Results tagged “two kingdoms” from Reformation21 Blog

The Spirituality of the Church Speech


Kevin DeYoung recently wrote a post about what has frequently been termed "the spirituality doctrine of the church." I heartily commend this post to our readers, as it is quite a helpful introduction to the basics of Presbyterianism regarding the relationship between church and state. In that post, Kevin explains the significance of the Second Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland--it being one of the foundational sources of the theological articulation of the spirituality of the church doctrine. 

The Second Book of Discipline was largely the product of the labors of Andrew Melville, John Knox's successor. Melville's name is often inseparably linked to references to "the spirituality doctrine of the church"--both on account of his contributions to the Second Book of Discipline as well as on account of a well documented interaction that he had with King James in September of 1596. It is this interaction to which I wish to briefly turn our attention.

With news of an impending Spanish invasion, King James VI of Scotland (later King James I of England) had given orders to the ministers throughout Scotland to charge their members to "take up arms, provide supplies and meet mediated attacks." Additionally, he relayed his desire to bring back certain Roman Catholic officials who would reestablish their presence and assert their authority over the churches. After an uproar among the people at the reception of the King's resolutions, a number of ministers forged a private meeting with the King and express their concerns. Among them was James Melville, Andrew Melville's nephew. The group of invited ministers had agreed that James Melville would be the best person to address the King "because of his courteous manner, and the favorable regard the King had shown him." At a certain point in the meeting, however, Andrew Melville could no longer remain silent and--despite attempts by his nephew to silence him--"seized the kings robe by the sleeve...termed him 'God's silly vassal," and explained that they had a "commission as from the mighty God." He then proceded to give what may be called "the spirituality doctrine of the church speech." It is as follows:

"Sir, we will always humbly reverence your majesty in public; but since we have this occasion to be with your majesty in private, and since you are brought in extreme danger of your life and crown, and along with you the country and the Church of God are like to go to wreck, for not telling you the truth and giving you faithful counsel, we must discharge our duty, or else be traitors both to Christ and you. Therefore, Sir, as divers times before I have told you, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James, the head of the commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.

Sir, those whom Christ has called and commanded to watch over his Church, have power and authority from Him to govern his spiritual kingdom, both jointly and severally; the which no Christian king or prince should control and discharge, but fortify and assist; otherwise they are not faithful subjects of Christ and members of his Church. We will yield to you your place, and give you all due obedience; but again, I say, you are not the head of the Church; you cannot give us that eternal life which we seek for even in this world, and you cannot deprive us of it. Permit us then freely to meet in the name of Christ, and to attend to the interests of that Church of which you are the chief member.

Sir, when you were in your swaddling clothes, Christ Jesus reigned freely in this land, in spite of all his enemies. His officers and ministers convened and assembled for the ruling and welfare of his Church, which was ever for your welfare, defense and preservation, when these same enemies were seeking your destruction. Their assemblies since that time continually have been terrible to these enemies, and most stedfast to you. And now, when there is more than extreme necessity for the continuance and discharge of that duty, will you (drawn to your own destruction by a most pernicious counsel) begin to hinder and dishearten Christ's servants and your most faithful subjects, quarreling them for their convening, and the care they have of their duty to Christ and you, when you should rather commend and countenance them, as the godly kings and emperors did? 

The wisdom of your counsel, which I call devilish, is this, that you must be served by all sorts of men, to come to your purpose and grandeur, Jew and Gentile, Papist and Protestant; and because the Protestants and ministers of Scotland are over strong, and control the king, they must be weakened and brought low by stirring up a party against them, and, the king being equal and indifferent, both should be fain to flee to him. 

But, Sir, if God's wisdom be the only true wisdom, this will prove mere and mad folly; His curse cannot but light upon it; in seeking both ye shall lose both; whereas in cleaving uprightly to God, His true servants would be your sure friends, and He would compel the rest counterfeitly and lyingly to give over themselves and serve you."1

1. W.M. Hetherington History of the Church of Scotland (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1856) pp. 104-105

Jesus and the Federal Budget?


One of the interesting aspects of Scripture is that it doesn't tell us the precise way in which moral principles should be implemented in the civil sphere--even while it contains ironclad moral commands and lasting principles for the lives of God's people. This makes sense for quite a number of reasons.

