IN NOMINE JESU
It was the twenty-fifth day of June in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Five Hundred Thirty, 476 years ago today, that a phenomenal event took place in the life of the Church. German princes came before the emperor, Charles V, united in the confession of their faith, over against the position taken by the church in Rome. Charles sought complete religious unity in his empire so that Germany would be unified against the Turkish, that is, Muslim, invasion. For Charles, unity meant the German princes were to completely surrender to the false theology of Rome. What he received was not what he wanted. What Charles was given was a radically new confession. It was radical and new because it was a return to Scripture, something that not occurred for centuries. At the Diet of Augsburg they presented a document, penned largely by Philip Melanchthon, a close associate of Martin Luther, a confession publicly stating what they believed, taught, and confessed. Luther, who began the Reformation nearly 13 years earlier, was not able to be present, for his prince, John, Duke of Saxony, had Luther in protective custody to spare Luther's life, as the Holy Roman Empire branded him an heretic and outlaw. Luther had been excommunicated from the church he sought to reform. If found, Luther's writings were to be burned and he himself killed. Luther did have a limited hand, however, in this document as, with a few minor corrections he gave Melanchthon his approval for what was presented in German and in Latin 476 years ago today, the Augsburg Confession.
On that day the Word of the Lord most definitely did not return to Him void, but it did, in fact, accomplish what He pleased—namely, that the bold confession of His Word was made in His Name. The Word prospered in the thing for which He sent it—specifically, that a clear exposition of Holy Scripture was given that day in Augsburg when the German princes presented the Augsburg Confession, their confession. This bold confession of the faith was just that—bold. They put their kingdoms and their lives on the line. They literally stuck their necks out for the sake of their confession, for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of the Gospel. If you saw the movie Luther from a few years ago, you saw the German princes kneel before the emperor at the presentation of their confession. They knelt and bowed their heads, not in deference to Charles V to recant their confession, but to assert their willingness to put their heads on the chopping block and be beheaded for sake of the one true faith. They were willing to be martyrs rather than to fall away from Christ and the faithful confession of Him. When the entire Book of Concord was published some 50 years later, the Confessors stated in the preface to this great work:
[In 1561] after the deliberations at Frankfurt, our predecessors gathered with some of us at Naumburg in Thuringia. We took in hand the Augsburg Confession that was offered to the Emperor Charles V in the great assembly of the Empire at Augsburg in the year 1530. We all subscribed with one mind to that godly Confession, built upon solid testimonies of the truth expressed in God's Word, which cannot be shaken. In this way we meant to provide for the interests of future generation, and to enable them to avoid false doctrines conflicting with God's Word. We also did this so that, both for his Imperial Majesty and also universally for all, there might be this permanent testimony: it has never been our intention to defend or spread any new and strange teaching. Rather, we desired to constantly support and retain the truth that we professed at Augsburg in 1530. We were also led to hold a certain hope that in this way those who oppose the pure, evangelical doctrine would stop making false accusations. We hoped that other good and will-intentioned people would be attracted by our renewed and repeated Confession. With greater zeal and care, we hoped that they would seek and investigate the truth about the heavenly doctrine, which alone is our guide to salvation. And for the soul's salvation and their eternal happiness, we hoped they would agree with our Confession, all further controversies being rejected. [par. 7]
You see, like Luther, the Confessors had no intention of starting a new church, but to reform the one to which they had belonged, to bring the Romanist church back to the central truths found in Holy Scripture. Quite often, as you read your copy of the Augsburg Confession, you will see that the Confessors simply stated what they believed to be true on the basis of Scripture alone and what they rejected as being contrary to the Word of God. You will often read the words "We believe, teach, and confess" and "We reject and condemn," respectively. These men were moved by the Holy Spirit to make the good confession in a clear, articulate, and winsome manner, so moved because God's Word would not return to Him void. Alas, the Romanist church rejected the Augustana (another name for the Augsburg Confession) and to this day has not lifted its condemnations of Luther and his works. Yet, as "through the Church the song goes on," so also goes her confession, a confession which is just as valid today as it was 476 years ago, for we, as pastor and congregation, have willingly bound ourselves to the truth that is the Augustana, believing, teaching, and confessing the articles of faith supported by the Augustana, and rejecting and condemning the errors and heresies it rejects and condemns on account of their running contrary to the Word and will of God. In Augsburg the Word was doing the work that God intended for it. We are the blessed heirs of this confession.
This is the kind of work that the devil hates, and he has sought to thwart this confession and the Word of God for a long time. He tempted some, including Luther's professor, Andreas Carlstadt, to take Luther's reforms too far. The devil seduced men such as John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli to "reform" Luther's reforms, and in so doing departed again from the Word of God and its clear confession, and many denominations today bear the marks of their errors. There are differences even within Lutheranism, where the Augustana is supposedly held in such high regard. There are branches of Lutheranism which have strayed from the Word of God and from the Lutheran Confessions and are "Lutheran" in name only, for the devil has led them down the path of theological liberalism. Just as merely saying "Lord, Lord" does not necessarily make one a Christian, merely saying "Word and Sacrament" does not necessarily make one a Lutheran. We see traces of this "LINO-ism" (LINO short for "Lutheran in name only") even with our blessed Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. When our spiritual ancestors, the Saxon immigrants, settled in Perry County, Missouri, in 1839, they came with a clear confession of faith: the Augsburg Confession. What they believed, taught, and confessed they also practiced; they were the church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. The Saxons, led by Dr. C.F.W. Walther, remained true to the Lutheran Confessions. But, some time after the immigrants had all died, error began to creep in what we now know as the Missouri Synod, as some theologians sought to discredit the article of faith on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, which, after decades of Satan's whispering, came to a head in 1974 when the majority of the faculty and students at the St. Louis seminary walked out and formed their own seminary, and their sympathizers a new church body, both of which became part of the now-ELCA, the largest liberal Lutheran-in-name-only denomination in the United States.
