“Confessing the Faith with the Augsburg Confessors” (Psalm 119:46)
Today Lutheran churches around the world are celebrating the 487th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. On June 25, 1530, in the city of Augsburg, Germany, a group of Lutheran princes presented a confession of their faith, composed by the theologian Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s right-hand man–they presented their confession to Emperor Charles V. That document, called the Augsburg Confession, summarizes what our Lutheran churches believe, teach, and confess, on the basis of Holy Scripture. Today then we want to consider what it means for us to be “Confessing the Faith with the Augsburg Confessors.”
To confess the faith is to say back to God what he has first revealed to us in his word. It is to declare to one another and before the whole world what we believe and teach on the basis of God’s word. To confess the faith is to declare the truth over against all errors. It is to speak fearlessly and courageously what we know to be true, whether that truth happens to be popular or not. Thus confessing the faith can be a very daring and even dangerous thing to do.
It is especially daring and dangerous when those before whom you confess the faith are very powerful and mighty. They might use their power against you. Even so, the truth of God’s word and your confidence in the Lord compel you to speak, regardless of the consequences. Like the psalmist said, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.” That verse, Psalm 119:46, was the verse that the Augsburg confessors put at the front of their confession. For that verse sums up their attitude. You see, both the power of the emperor and the power of the pope were lined up against the Lutherans. The consequences could be severe. But the conviction of the gospel was stronger than the fear of earthly powers. In the face of real risk, the confessors of Augsburg spoke up for what they knew to be the truth.
Confessing the faith can be dangerous, but it is also a joyful thing to do. The same psalmist who said, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame,” goes on in the next verse to say, “for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.” Yes, it’s a joyful thing to confess the faith. Just think of what we are confessing. Just think of who we are confessing. We are saying what God has first said to us, about who he is and what he has done for us. This is the word about Christ, our Savior and Lord. We are confessing the good news of what God has done for us in him.
Through Jesus Christ we receive the righteousness that avails before God. We cannot achieve this righteousness on our own. People want to think they can, but that is a false, misleading dream. Only Christ Jesus, the sinless Son of God, has the inherent goodness that pleases God. We cannot do it, try as we might–and a lot of times, we don’t even try. You and I will never be good enough, we can never do enough. But Christ has done it all for us. His death on the cross takes all the wrath, all the fury, all the punishment our sins deserve. Christ takes it and suffers it for you, in your place–and in the place of all the sinners of the whole world. This same Jesus then rose from the dead, showing the complete victory he won over sin and death. There is no other way to God, other than through the completed work of Christ. There is no other message we proclaim, other than the truth of this great gospel of Christ. Only in Christ do we know the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only in Christ Jesus our Lord. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Therefore anything that would hinder or obscure that wonderful good news is out of place in the Christian church. And when that happens, we speak out. We must speak out. To remain silent in the face of error is to be unfaithful to God and unloving toward our neighbor. False teaching can lead people into false belief and thus endanger their salvation. No, we must confess the truth and refute the error. That’s what faith does. God has made known to us the wonderful good news of salvation. We love what he has made known, and we want to keep that message whole and pure.
Who would not delight to confess such a God? It is a joyful thing. We simply speak forth the one in whom we have believed. “I believe, therefore have I spoken,” as the apostle says. Our hearts are filled with faith and the love of God, and so our mouths speak what our hearts are filled with.
To declare the truth of who God is and what he does for us–this is confessing the faith, and it gives all glory to God, which is where it belongs. We say yes to God and to what he does for us when we confess the true faith. So when certain groups come along and say something different–when people either wittingly or unwittingly espouse errors that undermine the gospel–then we must say no to the error and yes to the truth. That is what it means to confess the faith.
And we do so in every area of doctrine, in all that our Lord has given us to confess. Jesus said, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” All things, things like Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and so on. Whatever the Lord has given his church to hold on to, we are not to let go of. We are not at liberty to change or drop or to count as of no importance anything that our Lord has revealed to us in his word.
So confessing the faith is a necessary thing to do. We must do it. How could we do any other? To not confess the truth and to bow to error would be disloyal to our Lord. How could we do such a thing? No, the truth of God compels us. We want to give all glory to God, and compromising the faith would do otherwise. There is an internal necessity that faith works inside of us, and we simply cannot be untrue to it.
And confessing the faith is necessary for another reason also: People’s lives are at stake–their eternal salvation. To deny the truth is to endanger faith. Error can trip a person up at any point. For example, to change Baptism from gospel into law, from something God does for us into something we do–this could endanger a person’s salvation. People could think that their right standing with God is up to them. “God does his part, but I’ve got to do mine.” That is dangerous thinking. That is not the way of faith.
To deny the truth about the sacraments robs people of the great comfort they should be able to find there–the comfort and peace of mind God wants them to have. So, for example, we gladly confess what Jesus says about his Holy Supper. Augsburg Confession, Article X: “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper. They reject those who teach otherwise.” See, that’s teaching the truth on the one hand and rejecting error on the other. And such a confession is still needed today. For while we Lutherans believe that Christ gives us his true body and blood in the Sacrament, for the forgiveness of sins, many churches around us do not believe this.
Confessing truth against error is still very much needed in our day. Our culture has slid downhill and now approves of what God calls sin. For instance, the St. Louis Cardinals announced the other day that they’re going to hold a homosexual “Pride Night” in August. People now are openly proud of what they should be ashamed of, and the rest of society is supposed to go along with that. The murder of innocent children by abortion is still legal in America. Will the church speak out against this evil? Liberal churches deny the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. Non-denominational churches don’t preach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, but instead substitute entertainment and five steps to have a happy life. False teachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer continue to mislead millions. Groups like the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses recycle ancient heresies against the Trinity and the person of Christ. Oh, there is plenty of need for confessing the faith in our day.
But more than that, there is the positive joy of proclaiming the good news of Jesus! This is the joy that fills our hearts. And so we just naturally want to share this joy with others. We want our friends, relatives, and neighbors to know what we know, how people are put right with God. We can say with the Augsburg Confession, Article IV: “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.” Now that is good news, the best news of all!
So for the sake of the salvation of others, we dare not compromise or give away parts of the faith. Instead, we give glory to God and true gospel comfort to our neighbor by confessing the true faith. The Lutheran church is a confessional church. We confess the faith boldly. We are not ashamed or embarrassed or afraid to say what our church believes and teaches. To be sure, we will be accused of being loveless and rigid and dogmatic. “Who do you think you are?” Well, so be it.
The Lutheran church is a confessional church, and gladly so. We rejoice to confess the faith, the gospel of salvation! This is a joyful thing. And it is a necessary thing. We speak the truth and reject the error, for it is the truth that sets people free. Error can only mislead. And so we will confess God’s word, in its truth and purity, no matter how popular or unpopular it makes us. It is the Christian’s delight and the church’s great privilege to confess the true faith.
Because of the gospel of Christ, today we are glad to say with the confessors at Augsburg what the psalmist prayed to the Lord, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.”
Confessors, princes, duty bound,
To Augsburg bold they came;
Before the king they stood their ground
And were not put to shame.
Their good confession made that day
Proved not to be in vain;
Gird us their sons, Lord, that we may
Still follow in their train.