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After The Death Of Luther —

How The Formula Of Concord Was Forged

(Ten Parts)

Part Three:

The Leipzig Interim

After Luther’s death in 1546 Emperor Charles V conquered Germany with the help of the treacherous Elector Maurice. Charles used executions, imprisonment, and banishment of pastors to impose the papal doctrines of the Augsburg Interim (May 1548), which was hated by the Lutherans. Maurice, mindful of public opinion, convinced Melanchthon to issue a compromise document, known as the Leipzig Interim, December 1548.

The theologians of Wittenberg and Leipzig collaborated on the Leipzig Interim, making it even more hateful than the Augsburg Interim, which only bore the stamp of Agricola, who was earlier disfellowshiped by Luther himself. In 1557 and 1560 the two faculties were still defending their betrayal of Lutheran doctrine. That the Reformation survived these servants of the Church can only be credited to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Leipzig Interim hoped to effect a compromise between the dangers of persecution and the most odious provisions of the Augsburg Interim. Melanchthon’s secret longing for a reunion with Rome is hidden under ambiguous language which omitted justification by faith alone, but allowed for the Roman view of infused righteousness. The Pope remains supreme and Roman customs were allowed. However, persecution continued and disunity grew worse.

Magdeburg, known as “God’s chancellery,” became the only safe haven for those who opposed the Interims. Matthew Flacius Illyricus took refuge there, while Maurice besieged the city for thirteen months, finally capturing it. Flacius became a leader of the Gnesio or pure Lutherans, who never stopped attacking the Interims.

Melanchthon and the faculties of Wittenberg and Leipzig defended their surrender as a compromise on matters of indifference (adiaphora). The argument, still used today, is that one may compromise on unimportant matters (adiaphora) for the sake of preserving or presenting the Gospel. The Formula of Concord had to refute their false claims.

John Calvin wrote eloquently to Melanchthon about his errors: “My grief renders me almost speechless. How the enemies of Christ enjoy your conflicts with the Magdeburgers appears from their mockeries. Permit me to admonish you freely as a true friend. I should like to approve of all your actions. But now I accuse you before your very face. This is the sum of your defense: If the purity of doctrine be retained, externals should not be pertinaciously contended for. But you extend the adiaphora too far. Some of them plainly conflict with the Word of God. Now, since the Lord has drawn us into the fight, it behooves us to struggle all the more manfully. You know that your position differs from that of the multitude. The hesitation of the general or leader is more disgraceful than the flight of an entire regiment of common soldiers.

Today, advocates of the Church Growth Movement, for instance, declare that Lutherans can (or must!) give up, as adiaphora, the historic liturgy, Lutheran hymns, the Creeds, Law/Gospel sermons, and the name “Lutheran” for the sake of gaining more members. Behind their fine words and noble ideals is a secret longing for the false doctrines of the Reformed.

When something good comes from an evil, it is surely a sign of God’s hand at work. In the case of the Interims, the repugnance of the pastors and people was so great that Maurice, in a bid for public acceptance, turned against the Emperor, drove him from Innsbruck, and sent the Fathers of the Council of Trent running for safety. Maurice entered Augsburg on April 5, 1552, hailed as a hero for defeating the papists. The Peace of Augsburg, 1555, gave some measure of freedom for Lutherans.

The Formula of Concord answered the excuse of “adiaphora” by stating: “We likewise regard it as a sin that deserves to be rebuked when in time of persecution anything is done either in indifferent matters or in doctrine, and in what otherwise pertains to religion, for the sake of the enemies of the Gospel, in word and act, contrary and opposed to the Christian confession.” (Article X Triglotta, p. 1061)

The real hero of the Interims was not a theologian, but a ruler, John Frederick, who spent five years in prison with a death sentence hanging over his head. He was brutally treated, exhibited to the mobs for money, and deprived of his Bible and Luther’s works in prison. His faithful witness remains an inspiration to Lutherans. From such a man comes spiritual wisdom. He told Musculus, when the future Formula of Concord author was banished, “Though the Emperor has banished you from the realm, he has not banished you from heaven. Surely, God will find some other country where you may preach His Word.”

–Pastor Gregory L. Jackson