The chief article in the Smalcald Articles is the office and work of Jesus Christ (SA II, 1). This office of Christ is given for our justification through faith, apart from all works of the law. Jesus lifted high for the forgiveness of sins, for Dr. Luther is the heart and focus of all the Scriptures. This is reflected in all articles which hang off the first and chief article of Jesus Christ, which “stands all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world.” The Christological controversy does not blend or pit the divine and human natures against each other but distinguishes Christ’s true gospel from papal crimes against the church. Luther concedes that there is no specific dispute over the confessed creeds regarding the trinity and economy of relations. The dispute involves the Reformation breakthrough which confesses Christ’s full atonement for sinners, apart from papal lies and malfeasance.
The address of the chief article is spoken only after the revelation of sin from the Holy Scriptures (SA III, 1). The law comes by way of crushing imposition, accusing at every turn, revealing inherited sin and its utter depths. The sweet words of the Lord forgives sinners, speaks peace, and builds His church. The Smalcald articles are not fragmented confessions but one exposition of Christ’s blessed and simple institution – the forgiveness of sins. Beginning with the second article, the Mass under the papacy is identified as the “greatest and most terrible abomination, as it directly and violently opposes the chief article.” For Luther the “chief error” is enthusiasm which seeks to deal with God apart from Jesus’ Holy Word and sacrament. Human inventions (enthusiasm) have set themselves against the pure doctrine of our Lord – who is the sacrificial Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. The Mass under the papacy contains the other abuses such as indulgences, pilgrimages, monasteries, masses for the dead, and invocation of the Saints. All these inventions negate the chief article of Christ’s work by propping up false avenues of merit. The 14th article of Smalcald, concerning monastic vows, which might otherwise be seen as a secondary point of dispute, likewise, stands “in direct conflict with the first and chief article.” According to Luther, monastic vows deny Christ and are “blasphemy against God.”Other contemporary theologies do not start with the office and work of Jesus but rather set him up in an office which is not his own. He may become a demanding judge, an exemplary moral leader, an ambassador for social justice, or an object of romantic sentiments. For Doctor Luther, Jesus is the subject of creation, eternal, begotten Son of God, who becomes incarnate in the Virgin and justifies the ungodly. The Smalcald Articles and the Augustana rightfully confess Jesus as the Alpha and Omega. Besides being simply an exemplary model, he is exemplary sacrifice and meal, who creates faith ex nihilo in baptism, word, and His Supper. The Smalcald Articles must not be seen as separate or isolated doctrines but rather form one doctrine (SA II, 1) proceeding from the words of Jesus. We hear the address of the Gospel with our ears and eat with our mouth the promise of God in Jesus Christ.