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.”

Augsburg Confession – Article 11 – Confession

Articles 9, 10, 11 & 12 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 10, click here.)

Regarding confession, this is what we teach: Private absolution should be retained in the church and not be allowed to fall out of use. However, it is not necessary to enumerate every misdeed and sin in confession, since such a thing is not possible anyway, as Psalm 191 says, “Who can know his misdeeds?”2

(To continue to Article 12, click here.)

Notes

1 Melanchthon cites Psalm 18, according to its reference in the Vulgate. In English Bibles the reference is Psalm 19:12.

2 Just as with the Lord’s Supper, Martin Luther and his followers found it better to speak in a way that invites and encourages people to make use of private confession and absolution regularly, rather than making laws where God’s word has not made them, as Roman Catholic canon law does. For instance, Canon 21 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 AD decrees:

All the faithful of both sexes shall after they have reached the age of discretion faithfully confess all their sins at least once a year to their own (parish) priest and perform to the best of their ability the penance (that is, satisfaction) imposed, receiving reverently at least at Easter the sacrament of the Eucharist [Holy Communion], unless perchance at the advice of their own priest they may for a good reason abstain for a time from its reception; otherwise they shall be cut off from the Church (excommunicated) during life and deprived of Christian burial in death.

On the other hand, here is an example of how Luther encouraged the use of private confession and absolution, from a sermon he gave on March 16, 1522:

I refuse to go to confession simply because the pope has commanded it and insists upon it. For I wish him to keep his hands off the confession and not make of it a compulsion or command, which he has not the power to do. Nevertheless I will allow no man to take private confession away from me, and I would not give it up for all the treasures in the world, since I know what comfort and strength it has given me. No one knows what it can do for him except one who has struggled often and long with the devil. Yes, the devil would have slain me long ago, if confession had not sustained me. For there are many doubtful matters which a man cannot resolve or find the answer to by himself, and so he takes his brother aside and tells him his trouble. What harm is there if he humbles himself a little before his neighbor, puts himself to shame, looks for a word of comfort from him, accepts it, and believes it, as if he were hearing it from God himself, as we read in Matthew 18[:19], “If two of you agree about anything they ask, it will be done for them.”

Luther does much the same in “A Brief Admonition to Go to Confession” in his Large Catechism, concluding: “If you are a Christian, then you ought to be happy to run more than a hundred miles to confession and not let yourself be urged to come; you should rather come and compel us to give you the opportunity.”

For proof passages, see first of all Matthew 16:15-19; 18:18-20 (see also 18:1-3 to see whom Jesus is addressing); and John 20:19-23, from which passages it is clear that Jesus has given all Christians the authority to pronounce absolution (which Luther also clearly recognized and taught; see Luther’s Works [American Edition] 40:26-28). Then see also Acts 20:28 and 1 Corinthians 4:1 (where Paul in the context is talking about himself and all other duly called public ministers of the gospel), from which passages it is clear that Jesus has entrusted absolution to duly called public ministers of the gospel in a special, public, and representative way. Finally see Psalm 32:3-5; Proverbs 28:13; and James 5:16; from which passages it is clear that the Holy Spirit encourages us to confess our sins to fellow Christians (and thus especially to our public ministers), especially those sins that are weighing on our conscience.

For more on confession, see Article 25 in the section on abuses.

Augsburg Confession – Article 10 – The Lord’s Supper

Articles 9, 10, 11 & 12 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 9, click here.)

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, this is what we teach: Christ’s true body and blood are truly present under the form of the bread and wine in the Supper and are distributed and received there.1 Therefore we also reject the doctrine that runs counter to this.2

(To continue to Article 11, click here.)

Notes

1 For scriptural proof, see Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19,20; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:23-25,27. See Cyril of Jerusalem’s On the Mysteries for a strong example of corroboration of this teaching on the part of the early Church Fathers.

The Latin version reads: “…are distributed to those who eat in the Lord’s Supper.” The point Melanchthon is driving home – at this point in history, at any rate – is that Jesus’ body and blood are truly present in connection with the earthly elements. Sometimes the anti-sacramentarians would use the language of “truly present,” but they meant apart from the elements, the so-called “spiritual eating and drinking.” Melanchthon is teaching that whether you are believer or unbeliever, when you step forward to the Lord’s Supper, when it has been consecrated and is being celebrated in accordance with Christ’s institution, you are receiving his actual body and blood when you receive the bread and wine – either to your benefit or to your detriment.

