Bishop and Christian, November 2009

From the Pastor

The Augsburg Confession, Conclusion of Part I

Article XX of the Augsburg Confession is the longest and most involved because it was and is at the heart of confessional differences between the Roman Church and the Evangelicals.  Its title is “Concerning Faith and Good Works.”  The question is, what is the relationship between faith and good works, and how are both related to salvation.  The Evangelical (Lutheran) position is that the faith that trusts Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for me is the only thing that can and does justify, or “make right,” with God.  The Roman position is that faith is perfected or completed by love (shown in good works), and, therefore, it is faith and love together that makes a person right with God.  We should be clear that the Roman position is not crass “works-righteousness,” in the sense that they believe they do those good works apart from the grace of God.  They believe that good works are also a result of God’s grace “infused” in us, so Roman Christians confess that a person is saved only by the grace of God.  We confess that good works do and must follow necessarily from justification; the difference is that they are not part of justification, as in the Roman system.  Next to Article IV, then, Article XX is the most significant point of disagreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. 

The contention of AC XX is that the Reformers required and encouraged good works in a better way and without detracting from the glory and merit of Christ.  “That is why this teaching concerning faith is not to be censured for prohibiting good works.  On the contrary, it should be praised for teaching the performance of good works and for offering help as to how they may be done.  For without faith and without Christ human nature and human power are much too weak to do good works: such as to call on God, to have patience in suffering, to love the neighbor, to engage in legitimate callings, to be obedient, to avoid evil lust, etc.  Such lofty and genuine works cannot be done without the help of Christ, as he himself says in John 15:5: ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’” (AC XX:35-39). 

The final article in the first part of the Augsburg Confession is on the “cult of the saints,” or how people should think of the saints.  “Concerning the cult of the saints our people teach that the saints are to be remembered so that we may strengthen our faith when we see how they experienced grace and how they were helped by faith.  Moreover, it is taught that each person, according to his or her calling, should take the saints’ good works as an example” (AC XXI:1).  (That is a fitting quotation for November 1, which is the Festival of All Saints!)  At the same time, the confessors say: “However, it cannot be demonstrated from Scripture that a person should call upon the saints or seek help from them” (AC XXI:2).  In other words, we believe that the souls of the faithful who have gone before us are living and with Jesus.  They are not dead, and they rest with Jesus as they await the resurrection of their bodies.  However, we do not pray to them, first, because we can pray directly to Jesus, who intercedes for us with the Father.  Even though we ask other saints here on earth to pray for us, and even though we have always confessed that the saints in heaven pray for us, we do not know for sure that the saints in heaven can hear us.  And if there is any doubt, then our prayer would not be from faith; and St. Paul says that whatever does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). 

“This is nearly a complete summary of what is preached and taught in our churches for proper Christian instruction and the comfort of consciences, as well as for the improvement of believers” (Conclusion of Part One, 1).   

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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