Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – June 25th and 26th, 2016 – John 15
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit+
In 1530, the Turkish armies were marching through southeastern Europe. These Muslim warriors were at the gates of Vienna, and the Emperor was in a fix. You see, in Germany there was this pesky religious problem. Many men were crying out against religious abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, princes and leaders of men were boldly proclaiming belief in Christ Jesus as their Savior, apart from works of the law. This religious discussion was leading to political chaos, and one can’t summon forth armies to a counter-attack, to a new crusade, in the midst of political chaos.
So Emperor Charles V summoned these nobles and many theologians to the town of Augsburg, where he would demand their obedience, where he would demand that they put aside their differences with the Roman Catholic Church. The princes were waiting for Charles when he arrived at Augsburg, and they knelt before him. Margrave George of Brandenburg was their spokesman, and said that before they would deny their Lord, they would let Charles cut off their heads. Charles was taken aback at this – said in broken German, “No cut off head, good prince, no cut off head!” But Charles was put off; he couldn't understand why these Germans were so stubborn and determined. And the Emperor asked them to make a presentation of their position, their faith.
Therefore, on the morning of June 25th, 1530, they proclaimed what they taught, what they believed. They read what came to be known as the Augsburg Confession. In 28 articles, or topics, they set forth what they believed and what false doctrines they rejected. Rather than simply going along with the Emperor wanted to get along, they put their lives on the line to confess the truth that we as Lutherans hold dear. In reality, June 25th, 1530 was the birthday of the Lutheran Church, it was where we as a people said boldly and proudly that we will confess the truth, that we will remain true to Christ no matter what pressures are brought to bear, no matter what threats are leveled against us.
This is precisely what Jesus describes in our Gospel Lesson today. Hear again: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” The options confronting those German princes were either to go along with the Emperor and see temporal and earthly gain, or to remain in Christ, confessing him and facing punishment, war, and death. In reality, there was no option. They confessed Christ and Him Crucified – for apart from Him, they knew that they could do nothing. And their stance, their bold confession echoes on down to today. The reason we are here, able to worship God rightly, able to confess the Gospel is because people before us have boldly confessed, boldly taught us these truths.
But this is a frightening thing, to remain in Christ no matter what, to confess the truth. It can be frightening for us today. What will people think of us if we doggedly hold to our beliefs? Our goal is to confess Christ truly, to say “There is salvation in Christ and Him alone, for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” – we are concerned about the Truth; and we don’t tolerate, we don’t put up with false doctrine – and this upsets people. We don’t brush off as unimportant what God has declared in His Word. This is our heritage. The men who presented the Augsburg Confession, they knew they might be killed. The Emperor could put them to death for their religious rebellion – but they confessed the faith. Why? If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. The other option was worse! Why give up eternity for pleasing an Emperor now? Why forsake Christ for the sake of the wisdom of the world, the opinions of today? The people, the families that founded this congregation, that was their attitude as well. They could have just joined in with the other denominations, they could have hob-nobbed with the big-wigs in town, played the game – but they didn’t. Why? Because they desired to abide in Christ – that was their priority. So they sacrificed their time, their talents, their treasures which were so dear as they scraped out a new living down here. They built a Church where Christ would be preached, where the Gospel would be proclaimed in its truth and purity. And we today, we here, we have made the same bold confession – you made it when you were confirmed, when you stood in front of God in His Church, and vowed to defend what you have been taught, to die before abandoning it. “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” You said, “I do so intend with the help of God.” That’s part of our Lutheran heritage. We shall abide in Christ, so help us God.
And as we know that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we have no problem as Lutherans confessing the same confessions as our forefathers in the faith. The old Creeds are familiar to us. We confess the Small Catechism as generations before us have. But sadly, today, as a whole, we don’t pay as much attention to the Augsburg Confession as we could. Which is sad. The Augsburg Confession is the most beautiful, the most eloquent, the clearest confession of the faith that has ever been written. While we do not have time to read the Confession in its entirety, allow me to read one of the articles – Article 4 – on Justification. Lutheran theologians have said that this is the Article upon which the Church stands or falls, and rightly so for if we abandon this, we are no longer worthy of being called the Church. Listen: 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. This is heart of what we believe, this is the heart of what Scripture teaches. You are a sinner, and you cannot be justified by anything you do. Nothing that you do gets you right with God. It doesn’t matter how much money you give, it doesn’t matter how many little old ladies you help across the street, how popular and influential you are – your strength, your merit, your worth, your works, the things you do cannot save you. Apart from Christ you can do nothing. On the contrary, you are saved because of what Jesus has done – because He went to the Cross and made satisfaction, because he won forgiveness for your sin. You receive salvation when you hear and believe this, when God gives you His forgiveness.
This is what we hear throughout the scriptures. Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Peter says, “you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness.” And this is the truth we defend. We oppose any teaching, any doctrine which says that we aren’t sinners in need of a Savior, and we oppose any teaching that robs Christ of the glory of our salvation. “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.” We defend the Gospel, the teaching that you are saved by what Christ has done, and we defend this tooth and nail against any and all who would rob it from us.
This is what we do, this is why we gather every weekend here in this place. Christ builds His Church upon the Gospel – and so we in His Church abide in Him and in His Gospel, and we are grown by Him. Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession explains this. That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works. God works in His Word, the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us forgiveness and faith through the Word, be it preached, be it attached to Water in Baptism, be it Christ’s own Body and Blood attached to bread and wine in the Supper. This is how God grows His Church, through the gifts He gives us here. This is why Trinity was founded, and this is why she still exists to this day. This is how we define the Church – Article 7 says, “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” That is what we are, and it is our duty as members of Christ’s Church to see that this is what we remain. Why? Because we always need the forgiveness that Christ gives in His Church. Our friends and neighbors, they need forgiveness as well, so we are to preserve and safe guard the Gospel here so that it is always here for them. We gather to listen to God’s Word, to sing hymns to God, to delight in the forgiveness God gives us. We maintain this confession, we fight the good fight of faith, and cling fast to the promise of salvation that God gives us, come what may. We abide in Christ – and He brings forth fruit in us, the fruit of the Spirit – now in part, and then in full on the last day.
Dear friends in Christ – God has given us a great gift. He has given us salvation freely through Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection. We receive this salvation and forgiveness in His Church, and as such, together as His people we boldly confess the truth that Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to God apart from Him. This is what we do today, this is what God-willing we will do in the future, and this is what the faithful before us have done. We give thanks to God that He has shown us His Son, and we ask that He continue to keep us steadfast in His Word through all the trials of our life, so that we might obtain eternal life, and that through us the light of the Gospel might be shown throughout the entire world. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.