The Post 95 Theses' Years
Often our Reformation remembrances end in 1517, with Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses on October 31. But in the years between 1517 and 1530 many crucial events occurred. The churchly powers that be (papacy) attacked Martin Luther and put increasing pressure on him to retract his teachings. This persecution helped Luther to clarify his own views on the Gospel and many more writings followed.
In January 1521, the pope excommunicated Luther and declared him to be a heretic. In May of that same year at the Diet of Worms, to which Luther had been summoned to recant his teachings, the newly elected emperor Charles V dedared Luther to be an outlaw, an enemy of the state. Now anyone that found Luther could arrest or even kill him and receive a reward. Further, according to the Edict of Worms, buying, selling, possessing, or even using one of Luther's writings was declared illegal and anyone found to be helping Luther in any way would be considered a criminal. And (this was the worst of all), no one was to believe the Gospel that Luther taught and to do so was to break the imperial law.
But the Lord of the Church was with Luther. The princes that ruled in Saxony (the region of the Holy Roman Empire in which Luther lived) were supportive of him and protected him despite the emperor's ban. Under the Lord's protection, the years 1522-29 were relatively peaceful ones for Luther and the Reformation spread tremendously throughout Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, and Europe. Many people came to see that Luther had rediscovered the Gospel: the supreme teaching of the Bible that a person is justified by grace through faith in Jesus, not by good works. Thousands of people in these lands confessed the same faith as Luther, since they saw that he was faithfully teaching Holy Scripture.
The Diet at Augsburg
Meanwhile, at the end of the 1520s, the Emperor Charles V had his hands full. The Turks (Muslims) had been warring with the Christians in southeastern Europe and had come dangerously close to the Holy Roman Empire over which Charles reigned. He was fearful that unless his empire was united, it would not be able to stand against the Turkish advance. So many people had joined the Reformation cause and had turned against the pope that religious fragmentation had taken place. The course was clear: Charles must find a way to unite all Christians under the pope once again.
Therefore, early in 1530, he summoned all princes and principalities to attend an imperial diet in the city of Augsburg on June 25 to discuss these matters. Elector John of Saxony and the Lutherans were invited to attend and were given express permission to present their Faith.
Luther, who was still considered a heretic and outlaw, could not attend the diet, though he desperately wanted to. Instead, he had to stay in the Castle Coburg during the entire proceedings. Luther's younger co-worker Philip Melanchthon became Luther's chief representative there. It was Melanchthon who wrote the Augsburg Confession, though he communicated with Luther daily by letter, making sure that everything was as it should be.
The Lutherans thanked God for the opportunity to confess their faith before the Emperor and the world. They had long been accused of being heretics, of having broken away from the holy catholic Church and starting a sect. They wanted to confess their faith in such a way that two things would happen: (1) everyone would know clearly what they believed according to Scripture; and (2) everyone would see that they were not a new sect but that they believed what the Christian Church had always believed, but which had recently been lost.
Finally, on June 25, at 3:00 p.m., the Lutherans' Confession of Faith was read in the presence of the Emperor. Dr. Christian Beyer, chancellor of Saxony read the Confession. Though Melanchthon had written it in Latin (the scholarly language of the day), a German translation done by Justus Jonas, another co-worker of Luther, was the one read that day. It is recorded that the reading of this great Confession made a deep impression on all who listened.
It must be stressed that this was not the confession of theologians only. It was the confession of all those who believed the Gospel that Luther had preached. So that the emperor would know this, during the reading of the Augsburg Confession, Elector John and other Lutheran princes and officials came and stood before the assembly. This was their confession and they wanted all to know it! After the Confession was read these princes and other officials signed it. This was a courageous act, for by doing so, they were siding with the outlaw and heretic Martin Luther against their Emperor and the Pope.
What does the Augsburg Confession Confess?
The Augsburg Confession is divided into two sections. The first section contains 21 articles (doctrinal statements) on core teachings of the Christian Faith: God, Original Sin, Jesus, Justification by Faith, Ministry, New Obedience, Church, Baptism, Lord's Supper, Confession, Repentance, Use of the Sacraments, Ecclesiastical Order, Ecclesiastical Usages, Civil Affairs, Christ's Return to judgment, Free Will, Cause of Sin, Faith and Good Works, and Worship of Saints.
The second section addresses seven teachings or practices in the Roman Catholic Church that the confessors believed were abuses: withholding the cup from the laity, celibacy, false ideas about the Mass, the enumeration of all sins in confession, compulsory regulations concerning foods and traditions, monastic vows, and the power of bishops.
Most clearly, the two teachings that are the hallmark of Lutheran belief stand out boldly in this Confession: (1) The Scriptures as the Word of God are the source of all doctrine in the Church; and (2) Justification by faith in Christ as the most important teaching of the Bible. It was especially this second teaching that Luther, by God's grace rediscovered, and which ignited the Reformation and all the world.
There were many confessions published by Protestants in the 1500s. But the Augsburg Confession has been universally recognized as a pivotal one. Its structure and many of its articles were copied over into other confessions. Its influence on all of Christendom has been profound. But far more than a historical document, for Lutherans it still is a statement of what we believe on the basis of Scripture. It still is our confession today.
Being Lutheran means being able to confess clearly what you believe from holy Scripture. Do yourself a favor and read (or reread) the Augsburg Confession that you might be reminded what it is that we Christian Lutherans confess and believe.