In the first place, it is important for us to note that the Old Testament was written in the context of a theocracy--a situation far distant from our own. Today, the theocratic nation of Israel is a matter of history and no longer in existence. The Westminster Confession of Faith even goes so far as to say that that "sundry judicial laws...expired together with the State of that people" (WCF 19.4).

The New Testament was written in the context of an underdog atmosphere where the ability of Christians to have any influence on the laws of Rome would have seemed laughably absurd. The New Testament doesn't envision a scenario of cultural/political conquest for Christians, but instead assumes that the readers are powerless minorities who need to learn how to live as a minority in the face of opposition.

In spite of these realities, we continue to find ourselves in an environment where Christians of various stripes insist that the Bible gives us very specific commands for how the government should be run. One of the clearest examples of this at the moment is last week's announcement that over 100 evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders made a joint statement challenging the proposed budget set forth by the Executive Branch of the U.S. government.

The letter, which is addressed to Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, and Nancy Pelosi, states that America has a moral responsibility to not reduce its International Affairs Budget. One might wonder whether the Bible instructs governments as to how to set their budgets. According to the letter in question, it is found in Matthew 25, where Jesus says "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

These are words, of course, which Jesus directs to His disciples in which He is telling His people how to live in the world and to love other believers. These are words directed to the church of Jesus Christ, for sure. It's hard to conceive of the disciples standing before Caesar and talking budget cuts. My suspicion is that they felt they had a more important message to share.

I am not suggesting that the United States government should or should not seek to assist the poor. However, as a pastor and a minister of the Gospel, I would be out of my depth to suggest what a wise or unwise use of the federal budget would be in this regard.

Some Christians are adamant that the federal government should have little to no budget. Some think that we should have a massive budget that protects every citizen--not only of the U.S., but also of the world. What troubles me most of all is the idea that we should baptize our political preferences and make them the law of the land. This happens all the time, but in this case it's especially sanctimonious and troubling.

Consider the wording of the final paragraph:

"As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the 'shining city upon a hill,'"

The idea that the signers of the letter would accept the statement that the United States is "the 'shining city upon a hill'" is not only disturbing, but another symptom of a Messianic complex that America is still, evidently, struggling to shrug off.

In Matthew 5:14 Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." Why does Jesus say that his people should do good works in this passage? Because, he says, so that "others...may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (5:16). In seeking to apply an imperative made to the church to the United States of America, we feed rather than lessen America's messianic self-identification.

I am especially troubled that there are signatories of this letter within my own denomination (the PCA), but perhaps even more so that two of the signatories sign the letter, not as concerned citizens, but as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Vice President of Governmental Relations of the NAE, respectively. This is a lobbyist group that serves, among many others, the denomination of which I am a part. These are men presuming to speak on behalf of my church and other constituents.

I believe that we need to think long and hard about whether or not we want to be associated with a group that speaks on behalf of us while dictating foreign policy and budget to the government.

The answer to these problems, in part, is for Christians to have a modest assessment of the Bible's teachings and how closely they really apply in the political realm. In the short-term, I wonder whether the PCA ought to even continue its association with the NAE.


Adam Parker is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church of America and the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, MS. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.  

Two Kingdoms Politics [part 4]

This is the fourth part of Brad Littlejohn's series exploring 'two kingdoms' theology. The introductory post can be found here, the second dealing with ecumenism here, and the third treating pastoring is found here. - Editor

When the subject of the "two kingdoms" comes up, the first thing that comes to most people's mind is the question of politics--God vs. Caesar, church vs. state, the challenges of Christian citizenship. This is in part due to the political language of "kingdoms," in part due to the fact that the Reformers themselves often used the language of the "civil kingdom" or "political kingdom" in contrast to the "spiritual kingdom," for in their era, unlike ours, pretty much any area of life beyond the inner realm of conscience was potentially subject to the authority of the civil magistrate. For us, though, with a more circumscribed conception of the state's responsibilities, this language can be misleading, and I have thus sought to emphasize in this series the full scope of what we might better call simply the "temporal kingdom," and waited until four posts in to broach the subject of politics.

