Two Kingdoms and the Spirituality of the Church
What does it mean to be two kingdom? And what does it mean to believe in the spirituality of the church? Let me start off by saying I am only presenting my own thinking here, every minster must follow his own conscience and speak out the way he believes the Lord is calling him to speak out. My position is threefold, first, that government law and policy is not something the church as an institution should meddle into, or instruct the state upon. Second, it is not the responsibility of the civil government to enforce or favor any religion, true of false. And third, that Scripture does not give us laws by which modern governments are to govern by. While those statements may not seem too unusual, I would hold fast to the above statements even concerning the two hot button political issues of our day; gay marriage and abortion, which I will explain below.
The position finds some general support in church history. Westminster Confession 31:4 states the following:
Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.
Of course, one could debate how consistently the Westminster Divines applied this principle, especially considering the many sermons preached by the Divines before the English Parliament, which from normal eyes looks as if those preachers were intermeddling into the civil affairs in England. And considering the Divines’ desire for the state to enforce tithing, punish heretics, etc., they may not have been entirely consistent in their application of WCF 31:4. But at least in theory, the Divines saw the church’s jurisdiction limited to ecclesiastical matters, as long as one understands “ecclesiastical” to mean all that pertains to the salvation and sanctification of sinners, and not only to matters pertaining to Sunday morning services and church government, as some wrongly assume. Still, my position differs from the early reformers in that they generally saw a role for the government in enforcing religion, punishing heretics, etc.
My position is also known as the spirituality of the church (SOTC), or principled pluralism. The SOTC position became well known during the Civil War, especially on the Southern side, though often those who critique the SOTC position suggest that the Southern Presbyterians were using the position to fend off ecclesiastical criticism over their defense of slavery. There may be some partial truth to that, but nevertheless, James Thornwell wrote:
The provinces of Church and State are perfectly distinct, and the one has no right to usurp the jurisdiction of the other. . . . The power of the Church is exclusively spiritual, that of the State includes the exercise of force. The constitution of the Church is a Divine revelation—the constitution of the State must be determined by human reason and the course of Providential events . . . The preacher’s business in the pulpit is to make Christians; and not free-soilers, Maine law men, statesmen, historians, or social philosophers. Are Bible principles never to be applied to the correction of the social evils of the day? …only so far as God applies them in the Bible, no farther. A minister does not cease to be a citizen and patriot because he has become a minister, but when he appears in the pulpit, he appears not as a citizen, but as God’s herald…The importance of the soul’s redemption is transcendent. All social evils, all public and national ends, sink into trifles beside it. (1)
And Southern Army chaplain Robert Dabney even more forcefully wrote:
God has reserved for our spiritual concerns one day out of seven, and has appointed one place into which nothing shall enter, except the things of eternity, and has ordained an order of officers, whose sole charge is to remind their fellow-men of their duty to God…But when the world sees a portion or the whole of this sacred season abstracted from spiritual concerns, and given to secular agitations, and that by the appointed guardians of sacred things, it is the most emphatic possible disclosure of unbelief. It says to men, “Eternity is not of more moment than time; heaven is not better than earth; a man is profited if he gains the world and loses his soul, for do you not see that we postpone eternity to time, and heaven to earth, and redemption to political triumph—we who are the professed guardians of the former?” One great source, therefore, of political preaching may always be found in the practical unbelief of [the preacher] himself; as one of its sure fruits is infidelity among the people. He is not feeling the worth of souls, nor the “powers of the world to come,” nor “the constraining love of Christ” as he should; if he were, no sense of the temporal importance of his favorite political measures, however urgent, would cause the wish to abstract an hour from the few allowed him for saving souls. (2)
On the Northern side, Charles Hodge was also careful to distinguish between the duties of the church and government when he wrote: “the state has no authority in matters purely spiritual and the church [has] no authority in matters purely secular or civil.” (3)
Stuart Robinson was a well-known Presbyterian minister during the Civil War who held a position analogous to my own. As a matter of fact, I learned much of my two kingdom thinking from his writings. Robinson wrote a letter to President Lincoln on the role of ministers in relationship to the political question of slavery, where he stated:
I have simply contended, first, on the highest doctrinal grounds, that the church had no function touching such political questions, and violated fundamentally her great charter in meddling with them. And secondly, on the grounds of the highest Christian expediency, that the church sinned enormously in thus driving from her ordinances and influences into infidelity and Popery ten millions of the people to whom she has been commissioned to preach the gospel. (4)
Now, men like Robinson could distinguish the moral question of slavery from the political question. Thus ministers like Dabney, Hodge and Robinson would not consider it a violation of the church’s role to speak on the evil of slavery as they each saw the Bible teach it, but in their minds that differed from ministers instructing the government how to deal with policy questions regarding slavery. In the same way, I would have no problem speaking on the evil of abortion, but would do so without touching on the political question of how the government should deal with that issue.
