Commemoration of Dr. Robert Barnes, Lutheran Martyr

On July 30, we commemorate Dr. Robert Barnes (1495-1540), a 16th century Augustinian friar and prior who saw the need for reform in the English Church and eventually became one of history’s first Lutheran martyrs.

After a controversial Christmas 1525 sermon in Cambridge, Barnes was convicted of heterodoxy and condemned to recant or be burnt. In 1528, he managed to escape to Antwerp, going on to meet Martin Luther in Wittenberg. Barnes published a book on his Protestant views in 1530.

An excerpt from Barnes’ writings:

“Scripture says that faith alone justifies because it is that through which alone I cling to Christ. By faith alone I am partaker of the merits and mercy purchased by Christ’s blood. It is faith alone that receives the promises made in Christ. Through our faith the merits, goodness, grace, and favour of Christ are imputed and reckoned to us.” [1]

Barnes returned to England in 1531 as a chaplain for the king and an intermediary with Lutheran Germany. Raised Catholic, King Henry VIII supported reforming the church to varying degrees, stemming from his desires to end and begin marriages with women of alternating Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. After Pope Clement VII refused to grant his annulment from Catherine of Aragon, Henry sent Barnes on an unsuccessful mission to win the support of Luther. The king broke ties with the Roman Catholic Church and secretly married Anne Boleyn in 1533. After Henry executed his second wife and lost his third to a fever following childbirth, Barnes assisted in negotiating the terms of his marriage to Anne of Cleves. Henry’s fourth marriage ending in divorce cast a shadow over Barnes and all associated with the dealings. Despite reforms, the Church of England remained largely Catholic and Barnes’ position became increasingly precarious.

During the 1540 Lenten season, Barnes preached a sermon attacking Bishop Gardiner, was arrested, and sent to the Tower of London. Barnes and two other Protestant preachers were burned to death on July 30, 1540.

Barnes’ final confession remained true to his Lutheran beliefs:

“There is none other satisfaction unto the Father, but this [Christ’s] death and passion only… That no work of man did deserve anything of God, but only [Christ’s] passion, as touching our justification… For I knowledge the best work that ever I did is unpure and unperfect… Wherefore I trust in no good work that ever I did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ.” [2]

Martin Luther had this to say of his fellow reformer’s martyrdom:

“This Dr. Robert Barnes we certainly knew, and it is a particular joy for me to hear that our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest has been so graciously called by God to pour out his blood and to become a holy martyr for the sake of His dear Son… He always had these words in his mouth: Rex meus, regem meum [“my king, my king”], as his confession indeed indicates that even until his death he was loyal toward his king with all love and faithfulness, which was repaid by Henry with evil. Hope betrayed him. For he always hoped his king would become good in the end. Let us praise and thank God! This is a blessed time for the elect saints of Christ and an unfortunate, grievous time for the devil, for blasphemers, and enemies, and it is going to get even worse. Amen.” [3]

[1] Neelak S. Tjernagel, ed., The Reformation Essays of Dr. Robert Barnes (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1963), 36.

[2] George Pearson, ed., The Remains of Myles Coverdale, Bishop of Exeter (Cambridge: University Press, 1846), 355, 379, 383, 397.

[3] “Preface to Robert Barnes Confessio Fidei (1540).” Translated by Mark DeGarmeaux from pp.449-51 of vol. 51 of D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar: Hermann Bohlau, 1883-). Found in Treasury of Daily Prayer, Scot Kinnaman, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008), 574-5.

Further reference and resource:

Dodgers, Rev. Anthony. “Robert Barnes: A Lutheran Martyr in England.” July 30, 2017.…/robert-barnes-lutheran-ma….

[Dr. Robert Barnes and his Fellow-Prisoners Seeking Forgiveness, Joseph Martin Kronheim, 1887]

