Politics and Kingdoms: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Discussing politics as a Christian is fraught with difficulties. Part of the problem, however, might be the theological categories that we often resort to in such discussions.
For instance, I know the Two Kingdoms perspective of both Lutheranism and Calvinism. Yet, having spent the last several days once again looking at the context of the doctrine, I think it falls short. I will admit the genius of the doctrine within the context of the Reformation era, especially when compared to the medieval struggle and endless debates between the temporal and spiritual powers of that era. We must, however, admit that the Reformers (or, indeed, other commentators of Church and State from Augustine to Locke) knew nothing whatsoever of a secular state in the modern sense and/or meaning. To have imagined a state that was divorced from religious ties would have simply been beyond them. Instead, in their own time, they cast a theory to fit their own time and circumstance. Moreover, while it may be true that the reformers had certain marked differences in their view of Church and State (Zwingli being the outlier here), they nevertheless shared in a basic community of ideas. At the heart of this community of ideas was that God ruled in two ways, in the Church through Grace and the means of grace; and through the State, by the means of Law. (One might also add to these two kingdoms, the “subset” of the family, as Luther did in his Marburg sermon.)
Now, I will freely admit that this is, owing to space, a very simplified view of this Reformation doctrine. Yet, it will serve as the basis for some observations and questions.
The first observation is that this doctrine was drawn up in the context of monarchical and/or aristocratic rule. While in Geneva, Calvin sought to mitigate the “divine right” of rulers through the combined efforts of the consistory and the council. The arrangement, however, lasted for only a generation through the time of his successor, Theodore Beza. By the time of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Reformation Wars of Religion, all parties recognized the results the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, in which each prince would have the right to determine the religion of his own state (the principle of cujus regio, eius religio) although this was restricted to Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism in Western Europe. Apart from a few Swiss cantons and some Italian city-states, the idea of a republic or a democracy with a multiplicity of faith communities was largely unknown. In most regions the norm was a ruler who occupied his or her place as a matter of divine right in which there was also a state church. This model stretched across Europe and even had a significant influence on the early colonization of the Americas. (For example, in Massachusetts, Congregationalism remained the tax payer supported established church until1833.)
A second observation is that the options for displacing someone who governed by “divine right” were limited. There were few, if any, internal legal remedies in the emerging monarchical nation-states. The medieval papal remedy of excommunication of a ruler, which thereby supposedly loosed the bonds of allegiance of people to their sovereign, had already been found to be almost worthless in the Reformation era. (This had been especially true in the case of the Tudor dynasty in England.) If one had a wicked or godless ruler, whose actions touched upon obedience to the Gospel, the alternatives were 1) to disobey the ruler and pay the penalty for one’s disobedience (Luther and Calvin agreed upon this) or 2) outright rebellion. In the time and historical context of the development of the Two Kingdoms doctrine, there were few, if any, alternatives. While in the post-Reformation era one might believe that it was desirable for rulers to conduct themselves as Christians, there was little recourse if they failed to do so. Indeed, even where the sovereign was not a Christian, or was immoral, or was a bad ruler, his or her authority as a ruler, according to this doctrine, was not to be diminished on that account.
I would suggest that we are a good deal removed from the context that gave birth to the doctrine of the two kingdoms. The doctrine may have been good in itself for the time, but the times have changed. The Reformation ideal of the priesthood of all believers informed the constitutional theories of John Locke, just as the covenant theology of Calvinism led to the idea of the social-contract (itself a precondition of constitutional democracy). Both of these contributed to the vision of John Adams that America might possess a “government of laws, and not of men.” In contrast to the Reformation and post-Reformation eras, our rulers would not possess a divine right to rule and would be held accountable by laws.
