SCRIPTURES – 1 Kings 19:9-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62; Ps. 85
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… You were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Gal. 5:1, 13
A while ago I conducted a funeral here, and after the Service, as people were milling around and talking, a man called me over, pointed to the pulpit (which has on it a carving of a Bible with a sword behind it), and said, “You have a sword there. You’re like the Muslims.” “Oh, no sir,” I said. “That is a reference to a Bible verse from Hebrews, which calls the Bible the sword of the Holy Spirit.” “Oh,” he responded, “I see; well, Lutherans – and I’m a Lutheran – have a sword, like Muslims. I wouldn’t have thought that.” So then I told him, “Jesus took upon Himself the sins of all people and died for the whole world. He gave His life even for His enemies. Mohammed never did that.” To this he muttered, “Yes; but Lutherans are becoming like Muslims,” and walked away.
Sadly, I would guess that that “Lutheran” man has used his freedom in Christ, his Lutheran freedom, to do nothing. He’s learned nothing about His Savior, for he doesn’t listen to Him. This is not Christianity. Nor is it Lutheranism.
Today we mark the 486th birthday of the Lutheran Church. When people think of the Church they often think of buildings and rituals, and especially of clergy. Well, these are not the essence of Christ’s Church; and certainly not of the Lutheran Church. It was laymen – believers like you who are not pastors or bishops or people who work for the Church – who brought about the beginning of the Lutheran Church. On June 25, 1530 a group of laymen – City Council members and Mayors and rulers of various territories in Germany – went to Augsburg, Germany to discuss their disagreements with Catholic teachings with the ruler of Europe, Emperor Charles V. They read to him a summary of the faith in God they embraced. Their statement, the Augsburg Confession, is a lay-men’s confession. It is, then, your confession. It is a summary of your freedom in Christ.
“For freedom Christ has set us free!” Now, don’t misunderstand this freedom as ease. It is not easy to be a follower of Jesus Christ! Our Scriptures today make that clear. How Elijah suffered, and how much there was that God still expected of him! And, Jesus certainly laid some rather stern demands upon several who wanted to follow Him. It is not for your own ease that Christ has set you free. The Christian faith is not a matter of personal empowerment or freedom from responsibility, or even from suffering. The “Be the best that you can be” message of many preachers is not the Gospel of Christ.
Still, the Scriptures declare, “For freedom Christ has set us free!” What freedom do you have in Christ? You are freed from the condemnation of your sins. Jesus bore them for you before God, and He was judged for them. This is what the cross is all about. On the cross your sins were judged as evil and were punished. God poured out His hatred of them upon His Son, and not upon you. Because Jesus suffered and died for you, you don’t have to be afraid to stand before God to be judged by Him. Not now, and not after you die. The judgment has already taken place! Trusting in Christ’s death for you, you can be sure that God is your loving Father who will in the final Judgment will speak of His love for you and welcome you into His heavenly home! In Christ we are free from sin’s condemnation!
We are also free from the worry that we have not done enough to gain God’s approval. Jesus perfectly kept God’s Law and did all that God expects of us. There is nothing you need to do to gain God’s approval, for all has been done by Christ. It is faith in Christ, and nothing that we do, that receives Christ and, in Him, God’s approval. As we confessed in the Augsburg Confession:
We receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ 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.
Faith alone in Christ is righteousness. It alone sets you free in Christ! Now: stand firm in this faith! Stand firm, for there are many challenges to this freedom you have in Christ.
They start within. Sinful desires are very much alive within us. We are “full of evil lust and inclinations,” as the Augsburg Confession points out.
You don’t want to sacrifice and lose out because of what you believe, and so you go along with others and against your faith, or remain silent.
Or, as we see in Christ’s disciples, you get angry and desire the punishment of those who oppose you. You are unwilling to serve them in love, as Jesus did.
Being Christ-like is difficult. It is fighting against your nature. Only as you stand firm in Christ’s Word and Sacraments will you be strengthened by Him to do so.
There are also many who oppose the freedom we have in Christ. In the 1500’s, that opposition arose from within the Church itself. Traveling preachers encouraged people to buy forgiveness – letters of indulgence, they were called – for their loved ones. People were told they had to do penance for their sins to show the seriousness of their repentance to receive forgiveness. Faith in a good God who loves us in His Son was made uncertain, and bondage, not freedom, was the result.
Today the challenges are different, but they are just as real and dangerous. A God of love who has no hatred of sin is proclaimed by many. Simply being a good person who has some faith and follows some religion – any religion, it doesn’t matter which, as all are seen as the same – is considered enough. But, a challenge to our freedom that has had a very significant impact, even among conservative Lutherans like us, is the lack of knowledge about God. The Augsburg Confession was a confession of laymen, a summary of the Bible’s teaching that they embraced. Have you read it? Luther wrote his Small Catechism so that people could learn in their own homes and teach one another the most important things God has done for us and gives to us in Christ. Have you picked it up since you were confirmed? But, most of all, the Bible has been given to you to read and study and learn, that you might know your God and rejoice in Him. Don’t ever think that only pastors and theologians can truly understand it. God’s Holy Spirit caused it to be written for you! By it you will learn of your freedom in Christ, that you might rejoice in Him and give thanks to God.