Christ Academy High School Begins

Christ Academy: Timothy School and Christ Academy: Phoebe School began on Sunday, July 26. It’s a strange year for many reasons (not least of which is that we had to hold this a month later than planned and for only a week), but we’re still deeply thankful that we’re able to hold our annual summer event for high school students interested in Lutheran theology. They’ll spend the week also learning more about the vocations of pastor and deaconess, and sharing in the joy of fellowship with one another.
Rev. Matt Wietfeldt, Director of Christ Academy, introduced Dr. Lawrence Rast Jr., President of CTSFW, to this year’s participants after this morning’s chapel, asking him to say a few words of welcome.  Below, we’ve transcribed his words from a recording of his address to this year’s participant’s.
PRESIDENT RAST: I know it’s kind of hard to hear in here, so if you’re having trouble hearing me, let me know. Or if you don’t want to hear me, uh, don’t say anything, okay? [Laughter.] But really, we’re delighted to see you here. We just had no idea whether this would come off or not, and we’re deeply, deeply thankful to the Lord for allowing us to gather together with you. It’s great to see you all, great to have you here on campus, great to welcome you to the community.
How many of you, this is your first time? [Hands raise.] Fantastic. We’re glad you’re here, and for those of you who are old timers: welcome back.
I’m entering my 10th year as president of the Seminary. I’m starting my 25th as a member of the faculty. So none of you were around when I started teaching here, which means that Pastor Wietfeldt really is old…I don’t know about these gray hairs. But anyways.
I’m really just delighted we’re able to push forward on this. It’s a really nice opportunity for you; those who have been here before know that, those of you who are here for the first time will learn that. It’s a unique place in which we live and serve. And it’s a unique thing that we work toward, as you’re discerning whether pastoral ministry is for you or diaconal ministry is for you.
The sermon this morning actually touched on something really important: the need for workers in the Church. The importance of those who will proclaim the Gospel in Word and in deed, and take it out to a world that is disrupted in a way that I honestly haven’t experienced in my lifetime.
But, as pastor pointed out, I am a historian, so one of the things I do is look back and see: have there been times where we’ve had these sorts of experiences before? And most people know by this time about the Spanish flu of 1918, which was a terrible, terrible pandemic, just massive disruptions around the world, but there were others as well. A few months ago I wrote a little article for the “Lutheran Witness” on the Yellow Fever epidemic (it wasn’t a pandemic), an epidemic that [was in] Philadelphia and was terribly, terribly destructive, especially for the Lutherans in Philadelphia.
Now back in the 1700s, Philadelphia was kind of a Lutheran center; there was a portion of the city called Germantown (still is), and it was founded in the early 1680s [to] kind of welcome German immigrants into America before they would disperse into the west—which meant, like, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. So not very far.
So folks would come in to Germantown—Philadelphia, Germantown—and it had a really big German population, and, of course, back then, when you had a big German population, you also had a big Lutheran population. And so they all came together and the Lutherans were the most deeply affected group by the [epidemic]. Nobody quite knew why…they didn’t know what caused it: mosquitoes carrying yellow fever, and the places where the Lutheran German immigrants lived being places where mosquitoes bred most profusely. And it ended up being just disastrous for the community.
They found themselves wondering, “What in the world do we do? Why is God punishing us? Why is God allowing this to happen?” And they struggled with those kinds of questions that sound 2020. Why is this happening? Why is God allowing this to come upon us?
I say, as an old guy particularly, “Hey, things were pretty good for most of my life and now all of a sudden we have this mess? And I have to wear this thing? (Wherever it is, let’s see if I can find it [Dr. Rast finds his face mask in his pocket and holds it up].) This thing that I don’t like to wear?” But we do it. And we put these things on, keep them on, wear them for the sake—not so much for myself, I’m old enough now that I don’t worry about dying, it’ll happen soon enough—but I feel compelled to take care of my neighbor as best I can.
Folks wonder: does this do any good? Well, who in the world knows? Since the news changes just about every other day, right? But we can serve in this small way, so we do. And so we’re doing.
That hasn’t changed. And you heard it better in the sermon. The Lord came into this world to do what? To serve. The Son of Man came to serve. Not to be a lord, but rather to give His life as the ransom for all; pay for the sins of all people. And so in our small way we continue that, and we look forward to learning more about that—and putting it into practice as we gather together over this next [week].
It’s really great; really, really great to have you here. We’ve been doing this now, we’re entering into our 175th year as a Seminary. So if I can do math, which I can’t, I can figure out what 25 years out of 175 is—some of you can do that much better than I can, I’m a theologian, it means I can’t count—but the 175 years that we’ve had here in Fort Wayne (we were in Springfield, Illinois, for a hundred years, and then back here in Fort Wayne), they’ve been characterized by this commitment to the Gospel of Christ. To be faithful to the Scriptures, confessing as Lutherans, and doing so in a world that is always in chaos.
And so when we look around 2020 and say (are you doing like I am? I mean, I get enough memes from my friends, “2020” that’s all you have to put, “That’s very 2020”), and I get that it’s different, but at the same time, what the Lord gives us to proclaim, what the Lord gives us to do, remains constant. That is, to preach Christ crucified and risen again, taking away all our sins.
So there’s a wonderful, wonderful kind of coherence, in one sense, of putting it…there’s a wonderful kind of consistency in terms of the way the Lord interacts with us frail people who live our lives for short periods of time, even while He has the scope of eternity under His feet.
And so to spend a little time with you over a few weeks in this strange summer is really, really good. And if there’s anything we can do to make your time here more beneficial, more comfortable, if you’re feeling unsafe let us know. No, let those guys know, I’m the president, I don’t do anything [laughter]. I tell other people to do that. Actually, you don’t want me to do anything, because I wouldn’t know what to do. They actually know.
But we really are blessed, and it is a blessing to have great leaders like Pastor Wietfeldt, and it’s a great blessing to have you here with us. Thank you, and I look forward to our time together.

Feast: St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

Today is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. The two readings shared below are from Acts 15 and Galatians 2, which relate some of the way these brothers in Christ interacted with one another in accordance with the authority given to them in the days of the early Church. Peter preached most often to the circumcised (Jews) and Paul to the uncircumcised (Gentiles).

Much of the controversies and debates that raged in the early Church revolved around the tension between Jews and Gentiles and what made a person a Christian, such as whether the old ceremonial laws were still necessary for salvation–circumcision in particular. The answer here was (and is) no: we have been justified by faith through Jesus Christ alone.

Peter, an influential apostle/elder in the early Church’s Jerusalem Council, agreed with his brother in the ministry, Paul, who most often and clearly spoke out against the circumcision party. That said, Christ’s first-called fisher of men also struggled with the temptation to give way. In Galatians 2, Paul refers to a time when he called Peter out for his hypocritical behavior, for drawing back from his Gentile brothers in Christ out of fear of the circumcision party. The same Peter who was first of the disciples to confess Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16 (then rebuked only a few short verses later for speaking against His death and resurrection); and Paul, who breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, before Christ converted him on the road to Damascus.

As iron sharpens iron, God used these men to refine one another and to speak clearly on the issues facing the early Church, already–even in these early days–beset by heresy and trouble. Their epistles stand as books of the Bible, serving not only those specific sheep to whom they were writing, but generations upon generations of Christians who also struggle with the temptation to doubt God’s Word. Thanks be to God, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, faithful unto death and forgiven to everlasting glory in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Acts 15:1-21

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

“‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

Galatians 2

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

“Saint Peter and Saint Paul disputants” by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, late 1500s to early 1600s.

