Skip to content

The Apology to the Augsburg Confession

I used to work for a major corporation, responding on their behalf to customers’ social media complaints. My job was to engage customers and resolve online conflicts. We had strict standards: Never respond in haste. Write precisely and clearly. Publish only words you can stand by.
This was no mere business psychology. God says, “Do not be rash with your mouth, . . . let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2) Wise advice for all public discourse, especially confessional theology.
The presentation of the Augsburg Confession immediately bolstered widespread support for the Reformation. Roman Catholic theologians believed force was the only solution to their German problem. But while Emperor Charles V was loyal to the Pope, he fancied the reputation of orchestrating a less violent resolution, so he ordered the Catholics to prepare a formal disproof of Lutheran doctrine.
After several rushed revisions, their Confutation was completed in just one month. Still dissatisfied with the final result, Charles had it read aloud but refused to give the Lutherans a written copy.
As if the Augsburg Confession had fallen on deaf ears, the Confutation, smattered with untruths, misrepresented Lutheran doctrine. German rulers pressed for a public defense of their faith, tasking Philipp Melanchthon with the response.
He was a gifted wordsmith, but the only primary resources he had were notes scribbled down during the Confutation’s oral delivery. Under political and emotional pressure, his initial Apology (or “explanation”) was completed in reciprocal haste, again one month later.
This flurry of responses back and forth caused the same frustrations as today’s rapid-fire internet debates. Melanchthon was not proud of his work, and little was achieved. Charles gave the Lutherans six months to recant.
Melanchthon used the time wisely. His initial Apology had contained nothing unscriptural, but it was hastily written, admittedly scattered and reactive. No longer in the heat of debate, he could retool the Apology into a proper public defense of Lutheran doctrine. He delineated the key points of controversy with precision and clarity, taking particularly great care with the article of justification, the central teaching of the Christian faith. The end result was a thorough proof that it was the Pope who had departed from the Scriptures, not the Reformers.
Lauded as an eloquent exposition of Biblical doctrine, the Apology of 1531 was first adopted as a formal Lutheran confession by the Smalcald League in 1537 and remains the most comprehensive work in the Book of Concord.
The history of the Apology shows how Lutherans should regard their public doctrinal statements. They are not to be written in haste. Instead, by taking the time to search the Scriptures diligently, we choose our words carefully to say no more and no less than God says, and, that His Word may remain pure in our midst, we stand by them: “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No. ’” (Matthew 5:37)
By God’s grace, our Church of the Lutheran Confession stands as a true spiritual descendant of this great heritage of integrity in all we publish and teach. Other church bodies tolerate error alongside God’s Word, making excuses for doctrinal statements which conflict with Scripture’s clear words. But if anything taught in our pulpits, schools, publications, and so forth is found to conflict with Scripture, we are yet committed to reject and correct it, summarily and publicly.
God’s saving truth deserves no less. Jesus Himself “spoke openly to the world” and “in secret . . . said nothing.” (John 18:20) He was crucified for the sins of the world out in the open for all to see. And in His resurrection, He called us to teach all nations in the same public way.
Thus, the Apology’s lesson for us today: Don’t respond in haste. Search the Scriptures for words you can stand by.
“Be swift to hear, slow to speak.” (James 1:19) Always wise advice. But when it comes to doctrine, being “swift to hear and slow to speak” is an intimate expression of our love for the God who saves, and for the neighbor who has yet to hear His Word.
Timothy Daub is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hecla, South Dakota.