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March 2014 (Vol. 59, No. 2)

Dear Saints of Grace congregation,

The next section of the Book of Concord is called the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.  It was written in 1540 by Philip Melanchthon, a theologian alongside Martin Luther, and it basically presents the same position Luther took in the Smalcald Articles toward the Papacy (SA IV). It is thought that Elector John Frederick insisted that something be written specifically about the Papacy that would not be misunderstood at a later time.  Something that would give scriptural answers to questions such as: “How do Christians receive pastors?” and “How is the Church organized, structured, and governed?”  Melanchthon would be the one to take up the task.

The Roman Catholic answer to questions like those above would be that everything depends upon the pope, or the “vicar of Christ.” The pope is the one Roman Catholic’s believe to be the continuing successor to the Apostle Peter.  They believe that it is through the pope that Christ’s authority to His Church on earth continually flows.

Although Roman Catholic’s believe that God’s Word reveals this understanding (based on Matthew 16:18), Lutherans do not believe, teach, and confess this.  In the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope Melanchthon provides the Lutheran view of authority in the Church and the basis on which the Church is founded and continued. Melanchthon wrote, “We will show from the Gospel that the Roman bishop is not above other bishops and pastors by divine right.”

Included inside this Treatise is an analysis of the claims made throughout medieval times about the Papacy down through the years. Rome claimed that that the pope is the supreme head of the Church by divine right and, therefore, the pope should have ultimate authority in both the Church and the world.  They then took it to its furthest extents by stating that it was necessary for salvation to believe this about papal authority because the pope is Christ’s representative (vicar) on earth. Although Luther was the first to call the pope the Antichrist, Melanchthon provides the reason for these claims in great detail. The assertion may strike people in today’s politically correct society as radical or harsh but the point is simply that the marks of being Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the pope and his followers (see 2 Thessalonians. 2:3-4 & 1 Timothy 4:1-3).

Reading this Treatise will not only help to have a better understanding when it comes to the Roman Catholic view of the pope, it will also provide a proper teaching on the role of bishops & pastors in the Church today.  Saying that a divine mandate dictates the differences in the way clergy are to be ordered in the Church is rejected by Lutheranism. It is made clear that every pastor is equal in office when it comes to the essence of the ministry (namely, proclaiming God’s Word, administering the Sacraments, and conducting Church practices that rightly reflect the biblical doctrines that we confess).  As the Gospel is one, so the ministry of the Gospel is one.

It is important to know what our Lutheran Confessions state in these regards. The Roman Catholic Church still holds to its understanding of the power and primacy of the pope.  This means that it is pertinent that we Lutherans be firm in our understanding of being against it.  Not only for the security of having a great biblical foundation, but also for the opportunity to nurture the Truth to those who are being led astray by such a sad false doctrine.

With you IN Christ!