Augsburg Confession – Article 20 – Faith and Good Works

Articles 19 & 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 19, click here.)

The accusation that our teachers forbid good works is levied against them falsely. For their writings on the Ten Commandments and other writings prove that they have explained and promoted actual Christian stations and works profitably and well. Prior to this little was taught about these and instead the focus of all sermons, for the most part, was on childish and unnecessary works, such as the Rosary,1 worship of the saints, monasticism, pilgrimages,2 appointed fasts, holy days, brotherhoods,3 etc. Even our opposition no longer praises such unnecessary works as much as they once did, and they have even learned to talk about faith now. Formerly they did not preach about faith at all; now, however, they teach that we become righteous before God not just by works, but they add faith in Christ, saying that faith and works make us righteous before God. Speaking this way might bring a little more comfort than only teaching people to trust in works.

Now since the doctrine of faith, which is the centerpiece of Christianity, has been neglected for such a long time, as everyone must admit, and instead only works-doctrine was preached in all places, this is the instruction on faith that our teachers give:

First, our works cannot reconcile us with God or earn grace for us. This happens only through faith, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ, the only mediator who can appease the Father. Now whoever mistakenly imagines that he can accomplish this by works and can merit grace despises Christ and is seeking a peculiar way to God contrary to the gospel.4

Second page of Article 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

This doctrine of faith is clearly and plainly treated by Paul in many places, especially in Ephesians 2: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and none of this is from yourselves, but it is God’s gift, not by works, so that no one may boast, etc.”

And we can prove from Augustine that we are not introducing some new understanding here, for he thoroughly treats this matter and teaches the same thing, that we obtain grace and become righteous before God through faith in Christ, and not through works, as his entire book On the Spirit and the Letter demonstrates.5

Now although this doctrine is much despised among untried people, the fact is that it is very comforting and healing for weak and terrified consciences. For the conscience cannot find rest and peace through works, but only through faith, when it can conclude for certain that it has a gracious God for Christ’s sake, just as Paul says in Romans 5: “If we have been justified through faith, we have rest and peace before God.”

This comfort used to be neglected in sermons. Poor consciences were instead directed to their own works, and many kinds of works were undertaken. Bad consciences have chased some people into the cloisters, where they were hoping to earn grace through the monastic lifestyle. Others have invented other works by which they might merit grace and make satisfaction for sin. Many of these people have learned from experience that there is no peace to be found in these ways. Therefore it has been necessary to preach and diligently promote this doctrine of faith in Christ, so that people may know that God’s grace is apprehended through faith alone, apart from merit.

The people are also instructed that here we are not talking about such faith as the demons and the godless have, who also believe the historical accounts of Christ’s suffering and rising from the dead.6 We are rather talking about true faith, which believes that we receive grace and forgiveness of sins through Christ.

Third page of Article 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Now the one who knows that he has a gracious God through Christ truly knows God, calls upon him, and is not without God like the heathens. For demons and godless people do not believe this article of the forgiveness of sins. Accordingly they are hostile to God, are unable to call on him, and expect nothing good from him. And thus, as has now been indicated, Scripture speaks of faith, but by “faith” it does not mean the kind of knowledge that the devil and godless people have. For this is what the Letter to the Hebrews teaches about faith in Chapter 11, that faith is not just knowing the historical accounts, but having confidence in God that we will receive what he has promised. And Augustine also reminds us that we should understand the word faith in Scripture as meaning confidence in God, that he is gracious to us, and not just knowing historical accounts the way even the demons know them.7

We furthermore teach that good works should and must be done, not so that we may trust that we have merited grace through them, but for the sake of God and to the praise of God. It is always faith alone that apprehends grace and the forgiveness of sins. And since the Holy Spirit is given through faith, the heart is thereby already equipped to do good works.8 For prior to receiving faith, the heart is too weak, since it is without the Holy Spirit; in addition, it is in the control of the devil, who drives the poor human nature to many sins. We see this in the philosophers; they strove to live honorable and blameless lives, but nevertheless did not succeed, having instead fallen into many glaring, open sins. That’s how it goes with a person when he is apart from the true faith, without the Holy Spirit, and governs himself only through his own human power.

