Way back in March we opened a “can of worms” as we considered the nature and essence of The Church. This month we’ll finish Article VII and dip our toes into Article VIII, then “move on.”
Article VII: Of the Church.
Also they (our Churches) teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. (Eph. 4:5-6).
The Word (the “gospel”) is central: the Sacraments are described elsewhere in the Confessions as the Word attached to things (such as water, bread and wine). “Gospel” has its roots in two Old English words, and means “Good News” – a meaning quite familiar among Christians. But what really constitutes “good news” for us? It’s quite easy for us to inject our own notions of what this should mean for us, and so distort it from God’s intended meaning for us. This can be confusing, because “the term Gospel is not used in one and the same sense in Holy Scriptures.” In the broad sense, Gospel is understood to mean Christ’s entire teaching that He proposed in His ministry,” then it includes a “preaching of repentance and of the forgiveness of sins.” (FC Ep V 6) But the Gospel is also spoken of in contrast to the Law, in which case it “comforts consciences against the terrors of the Law, (and) points only to Christ’s merit.” (FC Ep V 7)
Whole books have been written about the importance of this distinction, so it is not a topic that we’ll be delving into here. But when we’re not clear about what we’re discussing, when we inject our own notions, or when we confuse the Law and the Gospel and apply them wrongly, we distort the real meaning of the Gospel. In the narrow sense, the Gospel “teaches that Christ has paid for and made satisfaction for all sins. Christ has gained and acquired for an individual – without any of his own merit – forgiveness of sins, righteousness that avails before God, and eternal life. (FC Ep V 5)
I’m sure someone else has come up with this comparison before, but I think that the more carefully we speak about and describe the Gospel and our “word about God” (that is, “theology”), the more it becomes for us a brilliant and beautiful diamond. God has spoken this Gospel to us in its brilliance in His Word in many facets. If we look at only one facet, or if we distort facets and don’t keep their positions relative to each other where they ought to be, the Gospel can become dull and flat and lose its clarity and brilliance. The more closely we look at this diamond and the facets that God has given us without distorting them by imposing our own views, the more brilliantly it shines for us, and the more we are given to appreciate its beauty.
Article VIII again speaks about the Church, expanding somewhat on Article VII. Article VIII addresses the issue of hypocrites and those who do not believe, who are mingled within the church in this life.
I promised to move on, so on let us move. To the next can of worms.
Article IX: Of Baptism.
Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace.
They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.
The opponents from Rome approved this article. This is one of a good number of points on which Lutheran and Roman Catholic – as well as the Orthodox – share substance and disagree with Protestant Christian bodies. It has been the position of the historical Church at least through the first several hundred years, and arguably for the first thousand to 1500 years, that the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (to which we will attend next month) are primarily movements of God coming to people to give them His promise and gifts of the Spirit – including gifts to infants and young children. It is the Body of Christ, the Church – by His authority – that goes in His stead to teach and baptize all nations (Matthew 29:19).
The Scriptures associate this baptism “not by works of righteousness which we have done,” but rather as part of mercy given – by “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6). Note that the we don’t cause ourselves to be born or renewed. The pouring and washing of the Holy Spirit are worked on us; done through Christ. This is God’s work, worked through His Church. In the Augsburg Confession’s Apology this promise is explained further. It is not a magic incantation that generates a get-out-of-hell free card by saying the words. “For it is very certain that the promise of salvation also applies to little children. It does not, however, apply to those who are outside of Christ’s Church, where there is neither Word nor Sacraments. Christ’s kingdom exists only with the Word and Sacraments.” (Ap IX 52)
Next month we will look at Article X: The Holy Supper – another teaching around which we have much agreement with the ancient Church and with Roman and Greek Churches of today. Looking forward to our time together again!
– Pr. Tim