On this day in 1530 a man named Christian Beyer stood before Emperor Charles V and a host of other people to make a confession of what his group, derogatorily called the “Lutherans,” believed. As he stood to confess the faith, he did so on the basis and with the comfort of Holy Scripture: “I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and will not be put to shame.” There was a lot at stake—livelihood, reputation, and even one’s life. Just seven years prior two young men, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, were burned at the stake for confessing what was called “Luther’s doctrine,” which really is the doctrine of Scripture. And Luther himself could not come to Augsburg to confess the faith because there was a bounty on his head. Today the Church gives thanks for the host that has gone before us that boldly and unwaveringly confessed the Scriptural, Christian, and Apostolic faith, and prays for the strength to do the same.
The confession read at Augsburg might have been new as it relates to its composition, but in reality it was very old. It was a confession of the teaching of Holy Scripture and a correction of the abuses that had corrupted the Church, that obscured the Gospel and insulted the suffering and merit of Christ. Theologians and princes signed onto it, making this confession their own. And we still do this today, we still confess that the Augsburg Confession is a correct exhibition of the Word of God. You heard it just a few weeks ago at my Installation, when I repeated the vow of my Ordination: “I make these confessions my own because they are in accord with the Word of God.” But it’s not just Pastors who make a confession of the Gospel that salvation is found in Christ alone. At your Confirmation you promised, by the grace of God, to continue steadfast in your confession and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.
Where does a confession come from? Where did Luther and the other Lutheran fathers obtain the substance of their confession and the strength to declare it in the face of kings and the rulers of this world, even though it could mean certain death? Where does your confession find its root? A confession is born out of faithfully hearing God’s Word which proclaims that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. That truth is at the heart and center of everything we hold to be true. That’s why the beating heart of Epiphany or any other Lutheran congregation isn’t activities or groups, but the Divine Service. Here we hear and receive Christ. He speaks to us and we speak His Word back to Him. We are shaped by the cross, forgiven, restored, renewed to fellowship with God as He feeds us the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for our salvation. We are sent out into the world forgiven and made bold to speak the glorious truth of the Gospel, that, despite what we have done there is forgiveness, full and free, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not something we earn, not something we need a boost from God for so we can obtain it ourselves. This is the gift of God given so that no one can boast, but declare, “The Lord has done great things to me and holy is His Name” (Luke 1:49).
This truth is at the core of the Augsburg Confession. Luther and the other Reformers weren’t out to do something political, but to preach the Gospel. Clearly and carefully our forefathers in the faith declared the truth of forgiveness by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and drew out its Biblical implications for the life of the Christian Church. Whether the Augsburg Confession is dealing with sin or the Lord’s Supper or the Office of the Holy Ministry, all Christian teaching revolves around the article on which the Church stands or falls, the doctrine of justification:
It is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake, through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in His sight. (AC IV)
That’s what it means to be a Lutheran. We aren’t a Lutheran out of some sort of German pride, brand loyalty, or adoration of a sixteenth century monk-turned-reformer. Being Lutheran is a confession that you are totally dependent upon God, totally helpless without Him, deserving of nothing but hell were it not for His love, His Son, His Spirit. Apart from this central truth, the total proclamation of every Word of Holy Scripture, there is no hope. If anything depends on me, it will utterly fail.
By God’s grace you are no longer a stranger or a foreigner, an enemy of God, but a fellow citizen with the saints and members of the household of God. Through the Word and the Sacraments you have been given faith, you have God’s Name placed upon you, and you are a temple of the Holy Spirit who enables you to make a good confession of Christ before men. By God’s grace you are given the ability add your “Amen” to this great Confession which we commemorate today. It confesses the same faith in the same Jesus that has saved every generation since time began.
The Augsburg Confession was written, not to pat ourselves on the back as a learned or superior group of people, but to give glory to Jesus Christ, to restore the bold confession of His Name, His cross and resurrection, His salvation. We make it our own in the humble acknowledgement that only the pure Word of God can give us true comfort and can sustain the Church against her enemies. May God preserve us in our confession of the true faith by His Holy Spirit until He draws us to Himself.