Psalm 119:46 "I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame."
Most of you know what happened on October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther nailed his ninety five theses, or points for debate, to the door of his church. We usually celebrate that day with a festival here at church on the last Sunday of October. The sermons are always about how salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned or deserved.
Most people don't know that today, June 25, is an equally important date for Christianity. On this day in the year 1530, thirteen years after the ninety five theses were posted, the Augsburg Confession was presented to Charles V, the emperor of Germany.
The Augsburg what, you say? It was at the city of Augsburg that Emperor Charles had assembled the princes of Germany. They acted as governors over the territories and city states. You see, Charles had a problem. He needed to raise an army to fight the Turks, or Moslems, who were advancing on Europe from the east. They were already at the city of Vienna and would soon invade Germany as well.
His other problem was the pope. Charles was a loyal Roman Catholic, but he was afraid that if he didn't do something about the religious turmoil in his country, the pope would encourage the king of France to invade Germany and take his throne away.
What religious turmoil was troubling Germany, you ask?
Nine years earlier Charles had listened as Martin Luther was on trial. He refused to recant his teachings that God forgave sins only because of the merit of Jesus Christ, that our good deeds and offerings do not contribute to our salvation. This gift is received by faith in the individual. He especially denounced indulgences, or offerings given to the church in return for the forgiveness of sins.
Luther was declared a heretic and criminal, but in just five years the Reformation had spread so far that many of the princes of Germany had accepted it's teachings as their personal statement of faith and incorporated them into the churches in their territories.
Luther and his friends drafted several statements of faith leading up to the meeting at Augsburg, but because it was still not safe for him to travel, and because his opponents accused him of things that he nor his associates ever taught, his friend Philip Melanchton was asked to write what became known as the Augsburg Confession.
The confession itself was written so the emperor could hear what the princes believed about Jesus Christ, the Church, and the right way of salvation. It was risky for them to stand up to their superior, who could have them declared enemies of God, removed from office and imprisoned.
Nevertheless, on Saturday, June 25, in the year 1530 at three o'clock in the afternoon, two laymen stood before the emperor and his court and read the confession of what they believed, taught, and confessed, as a crowd of fervent supporters listened in the courtyard behind open windows.
The Augsburg Confession was not signed by a single ordained minister at that meeting, but by nine Lutheran princes. It was intended to be the confession of John the Steadfast, the prince of Saxony, Luther's home state, but eight others joined in signing it as a personal statement of their faith and of their people.
One of the princes, George, Margrave of Brandenburg, spoke boldly to the emperor, saying "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."
They relied on the promise of God's word as presented by Psalm 119, verse 46, "I will speak of your statutes before kings, and will not be put to shame."
What are we to make of this today, some 476 years later? I think that first of all we should recognize that the Christian faith is no private matter. It is a public faith, not just for the professional church worker, but for everyone who claims to be a Christian. We are not to hide the fact from society that we are, indeed, followers of Jesus Christ above all else!
Saint Paul wrote, "If you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
Contrary to this, how many times have you been afraid to confess your Christian faith? Perhaps back in your school days, or on campus? I know that at some jobs what is called sensitivity training can turn into Christian bashing. It is up to all of us to keep on confessing our faith so people can hear the good news about Jesus. Friends, too many of us remain silent when we should speak out.
This reminds me of a time when I recently became rather bold. About a month ago I was at the Dairy Queen by the movie theatre with my daughter. In line behind me was a man wearing a tee shirt that read, "Sex, Drugs, and Christian Rock." I thought for a moment about what that message could possibly mean. So I asked the young man what it meant. He said, "It's a political statement."
I said, "Why does it say Christian rock? Why not Muslim or Hindu?" Now that got the attention of the Indian people serving ice cream from behind the counter.
Again he said, "It's a political statement."
I said, "Why do you associate sex and drugs with Christianity?"
"Are you offended?" he asked.
I said, "Yes, that's my religion on your shirt. We are not supportive of illegal drugs and casual sex."
He said to me, "I'm sorry." And that was the end of the conversation.
But that's not the end of the story. Six days later I was having lunch with Pastor Elliott, and as we were swapping stories I told him about my conversation with the man in the tee shirt. He said that he was at the theatre that afternoon and had seen a man wearing a shirt with that same slogan on it. In fact, the man was complaining to his friends about what someone had said about it.
It's a small world, isn't it. Can you imagine what the young man's reaction would have been if two Lutheran pastors had questioned his taste in fashion on the same afternoon?
But friends, I missed the opportunity to make a full confession for Christ that day, because when the man said he was sorry, I should have said, "I forgive you, and Jesus Christ will forgive you also if you confess this to him." I missed my opportunity that day to confess the whole truth about Jesus.
It is every Christian's job to confess Jesus as Lord before family, before friends, before coworkers, and before kings. God promises that you will not be put to shame.
The Augsburg Confession addresses such things that we all believe, things like the Trinity, who Jesus is, sin, justification by grace, the ministry, good works, the sacraments, the order and ceremonies of the church. It helps us to preserve the unity among us.
Here's how. Every congregation among us pledges to continue in the true teaching of the Bible and recognizes the Augsburg Confession and the other parts of the Book of Concord as a correct explanation of Scripture. And every pastor and teacher of our churches pledges to teach in agreement with the Bible, the Augsburg Confession, and the Book of Concord. You'd think that would make for happy, peaceful church families, wouldn't you?
But it only works where the people are knowledgeable of what their church confesses. Where would we be if the princes of Germany knew nothing of the doctrines of the Bible or what their pastors were preaching? Lutheranism and the true teaching of the Bible might have been exterminated from the face of the earth. We have to be informed, and to be informed we have to study.
I still remember the day I first read the Augsburg Confession. I was confirmed as a Lutheran, but through high school I had become confused about what I believed. I had attended other churches and been led astray by what my friends were saying. During my first semester of college one of the professors kept referring to the Augsburg Confession. I went to the library, checked it out, and rejoiced as I read a doctrinal statement that agreed with what I really believed all along. I hope all of you have that kind of experience.
In our gospel for today Jesus says, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you" (John 15:4). We remain in Christ when we hold on to his word. People have made the word of God say many things that are not true, so we gather together to study the word, and then confess to the world what it really says.
A confessional church is one that remains true to it's historical confessions because it believes they are based on that solid rock of God's word which never changes.
All of us are called upon to confess the faith that is in us. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes along, above all in your homes and with your families as you teach and lead them, but out in public as well. And don't be afraid. The Lord is with you!
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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