The Augsburg Confession, pt. 4
In June, we went through Article Six of the Augsburg Confession, on Good Works and the new obedience of Christians. The next three articles are about the Church: what the Church is, how the true Church can be recognized, and how one enters the Church. (By the way, when I capitalize Church, I am referring to the universal Church throughout the world, and throughout time. If I write “church,” I usually mean the local congregation.)
Article VII calls the Church, in its essence: “It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel” (AC VII:1). That’s it! Of course, one has to define what the Gospel is, and what it means that the Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel; but where there is agreement on the Gospel and Sacraments, there is true unity in the Church. “It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that uniform ceremonies, instituted by human beings, be observed everywhere” (VII:3). As long as the Church has been on earth, diverse ceremonies have been used. Ceremonies are not of the essence of the Church; however, as we will see later, the Confessors realized that not all ceremonies are created equal, and some are more useful than others.
Article VIII, which is a continuation of Article VII, confesses the reality of the Church as it appears in local congregations. Even though the Church is, “properly speaking, nothing else than the assembly of all believers and saints,” there will still be “false Christians, hypocrites, and even public sinners.” Thus, the Confessors wanted to say what the Church has always said, following St. Augustine: that even if, God forbid, the Word was preached or the Sacraments administered by “unrighteous priests,” they are still valid because they are God’s Word and Sacraments.
Article IX flows directly out of the previous two articles, because it describes how people are brought into the Church: “Concerning baptism [the Lutherans teach] that it is necessary for salvation, that the grace of God is offered through baptism, and that children should be baptized. They are received into the grace of God when they are offered to God through baptism. They condemn the Anabaptists [literally, “re-baptizers”] who disapprove of the baptism of children and assert that children are saved without baptism.”
This Article describes as well today (as I find with the rest of the Lutheran Confessions) the points of disagreement with other Christians on Baptism.
As with other areas where we disagree with other Christians, these are the places to start the discussion: to honestly and humbly state our confession, based on the Scriptures, and to pray that the Holy Spirit will bring us to a unified confession of the Faith once delivered to the apostles and prophets.
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”