“Sire,” said Margrave George the Confessor, one of the signers of the Augsburg Confession, when Emperor Charles V demanded that the Protestant princes participate in the Corpus Christi procession at the Diet of Augsburg, “I would rather kneel down on this spot and have my head chopped off than give up the Word of God.” (quoted by Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand, 18 )
Of those times in which the life of the church was not very much disturbed by concern for pure teaching and by alarm concerning false teaching, it may be said that they do not belong to the great ages of the church. On the contrary, the church is always in danger of dying when it ceases to wrestle for truth and to pray that the Lord may guard it against the devil’s wiles and false teaching.
If this is true of all ages in the history of the church, how much more must it be true of an age like the Reformation! …
Doctrinal and confessional formulation began anew. And out of the struggle over doctrine, which had become unavoidable, a new kind of church developed: the confessional church. …
The first of these new confessional churches was the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Making its first appearance in 1530 as the church of the Augsburg Confession, it was the confessional church par excellence. It came into existence suddenly, not as an organization, and yet as a church. It was still without a form of government. It had no episcopal or synodical organs to represent it. The imperial estates had to represent it before the political world, and a few theologians, like Melanchthon, before the ecclesiastical world. It possessed no legal existence, and a superficial observer travelling through the Electorate of Saxony and the other evangelical territories would perhaps have said that it actually had no existence at all. What did exist, however, was the teaching, the Confession. And this did not begin with the words Lutherus docet [“Luther teaches”], but with the words, Ecclesiae magno consensu apud nos docent “Our churches, with common consent, do teach”–or, “The churches among us teach with complete unanimity,” Latin (Kolb/Wengert transl.), AC I:1].
How did Melanchthon know this? How did he determine this? Where was the synod which authorized him and approved the Augsburg Confession? Apparently all the canonical requirements for the preparation and presentation of an ecclesiastical confession, which certainly had to be more than a statement of the religious views of a few estates directed ot the Imperial Government, were wanting. And yet the Augsburg Confession was a genuine church confession the like of which had not been produced since the days of the ancient church. Where is the professor of theology, or even a commission of theologians, who would presume to prepare a confession opening with the words: “Our churches, with common consent, do teach…,” without at once running headlong into opposition? Melanchthon and his colleagues could venture to do this. They could speak in the name of many thousands, in behalf of countless pastors and congregations. To be sure, they met opposition too. Luther, as has already been noticed, found the Confession too “pussy-footed,” and he missed some things in it. He himself would have written it quite differently. Yet he also finally gave it hearty approval. For it really expressed the consensus of the Evangelicals, their new understanding of the Holy Scriptures. This consensus, this “unanimity of faith,” seems almost miraculous to us who are living in an age which has passed through the mill of individualism and who know the creed only as an individual’s “I believe,” and no longer as the “We believe, teach, and confess” of all genuine churchly Confessions. But this consensus of the church is characteristic of all creed-constructing epochs in church history. (Sasse, Here We Stand, 98, 99-100)
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)
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No existence? There was an archbishop and several bishops, everything continued as it had before, but with purified and clarified doctrine.