But we as a Synod are beset with struggles 32 years after the Walkout, 476 years after the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, and 489 years after the Reformation began. We are beset with struggles that strike the core of what we believe, teach, and confess, as well as what we reject and condemn. We as Synod are being tempted by the devil to abandon the faith in which we became catechized, that of the Augsburg Confession, which is to say that of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. These struggles get to the heart of how we worship and even whom we worship. There are voices that call for us to abandon the historic liturgy of the Church, which has served her well and which she has handed down to countless generations of the faithful, in favor of services which serve man's ego, for the words change from week to week and seek to puff man up in his thinking of how creative he is in tinkering with, and even abandoning entirely, the historic liturgy. The happy-clappy songs that go with these man-centered worship services serve only to make man more proud, as if God should be lucky He even has us here. We have been tempted by these sinister voices to set aside God's order of creation in the name of militant and theological feminism, to confuse genders and allow women to have authority that God has not given them to have, especially in the pastoral office. Many leaders of our districts and Synod want this Synod to be ablaze for the Gospel, doing so in ways that run counter to the Word of God and seeks to diminish the Sacraments and the "Great Commission, to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching, where true church growth occurs with the aid of the Holy Spirit; this being ablaze seeks to snuff out the Gospel it pretends to project. Those behind this movement seek to be ablaze with numerical growth, while spiritually our Synod is in danger of going down in flames. Many voices within our synodical, district, and even local congregational levels even want to abandon our confession and practice of closed communion under the guise of being more "loving." Yet if I or any other pastor gives the body and blood of the Lord to someone who is uncatechized in the faith, undiscerning of the Lord's body and blood, unrepentant of his sins, or even unbelieving in Christ, the pastor is literally "loving" that person straight into hell, opening the door to that person's eternal condemnation, where he will truly be ablaze. This theological liberalism, this anti-Scriptural set of teachings, as well as other errors, have serious consequences for us as a Synod, district, circuit, and congregation. The word synod comes from two Greek words meaning "on the same way." As congregations and pastors in the Missouri Synod, we have all pledges ourselves to be on the same way, following Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church, whose teachings we have willingly agreed to believe, teach, and confess. Yet we are in danger of becoming like the Israelites were in the Book of Judges: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Jdg. 21:25). For these errors we need to repent, as the sinner and the Synod.
All is not lost, fellow redeemed. We are not lost, grieving as those who have no hope. Our Lord is calling us through the prophet Isaiah, "Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (vv. 6-7). These errors are things for which we still get to repent when we confess our "sins and iniquities with which [we] have ever offended [God] and justly deserved [His] temporal and eternal punishment," as we are "heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and [we] pray [God] of [His] boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of [His] beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to" us (TLH, p. 16). This confession of sins comes about because the Holy Spirit has done His work of convicting us and leading us to repentance, that God the Father would forgive us for Jesus' sake. Indeed, God's Word has not returned to Him void; it has accomplished what He pleased, the confession of our sins, for He desires to forgive us and grant us eternal life and salvation, the gifts our Lord won for us when He died on the cross for us and rose from the dead on the third day. Christ we confess, Christ we proclaim.
This also means that we may confess our sins as we come to the Lord's Table this day, confessing of our straying from His Word and the confession He has given us, receiving the body He gave and the blood He shed for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. As the Confessors state in the Augsburg Confession:
So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given (John 20:22). He works faith, when and where it pleases God (John 3:8), in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake. [AC V]
Denominations and synods come and go. One day even our beloved Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod may well become extinct. But this is not cause for us to despair, for our Lord tells us, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Mt. 24:35). We will always have His Word. We have our confession, the Augustana, which even transcends Lutheran synods because of the scriptural truths contained in it. Christ, His Word, and our confession of the incarnate and spoken Word will endure to the end, and by His Holy Spirit, we too shall endure. As the Confessors also state:
Our churches teach that one holy Church is to remain forever. The Church is the congregation of the saints (Psalm 149:1) in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. [AC VII]
We sing of this great truth in the hymn "The Church's One Foundation":
The Church's one foundation Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is His new creation By water and the Word.
From heav'n He came and sought her To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her, And for her life He died.
Elect from ev'ry nation, Yet one o'er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation One Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy Name she blesses, Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses, With ev'ry grace endued.
The Church shall never perish! Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish, Is with her to the end.
Tho' there be those that hate her, false sons within her pale,
Against both foe and traitor She ever shall prevail.
Though with a scornful wonder Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping; Their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping Shall be the morn of song.
Mid toil and tribulation And tumult of her war
She waits the consummation Of peace forevermore,
Till with the vision glorious Her longing eyes are blest
And the great Church victorious Shall be the Church at rest. [TLH #473]
God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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