As we gather on 31 October 2017 to rejoice the 500th year of Reformation, let us further understand how Martin Luther’s bold act of nailing his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, formally resulted in the Reformation by way of the Augsburg Confession.
Rev. Nick Singh explains why 25 June 1530, the day the Augsburg Confession was presented, may also be considered the birthday of the Lutheran Church.
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One of the great events of the Reformation is the presentation of the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V on 25 June 1530. It was indeed a great day of triumph for all who believed in the Biblical Gospel of the justification by grace through faith apart from the works of the Law. That day can be considered the birthday of the Lutheran Church.
Emperor Charles V was born in 1500. He became the Holy Roman Emperor on 28 June 1519 when he was just nineteen years old. At the end of the 1520s, Emperor Charles had his hands full. The Turks had been fighting with the Christians in South Eastern Europe and had come dangerously close to the Holy Roman Empire over which Charles reigned.
Emperor Charles was fearful that unless his empire was united, it would not be able to stand against the Turkish advance. Many people had joined the Reformation cause and turned against the Pope, resulting in religious fragmentation. Emperor Charles, therefore, wanted to unite all Christians under the Pope once again.
In early 1530, Emperor Charles summoned the electors, princes, bishops and other officials of the empire to meet in the city of Augsburg. Elector John the Steadfast of Saxony, duke of that part of Germany where the Reformation began, instructed his theologians to prepare a clear and concise statement of Lutheran beliefs and practices to be presented to the Emperor. This document that was presented to Emperor Charles at the Diet (general assembly) of Augsburg on 25 June 1530 has since been known as the Augsburg Confession.
Philip Melanchthon wrote the Augsburg Confession using documents previously drawn up by Luther and others. Philip was born in 1947 and was 33 years old at the Augsburg Confession presentation. He was a professor at the University of Wittenberg, a brilliant humanist scholar and an exceptional theologian. Since Luther could not appear before the Diet as he had been declared an outlaw and could be arrested if he left Saxon territory, it was logical for Philip to take the lead at Augsburg. Luther admired Philip’s literary skill and was extremely pleased with the Confession that Philip had written.
“Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract for it is neither safe or wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen. ”
Martin Luther, 1483-1547
Elector John of Saxony was 62 at the reading of the Augsburg Confession. He was also called John the Steadfast and he was the leader of the Lutheran princes. He was well deserved to be called “Steadfast”. He boldly confessed the truth of God’s Word and risked everything rather than compromise and lose the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, John the Steadfast and other courageous laymen stood before the Emperor at Augsburg and confessed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Luther had done that in April 1521.
The Augsburg Confession was read by Dr Christian Beyer at 3 pm on 25 June 1530. Dr Christian Beyer was the Chancellor of Saxony or the Prime Minister of Saxony. He read the German translation of the Confession which was translated from Latin into German by Justus Jonas, another co-worker of Luther. Martin Luther’s only regret was he was not there when the historic Confession was read.
The Augsburg Confession consists of 28 doctrinal statements called Articles. The first 21 Articles present the core of the Christian faith: God, Original Sin, Jesus, Justification by Faith, Ministry, New Obedience, Church, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, Confession, Repentance, Order in Church, Civil Government, Christ’s Return, and other topics. The other seven topics dealt with what the reformers believed were abuses like withholding the cup from the laity and marriage of priests.
The Confession stresses that the Holy Scripture is the only source of Christian doctrine and that salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is the central doctrine around which all other teachings revolve.
The structure and many of the articles of the Augsburg Confession were later copied over into many of the Protestant Confessions. The 39 Articles of the Church of England were written in 1571. The Westminster Confession of Faith of the Reformed Church was written in 1646. The Baptist Confession was written in 1883.
So we thank God for this clear and concise confession of our faith given to us by the reformers. May God, the Holy Spirit, preserve each one of us in the same true faith unto everlasting life.
See you at the Reformation 500 Years...
∼ Rev. Nick Singh
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