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After The Death Of Luther

How The Formula Of Concord Was Forged

Part Two: The Augsburg Interim

Luther died in 1546 and Charles V conquered Germany in 1547. “Interim” refers to the period between the defeat of Germany and the hoped-for Council of Trent, which would settle all doctrinal matters in dispute.

The first Interim was announced in Augsburg by Emperor Charles V on May 15, 1548. No one was allowed to preach, teach, or write against the Augsburg Interim. John Agricola, a former friend of Luther and Melanchthon, bragged about his cooperation in writing the Interim. Agricola also created the Antinomian controversy, which was settled by the Formula of Concord.

The Augsburg Interim permitted clergy to marry, but proclaimed papal supremacy, seven sacraments, and transubstantiation. Lutheran doctrines were either denied or omitted, including justification by faith. This half-way measure was not enough for ardent papists or the Pope himself, who demanded total submission.

Charles V used military force to force the Augsburg Interim upon the German Lutherans, making it doubly hateful. The city of Magdeburg resisted valiantly and declared, “We are saved neither by an Interim nor by an Exterim, but by the Word of God alone.” Pastors who opposed the Interim were deposed, banished, jailed, and executed. In Swabia and along the Rhine about 400 ministers suffered banishment, imprisonment, and death because of the Interim.

An old minister said at an assembly of 300 pastors, convened to sign the Interim, “I love Agricola, and more than him I love my Elector; but by Lord Jesus Christ I love most.” He threw the document into the fire. Margrave Hans of Kuestrin threw away the pen, declaring, “I shall never adopt this poisonous concoction, nor submit to any council. Rather sword than pen; blood rather than ink.”

Others were more practical. Philip of Hesse, who surrendered to the Emperor rather than fight, was willing to sign. Elector John Frederick was living with the promise of having his death sentence removed if he only signed a piece of paper. But John Frederick said, “I will rather lose my head and suffer Wittenberg to be battered down than submit to a demand that violates my conscience.”

Philip Melachnthon, Luther’s co-worker, the author of the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, and the Treatise on the Power an Primacy of the Pope displayed extraordinary weakness during the Interim. Musculus, an author of the Formula of Concord, was deposed for his opposition to the Augsburg Interim, but Melanchthon was not willing to risk the wrath of the Roman Catholic emperor.

Many Church of the Lutheran Confession pastors and teachers know what it means to be deposed and banned for their opposition to false doctrine. They remember their dismay at the wavering attitude of leaders who seemed to share their love of orthodox doctrine, yet became enemies of sound doctrine when it mattered most. The crisis of scriptural authority in the Synodical conference did not reach the stage of shedding blood (Hebrews 12:4), but many fell away.

Melanchthon and his disciple George Major set the stage for those modern “confessional” Lutherans who invent subtle, sophisticated, and appealing rationales for abandoning the clear teachings of the Word of God.

Aquila wrote to Melanchthon: “Thou holy man, answer and come to our assistance, defend the Word and name of Christ and His honor (which is the highest good on earth) against the virulent sycophant Agricola, who is an imposter.”

Melanchthon remained silent and then compounded his error with his authorship of the Leipzig Interim.

–Pastor Gregory L. Jackson