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Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

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Sun, Jun 1, 2008 


I bet you are wondering, what is "POTAC"?  It is only the biggest and most significant holiday that almost no one has ever heard of.  There should be parades.  People should be setting off fireworks!  Days like this don't come along once in a thousand years.  We should be celebrating - - especially us!

What is POTAC?  June 25th.  It is the anniversary of one of the greatest days in history.  The Hispanic celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  It is a day to celebrate Mexican heritage.  The Norwegians celebrate Syttende Mai - known as Norwegian Constitution Day or Norwegian Independence Day.  These are merely national holidays.  POTAC is a world holiday, which ought to be boldly celebrated throughout the World - particularly among Lutherans.  It is the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession!

It was on June 25th in 1530 that those brave and noble men stood before the emperor, Charles the Fifth, and confessed their faith boldly, establishing what is now called Lutheranism as a unique confession and opening the door to virtually all of what is now called Protestantism.  Not that everything that has happened in the world as a result of POTAC is necessarily good.  We live in that kind of world, where strikingly good things sometimes bring along unfortunate consequences.  But the good far outweighs the bad things men have take the opportunities created by POTAC to do.

This is unique.  Here is a church document, a confession of faith, and it is not presented by scholars and theologians.  It is the confession of laymen.  None of the signers of the confession were pastors or teachers or clergy.  They were nobles, princes, dukes, and someone called a "margrave".  Here is how it happened:

On January 21, 1530, the Emperor Charles V issued letters inviting the German diet (an imperial assembly) to meet in Augsburg on April 8, for the purpose of discussing and deciding various important questions.  Although the writ of invitation was couched in very peaceful language, it was rightly received with suspicion by some of the Evangelicals (evangelical means "of the Gospel").  The far-seeing Landgrave of Hesse hesitated to attend the diet, but the Elector John of Saxony, who received the writ March 11, directed Luther, Jonas, Bugenhagen, and Melanchthon to meet in Torgau, where he was, and present a summary of the Lutheran faith, to be laid before the emperor at the diet.

This summary, written by Luther, has been named the "Torgau Articles". On April 3 the elector and reformers left Torgau and reached Coburg on April 23.  There they left Luther behind.  The rest of the party reached Augsburg on May 2.  During the journey Melanchthon worked on an "apology" - an explanation, using the Torgau articles, and sent his draft back to Luther at Coburg on May 11, who approved it.  Several alterations were suggested to Melanchthon in his conferences with Jonas, the Saxon chancellor Bruck, the conciliatory bishop Stadion of Augsburg, and the imperial secretary Alfonso Valdez.

On June 23 the final form of the text was adopted in the presence of the Elector John of Saxony, the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, the Margrave George of Brandenburg, the Dukes Ernest and Francis of Luneburg, the representatives of Nuremberg and Reutlingen, and other counselors.  After reading it, the confession was signed by the Elector John of Saxony, Margrave George of Brandenburg, Duke Ernest of Luneburg, the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, the Prince Wolfgang of Anhalt, the representatives of Nuremberg and Reutlingen, and also by the electoral prince John Frederick and Duke Francis of Luneburg.

During the diet, the cities of Weißenburg in Bayern, Heilbronn, Kempten, and Windesheim also expressed their concurrence with the confession.  The emperor had ordered the confession to be presented to him at the next session, June 24; but when the evangelical princes asked that it be read in public, their petition was refused, and efforts were made to prevent the public reading of the document altogether.  The evangelical princes, however, declared that they would not submit the confession until it was read aloud.  The 25th was then fixed for the day of its presentation.  In order to exclude the common people, the little chapel of the episcopal (bishop's) palace was designated for the reading in place of the spacious city hall, where the meetings of the diet were being held.  The two Saxon chancellors Bruck and Beyer, the one with the Latin copy, the other with the German, stepped into the middle of the assembly, and against the wishes of the emperor the German text, not the Latin, was read.  The reading lasted two hours and was so loud and distinct that every word could be heard outside.  When the reading was over, both copies were handed to the emperor. The German copy was given to the imperial chancellor, the Elector of Mainz, the Latin he personally kept.  Neither of the copies are now known to exist.

On the day we celebrate as POTAC, our Lutheran forefathers made public proclamation of a new summary of the ancient Scripture truth: Mankind is justified by God's grace through faith in Christ Jesus.  They set forth this conviction in a religious document confessed by secular rulers.  Although it was written by Philipp Melanchthon (a layman), and approved by Martin Luther, it was signed by princes, dukes, and other civil leaders.  In doing so, each of the dukes and princes risked their royal standing, their territories, their fortunes, and even their very lives.

