Nearly Unified - The Marburg Colloquy

On October 3, 1529, the leaders of the Protestant movement gathered together to unify. They nearly did. Out of fifteen articles, they agreed on fourteen. And in the fifteenth, they had a disagreement on just one point, the nature of the presence of Jesus in the Lord's Supper. In attendance were John Oecolampadius (age 47 - theologian who was a professor at the University of Basel), Huldrych Zwingli (age 45 - Swiss Reformation leader), Martin Bucer (age 38 - a unity-minded reformer in Strasbourg and lead mediator between Luther and Zwingli), Caspar Hedio (age 35 - a forgotten reformer who ministered in Strasbourg), Martin Luther (age 46 - needs no introduction), Justus Jonas (age 36 - professor, translator of Luther and Melanchton's Latin works into German), Philip Melanchthon (age 32 - the first prominent theologian of the Reformation), Andreas Osiander (age 31 - a German/Lutheran preacher and eventual professor), Stephan Agricola (age 38 - German/Lutheran preacher), John Brenz (age 30 - professor made prominent for his writings on the topic of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper). If you are wondering where Calvin was, he was only twenty at the time of this meeting and had not yet broken from the Catholic Church.

What baffles me in reading about these pillars of the Reformation is how there was so much controversy over completely theological yet extrascriptural ideas. Just because they were talking about the nature of God or Jesus, the nature of justification, or some other spiritual subject does not mean that it was worth dividing over. The reformers were experiencing the newly allowed ability to think for themselves but had yet to discover how to stand only on essentials while allowing freedom to disagree on other subjects. They were amiable and friendly in their disagreement in the fifteenth statement, but it kept them from being united.  Like us today, we still have not learned how to unify over essentials and not divide over every difference of doctrinal opinion, worship styles, or opinions on the color of the carpet.

From this side of the division, it seem pretty ridiculous. Luther's stance was one step removed from transubstantiation, the belief that the body and blood of Jesus are present in the sacrament. While Zwingli believed that the cup and bread are just symbols. This was the nature of the disagreement that kept the early Protestant church divided.  Luther was willing to concede, but Melancthon convinced him that if he were to do that, then reconciliation with the Catholic Church would be impossible.

Following is the Marburg that were agreed upon.

The undersigned have agreed to the articles given below at Marburg on October 3, 1529.

First, that we on both sides unanimously believe and hold that there is only one true, natural God, Maker of all creatures, and that this same God is one in essence and nature and triune as to persons, namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, exactly as was decided in the Council of Nicaea and as is sung and read in the Nicene Creed by the entire Christian church throughout the world.

Second, we believe that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son of God the Father, true and natural God himself, became man through the working of the Holy Spirit without the agency of male seed, was born of the pure Virgin Mary, was altogether human with body and soul, like another man, but without sin.

Third, that this same Son of God and of Mary, undivided in person, Jesus Christ, was crucified for us, died and was buried, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, Lord over all creatures, and will come to judge the living and the dead, etc.

Fourth, we believe that original sin is innate and inherited by us from Adam and is the kind of sin which condemns all men. And if Jesus Christ had not come to our aid by his death and life, we would have had to die eternally as a result of it and could not have received God’s kingdom and salvation.

Fifth, we believe that we are saved from such sin and all other sins as well as from eternal death, if we believe in the same Son of God, Jesus Christ, who died for us, etc., and that apart from such faith we cannot free ourselves of any sin through any kind of works, station in life, or [religious] order, etc.

Sixth, that such faith is a gift of God which we cannot earn with any works or merit that precede, nor can we achieve it by our own strength, but the Holy Spirit gives and creates this faith in our hearts as it pleases him, when we hear the gospel or the word of Christ.

