From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Political Order
The gospel forbids private retaliation, and Christ frequently teaches this with the design that the apostles would not think that they are to appropriate the government from those who hold it, just as in the Jewish dream of a messianic kingdom. Rather, it is their duty to teach that the spiritual kingdom does not change the government. Therefore private revenge is prohibited—not by advice, but by command (Matt 5:39; Rom 12:19). Public redress, made through the office of the magistrate, is not advised against, but is commanded, and is a work of God, according to Paul (Rom 13:1). Now the different kinds of public redress include legal decisions, capital punishment, wars, military service.
It is obvious how many writers have incorrectly judged these matters because they erroneously held the that the gospel is an external, new, and monastic form of government. They did not see that the gospel brings eternal righteousness to hearts, while it outwardly approves the civil government.
Pulling It Together: This is an easy matter to keep straight in our minds, if we distinguish between private and public remedy. If someone wrongs you, are you to take matters into your own hands, taking vengeance on the one who has wronged you? No; vengeance is the Lord’s. You are not to privately retaliate when God has instituted civil government to hear your case. This public redress is the appropriate way to address wrongs you have suffered.
In private matters, we act within the spiritual kingdom, turning the other cheek (Matt 5:39). We do not privately retaliate, for God has promised vengeance in his own way. In public matters, however, we operate within the civil kingdom, where God has put people in place to protect us and hear our cases.
These two kingdoms must not be confused or merged, for the spiritual kingdom brings what the civil kingdom cannot: forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life. The civil kingdom brings, by God’s institution, what the spiritual kingdom does not: protection of the people, laws of the land, legal decisions, and the resolution of disputes.
Prayer: Help me, Lord God, to trust in you. Amen.
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