Archive for the ‘Two Kingdoms’ Category

Is the natural law enough?  The natural law is, in many ways, synonymous with the moral law, however the moral law is far broader and deeper than what the natural law tells us.

The natural law includes the 1st and 2nd commandments.  Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us that all men know something about God’s existence, and His nature.  His finger prints are all over his creation, and those finger prints point us back to His glory.  Religion is a universal reality… a global phenomenon.  Men long to know God and they seek for Him even as they try to hide themselves from Him.   They  grope in the darkness toward Him even as they love the darkness and hate the light.  We sons of Adam are a schizophrenic lot!

The problem is this: what can be known about God from nature does give the clarity to see that the true God is the Triune God that has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.  All to common, therefore, has been the earthly rule of the idolatrous theocracy…. that monstrous union of cult and culture referred by the Apostle John in his Revelation as the Beast.  John knew the terror of the Beast for he was an eyewitness of the beastly power of the Roman Empire. The Caesars had proclaimed, “there is no other name by which you can be saved.”  Powerful emperors claimed to be the incarnation of deity, just as the Pharaohs of Egypt and the mighty kings of the Ancient Near East had done.  The pages of history are filled with tyrants who longed to be exercise the power of gods upon the earth.

But the rock of Christ smashes all such pretensions.  He humbles empires and rebukes kings, reminding them that He alone is God incarnate.  The name of Christ, and not the name of Caesar, is the only name under heaven by which we might be saved.  And He reminds us, that as His Kingdom is not of this world, the affairs of this age which is passing away can never be of ultimate importance.  All the great political questions will pass away  and come to nothing.

So, what is the point?  My point is simple.  For the Christian, natural law provides a firm foundation to build common ground as we work together to the realm of politics.  Nevertheless, the natural law is not enough.  It is not a firm enough foundation upon which to build a political system with the humility to affirm that politics itself is not ultimate, that the State is not a god,  and that higher King claim our highest allegiance.  We need Christ to accomplish all that, and therefore it is not at all surprising that Christianity gave birth to separation of Church and State.


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Before we begin to explore the application of the commandments to the civil realm, it is important that we begin by setting down some words of caution.

First, we must recognize that the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura does not apply beyond the holy realm of the Kingdom of God.  In other words, the Church is regulated by the Bible but the state has no such infallible guide.  That is not to say to that Bible has nothing to say about politics, but it does mean that Bible was not given as a handbook for the political philosopher.

Second, without an infallible guide the statesman who wants to know God’s “will” should be begin by looking to prescription, tradition, and the ancient constitution.  Although the natural law is universal in principle its applications are as diverse as the the nations themselves.  The rationalist demands universal applications  and universal rights. The end of such demands is universal tyranny.  It is prattle t0 talk of God given “rights” that have no historical incarnation among a people.  God governs providence.  He rules the nations.  History, prescription, and tradition are, as Mel Bradford reminded us, a surer guide than reason when it comes to discerning the natural law.

Of course, we must not become such reactionaries as to demand that whatever “is” must be Divinely approved.  Order within the city of God will always fall short of justice.  But the point remains… there are no infallible guides to reform, and the best laid plans will have unforeseen and potentially horrific consequences.

Beware of the social reformer.

Shun the transformationalist.

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“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them to serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the inequity of the fathers on the children to the third and forth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

So commands the LORD God in the first two commandments (by the Protestant numbering).  Applied to the individual Christian, these two commandments forbid the worshipping of false God, and forbid the worshipping of the true God according to vain imaginations.  These commandments confront us with the fact that the One God is a jealous God and commands absolute allegiance and absolute loyalty.  According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the first commandment requires “us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God, and to worship and glorify him accordingly.”  Sins forbidden by the 1st Commandment include, “denying, or not worshipping and glorifying the true God.  Likewise, the 2nd Commandment  “requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in His word.  Sins forbidden by the 2nd Commandment include, “worshipping God by images, or any other way not appointed in His word.”

Application of these commandments by Kings and rulers has lead to disastrous results.  Catholic civil magistrates torturing heretics.  Protestant civil governors forbidding the Roman Catholic Mass.   The sword used to deny the liberty of conscience and the freedom of worship.

Setting aside the question of how these commandments apply within the pragmatic framework of a pluralist society, I wish to ask the question of how should they apply in the context of an explicitly Christian civil polity?

First, we must recognize that these commandments are primarily directed to the covenant community of the redeemed.  The preamble provides the context, “I AM the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  No body politic has the right to proclaim itself the new Israel. The Church alone is the Israel of God and her boundaries transcend the geography dimensions of the nation-state.

Do these commandments therefore have no implications for the civil government?  The key, I believe, is to recognize that the 1st and 2nd commandments, like all of the commandments, have been fulfilled and transformed by Christ.  He is the I AM that brought deliverance to His Church.  He is the LORD our God who has revealed the true God in His Triune glory.  He is the King who rules the nations.  He is the LORD who commands their allegiance.  He is the incarnation of Deity, whose jealousy demands our loyalty.

