FROM THE PASTOR
by Pastor Daniel A. Hinton
The Smalcald Articles II
by Rev. Daniel A. Hinton
The last article in this series focused on the events and politics surrounding the writing and acceptance of the Smalcald Articles. This article will focus on the actual contents of this important work. In three parts, Luther discusses the Trinity and two natures of Christ, the Gospel and its abuse in the church, and then outlines the major articles of the faith.
The first part, entitled The Divine Majesty, is the briefest of the three. It reiterates the teachings on God as Triune, God as creator, Christ and the Holy Spirit as eternal and uncreated, Christ as being fully God and fully man, and the facts of Christ’s conception by the Holy Spirit, birth through the Virgin Mary, His suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and His imminent return in judgment and glory. Since these facts, as elucidated in the Historic creeds, had never been in dispute but were agreed upon between the Lutheran Reformers and the Papists, there was no need to make a significant argument for their existence. At the same time, these doctrines of the Trinity and Christ are so important that they must never go without saying. Thus, Luther includes them at the very beginning of his writing. As with The Augsburg Confession, in any dispute it is always helpful to establish points of agreement so that there is common ground from which to argue on points of dispute.
It is in the second part of the Smalcald Articles that Luther begins to address the disputes between the Papists and the Reformers. The title of this part simply summarizes the contents; The Articles That Refer to the Office and Work of Jesus Christ; That Is, Our Redemption. In the first article of Part II, entitled The Divine Majesty, Luther summarizes what it means according to Scripture that Christ is fully God and fully man, and what it means that he died, rose, ascended, etc. for us. While there was full agreement on the contents of the historic creeds, there was much dispute concerning what those contents mean. This article served to argue very strongly for the position of the Reformers over and against that of the Papists. Luther here argues very strong-ly in favor of the Scriptural position that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. He also emphasizes that under no circumstances could this article of faith be altered or surrendered. How we are justified in Christ is the doctrine on which everything else taught by the Church stands or falls.
The second article is on the Mass, which Luther calls the papacy’s "greatest and most horrible abomination." His harsh words here are not specifically against the term itself. Luther himself uses Mass in reference to the service celebrated by the Evangelicals (those congregations who went with the Reformation), and the 24th Article in both the Augsburg Confession and the Apology emphasize that the Reformers "do not abolish the Mass" but that they preserve and defend its use. That said, while one may occasionally find Lutherans still using the term Mass even today, most Lutherans have taken to using the term "Divine Service," from the German word Gottesdienst. This term is preferred by Lutherans for its emphasis on God serving His people in the worship service.
In the article itself, Luther decries the fact that the Mass had become steeped in "popish idolatry." The Roman church’s theology taught that man’s performance of the act of the Mass itself was what justified someone (and even could remove time from purgatory for those for whom a mass was celebrated) instead of the Mass being a vehicle through which God served His people, pouring forth His grace and mercy in Word and Sacrament. This was an important distinction as the Roman church’s view of the Mass was man-centered, while the Reformers’ teaching concerning the Mass (the Divine Service) centered itself on God’s work for us. In fact, Luther went so far as to say that it would be better to abandon the mass altogether than celebrate it in the man-centered way practiced by the Papists. Some of the specific practices that were troubling were the purchase of masses through which one could have time taken off of the purgatory of a departed loved one, the celebration of private masses (where the priest only is present and the only one to receive the Sacrament), pilgrimages to certain holy places (such as Rome or Jerusalem) in conjunction with participation in a mass, the veneration of relics (alleged to be of saints or of things pertaining to Christ), indulgences earned in connec-tion with the Mass, and the invocation of the saints in the Mass as opposed to only invoking Christ and/or the Triune God.
The third article in Part II is concerning monasticism (cloisters of monks and nuns). It is important to note that it does not condemn the vocation of monk or nun, but only the way that these vocations were being abused. Luther speaks of the great potential of monasteries and convents to be places of education "for learned men and virtuous women." He speaks of how, if used properly, they could be restored to places that produce godly servants for the Church. But he says it would be better to tear them down than leave them in their present state of man-centeredness.