However, the political question is clearly central to the two-kingdoms doctrine, almost as much today as it was in the Reformation era. Here the doctrine seeks to hold together the eschatological tension between Christ's insistence that "my kingdom is not of this world" with the triumphant declaration of Revelation that "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." On the one hand, there is clearly something about Christ's reign that is radically inward and hidden, that works by the transforming power of the Spirit rather than through the coercive power of the sword or the observable chains of earthly cause and effect. On the other hand, we have his promise that his reign shall not remain hidden, but at the last day shall be fully public, acknowledged by rulers and principalities. 

But what about in the meantime? Does the whole political and social order lie outside of the Christian message, as some would have it? And if so, is this because the Christian message is one of radical interiority, an antinomian proclamation of grace that never becomes incarnate, as libertines would have it? Or is it because the Christian message is one of a new law and a new social order unto itself, the church as alternative community, as Anabaptists old and new would have it? Or is the political and social order subsumed into the church's proclamation, such that the gospel is not rightly preached until it has taken on flesh and bones in a renewed set of laws and institutions, and in which we can point to these renewed laws and institutions and say "here is the kingdom in our midst. Christ's reign on earth has begun." Theocrats of every age have taught such a doctrine, and it persists in a subtler form among liberal social gospellers and conservative Kuyperian worldview warriors. Classical two-kingdoms thinking eschews all these alternatives, though I only have space for a few suggestive bullet-points as to how it does so.
Christ is reigning through worldly rulers and institutions to preserve his good world. Classical two-kingdoms thinking insists that even while asserting the centrality of Christ's saving work in the church and the hearts of the faithful, we must not abandon the rest of the world to the devil, or to some spiritual no-mans land. Jesus is Caesar's Lord, and obeying Caesar can be a way of obeying Christ.
Christ's temporal reign is indirect and mediated in a way his spiritual reign is not. Civil authorities cannot claim to speak directly for God or demand in God's name to always be obeyed. This may seem obvious to us, but certainly has not always been, and even today Christians easily fall prey to the temptation to identify some particular political institution as somehow the bearer of the divine will. Even when political authorities or earthly institutions are indeed doing the will of God, they remain fragile and fallible, not something that we can ever grasp hold of and say, "here indeed is the Kingdom."
Christ's temporal reign serves to guard the goodness of the created order. Political rule is not amoral or free-floating, making things up according to the demands of realpolitik. No, it is bound to the moral order of the world as God created it, albeit that order has been distorted by sin, thus requiring political rule to take a distinctively coercive shape. Because the fundamental task of political rule is the maintenance and flourishing of created goods, rather than the distinctive tasks of redemption, which are the chief focus of Scripture, the general norm of political rule is natural revelation and natural law, not Scripture, and hence Christians do not have anything like a monopoly on good government.
Christ's temporal reign cannot be fully separated from his redeeming work. Some two-kingdoms thinkers who make a great deal of "creation" and "redemption" as the division between the two kingdoms seem to forget that "redeem" is a transitive verb, and Scripture is quite clear that the object of this redemption is not merely the souls of believers, but the whole created order. To be sure, the application of redemption begins in the souls of believers, but it works its way outward (though never close to fully until the consummation). The world is broken, and is being healed. Political rulers ought not seek to pre-empt the shape of the new creation, but neither must they rest content with a fully broken world; inasmuch as Scripture reveals and the gospel enables a world ordered as it was originally meant to be, politics may be guided by this ideal and nourished by this Christian virtue.
We are then called to witness in a distinctively Christian, but always provisional, mode to Christ's temporal reign. What all this means is that there is a call to take our faith into the public square, and call rulers to account as fallible agents of the Lord. But the changeless and eternal spiritual rule of Christ is not mirrored in the radically changing and time-bound political order. We should not expect ready-made solutions from Scripture to the challenges of the 21st-century, nor should we forget that most political prudence comes from nature, not grace. And we should not expect radical transformation of the temporal order into the new Jerusalem; it can only ever hint at and witness to Christ's reign, not incarnate it. But that in itself is a potentially revolutionary Christian contribution to politics, since earthly politics is always prone to claim for itself an ultimacy it cannot sustain, or make redemptive promises it cannot deliver. Precisely by pointing to an excess that always lies beyond politics, two-kingdoms thinking promises to reshape political life even at its most apolitical. 