All of this adds up to more than pious cant.  There are real political implications at stake.  Implications that rocked the Roman Empire and that laid down the ultimate foundation of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

First, we must recognize that the Christ who has revealed to us the True God has also declared, “my Kingdom is not of this world.”  John 18:36.  2K is not a fabricated innovation of Escondido, California. In some sense, it it the common theological heritage of Western Christendom, despite the caeseropapism of the Anglican settlement.  It was the doctrine that called Thomas Becket to stand against King Henry II.  It was the doctrine of the Scottish Covenanters against the Stuart Kings.  It is the doctrine of the great Augustine who reminds us that their are two cities, one whose end his heaven and one whose fading glory will ultimately extinguish with the passing of the age.

Understanding that these two cities are founded on different principles and have different ends, we are able to distinguish how these commandments apply differently to the City of man than they do the City of God.  The City of God, or the Kingdom of God, is founded upon the principle of Triune Love.  The city of man is also founded upon love, but love of a different kind.  Citizens of this city do not share a common love for the True God but on things local, good, but fading.  But these two cities dwell together in one geographic location.  More importantly, these two cities dwell together within the same heart.  The Christian is called to simultaneous citizenship in the City of God and the city of man.

Dual loyalties create unique tensions.  In one way or the other, the story of Christendom was the story of unresolved tension as Emperor struggled against Pope.  Bishop struggled against Governor.  The intractable problem was exacerbated by the division of Western Christendom at the time of the Reformation.  Who is sufficient to distinguish the competing claims of multiple confessions claiming to be the True Church?  Christ’s sheep hear is voice.  Put no confidence in princes.  The city of man is not competent judge of the City of God.

Ironically, Christ’s transformation of the 1st and 2nd Commandment, by driving us to the one who said “render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar” allows us to recognize that the separation of church and state is more than a pragmatic solution, it is of the essence of a Christian theory of civil government.

Although the faith of the American founders might leave much to be desired, on the issue of church and state they successful helped resolve Christendom’s seemingly intractable problem.

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To the RPCNA I owe my new life in Christ. She is my mother and I dearly love her.

In loyalty to my mother I have tried to work through her doctrine of the mediatorial Kingship of Christ over the nations and to defend its 20th Century application National Confessionalism. I have always found National Confessionalism more acceptably moderate than the radicalism of theonomy.

Finding very little content to the RPCNA’s doctrine, I have used the DRC to work out a biblical theology to defend the National Confessional position. Keeping in mind past excesses and failures, I hoped to root a renewed National Confessionalism in the fertile soil of broader Christendom. I looked to Edmund Burke, T.S. Eliot, and Russell Kirk to guide my efforts.

Today, I acknowledge something of a failure. Not that my work at building a biblical theology of Christ’s Kingship has failed. Rather, I have failed to convince myself that National Confessionalism is a worthwhile outworking of the doctrine. I have talked myself out of the National Confessionalist position.

I remain whole heartedly committed to Christ’s Kingship over the Nations. I remain wholeheartedly committed to the belief that nations are moral persons, corporately responsible to God and His anointed King. I stand behind almost every word I have written in my DRC column. Yet, as I have worked through the relationship between corporate responsibility of nations and the doctrine of the two kingdoms I cannot help but think that I have developed a more convincing biblical theological justification for the traditionalist understanding of the American religious settlement within our own Constitutional order.

Further, had the preamble of the US Constitution reflected the Kingship of Christ, I believe that we would be waging the exact same fight as we are fighting today. The Christian amendment was always a purely symbolic gesture. In itself neither harmful or helpful. I will not waste another drop of ink defending it.

The belief that nations are a morally responsible community of souls binding the dead, the living, and the unborn, a robust doctrine of the two kingdoms, the Spirituality of the Church, the continuing relevance of the moral law, and a traditionalist conservatism rooted in the wisdom of the West… these things I will continue to defend against all foes.

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Here’s a link to a recent lecture given by Dr. David VanDrunen (WSC) on the doctrines of the two kingdoms and the ordo salutis. It’s about 38 minutes long.

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Matt Tuininga is student at Westminster California with an interest in political theology. He is David VanDrunen’s research assistant.

DRC is happy to give him a plug and looks forward to reading him in the future. Here is his essay On the Kingdom of God at Creed:or: Chaos.

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A Fond Farewell

This month we conclude the De Regno Christi series with a final look at the Protestant doctrine of the two kingdoms and how it relates to Christ’s mediatorial reign.

Two Kingdoms, One King

Abraham Kuyper famously declared, “there is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not declare, ‘This is mine!’” The doctrine of Christ’s social Kingship rests upon Christ’s mediatorial rule over all things in heaven and on earth. It is important to recognize that the universal Kingship of Christ does not confound holy and common, sacred and secular, or church and state.

