“A Struggle with the Devil” — The Ongoing Relevance and Need for the Augsburg Confession
This is a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens. Dr. Martens is the pastor of St. Mary's Lutheran Church in Berlin-Zehlendorf, a member congregation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany. You can read more about Pastor Martens' ministry in Berlin, in an article that appears in the seminary magazine For the Life of the World. This sermon was translated by Pastor Peter A. Bauernfeind. I went to the church's web site and am enjoying hearing one of Dr. Martens' sermons on "wellness propaganda"! Hearing Law and Gospel proclaimed so clearly, in Germany, brings a particular joy to my heart. In the Berlin area, for instance, only 4% of the population attends any worship service at all, and of that number, far fewer are blessed to hear the faithful proclamation of God's Holy Word, such as is delivered by God through His servant, Pastor Martens. Thanks be to God. Consider then the enormous challenge of ministry in modern-day Germany and realize how even more unique it is to hear such a message, challenging all us to recognize the ongoing relevance of the Augsburg Confession.
righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight
the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you
were called and about which you made the good confession in the
presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who
gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony
before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment
unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus
Christ, which he will display at the proper time – he who is the
blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who
alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one
has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
Today we examine another confession, not the Apostles’
Creed, which we have spent the the past few months looking at. Today is
about the unaltered version of the Augsburg Confession, which was
delivered 478 years ago today at the Diet in Augsburg to the Holy Roman
Emperor, and yes, there is also an altered version of the Augsburg
Confession that contains problematic content! The pastors of our
Lutheran Church to this day will still bind themselves at their
ordination to that unaltered version, just as the congregational bylaws
of St. Mary’s Church cite the unaltered version as the basis for all
our doctrines and confessions. Yes, the Augsburg Confession is the only
confession in our Lutheran confessional writings which the Church year
has given its very own day of commemoration, and so this evening we
will again reflect on what we actually confess and what the Confession itself says.
And so the Epistle for today’s Feast Day from
the First Letter of St. Paul to Timothy is an important help.
Certainly, the verses that we have heard in the Epistle have originally
been a reminder of an ordination: Paul reminds his student Timothy
about the confession, which he had sworn at his holy Ordination before
many witnesses, and about the words, which he had spoken at his
Ordination. However in this reminder of ordination, in this
encouragement to Timothy to also live from the gift of his ordination,
is that some fundamentals of the Christian confession will also become
clear, which can also help us today, since most of us have not had the
office transferred to us as Paul had passed on to Timothy. St. Paul
shows us here that the confession is, always
a disputed confession
an accepted confession
a prayed confession
does one actually need a confession? To be completely straightforward,
you need it because what one confesses there in and with this
confession, and has called into question because of this confession,
therefore this confession is always a disputed confession.
struggle has very different counterparts: It is first of all a struggle
with the devil and the powers of evil that want to hinder us from
confessing Christ, our Lord. And so it belongs to the Church already at
the confession of Baptism when for the first time the rejection of the
devil and all his work and ways occurs. Whoever confesses Christ
altogether renounces Satan and engages in a struggle with him. By this
confession we continually challenge the opposing natures of the world
and men, so that we want to know nothing except Christ. Yes, such a
confession, such a confession of Christ, expects Christ our Lord, so we
have heard it even in the holy Gospel: Whoever confesses Me before men,
him I will also confess before My heavenly Father. And finally the
confession also serves to differentiate true doctrine from false
doctrine within the Church, so the confession always has as its reverse
the rejection of the false doctrine.
In our epistle, Paul also
speaks of the good struggle of the faith, encouraging Timothy to fight
this good fight of the faith by reminding him that he, Timothy, has
sworn the good confession before many witness at his ordination. Yes,
to put everything into this good fight of the faith: he is involved in
the struggle between Satan and Christ, which everyone has put on
through our Baptism, and it is also the struggle with the world when
our confession disagrees with their reflected confessions. Paul reminds
Timothy of the good confession that Christ had testified under Pontius
Pilate, a confession before the pagan public, a confession, that He has
finally been introduced by His death on the cross. And likewise Paul
forcefully warns Timothy in both letters about the false doctrine,
which also penetrated into the Church, namely that the resurrection is
only a spiritual resurrection and not a resurrection of the flesh, the
body; such false doctrine has been around for nearly 2000 years.