One might remember the slavery question when considering the abortion question of our day. Even among those who saw chattel slavery as evil, there were different theories on how to end the institution. Abolitionists saw the need for an immediate emancipation by government edict abolishing all slavery. Others saw that as extremely unwise, assuming that the former slaves would immediately incite violence across the nation for how they had been treated. Some suggested the government return all blacks to Africa to avoid the assumed coming bloodshed, and allow them to live there as they desire. Men like Hodge were wise enough to see that while the church could declare kidnapping and mistreatment of human beings as sinful, they did not necessarily have the answers to the political question of slavery and how to end it. That is a distinction that seems to be lost on most American conservative Christians when it comes to the abortion question.
Abraham Kuyper, well-known 19th century Dutch pastor and statesman, rejected the early reformers’ view of the state’s responsibility to enforce true religion. During the 1880’s, Kuyper wrote a pamphlet on the reformation of the church in the Standard Bearer, the denominational magazine of the Protestant Reformed Church. Kuyper wrote:
We would rather be considered not Reformed and insist that men ought not to kill heretics, than that we are left with the Reformed name as the prize for assisting in the shedding of the blood of heretics….our fathers have not developed this monstrous proposition out of principle, but have taken it over from Romish practice…this proposition opposes the Spirit and the Christian faith… We do not at all hide the fact that we disagree with Calvin, our Confessions, and our Reformed theologians.
Finally, J Gresham Machen wrote on the church’s role concerning government policies:
You cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force…The function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission, which is to bring to bear upon human hearts the solemn and imperious, yet also sweet and gracious appeal of the gospel of Christ. (5)
Again, it is not my purpose to discern how faithfully or consistently each minister remained to the SOTC position, or even on my own consistency, but only that historically this position has been an acceptable one, albeit a minority position.
Now, some have objected to the use of “kingdom” to describe the civil government (6), but that would be a minor point that does not affect the position. Without taking up much time defending the use of “kingdom” to refer to a civil government, when Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), he was comparing his kingdom to those that use weapons and armies to accomplish their purposes, thus describing civil governments as kingdoms.
Let us now consider some criticisms of the position. As I survey the criticisms, I believe the concerns can be summarized this way; God’s Law in Scripture applies not just to individuals, but also to civil magistrates; governing entities, and societies. To fail to instruct the government as to its Biblical limitations, as well as condemn them for instituting policies that do not align with God’s Word, is to fail in our duties as ministers, and allow the state to do as it pleases. For example, in the Bible, marriage is between a man and a woman, so for the state to legalize gay marriage is a clear violation of God’s word, and thus the minister must prophetically speak to the government and warn them of committing this policy sin, as well as speak to God’s people as to how they should vote and protest against such policy.
I thought it would be helpful to offer using first-hand quotes of such objections against the position. Some of these critiques are from blogs and will appear a bit overdone, but others are from more respected theologians who are a bit more helpful in their critiques. (The designation “R2k” used by some critics refers to “radical two kingdom.”) Here is pastor David Bayly critiquing PCA pastor David Coffin for suggesting that the church should stay out of the women in combat debate:
It should be noted that the man (Coffin) who advocates a strict separation of Church and state in this interview is the same man who told my brother Tim, during the 2002 General Assembly debate, that the PCA should not oppose women serving as combatants in the U.S. Armed Forces. So here’s a minister of the Word of God pedantically parsing his Biblical obligations in such a way that he can justify turning an official blind eye to one of the most depraved aspects of our culture’s destruction of women–almost as bad as urging them to kill unborn babies in their wombs. To lodge his Uriah Heapish kowtowing to our culture’s attack on motherhood in the Westminster Standards is ludicrous. (7)
David’s brother Tim Bayly comments elsewhere on his blog:
(R2kers) end up with is a doctrine that allows them to completely wash their hands of the wickedness perpetrated by the state by divorcing the Christian life from any practical responsibilities in the secular world. Furthermore, they oppose the use of the pulpit as a platform to oppose abortion, claiming that this is political interference in a dispute that resides squarely under the authority of the state, or the “secular kingdom.”