500th Anniversary of the Papal Bull

Yesterday, June 15, 2020, was the 500th anniversary of the date on the papal bull issued to excommunicate Luther. From the “What Does This Mean?” blog created by CTSFW librarian Rev. Bob Smith:

“In January of 1520, the Pope convened a commission to condemn Luther’s teachings. In the meantime, the Pope intensified his previous efforts to achieve a resolution. Pressure on Luther’s immediate supervisor, Johann von Staupitz, finally responded to the pressure by resigning in May. In order to assist in the effort, Johann Eck came to Rome to pressure the commission into issuing a Bull against Luther. The result was a document cataloging 41 ‘errors’ of Luther and threatening to excommunicate him if he did not retract them.

“A Papal bull is a proclamation called that because of the lead seal used to certify such as official. (Latin for the seal is Bulla.) This document is known as the Bull Exsurge Domine (“Arise O Lord”) for the opening words of the work. It was dated June 15, 1520 and proclaimed on 24 July, when it was posted on the door of St. Peter’s Basillica. It would not go into effect until it was published in Saxony and delivered to Luther personally. (Much like a legal summons is today in the United States.) This did not happen until October of 1520.”

To read more about the history leading up to this significant date, click here.

This painting is actually of Jan Hus (John Huss) before the Council of Constance, by Václav Brožík; “Mistr Jan Hus před Kostnickým koncilem” 1883. John Huss was a predecessor to the reformation, excommunicated for preaching against indulgences and burned at the stake in 1415 under the charge of heresy against the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Symposia: Boasting in the Rags of Scripture: Johann Georg Hamann as an Advocate for Classical Lutheran Theology to its Unenlightened Critics

Dr. John Kleinig, Professor Emeritus at Luther College, Adelaide, South Australia

The triune God is an author. In fact, He is the only true author. The Father is the author of the world He created, and its story. The Son is the author of the Church that He has redeemed, and its story. The Spirit is the author of the Scriptures that He has inspired, and its story.

Yet the word that has been authored by the Spirit is by far the greatest of all these wonders, for the Word of the Spirit discloses the mysteries of creation and redemption. It is the mystery of all mysteries. The Bible, the Scriptures as the word of the spirit. That’s Johann Georg Hamann’s great theme in his London writings.

Hamann was, in fact, not a theologian, but a humble employee in the bureaucracy of the Prussian Empire, which he hated. He was a man of letters—of journalism. He never published the London writings, nor did he intend to publish them. They were for himself; a kind of spiritual journal shared only with his father, brother, and two friends. But these personal writings reveal that he was one of the few theologians of the cross in his day.

Hamann lived from 1730-1788, living most of his life in East Prussia on the southeast corner of the Baltic Sea. Born to parents of modest means, he had a rather conventional Lutheran upbringing, with a father who was still largely orthodox and a mother influenced by Lutheran pietism. He studied theology and then switched over to law. While at his university, he became a fashionable advocate of the Enlightenment with his two best friends. He had a speech impediment that precluded him from becoming a pastor or lawyer, and a haphazard class attendance pattern; he failed to graduate. But by the end of his life, he was considered one of the best read men of his generation.

While on a trade mission to London (to make a secret trade deal, of which we still don’t know many details), he fell into bad company, including a group of homosexuals. He got lost. He got deep into debt because he was a generous person and a soft touch. He suffered ill health from overindulgence and experienced a deep bout of depression from social isolation. He was a gregarious person who felt only comfortable in the company of like minds. A young Christian couple provided him cheap accommodation and he went into conclusion, living on a diet of porridge. “Which did him a world of good, he said.”

He found no consolation in the books he had previously bought, and on impulse he bought himself an English Bible. As he read, he became aware of the veil between his reading and his understanding of the Bible. On Palm Sunday, 1758, it struck him for the first time that God was speaking to him personally as he was reading it. And he switched over: he no longer read it critically, but meditatively, particularly as it critiqued him and his rationalism.

On the day that he began to read the Bible for the second time in a new way (as God speaking to him), he began to write down the results of his meditations in a kind of spiritual journal. Then on a Friday evening in March, he fell into a deep reverie as he was reading Deuteronomy 5: the passage where God spoke to His people face to face, speaking the Decalogue to them on Mount Sinai, that was so terrifying that they asked God to provide Moses as mediator. Here is how he described what happened to him on that evening:

“I recognized my own offenses in the history of the Jewish people. I read the story of my own life, and thanked God for His forbearance with His people. Because nothing but such an example could justify a similar hope for me…I could no longer hide from God that I was the killer of my brother, the murderer of His begotten Son. Despite my weakness, my long resistance I had put up against His witness, the Spirit of God kept on revealing to me still more and more the mystery of divine love and the benefit of faith in our gracious, only Savior.”

In his broken heart he heard how the blood of Jesus, which cried out for vengeance, was also proclaiming God’s grace and love to him. And that Word broke his blind, hard, rocky, stubborn heart, and he surrendered it to God for re-creation by His Holy Spirit.

He was not converted as he was already a Christian, but rather transformed. His meditation from March 19–April 21, 1758, reveal his spiritual awakening and transformation from a rational intellectual to a faithful confessor of the triune God. He meditates on those parts that strike him, that address him personally or challenge him intellectually as a child of the Enlightenment. They identify his blind spots, in order to grant him deeper and more accurate insight into the spiritual realities that they portray.

From April 29–May 6, 1758, he meditated devotionally on six hymns which all consider the hidden glory of Christians who are not only made in God’s image but also participate in the communion of the Son with Father by the Holy spirit.

May 16, 1758: Apart from illumination by the Holy Spirit, both reason and faith are blind. Our knowledge is there limited and partial. Then in undated meditations on Newton’s Study on Prophecies, he observed that the Old Testament does not just record some Messianic prophecies, but that “every biblical story is a prophecy that would be fulfilled through all centuries—and in every human soul.”

