Kolb, Robert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Augsburg Confession XXVIII, “Concerning the Power of Bishops” pp. 92-104.
Apology to the Augsburg Confession XXVIII, “Ecclesiastical Power” pp. 289-295.
Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession begins with a brief review of challenges which have arisen surrounding the way bishops have used power, often counter to Scripture. On the contrary, the Lutherans limit the power of bishops. “According to the gospel the power of the keys or of the bishops is a power and command of God to preach the gospel, to forgive or retain sin, and to administer and distribute the sacraments” (Kolb 2000, 92). This work gives eternal benefits which are found nowhere else. At the same time the authority of the bishops does not conflict with that of civil authorities. “Secular power does not protect the soul but, using the sword and physical penalties, it protects the body and goods against external violence” (Kolb 2000, 93). Bishops should not pursue secular authority. It is not their divine right. Further, bishops are not to make binding doctrines, particularly those which would be seen as obtaining grace (Kolb 2000, 96). The text goes on to illustrate various doctrines which have led to controversy and trial.
The Apology observes first that the opponents claim that ecclesiastical status grants no power or immunity (Kolb 2000, 289). Yet the article in the confession is not focused on the status granted by civil authorities to church authorities. It is rather about neglect of the responsibilities given to church leaders. The opponents did not respond to the issue of church authorities binding consciences to extrabiblical laws (Kolb 2000, 290). These extra laws cannot merit God’s grace. They may serve to promote good order, but not to merit grace (Kolb 2000, 291).