The Magdeburg Confession and Resistance Theory

But its [the Magdeburg Confession] importance has stood the test of time. It especially came to the fore just a few years ago when the Covid reign of terror descended upon much of the world…As this globalist statism is likely to only get worse in the days ahead, returning to these older documents become more needful than ever.

One of the earliest Protestant statements on the place of resistance to wicked rulers is the Magdeburg Confession. The confession was written by a group of German pastors at Magdeburg laying out why they had to resist the 1548 Interim of Charles V. Among other things, it set out the doctrine of the lesser magistrates, but more on that in a moment.

Given that religion and politics were so closely intertwined at the time, it is not surprising that the Confession dealt with both matters. But before proceeding, a bit of an historical overview–via a timeline–should be offered here.


1483–Luther is born.
1497-1498–Luther a student at Magdeburg.
1505–Luther’s conversion.
1517–Luther posts his 95 Theses.
1521–The Edict of Worms condemns Luther and the Reformation.
1530–The Diet of Augsburg convened by Charles V to deal with religious differences. Philip Melanchthon represents Luther, with the “Augsburg Confession” being presented there.
1531–The Schmalkaldic League is formed. It was a military alliance of Lutheran princes within the Holy Roman Empire. The Lutheran city Magdeburg is one of the first to join.
1546–Luther dies.
May 15, 1548–Emperor Charles V imposes his Interim, seeking to force Protestants back into Catholicism.
April 13, 1550–The Magdeburg Confession is written.
October, 1550–The siege of Magdeburg begins.
November 4, 1551–The siege is lifted after the defenders of the city withstand the forces of Charles V.

The Confession is short (around 90 pages in English text) and has three main parts. It restates various principles and beliefs enunciated by Luther, and in the ‘Second Part’ it famously discusses the role of the lesser magistrate to stand up against ungodly tyrants. In the Colvin translation (see reading list below) it goes from pages 47-72.

It should be pointed out that the word “magistrate” here means any form of civil government or civil ruler, be it a king or prince or governor or president. This section is comprised of three arguments. The first argument opens with these words:

The Magistrate is an ordinance of God for honor to good works, and a terror to evil works (Rom. 13). Therefore when he begins to be a terror to good works and honor to evil, there is no longer in him, because he does thus, the ordinance of God, but the ordinance of the devil. And he who resists such works, does not resist the ordinance of God, but the ordinance of the devil. But he who resists, it is necessary that he resist in his own station, as a matter of his calling….

When, moreover, he deposes an inferior [lesser] magistrate who is unwilling to obey him in such a crime, and replaces him with someone who is willing, by the very fact that he now honors and promotes evil works, and dishonors and destroys the good, he is no longer the ordinance of God, but the ordinance of the devil…

The writers go on to distinguish between various levels of wrongdoing or evil: “Here we must also distinguish different degrees of offense or injury. Since there is a great difference between them, we must consider whom a magistrate is able and ought to resist, and in what way, lest we suppose that we are permitted to make any injury we choose into an opportunity to disturb our superiors.”

They examine four such levels or degrees, and say of course that only the most severe of them warrant such resistance. Thus they say of the final level:

The fourth and highest level of injury by superiors is more than tyrannical. It is when tyrants begin to be so mad that they persecute with guile and arms, not so much the just persons of inferior magistrates and their subjects, as their right itself, especially the right of anyone of the highest and most necessary rank; and that they persecute God, the author of right in persons, not by any sudden and momentary fury, but with a deliberate and persistent attempt to destroy good works for all posterity.

The second argument begins as follows:

Read More

Previous ArticleNext Article