The tone throughout his meditations changes. The comments become less abstract and intellectual and become more personal and devotional. By the end, he wrote a biographical look back at his life in light of his new understanding of Scripture.

From an undated piece, “On the Interpretation of Sacred Scripture”:

“Who would, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:25, be so bold as to speak of God’s weakness? No one, except the Spirit who searches the depths of the godhead, could have disclosed to us this prophecy, which has, more than ever before, been fulfilled in our own times, the prophecy that not many who are wise according to the flesh, not many who are mighty, not many who are of noble birth, are called to the kingdom of heaven, and that the great God has desired to reveal His wisdom and power by deliberately choosing what is foolish in the world to shame the mighty, choosing what is lowly and despised, yes things that are not, in order to bring to nothing things that are, things that boast of what they are (1 Cor. 1:26-28).”

Or, in the words of 1 Corinthians 1:25-31:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Today’s partial summary was taken from both Dr. Kleinig’s lecture as well as his handout that quickly sketches Hamann’s London writings, which he shared with the audience. 

Symposia: Synod or Sects? The Emergences of Partisanship in the LCMS

Dr. Lawrence Rast Jr., CTSFW President and Professor of Historical Theology

“Therefore it says,

‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.’

(In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Ephesians 4:8-14

They key phrase of this passage: “until we all attain to the unity of…” There’s the implied “Now and not yet,” in it. And why do we strive to all attain it? “That we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…”

We are the church militant. Where is that battle most brutally fought out? Within and without. As Bilbo Baggins said on the occasion of his 111 birthday: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” Dr. Rast immediately added, to appreciative laughter, “That’s how I feel about all of you.”

The Church is God’s gift, and as God’s gift is divine. But it is a mess. The Synod is a mess. You are a mess. And above all, I am a mess. The good news is this: God is not a mess. He’s busy at work building His Church, even if it is hard for us to see it at times.

How do Synods fit into all this? Take our own history of presidential overturns in our history. The first time was in 1935: John Behnken unseated Friedrich Pfotenhauer.
1969: J.A.O. Preus defeats Oliver Harms
1992: A.L. Barry captures the presidency from Ralph Bohlmann
2010: Matthew Harrison defeats Gerald Kieschnick on the first ballot

These kinds of events call for an assessment on part of the church body. Why is our Synod so at odds? In 1969, both men were gracious. Jack Preus denounced politicking, and Oliver Harms graciously passed his presidency to his successor. However, shortly following a pastor and his congregation left the Synod, following the publication of, “Why True Christians in the Missouri Synod are Conscience-Bound to Leave Missouri.” Then in the 1992 unseating, Ralph Bohlmann publicly called the actions of his adversary (and/or his supporters) leading up to the vote as sinful.

Why do we spend so much money on these when the real work of the Church is the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, which happens at the local congregational level? Because though the Church is a divine gift, but that gift is lived out in the context of sinful man.

Dr. Rast then went on to detail much of our history of controversies, beginning from the formation (and pre-formation) of Synod. Wyneken pleaded with Synod to stay unified, but any unification was lost almost immediately. Goerg Schieferdecker (1815-1891) was the first to bring serious theological controversy. He began openly advocating a form of millennialism. In 1857, after he refused to recant his heretical position, he was de-vested and deposed from his congregation, made even harder by the fact that he was District President. However, in 1875 in Der Lutheraner he publicly denounced his former heresy and rejoined the LCMS in 1876 and served in the Missouri Synod for the rest of his life.

Then followed other controversies, like the error of predestination of the 1870s and 1880s, resulted in a reshuffling. Those who could not accept the LCMS’s position on the doctrine of election found an external synod that did agree with them. And those who were in other synods, like the Ohio synod, found their way into the Missouri Synod. You found the Synod that fit your confession. What changed? While the controversy of Schieferdecker’s millennialism was relatively tame, the later controversies were brutal. Arguments became personal and friendships were destroyed.

What begins to change in the movement into the 20th century is the way that this aligning on the part of individual pastors and laypeople shifts. Where previously you would seek the synod that best reflected your position, now people began to internally seek to change the position of their synod. That would lead to some significant challenges.

Flying past his storytelling (here’s my usual plug: if you want to watch it in full, purchase a $20 ticket for online access at of our history of controversies, here’s what we conclude:

When one looks at the history of the Missouri synod, what we must avoid is a false romanticism that at one point all was good, all was unified, all was harmonious. To fall into that kind of temptation really keeps us from understanding what the Church is as the Church Militant. We have to strive every day with our own sinful flesh and have to work every day to work with one another and offer to the world the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That work never ends. It will always go on and we must always be engaged in it.

What history can show us in this: we don’t have to pine after something that never was. But we can still be encouraged that we gather here today at the grace of God. The Church is a divine gift, and Christ is the one who creates it and sustains it. We must strive to be faithful to it, to the Gospel, to Scripture until His return.

100 Years of Deaconesses

Today, September 17, 2019, we celebrate 100 years and one month of deaconesses in the LCMS:

The roots of the office of deaconess go back to the first two verses of Romans 16, when Paul commends to the saints at Rome “our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae…for she has been a patron of many and of myself.”

Some 1,800 years after Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, Lutheran deaconesses in Germany were bringing aid to widows, orphans, and the sick and disadvantaged in response to the hardships that arose from the industrial revolution. These trained church workers particularly cared for women in distress, serving in girls’ schools, hospitals, homes for the mentally ill, and in training schools for teachers and deaconesses. Today, deaconesses function in much the same roles: as nurses, social workers, and parish assistants to pastors in a congregation.

However, when the LCMS came into being in Chicago in 1847, though the new Synod was well aware of the work of deaconesses from reports back in Germany, they were wary of doctrinal issues and cautious about beginning a training program on new soil. Some had accused (not always wrongly) deaconesses of being a copy of the Roman Catholic nuns, while others feared that training female diaconate would bring unbiblical ideas and practices into the Church.

