Do you ever wonder why we are called Emmanuel LUTHERAN Church? What makes us different from other churches without that word “Lutheran” in their name? Well, back in the year 1530, after the Roman Catholic Church kicked Martin Luther out for what he was teaching people about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, one of Luther’s followers wrote a document called, “The Augsburg Confession”. It was one of the first explanations about what made Lutherans similar and different from the Roman Catholic church at the time. Lutheran churches today believe, teach and confess that the Old and New Testaments are the inspired word of God and the sole authoritative source and norm for our proclamation, faith and life. But we also believe, teach and confess that the Augsburg Confession is a great witness to the Word of God and helpful to understand how to live out and teach God’s Word to people.
Augsburg Confession (Articles 4-7)
Article 4. Concerning Justification
“Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has 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 in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5.”
Article 4 is the central article upon which every other section of the Augsburg Confession stands or falls. Every other statement grows out of the understanding that we are made right with God not through our efforts, our understanding or our strength, but through the free gift of forgiveness given to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross and our faith in that gift.
Furthermore, faith is not a “good work”, but simply trusting that when God makes us a promise to us that we believe that he will do what he says. We don’t “cooperate” with God to make this happen—justification is God’s work and we simply receive it. God is actively justifying us in Jesus Christ while we are passively receiving the benefits. While other churches may argue that “faith and works” are necessary to be justified, Lutherans teach that it is “faith alone” that makes us right with God. This doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about good works, but simply that our actions don’t affect our salvation in any positive way. As Jesus said in John, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Article 5: The Ministry of the Church
In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel. That is to say, it is not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ that God justifies those who believe that they are received into favor for Christ’s sake. Gal. 3:14, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith”. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Spirit comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.”
Remember from last month, that article 4, “Justification by Faith Alone” is the central article in the entire Augsburg Confession and that every other statement must be understood through that theological lens. Therefore, in Article 5, the reformers explain that in order to receive that message of justification by faith alone, God created the ministry of the church. That’s why coming to church and hearing the weekly message, hearing the scripture readings and singing the songs is so important: this is how we get the faith that saves us! We do not create this faith (or the church or the church’s ministry) on our own without the Holy Spirit giving it to us. All these things are gifts from God. Hearing the gospel doesn’t create faith magically, nor does receiving communion or getting baptized create faith automatically. However, “where and when it pleases God” He uses the sermon, communion and baptism create faith in us.
In this article, the Lutheran Reformers argued against two other opnions. First, they disagreed with other reformers who argued that we are all predestined for heaven or hell before all time because then there would be no need to hear the gospel or receive the sacraments. The ministry of the church would be superfluous. Second, they argued against the belief that salvation came simply through human responsibility by a choice of “free will”. Once again, if that were the case, the ministry of the church would be unnecessary. The Lutherans believed that the Holy Spirit worked through the ministry of the church to give salvation and always as a free gift from God.
Article 6 – The New Obedience
“Our churches also teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits and that it is necessary to do the good works commanded by God. We must do so because it is God’s will and not because we rely on such works to merit justification before God, for forgiveness of sins and justification are apprehended by faith, as Christ himself also testifies, “When you have done all these things, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants’” (Luke 17:10)
Article 4 in the Augsburg Confession states that we, as human beings, cannot be made right with God by our own powers, merits or works. So, now that we know that, what is the place of good works in our life? That’s what article 6 seeks to explain. Now that we don’t HAVE to do anything good to be saved, what is the purpose of these good works? The reformers explained that when you put your trust in Jesus Christ—when that faith is planted—good works will bloom without your having to “try” to do them. They will happen spontaneously. As John says in his first letter, “We love because God loved us first.” We don’t help people out, or follow the commandments, in order to earn God’s love or because we are afraid he’ll be angry with us; instead, we respond to God’’s great love for us by desiring to please Him and help out those who He calls us to serve.
Another way to understand this is that when God creates faith in our hearts, as it says in scripture, the old is gone and the new has come. And from this new creation, certain things are bound to happen. Just like a cherry tree will produce cherries, a Christian will produce works following God’s commands. It’s not that cherries are produced because the tree is afraid it will get chopped done if it doesn’t. It’s not like a cherry tree is trying to somehow impress God or something by producing good fruit. It’s natural. That’s what cherry trees do. In the same way, once you have faith in God, you are a new creation that finds it “natural” to want to follow God’s will. That’s why we read our Bibles and go to church and pray and listen to sermons and sing Christian songs. We desire to follow God’s will in our lives. It’s necessary because that is who we are now. From this perspective, good works are a result of love, not a result of fear or manipulation. Faith and works go hand and hand. Or, as James said, “Faith without works is dead.” Of course, because a living faith naturally produces good works.
Article 7 – The Church
“Our churches also teach that one holy church is to continue forever. The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everywhere. It is as Paul says, “One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” etc. (Ephesians 4:5,6)”
The key phrase in this article are the words: “it is enough”. As Lutherans, we do not demand that other churches do things the way we do. It is enough that we and they preach that good news of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. As Lutherans, we do not even demand that other Lutheran churches do things the same way that we do them. It is enough that they preach the gospel and give the gospel through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is enough to agree on these things. Some churches may be more traditional in their music, some more contemporary, some have 45 minute sermons, some use the common cup, some meet in a gymnasium, and some only have communion once a month. We don’t think that these traditions need to be the same everywhere.
Now, while this might look like the simplest article in the whole Augsburg Confession, the truth is that this little article is a powerhouse when it comes to our faith. Why? Because humans love to add little “necessities” to what church is in order to look more holy or to fulfill someone’s idea of religiosity. Some churches would say, “Sure, the gospel and sacraments are great. But you need a pastor that has been ordained in a particular way.” This was a huge issue when the Episcopalian church wanted to join with the Lutheran church in a closer relationship a decade ago. But the Lutherans had a little problem: Why does the ordination have to look a certain way? It is enough that we agree on the gospel and sacraments, right? Some churches would say, “Well sure, the gospel and sacraments are great. But, you have to be rebaptized in order to truly be a part of the church.” Lutherans say, “But God’s promise and our baptism as an infant is enough.”
You’ve got to be rather careful about adding things onto what a church actually is. If we start adding little extras, Jesus gets buried underneath all of our virtuous acts. All you need is the gospel preached and the sacraments administered. However, if someone wants to call themselves a church, but all they do is hang around at the bowling alley and Jesus is never mentioned, we must remind them that the church is distinguished by Jesus being preached and the sacraments administered. We don’t get to do church at home by ourselves just because we like sleeping in on Sundays either. That will never be enough to produce faith in our hearts.
Throughout your life, you will be tested to see if Jesus is enough for you. The Devil will seek to persuade you that you need something else in addition to Jesus in order to “really” be saved. Or to be the “true” church. But don’t let them steal your freedom! We don’t all have to do it the same way! God is a big God and He loves variety! As long as the truth of the gospel is preached: that we are saved by faith apart from works of the Law. As long as God’s forgiveness is given freely through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Then that is where you will find the church. That’s enough.