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This We Believe

A Review of Dr. Martin Luther’s  Smalcald Articles

1. Of the Divine Majesty/Redemption/Salvation by Grace

When God’s Word is attacked, the salvation of souls is in jeopardy. For that reason, Christians must stand up and proclaim the truth of God’s Word boldly and clearly. We do that not only as a testimony to those who promote error but also for the sake of those who have been deceived and led astray by the error.

That was the purpose of the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord of 1580, and that remains their purpose today. Therefore this review of the Smalcald Articles is more than a review of the history of the Lutheran Church. It is a review of the teachings of Holy Scripture so that we may be prepared to confess the truth to the confused and lost in our world today.

Luther organized this confession into three parts. Part I, “Concerning the Divine Majesty,” is the shortest part because, as the Reformer said, this truth was not under contention but was confessed by the Church of Rome as well. Yet it is necessary to clearly identify the true God whom we worship. This article separates Christianity from all false religions and is the foundation for all that follows in a confession like this.

Luther identifies the true God with four key points:

1) He declares the trinity and unity of the God who created heaven and earth.

2) He shows the distinction of the three Persons in the Trinity.

3) He identifies Jesus Christ as the Son of God who became man for our salvation.

4) He affirms statements about Jesus in the Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds, showing that he is not presenting some new teaching but a teaching that the Christian Church has always confessed.

Part II is also divided into four articles. Article 1 states the Bible teaching of justification by faith alone (see box for full text). That is followed by articles describing how the Roman Catholic Church obscures this teaching with its words and practices on the Mass, the Monastic Orders, and the Papacy (each of these to be discussed in future articles).

Why did Luther make this
his “first and chief article”?

Justification by faith alone is the most important article of the Christian faith! If this truth is lost or compromised, there is nothing left, as Luther puts it, “On this article rests all that we teach and practice against the Pope, the devil, and the world.” The scriptural teaching of the work of Christ and our redemption is fundamental to all the Bible’s teachings and deserves this prominent position in our confession.

What error is
Luther addressing?

The Roman Catholic Church taught that man is justified at least in part by his own works, which stands in direct contradiction to the Word of God. Just eight years after the Smalcald Articles were written, the Council of Trent [city in northern Italy—ed.] was convened to respond to the confessional writings of the Lutherans and others. In its decrees the Roman church stated, “If any one saith that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.” Thus the church placed its official condemnation on the only way of salvation!

What holy truths
does Luther set forth?

Notice that Luther does not use his own words to set forth his teaching (see sidebar). Rather, he gives the simple, straight-forward Word of God, showing that he himself truly practiced what he preached when he said that “the Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel.” He quoted simple passages which teach • That Jesus Christ suffered and died to take away the sin of the world. • That we are justified freely by His grace. • That we receive forgiveness and are justified by faith alone without any works of the law. • This is the only way of salvation.

How does this
apply to us today?

As Luther said, “…Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised”! God’s Word has not changed. The one and only way of salvation has not changed. This article on Redemption is just as vital today as ever, and the salvation of souls depends on it.

The devil has not stopped attacking this central teaching of Scripture. Vatican II convened in 1962 and reaffirmed all the decrees of the Council of Trent. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church still states, “No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods” (emphasis added).

Today the teaching of justification by faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins is being challenged and discarded by many churches and church practices, so it is all the more vital that we boldly and clearly confess to the world what God says on this matter.

May the Spirit keep us in this
faith and enable us to proclaim
it to the world!