For decades, the LCMS essentially left the issue alone. Each congregation cared for the needs of their own flocks, though as populations and need grew they began banding together into welfare societies and institutes that served wider geographic areas. In 1904, the Associated Lutheran Charities brought together every synodical agency involved in charity work and convened for their first convention. By 1908, a couple of pastors in the association noted that other Christian denominations used trained deaconesses to great advantage, and began the conversation of how to secure trained deaconesses for the Lutheran church. The suggested answer: “Why not begin the training of deaconesses for our work?”

Synod was not immediately enthusiastic. Though they recognized the gifts and talents of women in mercy work, officially recognizing a female diaconate and training deaconesses for service remained controversial because of the history of doctrinal issues associated with the role. In 1911, Rev. Herzberger, the first urban missionary installed in Missouri (and one of the pastors in the 1908 conversation), addressed Synod at Convention, hoping for their blessing on the creation of a Deaconess Home. He said (in part):

“We emphasize that this be a Lutheran Deaconess home. The representatives and supporters of this Lutheran Deaconess Home do not want it to be from the unbiblical Deaconess existence such as found in the days among the “schwaermer” schismatic and pseudo Lutherans who would have nothing more than a Protestant nunnery…

“What motivated the representatives of this conference to plan such a Deaconess Home is not because of business or to look for something new, but because of a crying need of the many places that desire such Deaconess ministry. Our Lutheran hospitals and boarding schools especially desire them. How greatly feminine care makes itself felt. Often it is difficult to obtain such a woman leader (head nurse) or Director in our Institutions.”

Synod didn’t reject the idea of the home, but neither did they give it their blessing. The committee that responded to the matter recommended that Synod not take the existence of the Deaconess matter into their own hands though a synodical committee should oversee and safeguard any such program from “getting out of hand.” The committee also requested “that Synod promise this establishment in the Lutheran—that is Biblical spirit—from the beginning and while in operation. Since Deaconesses, especially in our times, would find a blessed circle of activities in the hospital, in city missions as care givers for the sick and the poor in our congregations, in our mission to the heathen, being recognized as care givers they could bear witness to the Gospel in the course of their service of mercy.”

Four months later, Rev. Herzberger expounded on the scriptural and historical basis of a confessional Lutheran diaconate. Only notes from the presentation, written down by a pastor in attendance (the Rev. Herman Bernard Kohlmeier), remain. Seven alphabetized points summarized Rev. Herzberger’s main arguments, three of which were:

A. There is only one divinely instituted office, the holy ministry. All other offices are auxiliary offices, and may be established, changed, abrogated by the church as she deems best for her welfare.

B. The office of the female diaconate is such an office. It flourished in the early Christian church, lost its character, however, and disappeared under popery, and has been re-established in some parts of Christendom in our time.

E. It is not implied that deaconesses are a special spiritual order in the church, nor serving in the ministry. Scripture bars women from the office of the ministry but they can exercise the right and obligations of the priesthood of believers. Therefore deaconesses give instruction, admonition, comfort of Scriptures as the situation requires.

The presentation kept the discussion alive in Lutheran circles for the next eight years, while Rev. Herzberger (and others with the Associated Lutheran Charities) wrote letters to the presidents of districts and Synods affiliated with the Synodical Conference. These men began to express their support for a deaconess training school. In 1918/19, Rev. Herzberger wrote a tract on “Woman’s Work in the Church,” expanding on these points:

“So we learn direct from Scripture [earlier in the tract he referenced Romans 16:1 and 2 as well as the saintly widows in 1 Tim. 5:9 and 10] that it was customary for the congregations in times of the Apostles to employ women workers! They were servants of the particular congregation in which they labored and were under the jurisdiction of the local congregation and assistants of the pastor or bishop. It is of the highest importance to remember that fact that the female diaconate is an auxiliary office of the Holy Ministry…there is but ONE divinely created office in the Church viz. the office of the Holy Ministry. The pastor is exclusively THE teacher, THE shepherd and overseer of his congregation and will have to give an account to God for his stewardship. (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1-3; Hebrews 13:17). Because of that fact all other offices in the Church are but human ordinances. They can and ought to be created as exigency and the welfare of the local congregations demands. But they must all have their root in the divinely appointed Ministry and stand in vital relation to it…

“The Apostle Peter tells us emphatically, I Peter 3:7: “that Christian women are heirs together with the men of the grace of life” and hence, they belong to that “chosen generation and royal priesthood” of which he speaks in his second chapter, “who are to show forth the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.” On account of their SPIRITUAL PRIESTHOOD women have the same call to labor in the Church of Christ that Christian men have. There is but one limitation—imposed by the Lord of the harvest Himself—they are not to preach the Gospel in public worship [I Cor. 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:11-14)…

“Our sorrow grows greater when we think of the many opportunities we miss for winning souls for Christ because of our NEGLECT in training and supporting gifted and pious women in our midst for missionary and charitable work. The World War may be over, but the sad conditions it has created in all ranks of society are not over! If ever the Church of Christ was called upon to bend every effort for the saving and uplifting of redeemed souls that time is NOW!”

Diaconal service grows from the mercy so richly poured out on undeserving sinners. “Mercy is central to who God is, as evidenced in the Father’s compassionate giving of His Son, in Christ’s bearing of our sins, and His sacrificial work on the cross for us, and in the faith-creating and sustaining work of the Spirit,” Associate Director of the Deaconess Formation Programs at CTSFW, Deaconess Amy Rast, would write nearly a hundred years later. “Mercy is a way of life for God’s people, as they respond to His mercy in faith toward Him and in love toward one another. Therefore, mercy is central to the life of a deaconess as she attends to physical needs, shares God’s Word, teaches the faith, encourages believers in the Christian life, consoles the suffering, confronts the sinning, and tells the Good News of salvation. CTSFW Deaconesses teach, reach, and care—and that is a life of mercy.”

