From the Pastor
The Augsburg Confession, pt. 7
Though it is an unpopular belief, the Augsburg Confession in Article XVII teaches what the Church has always taught with regard to “eschatology” (es-ka-tall-o-jee), or the Last Things: resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell. “It is also taught that our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the Last Day to judge, to raise all the dead, to give eternal life and eternal joy to those who believe and are elect, but to condemn the ungodly and the devils to hell and eternal punishment” (AC XVII:1, German). This has always been a hard position to hold. Some Church fathers, such as Origen, as well as teachers at the time of the Reformation (not to mention people and churches today!) believed that everyone would be saved in the end. But the Evangelicals held that God would not save people who refused the Holy Spirit’s converting work. This, we believe, is the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, of which Jesus says in Matthew 12:32: “whoever speaks against [blasphemes] the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (ESV). Despite attempts to remove the teaching of eschatology from the Church, resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell are clearly taught in the Scriptures, in both the Old Testament and the New. That is what the Augsburg Confession teaches as well.
The Eighteenth Article is perhaps one of the most difficult to defend in every age of the Church’s existence, especially when many within the Church deny it. It is the confession of free will, and particularly the limits of free will. The Augsburg Confession teaches that humans have free will with regard to the things of this life, such as what to eat, what to wear, where to work, etc. Further, humans can lead an “externally honorable” life (e.g., keeping human laws). What they cannot do is please God in any way without the Holy Spirit: “without the grace, help, and operation of the Holy Spirit a human being cannot become pleasing to God, fear or believe in God with the whole heart, or expel innate evil lusts from the heart” (AC XVIII:2, German). This applies especially to faith and conversion. Though many Christians believe that a person must “make a decision for Christ” or “willingly accept Christ into one’s heart,” we confess that this is impossible for the person to do. It may appear, from our perspective, that we have made that decision to believe in Jesus, but we believe that “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (Small Catechism, Explanation to the Third Article of the Creed). It is all gift, all the time. It is necessary to confess this so that all glory goes to Jesus and His merit, which is an absolutely sure and certain foundation for our faith and hope. Anything else, especially our own decisions and work, cannot be the basis for faith or salvation without creating doubt and uncertainty.
Connected to Free Will, Article XIX simply and succinctly makes clear that the cause of sin is not in God and His good creation, but in “the perverted will [of humans, which] causes sin in all those who are evil and despise God” (AC XIX, German). “As soon as God withdrew his hand, [the will] turned from God to malice….”
Next month we will cover the final two articles of Part 1.
*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.”