Lutheran/Reformed Understanding of Church Authority

I know, I know…I’ve been asking a lot of questions about Lutheranism/Reformed theology, but I’ve gotten a lot out of it and have really enjoyed the very good information that has been shared. Another question I have is about church authority.

Because Lutherans practice sola scriptura and hold scripture as the ultimate source of authority in the church, this leads to a number of questions about church authority in general that I just don’t really understand from the Lutheran perspective.

From the Lutheran view, how does the church settle disputes? Who has the authority in the church to bind and loose sins? Obviously it can’t be just anyone at all. There must be a specific group of people who have this authority, otherwise you end up with Bible churches and modern evangelicalism, both of which Luther himself would have been completely opposed to from everything I’ve read.

So if there is a church authority, but it doesn’t rest with the papacy (Roman Catholics) or with the universal church councils (Eastern Orthodoxy), where does it rest?

Good question…

Well perhaps. Not that I really mind, as I like threads about Lutherans – well, maybe not Lutherans specifically so much as catholics in general.

:slight_smile:

We’re just irresistible people, eh, Peter?

:smiley:

Some Lutherans can sometimes get grumpy being lumped in with the Reformed as they (in general terms) deny the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

To answer your question from my standpoint - authority rests with the series of overseers that extend upwards extending to the Good Shepherd.

Sadly, the church suffers, and you’ll find very confessional Lutherans remaining in situations that are basically untenable as a way of witnessing to others.

This Lutheran got a little grumpy when he saw the thread title… :o

Yeah, I wondered about the title since “Reformed” usually means Calvinist.

But then again, perhaps the larger question is, why does “Reformed” mean that? Why aren’t Lutherans included in that term? (I guess it’s kind of like how Lutherans mostly don’t call themselves “catholic”. Granted, some would say that they’re “catholic but not Catholic”, a distinction that only exists in writing.)

Lutherans have had to abandon (especially here in the United State) the term “evangelical” as well.

I secretly think our goal is to be just as confusing as Anglicans - and I do find myself saying more and more “I’m Lutheran but not that kind of Lutheran”

youtube.com/watch?v=0Nx8QqiADyw

Indeed, I was thinking about that term as well when I wrote my last post. :slight_smile:

Actually, I think that “catholic and protestant” is a pretty good descriptor for Lutherans (and Anglicans) in principle … although in practice you guys seem to be so wishy-washy on those terms that it’s like What’s the point? :blush:

Hmmmm that’s a bit confusing. Could you elaborate? It sounds like you’re basically advocating for some brand of apostolic succession?

Fair point. I am well aware of the differences and didn’t mean to lump everyone into one big category. I just thought both could answer the question!

By the way, Lutherans and Reformed folks, as well as all Protestants, have a way of lumping all Eastern Orthodox in with Roman Catholics too, which EO would definitely disagree with!

Just to clear a few things up …

From my reading of history, this is what I see: First, you had Jesus Christ and the apostles. Jesus gives authority to the apostles to bind and loose sin, preach the gospel, and practice the sacraments.

Next, the apostles go out into the world and appoint people to positions of authority, giving them the power to do the same. I won’t argue that the episcopacy was the first form of church government because I don’t think it matters. What does matter though is that people who had authority, in whatever form, at some chose to create the episcopacy and vest ultimate authority in individual regional offices.

Over time, those offices because more powerful and a hierarchy within that structure developed.

You eventually end up at the Reformation, where Luther and others declare that because the Roman Catholic Church is preaching a false gospel, they no longer have valid authority, relying primarily on Galatians 1:8.

If we assume the Reformers were right and the RCC was wrong, just for the sake of argument, then we’ll assume they did have the right to break from the RCC. But the next step is the one I’m thinking about. How do the Reformers and their successors today understand their own authority? If anyone at that point can basically create their own structures of authority, how does anyone know who “the Church” mentioned so many times in the Gospels is?

Sure! The Lutheran understanding of apostolic succession is both the unbroken chain of bishops from the time of the apostles and we desire to retain them (Ap XIV 1, 5) and the right proclamation of the gospel in as proclaimed by the apostles.

We’re a bit lacking in the former in the new world as our churches were impoverished - hopefully we retain the latter.

I hope we don’t make that mistake too frequently! We have good relations withe the EO here in our neck of the woods.

You’re not bothered by that? It does bother me quite a bit I must admit. If it’s possible to have it, and it clearly is possible today to have it, I think the church should do it. That was always the model in the early church.