Brad Littlejohn holds a Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh and is the Managing Editor of Political Theology Today, the General Editor of The Mercersburg Theology Study Series and can be found writing regularly at

Two-Kingdoms Pastoring [part 3]

This is the third in a series exploring the theology of Two Kingdoms across a variety of topics. The first article can be found here, and the second here Editor

It's tough being a pastor. I know because I've never dared try, but I've watched others try. Sure, you can always avoid preaching on anything so concrete and close to home as to ruffle any feathers, and some ministers have perfected the art of doing so for years on end. But as soon as he takes seriously his task as a shepherd of souls, the minister is likely to hear howls of indignation raised--he is a legalist, a killjoy, binding consciences and trampling on Christian liberty. Or perhaps, depending on his congregation, he may find himself accused of being a softie or an antinomian, refusing to man up and speak uncompromisingly to our culture. In the privacy of one-on-one counseling, he may have a whole audience second-guessing him, but he will certainly second-guess himself: does this erring soul need to be comforted with the promises of the gospel, or jarred out of complacency with a reminder of God's judgment against sinners? One wrong move may be a matter of spiritual life and death. 

Faced with this dilemma, many pastors, in our circles at least, make it their aim to "say nothing but what the Bible says." In one sense this is not only laudable but necessary: the Bible is the authoritative guide for both faith and practice, and the final standard for adjudicating any doctrinal question. But obviously a pastor cannot get very far in the task of pastoring without going beyond Scripture--if not its spirit, certainly its letter. To preach and pastor effectively, the minister must be waist-deep in the stuff of everyday life, the myriad personal, social, political, and cultural challenges that confront his congregation, and that at every point draw them closer to or drag them further from the face of God. And Scripture, it must be said, does not address home mortgages or gay marriage or online pornography as such--obviously, it does address debt and sexuality and lust, but these specific challenges that confront us, in all their concrete particularity and novelty, are not in view in the biblical text.

"Saying nothing what the Bible says," then, can take two forms. Either the minister, fearing to bind consciences beyond the Word by any specific application, avoids as much as possible in the pulpit the pressing social and cultural concerns of the day with which his congregation wrestles the other six days of the week, and confines himself primarily to theological lectures in lieu of sermons, or to vague platitudes when it comes to ethical matters. Or else the minister, convinced that the Bible really does speak to everything, proceeds to read the concerns of the day--gun control, home mortgages, or healthcare policy--straight into the biblical text, closing with a thunderous "Thus saith the Lord!" (Presumably all those who disagree with the application are blinded by sin.)

In pastoral counseling, "the Bible only" has often come to mean something like the "nouthetic counseling" approach, in which the complexities of human psychology and the details of particular circumstances are all filtered out and the struggling soul is told only "confess and repent of your rebellion against God." All this in the name of protecting Christian liberty.

It should be clear at this point that the challenge here is not simply to police the boundary between the "church" as a "spiritual kingdom" and politics as the "civil kingdom." To be sure, great political and social questions add a whole new level of complexity which makes it difficult to bring Scripture directly to bear on them. But even if the pastor studiously avoids offering any guidance on political questions, the problem remains. For no man is an island, and our sins generally have a social and cultural dimension. In other words, they are the complex interplay of what flows from our wicked hearts and what we encounter in and imbibe from the world around us. This milieu, again, differs in key ways from ancient Israel or first-century Palestine, and the pastor will have to rely on a well-informed judgment of his context, and a well-developed sense of prudence, if he is to rightly apply the Word to the lives of his flock. If "Christian liberty" or the division of the "two kingdoms" restricts the pastor from ever speaking beyond the words of Scripture, then clearly it will restrict him from pastoring at all.

Perhaps the solution to this dilemma is to recognize that the pastor himself has a foot in both kingdoms, and I don't just mean in the sense that he has to pay his taxes, and is an officer at the local Rotary Club down the road (though these are significant enough points). Even as a pastor, he has a foot in both. For he speaks for God, but he also speaks as Joe Smith, white boy from rural Indiana who spent a few years in the Navy and then as a salesman before going to seminary. He speaks to each of his congregants as to a sanctified child of God being formed in the image of Christ, but he also speaks to them as mothers, as husbands, as daughters-in-law, as jobholders, voters, cinema-goers. At every point he is navigating the intersection of their vertical dimension--their life in God--and their horizontal dimension--their life in the world. If he tries to worry about only the latter, he becomes a social gospeller with nothing to offer but narrow-minded recommendations for how to make the world a better place. If he tries to worry about only the former, he risks leaving his flock with little concrete guidance in the trials of life.