And here is CRC pastor Brett MCAtee arguing against our position on his blog:
And yet that is exactly what R2K virus theologians think can happen in our culture as they appeal to Biblical Christians and Secular Humanists to work out their common realm differences by an appeal to Natural law. All this can produce is either conflict in interpretations of Natural law or surrendering by Christians on Secular Humanist interpretations in order to accommodate the Secular Humanists so that they can live quiet and peaceful lives of capitulation to the crown rights of King Jesus. What always happens in absolutist dualism approaches is that the dualism seeks to resolve the tension. What happened in our history is that we tried to follow the R2Kt paradigm, and as Edgar notes, it worked for awhile, but it only worked as long as it did because Americans shared a common heritage…The R2Kt paradigm that was employed by America with success in its early life no longer can provide peace because secular humanism has expanded at the expense of a now contracted Christianity. (8)
Note here the argument is a utilitarian one. Our position “works” in culture only when the majority of a culture share Christian presuppositions, but now that they do not, the position will not work anymore, so the church must proclaim to the government how to govern using God’s laws from the Bible. I will argue against this below.
Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, former professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, offered a critique of David Van Drunen’s book on the two kingdoms. He sounds a similar concern:
Dr. VanDrunen is correct to warn us of the toxin of triumphalism arising from an over-realized eschatology that sees our efforts as establishing and ushering in the kingdom of God. There is another danger, however, this one equally toxic, namely, ingratitude arising from an under-realized eschatology that refuses to extend the Third Use of the Law beyond personal ethics into social-cultural relationships, an ingratitude that quarantines the active rule of King Jesus, and communal principled response to it, to the church parking lot. (9)
While one may question Kloosterman’s attributing sinful motives, i.e., ingratitude, to those he disagrees with, like other critics he sees a responsibility for the church to instruct institutions such as the state as to how to enforce the law of God revealed in Scripture.
Doug Wilson, CREC pastor in Moscow, adds:
I grant that Scripture doesn’t say a whole lot about plumbing, but it does say a lot about business, hard work, honest weights and measures, and so forth, all of which apply to plumbers. And all those things apply to the magistrate as well, in addition to all the specific instructions given to kings and princes — kissing the Son lest He be angry being among them. (10)
(Wilson wrongly assumes that instructions for kings in Old Covenant Israel are likewise for political leaders in the New Covenant outside of theocratic Israel. And he fails to do justice to prophetic idiom in the Psalms, that often in the prophetic literature, kings, representing their people, are used figuratively for all people. Thus in Psalm 2, all people are called upon to recognize the Son as Savior and King before it is too late; the psalm is not addressing civil laws. More below)
Professor Dan Strange is a Lecturer in Culture, Religion, and Public Theology at Oak Hill College, London. Critiquing Van Drunen, Strange writes:
Third, what of VanDrunen’s claim that while there is a basic moral law that binds all people, Scripture itself is an inappropriate ethical source for the common kingdom since its ethics are characterized by an indicative-imperative structure and so appropriate only for those who have been redeemed? First, while this structure may ground Christian ethical motivation, it is not the only grounds for ethics. As Frame notes, the ultimate ground is the holy character of God, in whose image we are made. Then there are universal creation ordinances given to Adam and Eve. In terms of ethical motivation, God’s commands in Scripture to do something should be grounds enough. Second, there are numerous examples (the prophetic literature being a pointed example) of the nations outside Israel being condemned and called to repent not simply of moral natural-law sins but ‘religious’ sins especially idolatry…Whether one calls it ‘natural’ or ‘biblical’, the worship of any god other than the transcendentally unique Yahweh, is idolatrous and accountable. (11)
Finally, Professor John Frame, in his book, “Escondido Theology,” adds:
Scripture is God’s Word, and God’s word is the foundation of morality. When we want to draw believers and unbelievers to that foundation, we should be unashamed to refer to Scripture. I grant that there are many cultural forces telling us not to refer to Scripture in the public square. But we should not listen to them. The attempt of Van Drunen and others to convince us not to apply Scripture to civil matters is a failure. (12)
Before responding, let me add that there are a number of overlapping positions that all find themselves in opposition to my view. There is the view of theonomy proposed by Greg Bahnsen, which sees the civil law given to Israel as a civil standard for every nation, with its various changes in application to modern culture. There is the Erastian position, which grants the civil government authority over ecclesiastical affairs. There is also the Christian America position, which believes that America used to be a Christian nation founded on Biblical ethics and that Christians should seek to restore America to its Christian roots. And there is the general theocratic position, which believes governments are required by God to enforce the Ten Commandments, including punishing blasphemers and idolaters. While there are differences among these positions, it is not my intent to distinguish and defend against each position, but to take them as a whole, for my view of the SOTC, or principled pluralism, is opposed to these other positions.
