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475th Anniversary of the SMALCALD ARTICLES

Written by | May, 2012
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“…The Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel.” (Luther, SA, Part II, Art. II)

A Closer Look at the Smalcald Articles (SA) (Last of Three)

God’s Word Alone the Rule of Faith

The following statement is helpful to understand where Luther was coming from in this straight-forward, hard-hitting Confession:

The Smalcald Articles [1537] reveal Luther, the bold, mature confessor testifying to God’s revealed truth in the Scripture, twenty years after the young Luther, then an obedient son of the Roman Church, had nailed the ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg [1517]. So, the study of the contents of the Smalcald Articles should be most profitable for our understanding and appreciation of our Lutheran heritage….”1)

Yes, the mature Luther was far more bold than the young Luther in his theological assertions. Luther freely admitted this in the same year that he penned the Smalcald Articles:

…Twenty years ago…when I was a young master at Erfurt, I was always beset by the temptation of sadness. Therefore I applied myself diligently to reading the Bible, and so, from the bare text of the Bible, I soon saw many errors in the papacy. But thoughts like this came to me there in the library at Erfurt: See how great the authority of the pope and the church is. Should you alone be considered wise? Indeed, you may be in error. I gave place to these thoughts and was completely hindered in my Bible reading….But later, when I saw the gross abuses of the indulgences and refuted them and they wanted utterly to destroy me, then things began to happen, though very feebly….So God carried on this affair in a marvelous way and drove me into it without my intention, and He alone has advanced it so far that a reconciliation between the pope and us is impossible. For the pope will not agree to yield the least error; and we dare not yield to him in any—even the smallest—article. Therefore may God help this cause. It is completely out of human hands….” 2)

It’s clear that Luther undertook God’s cause with fear and trepidation. It’s also clear that he never intended to start a new church (as an innovator), but rather to renew or reform the Roman church (as a renovator), calling it back to faithfulness to the teachings of God’s pure
Word alone.

Yes, it was all about faithfulness to the Word of God, as Luther explained: “I, Doctor Martin, was called and compelled to become a doctor [at Wittenberg] out of pure obedience, without my will. So I had to assume the office of a teacher and swear and promise my most beloved Holy Scripture that I would preach and teach it faithfully and purely. In the course of this teaching the papacy blocked my way and wanted to keep me from doing so….” 3)

The words of our subtitle have been called Luther’s “most pointed and popular statement on the Lutheran position” regarding church doctrine. They may otherwise be called his “rule of faith.” The words are an obvious reference to Galatians 1:8: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

The same rule of faith holds for any who claim to be true heirs of the 16th century conservative Reformation which includes the Smalcald Articles: “We stand upon the everlasting foundation—the Word of God:… Not any word of man, no creed, commentary, theological system, nor decisions of Fathers or of councils, no doctrine of Churches, or of the whole Church, no results or judgments of reason, however strong, matured, and well informed, no one of these and not all of these together, but God’s Word alone is the rule of faith.” 4)

All true heirs of the Lutheran Reformation make the Reformer’s prayer their own when they sing from the heart:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word; Curb those who fain by craft and sword Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son And set at naught all He hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known, For Thou art Lord of lords alone; Defend Thy Christendom that we May evermore sing praise to Thee.

O Comforter of priceless worth, Send peace and unity on earth. Support us in our final strife And lead us out of death to life.

(TLH #261:1-3)

 

1) B. Teigen, I BELIEVE, a Study of the Smalcald Articles, Luth. Syn. Book Co., 1978, p. 1

2) What Luther Says, Vol. III, p. 1174

3) Ibid. p. 1175

4) C. P. Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, Augs. Pub. House, Mpls., 1899, p. 165

 

Planned series on the Smalcald Articles:

#1 Of The Divine Majesty/Redemption/Salvation by Grace

#2 Of The Mass (in this issue)

#3 Of Cloisters/Papacy

#4 Of Sin and the Law

#5 Of Repentance

#6 Of The Gospel and Sacraments

#7 Of Keys and Confession

#8 Of Ordination/Traditions/Conclusion