Augsburg Confession also laid out disputes when it was presented to the
emperor 478 years ago. Yes, they even had to calculate that this
confession could possibly cost them their lives.
particular concern of the Augsburg Confession was to clearly show that
with their teaching they represented the doctrine of the true Catholic
Church, that they stood in the continuity of the Church. They even
reiterate in their confession the doctrines that the Church rejected in
the first few centuries, and that they have no desire to establish a
new Church. They claim, however, that they are and remain catholic,
which put them into conflict with the Roman Church of the of that time,
yes, specifically over what they taught and preached concerning the
justification of the sinner before God. And so the Augsburg Confession
became and also remained a confession born in controversy.
are not surprised, therefore, when we, as a confessional Lutheran
Church, always encounter opposition; we are not surprised when we are
challenged from the devil, from the world that surrounds us, yes even
within the Christian Church because of our adherence to confess Christ.
Our confession is and remains a disputed confession.
As we can infer it from the words of St. Paul, our confession is also an accepted confession.
we are easily at risk to look at the Confessions, to which we as the
Lutheran Church have been bound, as a type of collective bargaining:
Sometimes we as a church are perhaps open and accommodating to a
different teaching. What can we surrender from what we have confessed
until now? And that includes what the other side claims and confesses,
which is really heresy? Perhaps one could rightly understand, and then
we need what we have confessed before, but it is no longer formulated
quite as clearly as before! And when specific clauses of faith that
were previously confessed in the company that surrounds us, is now no
longer accepted – can one formulate something non-offensive and comply
with those who thus make something heavy? For example, must one still
speak today about Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross? Is it not
surprising when one does confess that God is love?
teaches that our confession distinguishes us from an entirely different
perspective: We put this confession first and foremost not before other
people, but first and foremost before God.
Before Him, all
things are made alive, before Him, we have Jesus Christ’s confession
under Pontius Pilate, we have first and foremost responsibility. Yes,
the proper direction of all our confessions is Christ’s return, which
asks for our confession. No, it is not that in the course of time the
Confessions become obsolete and must be replaced with new ones, but it
is to confess Christ, what He has done for us, and that He gives us a
present or gift, this confession is always current, given the
appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as Paul formulates it here.
It is precisely this proper distinction, this responsibility before
Christ’s judgment bench, that the publisher of the Book of Concord, the
collection of the Lutheran Confessions, also designates at the end of
the 16th century in his Preface, and it is precisely why today that the
proper distinction of all doctrines and the proclamation of the Church
must also occur: not: What is good for the people, what is clever
church-politics, by which we feel good? But: What can I be responsible
for before Christ, when He comes? Have I actually held on to His word
and believed it, or can I change something about it, tone it down, and
go against the grain? No, our confession shall never become an item of
collective bargaining; it is and remains an accepted confession,
responsible before none other than to the return of the Lord.
The words of our Epistle finally make a third point: Our confession is also always a prayed confession.
words of St. Paul immediately exhorts his student to praise the living
God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords, how Paul formulates
it here in deliberate contrast to the claims of the Roman emperor. God
is praised and worshipped – that is the last and most sovereign form
that the Christian confession has.
No, when we describe and
understand ourselves as a confessional Lutheran Church, then this does
not mean that we are in an ecclesiastical order where a series of
confessional writings is listed, or that the Lutheran Confessions are
distributed in any proper Lutheran pastoral office.
But we see that
we are a confessional Lutheran Church, as it is proven to us in the
Divine Service, proven in the Confessions, proven in our prayers, and
proven in the liturgy, so that we have nothing other than the prayed
dogma. No, I cannot merely report the content of the Confessions as I
would report about a soccer game. But when I speak about God, when I
speak about Christ, when I confess that He, the Triune God, has done
and does for us, then I am turned to praise God in the worship, just as
it also occurs here in our Epistle. If in our Divine Service we no
longer stand upon what our Lutheran Confessional writings stand upon,
and even the Augsburg Confession stands upon, then we cannot describe
ourselves as a very confessional Lutheran Church. Let us continually
study anew the Confessions of our Church – not because they are
interesting historic documents, but because by them we are trained to
pray, to celebrate the Divine service, to worship the Triune God, to
which all the Confessions ultimately aim. Yes, to Him, the Triune God,
be honor and eternal power! Amen.