For my defense, I will begin with the accusation that my position allows believers to sit by quietly allowing the state and culture to perpetuate evil. The SOTC position is not escapist. The Bible is clear that Christians are to do good to all (Gal 6:10) and be good neighbors to those in need, whether locally or nationally. So Christians are not commanded to withdraw from culture and politics, but to do what they can to help others according to their consciences and abilities. That may mean getting involved in a Crisis Pregnancy Center, it may mean becoming a political supporter of a candidate they think will do the most good, or it may simply mean helping their neighbor when he is sick.
But that calling for individual Christians must be distinguished from the mandate Jesus gave his church as an institution, summarized in Luke 24:46&47: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” There is no other mandate in the New Testament given to the visible church concerning unbelievers besides preaching the gospel to them. As the quotes from Machen and Dabney above indicate, the matters of this temporary life, whether public policy regarding women in combat, abortion, or any other social evil, is unworthy of the minister’s proclamation as herald of Christ and bearer of eternal news. But that is not to say the Christian should not care for these other temporary matters, but instead he must relegate them to their proper jurisdiction.
An objection often arises: if the gospel call includes a calling to people to repent of specific sins, wouldn’t that include a call of repentance for civil authorities who allow or approve of abortion and gay marriage? To answer that objection, one can first examine the New Testament for such examples of public policy rebuke, but will find none. The Apostles never once condemn a policy of the Roman government, although there were an abundance of opportunities to do so by highlighting certain evil practices of the Roman system.
But not doing so does not let those civil authorities off the hook. When the Apostles list the sins God will judge, they list sins of the heart that every unbeliever is guilty of to some extent, whether idolatry, sexual immorality, thanklessness, pride, envy, lust, murder, hatred , etc…(see Gal 5:19-21, II Tim 3:1-4). So if a government official were conducting policy from any of these sinful motives, they would stand condemned by the proper preaching of the gospel, along with all other unbelievers. A Christian, for example, may argue that the State should allow freedom of religion, without being held accountable as somehow approving of false religion.
This leads us to the other question about God’s law in Scripture. Is it legitimate to use God’s revealed law as a standard for public policy, as Frame and others suggest? I would argue no, based upon the following principles.
First, a proper biblical theology understands that God’s law given to Israel to guide her as a nation was given to a specific people for a specific purpose in the history of redemption. God’s law was given to Israel because she was a holy people to the Lord, set apart from other nations. Psalm 147:16&20 states: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules.” The Gentile nations in the OT were never held accountable for breaking the Laws of Moses. For example, there is not one place where a Gentile nation is condemned for not keeping the Sabbath, or for not worshiping at the tabernacle/temple as the Mosaic Law required. When those nations are condemned, it is for the same sins listed in the NT above, sins condemned by the conscience, or natural law, or what we call moral law. While there is ethical overlap between natural law and the Law of Moses, the absence of any requirement for governments to enforce the Law of Moses indicates that it is illegitimate to require such a thing today. T. David Gordon’s questions are to the point:
“How could the Gentiles, described by the apostle Paul as ‘outside of the [Mosaic] law’ (i.e., anomos) possibly be obliged to the law? How could it possibly be meaningful for Paul to distinguish Jews from Gentiles because ‘to them belong… the covenants, the giving of the law’ (Rom. 9:4), if the covenant and its laws oblige non-Jews equally with Jews?” (13)
The Mosaic Law therefore was uniquely given to OT Israel as God’s theocracy in the Holy Land. When we come to the New Testament, we see that the ethics of the OT law are lived out by the NT church, not by unbelievers. As a matter of fact, every time an OT Scripture is quoted as it pertains to obedience, it is fulfilled by the new covenant people of God, the church (see I Cor 5:13, 9:9-11, 10:1-6, Eph 6:1-3, I Tim 5:19).
