Church and State: Lutheran Perspectives

by John Stumme and Robert Tuttle (eds.) (2014), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        This collection of seven essays examines the nature of religious life in the context of religious pluralism and a post-Theodosian world [the Theodosian dynasty was the last of significance in the Roman Empire], as seen from perspectives of classical Lutheran confessions.  The final three chapters deal with “the legal contexts of church-state interaction,” with reference to issues of religious freedom, education and land use contexts, the latter an area frequently overlooked in issues of church and state relations.

        The first essay, “Lutheran thinking on Church-State Issues” summarizes the Lutheran perspective.  “Lutherans recognize government as one of the "masks" of G-d. Government is one of the divinely instituted orders or structures embedded in creation (p. 7).  (The other three “orders” are family, church and labour.)  “Each (order) is a place where the Christian can legitimately live out his or her vocation….  The gospel does not overthrow these orders but requires that they be kept” (p 8). Anabaptists are given short shrift; they “underestimated the presence of G-d in the world and thus failed to understand the nature and extent of G-d’s creation activity” (p 12).  Well!!

        A historical comment came to mind after reading “the Lutheran view of the state keeps the state within limits” (p 13); interesting that there is no mention of the Bethel and Barmen documents (of 1933 and 1934) and the disputation in Germany that did not keep “the state within its limits.”  While the issues of “religious freedom, education and land use” are key in today’s church-state dialogue, to make no mention of violence embedded in the state through bombing and drones and strategic assassinations is to ignore a crucial contemporary issue. 

        A good book that inexplicably remains silent on issues of peace and armaments. (The Lutheran Peace Fellowship could have been granted at least passing mention.)

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.