Augsburg Confession – Article 24 – The Mass

Article 24 (misprinted as 23) of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 23, click here.)

Our churches are charged with supposedly having abolished the Mass,1 but unjustly so. For it is obvious – and we may say this without boasting – that we observe the Mass with greater devotion and seriousness than our opponents do. The people are also frequently instructed with the utmost diligence about why the Holy Sacrament was instituted and how it should be used, namely so that terrified consciences may be comforted with it. In this way the people are drawn to Communion and the Mass. Along with that, instruction against other incorrect teachings about the Sacrament is also given. Nor has any noticeable change been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in several places German songs are sung in addition to Latin singing, for the teaching and training of the people. After all, this is the chief purpose that all ceremonies should serve, that the people learn from them what it is necessary for them to know about Christ.2

But since in times past the Mass has been abused in a number of different ways (a fact as clear as day), so that it was turned into a retail fair where people were buying and selling them and the majority of masses in all the churches were said for the sake of money,such abuse has been rebuked by learned and pious people more than once, even before our time.3 Now when our preachers preached about this and the priests were reminded of that terrible threat, which really should stir up every Christian, that whoever uses the Sacrament in an unworthy manner is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of Christ,4 such masses for sale and private masses, which had hitherto been said out of compulsion for the sake of money and prebends,5 consequently fell out of use in our churches.6

In addition, we also rebuke the appalling error that has been taught, that our Lord Christ has only made satisfaction for inherited sin through his death and that the Mass was instituted as a sacrifice for the other sins, thus turning the Mass into a sacrifice offered for both the living and the dead that is used to take away sin and appease God. This has furthermore led to people disputing whether a Mass said for many people merits as much as if a special one were said for each individual. This has resulted in the countless multitude of masses, with people using this work to try to obtain everything they need from God, while at the same time faith in Christ and true worship have been forgotten.

Second page of Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Therefore instruction has been given about this, as necessity has unquestionably required, so that people may know the proper use of the Sacrament. We have taught them, first of all, that Scripture shows in many places that there is no other sacrifice for inherited sin and other sin besides the one and only death of Christ. For this is what stands written in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christ has sacrificed himself once and has thereby made satisfaction for all sin.7 It is quite an unheard-of innovation in church doctrine that Christ’s death was meant to make satisfaction only for inherited sin and not also for other sin besides. It is therefore to be hoped that one and all will understand that such an error is not rebuked unjustly.

Secondly, St. Paul teaches that we obtain grace before God through faith and not through works.8 This abuse of the Mass is obviously contrary to this, if people are imagining that they can obtain grace through this work. For it is well known that the Mass has been used for that purpose, to pay for sin and to obtain grace and every blessing from God, not just the priest for himself, but also for the whole world and for others, both living and dead.

Thirdly, the Holy Sacrament was instituted not to set up a sacrifice for sin – for the sacrifice has been made already – but so that our faith might be awakened through it and that consciences might be comforted when they perceive through the Sacrament that grace and forgiveness of sin is promised to them by Christ.9 This sacrament therefore requires faith, and without faith it is used in vain.10

Now since the Mass is not a sacrifice for others, living or dead, to take away their sin, but is meant to be a communion where the priest and others receive the Sacrament for themselves, this is the way in which we observe it: We hold Mass on holy days and other days when communicants are present, and all those who desire it are communed. In this way we retain the Mass in its proper use, the way it used to be held in the church, as one can prove from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 and from the writings of many Fathers besides. For Chrysostom tells how the priest daily stands and summons some to Communion, while forbidding others to come forward.11 The ancient canons also indicate that one man officiated and communed the other priests and deacons. For this is how the words read in the Nicaean canon: The deacons should receive the Sacrament from the bishop or priest in an orderly way after the priests do.12

If then, in doing this, we have not undertaken any innovation that has not existed in the church of old, and if in the public ceremonies of the masses no noticeable change has been made except that the other unnecessary masses have fallen out of use, which were observed in addition to the parish Mass through an abuse somewhere along the line, it is therefore unjust that this way of holding Mass should be condemned as heretical and unchristian. For in the past, even in the large churches where there were many people, and even on the days where the people came together, Mass was not held every day. For Book 9 of the Tripartite History indicates that on Wednesday and Friday in Alexandria, Scripture was read and expounded and all other services were held without the Mass.13

(To continue to Article 25, click here.)

Notes

1 The term “the Mass” was and is sometimes used to refer to an entire service with Communion, but it is especially used to refer specifically to the rite of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, as it is in this article. The term comes from the Latin word missa, which was allegedly one of the concluding words of the ancient rite of the Sacrament: “Ite, missa est. [Go, the assembly is dismissed.]”

