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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning the Power of Bishops, Part 9

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Romans 11:1–6

From the Confessions: The Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Power of Bishops

Then how are we to think of Sunday and similar rituals in the Church? We answer that bishops or pastors may make ordinances so that there is order in the Church. However, these regulations may not be said to merit grace or make satisfaction for sins, or that consciences be bound to consider them as necessary services, or to think that it is a sin to break them if they offend no one. So Paul ordains that women should cover their heads in the congregation (1 Cor 11:5) and that people speak one at a time in the church (1 Cor 14:30), etc.

The churches should keep such rules for the sake of love and peace, so long as no one offends another. In this way, all things are done in the churches with order and without confusion (1 Cor 14:40; cf. Phil 2:14). Yet consciences should not be burdened to think that these regulations are required for salvation, or to judge that they sin when they break them without giving offense to others. For no one will say that a woman sins by going out in public with her head uncovered, if no one is offended.

Pulling It Together: In our congregations, we have constitutions that are meant to provide for good order. These constitutions are lengthy lists of rules for how a church operates so that things are done in a fair and uniform manner. My congregation's constitution states that the Church Council will provide an annual review of the membership roster. The first two years that I was pastor there, the Council did not address this task. Did they fall from grace? Of course not. Last year, they carefully reviewed the roster and even made some calls, asking folks to return to worship and the life of the church. Bravo! But did their work on the Council make satisfaction for their sins? Certainly not. Did their pastor threaten their salvation those first two years if they did not review the roster? Obviously not, since he is still their pastor.

It is perfectly fitting for a congregation to develop rules for how things are done in the church. And it is perfectly wrong to say that one earns God's grace by keeping those rules. God's grace is never received “on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Rom 11:6).

Prayer: Lord, help me trust in you alone for salvation. Amen. 

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