Therefore this teaching about faith should not be denounced for forbidding good works. It should rather be praised for teaching how to do good works and offering help so that people can actually attain to good works. For apart from faith and outside of Christ human nature and ability is much too weak to do good works, to call on God, to have patience in suffering, to love one’s neighbor, to diligently carry out one’s entrusted responsibilities, to be obedient, to avoid evil desires, etc. Such high and proper works cannot be done without Christ’s help, as he himself declares in John 15, “Without me you can do nothing.”

(To continue to Article 21, click here.)

Notes

1 The Rosary is a collection of prayers, arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys with each set preceded by an Our Father and followed by a Glory Be to the Father. During recitation of each set, known as a decade, thought is given to one of the so-called Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. The Glorious mysteries are said on Sunday and Wednesday, the Joyful on Monday and Saturday, the Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, and the Luminous Mysteries are said on Thursday. Normally, five decades are recited in a session.

2 One of the most common pilgrimages mentioned repeatedly by Luther is the Way of St. James, which ended at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The cathedral supposedly houses the earthly remains of James the apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of John; his beheading by King Herod Agrippa is recorded in Acts 12. Such pilgrimages earned various indulgences.

3 Brotherhoods were associations of laypeople who organized for religious exercises and to participate in, support, and sponsor church-related work.

4 Paul says the same in Galatians 5:4.

5 Luther often spoke highly of Augustine’s On the Spirit and the Letter, a work Augustine penned in 412 AD against the Pelagians which is also readily available in English. For example, he writes in Chapter 22: “Accordingly, by the law of works, God says to us, Do what I command thee; but by the law of faith we say to God, Give me what Thou commandest. … Now, having duly considered and weighed all these circumstances and testimonies, we conclude that a man is not justified by the precepts of a holy life, but by faith in Jesus Christ,—in a word, not by the law of works, but by the law of faith; not by the letter, but by the spirit; not by the merits of deeds, but by free grace.”

Here the Latin version adds: “And Ambrose teaches similarly in On the Calling of the Gentiles and elsewhere. For this is what he says in On the Calling of the Gentiles: ‘Redemption through the blood of Christ would become worthless and human works would not surrender first place to the mercy of God, if justification, which takes place through grace, were due to merits that preceded it. Justification would not then be the gift of a bountiful giver, but a payment owed to workers.’”

This quote has more dubious origins. It has sometimes been attributed to Ambrose (c. 340-397), though it is now generally recognized not to be his (there is another, shorter work by the same name, On the Calling of the Gentiles, that is attributed to him). Sometimes it has been attributed to the well-educated layman and disciple of Augustine, Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390-c. 455), though some still doubt this attribution too. Regardless, the work is of early origin and the excerpt Melanchthon quotes fits well in this article. (The original Latin quote can be found in col. 669 [Book 1, Chapter 17] here.)

6 James 2:19

7 Augustine does distinguish the faith of a Christian from the faith of a devil, for example, in his Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John (Homily X, 2), but he does not make the same point there as Melanchthon makes here. Augustine rather distinguishes the two by saying that Christian faith produces the fruit of love (which is of course also true). Some scholars also think that Melanchthon might have in mind the work De cognitione verae vitae, which was commonly attributed to Augustine, though now generally ascribed to Honorius Augustodunensis (12th century). Chapter 37 (in col. 1025 here) of that work answers the question: “Is there a difference between believing God and believing in God?” and thus also distinguishes between Christian faith and the faith of demons and pagans. But there too the author does not stress confidence in God as Melanchthon does here. Perhaps Melanchthon mis-cited Augustine here, or perhaps he has some other work(s) in mind with which we are simply not familiar.

