The Three Estates - And When One Fails

The Small Catechism identifies three estates or hierarchies in life: the church, the state, and the family. Each of these estates functions quite differently, but are equally necessary for the sake of a healthy society. For example, the church gives gifts of grace (i.e., Gospel). The state bears the sword to maintain order and peace (i.e., Law). And the family nurtures and provides (i.e., Mercy). Tragically, though, when one of these estates is absent or negligent, society will demand the other two estates to compensate - to pick up the slack. As a result, politicians can be expected to turn their podiums into pulpits and be pastors. Pastors can be expected to abandon the Word and Sacraments to nurture as fathers. And the state can be expected to provide stability, not the sword. Alas, pastors are not politicians! Politicians are not pastors! Police officers are neither pastors nor fathers! To the point; when politicians and police officers are expected to be parents, they cannot fulfill their role in the estate of the government to bear the sword for order and peace. And when pastors turn their pulpits into political podiums, they fail to administer the gifts of God's grace via the Word and Sacraments. And when fathers and mothers fail to provide and nurture for their families, they inevitably put a burden on the church and the state to be parents in their stead. In the end, when one estate suffers, all estates suffer. The church is not designed to bear the sword, just as the state is not designed to deliver the means of grace, and it is not good for the family to neglect its nurturing and provisional care. Each estate is necessary - and good - in its own sphere and hierarchy for a healthy society.

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