this:

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. — Romans 11:6

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8–10

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4–7

How do we receive, which is to say benefit from, this grace from God? The Book of Concord, Schmalcald Articles, Part III, Art. IV:

We will now return to the Gospel, which does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world [Luke 24:45–47]. This is the particular office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, “Where two or three are gathered” (Matthew 18:20) and other such verses [especially Romans 1:12].

Which is to say that God in His superabundant grace uses the Word and the Sacraments to create faith in our hearts. God’s grace creates the free gift of faith, which receives salvation.

Solo Christo (Solus Christus) & Soi Deo Gloria

Finally, we have Christ Alone and to God Alone be the Glory. The first of these two solae — Solo Christo — is the only proper lens through which we can (and must) interpret the preceding three solae. We are justified Sola Gratia Sola Fide Solo Christo — by grace alone through faith alone by and through Christ alone. We receive grace through and for the sake of Christ and His work.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. — John 1:19

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. — Romans 5:20–21

We are saved by Faith Alone, received as a free gift — a faith that trusts in Christ.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. — Romans 3:21–31

And these truths, and our theology and our doctrine, flow from Scripture Alone, because Scripture is trustworthy and, from beginning to end, is about Christ.

Lastly, it is all for the glory of God — Soli Deo Gloria. This is to be true of our entire lives, but it is particularly true of our salvation; Ephesians 2:8–10 again:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Short Statement of Faith

So, what, then, is it that we believe?

We believe that we are justified by Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) through Faith Alone (Sola Fide) for the sake of Christ Alone (Solus Christus) and that this is revealed in Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura), and that it is to the Glory of God Alone (Soli Deo Glory).

With our theological foundation now firmly in place, we return to Augsburg to face Rome.

Augsburg and Rome

Our Confession is separated into twenty-eight articles that state our doctrine (the “Chief Articles of the Faith”) and seven articles that address the abuses of Rome (“A Review of the Various Abuses That Have Been Corrected”). We will turn out attention to the latter seven articles, now.

Here, then, is the list of our objections:

Art. XXII: Of Both Kinds in the Sacrament Art. XXIII: Of the Marriage of Priests Art. XXIV: Of the Mass Art. XXV: Of Confession Art. XXVI: Of the Distinction of Meats Art. XXVII: Of Monastic Vows Art. XXVIII: Of Ecclesiastical Power

Some of these may sound familiar to you, or at least they should. Two of them are directly addressed in our Scripture passage from 1 Timothy, which we read in the Sola Scriptura section. Here it is again:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. — 1 Timothy 4:1–5

Clearly, Scripture forbids, and names as “teachings of demons” Rome’s insistence upon celibacy for priests and various nonsense concerning which foods are or are not permissible during which periods. However, let us work through the articles, each in turn, going backwards from XXVIII back up to XXII.

Art. XXVIII

Article 28.

The editor’s note on Article XXVIII in the Second Edition:

What authority, or power, do bishops have in the Church? Over the course of centuries, bishops had become not merely Church leaders, but political figures as well, claiming the right to govern both Church and State and to make and enforce laws in both realms. By returning to a biblical understanding of church, the Augsburg Confession clarifies that the true authority, or power, of bishops is the preaching of the Gospel, the forgiving and withholding of forgiveness of sins, and the administering of the Sacraments. The Church is not to interfere in the government, but is to keep its focus on the Gospel. This article is the foundation for the Lutheran understanding of the two kingdoms: God’s work and rule in the world by means of the Church (the kingdom or regiment of the right hand) and the State (the kingdom or regiment of the left hand). Bishops, or pastors, have authority in the Church only to forgive sins in the name of Christ, to reject false doctrine and reprove those who uphold it, and to exclude persons who refuse to repent of open and manifest sin. This article, like the others, places the focus on the chief teaching of the Gospel: we are justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone.

Rome, at the time of the Reformation, was not merely a church body, but a temporal kingdom; Rome sought, and would undoubtedly still seek today if she could manage it, to control the political kingdoms of the world. Over and against this, we adhere to Scripture’s teaching of the two kingdoms: the Church, which is to say the kingdom of the right hand, and the State, which is to say the kingdom of the left hand. Romas 13, vv 1–7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Now, there is more to Christian teaching on submission to political authorities — and, perhaps more saliently, when and where such submission terminates — but that is not our focus for today. The words of Christ, and then we will proceed to the next article:

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. — Matthew 22:15–22 (ESV)

Art. XXVII

Article 27.

