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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning the Power of Bishops, Part 2

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Mark 16:15–16

From the Confessions: The Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Power of Bishops

Lutherans teach that, according to the gospel, the power of the keys, or of the bishops, is the commandment to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer the sacraments. For with this commandment Christ sends forth his apostles. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21, 23). “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

This power of the keys is exercised only by teaching or preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments to many or to individuals according to their calling. By this power, eternal things—not bodily things—are granted, such as eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. These things come only by the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, as Paul says. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom 1:16). Therefore, since this power of the Church grants eternal things, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word, the Church does not interfere in civil government any more than the art of singing interferes with civil government. For secular authorities deal with affairs that are different than those that pertain to the gospel. Civil authorities do not defend souls but, using the sword and social control, it defends body and property against demonstrable injuries, restraining people in order to preserve civil justice and peace.

Pulling It Together

The power of the keys is as clear as the plain commissioning of the gospel. Preach! Inherent to the proclamation of the gospel is the administration of God's grace through his sacraments. In both Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, God's grace is demonstrated in physical ways that encourage and sustain the Church. His grace is present since these gifts declare and deliver his mercy and forgiveness. The sacraments, and therefore, the message of God's forgiveness, are the pure proclamation of God's Word. In these things is the true power of God on earth. Why then, would a bishop wish to water down the Church's authority with secular governance? The Church is commissioned with the proclamation of God's forgiveness and eternal life so that people may know Christ's peace forever. Secular authority controls people so that there is civil peace during our brief time on earth. Lutherans confess that God has ordained these powers, both spiritual and secular, the power of the keys and of government, to operate independently so that people may know both spiritual and temporal peace. 

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Brave Queen Esther focuses on the story of a young Jewish girl named Esther, who was raised by her older cousin Mordecai after the death of her parents. Set in a time when people of faith were suspect in the eyes of the surrounding culture, the story illustrates the values of integrity and honesty. It shows how being faithful to God, caring for one another, and standing up for what we believe, can help us through times of fear and doubt.


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