Years of writing letters, giving presentations, and persistently teaching the Biblical basis of the role of women in the Church and their work as members of the royal priesthood met with success. One hundred years and one month ago, on August 17, 1919, the Lutheran Deaconess Association was formed at a meeting held at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne. Diaconal training in the LCMS had begun.

Today’s history lessons was summarized with quotes ransacked (save for the quote from Deaconess Rast) from the first chapter of “In the Footsteps of Phoebe” by Cheryl D. Naumann (CPH, 2009).

The Seminary Guild and Disruptions in the LCMS

Rev. Fundum leads devotion.

The 2019/2020 academic year marks the 174th year of our existence, but it owns another significant milestone: it is the 80th anniversary year of the Seminary Guild. Yesterday was the first monthly meeting of the academic year for the women who work so tirelessly to support our students. Formed in 1939 in response to rising food and board costs, their support has been ongoing for 80 years.

Rev. Jim Fundum, admission counselor at CTSFW and spiritual advisor to the Guild, opened the meeting with a devotion, using Scripture passages that reference 80 years. Moses came up (he was 80 when God called to him from the burning bush) as did Barzillai from 2 Samuel 19 (verse 32, “Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old,” began the reading, but Rev. Fundum had to stop at this point in the verse as the Seminary Guild women in their 80s had a good laugh over the description). He finished with Psalm 90:10: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

But Psalm 90 does not end there. Verse 12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” and at the last, in verse 17: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

“That’s why you’re here, serving the Guild,” Rev. Fundum said. “He establishes the work of the Seminary Guild’s hands.”

President of the Guild, Phyllis Thieme, sits in the foreground of this shot as they study God’s Word.

Dr. Lawrence Rast Jr., President of CTSFW, served as yesterday’s keynote speaker. A historian first and foremost, Dr. Rast spoke of the Guild in the context of church history, particularly that of the Lutherans in America, focusing around the three major “disruptions” that rocked the Synod’s history. These are times when all seems to be in flux. “We as a church body, as a seminary, as congregations, find ourselves in situations that are unique,” Dr. Rast explained. “We experience things we have never experienced before, that threaten to derail our work.”

These disruptions are a reality of the fact that we are a member of the church militant. “’Their span is but toil and trouble,’” Dr. Rast quoted, calling back to Psalm 90.

Yet through those disruptions, through the toil and trouble, next academic year CTSFW will celebrate 175 years of existence, grown from a class of 11 students in October of 1846. The following year, our entire church body will celebrate another 175th anniversary: that of the LCMS. “That really is something,” Dr. Rast said. “One hundred and seventy-five years. God continues to bless us.”

Lutheranism in North America officially set foot on the continent 400 years ago this month. A few days into September of 1619, Lutheran Danes attempting to find a route to China got stuck in Hudson Bay. Realizing that winter would soon set in, on September 7 they decided to make camp at what is now Churchill, Manitoba; an area famous (though unknown to the 66 sailors onboard their ship at the time) for polar bears. Their Lutheran pastor, Rasmus Jensen, held the first Lutheran services on the continent. Of the 66, three men survived the winter (Rev. Jensen not among them), most dead of scurvy or lead poisoning. The survivors returned to Denmark.

Nearly 250 years later, the LCMS formed on April 26, 1847, in Chicago. At the time, there were dozens of Lutheran synods. So why begin another?

When the LCMS started in 1847 as Die Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und andern Staaten, the “Deutsche” (“German”) was inclusive, not exclusive. Germany didn’t exist and wouldn’t until 1871. German speakers hailed from across Europe, from many smaller states and regions that fall under entirely different countries now. The first-generation of Dr. Rast’s family in America spoke German and are listed in the US census as either Prussians or Russians. Though that particular geographic area is now in the middle of Poland, the family remains emphatic: “NEVER Poland,” Dr. Rast insisted, laughing.

In 1847, including all German speakers was an important part of the church’s outreach strategy. Into the early part of the 20th century, Lutherans were the most ethnically diverse denomination in America. It wasn’t just the Saxon church or the Prussian church; it was the church for all German speakers. The language was central to the Lutheran church’s identity.

However, by 1917, that became a liability: WWI had begun. The “German” in “German Lutheran” was suddenly dangerous. For example, Dr. Rast’s vicarage church, Immanuel Lutheran in Terre Haute, Indiana, originally had a school. But in 1918, the school was forcibly closed when the town grabbed the school’s only teacher and threatened to tar and feather him for, as they claimed, “Teaching the children to be German spies.” He escaped tarring and feathering, but was driven from town. Immanuel Lutheran hasn’t had a school since. In Nebraska, new state laws demanded that the German Lutherans stop teaching in German. The Lutheran church fought the law on legal grounds, taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. They won. “And then stopped using German a couple of years later,” Dr. Rast finished with a laugh.

Dr. Rast asked the women of the Seminary Guild to imagine how the transition, pressed on them by outside forces out of their control, must have felt to the founders and first generation. Their children were bilingual, many of whom favored English over their parent’s native tongue, but for that first generation of immigrants, German was their heart language.

By 1938, the LCMS had officially stopped using German as the Synod’s official language. “It was almost a non-event,” Dr. Rast said. In 1917, Die Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und andern Staaten dropped “Deutsche” from their name and thought that would be enough. It was not. In 1921, they officially adopted the English translation: “The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States.” Seventeen years later, at the 1938 Synod Convention in St. Louis, a delegate got up and suggested they no longer keep minutes in German.

Another delegate seconded, and that was it. “In 20 years,” Dr. Rast pointed out, “they went from a German Church to an American Church.”