It is difficult for modern readers to understand, to any real depth, the nature of monastic practices during the Reformation era. Yes, monasteries and nunneries still exist, but they are less prevalent. What we must grasp is that the Roman church taught that monastic life was, in some way, more deserving of justification and salvation than ordinary life, which is to say life outside the walls of a monastery. We categorically reject this.

I will read two paragraphs from this article:

It cannot be denied that the monks have taught that they were justified and merited forgiveness of sins by means of their vows and observances. Indeed, they even invented greater absurdities, saying that they could give others a share in their works. If anyone wanted to make more of this point, to make our opponents look even worse, even more things could be mentioned, things that even the monks are ashamed of now. And on top of all this, the monks persuaded people that the services that they invented were a state of Christian perfection. What else is this other than assigning our justification to works? It is no light offense in the Church to set before the people a service invented by people, without God’s commandment, and then to teach them that such service justifies. For the righteousness of faith, which ought to be the highest teaching in the Church, is hidden when these “wonderful” and “angelic” forms of worship, with their show of poverty, humility, and celibacy, are put in front of people. God’s precepts, and God’s true service, are hidden when people hear that only monks are in a state of perfection. True Christian perfection is to fear God from the heart, to have great faith, and to trust that for Christ’s sake we have a God who has been reconciled [2 Corinthians 5:18–19]. It means to ask for and expect from God His help in all things with confident assurance that we are to live according to our calling in life, being diligent in outward good works, serving in our calling. This is where true perfection and true service of God is to be found. It does not consist in celibacy or in begging or in degrading clothes. The people come up with all sorts of harmful opinions based on the false praise of monastic life. They hear celibacy praised without measure and feel guilty about living in marriage. They hear that only beggars are perfect, and so they keep their possessions and do business with guilty consciences. They hear that it is an even higher work, a Gospel-counsel, not to seek revenge. So some in private life are not afraid to take revenge, for they hear that it is but a counsel and not a commandment. Others come to the conclusion that a Christian cannot rightly hold a civil office or be a ruler.

Not only did Rome teach that monastic life was more meritorious than a normal life, but they went further and taught that monastic life was so meritorious that it stored up ‘excess’ merit that could be given to others — typically by way of indulgences. Against this Roman heresy, we teach that one may please God, and that it matters not one whit whether he is a baker, a janitor, a shepherd, or a zookeeper.

Art. XXVI

Article 26.

Little need to be said about this article, partly due to the fact that we are all familiar with the Roman nonsense concerning not eating meat on certain days, fasting on others, and so forth, and partly because we have already addressed this with our Scripture reading from 1 Timothy. However, it should be carefully noted that Rome teaches not only that such actions are proper (and, indeed, some of them may be, if undertaken within the proper spiritual framework and with proper understanding), but goes further and teaches that such works merit God’s grace and favor.

A passage from Colossians ch 2 to support our position:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. — Colossians 2:16–23 (ESV)

The first paragraph from this article in our Confession:

Not only the people, but also those teaching in the churches, have generally been persuaded to believe in making distinctions between meats, and similar human traditions. They believe these are useful works for meriting grace and are able to make satisfaction for sins. From this there developed the view that new ceremonies, new orders, new holy days, and new fastings were instituted daily. Teachers in the Church required these works as a necessary service to merit grace. They greatly terrified people’s consciences when they left any of these things out. Because of this viewpoint, the Church has suffered great damage.

Art. XXV

Article 25.

Here, now, we have an article to which we should pay especially careful attention. Whereas Rome abused Confession by layering it with strictures not present in Scripture and using it to terrifying consciences, we have gone too far, in these modern times, in the opposite direction — almost abandoning private Confession. First, the first two paragraphs of the text:

Confession in the churches is not abolished among us. The body of the Lord is not usually given to those who have not been examined [1 Corinthians 11:27–28] and absolved. The people are very carefully taught about faith in the Absolution. Before, there was profound silence about faith. Our people are taught that they should highly prize the Absolution as being God’s voice and pronounced by God’s command. The Power of the Keys [Matthew 16:19] is set forth in its beauty. They are reminded what great consolation it brings to anxious consciences and that God requires faith to believe such Absolution as a voice sounding from heaven [e.g., John 12:28–30]. They are taught that such faith in Christ truly obtains and receives the forgiveness of sins. Before, satisfactions were praised without restraint, but little was said about faith, Christ’s merit, and the righteousness of faith. Therefore, on this point, our churches are by no means to be blamed. Even our adversaries have to concede the point that our teachers have diligently taught the doctrine of repentance and laid it open. Our churches teach that naming every sin is not necessary and that consciences should not be burdened with worry about naming every sin. It is impossible to recount all sins, as Psalm 19:12 testifies: “Who can discern his errors?” Also Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” If only sins that can be named are forgiven, consciences could never find peace. For many sins cannot be seen or remembered. The ancient writers also testify that a listing of sins is not necessary. For in the Decrees, Chrysostom is quoted. He says,