8 In addition to the proof passage Melanchthon himself cites later, see Psalm 51:10-13; 119:32; Matthew 12:33.

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Augsburg Confession – Article 19 – The Cause of Sin

Articles 19 & 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 18, click here.)

Regarding the cause of sin, we teach that, although God the Almighty has created and still preserves all of the natural world, sin is brought about by the perverted will in all those who are wicked and despise God, such as the will of the devil and all the godless.1 As soon as God withdraws his hand, their will inclines away from God toward evil, as Christ says in John 8, “The devil speaks lies on his own.”2

(To continue to Article 20, click here.)

Notes

1 For proof passages, see Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Psalm 33:6-19; 25:7,8; 34:8; 53:1-3; 65:9-13; 100:1-5; 136:1; 145:9; Isaiah 45:7 (perhaps more shocking in the Hebrew, where it says that the LORD is the בורא רע (one who creates [same word used of God’s activity in bringing about the universe during the first week of its history!] evil or disaster; nevertheless we must keep in mind the poetic context and the broader context of Scripture as a whole, which leads us to understand Isaiah as describing the LORD’S preservation of the universe, active role in human history, and ultimate control over and directing of all things good and evil for his own good purposes); Jeremiah 7:24; Ezekiel 8:25,29; John 8:42-47; Romans 8:28.

2 John 8:44. The German aus seinem Eigen could also be translated, “by his own doing,” or the entire sentence could be translated more paraphrastically, “When the devil lies, he is doing what comes natural to him.” Melanchthon’s point in the context is that the devil’s lies and their accompanying evils originate with himself, not with God.

Augsburg Confession – Article 18 – Free Will

Articles 17 & 18 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 17, click here.)

Regarding free will, this is what we teach: Humans have a free will to a certain extent. They have the ability to live an outwardly honorable life and can make choices among those things that pertain to reason.1 But without the grace, help, and working of the Holy Spirit they are not capable of becoming pleasing to God, of fearing or believing God from the heart, or of expelling the innate, evil inclinations from their hearts. This rather takes place through the Holy Spirit, who is given through God’s word. For Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2, “The natural man understands nothing from the Spirit of God.”2

And so that it may be recognized that we are not teaching anything new and strange, we include here the clear words of Augustine on free will, from the third book of his Hypognosticon:3

We concede that there is a free will in all people, for all of them have natural, innate understanding and reason. We are not saying that they are capable of dealing with God in some respect, such as loving and fearing God from the heart; only in the outward works of this life do they have freedom to choose good or evil. By “good” I mean what their nature is capable of, such as working in the field or not, eating or drinking, going to see a friend or not, putting on or taking off a piece of clothing, taking a wife, pursuing a trade, and doing something useful and good of that sort. Of course without God none of these exists or continues; everything is from him and through him. On the other hand, man can also undertake something evil by his own choice, such as bowing down to an idol, committing a murder, etc.

(To continue to Article 19, click here.)

Notes

1 Some examples of such choices are provided in the quote at the end of the article. Cf. also Wade Johnston, An Uncompromising Gospel (Irvine, CA: New Reformation Publications, 2016), pp. 13-14: “[In his Heidelberg Disputation] Luther…addressed the problem of free will—the existence, or lack of existence, of free will in matters of salvation. Here Americans bristle, but we must remember that Luther isn’t talking about whether or not we can choose Big Macs or Whoppers, vanilla or chocolate custard, but whether or not we can decide to be saved, whether we can choose to do what is necessary for us to be righteous.”

2 For more proof passages, see Genesis 6:5 (before the Flood); 8:21 (after the Flood); John 3:5,6; 8:31-36; 15:16; Romans 8:6-8.

3 Like the quote from Ambrose in Article 6 (see Note 2 there), this quote from Augustine is not actually from Augustine. It is usually attributed to Pseudo-Augustine, a title that can apply to a number of as-yet unidentified authors. However, the work is ancient; it was already being falsely attributed to Augustine in the 800s AD, and it was obviously preserved because it was thought to be of value. The work is usually called Hypognosticon or Hypomnesticon contra Pelagianos et Coelestianos, which means An Instructive Letter Against the Pelagians and Coelestians. The original Latin quote can be found in col. 1623 (Book 3, Chapter 4, par. 5) here.

