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Lutheran Church Authority

Discussion in 'Theologia Crucis - Lutherans' started by jinc1019, Jul 8, 2016.

  1. jinc1019

    jinc1019 Newbie

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    I'm having a hard time understanding the Lutheran position on church authority. Perhaps this is because different groups have varying views. What role does ministry have in church authority? Do Lutherans believe any group of people anywhere can start a church whenever they want? Why is it that some nations have national Lutheran churches?

    I read somewhere that in Lutheranism, the Bible is the highest authority but not necessarily the only authority. The church can be an authority too. Can anyone expand on this further?
     
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  2. Resha Caner

    Resha Caner Expert Fool

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    I'm sorry that you're stuck with me as the only respondent. The forum seems a bit dead. But I'll do my best.

    I'm not sure I understand your question. Are you asking what authority ministers (i.e. pastors) have over their congregations? You are right that it varies. The LCMS considers itself a "congregational" church. So, the members own and maintain the property; they manage all the "business" affairs. However, the pastor is considered a "called" minister. So, God put him in the pulpit, not the congregation. He, therefore, is the spiritual/moral leader of the congregation. He has authority over what is taught (preaching of the Gospel) and the administration of the sacraments as well as over things like marriages.

    This again goes to the idea of being called. Yes, anyone can be called by God at any time in any place. But there are two calls. There is a call to serve God and a call to serve the Lutheran church. Only those called to serve the Lutheran church are recognized as pastors with the authority mentioned above. Being called does not mean one has been mystically endowed with knowledge. One still needs to be educated. So, if someone believes they have been called by God, a Lutheran would encourage them to attend a Lutheran institution of education that matches their call. That could be a seminary, but it could also be a Lutheran college for parochial teachers, etc.

    A Lutheran won't deny that someone has been called by God. They just won't accept anything that differs from the Confessions as part of that call. Those who claim to be ministers and are outside the Lutheran church are viewed as members of human institutions. They can still be Christians and they can still serve God. They're just not recognized as pastors. So, a Lutheran pastor will not engage in "ecumenical" services, etc. They're more than willing to talk with anyone about Christian matters, and they're more than willing to acknowledge them as representatives of different groups of Christians. They just won't interact with them through preaching and the sacraments, nor give any impression that the Lutheran church endorses what they're doing.

    Scripture is the final authority. Again, however, reading the Bible doesn't somehow produce some kind of mystical understanding. Christians need guidance (Proverbs 1:1-6), and the Church is what provides that guidance. Therefore, Lutherans - even Lutheran pastors - will listen to someone who challenges them upon the basis of Scripture. However, the Confessions (the Book of Concord) is our exposition of what Scripture means. So, challenges that claim a new revelation differing from the exposition of the Confessions has little chance of being accepted.

    As mentioned above, being Christian does not excuse one from learning. And learning comes from the wise within the Church. So, the interpretation of Scripture, though necessarily guided by the Holy Spirit, is not a mystical process apart from the Church. Rather, it takes place in the Church under the guidance of a teacher. And that teacher learned from a previous teacher in the same way. So, there is a very real and identifiable history of teachers who have subscribed to what the Confessions express.

    Well, the national churches you see in Europe are an unfortunate distortion of what Luther wanted. The modern nation is based on the principles of the Enlightenment, not Lutheranism, and that has caused a lot of problems. Even people in the U.S. who tout us as a "Christian" nation miss Luther's meaning.

    But, with that said, in Luther's mind there is no such thing as a "secular" institution. Lutherans speak of the two kingdoms and of vocation. The Church is the Kingdom of the Right, and it's tools are the Gospel and the sacraments. That is how God meets us in the Church. Basically everything else is the Kingdom of the Left, and it is how God directs our lives. I am an engineer because God predestined me to be an engineer and to serve him through my vocation of engineering. This dichotomy can be viewed in many ways: the kingdoms of left & right, Law & Gospel, Sanctification & Justification, works & grace, virtue/morality & faith, etc.