2 By “the doctrine that runs counter to this,” Melanchthon would have primarily had the anti-sacramentarians in mind—Andreas Karlstadt, Caspar Schwenckfeld, Ulrich Zwingli, and Johannes Oecolampadius. (See post on the Sacramentarian Controversy here.) The fact that Melanchthon does not identify them in any way, and that in the Latin version he uses improbant (a milder word for reject) for the first and only time (vs. damnant or rejiciunt), is early evidence of the “pussyfooting” that Luther both admired and disliked in Melanchthon. Philip, Landgrave of Hesse and one of the signers of the Augsburg Confession, doubtless had some influence here. Philip wanted to confess the true doctrine of Scripture, but he also loved peace and took many measures not to push those in the anti-sacramentarian camp further away. (The term anti-sacramentarian is usually used in retrospect. Luther himself simply called them “the sacramentarians,” since they were constantly obsessing over and attacking his biblical teaching about the sacraments.)

Augsburg Confession – Article 9 – Baptism

Articles 9, 10, 11 & 12 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 8, click here.)

Regarding baptism, we teach that it is necessary1 and that grace is offered through it, and that children should also be baptized, since they are entrusted to God and become pleasing to him through such baptism.2

For this reason we reject the Anabaptists, who teach that infant baptism is not right.3

(To continue to Article 10, click here.)

Notes

1 See John 3:3-7; Mark 16:15,16. On the basis of especially the latter passage (and others, like John 3:16), confessional Lutheran teachers will say more precisely that baptism is necessary, but not absolutely necessary. The only thing absolutely necessary for eternal salvation is faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell (see also Luke 23:39-43), (However, ordinarily God gives such faith precisely through baptism; see next note.)

2 In order to see whether this article teaches the truth of God’s word and to wade through all the clutter surrounding this teaching, we can ask three simple questions of God’s word, making sure to answer the questions in his own words, not our own:

  1. What does the Bible say baptism is? (Answer: Mark 7:1-14 [for baptism as a more generic concept; note also the footnote on vs. 4]; Matthew 28:19 [for Christian baptism].)
  2. What does the Bible say baptism does? (Answer: 1 Peter 3:20,21; Titus 3:4-8; John 3:3-7; Galatians 3:26,27; Acts 2:38,39; 22:16; Romans 6:1-14; Colossians 2:11,12.)
  3. What does the Bible say about our need for baptism? (Answer: Psalm 51:5; John 3:3-7; Ephesians 2:1-3.)

3 We can note the following in addition to what has already been said about the Anabaptists: The leaders of the Anabaptists in Luther’s day were Hans Denck, Ludwig Hetzer, Balthasar Hubmaier, and others. For Denck, Christ was not the Redeemer whose life and death were substitutionary for humanity; Christ was rather the embodiment of the perfect person and our role model. In addition to rejecting the traditional, biblical Christian teaching regarding the sacraments, Denck also rejected the verbal inspiration of Scripture, and some scholars even claim he was anti-Trinitarian. (Some Anabaptists did explicitly reject the doctrine of the Trinity.) Hetzer was an otherwise brilliant man who adopted Denck’s views; however, he yielded to carnal lust and was executed for gross adultery in 1529. Hubmaier was more moderate in his views than Hetzer or Denck, but he too rejected original sin and baptism as a means of grace. He was executed by the Roman Catholics in 1528. It is important to note that modern-day Baptists are not directly descended from the Anabaptists of Reformation days. Today’s Amish and Mennonites have a more direct historical connection to the Anabaptists. What Baptists and Anabaptists (and their descendants) do have in common is a rejection of infant baptism, who therefore fall under the same sentence of condemnation in this article (“For this reason we reject…”). However, keep in mind what was said in note 2 under Article 7, and that the phrases “we condemn” and “we reject” are not, in and of themselves, definitive assertions that those who fit that description are in or going to eternal punishment in hell (unless they have been excommunicated on biblical grounds and following biblical due process and subsequently join a fellowship that holds to these false teachings without repentance; Matthew 18:15-18; John 20:23; 1 Corinthians 5:4,5). These phrases are rather identifying those with whom we cannot in good conscience practice religious fellowship or treat as brothers and sisters in the faith this side of eternity. In some cases, the condemnation may be stronger, when essential Christian truth is under discussion and God’s own clear condemnations therefore come into play (see e.g. John 3:16-18,36; 14:6; 1 John 5:11,12). (Some will suggest a distinction between our confessions’ condemnations [werden verdammt or damnant] and rejections [werden verworfen or rejiciuntur], but this is artificial, as evidenced by this article, where the German version concludes with werden verworfen, while the Latin version concludes with damnant. The two are used synonymously.)

The Latin version of this article reads:

Regarding baptism, they [our teachers] teach that it is necessary for salvation, and that the grace of God is offered through baptism, and that children should be baptized, since they are presented to God through baptism and are thereby received into the grace of God.

They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children and maintain that children are saved without baptism.

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.