Bishop and Christian, June 2009

The Augsburg Confession, pt. 3

The Third Article of the Augsburg Confession (AC), as we noted last month, has to do with Jesus, the Son of God.  Article Four is the natural extension of that article since it has to do with our justification, or being made right, before God.  Because of who Jesus is and what He has done, our justification is absolutely and without remainder complete.  We can do nothing at all, we can claim no work or merit of our own, when we stand before God.  We can only claim the work and merit of Jesus.  We “receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us” (AC IV:1-2).  This article is at the heart of everything we believe and confess; it is the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae: “the article by which the Church stands and falls.”  If this article is taken away or diluted or destroyed, then our whole Faith falls.

Article Five follows directly out of Article Four; in fact, AC V begins, “To obtain such faith….”  Which faith?  The faith described in AC IV, the faith that saves.  AC V: “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments.  Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel.  [The gospel] teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our own merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V:1-3).  The Office of the Holy Ministry, the pastoral office, was given to the Church by God (Ephesians 4:11), in order that people might hear the Gospel and believe it.  That is the sole, defining purpose of the Office into which God puts men.  Certainly the pastor does other things, but if he is not preaching the Gospel that “teaches that we have a gracious God” and delivering the Sacraments, which do the same, he’s not doing his job.

Article Six, likewise, follows directly out of the previous articles.  “It is also taught [by the Evangelicals (Lutherans)] that such faith should yield good fruit and good works and that a person must do such good works as God has commanded for God’s sake but not place trust in them as if thereby to earn grace before God” (AC VI:1).  In other words, good works are absolutely necessary, though they contribute nothing to salvation.  Where, then, do our good works belong?  They belong with our neighbor, who, unlike God, does need them.  God commands good works, and He works through them to provide for those who are in need, and to accomplish His purposes in the world.  All of these good works are done within our vocations, which are those relationships into which God has put us.  We have mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, co-workers, friends, neighbors, etc., and our love and good works belong to them, for their sake.  As we have received justifying faith through the Gospel and Sacraments, preached and given to us by pastors, we go out into the world as ambassadors of God’s reconciling love.

Pr. Winterstein

*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.”

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