I do not say that you should make your sins known in public, nor that you should accuse yourself before others, but I would have you obey the prophet who says, ‘Make known your ways before God’ [Psalm 37:5]. Therefore, confess your sins before God, the true Judge, with prayer. Tell your errors, not with the tongue, but with the memory of your conscience, and so forth.

As our Confession says “[c]onfession … is not abolished among us”, and, yet, when was the last time any of you went to private Confession? I will not ask for a show of hands. I also stand accused of neglecting this Sacrament. Some of you may be thinking “But we teach that there are two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, do we not?”, and you would be correct. However, this is not a point on which Lutherans have traditionally been contentious; we find Rome’s adherence to there being exactly seven sacraments to be rather silly. The word “sacrament” is not such that the numbering of them is a hill on which it makes sense to die.

We teach two Sacraments (i.e., Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) because these two are specifically taught in Scripture. However, we add a ‘third Sacrament’ under the auspices of Baptism — Confession. The Large Catechism, ¶ 74 of Part 4 on Baptism:

Here you see that Baptism, both in its power and meaning, includes also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance. It is really nothing other than Baptism. 75 What else is repentance but a serious attack on the old man ‹, that his lusts be restrained,› and an entering into a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism. For Baptism not only illustrates such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. 76 For in Baptism are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong [Romans 6:3–6].

And now the Small Catechism:

What is Confession?

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heave.

Whereas Rome taught that every sin must be confessed, which means that every sin must be recalled and recognized as sin, we teach, in our Small Catechism:

What sins should we confess?

Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

If you have not recently been to Confession, perhaps now would be a good time to review the Small Catechism and Art. XI of our Confession and Art. XI of the Apology.

Art. XXIV

Article 24.

Many of the excesses of a corrupt Rome are condemned in this article. The Mass was, at the time, being conducted privately for money, it was put forth as a way to merit grace, and it contained all manner of other anti-Scriptural elements. Against this, ¶¶ 28–33 of this article in our Confession state:

Scripture teaches that we are justified before God, through faith in Christ, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Now if the Mass takes away the sins of the living and the dead simply by performing it, justification comes by doing Masses, and not of faith. Scripture does not allow this. But Christ commands us, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Therefore, the Mass was instituted so that those who use the Sacrament should remember, in faith, the benefits they receive through Christ and how their anxious consciences are cheered and comforted. To remember Christ is to remember His benefits. It means to realize that they are truly offered to us. It is not enough only to remember history. (The Jewish people and the ungodly also remember this.) Therefore, the Mass is to be used for administering the Sacrament to those that need consolation. Ambrose says, “Because I always sin, I always need to take the medicine.”

There is much else that could be said about Roman abuses of the Mass and about modern corruptions, but we will stick to our theme.

Art. XXIII

Article 23.

The substance of this article has already been addressed, and our Scripture reading from 1 Timothy clearly condemns the anti-Scriptural stance of Rome. Priests, the same as others, may marry. In fact, Scripture clearly commands that most should marry, as chastity is a gift given to only a few.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians ch 7, v 9b:

For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

and as Christ says in Matthew ch 19, v 11:

But he said to them, "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given."

Not only had Rome, unreasonably and without Scriptural warrant, instituted chastity as a requirements for priests (although one that was often not privately obeyed, even among ranking clergy), but the measure had been implemented in a most heinous way — ¶¶ 10–13:

It is clear that in the Ancient Church priests were married men. For Paul says, “An overseer must be the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2). Four hundred years ago in Germany, for the first time, priests were violently forced to lead a single life. They offered such resistance that when the Archbishop of Mainz was about to publish the pope’s decree about celibacy, he was almost killed in a riot by enraged priests. This matter was handled so harshly that not only was marriage forbidden in the future, but existing marriages were torn apart, contrary to all laws, both divine and human. This was even contrary to canon law itself, as made by not only popes, but also by the most celebrated synods.

It would appear Rome missed some vv in Genesis:

And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

— Genesis 2:22–24 (ESV)


28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

— Genesis 1:28 (ESV)

In essence, ¶ 24 from this article in our Confession says all that need be said on this topic:

Since no human law can destroy God’s command, neither can it be done by any vow.

