On Worldly Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed
Luther and the German Reformation he spawned sent tremors first through Europe and then through the rest of the world. In the spiritual realm, the German Reformation spectacularly gave birth to the formation of Protestantism, a large and vocal strand of Christianity that has since evolved in many and fascinating ways. Less known is the fact that the widespread spiritual awakening accompanying the Reformation also increased what “Lutherans” expected from politics and from politicians.
In his very first tract back in 1520, his address to the “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation”, Luther wrote about the scriptural expectations for Christian rulers governing the Kingdom of the World.
One of the key elements, particularly in the feudalistic structure of Luther’s times, is the behavior of worldly rulers when governing in their Kingdom: What is a ruler’s “job description”? How is a ruler’s job different from that of a priest? What is a ruler to do if he were himself a Christian, and willing to rule his land in a god-pleasing way?
Many of these questions had grown since the early days of the Reformation and Luther revisited the subject of proper rule in a series of sermons preached in Wittenberg in October 1522. We owe it to the encouragement of John of Saxony, the brother of Luther’s protector Frederick the Wise, that Luther condensed these sermons into the treatise presented in this study guide. To this day the role of government is subject to opinionated and controversial debates in many countries, and the Lutheran view originating in large measure from this treatise is as relevant today as it was when it was written five hundred years ago. Writing to be easily understood by the common man, Luther’s fresh and engaging style has lost nothing of its clarity and vigor, and it is still easy to understand for modern readers.
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