Augsburg Confession – Article 7 – The Church

Articles 6, 7 & 8 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 6, click here.)

We also teach that one holy Christian church must exist and remain at all times, and that this church is the gathering of all believers,1 among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered in accordance with the gospel.2

For this is sufficient for true unity of the Christian church, that the gospel is preached there in harmony according to a pure understanding of it and the sacraments are administered there according to God’s Word.3 And it is not necessary for true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies instituted by men be uniformly observed everywhere, as Paul says to the Ephesians in Chapter 4: “One body, one Spirit, as you were called to one and the same hope of your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

(To continue to Article 8, click here.)

Notes

1 The Latin version reads: “And the Church is the gathering of the saints…,” in harmony with the Bible’s usage of the word saint (cf. e.g. Acts 8:3; 9:1,13; see also Romans 1:7; 15:25,26 [where he is clearly talking about living people to whom he is going to deliver a collection that has been taken for them]; 16:15; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 13:13; Ephesians 1:1; 6:18 [where we are told to pray for the saints, not to them, nor that they are praying for us]; Philippians 1:1; 4:21; et al. The reader may refer here to compare this usage to current usage of the word in the Roman Catholic Church.

2 This does not mean that there cannot be members of Christ’s church in visible organizations where false doctrine is taught and tolerated and the sacraments are taught and administered incorrectly. But where there are members of Christ’s church in such false churches, they are such only due to the pure gospel doctrine that continues to be taught there in spite of the false doctrine. However, just because God’s word does not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:11), even when it exists alongside false doctrine, that does not mean that the false doctrine should not be taken seriously. Any false doctrine continues to pose a serious threat to one’s spiritual condition (John 8:44; Romans 3:13; 16:17; 1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 4:3,4).

3 Some would like to use this sentence, especially as it appears in the more concise Latin version (“And it is sufficient for true unity of the church to agree on the teaching [doctrina] of the gospel and on the administration of the sacraments.”), to teach a sort of doctrinal minimalism (a la, “We only have to agree on these two things in order to be in fellowship”). Militating directly against this understanding are especially:

  1. the German version (“according to a pure understanding of it [namely the gospel]”),
  2. the definition of “the gospel” itself, which is hardly a simplistic term (see e.g. Romans 1:1ff; 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1ff), and
  3. the context of this phrase in the article, especially considering how Melanchthon continues. Melanchthon’s point is not that very little is required for unity in the church, but that the requirement for unity should be the main thing – the doctrine of God’s word and the correct teaching and administration of the sacraments – not “ceremonies instituted by men.” This is also the point Melanchthon is making by citing Paul’s words in Ephesians 4.

About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the South of the U.S.A.

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