Through the 1520’s, the status of Lutheranism had also become a political issue in the “Holy Roman Empire,” which for centuries had only recognized one Christian Church. Emperor Charles V wanted the Lutheran nobles to assist him in his fight against the advancing Turkish armies, but he had no intention of undermining the faith of the Roman Catholic Church. He invited the Lutheran princes to present their faith at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Luther himself could not be present, but he would stay involved in the proceedings from a nearby town. Luther’s colleague Philip Melanchthon was charged with putting the Lutheran position to writing. The article on justification states: “Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”
The emperor rejected the Lutheran Confession and Germany was divided between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Shortly after Luther’s death in 1546, the Schmalkaldic War brought victory to the Roman Catholics and dismay and confusion among the Lutherans. Although the Lutheran princes reassembled their defense and secured freedom for their faith, issues from the war and questions over the proper conception of the Lutheran faith threatened to break the Lutheran Church into a number of splinter movements. Only the persistent efforts of key pastors and theologians restored the unity of the Lutheran Church in the publication of The Book of Concord (the “Concordia”) in 1580. Beginning with the ecumenical creeds and the Augsburg Confession, it remains the central articulation of Lutheran faith to this day.
That confession also impelled the mission of proclaiming the clear Gospel of salvation throughout the world. By 1560, all of Scandinavia had become Lutheran. Lutherans first came to North America in the 1600’s, with increasing waves of immigrants through the 1800’s, when European and American Lutherans began to spread their faith throughout the world. In this spirit of faithfully practicing and zealously sharing their faith, some German Lutherans in the Midwest founded what was to become The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Today, more than 70 million identify themselves as Lutheran and all Christians have been impacted by Luther’s biblical proclamation of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone on the authority of Scripture alone.
This is the last of four articles comprising the Historic Exhibit of the Reformation displayed at the Breslin Center on October 15, 2017:
Unknown Artist. Reading the Confessio Augustana in front of Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg,1530 (detail). Heinz-Dieter Falkenstein/age footstock/superstock.