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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, June 19, 2017

487 years of the Augsburg Confession

This coming Sunday, June 25, 2017, marks the 487th Anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. The Augsburg Confession is a document presented by the Lutheran Princes to show their allegiance to the Christian faith, and therefore, similarly, their allegiance to the Emperor. Written by a Lutheran theologian, Philip Melanchthon, it has been called the "most important document" of the Reformation. Lutherans have spent 487 years trying to convince people they are Christian...our success is mixed.

Philip Melanchthon


There is a problem from the get-go with the Augsburg Confession: it is a theological document created for political purposes. As such, various traditions and people have received it differently over the last four centuries. Charles V himself rejected the document, and part of the next 130 of wars in Europe can be drawn back to this day in June. Others, like Christian III of Denmark, would take their country into Lutheranism through this confession of faith. This is the reason you see way more Lutherans of Danish descent than Spanish, by the way.

Although theology and politics has always mixed in the world, this Confession stands out for its clarity. The great confessions which have followed it, and some are still being done today, all seek the same force and power Melanchthon was able to give the Lutheran princes in his work on the Confessio Augustana (in many Lutheran circles we still refer to it in Latin because we are just that pretentious. It's in our theological veins.)

The Augsburg Confession is not designed to replace the Bible, but rather to explain how Lutherans understand the God-Human relationship (we call this "faith.") So although the Bible is our primary reference to why we believe what we believe, and act the way we do, the Augsburg Confession goes to show how flexible we are in our interpretations of the Bible. That is, the Augsburg Confession confesses what we believe to be true to our faith.

The document was written as a defense because some people believed we did not love, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and by extension, the Church. But those folks back then loved God and the Church, and we do as well today. But--and this is a big deal for us Lutherans--we still maintain a critical attitude towards our faith. In other words, we admit we might not have all the answers, (although humility is not a strong point of ours either, but we are willing to admit God is all-powerful, and that makes all our confessions temporary.) Our critical attitudes mean that we put every belief, statement, text, or image to as many tests as possible so that we can ascertain its truth for our faith. This critical nature drives many other Christians nuts.

We just don't "believe" because we're told to believe. We believe because we've tested, and come to believe. We don't accept it just because we're supposed to accept. We test until we can begin to accept it may be possible to accept. We are a difficult lot, and we have many things we wish to test and talk about. And there are also many, many things we agree on with other Christians. And that is why Melanchthon wrote the Augsburg Confession. He, for one, was convinced that our agreements far outweighed our differences. After 487 years, the jury is still out...

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.