480th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession

480th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession

June 25th is the 480th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession (AC). You may think that is great, but what is the Augsburg Confession. The AC is the first and primary confession of faith put forth by the Lutheran Church in 1530.

Primarily it was written to demonstrate to the powers that be, primarily Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, that the Evangelical (Lutheran) movement of Reform was orthodox and faithful in its understanding of the apostolic faith of the church. Essentially charges of heresy had been lobbed at Luther and all of the Reformers since the movement began – the AC was to demonstrate that what the Lutherans believed was absolutely in line with the traditional teachings of the wider church.

The AC was presented in hopes of demonstrating that the Lutherans were good and faithful Christians. It would probably be accurate to say that the Lutherans believed that they were more faithful Christians – but such was the divisive nature of the time. The central tenant of the Lutheran movement was that over the centuries the church had gotten distracted from what was really important. What is really important is Jesus, and the salvation we are offered by him. However, in the middle ages the church got very much distracted by a message of personal works righteousness. This is the belief that somehow, out of our own works and good deeds we can EARN our way into heaven. It is important to note that this was never official policy within the church – however it was very prevalent in popular piety and the church did little to steer believers away from this.

The worst abuse of this was the selling of indulgences by the church to finance the completion of St. Peter’s basilica. The indulgence was a letter that one could buy, which stated that in buying this letter one’s sins were forgiven. There was no need of repentance, of confession, or of making any type of reparations - you simply bought the indulgence. This was the event that kicked off Luther’s attack on policies of the church and was the broken straw that set in motion the Reformation.

Basically the AC is was written to demonstrate that although the Lutherans had some criticism of the church’s practice, they were faithful in their beliefs and that they were hoping to bring about reform for the good of the entire church.

The AC was written as a series of 28 articles, or topics, which address the beliefs of the Lutheran movement. The first 21 address matters of faith: God, Original Sin, The Son of God, Justification by Faith etc. These present a traditional and orthodox view of faith as it would have been understood by the entire church. However articles 22-28 deal specifically with criticisms of the church, which were the primary things that the Lutherans were looking to reform and change.

As things will go in difficult times, the oppositions didn’t really listen to the first 21 but really focused on the last 7. What had been intended to be a bridge to hopefully make way for peace and concillation within the church broke out into more bickering and finger pointing.

But the AC remained the primary confession of faith for the Lutheran church. Along with these 28 articles there is a longer Apology (Explanation) which goes into more detail about the reasons behind the particular beliefs of the church.

Though Charles V, would not recognize the AC he could not do away with the Lutheran movement. He effectually ordered the German princes to recant their beliefs under pain of death. However he was not able to carry out this threat. The German princes stood united in backing the statements of the AC and presented a united political front. Part of what enabled them to do this was that at the time the German provinces had the most money, the most people, and the most soldiers in the Holy Roman Empire. Charles V needed Germany and their support because he was preparing for war with the Ottoman Turks on his eastern border. So even though Charles tried to reject this confession he had no power to enforce his wishes. The German princes said they would not recant their beliefs.

So the AC became the document that defined Lutheranism. From its presentation people who were followers of Luther’s reforms had something to point to which said, this is what we believe. It became a clear statement of Lutheran belief and stands today as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ.

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