Art. XXII

Lastly, we have Article XXII, which deals with “both kinds” in the Lord’s Supper. Now, to many, talk of “both kinds” will sound rather foreign, because this is a controversy that, thankfully, has (partially) receded into history. However, Rome still maintains that it is proper to offer the bread alone to the laity, as if the Church may alter the words of Christ. He does not, after all, say: ‘This is My Body and this is My Blood — choose whichever you prefer and ignore the other stuff I said.’

This is the position of Rome, today:

…communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See, as for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism

At the time of the Reformation, Rome had, in fact, instituted an intolerable policy of outright, and as a matter of course, precluding the laity from partaking of the full Lord’s Supper — laity were limited to the bread, not receiving the wine. Rome offered various excuses for this practice, but, ultimately, it was simply an arbitrary exercise of Rome’s unwarranted power (and a demonstration of Rome’s corruption, and even of Rome’s open contempt for Scripture).

Now, at the beginning of this presentation, I read some German, and I promised I would translate it once we had laid the foundation for understanding why it matters. We now have that foundation. The translated German:

Take and drink ye all of it: This is the cup of the new and everlasting covenant, my blood, which was shed for you and for all for the remission of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.

These words, spoken by Karlstadt on Christmas Day in 1521, represented the correction of two abuses: first, the laity were being offered the Cup, not just the bread, and, second, the words were spoken in the vernacular — the common man could understand what he was being told. Sometime in the late second or early third century, Rome switched from Greek to Latin, and then proceeded to push the use of Latin on all others. The common man did not understand Latin, and so the mass was, for him, mere ceremony — detached from theological or doctrinal content, except insofar as he had been taught to recognize bits of it here and there.

The switch to the vernacular was in keeping with the overall goal of the Reformation: To bring the truth of God’s Word to all people, to rescue and make accessible the Word, and particularly the Gospel.

Section Conclusion

It is with these articles, then, that we sought to correct the worst of the errors that had, over the centuries, crept into the Church. Rome, with her traditions, would set men above God — an error rabbinic Judaism also makes with the Talmud. We refuse to yield one centimeter, one inch — to erase or to ignore one iota or one yod. This, then, is why the Reformation still matters and will always matter.

Modern Issues; Ecumenism (e.g., JDDJ); (Semi-)Pelagianism

Today, we have many calls for ecumenism, for cooperation between and among denominations, and even, sometimes, across religions. Thankfully, most of this nonsense is precluded by rules of our Synod, which significantly limit and clearly regulate such matters. However, the issue still remains, and do not for a moment believe that we are immune.

I reiterate: Our Confession is true; we subscribe to her because she is in perfect agreement with Scripture. What, then, do we stand to gain from ecumenism? In order to compromise, which is always, inevitably what ecumenism seeks, we would have to compromise on Scripture, on the Truth.

"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?"

We cannot compromise on what Scripture teaches — we cannot modify our doctrine to enter communion with other denominations anymore than we could do so to appease society. We are not called to tell people what they want to hear; we are called to proclaim the truth. This was the central issue in the Reformation: We proclaimed the Gospel — the truth of Scripture — and Rome insisted upon tradition — demanded that we compromise.

Luther, and so many others, refused to recant or to compromise, even in the face of death. The challenges we face today are both similar to and dissimilar from those faced by the reformers and their compatriots, but what we are called to do has always been the same: teach the Law and proclaim the Gospel.

The Church, like our Nation, is never more than a generation away from disaster.

Conclusion

The history of our Church is one of courage and sacrifice, of a most precious treasure won at dear cost; we owe it to all who will come after us to be absolutely, unapologetically Lutheran. Our Confession, like the Bible upon which she is based and with which she is in perfect agreement, has stood the tests of time. And, yet, let us hope and pray for a time when we will not be called “Lutherans”, not because we have abandoned the truths our forefathers rescued through blood, sweat, and tears, but, rather, because all Christendom has returned to the Scriptures, to the Gospel, to the Truth — and we can, therefore, simply call ourselves “Christians”.

But this i not a call for compromise. I reiterate: We must yield neither iota nor yod. Instead, let us stand with Luther, before, and, if necessary, against, princes, and powers, with the Scriptures in our right hand and our Confession in our left, and let us declare:

Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen.

Here I stand, and cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.

n.b., this class was originally presented at St. John’s Lutheran Church of Orange on 27 October 2019; this is a re-recording of that class.