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Transatlantic Blog

Political idolatry: A Lutheran view

Is faith in politics “another Gospel”? A distinguished Lutheran scholar has weighed in on the matter, clearly delineating a Christian’s duty as a citizen from his duty to the Christ and his fellow body of believers.

Gene Veith, the noted professor, provost, and editor, weighs in on the topic after taking notice of Acton’s article on President Trump’s recent “King of Israel” controversy.

In his blog at Patheos, Veith shares insights gleaned from Lutheranism’s traditional “Two Kingdoms” theology.

“The state’s purview is the first use of the Law, curbing external sin by means of lawful magistrates, rewards, and punishments, though such external and coerced obedience can never make a person internally righteous,” he writes. Justification comes from the church’s proclamation (and belief in) the Gospel.

“It is not necessarily idolatry for Christians to work through the existing governmental systems to do so, even though this may involve certain compromises with the governing authorities,” he adds. “But it is idolatry if we put our faith in them.”

He then quotes Martin Luther’s discussion of the First Commandment from his Large Catechism. The heart of the quotation comes as Luther describes idolatry.

“[T]o have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart,” Luther said. “That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.”

The full, extended quotation – and the rest of Veith’s article – is well worth your time. But this extract makes it clear what Luther would say to Christians who put their faith in the power of any earthly ruler.

Incidentally, his insights pair well with his subsequent blog on how easily how church figures find "God's will on Brexit."

Read the whole article here.

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Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.