Obeying Government Authorities; Addendum

Published on March 25th, 2020

Unlike the rest of Christendom, we as Lutherans are uniquely united in the faith through our Lutheran Confessions.  As ordained and commissioned workers we have bound ourselves by oath to these confessions, not “in so far” as they agree with Scripture, but “because” they agree with and are a correct exposition of Scripture.

Of course our Confessions—in line with Scripture—magnify Christ and His holy work for our salvation.  This is central and must ever be in the forefront, including the means whereby such salvation is distributed.  However our Confessions rightly divide between what we call the “two kingdoms”.  The following is not an exhaustive confessional excursion; it is just meant to present a couple of quotes.  Beyond the Confessions Luther also wrote much about the topic.  The following quotes are intentionally presented without comment because they have an obvious clarity:

AC (XVI):  “For the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. At the same time, it does not require the destruction of the civil state or the family.  The Gospel very much requires that they be preserved as God’s ordinances and that love be practiced in such ordinances.  Therefore, it is necessary for Christians to be obedient to their rulers and laws.  The only exception is when they are commanded to sin.  Then they ought to obey God rather than men.”

AC (XXVIII):  “Civil rulers do not defend minds, but bodies and bodily things against obvious injuries.  They restrain people with the sword and physical punishment in order to preserve justice and peace.  Therefore, the Church’s authority and the State’s authority must not be confused.  The Church’s authority has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments. Let it not break into the office of another.  Let it not transfer the kingdom of this world to itself.  Let it not abolish the laws of civil rulers.  Let it not abolish lawful obedience.   Let it not interfere with judgments about civil ordinances or contracts.  Let it not dictate laws to civil authorities about the form of society.  As Christ says, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Also, “Who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?”  Paul also says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”  And, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”   Etc.

Apology XVI:  “For the Gospel does not destroy the state or the family, but rather approves them and asks us to obey them as a divine ordinance, not only because of punishment, but also because of conscience.”

Of course Luther and his contemporaries had not even imagined the right of dissention we have in our blessed United States. Indeed we may dissent, we may speak strongly in opposition to the COVID-19 and similar government mandates, but unless the government has “commanded us to sin” we have no recourse but to obey.  Nonetheless we will debate how far we must go before it is sin.  For instance how long will we go without the Supper?  We will also debate (and rightly so) whether what is going on now will set a negative precedent for how the government is understanding the First Amendment, and then whether the government acknowledges what we confess to be the essential nature of the Church and her proclamation.  Be vocal as a citizen; this is your right and privilege.

May we truly receive wisdom from above, realizing Who is the personification of Wisdom.