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Protestants vs. Radicals – A Lutheran Defends the Rights of Rulers in Religious Matters

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And finally, even though, as the memorandist reminds us, there must be sects and divisions in the kingdom of Christ, [1 Cor. 11:19] it does not follow from this that one should not curb sects and divisions to the extent that it is possible and appropriate for each office. Were there not sects at Corinth, and were there not divisions there as well? But see how dauntlessly Paul resists them and how vehemently he scolds the Corinthians on that account. [1 Cor. 1:10-13.] But if sects and divisions absolutely must exist, then no one need resist them, neither preacher nor apostle. And where the memorandist says: “Why should a government presume to use the sword to drive from Christ’s kingdom something that scripture says must necessarily be in it,” one could just as well say in almost the same words: Why should a preacher presume to use the preached word to drive from Christ’s kingdom something that scripture says must necessarily be in it, etc.?

But this verse of St. Paul [i.e., 1 Cor. 11:19.] is so to be understood that the mandate of the two offices, spiritual and secular, is not abrogated by it. Indeed, whoever is able to do so should resist sects and divisions: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” [Matt. 5:9.] Paul’s intent in this verse [i.e., in 1 Cor. 11:19.] is to show what results from the devil’s regime. For because the devil is the prince of this world [cf. John 16:11.] and goes about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour [1. Pet. 5:8], there must be quarrels and dissensions, in worldly matters as well as in those of faith, just as many are called but few are chosen. [Matt. 20:16 (ASV).] The result is that those who are peaceful and righteous will be made known. [1 Cor. 11:19.] Thus, it is neither just nor godly but rather forbidden by God to live in a quarrelsome and contentious way, even though the devil is still to some extent in power and such things must be, and even though the nature of the world is such that there must always be much evil. Nevertheless, it is the duty of a preacher to combat sects with the word of God. And it is the duty of secular government to prevent all public disorder and confusion, and it is not bound in conscience to permit the establishment of a new sect, synagogue, or public assembly to the detriment of true Christians, but may in good conscience resist the harmful undertaking of the new sect and abolish it by appropriate, moderate, untyrannical means etc.

Source of original German text: Johannes Brenz, Frühschriften, edited by Martin Brecht, Gerhard Schäfer, and Frieda Wolf. Volume 2. J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck): Tübingen, 1974, 528-41.

Source of English translation: Whether Secular Government Has the Right to Wield the Sword in Matters of Faith. A Controversy in Nürnberg over Freedom of Worship and the Authority in Spiritual Matters, translated by James M. Estes. Toronto: Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1994, pp. 55-72.

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