Melanchthon is referring to Dr. Johann Eck’s 404 Articles, a publication that lumped Luther together with Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Carlstadt, Pirkheimer, Hubmaier, and Denck, and charged them with every conceivable heresy. This publication had a significant influence on the final form of the Augsburg Confession. Depending on the edition and the numbering, the articles in which Eck dealt with alleged errors about the Mass began with either 269 or 270. You can read the original Latin here, a German translation here, and an English translation here.

2 1 Corinthians 14:26. The content of this paragraph in Latin is ordered differently and expanded upon:

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. For the Mass is retained among us and celebrated with the utmost reverence. And almost all of the usual ceremonies are preserved, except that here and there German songs are added to the Latin ones, which is done in order to teach the people. For that is what ceremonies are especially useful for—teaching the ignorant. Plus, Paul instructed that a language understood by the people should be used in church [1 Corinthians 14]. The people are accustomed to receiving the Sacrament together, as many as are fit for it; this also increases the reverence and piety of the public ceremonies. For none are admitted unless they have first been examined and heard. People are also reminded of the value and use of the Sacrament, how much comfort it affords to troubled consciences, in order that they may learn to trust in God and to expect and ask for everything good from God. This worship pleases God; using the Sacrament this way strengthens devotion to God. And so one cannot find masses among our adversaries that are conducted with greater piety than they are among us.

3 Such “learned and pious people” included Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361), Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464), and Gabriel Biel (c. 1420-1495), among others; cf. Acts 8:20.

4 1 Corinthians 11:27

5 A prebend was the portion of the revenues of a cathedral formerly granted to a priest connected to a cathedral (serving under a bishop) as his stipend; cf. 1 Peter 5:2.

6 In the Latin version, a paragraph is added here:

Nor were the bishops ignorant of these abuses; if they had corrected them in time, there would be less dissension now. In the past, many vices were allowed to creep into the church through their negligence. Now, when it is too late, they are beginning to complain about the troubles in the church, even though this tumult had no source other than those very abuses, which were so obvious that they could not be tolerated any longer. Great dissensions have arisen over the Mass, over the Sacrament, perhaps as punishment for the way the world has been profaning masses for so long—a sacrilege that has been tolerated in the church for so many centuries by the very men who both could have and ought to have corrected it. For it is written in the Decalogue that the one who misuses the name of God will not go unpunished [Exodus 20:7]. And from the beginning of the world there does not seem to be any divine thing that has ever been exploited for gain the way the Mass has.

7 Hebrews 2:14-17; 7:27; 9:12,26,28; 10:12,14; see also 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2.

8 Romans 3:21-24; 4:4-8; Galatians 2:15,16; Ephesians 2:8,9

9 Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

10 The Latin version has a somewhat different train of thought here:

But Christ commands us to do this in memory of him. That is why the Mass was instituted, in order that faith in those who receive the Sacrament may recall the benefits it receives through Christ and may cheer up and console the troubled conscience. For to remember Christ means to remember his benefits and to sense that they are truly presented to us. Nor is it enough to recall the history, since the Jews and the impious are able to recall this too. This is therefore the purpose for which the Mass should be celebrated, that there the Sacrament might be distributed to those who are in need of consolation, just as Ambrose says, “Because I am always sinning, I should always be taking the medicine.”

Melanchthon is concisely paraphrasing paragraph 25 from De sacramentis, Book 5, Chapter 4 (original Latin in col. 452 here), the final two sentences of which read thus: “Whoever has a wound requires medicine. The wound is that we are subject to sin; the medicine is the heavenly and venerable Sacrament.” Ambrose’s authorship of this treatise continues to be debated.

11 Melanchthon is combining portions from two of Chrysostom’s homilies. In Homily 3 on Ephesians (delivered prior to 392 AD), Chrysostom says, “In vain is the daily sacrifice [θυσία], in vain do we stand at the altar; there is no one to partake” (original Greek in col. 29 here). In Homily 17 on Hebrews (many scholars think he delivered these in Constantinople, thus between 398 and 404), he says, “This is also why the priest calls out when it is time, summoning the holy, and through this call inspecting everyone for blemishes, in order to prevent anyone unprepared from approaching. … [W]ith a loud voice, with an awful cry, just like some herald raising his hand into the air, standing aloft, having been made visible to everyone, and after that awful silence shouting out his important message, the priest invites some, but wards off others, not doing this with his hand, but with his tongue more distinctly than with his hand” (original Greek in cols. 132,133 here). In both sermons – worthy of reading in their entirety – Chrysostom rebukes some of his members for sporadic Communion attendance, adding in the Ephesians sermon that many only come to Communion on Epiphany and during Lent. This is eerily similar to the present-day phenomenon of so-called Christmas and Easter Christians. He also rebukes his members who merely come out of “custom and form than [out of] consideration and understanding.”