Here is a supporting quote actually taken from Augustine: “A man’s free-will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth… God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts,’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us’” (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 3, par. 5; original Latin quote in col. 203 here).

Augsburg Confession – Article 17 – Christ’s Return to Judgment

Articles 17 & 18 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 16, click here.)

We also teach that our Lord Jesus Christ will come to judge on the Last Day. He will awaken all the dead, giving eternal life and eternal joy to the believers and elect, but condemning the godless1 and the devil to hell and eternal punishment.

We therefore reject the Anabaptists, who teach that the devil and those who are condemned will not experience eternal pain and torment.2

Likewise, we also reject here certain Jewish teachings that are also surfacing at the present time, which claim that before the resurrection of the dead, just the saints and pious will have a worldly kingdom and will annihilate all the godless.3

(To continue to Article 18, click here.)

Notes

1 Note that Melanchthon provides the synonym elect for believers, but no corresponding synonym such as non-elect for the unbelievers or godless, since the Bible only uses the concept of the elect to describe those who will inherit eternal life (Psalm 106:4,5; Matthew 22:14; Romans 8:33; Ephesians 1:4-6,11,12; 1 Peter 2:9). Two passages often cited in support of the damned also being elect – that is, elect or predestined for damnation – are Romans 9:22-24 and 1 Peter 2:8. But in Romans 9, two different Greek verbs are used to describe the saved and the damned, and only the verb describing the saved has a προ- prefix on it (that is, the choosing was done “in advance” or from eternity only for them). That an eternal election is not the case with the damned is even clearer in 1 Peter 2:8, since Peter immediately goes on to say in the next verse, “But you [believers] are an elect kind [i.e. class of creatures]…” – namely, as opposed to the condemned unbelievers he was just talking about. In both verses, the destining (not predestination) of unbelievers to hell is spoken of in the sense of consequence, in view of their wrongdoing and unbelief. It would certainly seem logical and reasonable to say that if God did not choose certain people to inherit salvation, then ipso facto he has chosen them for damnation. However, God’s word contradicts that logic. The saved are such only by the eternal, gracious selection of God in view of his own plan of salvation through the person and work of his Son, a selection which is then put into effect through his own gift of faith in Christ worked by the Holy Spirit using Word and sacrament, while the damned are such only by their own choice, unbelief, and wickedness. So we simply keep silent before the mystery and let God’s logic take precedence over our own.

2 For more on the Anabaptists, see esp. Article 9, and also Articles 5, 12 & 16. In addition to the Anabaptists mentioned there, Melchior Rink and his followers also held this view, known today as universalism or universal salvation. The view is still current, being the express position of such church bodies like the Unitarian Universalist Church and the unofficial position of many within mainline Protestant church bodies. The particular position described here is not an outright rejection of hell, but a rejection of the everlasting nature of its punishment; hell becomes more like a purgatory or reformatory for everyone who goes there. Cp. Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:47,48; Luke 16:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.

3 The Latin version of this paragraph reads: “They [our teachers] also condemn the others who are now spreading Jewish opinions, namely that before the resurrection of the dead the pious are going to occupy the kingdom of the world, with the impious being suppressed everywhere.”