So if the Mosaic Law cannot be used as a blueprint of laws for common grace nations outside a theocracy appointed by God, and the New Testament is silent concerning such civil laws, the conclusion must be that the Lord has not chosen to reveal such things to us in his Word, and thus pastors, as heralds of the Word only, cannot speak to politics or statecraft without going beyond the Word of God. So the Law of Moses, because of its religious purpose in the history of redemption, cannot be used as a legal guide for all nations today. John Calvin wrote,” For there are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses, and is ruled by the common laws of nations. Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish.” (Institutes 4:20:14)
As for the accusation that this view leaves sinful man to rule others outside the Word, allowing all kinds of evil to prevail, my answer would be the same with regard to medicine. God in his wisdom has not revealed to us in his Word a cure for cancer, or other diseases. That leaves scientists and physicians at the mercy of general revelation, i.e., medical science, to figure out such things. As a result, we have quacks peddling crazy cures, we have many different types of medical answers, whether conventional drugs, homeopathy, acupuncture, etc., some very harmful and doing great damage to people. With so many people wanting real answers to such suffering, what do we as God’s herald have to offer them?
Well, we start by admitting that we do not have the solution in God’s Word to cure diseases, and that God’s Word was written for different purposes than solving all our problems this side of glory. We tell these enquirers that God has given us wisdom, history, science, experience, etc., to help in these medical matters. In other words, our answers to the cancer questions are the same to the political questions.
So where does that leave us with the question of whether or not governments should favor or enforce true religion, as most of our reformed forefathers believed? Well, the New Testament teaches that the Mosaic punishments for sins against God in his Holy Land were foreshadowing final judgment (see Heb. 2:1-6). To desire governments to punish heretics and idolaters for their idolatry is to attempt to bring in final judgment early. Governments are to do their best to protect their people and promote the general welfare of all, not to enforce one religion. And the church’s only mandate in this age concerning sinners is to reach them with the gospel. Any other mandate added to the church’s calling only distracts from the mission we were explicitly given.
This means that the state should stay out of religion as much as possible. While most American evangelicals are distraught when the Ten Commandments are taken down from the walls of government buildings, one might question the propriety of the Commandments being on the walls in the first place. After all, the Ten Commandments were written to God’s people whom he redeemed from Egypt. In other words, there is an indicative (I am the Lord who brought you up…) before the imperative (You shall have no other gods before me, etc…). How would the Commandments be applied to a common grace nation where believers and unbelievers dwell together by God’s design? Can you take religion out of the Ten Commandments for some general morality applied to all people? Not according to the Commandments themselves.
Furthermore, the Bible teaches that unbelievers cannot keep the Law, and that the Law exposes sin, so what benefit would there be for displaying the Law without the gospel? If because of sin, the Ten Commandments did not help the Israelites form a just and righteous nation, what makes anyone think the Ten can do the same for the United States?
The state is given the sword to establish justice for all people based on society’s needs, not based on God’s written standards for his covenant people. As Meredith Kline wrote:
Every form of state participation in religious confession, whether through constitutional affirmation, official pronouncement, public ceremony, or the like, is a transgression of the boundaries set in the divine ordering of the distribution of cultural and cultic functions among the institutions of the postlapsarian world. Such cultic activity on the part of the state, if it is not in confession of the living God, is, of course, idolatrous. But even if it is in acknowledgment of the God of the Christian faith, it is guilty of a monstrous confusion of the holy kingdom of God with the common, profane city of man. (14)
The redemptive-historical situation the church finds itself in must become the lens by which we consider our responsibilities in the public square. The church; i.e., God’s people, are the only theocracy where God rules over us by his Word and Spirit. He rules over unbelievers also, but by his providence. And since America or any other nation is not called to be a holy theocracy, we must see ourselves as sharing the country with unbelievers. Thus against Frame above, it is illegitimate to demand that unbelievers make civil laws based on our Scripture which they do not accept as their own, any more than it would be appropriate to demand that they obey God’s law by giving financially to a local church while still unbelievers. That is why, for example, Christians can work together for common political and social causes with Mormons, atheists, etc., without compromising their faith.
