Concerning the power of bishops much has been written in former times, and some have improperly mingled together civil and ecclesiastical power. From this heterogeneous commixture extensive wars, rebellions, and insurrections have been produced, by the pontiffs having, under pretence of their power, given unto them by Christ, not only established new modes of worship, and oppressed the consciences of men with reservations of certain cases and with violent excommunications, but also presumed to dethrone kings and emperors at pleasure, and to place others in their stead. This presumption has long since been censured by learned and pious men. Hence, those who think with us, for the purpose of consoling the consciences of men, have been compelled to point out the lines of distinction between civil and ecclesiastical power. And they have taught, that both civil and ecclesiastical power, on account of God’s commandment, ought to be honored and sustained with all sincerity, as the two greatest blessings of God on earth.

Accordingly they teach, that the power of the keys or of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power and commission from God to preach the Gospel, to remit and to retain sins, and to attend to and administer the sacraments. For Christ sent forth the Apostles with the command: “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained,” John 20, 21-23. This power of the keys or of the bishops is to be exercised and carried into effect alone by the doctrine and preaching of the Word of God, and by the administration of the sacraments to many or to a few persons, according to the call. For by this means are conferred, not temporal, but eternal blessings and treasures; as, eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. These blessings cannot be obtained otherwise than by the office of the ministry, and by the administration of the holy sacraments. As St. Paul says, Rom. 1, 16: “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Inasmuch then as the power of the church or of the bishops confers eternal gifts, and is exercised and exerted only by the ministry, it cannot by any means interfere with civil polity and government. For the latter relates to matters entirely different from the Gospel, and protects with its power not the souls of men, but their bodies and possessions against external violence, by the sword and bodily penalties.

Therefore these two governments, the civil and ecclesiastical, ought not to be mingled and confounded. For the ecclesiastical power has its command to preach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments, and it ought not to interfere with a foreign office, it ought not to dethrone or make kings, it ought not to make and appoint laws for civil power concerning political matters. As Christ himself also has said, John 18, 36: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Again, Luke 12, 14: “Who made me a judge, or a divider over you?” And St. Paul says to the Philippians, 3, 20: “Our conversation is in heaven.” And in 2 Cor. 10, 4: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.”

In this manner we distinguish between the two powers, the civil and ecclesiastical, and recommend both of them to be held in honor as the highest gifts of God on earth. But if bishops have any civil power, they possess it not as bishops from divine right, but from human imperial right, conferred by emperors and kings, for the civil management of their own possessions, and it has nothing at all to do with the office of the Gospel. Wherefore the Episcopal office, according to divine appointment, is to preach the Gospel, to remit sins, to judge of doctrine, to reject the doctrine which is contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the Christian community the wicked, whose impious conduct is manifest, without human power, but by the Word of God alone, and in that case the parishioners and churches are under obligation to be obedient to the bishops, agreeably to the declaration of Christ, Luke 10, 16: “He that heareth you, heareth me.” But if they teach, appoint, or establish any thing contrary to the Gospel, we have the command of God in such case, not to be obedient, Matt. 7, 15: “Beware of false prophets.” And St. Paul to the Gal. 1, 8: “Though we or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” And in 2 Cor. 13, 8: “For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” Again, verse 10: “According to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.” Thus the ecclesiastical law commands in like manner, 2 Quest., 7 Cap. Sacerdotes, and in Cap. Oves. And St. Augustine writes in the epistle against Petilian, that, “We should not obey those bishops who have been duly elected, if they commit errors, or teach or ordain any thing contrary to the divine Scripture.”

But, since the bishops have other power and jurisdiction in certain matters, as those relating to marriage or tithes, they derive it from the power of human laws. But if the ordinaries are negligent in such office, the princes, whether they do it willingly or reluctantly, are under obligation in that case, for the sake of peace, to put into execution the law against their subjects, for the prevention of discord and confusion in the community.

