So far in our walk through the Augsburg Confession we have been dealing primarily with understanding the human condition with respect to God, and what God has done and continues to do to bring us back to Himself. In January we began to touch on the ways in which the Church is important to you; God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation come to you through the Church. That is a bold and controversial statement in today’s world!
At the end of the January article there was a list of points that flowed from Article V: Of the Ministry, and that might “need more discussion.” Just to review, here they are again:
- Faith isn’t something that we gin up by our own effort; we receive (“obtain”) this faith as a gift (!) (go back to Ephesians 2:8-9).
- We obtain faith ONLY through the teaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments by which the Holy Spirit comes to us, and at least in the first instance, we don’t go to Him.
- It is the Holy Spirit who works (“effects”) faith in us, and not that we work up faith in ourselves. I recently read what I think is a beautiful summary of this: faith (or trust, or belief) is a gift (!) from the object of faith. Like a baby trusts its mom and dad. Because mom and dad come to the baby to bless it with their love and care.
- That justification, i.e., forgiveness (from Article IV) involves nothing that you do.
- It comes to you through the church, via your minister.
Last month we answered (at least in a preliminary manner) the question about Good Works, and how they fit into our lives as Christians, and what they mean. So the next question that this sequence of articles might generate is “What do you mean by ‘the Church?’”
Ready? Here goes!
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).
This article again rankled the representatives of the Church in Rome. Rome still insists that the structure is necessary, and that the pope is the church in a real sense – in that all authority flows through the papal office to the cardinals, bishops, etc. to the priests. Luther and other reformers held that the structure is not mandated by Scripture, and that these two central things – the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments – are the core of the church, and that as long as these are rightly taught and understood and given to and received by the saints, the Church is there.
These simple assertions also raise a number of issues that we should consider as we live as God’s people. Here is yet another brief list of things that come to mind:
- If the pope is not the seat of authority, what is it?
- What constitutes the Gospel? Isn’t it just one thing?
- Again – what are the Sacraments? Does it matter how we look at them?
All of these are critical questions, and we will continue to look at the issues that these questions raise in our time together next month. But for now, here are some “ticklers” to get you started thinking about them.
- This from the Formula of Concord Rule and Norm: “First then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged.” (http://bookofconcord.org/sd-ruleandnorm.php)
- “The Gospel” takes on many different and divergent meanings in different religious organizations and movements – especially during and following the Enlightenment in the middle of the 18th Century. What the Gospel promises us can then be quite different, though the one term is used. We’ll look at some of the different views next month.
- This is a subject all by itself. We will look at this in conjunction with other Articles in the Augsburg confession as we move into Articles X several months from now.
I hope that these articles are fruitful – that you are growing in faith and gaining a greater appreciation for the blessings that God gives us through His Word and His church. Next month we’ll talk about the first two questions, and why they are so important. By the way, if you type bookofconcord.org into your internet browser, you can find much of what we’re covering.
- Pr. Tim