Today such teachings are usually referred to as millennialistic or chiliastic (not to be confused with millennial as a generational classification), from the Latin words mille, “a thousand,” and annum, “year,” and the Greek word χιλιάς (chilias), “a thousand.” Melanchthon labeled them “Jewish teachings” and “Jewish opinions” due to the tendency of the Jews in Jesus’ day – including, at times, Jesus’ own disciples – to view the Messiah as an earthly king (see e.g. John 6:15,26,27; Acts 1:6; cp. John 18:36), the view also at the heart of millennialism. (This false view of the Messiah also prevails in orthodox Judaism today.) Millennialism is the teaching that there will be a literal 1000-year period of peace, prosperity, and blessedness on earth immediately before Judgment Day, though there are many variations of it. (There are some millennialists who do not understand it to be a literal 1000-year period, but still believe that things will get better on earth immediately before Judgment Day; cp. Matthew 24:4-31.) Premillennialism, the teaching that Christ will return at the start of this 1000-year period to set up a kingdom on earth, could well be the predominant teaching among Protestants (non-Roman Catholic Christians), statistically speaking. There is also postmillennialism and dispensationalism, and within dispensationalism there is the teaching of a seven-year tribulation or period of great difficulty on earth before the millennium, which includes the rapture, or sudden snatching up of believers to heaven, either before, during, or after that seven-year period, with the adherents of each position calling themselves pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib, respectively. All of this confusion and clutter can be easily dispelled by:

  1. a recognition that the concept of a millennium, in the sense that the millennialists use it, only explicitly appears in one place in the entire Bible – Revelation 20:1-6, and
  2. a careful reading of that section, without any presuppositions, paying close attention both to its immediate context (including the fact that Revelation is an apocalyptic book with a lot of symbolism, including a lot of symbolic use of numbers) and its wider, biblical context, which always mentions the second coming of Christ in connection with Judgment Day and eternal life or death (see Matthew 25:31-33,46; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Hebrews 9:27,28).

For a thorough treatment of Revelation 20:1-6 on the basis of the Greek text, see Siegbert W. Becker, Revelation: The Distant Triumph Song (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1985), pp. 296-315. For a thorough treatment of millennialism at a much easier reading level, see Thomas P. Nass, End Times: Jesus Is Coming Soon (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2011), pp. 239-344.

Notable millennialists in Melanchthon’s day included Augustin Bader (c. 1495-1530) and the already-mentioned Melchior Rink.

Also note how simply the Nicene Creed dismissed the millennialism already cropping up in its own day: “and his [Jesus’] kingdom will have no end” (see Luke 1:33). This statement would not be true if Jesus first enjoyed a 1000-year rule on earth before taking up his rule over his heavenly kingdom.

Augsburg Confession – Article 16 – Polity and Secular Government

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 15, click here.)

Regarding polity and secular government, we teach that every authority in the world and all duly organized governments and duly established laws are a good arrangement, created and instituted by God, and that Christians may without sin occupy positions of authority and serve as princes or judges, render verdicts and pass sentences according imperial and other prevailing laws, punish evildoers with the sword, wage just wars,1 serve as soldiers, buy and sell, take required oaths, possess property, get married, etc.

Here the Anabaptists are condemned, who teach that none of the things cited above is Christian.2

Also condemned are those who teach that it is Christian perfection to physically forsake house and home, wife and child, and to renounce the activities already touched upon,3 even though true perfection consists only of true fear of God and true faith in God. For the gospel does not teach an external, temporal existence and righteousness, but an internal, eternal existence and righteousness of the heart, and it does not overthrow secular government, polity, and marriage, but rather wants people to uphold all of these as true arrangements of God and to demonstrate Christian love and actual good works in these stations, each according to his calling.4 Therefore Christians are obligated to be submissive to the authorities and obedient to their commands and laws in everything that may be done without sin. For if the authority’s command may not be carried out without sinning, then we should be more obedient to God than to men (Acts 5).5

(To continue to Article 17, click here.)