Clearly, he must do both, and attempting to draw some artificial line between "spiritual" and "civil" areas of life will not help the problem much. But he must remember that while these two are never separate, they are always distinct. The minister may and indeed must make prudential application of Scripture to the real-world challenges of his flock, but he must make sure that both he and they know that there is probably a fair bit of Joe Smith's midwestern biases coloring that judgment, and they themselves must, like the Bereans, search the Scriptures to see whether these things be true. 

Brad Littlejohn holds a Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh and is the Managing Editor of Political Theology Today, the General Editor of The Mercersburg Theology Study Series and can be found writing regularly at

Two Kingdoms Ecumenism [Part two]

This is the second in a series exploring the theology of Two Kingdoms across a variety of topics. The first article can be found here - Editor

Evangelicals, always a couple decades behind the latest mainline bandwagon, have in recent years become very fired up about ecumenism. And yet, we rarely seem at all sure what it's supposed to mean. Does it mean that we're all just supposed to love each other? Or that we need to break down the walls of separation and become one global denomination? Or that we should all celebrate the Eucharist weekly with an open communion policy? Or perhaps that everyone else just needs to convert and join the OPC? The confusion was well-evident in last year's "Future of Protestantism" event at Biola University, where all seemed to agree that there was a problem, but necessarily what it was, much less how to solve it. So what is church unity? Let's consider come candidates. 

Institutional unity is certainly one, and this is the sort of unity the Catholic Church prides itself on--a single worldwide juridical authority structure, no matter how much variation in faith and practice might be concealed under this imposing exterior.  From this standpoint, is the unity of the Catholic Church really much different, or much deeper, than, say, the unity of the United States, which as we know is profoundly pluralist and polarized? 

Before Vatican II, to be sure, Catholics might have claimed a second kind of unity as well, a liturgical unity consisting of shared practices, symbols, and rituals, preeminently the Eucharist as the sacrament of unity. It is this ideal of unity that particularly prevails still in the Orthodox churches, but Catholic liturgical practice has fragmented enormously in recent decades. 

A third kind of unity might be the unity of faith, that is, a shared creed or pattern of belief. For many Protestants, this is the only kind of unity that matters, and indeed, until the twentieth century, Christians of nearly every stripe would have considered this essential. But opinions have always differed as to how far such unity must extend--must the true church be unified within the Westminster Confession? The Augsburg Confession? The Nicene Creed? 

Finally, there is a unity of spirit--do Christians think of themselves as one? Act toward one another as if they are one? Do we treat one another with the love of Christ, and see ourselves as sharing a common cause and destiny?

The ecumenical movement, whether in its mainline or evangelical forms, has often oscillated between these four poles, unsure which to prioritize. While each may reinforce the others, they may also be sharply at odds. For instance, the fourth, unity of spirit, often prevails more across institutions than within them, given the frequent bitterness of denominational politics. And yet is such unity enough? Mustn't it be given some concrete form? 

From a Protestant two-kingdoms standpoint, the whole discussion needs to be firmly grounded by the reminder that it is not the church's task to make itself united, but simply to witness to its union. The Church is one in Christ, the cornerstone on whom the whole building is built, the vine from which all the branches give life, the bridegroom who has bound himself to each of us. Nothing we do can actually destroy this unity. "Is Christ divided?" Paul rhetorically asks in 1 Corinthians 1:13. While many of today's apostles of ecumenism might point despairingly at the contemporary divisions at the church and say, "Yes! See how we have torn apart the body of Christ?", Paul's answer is clearly "No! That is impossible. Your divisions are telling a false story about who you are." 