Seventh, that such faith is our righteousness before God, for the sake of which God reckons and regards us as righteous, godly, and holy apart from all works and merit, and through which he delivers us from sin, death, and hell, receives us by grace and saves us, for the sake of his Son, in whom we thus believe, and thereby we enjoy and partake of his Son’s righteousness, life, and all blessings. [Therefore, all monastic life and vows, when regarded as an aid to salvation, are altogether condemned. (This last sentence of the seventh article is found only in the Zurich manuscript. See WA 30III, 164. Concerning the External Word2)]

Eighth, that the Holy Spirit, ordinarily, gives such faith or his gift to no one without preaching or the oral word or the gospel of Christ preceding, but that through and by means of such oral word he effects and creates faith where and in whom it pleases him (Romans 10 [:14 ff.] ).

Concerning Baptism
Ninth, that holy baptism is a sacrament which has been instituted by God as an aid to such a faith, and because God’s command, “Go, baptize” [cf. Matt. 28:19], and God’s promise, “He who believes” [Mark 16:16], are connected with it, it is therefore not merely an empty sign or watchword among Christians but, rather, a sign and work of God by which our faith grows (The various manuscripts have both gefordert and gefoddert, which can mean either “to promote, grow” or “to demand.” Zwingli understood the latter meaning. Luther used the word in both of its meanings. See the note to the ninth article in WA 30III, 165 f. Cf. Sasse, op. cit., p. 271) and through which we are regenerated to [eternal] life.

Concerning Good Works
Tenth, that such faith, through the working of the Holy Spirit, and by which we are reckoned and have become righteous and holy, performs good works through us, namely, love toward the neighbor, prayer to God, and the suffering of persecution of every kind.

Concerning Confession
Eleventh, that confession or the seeking of counsel from one’s pastor or neighbor should indeed be without constraint and free. Nevertheless, it is very helpful to consciences that are afflicted, troubled, or burdened with sins, or have fallen into error, most especially on account of the absolution or consolation afforded by the gospel, which is the true absolution.

Concerning Governing Authorities
Twelfth, that all governing authorities and secular laws, courts, and ordinances, wherever they exist, are a truly good estate and are not forbidden, as some papists and Anabaptists teach and hold. On the contrary, [we believe] that a Christian, called or born thereto, can indeed be saved through faith in Christ, just as in the estate of father or mother, husband or wife, etc.

Thirteenth, that what is called tradition or human ordinances in spiritual or ecclesiastical matters, provided they do not plainly contradict the word of God, may be freely kept or abolished in accordance with the needs of the people with whom we are dealing, in order to avoid unnecessary offense in every way and to serve the weak and the peace of all, etc.

[Also, that the doctrine forbidding clerical marriage is a teaching of the devil. (This sentence of the thirteenth article is found only in the Zurich manuscript. See WA 30III, 168.)]

Fourteenth, that baptism of infants is right, and that they are thereby received into God’s grace and into Christendom.

Concerning the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ
Fifteenth, we all believe and hold concerning the Supper of our dear Lord Jesus Christ that both kinds should be used according to the institution by Christ; [also that the mass is not a work with which one can secure grace for someone else, whether he is dead or alive; (The Zurich manuscript contains this additional statement. See WA 30III, 169.)] also that the Sacrament of the Altar is a sacrament of the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and that the spiritual partaking of the same body and blood is especially necessary for every Christian. Similarly, that the use of the sacrament, like the word, has been given and ordained by God Almighty in order that weak consciences may thereby be excited to faith by the Holy Spirit. And although at this time, we have not reached an agreement as to whether the true body and blood of Christ are bodily present in the bread and wine, nevertheless, each side should show Christian love to the other side insofar as conscience will permit, and both sides should diligently pray to Almighty God that through his Spirit he might confirm us in the right understanding. Amen.

Martin Luther
Justus Jonas
Philip Melanchthon
Andreas Osiander
Stephan Agricola
John Brenz
John Oecolampadius
Huldrych Zwingli
Martin Bucer
Caspar Hedio

The Zurich manuscript lists the signatures in this order: John Oecolampadius, Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Caspar Hedio, Martin Luther, Justus Jonas, Philip Melanchthon, Andreas Osiander, Stephan Agricola, John Brenz.