Like the reformers, however, we are still bound by the absolute distinction between spiritual and secular authorities in conformity with Christ’s oft repeated words, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s”. Yet, what do these words entail when we live in a republic bound by laws with leaders whom we elect? Certainly, it is not the creation of a theocracy. Rather, I believe that the answer may lie in another Reformation ideal, that of vocation. The Reformation rediscovery of vocation transcended the old medieval dualism of sacred (religious) and secular callings. The believer stood in a relation of faith to God, and God gave the believer his or her office or work. Into that office or work the believer brought their faith, their values, their ethics. Yet, in a republic, in which there is no ruler by divine right, our vocation includes bringing our God given intelligence to the task of asking questions, voting and participating in the structures of our republic. It also involves questioning and critical inquiry after we leave the voting booth. Moreover, as believers, it may well involve the assessment of character, ethics, morality and policies in line with our Christian faith. I would suggest that all this is also a part of our vocation. Elected leadership, does not constitute a divine right to rule. In the modern nation state, we may even find that as in the time of the Reformation, we do not obey laws that violate conscience and, thereby, suffer the penalties of the law. The point is, that we are not bound to an unexamined acceptance of the authority of any but Christ and, as he is oft depicted, he rules from the cross.
As Calvin said, in the last sentence of the Institutes:
“…We were redeemed by Christ at the great price which our redemption cost him, in order that we might not yield a slavish obedience to the depraved wishes of men, far less do homage to their impiety.”
Inst. IV. 20. 23
I think that our Republic and other democratic forms of government are better than monarchies and dictators (of any generation), because like a congregational church polity, we collectively as an electorate call our president. In other words, God calls our president through the masks of the electorate (or electoral college). Thus, the leader is God’s servant for our good…in a world rent by sin.
Where you end up “we are not bound to an unexamined acceptance of the authority,” I heartily agree with, as would the apostles. When the apostles wrote the New Testament Scriptures, they were personally ruled by rulers who were hostile to Christian ethics and morality. Therefore, I think we are given a Scriptural framework on how the church and Christians may relate to an immoral government.
My principle disagreement would be that the 2 kingdoms doctrine isn’t adaptable to a republic or required by Scripture. We could pursue that further, but I won’t push it further unilaterally.
Just curious, what inspired you to write this and what should our biggest take away be?
I used to be a fan of the Lutheran Two Kingdoms doctrine. Not so much anymore.
It too often leads to quietism (“whoever’s in charge, they’re ordained
by God and we must follow the ruler, no matter wha.”) Evidence: the magisterial Church in Germany during the reign of the Third Reich. Despite some honorable exceptions, acquiesence was the name of the game, for the most part.
Two kingdoms doctrine is a neat and tidy way to look at the world.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a neat and tidy world.
For me, everything has be be filtered through the same lens…
Sorry to be late to the party, but we had a power outage in a large portion of our city!
In terms of the Two Kingdom concept, I think there are certain assumptions made that are simply difficult to apply. For instance, can I call National Socialist Germany, or Stalinist Russia, or the Khmer Rouge, “God’s left hand”? I, for one, cannot. Secondly, in a republic, by virtue of our vote, we have somewhat stepped into the role of “Caesar”. It places a different light on the whole subject…
To be honest, it has a good deal to do with certain Christian nationalists who are using this sort of argument in their support for the current occupant of the White House – i.e. it is not for us to ask questions, etc. I simply don’t accept that…
I think there’s some confusion in distinguishing two kingdoms from that implication for Christian political involvement.
Paul refers to a “god of this world,” to Satan disguised as “an angel of light,” and to a “domain of darkness.” On the other hand, God calls the redeemed in “to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” He sets them apart as “a holy nation.”
Yet Christians live in both worlds, kingdom or realms. However, “they are not of the world.” “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. ”
Moreover, there is not a 3rd realm or neutral realm. There are two realms or kingdoms. We can’t escape that conclusion IMO. And Christians inhabit both, but sojourn in the world as “as sojourners and exiles.” Thus, a Christian’s loyalty is first and foremost to Christ and His kingdom; yet there are two.
And ruling above both kingdoms, yet with different governments is Christ of whom it is written: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,” and “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
Besides, “I don’t like the 2 kingdoms doctrine,” can anyone here posit an alternative biblical framework for Christian existence and interaction in the current overlap of the old and new creations?
Well, it’s hard to know how to act around people sometimes.
Last week I ran into an old friend and after exchanging pleasantries, they began a rant which reflected a particular extremist point of view. From the expression on their face it was obvious they thought they had a fellow traveler in me. Finally, the things they were saying became so horrible that I said, in as non-confrontational way as I could, “I don’t really agree with what you are saying.” Then this person turned hostile, said some derogatory things about your Xenia, and I had to end the conversation. Later, I tried to smooth things over but there was such a look of disgust on this person’s face that I realized it was pointless.
