From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Human Traditions in the Church
Why have a long discussion? The holy Fathers instituted no traditions with the intention of them meriting the remission of sins or righteousness. They were instituted for the sake of good order and tranquility in the Church.
When someone wants to institute certain works to merit the remission of sins, or righteousness, how will it be known that these works please God without the testimony of God’s Word? How, without God’s command and Word, will people be certain of God’s will? Does he not everywhere in the prophets prohibit people from instituting, without his commandment, peculiar rites of worship? Ezekiel writes, “Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I the LORD am your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezek 20:18–19).
Pulling It Together: Human traditions in the Church are not trifling matters. When they contradict the Word of God, they must be put out of the Church, since they are counter to what God teaches. There is no clearer teaching in all of Scripture than that which teaches us how and why we receive grace. God’s grace is received by faith, and only for Christ’s sake. We do not earn grace, not could we, since Christ is the only merit of grace. If you have faith in Christ, God’s grace is extended to you.
That is too simple for some folks, I suppose. So they create practices that are intended to earn God’s grace and forgiveness. These traditions are put in place and kept in play even though they violate the Word of God. But let us not let the Lutherans off too easily with regards to this matter.
Our churches do not have human rituals and traditions that are meant to merit forgiveness and grace. Still, some of our people treat a few of the divine practices in such a way that they may as well be human rituals that are devoid of grace. When people simply go through the motions of Communion, without due consideration of the body and blood of Christ, do they not eat and drink damnation upon themselves (1 Cor 11:29)? When Confession and Holy Communion are treated as mere rituals but carry the expectation of having done something to earn God’s favor, have we not corrupted the divine institution, turning it into a new tradition of works righteousness?
Prayer: Help me, Lord, to honor you with my heart and my lips. Amen.
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