Some thirteen years of activity preceded this gathering.  Many Lutherans (and a considerable number of non-Lutherans) date the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation to Martin Luther's posting of the Ninety-five Theses on the Wittenberg church doors on 31 October 1517.  However, when he did this, Luther still considered himself a faithful son of the Roman Church.  When church leaders resisted debate and foreclosed discussion, defending doctrines and practices Luther considered Biblically indefensible, his efforts for reform increased and others began following his lead.

By the time the Emperor declared the diet in Augsburg and summoned German princes and free territories to explain themselves and their "new" religious convictions, almost ten years had passed since Luther had been excommunicated by Rome and subsequently declared an "outlaw" by the empire.  His theological understanding had grown, his differences with Rome and its papacy had sharpened, and few of his followers believed that a real possibility of reconciliation existed.

Still, they came to Augsburg — or at least some of them did. Luther's ruler, John "the Steadfast" of Saxony, forbad Luther to attend, fearing he would be arrested or killed outright.

Of course, some always quibble with Biblical teachings and try to weaken the force of any doctrinal statement in order to include a wider confessional range within its teaching. This happened also with the Augsburg Confession.  Philipp Melanchthon, as previously noted, was gentler and more conciliatory in nature - more ecumenical, in the modern sense - than many of his contemporaries and had hoped to expand the Evangelical movement to include the followers of John Calvin and others, and, alternately, to extend olive branches to Rome.  Furthermore, since he'd written the Augsburg Confession, he seemed to think of it as his own property, a document he could change to suit circumstances rather than a fixed exposition of Lutheran theology.

Melanchthon developed several alternate texts, the most notable being what is now called the Variata of 1540.  It so weakened communion theology that John Calvin could accept it in good conscience.  On account of this activity, later confessional Lutherans learned to specify that their subscription was to the original, the Unaltered Augsburg Confession (UAC), not to the Variata.  That is why many Lutheran cornerstones here in the United States include the initials UAC, as an confession of agreement with specifically the document presented on 25 June 1530.

Those who call themselves "confessional Lutherans" continue to subscribe (sign on) to its theology because we believe that the creeds and confessions of Concordia [the Book of Concord] are true expositions of Holy Scripture. These confessions (also called "Symbols") do not supplant nor supplement God's Word; they merely focus on particular teachings in an orderly fashion.

We sometimes speak of Scripture as the norma normans (Latin for "ruling rule" or "norming norm") — God's Word defines and establishes all doctrine. The Augsburg Confession, as is true of our other confessions, is called a norma normata (ruled rule or a normed norm) — it draws its entire content from Scripture.  In other words, our confessions "rule" in confessional Lutheranism because Holy Scripture "rules" our confessions.

Because of this, confessional Lutherans practice quia (because) and not quatenus (insofar as) subscription: We agree with the Lutheran Confessions because they entirely agree with Scripture, not insofar as they agree.  In other words, we don't pick and choose which of our Confessional doctrines we will uphold and which we will deny.  Instead, we believe that since all of the theology of the Book of Concord is the theology of God's Word, all of the Book of Concord is suitable for the tasks of teaching the Church, reproving false doctrine, correcting behavior, and encouraging the saints.

From the POTAC forward, the Evangelicals (later to be known as Protestants and Lutherans) were clearly distinguishable. Their leaders had made a confession — not that they had done wrong, but rather of what they believed to be right.  Perhaps the 95 Theses had announced the beginning of the end for the medieval Church but it wasn't until the diet of Augsburg, when rulers and theologians publically clarified their ongoing and irreconcilable doctrinal differences with Rome, that we see what we might call a distinct Lutheran Church.

As the Evangelical movement spread, the Augsburg Confession became a test of Evangelical fidelity and a something like a "constitution" for Lutheranism. In some ways, one might draw a parallel from American history, where the Declaration of Independence set in motion events which culminated in the United States Constitution and the federal republic it established.

On Lutheran calendars, however, there is one event that calls us to remember a specific date in our history: The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.

But why commemorate an event that took place so long ago?  Precisely because the true faith still needs to be confessed. The Word of God and its faithful interpretation are under attack from every side. Increasingly our culture tries to convince us that truth is relative and changing.  The church around is changing, too.  In the face of such opposition, we can find encouragement and instruction in the example of those confessors at Augsburg. They were willing to risk everything rather than abandon or deny a single article of the truth.

Today, circumstances are vastly different than they were on June 25, 1530.  Still, Islam threatens us once again, the spirit of Melancthon's "gentler and more conciliatory nature" is riding high again, and the enemy is the same, for Satan continues to plot against Christ and His Church.  That is why we set aside June 25, POTAC, so that we might be encouraged to continue to confess the truth.

God's Word Is Our Great Heritage

God's Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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