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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning the Power of Bishops, Part 3


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John 18:33–36

From the Confessions: The Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Power of Bishops

Therefore, the powers of the Church and secular government must not be confused. The power of the Church has its own commission to teach the gospel and to administer the Sacraments. Let it not occupy the office of another, nor switch the kingdoms of this world, nor abolish the laws of civil rulers, nor get rid of lawful obedience, nor interfere with judgments concerning civil ordinances or contracts. Let it not dictate laws to civil rulers concerning the order of the Commonwealth. As Christ says, “My kingship is not of this world” (John 18:36) and “who made me a judge or divider over you” (Luke 12:14)? Paul also says, “But our commonwealth is in heaven” (Phil 3:20) and “the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2Cor 10:4).

This is how our teachers separate the duties of these two powers, insisting that both be honored and acknowledged as gifts and blessings of God.

Pulling It Together: Perhaps a bishop would desire to rule in secular matters so that justice and fairness would be certain. He might also think that if he made the laws, then God's will would be accomplished. But this is not the way of Christ's Church. Instead, the Church prays that God's will would be done (Matt 6:10). We do not make his will happen; God does. Some might say that this spiritual approach accomplishes little, if anything. Better, they say, to enter the political arena and get things done. In God's truth, these things are better left to the secular authorities that God has ordained. The Church has been charged with other matters: to preach the Word, administer the Sacraments, and pray. Though it may not feel like it, these have been and continue to be the instruments of greatest effect. More good is accomplished by the Church faithfully and sincerely praying our Lord's prayer than we can imagine. Powers are kept at bay and the kingdom of Christ is advanced every time we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, make your name holy in my life and advance your kingdom, making your will to be fulfilled here on earth like it is in heaven. Amen. 

Lord, Teach Us to Pray is a eight-session curriculum on prayer intended for youth. Based on the themes of the Lord’s Prayer, it uses a Bible Study format, with each lesson including multiple Scripture texts along with the related section of Luther’s Small Catechism. A section entitled “About Prayer” teaches students helpful items about a solid prayer life and a prayer assignment for the coming week. A major goal of this material is to help kids experience prayer, and practice it in a variety of ways. 

Teacher's Guide

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Katherine Harms

Posted April 21, 2015 at 7:17am

You write, "Some might say that this spiritual approach accomplishes little, if anything. Better, they say, to enter the political arena and get things done. In God's truth, these things are better left to the secular authorities that God has ordained." Am I right to understand that you are speaking narrowly to clergy in the hierarchy of the church? If I understand it that way, then the Confession would nix a committee of bishops meeting with a Congressman to argue for school choice in the hope that Lutheran schools would get some of the money. I would agree that such a thing is out of order. However, in a democratic republic, every citizen has a civic duty to participate in the government. No Christian voter--bishop or otherwise--should withdraw from the public forum and only pray. They should pray, then follow the guidance they receive to speak and vote. If Christians do not participate, then they will never have any influence on the moral fabric of the nation. Our Constitution defines a government that relies on the participation of all voters. If only secular voters participate, then only secular values will dominate. After the last election, studies determined that many people in the Christian demographic chose to withhold their voices and their votes. They did not like any of their choices. The studies didn't ask if they prayed, but even without knowing how they would have voted, it is proper to say that by not voting, they threw in their lot with all the winners. It is not reasonable to conclude that they would have voted as a bloc, so it isn't possible to say what would be different if they had all voted. It can quite reasonably be said that they forfeited any influence they might have had. I think prayer is essential, and I know that God hears and answers prayer. I further know that praying is not voting, and God can work his will with or without voters. However, I do believe that if God gives us the gift of liberty and the vote, he holds us responsible to use it under his guidance. That makes me believe that when Christians refuse to vote in a government where they have that civic responsibility, God allows their irresponsible behavior to incur its natural consequence, just as he does with many other human failures.

Mark Ryman

Posted April 21, 2015 at 8:07am

The Article relates to the power of bishops (or of the keys). Specifically, day after day (in other words, in most cases, one post will relate to the previous and subsequent posts), I am making the point that the entire, lengthy article makes all at once. The point the Article makes is not that Christians have no place in civil affairs. Rather, we confess that the Church has its ordained place in the world and secular government another. That being the biblical case, the Church is not to take over government and prescribe civil laws. It's very important to read my comments in light of the given Scripture and the extract from the Article in the Confessions. I hope that helps.

Mark Ryman

Posted April 21, 2015 at 8:13am

For example, I signed a petition this morning for our government to get involved in protecting persecuted Christians in the world. But I am not calling for the Church to take over our government (a very real problem in times past) to make sure it happens. Nor, of course, would I want to see the government take over the Church and tell it to stop preaching the gospel or how to conduct their services of worship (other real issues and ones that may be closer than we imagine).

Katherine Harms

Posted April 21, 2015 at 10:03am

I actually felt that this was the thrust of your comments, but the statement I quoted confused me a bit. Thank you for your explanations.

Andrew McKusick

Posted April 21, 2015 at 10:22am

Mark - these are such good treatises. Please keep them coming. In my opinion the Christian should involve in civil matters in a balanced way. I think that at the least we should be knowledgeable of acute matters, Congressional leanings and candidate's platform. But none of this should be undertaken at the expense of prayer nor use of our God-given giftings.

Mark Ryman

Posted April 22, 2015 at 2:29pm

Thank you, Andy.

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