Augustinian Christendom

From Augustine’s emphasis on the two cities (the city of God and the cities of men) developed the medieval doctrine of the two swords. In 494 A.D. Pope Gelasius I wrote to Emperor Anasasius declaring:

There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power… You are also aware, dear son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in things divine you bow your head humbly before the leaders of the clergy and await from their hands the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly mysteries you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these matters you depend on their judgment rather than wish to force them to follow your will.

Christendom was built upon Gelasius’ doctrine of the two swords and its fundamental distinction between the spiritual authority of the church and the earthly authority of the state. The resolution worked best on paper. Weak princes were often dominated by strong bishops and weak bishops often dominated by strong princes. Popes and Princes pressed the boundaries of their authority by means of political intrigues and violence. The lines distinguishing between sacred and secular were far from straight. Eventually, Popes claimed for themselves sovereignty over all matters temporal and eternal.

The Two Kingdoms

At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther distinguished between God’s administration over things secular and things sacred. Luther divided God’s sovereign rule between the kingdom of God’s left hand (secular/temporal) and the kingdom of God’s right hand (heavenly/spiritual). Calvin, concurring with Luther, divided the realms of secular and sacred by distinguishing between the civil and the spiritual kingdoms. At the heart of the Reformation doctrine of the two kingdoms was an attempt to formulate the medieval doctrine of the two swords minus the accretion of papal sovereignty over things temporal.
For Presbyterians, the classic formulation of the doctrine of the two kingdoms is found in the Church of Scotland’s Second Book of Discipline (1578). Building upon the foundation laid by John Knox and Andrew Melville, the Second Book of Discipline distinguishes between the temporal kingdom (the civil power) and the kingdom of God (the church). The civil power possessed the power of the sword. With sword in hand, civil magistrates serve God by establishing approximate justice and preserving stability and order. On the other hand (Luther’s right) the church enjoys possession of the Keys of the kingdom and exercises authority over matters of faith.

The Sacred Kingdom Administered

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Christ exercises the office of King, “in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies (WSC. 27).” The catechism emphasizes Christ’s mediatorial reign over the church. Reformed theologians refer to the church as “the kingdom of grace.” This is because the church is Christ’s special possession, his beloved bride, and the first fruits of the glorified new creation. Within the visible church, among those who have submitted to God’s grace, Christ is presently reigning upon His cross.

Christ administers the kingdom of His Grace through divinely commissioned Pastors and Elders exercising the keys of the kingdom and dispensing the means of grace. The power of Christ’s appointed pastors and rulers is ministerial rather than magisterial. Christ has spoken through His Word. The church has a right to expound that Word but never add to it. The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, scripture alone, creates a regulative principle for public worship, church government, and spiritual discipline. Where Christ speaking in His Word is silent, the church must be silent.

The Secular Kingdom Administered

Because of the intimate relationship between Christ and His church, it is tempting to think that Christ is King only over the church. Such a construction does not do justice to the universal language of Christ’s reign as it is expressed in the Great Commission and in Psalm Two. The Apostle Paul declares that God “put all things under His [Christ’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:22).” Christ, as mediator between God and man, reigns over all things in heaven and earth. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nature obeys His royal command. Providence unfolds providence only by His sovereign leave. Reformed theologians refer to Christ’s universal reign as the kingdom of His power.
The kingdom of Christ’s power is an administration of justice tempered by common grace. As such, Christ reigns through “ministers” of justice (Romans 13) who exercise the sword in order to restrain sin, preserve order, and approximate what semblance of justice that can be found this side of glory.

Although the kingdom of grace is regulated solely by God’s revelation in Scripture, the kingdom of power is regulated by the moral law of God as it is revealed in nature, wisdom, and of course Scripture. Therefore, unlike the church, the state is not confined to the principle of sola scriptura. Scripture may provide a great deal of insight into the work of civil authority but it is not regulative or sufficient to meet the needs of princes or presidents. Natural law, tradition, ancient prescription, and right reason provide the ethical guides that govern the secular affairs of men.

The Kingdom Consummated

When Adam was driven from the holy garden, mankind was forced to live
“East of Eden.” In the garden, dwelling in the presence of God, all of man’s various endeavors were focused upon building the holy kingdom of God on earth. All of life was worship.
After the fall, dwelling apart from the intimacy of God’s presence, the church would be a pilgrim people dwelling in the world but never at home within it. Although cult continued to be united with kingdom, culture has become the common realm of saint and sinner. In this age we live in the tension between the already and the not yet. It will not always be so. Scripture makes clear that the present tension will be overwhelmed by the glorious return of Christ the King. When the King returns the kingdom of His grace and the kingdom of His power will be perfectly united in the kingdom of His glory. All rebellion will cease, and all of life will again be holy before the face of our God, “and the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and His name one (Zechariah 14:9).” And therefore we pray, come Lord Jesus!

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