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God also does two different things at the


same time. Luther distinguishes between what he calls the spiritual authority of the gospel, described as “the right hand of God,” and earthly or political authority, described as “the left hand of God.” While these two kinds of authority have different functions, Luther insists that they both come from God. Today, Lutheran theologians often talk


about God’s two kinds of authority or two modes of governing rather than using the misleading “two kingdoms” language.


Government as God’s good gift Luther lived in a very different context from ours. Church and state were rivals for power, and leaders typically dipped their hands into both spheres of influence. During his time, bishops exercised political authority over the areas that were under their spiritual care, and political authorities enforced laws against heresy. Leaders assumed that religious conformity was


a necessary part of a well-ordered society, and they insisted on it. Luther was concerned about these boundary violations. Legal or political authority, he insisted, pertained only to matters of body and property. It wasn’t acceptable for political leaders to attempt to regulate the faith of their subjects. Luther didn’t want church leaders in charge of


politics any more than he wanted political leaders running the church. Nonetheless, he brought faith to bear on social and political matters. He wrote about the responsibilities of civic leadership. He dedicated some of his writings to individual politicians. Perhaps most surprising is what he wrote about government itself. In the Large Catechism, Luther lifted up


government as one of God’s good gifts. He included it in his explanation of the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, which confesses God as creator. For Luther, confessing God as creator is not only about what happened when the world began. His emphasis is on how “God has given … and still preserves” everything that exists.


“ Although we have received from God all good things in abundance, we cannot retain any of them or enjoy them in security and happiness were God not to give us a stable, peaceful government. For where dissension, strife, and war prevail, there daily bread is already taken away or at least reduced.”


16 AUGUST 2017


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