Augsburg Confession – Article 8 – The Efficacy of the Gospel

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

(To read Article 7, click here.)

We likewise teach that, although the Christian church, properly speaking, is nothing else than the gathering of all believers and saints, nevertheless, since in this life many false Christians and hypocrites, even public sinners,1 remain in the company of the pious, the sacraments are just as effectual even when the priests who administer them are not pious, as Christ himself declares: “The Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc.”2

We therefore condemn the Donatists and all others who hold otherwise.3

(To continue to Article 9, click here.)

Notes

1 Melanchthon appears to use false Christians and hypocrites synonymously here, as many continue to do today, to refer to people who say and do one thing in church assemblies but say and do the contrary at other times. Nevertheless, we may distinguish false Christians, hypocrites, and public sinners as follows: False Christians are those just mentioned, those who give some sort of lip service to Christianity but clearly do not take it to heart and put it into practice in their everyday lives. Hypocrites, as Jesus usually defines them (e.g. Matthew 15:7,8; 23:25,27), are those who both give lip service to Christianity and outwardly put it into practice, but they do not actually believe the gospel to which they outwardly adhere and their motives are false and selfish. Hypocrites may, in fact, be the most active and dedicated members at a church. (Thus it is technically incorrect to identify anyone as a hypocrite, unless you are Jesus of Nazareth, since only God can see and judge the heart.) Public sinners are those who, for whatever reason (oftentimes, though not always, due to laziness on the part of the church’s leadership), still have some sort of official connection to and standing in a Christian church or organization, but it is manifest to everyone from the consistent evidence of both words and deeds that they are wicked and impious.

2 Matthew 23:2f; for other proof passages, see Matthew 16:15-19 and Philippians 1:15-18.

3 The Latin version concludes: “…the Donatists and those who have similarly denied that the ministry of wicked men may be used in the church and who have thought that the ministry of wicked men is useless and ineffectual.” The Donatists were a sect of Christianity named after Donatus Magnus, one of the bishops of Carthage in North Africa in the early 4th century AD. They were a strict group of African Christians who denounced the bishops who had conducted themselves in an unbecoming manner during the persecution under Diocletian (Emperor from 284-305) and claimed that the ministry and all the ministerial acts of such bishops were invalid.

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.