In Sunday School we are walking through The Augsburg Confession. The reason for this is because the AC (Augsburg Confession) is actually a great Bible Study tool. More than just a historical document, the authors of the AC show that everyday life really is connected to the Word of God in many ways. In fact this was the basis for the writing the AC and the Reformation as a whole. Sometimes we can too often think that the Reformation was Luther sitting in his study and one day thinking, “Hey the Roman Catholic Church has a few things wrong with it.” The picture in many people’s minds is that of Luther studying hard and being alone with only his Bible. However that is not the case.
Certainly careful study of God’s Word was the catalyst for the Reformation but the Reformers were led to the Word of God because they wanted to comfort God’s people with the forgiveness of sins. Two issues came to the forefront for the Reformers: 1. People wanted to know if God forgave them. Was there any assurance of God’s mercy or did they need to do something for God? 2. People were using indulgences as freedom to sin. Both of these issues stemmed from false teachings regarding God’s word.
The Reformation grew out of pastoral care for Christ’s sheep.
1. People wanted to know if God forgave them. Was there any assurance of God’s mercy or did they need to do something for God?
Luther in particular was plagued with these two questions in his role as a clergyman. He heard people’s confessions and regularly tried to council people who doubted their salvation with God’s word. One thing he noticed was people doubting God’s mercy and forgiveness even after going to Confession. When Christ’s people would confess their sins they were told they needed to then go and do a good work known as “penance” to pay off the debt of their sin. This offered no consolation because the good works were only done for reward not out of love of neighbor. People would go to Confession for their conscience to be settled and to hear of God’s forgiveness but in the end they left with only a list of things to do to assure their forgiveness. This was not forgiveness but torture because people had to rely on their works for comfort before God.
God demands perfect obedience “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Not only does God’s word point out the need for perfection but our own conscience does a fine job of pointing out that we aren’t perfect. Where were the people to find mercy?
Assurance of God’s mercy is only heard in the Absolution. Faith in Christ and the forgiveness of sins is where Luther and the Reformers finally found their answer. “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness it is withheld.” The Office of The Keys given by Christ himself for giving burden consciences relief.
The Roman Church had not been forgiving people. The people were pointed to their own works and not to Christ’s. In Christ is a sinless man who didn’t need any good works but did them anyway. Chiefly he gave his life on the cross so that we would be completely forgiven. This righteousness is ours by faith alone. Assurance of God’s forgiveness is rooted in Christ’s death and resurrection. This left no room for doubt.
2. People were using indulgences as freedom to sin.
Another pastoral concern for Luther and the Reformers was that people were finding false hope. Luther met a drunk man outside a tavern and told him he expected him in the confessional the next day. The man replied he didn’t need to since he already had an indulgence. Luther was disgusted. The indulgences were not only taking advantage of people’s desire for forgiveness by requiring money, they also gave false hope.
Indulgences taught people to trust their good work of buying an indulgence. So the problem in question one is the same for question two. Once people were convinced to trust their works for forgiveness all the Roman Church needed to do was then offer a good work that also built up their bank accounts. This exchange was wicked, not just because of the money aspect but really because the Reformers saw it gave people false hope in regards to their battle with sin.
Instead of trusting in Christ and the means of grace people were to trust in a manmade tradition. It was virtue signaling before virtue signaling was a thing. Indulgences were proof that you were woke. You had papers to show you were the clean. You were the forgiven. You were the informed. It mattered not what sins you committed as long as you held the party line on indulgences you were free. But the freedom was really slavery to the whims of man’s fallen desire to have power over one another. The freedom the indulgences offered only cost you a few dollars but really you were funding your own slavery.
Luther had finally had enough after seeing himself and his own people not rejoicing in the works of Christ for all mankind but trusting in oneself. The Reformation grew out of pastoral concern that Christ’s sheep were being led by wolves in sheep’s clothing. The people were being fleeced monetarily but the real crime was the robbing of the assurance of Christ’s forgiveness.
The Reformation is an ongoing and constant approach to life. The fact that Christ says, “Man does not live on bread alone but every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In this Christ teaches us that our faith and understanding of God’s word is not just some esoteric teaching we hear and rejoice in on Sundays. The Augsburg Confession, Small Catechism, Large Catechism, etc. these documents are the application of God’s word for our everyday lives. The gospel is God’s declaration that we are forgiven for the sake of Christ. This truth personally given in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion and Holy Absolution will indeed grow fruit in our everyday lives,
John 15:3-5 “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
If you desire to grow in grace and mercy and walking in Christ, listen to Christ. Receive his word as he lays the foundation of fruit growing in his word being preached to you, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”
“Abide in me” means believe in Him. For he is our alpha and omega, beginning and end. He is our daily bread. He is our rest. He is our comfort in a world hell bent on taking away the assurance of Christ and substituting him with our own pride. He provides real means of grace to sustain our faith.
This is why we are studying the Augsburg Confession. Far from being a historical document just listing what we believe, it is an articulation of the very Gospel for the freeing of consciences whenever it is read and studied. Semper reformanda! (Always reforming)
See you on Sunday.