Lutheran Apologetics, Augsburg Style

Rev. George F. Borghardt

After the Gospel became clear to Dr. Luther, the Lutherans presented a statement to Emperor Charles V on June 25, 1530. They confessed that salvation was by Jesus alone, that it is by grace alone, and is received by faith alone. Although they quoted the Fathers of the Church, their arguments were based solely on Scripture.

The Emperor was not impressed. His reply, written by the Roman Catholic theologians at Augsburg, was read to them on August 3, 1530. It was supposed to be the final statement on the matter. No written copy was even given to the Lutherans! Thus, says the Church and the Emperor, “You are done. The end.”

Would you be done? Would you back down? If you knew you were right, if you believed that you were right, if every time you looked at the Scriptures, all you could see was that salvation is freely won by Jesus’ death on the cross and freely delivered in the Word, would you tuck your tail and run back home just because some theologians and the Emperor said you were wrong? The Lutherans didn’t. A layman, Philip Melanchthon, who taught at the University at Wittenberg, prepared an Apology to the Augsburg Confession. The Lutherans weren’t saying they were sorry for anything they had confessed. They were defending it! An apology, (in Greek ἀπολογία), is “to speak in defense of something.”

Lutherans historically have always engaged in apologetics. We have defended the Christian faith—even when it might mean certain death. When you know you are right, when you can’t see anything other than the Truth, you defend it.

Apologetics is all about defending your faith. When you defend your faith, when you defend what you believe in Christ, you are doing apologetics. You are doing apologetics when you talk to your friends about why you believe what you believe as a Lutheran. You are doing apologetics when you stand up (respectfully!) to your teachers and professors about how God made you and all creatures. The question is not whether to do apologetics, but when you do them, what’s the best way?

“What does this mean?” in our catechism is followed by, “Why does this mean what it means?” The why always comes from Jesus’ death and resurrection. The answers flow from the Scriptures with sound reasoning to a world around you that thinks everything you believe is just plain foolishness.

But Christ’s death and resurrection is anything but foolishness to you. His death and resurrection is the basis for all that we believe in (1 Corinthians 15). The faith of Christ flows from the death and the resurrection of Christ. If Christ rose, then everything we believe in really is possible—
a seven day creation, Noah’s flood, Jonah and the big fish, Jesus’ birth from a Virgin, eternal life...even heaven itself. And for Lutherans, that especially includes the belief that salvation is by grace alone received by faith alone.

What was published as “Melanchthon’s Apology to the Roman Confutation to the Augsburg Confession,” became the official Lutheran Confession of faith. Since that time, it has been included in the list of our doctrinal confessions. Apologetics has been, still is, and should always be what we continue to do as Lutherans. We confess and we defend because who Jesus is and what He has done is the unchanging Truth.

Rev. George F. Borghardt is the senior pastor at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in McHenry, Illinois, and serves as the Deputy and Conference Executive of Higher Things. His email address is revborghardt@higherthings.org.