Agreed! I’m even more bothered by those in our synod who think its not of particular importance.
For the LCMS to reacquire the epicopacy would mean being in full doctrinal agreement with a church that has it already, be it Lutheran (yes, I know the Catholic view here), Anglican (ditto, here), Old Catholic, etc. Ben uses the term grumpy to define our reluctance to enter into “relationships” that are not doctrinally solid.

Jon

=jinc1019;13008242]Just to clear a few things up …

From my reading of history, this is what I see: First, you had Jesus Christ and the apostles. Jesus gives authority to the apostles to bind and loose sin, preach the gospel, and practice the sacraments.

Next, the apostles go out into the world and appoint people to positions of authority, giving them the power to do the same. I won’t argue that the episcopacy was the first form of church government because I don’t think it matters. What does matter though is that people who had authority, in whatever form, at some chose to create the episcopacy and vest ultimate authority in individual regional offices.

No argument. In fact, you’ve stated this in a way rather acceptable to Lutherans.

Over time, those offices because more powerful and a hierarchy within that structure developed.

You eventually end up at the Reformation, where Luther and others declare that because the Roman Catholic Church is preaching a false gospel, they no longer have valid authority, relying primarily on Galatians 1:8.

If we assume the Reformers were right and the RCC was wrong, just for the sake of argument, then we’ll assume they did have the right to break from the RCC

.
I think this is an overstatement. For example, we do not dispute that the Bishop of Rome has jurisdiction in his bishopric. We would, further, not dispute that he has authority as the western patriarch. Those claims are valid. Where we would dispute is the claim of universal jurisdiction, papal supremacy, and the related claims.

But the next step is the one I’m thinking about. How do the Reformers and their successors today understand their own authority? If anyone at that point can basically create their own structures of authority, how does anyone know who “the Church” mentioned so many times in the Gospels is?

***"The church is reborn where God restores the doctrine, and gives his Holy Spirit. Paul testifies in Eph. 4:11] that the church is ruled and preserved in this manner, not by orderly succession: ‘He gave gifts to men, apostles, prophets. . . .’ He teaches that the true church is where Christ is at work and where he bestows true teachers. . . . Let us not permit ourselves to be scared away from the Word of God by the false protection of the name church.
“Second, after it has been said what the true church is, one must add that the true church is small and consists only of saints. It retains the true doctrine of the Gospel, the articles of faith, or, as Paul calls it, the source of the truth. Yet this same true church sometimes preserves the doctrine purely and clearly, but at other times less so. . . .” ***-
Melanchthon

The Augsburg Confession further lays out what/who the Church is, and the importance of ecclesiastical order:

Article V: Of the Ministry.

1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.

Article VII: Of the Church.

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6.

Article XIV: Of Ecclesiastical Order.

Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.

Article XV: Of Ecclesiastical Usages.

1] Of Usages in the Church they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquillity and good order in the Church, as particular holy days, festivals, and the like.

2] Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation.

3] They are admonished also that human traditions instituted to propitiate God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. Wherefore vows and traditions concerning meats and 4] days, etc., instituted to merit grace and to make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the Gospel.

Jon

I live in an area where there is a significant number of Lutherans intertwined with Catholics, so Lutheran topics do tend to interest me moreso than other denominations.

With that said, whenever I come across someone who professes to be Lutheran, I wonder “what kind of Lutheran” they are. ELCA is pretty easy to discover, but not always. Seems there is quite the spectrum. Also, I often get LCMS and WELS mixed up.

I’ll presume that Lutherans officially teach authority a little differently between the groups.

Jon,
I appreciate your contribution to this topic. Authority is an area of interest to me.

PS I always know it might be you when it’s about 6 Am LOL!~

blessings,

Mary.

I know a bit about the history of the Lutheran church and the founding of the LCMS. This was in response to the Prussian Union, correct? It seems to me that the LCMS has done a better job of holding to Lutheran orthodoxy. As you mention those other churches could have valid bishops. An individual bishop could even be valid from a Catholic point of view in specific cases. It seems to me those other churches have strayed far from Lutheran orthodoxy. It would seem almost impossible for there to be full agreement with them. The other churches would have to make changes that seem very unlikely. Would you disagree?

Would another option, from the Lutheran perspective, be for a member of the LCMS to receive episcopal ordination from a bishop of one of those churches? This would not require agreement between the different bodies but simply an act of ordination. If so what prevents that from happening right now?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.