The Seminary Guild came into existence in 1939, less than a year after Synod officially dropped German from their minutes and during CTSFW’s Springfield days. The Fort Wayne Seminary had already moved twice at that point, first to St. Louis in 1861 to study alongside their sister seminary (reputedly to keep their students from being drafted into the union army, “But I suspect that was just a smokescreen,” Dr. Rast added as an aside. “The frugal Germans wanted to save money. Two seminaries, one faculty.”), then to Springfield in 1875. Between the two seminaries they had run out of room and Concordia Theological Seminary decided to move to Milwaukee.

It was a practical choice: the area was filled with Lutherans and Lutheran churches, which offered plenty of fieldwork opportunities for their students. However, at almost the last moment they received an unbelievable deal in Springfield instead. The city had only one Lutheran church, but the campus and grounds were basically given to Synod. The frugal Germans were pleased. They taught seminarians in Springfield for 100 years, until Concordia Theological Seminary moved back to Fort Wayne in 1976.

Dr. Rast points out the Seminary Guild sign, recently discovered in the archives of the Seminary–meaning, he explained with a laugh, that it had likely been found and dug out of a closet.

The year that the Seminary Guild formed in 1939, the Wizard of Oz had premiered in Hollywood (asbestos served as the snow in the poppy field scene), the Girls Scouts sold Thin Mints for the first time (then known as Cooky Mints), and on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland; Britain and France would declare war a couple of days later. The longest-serving president of the Synod had recently begun his first term in 1935 (he would remain in office until 1962), just as WWII would bring a second wave of anti-German sentiment to America.

Known as one-eyed Jack (an accident with a baseball had robbed him of an eye when he was a child), the Rev. Dr. John Behnken was the first truly bilingual president. He was American-born and preferred English. Dr. Rast’s connection with Dr. Behnken is even more personal: One-eyed Jack (then serving as a District President) introduced his grandfather to his grandmother. Dr. Behnken asked two sisters to sing a duet at the young Rev. Rast’s ordination service, then gave this sage advice to the new graduate: “Choose one.”

He chose Edith. Then, twenty years later, the former district president found a place for one of their sons at Concordia River Forest. The young music teacher met a Chicago undergraduate. “My mother,” Dr. Rast explained. “I owe Dr. Behnken my life, not just once but twice.”

With these stories always come the “What if?” What if he’d missed the train? What if he’d worked somewhere else? What if Dr. Behnken hadn’t asked two sisters to sing a duet? “You all have stories like these,” Dr. Rast said to the women of the Seminary Guild. “Stories end up fitting together, working together. The Lord has put all these pieces together.” He has done so in the small, personal matters; He has done so through the disruptions that have shaken the LCMS throughout her history; He has done so on the cross, where justice and mercy at last met one dark Friday afternoon.

Dr. Rast’s concluding point: 80 years is something to celebrate, as is the ongoing impact of the Seminary Guild to the Seminary’s mission. “It’s huge!” he declared. The Seminary Guild serves in “small” ways. They provide snacks for the students during finals week, birthday cookies for the single students, homemade t-shirts and booties for the newborns, furniture projects in student services, a book project for the new students during fieldwork assignments, and the annual donation day to support the work of the Food & Clothing Co-op. “We can’t qualify [these tasks] from this side of heaven,” Dr. Rast said. Only when we step back—and perhaps only when we finally step back into eternity—will we see how the puzzle pieces all fit together, according to God’s good will and purpose and promises.

Members of the Guild register for the first meeting of the year. Deaconess Amy Rast (in black), Dr. Rast’s wife, greets the ladies.

From 1932-1962, the LCMS doubled in size from one to two million. This is not the trend we see today; we too are living through significant disruption as the world howls in hostility at the inerrant Word of God. “We remember the really good days, always,” Dr. Rast said. But the reality is that the golden years were probably not as golden as we imagine. “Don’t pine for a past that probably never was.”

Instead, we are simply called to be faithful. And so we pray Psalm 90, the only psalm attributed to Moses, a man of God whose life began, in many ways, at 80:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

Commemoration: Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

Today is the Commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Below is a copy of Dr. Benjamin Mayes’ sermon from chapel this morning, which focused on the confession, laying out the history of its presentation on June 25, 1530:

“Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

Dearly beloved: Today’s text is a warning. It is possible to be deceived, and you must take care that this does not happen. If you are deceived about our holy faith, if you go astray with regard to God, you are being “taken captive.” In that case you would no longer belong to God, you would belong to someone else. You would be a mental captive of man or of the devil.

It’s a warning. It’s possible to be deceived. We do not agree with the once-saved-always-saved doctrine. Salvation is not as easy as making a decision for Jesus to come into your heart. Grace is not cheap, it is costly. It cost the Lord Jesus His blood, and once you belong to Him through Baptism and faith, it may cost you your life.

It often comes with a burden—the holy cross. People who belong to the Lord Jesus, what happens to them? The Holy Spirit comes to them, raises them from their spiritual death, and begins to make them really alive. But at the same time He conforms them to the Lord Jesus, and in this life, our Lord’s path was marked by the cross and suffering. It was also marked by the devil’s temptations. And that is what happens to us, who belong to the Lord Jesus.

It is not an easy life. There will be temptation, attempts at deception by the devil and other people. If they deceive you about our holy faith, you will be taken captive. Therefore take to heart St. Paul’s warning: “Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

In this same passage, Paul shows there are two categories of empty, deceitful philosophy: according to the tradition of men, and according to the basic principles of the world. The first is through superstition; the second is through secular thinking.

What Paul means by “philosophy” is not exactly the same as everything that’s called “philosophy” today. At its best, philosophy is clear, rational thinking about the created world, at a high level—and that is a gift of God. The problem is when this clear, rational thinking wants to make judgments on the will of God, and that happens when it takes something else as a source of truth that is higher than God’s revelation. And again, the two basic categories are “tradition of men” and “basic principles of the world,” that is, human inventions and secular, scientific thinking when it’s misapplied.