Learning this, you can then give God the thanks that He wants: that you serve your neighbor in love. This, finally, is why we have been set free in Christ: to through love serve one another. It can be hard to do this, especially when we are so greatly divided, as we seem to be today. Well, as an example of how to serve in love even those you disagree with, take those Lutheran lay leaders who stood before Emperor Charles V. They were willing to lay down their swords and have their heads cut off rather than deny their confession of Christ! But, they also said to him in the Augsburg Confession:
“This meeting is to consider disagreements in our holy religion, the Christian faith, by hearing everyone’s opinions and judgments in each other’s presence. They are to be considered and evaluated among ourselves in mutual charity, mercy, and kindness… We are prepared to discuss, in a friendly manner, all possible ways and means by which we may come together… we are all under one Christ and do battle under Him. We ought to confess the one Christ and do everything according to God’s truth. With the most fervent prayers, this is what we ask of God.” (AC, Preface)
On this 486th birthday of our Lutheran Church, let us rededicate ourselves to this. No swords or wisdom of ours will bring people together or bring others to know and love Jesus. God is not in our swords. Only the sword of the Spirit, the truth of the Word of God, will do so. Thanks be to God for His word of salvation and freedom in Christ! Let us hear it, learn it, and speak it, to the glory of the name of Jesus and the blessing of all. Amen.
The Augsburg Confession: Part of the Book of Concord
The Augsburg Confession is one of the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord of 1580. This collection of confessional statements has been adopted by Lutherans worldwide as a true and faithful exposition of the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, and includes the following:
The Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.
The Augsburg Confession (1530).
The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (1531).
The Smalcald Articles (1537).
The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537).
The Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther (1529).
The Formula of Concord (1577).
All members of the LCMS – congregations, pastors, teachers, and other church workers – subscribe to and acknowledge the Book of Concord "to be a correct interpretation of the Holy Scriptures," and that "according to this form of doctrine all doctrinal controversies shall be decided and adjudicated." Thus, the Lutheran Confessions declare before all the world what we believe, teach, and confess to be the true and universal teachings of the Christian Church.
The Augsburg Confession
The Augsburg Confession is the chief confession of the Lutheran Church. With the Apology, its longer explanation, it is the first special Lutheran confession written and adopted as a testimony against the abuses that had crept into the teaching and practice of the church before the Reformation, and against the errors of the radical reformers such as Ulrich Zwingli (and later John Calvin) and the Anabaptists.
The Augsburg Confession was presented to Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire on Saturday, June 25, 1530, in Augsburg, Germany. Here the emperor had convened a "diet," or general assembly, of representatives of church and state to consider the Lutheran movement. In the Bishop's Palace, where Charles V was lodged, the Confession was read in German by Chancellor Dr. Christian Beyer. This fearless Lutheran layman read the Augsburg Confession so distinctly and loudly that also those who were gathered in the spacious courtyard of the palace could understand every word.
It was a large and august body which here heard a clear summary of what the Lutherans believed and confessed as the truth of God's Word. There were present all the electors, princes, bishops, representatives of the free cities, and foreign ambassadors connected with the empire. After the reading of the Augsburg Confession, the document was handed to the emperor in both a German and a Latin version.
Why the Augsburg Confession Was Written
For a long time prior to 1530, Charles V had been urged by the Pope of Rome to suppress the Lutheran doctrine by force. But he was hindered in doing so by the Turks (Muslims), who at that time threatened the Christian world, as well as by the French king, Francis I, and the double-crossing politics of the pope himself. All this happened, of course, by God's gracious ruling for the protection of the precious Gospel truths published as a result of the Lutheran Reformation.
The Augsburg Confession was written by Philip Melanchthon, Luther's famous fellow professor at Wittenberg. But it was based on articles of faith drawn up by Lutheran theologians, especially by Luther himself.
What the Augsburg Confession Teaches
The Augsburg Confession consists of 28 articles, of which some are short, while others are long. Of these, Articles 1-21 present the Lutheran doctrine. Articles 22-28 deal with the medieval abuses which the Lutherans had corrected. The Augsburg Confession considered only the most important matters that were in dispute at that time.
Its tone is friendly and conciliatory because at that time some Lutherans still believed that those who opposed the Reformation might be won for the truth of the Gospel, if only they would hear it clearly stated.
The Augsburg Confession stresses the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as the center of the Christian Faith. It gathers around this basic teaching of the Bible all other doctrines of the Christian Faith. In this respect, the Augsburg Confession is unique among Christian Confessions. It witnesses everywhere the glorious Christ, who died for us and rose again and who alone is the Savior of all men.
The Augsburg Confession, Pattern of Other Church Confessions
Because the Augsburg Confession is so excellent a presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its joyous message of free and full salvation for all men, its influence on Protestantism has been tremendous. The Augsburg Confession is still the outstanding Evangelical Confession, and it is regarded by all Lutherans as a creed that is truly biblical.
Adapted from "The Lutheran Confessions" by J.T. Mueller, Tract #10-193 from Concordia Tract Society, available from Concordia Publishing House. Copyright © Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Distributed by the LCMS Commission on Worship for congregational use only. Commercial reproduction, or reproduction for sale, of any portion of this work or the work as a whole, without the written permission of the copyright holder, is prohibited.