Augsburg Confession IV: Of Justification

Justification is the big topic for the Reformers. Here the Confession dissents from some Roman Catholic thought of the period, which culminated in the Council of Trent formally rejecting the Augsburg Confession on this point.

Augsburg Confession IV

Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4

So we see in this short Confessional statement the Lutheran commitment to justification through faith alone, received passively by us as a gift of God for Christ's sake and because of Christ's merits. We also see here the clear rejection of justification by works or merit.

Ultimately, while indulgences jump started Luther and drove his hammer into the door at the Wittenberg church, justification was the most important topic in the Reformation. The question as to how a person can be right with God is a pretty big deal. Rome answered that a person contributes to their right standing with God through their actions and good deeds. Luther flatly rejected this, saying that justification is a free gift given by God by His grace alone.

Here is the topic that we must continue to fight for in the church and continues to be the article on which the church stands or falls. Either Christ justifies us freely for His sake and we are receivers of this gift or we are something else entirely.

Let us not, however, downplay the importance of good works in the Christian life. Martin Luther never rejected that. He was no antinomian. Likewise today, we still have the same Confessions and we certainly uphold good works in the Christian life.

For more reading on this topic check out the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV. It's a long read, but it's worth going through. This is the Confessional response the Lutherans made to Rome's rejection of Article IV of the Augsburg Confession.


The Lonely Way and the Spectrum of Truth

No, this is not a post about Sasse's essays, although I certainly recommend them.

Truth is everywhere. From a Christian perspective, there is a spectrum of truth that varies from church to church. The point of the matter is, as a Christian, we are bound to the truth. Moreover, we are bound to the Truth (big T) who is Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, I am going to assert that a Christian has a duty to attend church where truth is proclaimed at the highest level with the least amount of error. Let's be honest, there are many different church bodies out there with many different beliefs regarding the Christian faith.

Where do we start? Well, Rome has an answer in the infallible Church and teaching magisterium. Certainly, this is attractive, because they answer this question very definitively. They have a very rich tradition and the Papacy. Mainstream evangelicalism has an answer too. Allow the Spirit to lead you. Basically this amounts to a person in the corner on an island to themselves with their Bible, listening to the Spirit lead and speak. This approach, however, has lead to a million different views, all claiming that the Spirit led them to it. Can't be correct.

The best and most conservative manner in which to deal with this is to start with sola scriptura. But don't let the Roman Catholics try to tell you that this means everyone has their own private interpretation and it has led to 40,000 denominations. By that standard of measurement, there are multiple hundreds of Roman Catholics churches too. It simply means that Scripture is the sole infallible authority.

Do not discard tradition and the history of the church. These things tell us and show us how Christians have always worshiped and what Christians have always believed. When we do this, and learn from the great theological giants of the past, we should be able to easily rule out numerous branches of Christianity as the ones who contain the fullness of the truth. Many Christian churches out there disagree with what the Christian church has believed for 2000 years and frankly twist a lot of Scriptures to defend their doctrines, while claiming to hold to sola scriptura. They don't. They hold to nuda scriptura (me and my Bible in the corner...) or they have imposed some sort of Systematic Theology onto Scripture.

The three great ecumenical creeds are excellent guidelines. To deny those is dangerous. When those are rejected, new and novel doctrines that the church has never taught -and in many cases rejected as heretical- rush in to fill the void. If your church rejects any of the 3 ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) or specific parts in them, your church is off the rails on that specific doctrinal issue. For instance, if the Athanasian Creed is rejected in whole or in part, the Trinity gets rejected. If the Nicene Creed gets rejected in whole or in part, once again we may end up denying the Trinity. Or we end up rejecting the sacraments. Same thing with the Apostles Creed. The Nicene Creed alone rules out just about every church out there (I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins), save for three large ones. These are the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Confessional Lutheran.

Only one of those three teaches that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and it's not the ones who teach justification by faith + works (Roman Catholic) or Theosis as a means to salvation (Eastern Orthodox).

In this manner, the Lutheran Church really is the lonely way. We retain and affirm heartily all three ecumenical creeds. Not because these creeds are above Scripture, but because these creeds accurately summarize what Scripture teaches and what the Christian church has always believed. Yet we also stand firm in our opposition to the impossibility of justification by good works. Sorry, but James 2, read in whole and in context, does not teach what Rome would have us believe unless James was using a 20th and 21st century colloquialism in the 1st century (So you see...etc.). Not to mention he pretty much says that our faith is shown by our works and so on.

Moreover, we also retain what the Christian church has always believed about the Sacraments of Holy Baptism, the Eucharist, and Absolution of sins.

So which church body out there teaches and delivers pure objective monergistic grace for the forgiveness of sins via Word and Sacrament, apart from our works? Just one.

It's why I am a Lutheran.