In a country whose Lutheran churches are few, small and struggling, that is far from an academic question (though not, mercifully, one which currently faces me personally).
A few years ago, Chris Atwood coined the term “Augsburg Evangelical” to describe the essence of Lutheran faith and practice. He summarised it in the following five principles:
- Justification by faith alone.
- Baptismal regeneration.
- The real and substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the Lord’s Supper.
- A relative indifference to polity as defining the being of the church.
- Scripture as the only binding norm of faith and practice.
There is nothing about any of these that should necessarily be restricted to “the Lutheran church”, and indeed most other churches share at least some of these principles. And yet, as Chris went on to observe, we still find in practice that:
every congregation which affirms [all] these five also affirms the whole kit and kaboodle of the Lutheran tradition, from the Book of Concord to Law and Gospel sermons to Waltherian congregationalism to Reformation Sundays to Concordia Press to beer.
- Regeneration through Grace in Baptism (sola gratia): God initiates faith.
- Only through faith (sola fide): only faith justifies Man.
- Scriptural authority (sola scriptura): teaches Gospel and Law.
- Economic church polities towards needs: polities are chosen according to practical needs.
- Substantial real presence of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion: nurtures a believer and deepens the union between Man and God.
Or the following, more lighthearted effort (which, as someone pointed out at the time, manages to capture all six characteristics of the Evangelical Lutheran Church…):
- Faith alone justifies
- Unique presence in the supper
- Baptismal regeneration
- Authority of scripture
- Rejection of polity norms
That said, however you define (or mnemonicise) it, this still feels a rather static – and, in some respects, rather negative – definition. In another post, I attempted to define the central dynamic (“engine-room”) of Lutheranism, based on Articles IV, V and VI of the Augsburg Confession:
IV. Concerning Justification
Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. […]
V. Concerning the Office of Preaching
To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe. […]
VI. Concerning the New Obedience
It is also taught that such faith should yield good fruit and good works and that a person must do such good works as God has commanded for God’s sake but not place trust in them as if thereby to earn grace before God. […]
Each of these is critical, but it is Article V that is the linchpin. Justification is not by faith in an abstract gospel, but in the gospel as proclaimed to us in the word and sacraments (see also Romans 10:14-15); and that same faith, given to us by the Holy Spirit through the word and sacraments, produces good works as its fruit.
Again, there is nothing that would seem necessarily “Lutheran” about all that, and yet that specific dynamic – and in particular the way in which the role of preaching and the sacraments is understood – is one I’ve rarely found articulated so clearly outside a Lutheran context. Which is a shame, because I remain convinced it’s an understanding that would be beneficial to Christians from all traditions, without their also having to sign up for potluck lunches, sitting down to sing hymns, etc.
So, the reason for this post is simply to draw together those previous strands from my blogging, and to start 2015 making another small attempt to commend to Christians from other traditions these insights of “Augsburg Evangelicalism”, in the hope that it may be of use to some – even if Augsburg Evangelicalism and Lutheranism are likely to remain inextricably bound together for the foreseeable future.
Selected blog posts on this topic from the past few years:
- Chris Atwood’s original blog post, Can you be Evangelical without being Lutheran?
- This 2008 post featured an extensive comment thread (remember those?) in which Christians from various traditions discussed “the five points of Augsburg Evangelicalism”.
- ROSES and FUBAR
- From Augsburg with love
- The engine-room of Lutheran spirituality
The best books to read on all this (though they are presentations of “Lutheranism” rather than “Augsburg Evangelicalism” as such):
- The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals, by Gene Veith (introductory)
- The Small Catechism (introductory)
- Lutheran Theology, by Steven Paulson (more advanced)
Edit: or you could just spare yourself all of the above, and read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this tweet from Pr Alex Klages. Wisdom! Let us attend!