Legitimate Government, Evangelical Lutheran Style

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Hermann Sasse.

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Hermann Sasse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 I will shortly be posting an article at All Along the Watchtower (Jess’ site) on Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine. [It is now up, and is here.] In it I am talking about the interference we are currently seeing in our churches, both here and in the UK, from the secular authorities. I think you should read it. I will update with a link when it is available.

In any case, while researching that article, I came across an essay by Hermann Sasse entitled: THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE PRESENT This essay was originally published in the Kirchlich-soziale Blätter in 1930. In April 1928 he was called to be pastor at St. Marienkirche, Berlin, and Sozialpfarrer in Innere-mission (“social pastor in inner mission”).

[…]The assertion “The power of the state arises from the people” is false according to Lutheran doctrine, if it would be more than a formal description of the proceedings in a modern state, by which a government is formed. The power of the state proceeds from God. One last reminder of this lives on in the religious formulas and forms with which modern peoples still surround the state and civil life.

Any political power which has arisen out of anarchy may become a God-given governing authority, if it fulfills the tasks of the office of governing authority. This task is the assurance of peace and the maintenance of law through external power, the symbol of which is the sword. The governing authority is a “Servant of God, the avenger for those who do evil.” [Rom 13:4] Legal governing authority is distinguished from religious power in that it not only (as does the latter) possesses power [Macht] but uses its power in the service of law. Both belong to the essence of the state; Power and law [Macht und das Recht]. A governing authority which bears the sword in vain, which no longer has the fortitude to decisively punish the law-breaker, is in the process of burying itself [gräbt sich selbst das Grab]. A state which removes the concepts “right” and “wrong” from jurisprudence, and replaces them with “useful” and “injurious”, “healthy” and “ill”, “socially valuable” and “socially inferior”, [a state] which in the place of the principal of remuneration places the principal of inoculation [Unschädlichmachung] a state which in its civil law dissolves marriage and family, ceases to be a constitutional state and thus the governing authority.

A governing authority which knowingly or unknowingly makes the interests of social position or class the norm for the formation and definition of law, or which allows the norms of the law to be dictated by the so-called “legal consciousness” of the time, sinks to the level of raw power. This danger exists now—and this is not addressed by the Augustana—for all governing authorities, and shall for all time. It exists especially in the modern democratic forms of government and in the dictatorship. For the result of the secularization process of the last century has been that the consciousness of eternal legal norms which are not determined by man, has nearly perished. But where this consciousness ceases to exist, there God-given power is changed into demonic power, resulting in its ruin among peoples and states. But wherever on earth a governing authority—irrespective of which form—is conscious of a [civil] righteousness independent of its will, exercises the power of its office, upholds the law and guards the peace, there it is “God’s good gift”, there it is “by the grace of God.”

The essay (PDF) is available here. The paragraphs and emphasis are mine.

The German statement of where legitimate power comes from may be jarring to Anglo-American readers, after all we have been taught that the people are sovereign. I don’t find them mutually exclusive, however. God established the family for man before the fall, and government after the fall, to provide a semblance of justice in the world. It’s easy enough to see how, under God’s direction, families got together to form first cities and then states to protect themselves. It is also important for us to remember that all the revolutions in the English-speaking world (and only there, strangely) have been more counter-revolutions, than anything else, always the goal has been the restoration of “The Good Old Law“. That is also why we have never gone into the stage of anarchy that has followed all the other (French, Russian, et al) revolutions. We were going back.

The other thing here is that you see how Weimar manged to delegitimize itself. How close are our governments coming to doing the same? I’d say very close, indeed.


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7 Responses to Legitimate Government, Evangelical Lutheran Style

  1. I like Herman Sasse myself, I have several of his books. But, as a more “Reformed” Christian & theolog, I am closer with John Frame, see his book: The Escondido Theology, A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology, (Whitefield Media Publishing, 2011). Just a quick quote therein, “If a believer is Reformed he should give due appreciation to the achievements of that tradition in theology, church government, and other ways. But the focus of his life should not be on his denomination or tradition. It should be on Christ and the Scriptures. He should feel deeply the errors of Reformed chauvinism, the attitude that celebrates and seeks to preserve the distinctiveness of the Reformed Christianity from the influence and recommend what he learns to his Reformed friends. His church home… is the whole body of God’s elect. His relation to non-Reformed Christians is spiritual oneness with Christ, not “shared interests”. (Shared interests! What a trivializing of the unity of Jesus body!). (John Frame, page 118).

    Amen! And I think this attitude should also affect conservative Lutherans, who certainly share in a Reformational “chauvinism”, and perhaps even more so than the classic Reformed? But I will leave that to peoples consciences!

    With all that is happening in the Church West (dullness and even apostasy), and all that we can see in the Mid-East, Israel and her neighbors! WE better get with it, and close around Christ and the Gospel! Indeed the “time” is short, when we look at eternity!


    • NEO says:

      Amen, and amen. I think that is true for us all, we have differences but our similarities are much more profound.

      It’s not surprising that this grew out of one of my AATW posts, your statement tends to be one of our guiding philosophies there. Jessica spoke very well about it the other day, in fact. I think that Sasse will feature in more. Interesting thing is that Madison credited Luther as the theorist behind the 1st Amendment, but yes the Reformed statement is not bad either.

      I do have trouble with two swords though, it leads to trouble every time, as it is in the CofE now, and in some ways screwed up the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany as well.


      • Indeed German Lutheranism, as Lutheranism in general, has historically fallen on the “sword” of the loss of the authority and belief of the Holy Scripture! Have we, both Reformed and Lutherans, lost the real essence of “sola Scriptura”? And note this does not diminish but subordinate Christian tradition in biblical theology!


        • NEO says:

          In a sense, I think we have. i also think that the force union of Reformed and Lutheran after the Napoleonic Wars hurt both churches quite a lot. I was brought up in that church, and it seemed to not have a particularly clear idea of who it was, neither Luther nor Calvin, so to speak. I wonder if that is part of why the church in Germany is so weak, and it seems in some ways to be paralleled by the splits in the CofE as well. Neither fish nor fowl it sometimes seems.


        • Indeed for sure, the so-called modern Church and churches have followed the Enlightenment, the Germans with people like Adolf von Harnack, and the Brits and Anglicans with people like Frederick Denison Maurice! How else could the Germans distort and even destroy the historical in theology! They lost Luther and the Reformation, and then came a “Kaiser”, and later a “Fuhrer”! And sadly the British, like the Americans have just ‘dumb-down’! Such is modernity & postmodernity! Thankfully both peoples have had a few faithful! WE can only build upon their legacy, but will we? That is the great question!


        • NEO says:

          Indeed it is. We have much wisdom in our heritage, equal to almost anything but will we read, and heed it? That is the great question.


  2. Pingback: Two Kingdoms | All Along the Watchtower

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