Notes

1 The concept of a “just war” has been grappled with by Christians of every age. A list of the characteristics of a just war will generally follow these guidelines:

  • Waged by a legal authority
  • Waged for a just cause (e.g. in response to an unprovoked attack vs. mere aversion to another country and its policies)
  • Waged as a last resort
  • Waged with a reasonable probability of success
  • Waged with proportionate means
  • Waged with due regard for the innocent

2 For more on the Anabaptists, see esp. Article 9, and also Articles 5 & 12.

3 Melanchthon is primarily referring to the monastic movement.

4 This article touches on the Christian doctrine of vocation, which Luther brought back to the fore – the fact that, when we are converted, Christ sanctifies whatever current callings we have and fills them with eternal purpose and turns them into opportunities for us to glorify him and to love and serve our neighbor. (An inherently sinful occupation, such as prostitution, would of course not qualify as a divine calling.) To summarize the practical value of this doctrine, sometimes an apocryphal Luther quote is cited: God doesn’t want a Christian shoemaker to stitch crosses on the shoes he makes so much as he wants him to make good, quality shoes.

4 For proof passages for this article, see e.g. Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14; John 19:11; Romans 13:1-5; 1 Corinthians 7:17,24; 10:31; Colossians 3:17; 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

Augsburg Confession – Article 15 – Church Rites

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 14, click here.)

Regarding church rites established by humans, we teach people to observe those that may be observed without sin and that contribute to peace and good order in the church, as is the case with certain celebrations, festivals, and the like. Yet at the same time we instruct people that their consciences should not be burdened with such things as if they were necessary for salvation. Moreover we teach that all regulations and traditions established by humans for the purpose of appeasing God and meriting grace are opposed to the gospel and the doctrine of faith in Christ. Therefore monastic vows and other traditions concerning the distinction of foods, special days, etc., through which people mistakenly imagine that they can merit grace and make satisfaction for sin, are useless and contrary to the gospel.

(To continue to Article 16, click here.)

Note

For proof passages, see e.g. Acts 15:7-11; Romans 14:19; 1 Corinthians 14:26,40; Ephesians 2:8,9; Colossians 2:16.

Augsburg Confession – Article 14 – Church Supervision

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 13, click here.)

Regarding the supervision of the church, we teach that no one should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a call issued in a regular and orderly way.

(To continue to Article 15, click here.)

Notes

The eventual titles given to this article were “Vom Kirchenregiment” (German) and “De ordine ecclesiastico” (Latin). The former refers to the management and supervision of the church, i.e. who is responsible, humanly speaking, for directing and running the church. The latter refers to the structure and setup of the church, i.e. how its work should be carried out in an orderly way.

Many Roman theologians accused the Lutherans of rejecting the public ministry and all order and authority in the church because of works such as Luther’s Concerning the Ministry (1523; Luther’s Works [AE] 40:3ff), in which Luther taught the priesthood of all believers. Melanchthon could not have answered that false accusation more clearly or concisely than he does here.

For proof passages, see Jeremiah 23:21; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 4:10-15; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 14:29,36-40; Titus 1:5. Today such calls are issued by God through the church; see Matthew 18:19,20; Acts 1:15-26; 6:1-6; 14:23 (where “had elders elected” is the best translation; see Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 2, Topic 9, Section 4, §12).

The modern practice that could probably use the most guidance from this article is the practice of so-called lay-led Bible studies (that are officially sanctioned and promoted by Christians congregations) – a concept which, taken at face value, this article explicitly rejects on the basis of Scripture. The only lay-led Bible studies should be those led by fathers in their homes (or mothers, in cases where the father is an unbeliever or grossly derelict in his duty) and those that Christians may find the opportunity to lead with non-Christians or false-believing Christians. In many cases, such church-sanctioned Bible studies do in fact meet the criteria of this article in substance; that is, the people leading the Bible studies have in fact been called by the congregation in a regular and orderly way. But in those cases the Bible studies should not be called “lay-led,” because that label is both false and misleading. Those leading the Bible studies in those cases are in fact doing so as public ministers of the gospel, albeit with a much narrower scope of ministry than the parish pastor. (Such ministers could be labeled, e.g., deacons, staff ministers, or Bible study teachers.) However, even before such a call is issued, it must be established that calling a layperson without any formal theological training to such a position is approved by both the congregation in question and the church body at large to which the congregation belongs – which is a significant part of “in a regular and orderly way.”