In the fourth article Luther zeroes in on the papacy itself. This article concedes that having a pope (one head over the whole Church) in and of itself is not a bad thing. He concedes that such a hierarchy is beneficial for the sake of having someone maintaining human order in such a large and complex organization. The objection to the papacy is that since at least the 5th Century A.D. (arguably beginning with the assertions of Innocent I followed later by Gelasius I) the papacy had claimed its authority to be divinely instituted; asserting that since Peter was the first Bishop of Rome, and because it was to Peter that Jesus gives the Keys to the Kingdom (Matthew 16), that the supreme authority over the whole Church is divinely seated in the Bishop of Rome, who would come to be called the Pope, a word derived from the Italian and Latin words for "father".
This false claim is one of many reasons for the eventual Great Schism (1054) when the Eastern Church splits completely from the Western Church. There are many arguments against the claim of the papacy to have divinely granted universal power.
Luther likens the illegitimate claim to power over the Church and world by the Pope to that of the dragon in Revelation 12 who seeks to usurp the Christ and take the Church for himself.
It is in this work that the Pope is first referred to as Antichrist on the basis that he claims for himself an author-ity belonging to Christ alone, declaring that only through obedience to him may one be saved.
Luther finishes this article by lamenting that, even if a council is convened where these issues could be brought up for examination among representatives of the whole Church, this council would not receive the kind hear-ing that Augsburg did where the Emperor at least listened to them and encouraged representatives of the Pope to listen also. (As noted in the previous article in this series, such a council never was convened, but another council which excluded the Reformers was convened at Trent for the sole purpose of condemning the theology of the Reformation – if you ever get a chance to read the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent they are truly horrifying.) It was clear to Luther that any council called would never listen to a word of their objections, but only seek to condemn them and their Scripture centered arguments in favor of preserving the status quo built on human-centered tradition. For both the Pope and most of the Bishops sought to preserve their own power and authority with no regard to being of service to Christ and His people through the proclamation of the true Gospel of Christ.
The third and final part of the Smalcald Articles is made up of fifteen articles which largely revisit and further flesh out many of the arguments contained in the articles of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology. It was considered important to revisit these matters in the event of any council being called because the disputes concerning them since Augsburg had not been resolved in any way, and the only way to seek such resolution was to keep bringing them back to the fore. Thus, Luther repeats and further clarifies the Reformers’ scriptural positions on such matters as original sin, law & gospel, repentance, the Sacraments, ordination, the marriage of priests, how one is justified, the Church, and others.
In addition to Martin Luther, forty-one other servants of the Church subscribed unconditionally to the Smalcald Articles, and Philip Melanchthon also subscribed with the caveat that he would allow the Pope authority over other bishops if the Pope would only allow the Gospel. Christ Lutheran and her pastor have publicly subscribed to these articles as true expositions of Holy Scripture, which subscription is required to become members of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
The Smalcald Articles clearly demonstrate what it means to confess boldly and unambiguously what one has come to know to be true from the Scriptures alone. Central to the Christian faith is the article on Justification (Christ and faith), and thus no room for concession is made concerning that article. But in all other aspects of teaching, including sin and the Sacraments, there is left room for discussion among any who are prepared to engage these important topics on the basis of Scripture.
We are to confess boldly, but also humbly, continually striving towards agreement in our confession of faith and unity within the Church. We do not create our own unity by conceding any ground to any teaching that cannot be defended from Scripture, but we strive for unity by continuing to study the Scriptures and confess the faith as drawn from them as clearly as possible. Our ultimate trust for unity ought always to be found in Christ; knowing that while we likely won’t find full unity in doctrine in this life, the fullness of our unity in Christ will be seen upon His return on the last day.