The Augsburg Confession

The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, came to realize that there were too many Protestants in Germany for him to kill all of them. In 1521, Charles V had issued the Edict of Worms, which condemned Martin Luther to die at the hands of anyone who could do the job. Now, nearly ten years later, there were many more Germans who followed and protected Luther rather than trying to kill him.

While the Emperor would have been glad to be rid of the problem, those Protestants simply would not go away or realign with the Roman Catholic Church. They were peasants and nobleman, farmers and princes, but they were united by a desire to read and know the Bible – God’s Word – for themselves.

Many people noticed deep-rooted corruption in the religious leaders of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the Protestant Reformers offered a new hope for a purer faith. Rather than approaching God by way of an aloof clerical substitute, the Reformers read and spoke the words of God Himself from the pages of Scripture. This attracted many, but they needed something around which to unite those who separated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Statements of faith were common in Christianity from the very beginning. These statements (or confessions) are brief and precise declarations of the substance of Christian belief. In the Bible, we find the earliest known statement of faith,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).

Some statements of faith were as short as one sentence (Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior) symbolized by the well-known Christian fish.[1]

In April of 1530, Charles V summoned Protestant leaders to a meeting in Augsburg, Germany. This was the hearing the Reformers had been waiting for, but they quickly realized that much of their agreement thus far had been on matters of divergence from the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants knew what they were protesting, but they had not spent nearly as much time codifying what united them as a group.

Martin Luther’s student and friend, Philip Melanchthon, drafted what came to be known as the Augsburg Confession.[2] In this statement of faith, many Protestants found unity among themselves. While there were still matters of some disagreement, this confession was a declaration of belief regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is an excerpt from the Augsburg Confession regarding the justification of sinners by faith alone in Christ:

“Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but 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, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”

This confession of faith reminds us that Protestants (more importantly, Christians) must always unite around the essential truths of the Gospel of Christ. There, of course, will inevitably be many other doctrines related to these core truths, and there are good reasons to believe all that you do with deep conviction. However, there is room in the shadow of Christ’s cross for disagreement about how we shall arrange ourselves under it.

It has been said many times, but we would do well to remember: In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

May God unite His people afresh upon the bedrock foundation of His Gospel.

 

[1] ICTHUS (ιχθύος) is the Greek word for “fish,” and the word is an acronym for the Greek words, “Ιησου Χριστου Θεος υιος σωτηρ,” which are translated: “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.” Therefore, to display the ‘Christian fish’ was to make a public declaration that one believed Jesus to be the Christ (or Messiah) and the Son of God and the Savior through whom God reconciled sinners to Himself. A fish, no matter how big, was never such a mouthful as this.

[2] The Augsburg Confession is a thoroughly Protestant confession of faith, but it is primarily the heritage of the Lutheran denomination. Since Philip Melanchthon authored much of it, and Martin Luther endorsed it, the doctrines within are Lutheran. All Protestants agree regarding the “Five Solas,” but baptism, Lord’s Supper, and ecclesiology are matters of disagreement among Protestants (then and now). See the Augsburg Confession, including the preface to the Emperor, HERE.

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