Another problem with seeking to enforce the Christian faith, or to use the Bible for public policy, is that it separates the ministry of Christ before his resurrection from his ministry post-resurrection. Let me explain. When the Jews wanted to make Christ their political king, he hid from them and rejected such a ministry (John 6:15). When two men approached Christ to settle a civil dispute, he refused, and even responded, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14) One might respond, is not Jesus the ruler and judge of all? Why not also over this civil matter? But the Lord is revealing something about his purpose in coming, not to be the lawgiver for the political nations, but to rule his people from their hearts. John Calvin commented on this passage:
Our Lord intended to draw a distinction between the political kingdoms of this world and the government of his Church; for he had been appointed by the Father to be a Teacher, who should divide asunder, by the sword of the word, the thoughts and feelings, and penetrate into the souls of men, but was not a magistrate to divide inheritances. This condemns the robbery of the Pope and his clergy, who, while they give themselves out to be pastors of the Church, have dared to usurp an earthly and secular jurisdiction, which is inconsistent with their office; for what is in itself lawful may be improper in certain persons. (15)
So the problem with expecting the church to be involved with instructing the state to enforce Christianity, or for the church to answer political policy questions, is that Jesus rejected such a ministry in his earthly life, and thus to do so now separates the ministry of Christ pre- and post- resurrection. But the New Testament never separates Christ’s ministry this way. We see in Acts how the Apostles continue the same ministry of Christ to the Gentiles without entering the political fray, or speaking to the Romans State on public policy.
Often opponents object that Jesus did call Herod a fox (Luke 13:32), and John the Baptist did confront Herod about not obeying God’s law (Mark 6:18). Does this not give the church an example of confronting the state for not obeying God’s laws? Well, neither Christ nor John condemned political policies there, but personal sins. But even more, the question fails to take into account the difference between Israel and us. Herod was king of the theocracy that is Israel. The king of Israel was compelled by God’s law to follow God and his revealed word, and to enforce the Mosaic Law (Deut. 17:14-20). Because he was to be a spiritual leader of God’s OT church, both Jesus and John rebuked Herod for his disobedience. But political leaders outside Israel are not called to rule by enforcing God’s revealed law.
It is noteworthy to see how respectfully the Apostle Paul spoke to Felix, who sat before him with his “wife” Drusilla, who was actually the wife of another man. Tacitus in his Annals (xi, 54) represents Felix as a cruel murderer willing to do anything to solidify his power. And yet the Apostle Paul never once considers Felix’s rule illegitimate, and addresses Felix with respect for his office, all the while not being afraid to speak on “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” (24:25), which is the message he shared with all unbelievers. God does not have a special message to civil authorities, opposed to plumbers and electricians. The gospel message is the same for all. So Paul did not approach a ruler outside of Israel the same way John the Baptist approached Herod, because the political rulers in the NT era were not rulers of the church like Herod was. At the same time, Paul was not afraid to speak of the need for political leaders to repent of their sins.
Let me now briefly consider three test cases for my position, the first being women in combat, since it was used to criticize PCA Pastor David Coffin above. The question is not whether this is a good idea or not, or whether it reflects our nations’ confusion over God-given gender roles. The question is; outside of OT Israel, does God’s Word forbid women to fight for their country in the service? The answer is no. So while the minister can legitimately speak about our culture’s lack of respect for God’s gender differences revealed in Scripture, the minister should not bind the conscience by speaking against the political policy of allowing women soldiers, or forbid Christian women from joining the military, since that would be going beyond Scripture.
