Oh, I had read the Augsburg Confession before that, to be sure. I remember reading it when I became a Lutheran in high school, and I still have that booklet copy that my pastor gave me. I remember reading it in college for a class on the Lutheran Confessions, where we tried to read it with "devotional glasses" as I recall. And, of course, I remember reading the AC in seminary classes, where we learned much more of the historical context and setting of the Confession as well as its theology. However, things hit me differently when I read it not for an assignment, but simply for what it says.
And what led to my astonishment of saying, "We really teach that?"? Certain articles that fall under the category of "doctrinal articles" but that also inform and now guide my pastoral practice - articles such as XI on Confession, XIII on the Use of the Sacraments, and XV on Church Ceremonies. These and other articles spoke loudly and clearly: we Lutherans are not trying to be different and branch off on our own; we are trying to stay in the singular stream of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." We are not trying to invent new things, or be a new church, or do new and different things as a church; we are striving to remain true to the faith that has been handed down to us from those who have gone before us.
So, as I now say, the Augsburg Confession is really *not* a "declaration of independence" for Lutherans. Rather, it's our way of saying, "Yes, we hold to that one, holy, catholic and apostolic" faith and church that's been handed down from the earliest times." In fact, we could even say that the Augsburg Confession is also our way of saying that we are "prepared to discuss, in friendly manner, all possible ways and means by which we may come together" (Preface to the AC), that is, in salutary Christian concord.
Dr. Piepkorn said it well:
“For most of us, and for most people who know anything about the Augsburg Confession at all, the really significant part consists of the first 21 articles. In these the Lutherans confess the ancient faith of the Catholic Church, condemn the heresies which the Catholic Church condemns, and are at pains to prove that on no doctrinal point do they vary from the teaching of the Sacred Scriptures, the Catholic Church, or, as far as its approved literary representatives are concerned, the historic Church of the West. These 21 doctrinal articles we see as the great Lutheran witness to evangelical catholicity…as a clarion call to the Church to be what she had been for the first eleven centuries and to reaffirm her intention of being what she was in peril of ceasing to be.” (Dr. A. C. Piepkorn, “The
Confession for Our Time,” in The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions,” p. 177-178). Augsburg