Put another way, the Protestant ought to recognize that the task of ecumenism is always a matter of the church's sanctification, not its justification. Our divisions, however great, never threaten the being of the church, or our standing in Christ, but they do certainly threaten our well-being. Christ's spiritual rule remains intact however fragmented its earthly manifestation. Of course, this is no excuse for complacency, any more than justification by faith should entail antinomianism. On the contrary, it is an urgent summons for the church to display the unity it has in Christ, both for our own spiritual health, as we learn to love, and learn to learn from, one another, and for the integrity of our mission to the watching world. With this in mind, let us revisit our four forms of unity.

From a Protestant two-kingdoms standpoint, institutional unity is suspect. The institutional form of the church is part of its outward garb, and the juridical authority needed to police the boundaries of any institution is seated firmly in the temporal kingdom of law. In this realm, local variation and regional administration are the norm, and we should be no quicker to embrace one-world church government than one-world civil government. Where many institutions jostle for position in the same geographical space, however, as typifies our modern condition, this may pose a problem; or, it may not--it all depends on how well unity of faith and unity of spirit govern these relations. 

Liturgical unity clearly falls under the same heading. Obviously there are certain core features of Christian worship and practice which we are bound in obedience to our Lord to maintain--the two sacraments, prayer, and the reading and preaching of the Word, at the very least. But the forms these take are largely prudential, and have varied enormously through time and space. Certainly it might strengthen the church's life together and its mission to cultivate more common practice on many disputed points (i.e., the charismatic gifts and the frequency of the Eucharist), but we must not mistake these forms as the ground or even the primary signs of the church's unity.

Unity of faith looms much larger. If ecumenism is a matter of the church's sanctification, and if we are justified by faith, then, it would seem, the faith of the church must be foundational, preceding the ecumenical task as a sine qua non. And yet, the "one faith" that does ground the church's unity must not be complexified beyond the faith that justifies, which we all know can be very lacking in doctrinal sophistication, and yet still pleasing to the Lord. In going beyond this basic confession of Christian faith, and hammering out more extensive areas of shared doctrine, we certainly aid the sanctification of the church, but must not confuse this with the definition of its essence.

Perhaps none of the four highlights the distance between the church's justification and its sanctification so much as the fourth, unity of spirit, the love that binds believers together. Nothing is so important for us to cultivate, and yet nothing so often, or so thoroughly, eludes us. In lamenting the pettiness and hatred that divides us, we must never be driven to the point of despair, since Christ promises to hold us together despite our attempts to pull apart. But neither should we pooh-pooh the many manifestations of Christian unity that we find in the civil and cultural sphere, as somehow irrelevant to the real spiritual unity of the institutional church, as some so-called "two-kingdoms" theorists do today. 

Protestant ecumenism, then, values all the outward tokens of the church's unity in their proper place, while learning not to make a fetish of any of them.

Brad Littlejohn holds a Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh and is the Managing Editor of Political Theology Today, the General Editor of The Mercersburg Theology Study Series and can be found writing regularly at
The two kingdoms. Few phrases so short could be lobbed with such devastating effect into a parlor conversation at a Reformed theology conference these days--or a few years ago, at any rate, though perhaps new topics have now succeeded it as the favorite bones of contention. For many in our circles, the phrase instantly conjures up ecclesiastical battle lines, personal animosities, dark specters of half-guessed heresies; for others, it is a happy panacea, a cure for whatever ails you, theologically speaking. But for both friend and foe, the associations conjured up by the phrase often bear little relation to its historical usage, which was indeed extensive among our Protestant forebears. 

In this series of brief posts, I shall not try to clear up the historical question in any detail (I attempted that in introductory form a couple years ago at Political Theology Today), nor to engage polemically, any more than necessary, with the most popular versions of the doctrine currently on offer (having done my fair share of that some time ago, for instance here). Rather, I hope to dispel some of the contemporary confusion and suspicion around the issue by showing of what practical value the doctrine, classically understood, might be. I also hope to de-mystify the doctrine a bit, by showing how, rightly understood, many of its characteristic concerns are simply a matter of "Protestantism," full-stop. This will also hopefully help us avoid treating it as a simple panacea; to be sure, at some level, I will proudly proclaim that Protestantism is a theological panacea, but it has also been something of a Pandora's box. The teachings that we might characterize as belonging to classical Protestant two-kingdoms doctrine are shot through with tensions and even paradoxes, balanced often on a knife-edge between dangerous doctrinal pitfalls on either side. But so is all good theology. 

