The Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession both proclaim the truths of Scripture believed by the church since the time of the apostles.
On June 25, 1530, a layman stood before the congress of the Emperor, the Pope’s delegates, and the nobles. Chancellor Beyer filled the hall with his clear and ringing voice; he read the Augsburg Confession to the assembly. Persuasively and gently, it called for a restoration of the saving work of Jesus Christ to center stage in the church’s work. The Confession called the church to be truly catholic again—one worldwide confession of God’s grace in Christ.
No longer was this a dispute between a Wittenberg monk and the papacy. This was an evangelical movement, a confession that would roll through history under the name “Lutheran.” The evangelical laymen, together with their pastors and theologians, would not retreat from this faith. The threat of prison or burning at the stake could not silence them, because Jesus Christ freed from the threat of death.
In the aftermath of the Augsburg Confession, the papal delegates sought to squelch this evangelical voice. The Lutherans responded through the pen of Phillip Melanchthon. The formal defense (or Apology) of the Augsburg Confession provided deep biblical and historical explanations and support for the confession Chancellor Beyer read at Augsburg. It floated under a banner of peace, but they knew that by not backing down, it might bring the papal and imperial armies against them. It did not matter. The truths of what God had done for all people in Christ had to be confessed, whatever the cost.
In less than a year, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession went to the printer. In that same year (1531) the evangelicals pledged themselves to both the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. Both confessions remain foundational documents of true Lutheranism today.
What was so important in the Apology? We consider just three of the articles that confess those truths on which the whole Christian faith hinges.
Article II: Original Sin
Article II on original sin may seem like an odd place to proclaim the faith, but without understanding it, we would miss the need for a God-in-flesh Savior. And without it, we’ll never understand ourselves either.
Original sin is the nature we inherit from Adam. It is neither a blank slate nor a “good soul” waiting for behavioral modification. Instead, our nature is without true fear or love of God. It is so corrupted that it is dead to anything pleasing to God. The Apology confesses that humans are born corrupted and dead. It confesses that original sin is the root sin and it damages us so severely that we don’t just need help to help ourselves. We need complete and full rescue. That thought was out of step with its time—and ours too. It is, however, in step with the Scriptures.
Thankfully God does not leave us at that dark and hopeless truth.
Article IV: Justification
In reading Article IV on justification, you will notice the repetition. Melanchthon is something of a one-note trumpeter in this article, but what a note! Again and again he goes back to the work of Christ, the merits of Christ, the saving blood of Christ. He will not let any doctrine of the church obscure what Christ has done for sinners. Jesus Christ rescued all sinners; they are justified by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith.
As true as that simple summary reads, those were fighting words; they were condemned by the Council of Trent 16 years later. Nevertheless, Christ’s work to justify sinners is the only thing that overcomes the original sin we have from birth and the actual sins we commit every day. Here is the good news: With Christ Jesus as your Savior, in spite of all the failures you’ve had at trying to live right, you cannot end up anywhere except in heaven. Sinners are justified only by his work.
The Roman Church condemned and still condemns this teaching of justification by faith alone. We are not surprised that the devil wants to say that the work of Christ is not enough, that it is only the beginning of our way to heaven, or that you need to add your charity to his work to be saved. What surprises us is that anyone makes those claims in the name of the church. The Apology reaches its highest level to preserve the central teaching—Christ did everything to rescue sinners; humans add nothing.
Article V: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law
Article V deals with the question that is always asked of Lutherans: If we are saved without works, what is the place of good works, acts of love, of Christian charity?
Article V upholds and honors good works; it just will not let them take the place of Christ. Good works do not cause or contribute to our justification. However, justification causes good works. To keep this straight is one aspect of properly dividing law and gospel. The unearned and undeserved grace of God allows a terrified conscience to find comfort in Christ, and comforted children of God to find the reason for loving others the rest of their lives.
Loved by God, we love God and others. With earnest repetition and rapier insight, the Apology refuses to let our acts of love play any part in making us acceptable to God. Instead it turns Christian hearts toward true charity. Along the way, it leaves Christ as the sole mediator for salvation.
The Apology also turns us to “another Counselor,” the Holy Ghost, who now indwells and guides us. Being raised from death to life is clearly the work of God. It is also the work of God that those raised to life now breathe a life of love; it’s his power living in our reborn hearts. Love is the fulfilling of the law.
These correct understandings of human corruption and God’s grace help Christians understand themselves. Original sin does not disappear from us once we know God’s grace in Jesus by faith. Believers have new life in Christ, but it is at war with the sin that still remains inside. We struggle, and that struggle will never abate while we breathe.
We grow weary in this struggle. We think that yesterday’s sins should not be repeated. But the same sins return, at times with more power. We must fly to the mercy of God in Christ for the assurance of forgiveness and the strength to continue the struggle. We need divine grace daily. But the struggle will only last a lifetime. You shall overcome, for he has overcome.
We’ve only scratched the surface in this brief introduction. When you read the Apology, hang in there. You’ll need a little background to understand everything. Yet your personal journey through the Apology of the Augsburg Confession will take you to the same place where the confessors ended up: “Who would not joyfully die in the confession of these articles, that we receive the forgiveness of sins through faith freely for Christ’s sake?”
Jerry Ewings is pastor at Lord of Love, De Forest, Wisconsin.
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Author: Jerry Ewings
Volume 102, Number 10
Issue: October 2015
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