12 Canon 18 of the First Council of Nicaea. The Latin version adds: “And Paul commands about Communion that some should wait for the others, so that there may be common participation.”

13 The Tripartite History of Cassiodorus (c. 485-c. 585) was his compilation of the church histories of Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret. Melanchthon’s reference can be viewed on folio 79b here. However, the original chapter on which it is based (Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 22) says that the Wednesday and Friday in question were only those of Holy Week. However, earlier in the same chapter Socrates also says that “almost all churches throughout the world” celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Saturday, but the churches in Alexandria and Rome had ceased to do so. (Presumably they still did so the following day.)

It is indisputable that the Lutheran Church in the United States and elsewhere today celebrates the Lord’s Supper less often than the Christians in earlier times did. This is due to primarily two factors. The first is the influence of Pietism. Pietism was a movement that both affected and infected Lutheranism beginning in the late 1600s, in response to what it perceived as a lifeless Christianity. To try to correct the error, Pietism created errors of its own. Instead of turning people outside of themselves to the means of grace, it turned people inside themselves to search and fix their own minds, hearts, and motives. Examining oneself before Communion ballooned from an important biblical requirement to an exacting and exhausting ritual. Regular communing was seen as a lifeless habit. It was better, the Pietists thought, to commune only a few times a year with the proper heart (which often ended up being a self-righteous heart) than it was to receive it every Sunday in a habitual way (a false dichotomy). Thus, the practice of every-Sunday Communion was in many cases virtually extinguished in favor of communing a handful of times a year. Pietism continued to have an influence on Lutheranism in America. However, especially in the last century or so, as Lutheran leaders and teachers in the United States have studied and taught the need for Communion, the blessings of Communion, and the Communion practice of the ancient Christians and Lutherans, this has had a trickle-down effect, so that the regularity of Communion has gone from a handful of times a year, to once a month, to twice a month (still a common practice in many American Lutheran churches), to the receiving of Communion on all Sundays and church festivals in some churches, as described by Melanchthon in this article.

The second factor is a more nuanced purpose of worship. In the past, worship was very rarely considered as a venue for evangelism, if at all. Evangelism almost always took place outside of worship. However, Lutherans have in many cases done their best to make their regular services another viable option for acquainting people with the gospel, without ignoring the fact that worship is primarily intended for believers (Matthew 18:19,20; Ephesians 5:19,20; Colossians 3:15,16; Hebrews 10:19-25). Where congregations make worship one of the avenues for evangelism, it makes sense that Communion would not be offered in every main service, in order to have some services that pose less stumbling blocks for visitors, since the Scriptures commend the practice of close Communion, i.e. Communion only for those united in the same faith (1 Corinthians 11:17-32; 1:10; 10:16-22; Romans 16:17).

Confessional Lutherans continue to wrestle with this tension—wanting to derive and receive all the benefits from corporate worship that Jesus wants them to have, while at the same time wanting also to attract others to those benefits, in a gentle and loving way.

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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 13 – Use of the Sacraments

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

(To read Article 12, click here.)

Regarding the use of the sacraments, we teach that the sacraments have been instituted not just to serve as signs whereby Christians might be outwardly recognized as such,1 but to serve as signs and testimonies of God’s disposition toward us for awakening and strengthening our faith. For this reason they also require faith and are rightly used when people receive them in faith2 and when their faith is strengthened thereby.3

(To continue to Article 14, click here.)

Notes

1 This was the teaching of Ulrich Zwingli (see e.g. pp. 535ff here [page numbers in the right margin]; pp. 243ff here; and pp. 392ff here).

2 An additional sentence in Melanchthon’s so-called editio princeps (first edition) of the Augsburg Confession, published in 1531, shows that here the Lutherans were seeking to distance themselves from scholastic teaching within the Roman Church: “We therefore reject those who teach that the sacraments make a person righteous ex opere operato [by the mere performance of the work] apart from faith, and who do not teach that there also needs to be faith that forgiveness of sins is being offered there, which is obtained through faith, not through the work.” The concept of the sacraments benefitting a person ex opere operato had been promoted since the 13th century.

3 The final sentence in the Latin version reads: “And so the sacraments should be used in such a way that faith is also there to believe the promises that are held out and showcased through the sacraments.” In the case of infant baptism, the requisite faith, through which baptism’s promises and blessings are received, is also given through those same promises and blessings. (While we cannot dogmatically assert that such faith is given in every single case, we proceed under the assumption that it is due to the power of the gospel [Romans 1:16; 1 Peter 3:21], God’s general desire to save [1 Timothy 2:3,4], his express desire to save the children of believers through baptism [Acts 2:38,39], and his own statement about the faith of babies and little children [Luke 18:15-17].)

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 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.