Two Kinds of Authority: A Bible Study

by Samuel Schuldheisz

The correct ordering of the relationship between the church and the state is one of those great problems which throughout the history of the church must always be solved anew.”

–Hermann Sasse

This brief Bible study is designed to provide a firm biblical and confessional setting for Lutherans to learn and study how God uses His two-fold authority both in the church and the world for our good. It is a foundation upon which pastors and people can build as they grow in the knowledge and blessings of God’s Word.

In this life, Christians are ambidextrous. On the one hand, our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). And on the other hand, Jesus sends us into the world (John 17) for the sake of our neighbor. God has established two kinds of authority–the spiritual and the temporal –for our good and the good of all people.

    1. According to Col. 1:15-20 who has authority over spiritual affairs? Who has established authority over temporal affairs (Rom. 13:1)?
    2. Although there are two kingdoms, there is one only King, the Triune God. According to Matt. 28:16-20 and 1 Peter 2:14, what are the two kinds of authority God has established? And specifically, where does God exercise His spiritual and temporal authority?
    3. Why did God create government? What are the distinct purposes, goals and means God uses in the temporal authorities for the good of all people? See Rom. 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17.
    4. Scripture clearly commands Christians to obey the governing authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17). But who are the temporal authorities called to obey? See John 19:1-11. How do Jesus’ words to Pilate shape our understanding of God’s authority in the civil realm?
    5. Does this mean Christian obedience to the state is absolute? When are Christians called to disobey the civil authorities God has placed over us? Read Acts 5:27-32. When are we not?
    6. How is God’s authority in the Church distinct from His authority in the civil realm?  See John 20:19-23; 1 Cor. 4:1ff. Where is the source of the Church’s authority? See John 5:30-47.
    7. What is the primary task of the Church? Read Luke 5:24; 24:36-49 and 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5; 11:23-26. And what are the distinct purposes, goals and means God uses in His Church to accomplish His good and gracious will?
    8. Read Matt. 22:1-14. What does it mean to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s? What belongs to Caesar? What belongs to God? How does Jesus’ teaching among the Pharisees help us understand the two kingdoms?
    9. What happens when either institution interferes with the other’s God-given responsibilities? Why is this dangerous for church and State? How is a confusion of the two kingdoms at root a failure to distinguish Law and Gospel?
    10. Scripture clarifies the relationship between church and state. Although God uses His authority for distinct purposes in both institutions, how are they dependent? Read 1 Tim. 2:1-3 and Mat. 5:13-16. What happens when each realm of authority carries out its divinely given purpose? How are these two kinds of authority gifts of God?
    11. In this life, Christians are ambidextrous. On the one hand, what does 1 Peter 2:1-12 and Rom. 8:1-11 teach us about our vocation His church? On the other hand, what does Scripture teach us about our vocation as citizens? Read Rom. 13:5-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-4; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14. In what ways can Christians be salt and a light in their vocations? How do we serve our neighbor by upholding God’s authority in the civil realm?
    12. What do the Lutheran Confessions and Small Catechism teach us about God’s two kinds of authority? For a brief overview, see the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism. Also read Augsburg Confession articles V, VII, VIII, XIV, XVI, XXVIII and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.
    13. In his famous treatise, “On Christian Liberty,” Luther once said that, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all subject to none; the Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”How does this apply to our Christian lives in both kingdoms? How do we apply God’s two-fold work of freedom and love in our daily lives in both kingdoms?

For Further Reading and Study:

  • Lutheran Service Book, p. 313 lists numerous prayers for matters of the civil realm.
  • The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals. Gene E. Veith, Concordia Publishing House.
  • The Anonymous God: The Church Confronts Civil Religion and American Society. Edited by David L. Adams and Ken Schurb, Concordia Publishing House.
  • The Temporal Authorities to What Extent They Should be Obeyed and Whether Soldiers Too Can be Saved. Martin Luther. Luther’s Works, volume 45. Concordia Publishing House.
  • “Render unto Caesar . . . and into God: A Lutheran View of Church and State,” LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations.

God’s Left-Hand Rule

  • Scripture: Rom. 3:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17
  • Catechism: Fourth Commandment, First Article, Fourth Petition
  • Purpose: civil justice/order
  • Goal: curb evil; an orderly, just society not Christianize
  • Means: Reason/natural law
  • Civil righteousness (before man)
  • Law
  • Lesser of two evils
  • Rewards good / punishes evil
  • Active in vocation
  • Temporal authority (God’s gift)
  • The fisted sword of steel

God’s Right-Hand Rule

  • Scripture: Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:13-14
  • Catechism: Second and Third Articles, Means of Grace, Lord’s Prayer
  • Purpose: forgive sin
  • Goal: salvation through preaching sin and grace
  • Means: Word/Sacraments
  • Spiritual Righteousness (before God)
  • Law and Gospel
  • Calls sin, sin
  • Works: not merit, fruit of faith
  • Passive recipients
  • Spiritual authority (God’s gift)
  • The oral sword of the Spirit

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