Let us tackle the two most difficult test cases, gay marriage and abortion. Is homosexual lust and behavior sinful? Yes. But does a government refusing to punish certain sins equal approval of such sins? Not necessarily. Our government does not generally punish fornication, pride, laziness, disobedience to parents, Mormonism, etc., yet we should not assume the government is encouraging or approving of these sins solely for that reason.
Should the church approve of gay marriages, or accept as members unrepentant homosexuals? Of course it shouldn’t. But the question is; does God’s Word declare what secular marriage policy should look like? Rom 13:1-7 does express that the government is God’s agent to use the sword against evil, but evil cannot be defined there by everything against the Law of God in Scripture, for Paul is speaking of what the government actually does, not ideally what it should do. So the church has no mandate to oppose gay marriage politically, but she must preach the need for homosexuals to repent of their lust and behavior, as well as other sins.
In the same way, Christian can speak against the doctrine of Mormonism , while at the same time desiring freedom for all religions in America. If one should argue that marriage in Scripture is to be between a man and a woman, I would agree, but would add that in Scripture marriage is also not to be between a between and an unbeliever. Would we want the government to mandate God’s command for marriage in that instance also? The question is, if our stated mandate as a church is to reach homosexuals with the gospel, does our speaking out as a church against their desire for legal marriage present a conflict with our Biblical mandate to reach them for Christ? Now, there may be legitimate reasons to oppose gay marriage politically, as any other government enactment, but that is not something I am called to preach about.
The final test case is abortion policy. Here is where the position receives the most challenges, We can certainly preach against the sin of abortion, since it is usually taking a life without good cause. But should the church instruct the state how to punish such sin, and who to punish? Christians can certainly fight for such things, but churches should not enter the political or legal debate on abortion, because it also is out of our jurisdiction.
Now, if you are preaching against hatred and murder, you are convicting proponents of abortion, whether mothers who commit abortion, doctors who perform abortions, or public officials who do not care about babies in the womb. But that can be done non-politically.
So can a Christian vote for a pro-choice candidate? That is a matter of conscience. He may be convinced abortion will never be solved politically, so believes the candidate’s other positions do more good than an opposing candidate’s might. The point is that the Lord allows freedom of conscience in areas of civil law and public policy, but gives us biblical principles to guide all such dealings, such as do all to the glory of God, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, love your neighbor as yourself, etc. The Christian must always ask himself if he is following these general principles reveled in God’s Word, and even if his conscience is clean, he will often vote and believe differently on civil law and politics than his brothers and sisters in Christ.
I hope I offered a helpful summary of what I believe on the two kingdom issues that are currently heating up the Reformed blogosphere in our day. I admit that there are gray areas where public policy, and sin spelled out in Scripture, might overlap to the point where I would need to put aside these convictions, so I do not pretend to have the answer to every challenge or difficulty. Life is not always black and white, and I am sure there are some gray areas that would challenge my position.
For example, usually arguments revolve around what the State should allow, such as abortion, gay marriage, easy divorce, etc. What if the State mandated a policy where all people over 60 yrs. old should be killed? Well, at the least we would say that Christians are never to obey the State when the State asks or pressures us to sin. We choose to be punished by man over sin against God. The church could certainly plead with the government to stop such a thing, as even our Confession states that there are unusual cases where the church may petition the State over public policy. So what about less obvious areas of statecraft? As I stated at the start, each pastor must preach what his conscience allows, and I am sure there are lines I would cross, given certain unique circumstances.
I want to reserve this last section in describing how my views are lived out in my ministry as a pastor. The most obvious application would be a noticeable absence of politics in my preaching. People do not need to sit through many sermons before they realize they are not going to hear about the danger of legalizing gay marriage, or what “proper” economic policy should look like, or abortion policy, etc…They soon realize that the matters we deal in the pulpit with are eternal matters, dealing with the salvation of sinners and sanctification of God’s people.
There are many positive results of this. Visitors with various political convictions are not made to feel like Christianity is dependent upon them holding certain political viewpoints, and that they must change political sides to be accepted by God. Unbelievers in our country have a very negative perception of conservative Christians. Of course, some of that is simply due to media and personal bias, a desire to think the worst of Christians to justify their own unbelief. But some of the caricatures are valid because conservative Christians do, unfortunately, often live up to their negative reputations. One non-Christian described American conservative Christians this way:
Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, anti-gay, anti-choice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; wanting to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe. (16)
I have found that churches that allow politics into the pulpit tend to attract the same types of people; political conservatives who are angry about the direction of their country and want to hear how bad things are to make them feel better about their own anger. I have spoken to many a visitor who left our church frustrated that I would not attack their most despised liberal organizations; whether the ACLU, Democratic party, United Nations, or Planned Parenthood. And I have angered social liberals for not attacking conservative politicians and policies.
