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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Church Traditions

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Galatians 4:8-11

From the Confessions: The Chief Articles of Faith in the Augsburg Confession

Article XV: Concerning Church Traditions.

Concerning traditions in the Church, they teach that those should be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable for peace and good order in the Church, such as certain holy days, festivals, and the like.

Nevertheless, people are informed that consciences should not to be burdened by these traditions, as if such observances were necessary for salvation.

They are also instructed that human traditions instituted to appease God, to earn grace, and to make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the gospel and the teaching of faith. Therefore vows and traditions concerning food, days, and so forth, that are observed to earn grace and to make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the gospel.

Pulling It Together

The Church calendar is filled with special days for worship. March 19 is a feast day for Saint Joseph, Guardian of Jesus. Hardly any Lutheran congregations know of this festival, let alone gather to worship on the occasion. Still, we observe many special days that we have found beneficial to our faith, such as the commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord or Good Friday. On the first occasion, we dress the altar in white; on the latter we use black. Suppose it were taught that Christians must observe these days by being in a service of worship. Now imagine that each festival must be celebrated by the pastor wearing a chasuble of the correct color for the church year. Speculate further that on these days, one must fast or make a special effort to feed the poor. Each of those things might be beneficial in the teaching of the gospel, but to make them a law of salvation rejects Christ. Keeping certain days, eating (or not eating), making the sign of the cross, remembering one's baptism at the font, and a host of other traditions and ceremonies are just that: traditions. Each of these traditions may be helpful but to demand them for salvation or as ways to earn God's favor is harmful.

The human heart must constantly be reminded that Christ is the end of the law (Rom 10:4). There are “profitable” things that we retain, such as fasting during Lent, but to make fasting during this season a law and obligation is contrary to the gospel. Because there were so many holy days, Luther once quipped that he wished there were no festivals other than Sundays. It is no burden for a pastor to officiate at one more service, or to preach the gospel at yet another assembly. But when those days, foods, and other traditions take the focus off of Christ and make of them new laws to win God's favor, they become “weak and beggarly” (Gal 3:9, RSV) customs that are not profitable for the people of God.

Prayer: Keep me free this day as I remember the gospel, for you are God who brought us out of the house of slavery. Amen. 

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Not My Will, But Yours: A Bible Study on the Bound Will explores the theme of human bondage seen throughout Scripture. From the Old Testament examples of people held in slavery whom God came to set free, to the New Testament examples of Jesus healing illnesses and casting out demons, we witness the Lord’s power of deliverance. Ultimately, all these stories point to the greatest act of God’s redemption in the cross, where Christ rescued us from our captivity to the powers of sin, death, and the devil.


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