Thanks be to God, we have an excellent statement of the doctrine that is “according to Christ” in the Augsburg Confession, which was written 489 years ago, in the year of our Lord 1530. If you are a student at our Seminary, you will study this confession in detail. It sets forth everything of which today’s reading speaks in abundant detail: perseverance in true doctrine and faith, discernment about which traditions must be kept and which must be rejected, the person of Christ, Baptism, Christian perfection, the bondage of the will in conversion to God, the holy Law of God, and the atonement—in which it was not our works, but Christ who reconciled the Father to us, and who was our propitiation, by His obedience to the Law and His innocent death, and that we receive all His benefits through faith alone. All of those themes are prominent in the Augsburg Confession.

The presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530 is a remarkable story of steadfast faith under pressure to conform to the popular errors of the day. When Emperor Charles V, the mightiest man in Europe, summoned the Lutherans to the congress that would take place in Augsburg, the tone was peaceful. It seemed that the Lutheran confession of faith would be given a fair hearing. Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Elector John the Steadfast were naively overjoyed.

But that joy was quickly shattered when Melanchthon reached Augsburg. A book by John Eck was being read by everyone, accusing Lutherans of every heresy imaginable, and the book had been commissioned by the Emperor’s brother Ferdinand. It showed Melanchthon and the Evangelical side that there would be no peace. The Word of God would not be given free course. The Evangelicals would be branded as heretics. The memory of John Hus burning at the stake for his true teaching a century before was in their minds.

The important thing would be to unify as many Evangelicals in a common Lutheran confession and to get this read before the Emperor, since that was like reading a bill in congress. Once it was read to the Emperor, it was in the public record and debate could ensue—debate that could go favorably, or at least could last for a while. The Lutheran confession would in that case have some legal protection for a time.

The emperor and his retinue arrived in Augsburg on June 15, 1530. Immediately he requested that Elector John command that all Evangelical, Gospel-centered preaching must cease. The meeting of the Emperor with Elector John and the other princes was immediately a time of civil jostling. When the pope’s ambassador saw the Emperor greeting the princes, he raised his hands to give a benediction. The Emperor with all the Catholics knelt to receive the blessing from the pope’s ambassador. Elector John and the other Protestant princes remained standing in defiance. Then, in the Augsburg cathedral, the Emperor again knelt in prayer, while the Elector and his ally Landgrave Philipp of Hesse remained standing.

That night, at the Emperor’s quarters, he again made his demands to the Protestant princes. First, there must be no Evangelical preaching. Second, the Protestant princes must join in the Corpus Christi parade the next day, following the consecrated bread of the Lord’s Supper in a display case through the streets of the city, showing by their action that they approved.

Tired though the princes were, they refused to comply. The Margrave of Brandenburg said, “We plead with his Imperial Majesty not to remain in this demand since we preach God’s pure Word as did Augustin, Hilary and other teachers of the past; of this his Imperial Majesty may convince himself. We cannot live without the Word of God nor deny the gospel with a good conscience.”

Landgrave Phillip of Hesse said, “Imperial Majesty’s conscience is not lord and master over our conscience.”

Then the Margrave of Brandenburg said, “Before I let any one take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God I will kneel and let them strike off my head.”

In response to this bold resistance, the Emperor gave them until the next morning to reconsider. That night, the Wittenberg theologians worked on a written response. It read, “The Sacrament was not instituted to be worshiped like the brazen serpent of the Jews. We are here to confess the truth and not to confirm abuses.” Despite all pressures, the Lutheran princes stood firm and refused to comply. The Emperor ended up walking in the procession with only about a hundred citizens. This shows the courage of these leading laymen.

In the next few days, the Emperor attempted to prevent the Augsburg Confession from being read and thus entered into the legal record, but the political maneuvering of the Lutheran princes tied his hands. Finally, the confession was read on June 25, 1530, at 3:00 in the afternoon. It was read in a small assembly hall, to avoid the presence of a large crowd. Only about 200 people could fit in the room. The Saxon chancellors Georg Brück and Christian Beyer stepped forward, one with the German confession, the other with the Latin. Beyer read the German version aloud, a feat which took about two hours.

This date, June 25th, marks the real birth of the Lutheran Church as a distinct confession from Roman and Reformed churches. It is the real Reformation Day. There is a lot more that happened. There’s no time now to tell about how the Confession was rejected and how war impended over Germany for the next half a year. Only in 1531, when the Emperor had his hands full with the Turks in southeast Europe, and the military strength of the Lutherans had grown, could fears of invasion be turned into rejoicing and thanksgiving to God.

Our fathers in the faith remained steadfast and did not conform to peer pressure and the popular errors of their day. As a result, we have this glorious, golden statement of faith, which helps us to remain faithful to Christ even now in our day.

Dearly beloved, the pressures to conform to the philosophy and vain deceit of the world are strong, and the battle to maintain the right faith in our hearts and congregations is serious. But the weapons of our warfare are here for you, and with them you are safe. Therefore study, learn, pray, and grow. These things are here for you. May God root you and build you up in Christ our Lord and establish you in the faith, just as you were taught. To Christ be all the glory! Amen.

Dr. Mayes is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology here at CTSFW. Quotes were pulled from “Corpus Reformatorum” 2:106, 114, 115, quoted in M. Reu, “The Augsburg Confession: A Collection of Sources with An Historical Introduction” (Chicago: Wartburg, 1930).

Protestant Museum of Upper Austria (Rutzenmoos): Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – Engraving in a bible from Nuremberg (1736); photograph of image uploaded to wikimedia by Wolfgang Sauber.