I also remind our members that if we are to reach people with the gospel, they might consider refraining from talking politics with first-time visitors. There are only a number of areas in which unbelievers find their identity and value. Among those are race, gender, nationality, and politics. To criticize a person’s politics is usually perceived as a personal attack, especially by people who don’t even know you yet. I remind my people that they should try to go beyond politics and get to know the person; what drives them, what concerns them, what saddens them, etc…
Politics is usually a surface issue with people. Behind political views lies the real person and all that has gone into his development; his attitudes toward others, guilt over their own sins and failures, a genuine desire to help those less fortunate, poor education, bad experiences, etc. I have found that a robust two-kingdom view of religion and politics allows people to have different political views without feeling attacked, set apart, or looked down upon, and allows Christians to truly get to know unbelievers without marginalizing them or considering them the “enemy” based upon their politics.
A two-kingdom ministry also relieves me of the pressure to be an expert in areas I am not. Being a theologian does not make one an expert on geo-political strategy, criminal law or economic theory. I find that being able to say “I don’t know” when people ask me about politics surprises them at first, but then reminds them that the Bible does not give answers to these all theses questions, and it enables them to see me not as an expert in everything, but someone whose main calling is to teach God’s Word well.
A two-kingdom ministry also enables us to distinguish what is and isn’t proper to do at our gatherings on the Lord’s Day. For example, there are times when members may want to put out fliers or support letters for certain political or social causes on the back table. I remind them that as fine as that cause may be, that cause does not build the eternal kingdom of God, and that is our calling when we gather together on the Lord’s Day. That also relieves our session from having to choose which political or social causes to allow or support in our announcements.
In summary, I will always be thankful for being granted the opportunity to study covenant theology under Meredith Kline, and for men of the past like Stuart Robinson, how they helped me understand and appreciate the glory and heavenliness of Christ’s redemptive kingdom distinguished from the world’s kingdoms, and to maintain this distinction in my calling as a herald of the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ.
- Thornwell, James Henley. “Address to All the Churches of Christ Throughout the Earth.”
Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of
America. 1861, pp. 51-60. Reprinted in The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell.
- “Political Preachers,” The Texas Presbyterian (May 4, 1894): 1 and “The Gospel Idea of Preaching,” Presbyterial Critic 1:7 (July 1855): 315-319.
- D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 7, no. 3 (July 1998), pp. 64-66.
- Preston D. Graham, Jr., A Kingdom Not Of This World, (Mercer University Press, 2002), 185.
- “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” Selected Shorter Writings, (pp. 375-76)
- John Frame, Escondido Theology, (Whitefield Media Productions, 2011), pg. 135 “I agree that God intends for believers and unbelievers to live and work together on the earth until the final judgment. …the area in which believers and unbelievers work together is distinct from the church…But Scripture never calls this common area a realm or kingdom, as Van Drunen’s two kingdom view does.”
- David and Tim Bayly, http://www.baylyblog.com/ (accessed March 1, 2012)
- Bret McAtee http://ironink.org/ (accessed March 2, 2012)
- Nelson Kloosterman, www.worldviewresourcesinternational.com/kloosterman/natural_law_two_kingdoms_bavinck.pdf (accessed March 2, 2012)
- Doug Wilson, Blog and Mablog, http://www.dougwils.com/ (accessed March 2, 2012)
- Dan Strange, http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/not_ashamed_the_sufficiency_of_scripture_for_public_theology (accessed March 3, 2012)
- (Frame, 2011, 146)
- T. David Gordon, “Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy”, p.40
- Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, (Two Age Press, 2000), pg. 180
- John Calvin, New Testament Commentary, A Harmony of the Gospels, (WM. B. Eerdmans, 1972, Vol 2,) pg. 91
- Doug Pollock, (God Space, Group, 2009), pg. 25