Further, it is questionable, whether bishops have power also to establish in the church, ceremonies, such as ordinances concerning meats, holidays, and concerning different orders of ministers. Those who attribute this power to bishops, cite the declaration of Christ, John 16, 12, 13: “I have yet many thinks to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.” In addition they introduce the example, Acts 15, 20, when they have forbidden “things strangled and blood.” So it is alleged also, that the Sabbath was changed into Sunday, contrary to the Ten Commandments, as they regard it, and no example is urged and alleged more strenuously, then the change of the Sabbath; and they wish to maintain by that, that the power of the church is great, since it has dispensed with a precept of the Ten Commandments, and has effected some change in them.

But relative to this question we teach, that the bishops have no power to appoint and establish any thing contrary to the Gospel, as has already been stated, and as the canons teach, Dist. 9. Now it is evidently contrary to the command and Word of God, to enact or enforce laws with a view to atone for sins and to merit grace by them; for if we presume to earn grace by such ordinances, it detracts from the merit and honor of Christ. It is also clear, that on account of this opinion human traditions innumerable have prevailed in Christendom, and by this means the doctrine of faith, and the righteousness of faith, were entirely suppressed – new holidays, new fasts were daily commanded, new ceremonies, and new honors to the saints were instituted, in order to merit grace and all blessings from God, by such works. Again, they who institute human traditions, act contrary to the command of God, by ascribing sins to meats, to days, and the like things, and by thus encumbering Christendom with the servitude of the law, as though there had to be among Christians, to merit the grace of God, such a divine service as the Levitical, and as if he had commanded the Apostles and bishops to establish it, as some writers testify. And there is no doubt, that some of the bishops have been deceived by the example of the law of Moses; hence originated those innumerable traditions: that it is a mortal sin to do any manner of work on holidays, even without offence to others; that it is a mortal sin to neglect the canonical hours; that certain meats pollute the conscience; that fasting is a work by which God may be reconciled; that sin in a case reserved, will not be forgiven, except the reserver of the case be first entreated; notwithstanding, the ecclesiastical laws do not speak of the reservation of sin, but of the reservation of church-penalty.

Whence, then, have the bishops power and authority to impose such traditions upon the Christian community to ensnare men’s consciences? For St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, forbids the “yoke to be put upon the neck of the disciples,” Acts 15, 10. And St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “That power was given to him to edification, and not to destruction,” 2 Cor. 13, 10. Why then do they multiply sins by such traditions? We have clear declarations from the divine writings, which forbid the establishment of such traditions, in order to merit the grace of God, or as if they were necessary to salvation. Thus says St. Paul, Col. 2, 16: “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy-day, or of the new-moon, or of the Sabbath-days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Again, verse 20: “Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ, from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, which say, (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom.” Again, St. Paul to Titus, 1, 14, forbids publicly, the “giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men that turn from the truth.”

So also Christ himself speaks of those who urge the people to observe human commandments, Matt. 15, 14: “Let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind;” and rejecting such service, he says: “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up,” verse 13. Now, if the bishops have power to encumber the churches with innumerable traditions, and to ensnare men’s consciences, why then does the holy Scripture so often forbid the making and observing of human traditions? Why does it style them the doctrines of devils? Shall the Holy Ghost have warned us against all these things in vain?

Wherefore, since such ordinances, instituted as necessary in order to reconcile God and to merit grace, are in opposition to the Gospel, it is by no means suitable for the bishops to enforce such services. For the doctrine of Christian liberty must be retained in the church, namely, that the servitude of the law is not necessary to justification, as St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage,” Gal. 5, 1. For the chief article of the Gospel, that without our merit we obtain the grace of God through faith in Christ, must be maintained, and that we do not merit it in consequence of rites instituted by men.

What, then, should be held concerning Sunday and other similar church ordinances and ceremonies? To this we make the following reply: – That the bishops or pastors may make regulations, so that things may be carried on orderly in the church, – not to obtain the grace of God, nor yet to atone for sins, or to bind the consciences of men to hold these regulations as necessary services of God, and to regard them, as if those commit sin, who break them without offence to others. Thus St. Paul to the Corinthians ordains, that the women in the congregation should cover their heads, 1 Cor. 11, 5. Again, that the preachers should speak in the congregation, not all at the same time, but in order, one after another.

