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From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Ecclesiastical Power
They also quote Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” This passage requires obedience to the Gospel. For it does not establish an authority of the bishops apart from the Gospel. Nor should bishops create traditions contrary to the Gospel, or interpret their traditions contrary to the Gospel. When they do this, obedience is prohibited, according to Galatians 1:9: “If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.”
Pulling It Together
Christians are called to lives of submission. We are to honor our parents (Exod 20:12), deferring to their authority. We are to obey earthly authorities (Rom 13:1-7), as well as church leadership (Heb 13:17). We are also and chiefly commanded to submit to God, from whom these other commands come. It dishonors God if we submit to earthly and ecclesial authority when those authorities are operating in opposition to God. If earthly government orders you to do something against God’s word, you must honor God, even if it means disobedience to civil law. Just so, if church leadership insists you do something adverse to the gospel, obey the gospel instead of the ecclesial power. One authority is higher than the other, as the other receives its authority from the one. Both civil and church leadership get their authority from God, so when they act contrary to God, their authority becomes loathsome.
If any ruler, civil or ecclesial, would have you follow a way different than the gospel, that ruler should be considered by you as accursed. The word “accursed” (Greek, anathema) in Galatians 1:9 means it is dedicated to destruction by divine wrath. One would do well to not associate with, let alone follow and obey, the damned.
Prayer: Strengthen me, Lord, and give me the courage to obey your Word. Amen.
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