Return to Sender in Wittenberg

After a ten-day bicycle pilgrimage from Augsburg to Wittenberg, Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession is finally back on its author’s desk.

Twenty cyclists recently traveled through wind and weather, covering the three hundred and seventy miles between Augsburg and Wittenburg. They arrived in Wittenburg on September 10, just in time for the concluding worship service of the Reformation World Fair. Their mission? To return the Augsburg Confession’s Article XVI to its place of origin. “We’re returning something that should never have left the gates of Wittenberg,” said Thomas Nauerth, the campaign’s initiator, organizer, and navigator.

The Augsburg Confession, a central Reformation confession of faith, was authored by Philipp Melanchthon in 1530. The document still belongs to the official confessions of a range of Protestant churches and, because of this official status, many pastors and church deacons are duty-bound to uphold it. Article XVI states “…that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required…. They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians” (author’s emphasis).

The cyclists’ proposal? It’s time for Article XVI to go. The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), of which Nauerth is a member, has campaigned against injustice and war since 1914. For almost twenty years, Nauerth explained, “IFOR has actively challenged the Lutheran Church to renounce” Article XVI, which has been a dubious means of legitimizing state-sanctioned violence.

Along their route, the peace pilgrims paid tribute to Anabaptist martyrs persecuted by the Lutheran Church, stopping to remember them in prayer and moments of silence. “We stand up for the right of every Christian to say ‘No!’ to war and ‘No!’ to military professions – and we no longer want to be condemned by anyone for this conviction,” was the pacifist cyclists’ unanimous message. A growing number of Christians agree with them. Despite this, Article XVI has never been amended or repudiated.

What’s the next step? The peace pilgrims’ closing statement has a suggestion: “Now it is the Lutheran Church’s duty to formulate a new Article XVI, and to finally acknowledge the martyrs of the sixteenth century…. Christians’ mission and responsibility for the world can be expressed in a better and more peaceful manner.” –Walter L. Buder

Source: Walter L. Buder, “CA 16 – wäre besser in Wittenberg geblieben.” Vorarlberger KirchenBlatt Nr. 38 vom 21. September 2017. Trans. Erna Albertz. Used by permission.