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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Ecclesiastical Power part 9

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Acts 6:1–4

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning Ecclesiastical Power 

We have stated in the Confession what power the Gospel gives to bishops. Those who are presently bishops do not perform their duties according to the Gospel. They may be bishops according to canonical polity, which we do not criticize, but we are writing about a bishop according to the Gospel. We are content with the ancient division of power, into power of the order and power of jurisdiction. Therefore bishops have the power of the order: the ministry of the Word and Sacraments; they also have the power of jurisdiction: the authority to excommunicate those guilty of public transgressions, and to absolve them if they are converted and request absolution. But their power is not to be tyrannical, that is, without a fixed law, nor regal, that is, above law. They have a fixed command and a fixed Word of God, according to which they ought to teach, and according to which they ought to exercise their jurisdiction. Therefore, even though they should have some jurisdiction, it does not follow that they are able to institute new acts of worship. Such services are not under their power. They have the Word: they have the command concerning how far they should exercise their jurisdiction, namely, when anyone does something contrary to that Word which they have received from Christ.

Pulling It Together

Let the power of bishops—indeed, the power of the whole Church—reside in the Word alone, sola Scriptura. If the Spirit cannot make his case through the Word alone, is a bishop able to make new laws that are effective where God is not? For example, in Holy Communion, we have the promise of God in his Word that attend the Sacrament. This is enough. If people believe the Word attached to the bread and wine, God’s grace is there. No one needs to concoct penitential acts or other forms of worship or devotion to supplement faith. Faith alone, sola fide, is sufficient. Bishops—overseers, elders, pastors—should devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer, so that the Word of God will increase and people may come to faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 6:7).

Prayer: Help me follow you through your Word alone, Lord. Amen.

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