So, what are these teachings, these characteristic concerns? Well, Christian theology has always wrestled with "twoness," on seemingly every front: God and the world, special revelation and general revelation, redemption and creation, divine grace and human response, faith and works, justification and sanctification, soul and body, invisible and visible, church and world, etc. In the face of any one of these dualities, the oldest and easiest move in the polemicist's handbook is to cry "dualism." But this is merely a lazy dodge. Theology, quite clearly, cannot do well without clear distinctions between any of these pairs, even if, equally clearly, it can shipwreck by too sharply opposing any of these two terms to one another. At each point, a delicate balancing act is in order.

Likewise, it would seem careless to treat all these distinctions as just different versions of the same fundamental duality (a temptation that some overzealous two-kingdoms theorists have been prone to)--merely to pick one example, we obviously cannot equate the "redemption/creation" pair with the "soul/body" pair, since Scripture speaks clearly of the redemption and resurrection of our bodies. At the same time, it would be an untidy theology indeed that made no attempt to map these various dualities onto one another at all (i.e., for Protestants at least, divine grace, faith, and justification all fit together well on one side, in distinction from human response, works, and sanctification, on the other).

Martin Luther's theology, for all its notorious untidiness, was particularly characterized by its attempt to tie together these various dualities within a single framework, with plenty of appropriate qualifications (though it usually fell to his successors, particularly Melancthon, Calvin, Vermigli, and Hooker, to spell out those qualifications). For him, then, and for other magisterial Reformers who spoke of "two kingdoms" (or "two realms" or "two governments," to use perhaps clearer terms corresponding to Luther's Zwei Reiche and Zwei Regimente), they had in mind not primarily a pair of institutions (i.e., "church" and "state") but something much more fundamental. Human life is not a two-dimensional map onto which the two-kingdoms were drawn as a dividing line between spheres of jurisdiction, but rather, a two-dimensional map with which the "earthly kingdom" is coterminous, and of which the spiritual kingdom might be said to form the third dimension--the vertical God-ward relation which animates all the rest. At every point, the Christian must be attentive to the voice of God as he speaks in his word, and the face of God as he presents himself in his world, through what Luther calls "masks."

When one puts it this way, it becomes clear that this dividing line must run right through the church itself. The Reformers could speak of the church, in its visible gathered form, with officers and liturgical orders, as part of the "earthly kingdom"; but as the company of the elect, mystically united to her head, she is the fullness of the spiritual kingdom. But while the "visible/invisible church" distinction is not far off here, it is not sufficient either, for it, like the language of "kingdom" is much too static for what the Reformers had in mind. The geistliche Regimente was the spiritual ruling and reigning of God, His gracious life-giving action through the power of the Spirit. While clearly invisible in itself, this liberating rule makes itself manifest in the powerful reading and preaching of the Word (and that chiefly, but certainly not merely, in the context of formal worship), in the sacraments, and in the loving, faith-filled acts of the saints. 

Of course, these acts of love, in which the Christian makes himself "the most dutiful servant of all" are the very stuff of which the "earthly kingdom," the space east of Eden and west of the new Jerusalem, subject to human authority and prudential calculus, is made. But this simply highlights the fact that the language of "the two kingdoms" ought not serve to neatly divvy up the various elements of the Christian life into one or another sphere, but rather, often, ought to be viewed as two different ways of talking about the same elements. We are simul justus et peccator, at the same time free lords and dutiful servants, at the same time alive with Christ in the heavenly places and toiling in murky paths here below, and even as we enjoy the liberty of a conscience set free by grace, we live under the laws (natural and civil) that regulate our lives with one another as human creatures. To confuse these two rules is to risk libertinism or legalism, triumphalism or despair. 

In the four posts which follow, I will attempt, with as much brevity as I can muster, to spell out what good old "two-kingdoms" thinking might look like in four different areas of Christian concern: Two-Kingdoms Pastoring, Two-Kingdoms Ecumenism, Two-Kingdoms Politics, and Two-Kingdoms Economics.

Brad Littlejohn holds a Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh and is the Managing Editor of Political Theology Today, the General Editor of The Mercersburg Theology Study Series and can be found writing regularly at