Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Michael Horton on the "Two Kingdoms"

Listeners to the White Horse Inn or those who read articles by many of the Professors with Dr. Horton at Westminster Seminary California have probably at least heard of Two Kingdoms theology. Most simply put, this position argues that we have to maintain a strict separation between the kingdom of Christ, realized in the church, and the kingdom of the state. David VanDrunen from WSC has a book coming out this winter on the subject and Jason Stellman, a PCA Pastor in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery, recently wrote Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet.

Mike Horton has recently published three blog post addressing what he sees as some common misconceptions about two kingdom theology:

I want to preface the following by noting that I do not subscribe to the two kingdoms doctrine. I do think that the latter two arguments that Horton addresses are strawmen. However I do find Two Kingdoms doctrine to be an overly simplistic attempt to set forth a doctrine of church and culture and I do think the criticism that modern articulations of it are a Lutheran doctrine are valid and that Horton does not adequately answer this in his post. We should clarify that even if it is a Lutheran doctrine that this is not a sufficient reason to reject it but rather that our concern is that it is not a biblically or confessionally consistent way to address the relationship between church and culture.

When we examine the historical underpinnings of this doctrine we first need to note that Calvin, while explicitly separating the spiritual kingdom and the civil jurisdiction, does not go so far as to say that the spiritual kingdom is limited to the church. Instead he teaches that the civil jurisdiction has spiritual and religious duties imposed upon it by Christ as King. He writes that the state has the duty "to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church." (Institutes, 2:1487). Calvin goes on to say that civil government must “prevent idolatry, sacrilege against God’s name, blasphemies against his truth, and other public offenses against religion from arising and spreading among the people.” (Institutes, 2:1488) Further, Calvin explicitly gives the government the power to rightly establish religion. (Institutes, 2:1488) He states that the magistrate is charged “to promote religion, to maintain the worship of God, and to take care that sacred ordinances be observed with due reverence.” (Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, 52) Calvin also argues that the civil government must be concerned with both tables of the Law and not only the second. He argued that it would be folly to suppose that God gave magistrates the authority to judge over earthly controversies but then forbade them from enforcing the pure worship of God who is the source of their authority. (Institutes, 2:1495) Ultimately Calvin places the same limitations on the civil government in establishing laws that he does on the church in directing the exercise of religion; that neither can go beyond Scripture (Institutes, 2:1156-7; 1488).

On this basis Calvin's separation of the civil jurisdiction and the spiritual kingdom differs radically from that of Luther and Melanchthon and also from more modern articulations. Neither Calvin nor his immediate spiritual descendents ever argued for a modern separation of church and state in Geneva (nor did Bullinger or his students in Zurich). In fact, Beza and Bullinger wrote a strongly worded condemnations of the English regicide of Charles II following the English Civil War and Beza's counsel to the French Reformers enduring persecution was that their resistance could only extend so far as obedience to the king required disobedience to God and that he did not argue for an armed rebellion (Doug Kelly's book, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World, is very good on this subject).

It should be noted that as Reformed and Calvinist political developed from Calvin that it did not do so in the same two kingdoms direction as Lutheran theology and that this can be seen on both sides of the Atlantic. In England and Scotland the Westminster Confession of Faith included a chapter regarding the duties of the civil magistrate to govern only in accordance with Scripture. In America the Presbyterians argued that, while church and state were separate, believers have the responsibility to enter the political sphere as representatives of the Prince of Peace. They insisted that civil government could only work with theistic principles and that this implies that while people should have freedom of religion that civil freedom only extends so far as what men have the moral right to do. In the Continental Reformed churches the influence of Abraham Kuyper and his ideas of antithesis and common grace led to a separation of church and state with the understanding that all spheres are under the rule of Christ.

Ultimately we have to find that the Reformed tradition does not give the state the liberal license that the modern articulation of the Two Kingdoms doctrine does. Instead, the Reformed tradition insists that Jesus Christ is King and that all authority on heaven and on earth has been given to him. This means that all individuals and institutions are called to submit to Christ's Lordship and that ultimately this is a gospel call. So the Reformed tradition teaches that this submission is not realized through a state establishment of religion but rather through equiping believers to put on the new man, not just in their church activities, but in every sphere of human activity and then to always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks a reason for the hope that is within us, with meekness and fear.

It's worth closing by quoting R.L. Dabney's encouragement to Christians in the North and the South before the Civil War broke out. He writes:

But alas! how often do we go on Monday to the hustings, after having appeared on the Sabbath as servants of the Prince of Peace and brethren of all his servants, and in our political action forget that we are Christians? Here, then, is our first need, if we would save our country: that we shall carry out citizenship in the kingdom of heaven everywhere, and make it dominate over every public act. ("Christians, Pray for Your Country")

1 comment:

richard said...

Would that it were so! Unfortunately, most in civil government have no rooting or grounding in the biblical principles of good government. Fortunately, here in Texas at least, many political meetings do in fact relate to Christian principles. It's refreshing to hear prayer at the start of meetings such as the 9/12 Project and TEA parties. Often pastors are asked to provide invocations. This is not simple gloss.