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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning the Power of Bishops, Part 13

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Acts 5:27–29

From the Confessions: The Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Power of Bishops

Bishops might easily encourage people's obedience if they would not insist upon traditions that cannot be kept with a good conscience. They command celibacy, admitting no one to the ministry unless they swear that they will teach this doctrine. Our churches do not ask that the bishops restore concord at the expense of their honor, though this would be proper for good pastors to do. They ask only that they would relax unfair burdens that are new and have been received contrary to the custom of the Church. There may once have been good reason for some of these ordinances, yet they are not suitable to this time. However, it is obvious that some ordinances were the wrong idea. So it would be fitting of the bishops to correct them now, since such a modification would not disturb the unity of the Church. Many human traditions have been changed in process of time, as the Canons themselves show. If it is impossible to obtain a moderation of those rules that cannot be kept without sin, we are bound to follow the apostolic rule that commands us to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Peter forbids bishops to be lords, and to be domineering over the churches (1Pet 5:3). While it is not our intent to take authority from the bishops, we do ask that they allow the gospel to be purely taught, that they relax those few observances that cannot be kept without sin. If they will not make this concession, let them imagine how they will give account to God for obstinately furnishing a cause for schism.

Pulling It Together

The Lutherans would not back down when it came to the unmistakable teaching of the gospel. The keeping of rules would never do—not when it was said that by doing so, God's grace could be earned. What difference did it make that the Church said so? God says otherwise. Scripture is clear. The grace of God is a thing given to people without their having lifted a finger to merit divine favor. Keeping man-made promises adds nothing to the promises of God. The regulations of bishops is an insult to Christ who abolished the law of commandments declared in ordinances (Eph 2:15). So the Lutherans asked only that the aim of the gospel be considered when it came to traditions and regulations in the churches. When a tradition could not be observed without offending the Christian conscience, they made it clear that their churches would obey God instead of that tradition of men. They also made it known that they saw an approaching division that could be avoided by removing the veneer of deceitful traditions, and returning to the pure teaching of the gospel. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, make the pure word of your gospel come alive in me. Amen. 

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