Notice I worded this so you can’t tell which end of the extremist spectrum this person falls. I had a very similar encounter a year ago with another old friend who was on the opposite end. I couldn’t agree with either of them, both were advocating some pretty wicked ideas.
So there you have it, life in America today.
Xenia, I get nervous when I meet up with believers I have never met before, and before I know it, they launch into some political diatribe or offensive pet theology that they think I need to hear about.
And for all reading this, no, it doesn’t keep me up at night.
I don’t like the 2 kingdoms doctrine,” can anyone here posit an alternative biblical framework for Christian existence and interaction in the current overlap of the old and new creations?
That’s an easy one. The classic on this is the book “Christ and Culture” by H. Richard Niebuhr.
There are basically 3 positions in the history of the Church:
Christ and culture
Christ against culture
Christ above culture
I like the conclusion of the article: “No “Christian answer” exists that applies definitively for all time, since faith is “fragmentary,” and we do not have “the same fragments of faith” (236).
The Lutheran position is the “Christ and Culture in Paradox” position, under “Christ Above Culture.” There are 3 in that category and 5 total
I also agree with Michael, that the 2 Kingdoms doctrine doesn’t do well
in a fluid culture and world like ours.
There are plenty of differing models, probably starting with Augustine’s ‘City of God’….
I might add, this is an instance in which there is a fundamental difference between the State as it existed in NT times and as it is today. In consequence, the modern Christian has a vastly different relationship to the State than those in the first century. Context matters. The NT knows only an authoritarian state with a compliant population. Christians are “subjects” along with all others. The contemporary Christian in the west (for the most part) is a citizen in a state for which he or she is in part responsible by democratic procedures and representative government. In this light, Romans 13 takes on a different meaning…
“In this light, Romans 13 takes on a different meaning…”
What is the original NT meaning? What is its different meaning in our democratic context?
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…” What is our governing authority as citizens, rather than subjects?
So…? How does the command to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the unto God the things that are God’s fall short?
Can’t we be good citizens (not synonymous with compliant) in a sojourner sense? That may differ from one redeemed soul to another, i.e., there are very few border jumpers that i would give asylum… a few, but just a very few….
“Can’t we be good citizens (not synonymous with compliant) in a sojourner sense?” Yes…
Who are people to worship?
Who provides our food, clothing, shelter?
Who establishes order and governments?
I believe the answers lie in those and other similar questions.
My friend, James Atkinson, was one of the editors of the Luther Works volumes on ‘The Christian in Society’. He made this comment:
“The being ‘in subjection to’ of Romans 13 is no purely passive subjection to authority, but rather a co-operation in the ‘order’ and function of the State. In a democratic society, we guarantee the State by our fulfillment of these duties…”
I agree with his assessment…
But what does a “co-operation in the ‘order’ and function of the state” mean if you’ve got a totalitarian/fascist state? If what the state does
is contrary to God’s revealed will, then what?
Any State (or leader) that claims for itself a “divine role” is, in itself, demonic and evil. As such, I believe they must be opposed… actively or passively as dictated by conscience.
“is contrary to God’s revealed will, then what?”
That’s thought of and developed in Scripture.
“Any State (or leader) that claims for itself a “divine role” is, in itself, demonic and evil.”
Wow! Thanks for being transparent.
Persecution in the Early Church turned on such claims. Because they confessed Christ as Lord, they could not confess Caesar as Lord… Don’t make my comment something that it is not…
I haven’t made your comment anything. It stands in your words.
I would go so far as to say that our service to the State may well consist in denying that “Caesar is Lord”, even at the price of becoming victims of the State, openly and publicly. We can even see this in the words of Christ as he refers to Herod and his character (Luke 13:32). Perhaps we could even go further and say that there is no better way to honor our obligation to the State than by offering honest and informed criticism.
FWIW, I agree with your 2:37 pm. Though I haven’t heard of anyone confessing Trump as Lord.
