Confessing Before Kings

Psalm 119:46 Then I will speak of your testimonies before kings, and I will not be put to shame.

It was Christmas morning many, many years ago. One of my relatives was attending a University of Wisconsin school and had been taken in by the liberal philosophies of the professors and the evolution evangelized in the biology and science classes she took. She decided that Christmas morning was an appropriate time to challenge me on the truth of the Bible.

She argued that there was no way possible for Noah to get all the various species of animals onto the ark. The ark just couldn’t have been big enough. If that story was make-believe, then, she wondered, what other stories in the Bible were possibly made up.

I explained that Noah took pairs of every “kind” of animal. I demonstrated that “kinds” in the Bible are a much broader category than the modern term “species.” If two animals are able to breed together, then that is a “kind.” For example, Noah would not have taken wolves, dingoes, coyotes, jackals, and a variety of breeds of domestic dogs. He would have taken two canines. Over time, those canines would have created all these other variations.

My relative didn’t like that explanation. She continued to argue with me. Then my mother walked over and told us to “knock it off.” It was Christmas morning, after all. And, you need to listen to your mother.

But, before the discussion ended, my relative got in what she thought was a last parting shot. She said, “It’s all semantics. If we believe in Jesus, that’s all that matters.”

I’m sure you’ve had similar religious discussions with your relatives, friends, and co-workers. You have discussed original sin, infant baptism, the real presence in Holy Communion, creation vs. evolution, and the world-wide flood. Because you are WELS, you’ve discussed Christian fellowship. At the end of those discussions, instead of someone saying, “Let’s agree to disagree,” have you heard them say, “The only thing that matters is that we believe in Jesus.”

When people say that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe in Jesus as your Savior, do you ever challenge them on how wrong they are? They sound right, but they are very, very wrong.

Let’s put it this way. Your child says he loves you. But then, he disregards and disobeys every one of your house rules. He doesn’t go to school, take out the garbage, or clean his room. He talks back to you, ignores you when you are talking to him, and doesn’t obey your curfew. Yet, he keeps telling you that he loves you.

If he truly loves you, shouldn’t he listen to your words and follow your instructions?

If we truly love Jesus, shouldn’t we listen to His words and follow His doctrines He’s given us in the Bible?

That’s what the Augsburg Confession is. It is a document that summarizes the doctrines that our Lutheran churches, believe, teach, and confess on the basis of God’s words recorded for us in Holy Scripture.

On June 25, 1530, a group of faithful Lutheran princes and electors met in Augsburg, Germany, to present the confession of their faith to Charles V, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Nine years earlier, on April 18, 1521, at the Imperial Meeting in Worms, Charles had listened as Martin Luther refused to recant his teachings saying, “I cannot and I will not recant. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.”

Martin Luther had been declared a criminal and a heretic. He was excommunicated and sentenced to death. This was a time in the Roman Catholic Church when the Papacy was a superpower, and dissent was handled at the stake or at the rack. All the efforts of reform by previous reformers had fallen on deaf ears or resulted in death. But, by the grace of God, this Lutheran reformation was turning out differently.

The lands controlled by the Emperor were divided among Lutherans and Catholics. They disagreed with each other and did not get along together. Charles V called for this meeting between the Pope’s theologians and the Lutheran reformers because he wanted to put this “silly” religious disagreement behind him, so he could get on with the important matter of the day – uniting the empire for a military battle against the Muslim Turks. Their army was on the western doorstep of the Empire, hungry for battle, and eager for conquest to expand their territory through all of Europe. This silly religious dispute couldn’t get in the way. There was too much at stake. So, figure it out and let’s go fight the real battle!

That was 488 years ago. Things haven’t really changed all that much in five centuries and an ocean away. There are plenty of people today who would say: stop arguing about theology; stop worrying about silly religious disagreements; about right and wrong; about how one is saved; and by whom. That stuff doesn’t matter. Let’s all just get along and do what’s really important. (Whatever they think is really important. Whatever the current issues of the day are. Whatever battles the social justice warriors think are worth fighting for.) That’s kind of what the Emperor was saying 488 years ago.  

The Emperor and the Pope had the power to arrest and kill anyone who disagreed with them. The Lutherans decided there was only one thing to do: confess. These were not theologians that were standing before the Emperor. They were courageous Lutheran laymen – like yourselves. They confessed their faith and told the Emperor and the Roman Church what they believed, taught, and confessed. They relied on the promise of God’s Word, as contained in Psalm 119:46, “Then I will speak of your testimonies before kings, and I will not be put to shame.” The Augsburg Confession was presented as a statement of biblical truth and a proposal for true unity in the Christian faith. It has never been withdrawn or found in error.

