Augsburg Confession Day
June 27th, 2010
Something needs to be said
AC VII and Isaiah 55:6
Sometimes something needs to be said about what you believe. You find yourself in situations where you just know that people are either looking to you as the nearest representative of the Christian Faith to say something on an issue or about how God sees things, or, you feel in your conscience that you need to offer a word of truth into a conversation.
In my role as Padre, I get quite a few invites to say something about thing religious or spiritual because people think I am some sort of expert of God! If only they knew the truth! I suspect our teachers here get many moments in which to say something about their faith and their church too.
I remember once a long time ago, long before I was anywhere near being a student of theology or pastor, I had one of those really hard conversations with an old friend around a kitchen table with a few others listening in. He kept pushing me for an affirmation that all roads lead to heaven – all faiths in all deities and gods are in the end the means of finding peace with God. I just could not do that – especially considering those words of Jesus – I am the way, truth and life and no one comes to God the Father except through me….” In the end we had to agree to disagree. It was difficult. Others around the table were not willing to so bold as to offer their opinion!
Not long ago I went to speak to a couple who wanted to talk to me about having their children baptized here. I know them fairly well. I played soccer with the guy for 5 years and got to know his wife through the club. Low and behold, as often happens, they are now “parents of the college”.
They grew up without any meaningful experience of the church and they want to know now. I could feel their hunger for spiritual understanding. I had the opportunity to respond to their questions. Question on whether or not the Bible is really a special “God book” or just a human thing; what is sin and what can God do about the world; what place have little kids got in the church, and so on…. It was great.
Speaking to a senior class at college: They want to know but it is hard for them to ask because of appearances in their peer group. The hunger is there and they are listening, even if they have to make sure that their peers don’t see them listening too much. Things need to be said.
What about you? Had those kind of experiences where you were invited or just felt that it was a moment to say what you believe when it comes to life and God and church?
I reckon it would be most Christian people’s No 2 fear, though. If the No 1 fear of everyone is to speak in public, then for the Christian saying something even mildly definitive about their faith might be close second!
I guess that is because we know from the word, history and from experience that saying something about God and who he is an how he works can cost us – friends, family members, colleagues, status, even livelihood and maybe in extreme situations – our life.
As a result of this fear of saying something when needed, someone suggested that “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering”(Howard Henricks).
It seems worthwhile for us to reflect on that defining moment of the reformation movement when the gathered new community of faith within Mother Church had the guts to say something under extreme threat.
On June 25th, in the fair southern German city of Augsburg, the newly gathered evangelical community still within the Roman Catholic church said something about who they become. The tone of the Augsburg Confession is quite conciliatory and is firmly founded on the established belief of the Christian church. It begins by affirming the bible and the three great universal creeds (Athanasian, Nicene and Apostle’s Creed) and then totally reforms the basic teaching of the church centred around that chief tenant of the Christian Faith – peace with God only by God’s gracious act of love in Jesus Christ, only received by faith in him.
There was still the belief that if this moment could handled with all care in a gracious tone, there would not need to be a parting of ways and a severing of the relationship with Mother Church. If only they could hear us they too might be revolutionized by the grace if God given in Jesus and recovered with a simple but profound faith!
We know the rest. This moment did not become a moment of genuine church-wide reformation around Jesus Christ’s forgiveness. Instead it signaled more mistrust, disunity and in the end a splintering of the Church, both in organizational/institutional terms, but more importantly in faith and practice terms.
And here we are, still splintered and still wondering what we are all doing here together! We have Lutheran, Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Dutch Reformed, Quakers, Church of Christ, a plethora of Pentecostal communities, and so on.
I do believe that we all are God’s church. In fact one the things I am most thankful for in the Augsburg Confession is that it says that “the church is the assembly of God’s holy people in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments administered rightly (according to the gospel). The one holy church will remain forever” (AC VII 1-2).
We take this mean that as far as the gospel in proclaimed and the sacraments administered according to the gospel” there is the one, holy catholic church”. Despite our tendency to alienate and make human lines in the sand about who is in and who is out, the foundational approach the Lutheran church has to other traditions is all about the gospel. Wherever it is preached and God’s sacrament gifts administered, there are my brothers and sisters in this one Church of Jesus.
It even goes on to say that “it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments”. The good news of Jesus which is only to be received by faith, not by earning it in lots of good deeds or intellectual understanding or any other “merit” we might try to put on it, is the point of our unity in Christ.
“It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere”, says the AC. (AC VII 3-4)
People can misread that to suggest that rites, and ceremonies are to be done away with and dismissed as useless. That is not the case. The confessors are simply saying that they don’t need to be uniform for me to accept another person as a member of God’s church. These same people spent a whole lot of time reforming rites and ceremonies and liturgies to make them “gospel-centred”, or “evangelical” because they knew that we need ways to gather, words to speak, songs to sing and rituals to enact as we journey together in faith.
So, friends, we come from somewhere and are a part of much bigger story and a global community of huge diversity and this is to be enjoyed! We would be wise to reflect on what we love about our church, our school and what we know fo this bigger story that we are now a part of. Knowing who we are and what we love about our church will surely help us find confidence to truly engage with others and when the time is right – to actually say something of our trust in the our God.
We have no need of being scared of other Christians or other people in general. Yes, we need to be careful with God’s word and how we represent him and his people, but not scared. We are given opportunities to say something and we can take those opportunities – not to judge and condemn people, but to simply bear witness to Jesus, to share how God’s grace in him has revolutionized our life, our view, our direction in life.
The Spirit’s promise is that our words don’t fall to ground without God achieving his intended goal. As the rain of your witnessing words fall into the heart of the one to whom your bear that witness of Jesus, it will yield God’s harvest. So, we really cannot lose when saying something sometimes!
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