Does this count? ): ):
Bob, the article at 3:03 pm would definitely count. However, anyone who would post such a sign is not following the 2 kingdoms doctrine. They have conflated the two, have blasphemed, and probably are heretics in any number of theological positions.
So, if someone adhered to the Two Kingdoms doctrine, they would definitely NOT post this
billboard? I note that it comes from Missouri, home to the 2nd largest Lutheran denom. in
Sorry, but just because a church has “officlal doctrine” doesn’t prove they couldn’t do
something like this. In an ideal world, sure. But not in the real world. Right belief
does NOT automatically lead to right practice. People are just too diverse to say that, IMHO.
Only someone with absolutely no understanding of the Lutheran 2 kingdoms doctrine would imagine that that billboard could possibly to created by a Lutheran who adheres to that that doctrine, along with other Lutheran doctrines. No Lutheran of any synod would ever possibly say that Trump is the Word made flesh, unless they have totally abandoned what it means to be a Lutheran.
And, associating the culture of Missouri with the LCMS is beyond ignorant. Sorry; not sorry.
I can accept anyone who does not like Lutheran teaching, but I don’t respect anyone who bears false witness against what Lutherans actually confess in their confessions.
Take a chill pill.
No one’s trying to impugn Lutherans. My point (which you missed thanks to your pearl-clutching hissy fit) is that just because a church has a certain creed or confession doesn’t guarantee that everyone, in lemming-like fashion, buys it all. Life is a hell of a lot more complicated than that.
I have been traveling all day so couldn’t engage – and glad I couldn’t until most comments were in.
1.) Perhaps other ‘2 kingdom theologies’ fit what Duane is talking about but not the Lutheran version. Two kingdom theology is not about us and what we do in these 2 kingdoms. It is all about God and explains how he rules and reigns in each realm – it also speaks of his purposes – not our actions.
2.) I did find it a bit strange though that Duane stopped short of this by saying this in part, but then switching to saying this (God’s rule and reign) become inadequate as we no longer have monarchies — what? Are we telling God he needs a new plan?
3.) The early church did not step outside of 2 kingdom theology when they would not worship Ceasar, in fact while following God’s mandate to obey God and not man, the still followed all of the left hand kingdom mandates. The did not speed, they stopped at red lights, they paid their taxes and did not steal each other’s speed boats.
Two kingdom theology is not a church and state issue. It is a law and gospel issue – the state rules by the swords to preserve order – no forgiveness.
The sole purpose of the church is to forgive sins.
That is the Lutheran view – any variations come from different groups.
No… you’re wrong, A-Z…
John Warwick Montgomery coined a term in the early 80s for guys like you stuck on their own intellect.
MLD @ 8:21 … how did the U.S. Congress get into this discussion?
Not sure about “invincible ignorance”… but I do know “willful ignorance” when I see it…
Duane,. Are you proposing the 2 kingdom doctrine was just a way to understand things only in a certain historic context that doesn’t really exist today? If doctrine can be morphed and contextualized in such a fashion would you ever do that with other doctrines such as the doctrine of God himself?
I see the Two Kingdom concept more as a model (similar to Augustine’s City of God and City of Man). I don’t see it as a definitive doctrinal statement along the lines of the Deity of Christ, the Incarnation or the Trinity which are affirmed by councils and creedal formulations. As such, just as with Augustine, we must consider context.
Duane,. The reason I ask is with one on your previous comments on another post was if I am paraphrasing correctly is that you also interpret the creeds and counsels with their own historic interpretative lens. I’m trying to understand exactly what is beyond reinterpretation based on a new modern context.
I’m not sure which post you are referring to, but in answer to your question… Apart from the Apostles Creed, the other creedal formulations arose out of certain particular concerns. I don’t believe that I’ve ever called for “reinterpretation”, but understanding the context of both creeds and councils is really important in order to understand the issues that they were addressing.
Context is also really important WRT the Bible. So many Xns think the Bible speaks directly to them, as middle-class 21st Century Americans. “Who it was written to/what they were dealing with” etc. are important before worrying about application.
Anon and Duane,
We also need to be willing to subject our own biases we bring to the text.
Have you read this one? Looks interesting given the authors’ backgrounds…
I’ve only skimmed it. But it does look pretty good.