This confession caused a stir as soon as it was read. The Bishop of Augsburg, who was faithful to the Pope and in whose palace it was read, said that it was all true and could not be denied. One of the princes who was loyal to the Pope asked the Pope’s head theologian if it could be refuted. Dr. Eck replied: “I can’t refute it using only Scripture.” The prince was stunned and asked: “Do you mean to say that these Lutherans sit inside Scripture, and we outside?”

Dear Christian brothers and sisters, our congregation confesses this Augsburg Confession. I use it in my youth and adult confirmation classes, along with Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms as faithful explanations of Scripture. Every teacher and pastor in our church and school has stood before the holy altar and sworn faithfulness to the Word of God as explained in our Lutheran Confessions. When Mr. Blauert is installed as our School Chaplain in August, I will ask him: “Do you accept the statement and exposition of that Word of God in the Ecumenical Creeds, namely, the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, and in the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, namely, the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord—as these are contained in the Book of Concord?” He will reply: “Yes, I believe and confess these creeds and confessions as my own because they are in accord with the Word of God. I also reject the errors they condemn.”

All around the world for nearly five centuries, churches that clearly proclaim the Gospel and rightly administer the sacraments have clung to this confession.

Why is all this important? Isn’t believing in Jesus enough?

Your pastor and teachers in our Lutheran elementary school and high school don’t think so. The Lutheran laymen who were not ashamed to sign the Augsburg Confession before the Emperor didn’t think so. And, above all, Jesus didn’t think so.

“Doctrine” is almost looked upon as a bad word in our American Christian climate. But, doctrine is the answer to Jesus’ own questions: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13, 15). The knowledge of Jesus and the truth He teaches is more than trivia. It is life. Jesus prays, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

God’s doctrine is our salvation.

That might sound outlandish to our anti-theological and anti-doctrinal American culture, but it is true. St. Paul writes to Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to the doctrine. Persevere in them, because by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Timothy 4:16).

Those who signed the Augsburg Confession paid close attention to doctrine. They knew that true doctrine saves and belief in false doctrine damns.

The first article of the Augsburg Confession is about God. The first article proves that Lutheranism was deeply anchored in the historic doctrine of biblical Christianity about the Holy Trinity. Lutherans confessed that faith in the Holy Trinity saved, while denial of any person of the Trinity condemned.

The second article teaches about original sin. The ancient error of the Pelagians has found new life in American Christianity – as we are discussing in our Lutheran Book Club. Sin is much more than thinking, saying, and doing things that are wrong. Sin is a terminal disease. It ends in physical and eternal death. The second article emphasizes that the only cure for the disease of sin is the cleansing, healing, and forgiving blood of God’s own Son. The article also condemned the past and current false doctrine that sin is not a fatal illness, therefore, people can cooperate with God’s grace for salvation.

There is a historic saying in Lutheranism that the Church stands and falls on the article of justification. To justify means “to declare righteous.” The fourth article of the Augsburg Confession emphasizes: “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.” This article teaches that what we cannot do for ourselves, Christ has done for us. He is the solid Rock on which God builds His Church. And Him, and Him alone, we stand forgiven.

There are many in our culture – sadly, many of them Christian – who say that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe in Jesus. They say this so that they can discount Jesus’ teachings and make room for their abhorrent lifestyle choices and decadence. You confront them that what they are believing is not biblical or Christian. Whether it is on the sacraments, evolution, sexuality, or hell. They will challenge you back saying, “My Jesus wouldn’t send people to hell.” “My Jesus wouldn’t exclude anyone.” “My Jesus wants everyone to be happy.”

Very calmly and politely explain to them that their Jesus is not the real Jesus. Their Jesus is a make-believe Jesus. Because believing in Jesus means believing everything Jesus said. Jesus taught, “If anyone loves me, he will hold onto my word” (John 14:23). Doctrine.

We love Jesus. That’s why we love His words. That’s why we recite our creeds. That’s why we memorize portions of Luther’s Catechism. That’s why we cherish our Lutheran Confessions. Because believing in Jesus means loving His words. It means respecting His doctrines. It means confessing our faith. Even before kings. Amen.