    So, government should be a Christian partner of the Church, and yet not connected to it. Government should be done via Christian principles, yet not controlled by the Church (nor the Church controlled by the government). Government officials need pastoral advice, and yet pastors should not hold government offices.

    Hopefully that helps, but you'll probably have some follow-up questions, so ask away.
     
  3. FireDragon76

    FireDragon76 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    There's different approaches to Lutheranism, and you are going to get different answers depending on who you ask. I know the ELCA considers other Christian churches to have real pastors, including Roman Catholics. Faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, adhering to the ancient rule of faith (The Trinity, the early, universal Creeds), rather than a strict Lutheran orthodoxy is considered the criteria for judging whether a church is true or not.

    National churches are the result of the application of the principle of cuius regios, eius religio, that a kingdom or nation decides for its people the religion there. It is not a matter of Lutheran doctrine so much as custom.

    A group of people isolated from other Christians would be an extraordinary circumstance. The Spirit of God calls us to unity, not division. Obviously, Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, which he enlivens through the Holy Spirit. For practical purposes, however, Lutherans in their confessions are not opposed to episcopal and synodical governance, and this is the custom in many historically Lutheran countries. The ELCA has an episcopal form of governance similar to the Episcopal Church in the US, with congregations being semi-autonomous but coming together on important matters, without judging other forms of governance as invalid.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2016
  4. jinc1019

    jinc1019 Newbie

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    All great responses, thanks!
     
  5. VikingLutheran

    VikingLutheran New Member

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    Let me elaborate on this with national churches. Its not only due to the "cuius regios, eius religio" (500 years ago people here in Europe would have taken that as absolutely necessary to prevent chaos by the way). The Scandinavian churches also tuned to Luthernism as complete entities. As I am Swedish I know the history of the Church of Sweden best so I'll stick to that. The reformation in Sweden was a long process. It started with political turmoil where the archbishop ended up on the loosing side and fled to Rome. Up until then the church would have been involved in the government of the country rather then the opposite. Gustav Eriksson (known as Wasa) who made himself king when things settled, and more or less founded the modern Swedish state, was not particularly spiritual. And he needed money as he was in deep depth from the war. The church had money. Hence he was tempted to lay his hands on the church property. On the other hand he wanted everything to be as before. Both as he probably was conservative by heart but also to keep the population calm. Hence he wrote to the pope and asked for a new archbishop to be appointed. The pope did not only refuse; when the archbishop died the pope instaed ordained the archbishop's brother who was also a refugee in Rome as archbishop of Sweden. At this point king Gustav must have realised that there would not come any new archbishop from Rome and under influence from an advisor who had studied in Germany the king made himself head of the church around 1525. And so the property of the church was used to pay of king Gustav's "mortgage". (He also closed the monasteries thereby destroying both Sweden's school system and health care system.)

    But as a consequence the Church of Sweden kept the apostolic succession. And although the Roman catholic church does not see our succession as valid, it means that the family of Lutheran churches that are of Swedish origin (except the Church of Sweden, the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Finland, the Lutheran Church in Kenya and as far as I know the Baltic Lutheran churches) have a full episcopal structure and that all priest (or pastors if you prefer) are ordained by ordained bishops.

    But the reformation was a long process in Sweden. It was quite chaotic during more or less the whole 16th century until a meeting of Swedish clergy and lay men was summoned in Uppsala in 1593 when at last it was formally decided that the Church in Sweden should follow the unchanged Creed of Augsburg of 1530. (The rest of the book of concord is mentioned only as an clarification.) The protocol from the meeting in Uppsala 1593 is still the main document for defining the faith of the church of Sweden.

    Sorry if this became a bit long.
     
  6. jinc1019

    jinc1019 Newbie

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    This is great, actually, thanks a lot! I'm very interested in this. Frankly, American Protestantism would be much better off with a broad, orthodox confessional statement and unity than almost total disunity, which is the order of the day today.
     
  7. FireDragon76

    FireDragon76 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Sweden sounds very similar to what happened in England.
     
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