It is proper for a Christian congregation to observe such regulations for the sake of peace and love, and in such cases to be obedient to the bishops and pastors, and to observe these regulations in so far as that one offend not another, that there may be no disorder or unseemly conduct in the church; yet that the consciences of men be not encumbered with the idea that these observances are held as necessary to salvation, and that those commit sin, who violate them even without offence to others: as, so no one says that a woman commits sin in going abroad bareheaded, unless thereby she offend the people. In like manner such is the case with the institution of Sunday, of Easter, of Pentecost, and the like holidays and rites. Those, then, who are of opinion, that such institution of Sunday instead of the Sabbath, was established as a thing necessary, err very much. For the holy Scripture has abolished the Sabbath, and it teaches that all ceremonies of the old law, since the revelation of the Gospel, may be discontinued. And yet as it was necessary to appoint a certain day, so that the people might known when they should assemble, the Christian church ordained Sunday for that purpose, and possessed rather more inclination and willingness for this alteration, in order that the people might have an example of Christian liberty, that they might know that neither the observance of the Sabbath, nor of any other day, is indispensable.

There are many unwarrantable disputations relative to the change of the Law, to the ceremonies of the New Testament, to the alteration of the Sabbath; all of which have sprung from the false and erroneous opinion, that there must be in the Christian church a divine service corresponding with the Levitical or Jewish service of God, and that Christ had commanded the Apostles and bishops to devise new ceremonies, which should be necessary to salvation. These errors obtained in Christendom when the righteousness of faith was not clearly and purely taught and preached. Some also argue, that Sunday must be kept, although not from divine authority, prescribing in what form and to what degree labor may be performed on that day. But what else are such disputations, but snares of conscience? For although they presume to modify and mitigate human traditions, yet no or mitigation can be attained, so long as the opinion exists and continues, that they are necessary. Now this opinion must continue, if men know nothing of the righteousness of faith, and of Christian liberty. The Apostles have given the command, to abstain from blood and things strangled. But who observes this now? Yet those do not sin who do not observe it, because even the Apostles themselves did not wish to burden the conscience with such servitude, but they prohibited it for a time to avoid offence. For we must have regard, in view of this ordinance, to the chief article of the Christian doctrine, which is not abrogated by this decree.

Scarcely any of the ancient canons are observed agreeably to their purport, and many of these ordinances are going out of use daily, even among those who maintain such traditions with the greatest zeal. It would afford no counsel or relief to the conscience, were this modification not observed, – namely, to know, in preserving these traditions, that they are not preserved as being necessary, and that it would not be injurious to the conscience, even if these traditions should cease. But the bishops might easily preserve obedience, if they would not urge the keeping of these traditions which cannot be observed without sin. Now, they forbid the administration of both elements in the Eucharist; they forbid priests to marry; and receive no one, unless he has first taken an oath not to preach this doctrine, though it is without doubt in accordance with the holy Gospel.

Our churches do not desire the bishops to make peace and union at the expense of their honor and dignity, (though this would be proper for the bishops to do in case of necessity,) but they entreat only, that the bishops discontinue certain unjust burdens which did not exist in the church formerly, and which are contrary to the custom of the universal Christian church. There might, perhaps, have been some reasons for these, when they were first established, but they are not suitable for our times. It is likewise undeniable, that some ordinances were received through ignorance. Wherefore, the bishops ought to have the kindness to mitigate these ordinances, since such change would not be injurious to the preservation of the unity of the Christian church; for many ordinances instituted by men, have ceased of themselves in the course of time, and were unnecessary to be observed, as the Papal laws themselves testify. But if it cannot be granted by them, or obtained from them, that these human ordinances may be moderated or abolished, which cannot be observed without sin, we must follow the rule of the Apostles, which commands that “we ought to obey God rather than men,” Acts 5, 29.

St. Peter, 1 Pet. 5, 3, forbids the bishops to rule as if they had power to force the churches into whatever measure they please. Not, it is not our design to deprive the bishops of their power, but we desire and entreat, that they would not force the consciences of men to sin. If however they will not desist, but contemn this entreaty, they may consider that they will, therefore, be under obligation to render an account unto God, since by this obstinacy of theirs, they give occasion for disunion and schisms which they ought properly to assist in preventing.