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NEWS FROM THE CENTER FRIDAY DIGEST October 29 - Reformation Foundations for All Liberty and Freedom

October 31 is the celebration of the Reformation in Christian Churches around the world. The Reformation rediscovered the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a unique proclamation of freedom, life, and salvation offered to sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Temporal freedoms are rooted in the reality of God’s gift of eternal freedom. The Reformation taught us anew the proper ordering of such things in our lives.

When Jesus said, “If you abide in my word…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32) and “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33), He threw down the gauntlet to people of every tribe and nation. Find your freedom in God by faith, and all other freedoms will find their proper place in your life. Rid yourself of the first, eternal freedom, and all other freedoms will fail as well. St Paul describes the “two freedoms” life of faith as well when He says, “It is for freedom that you have been set free!” Of course, the freedom that comes by grace through faith in Christ alone doesn’t compel a life of libertinism, but a life that seeks to  do what is right and good not just for oneself, but for others in view of God’s mercy (Rom.12:1).

Ironically, American polity put some of that wisdom to work in culture. It recognized the difference of the two freedoms and the pre-eminence of conscience and religious liberty. James Madison said as much in that famous letter to Rev. Schaeffer, Dec. 3, 1821, saying:

It illustrates the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations.[1]

All that Luther “rediscovered” were the power of Christ’s words in Matthew 22 to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” on God’s terms alone. In order to clearly proclaim the freedom and eternal life that uniquely comes from Christ as a gift, Luther rediscovered the biblical idea that God is at work in the world in two distinct ways to preserve it and ultimately to save it. His teaching is called “Two-Kingdoms,” though it is no dualism. It is merely the idea that God’s work in the world needs to be differentiated according to His distinction. Jesus himself reminds us to “give to God what is God’s and to give to Caesar, what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). And, even then, it is to be noted that the realm of Caesar is created and directed by God according to His Law, written into the consciences of people and to be exercised in love by fulfilling one’s God-given vocations in the world for the sake of its preservation. Luther reminds us in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment (the one that talks about Honoring Father and Mother) that in order to carry out that kind of preserving work faithfully, 

Governments must establish courts of law, punish criminals (with death if need be), wage war against invaders, sanction the legality of contracts, encourage marriage, regulate commerce, and support education; they may use such lawful means that these ends require. Governors are to perform their duties faithfully, avoid tyranny, insure the usefulness of their regime to land and people, suppress rebellion, preserve the peace, and protect the poor.[2]

As the Western world differentiated the two freedoms, honored the two realms of public authority, and defined the extent to which they ruled over the hearts, the minds, and the bodies of people, the notion of “Caesar and his subjects” was transformed into the reality of “the citizens and their elected officials.” The Bill of Rights, as well as the rights of citizens to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness as people created in the image of God are ideals rooted in the Reformation. Living them out in ways that glorified God and served one’s neighbor became foundational principles for temporal liberty in the American experiment. And, at the same time, it was to be clearly noted that as precious as these constitutional liberties were, they were not to be confused with the eternal liberties that were unique to Christ and dispensed by His Church.

Earthly liberty stems from God’s preserving work in the world, exercised through family, government, work, and enterprise, even in a world hell-bent on its own demise. Eternal freedom, however, comes only through God’s restoration of it through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ alone. That differentiation brought out the best of both for a time. On this Reformation weekend, let’s rekindle our commitment to be faithful to the God who both preserves and redeems this world in His ways. And let’s us remind ourselves of the blessings which come from following Him in all things, now and forever.

The Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz is executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty.

Be Informed

Learn why the Texas Heartbeat Law matters with Carol Tobias of National Right to Life in a recent Issues, Etc. podcast.

Be Equipped

The Christian family is the first line of defense in the fight against loneliness.” The Rev. Adrian Sherrill explains why one-man/one-woman marriage and any children God blesses them with matter.



Be Encouraged

“Society should address every act of injustice and partiality based on ethnicity, and not allow politicians to use envy or ‘race’ for election ploys. ‘Wisdom from above’ is needed, says James, lest there be ‘wars among you.’ Resist the calls to revolution and repair to the One who is able to bring all men together, at the Cross.” James M. Kushiner, The Fellowship of St. James

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[2] Large Catechism, Fourth Commandment, 167-169 (BS, 603; BC, 388; CT, 628, 629)

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