ALR159 – Doctrine of The Lesser Magistrates

The doctrine of the lesser magistrates declares that when the superior or higher civil authority makes an unjust/immoral law or decree, the lesser or lower ranking civil authority has both the right and duty to refuse obedience to that superior authority. Lloyd and Pastor Bennett discuss how this 500-year-old doctrine applies to us today.

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Clinging to God and Guns
Luther wrote in March 1530 that no christian should set himself against the government even if the government acts unjustly. A Christian ought to suffer injustice and rather than resist because even if the government is tyrannical, that in no way removes our obligation as citizens to be obedient. But six months later, in his letter “A Warning to His Dear German People,” [LW 47, 11-55] Luther’s view on this subject changed as the threat of military action by the Holy Roman Emperor loomed on the horizon. In 1545, just months after Luther's death, Emperor Charles V prepares for war against the Lutherans, who launch an ill-fated pre-emptive strike. Before long, the Lutheran princes are in submission, dead, or in prison and the Augsburg Interim re-imposes Roman worship on the German people. As the armies of the Emperor close in on the City of Magdeburg, the pastors there write the Magdeburg Confession, expanding on Luther's 1530 letter and laying out the Biblical case for armed resistance to tyranny — the Lesser Magistrates Doctrine. 500 years later in the United States we see lesser magistrates refusing to uphold or enforce laws from gun control to immigration enforcement.

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Devotion for the Week
The people of Israel contended with the Lord in the wilderness (Ex. 17:1–7). They were dissatisfied with His provision. In the same way, the first laborers in the vineyard complained against the landowner for the wage he provided them (Matt. 20:1–16). They charged him with being unfair, but in reality he was being generous. For the Lord does not wish to deal with us on the basis of what we deserve but on the basis of His abounding grace in Christ. The first—those who rely on their own merits—will be last. “For they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5). But the last, those who rely on Christ, will be first. For Christ is the Rock (1 Cor. 9:24–10:5). He is the One who was struck and from whose side blood and water flowed that we may be cleansed of our sin.

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