Civitatem Dei, De Regnis Duobus, dual civium, Novus Ordo Seclorum, Politics

DE REGNIS DUOBUS REDUX

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By David Beilstein

IN a previous blog entry, I responded to Daniel Foster’s article on National Review Online, asking rhetorically, why it is Republicans (slash conservatives), are the only ones facing questions of religion. The point of my post was to highlight that in one sense, Foster is accurate in revealing the progressive left’s animus toward orthodox religious faith; but on the other hand, I also suggested the inability of religious conservatives ‘not to conflate’ the civil kingdom from the Kingdom of God (an inability to distinguish between Church and state) in political terms is a profound reason why Republicans and conservatives face a litmus test of sorts from the statist curmudgeons.

The doctrine of the two kingdoms taught by 16th century reformer Dr Martin Luther clarifies the approach religious citizens participating in a secular (temporal) society might due well to consider. It is also important to understand, Luther’s doctrine protects religion and freedom of consciousness; the importance of such a dualist relationship between the Sacred and profane kingdoms, both mediated by Christ the Son of God, is a benison to orthodox Christian faith — it’s theology, practise, and piety — and profession.

As Lutheran author Anders Nygren writes, the doctrine of the two kingdoms is actually a flickering protection against secularisation; secularist, being distinguished from a secular society,

From the Lutheran side, our answer to this is a determined No, and this for two reasons. In the first place, the connection between the doctrine of the spiritual and worldly authorities and the secularisation of society is so tenuous that, paradoxically, it is the only effective means of overcoming such secularisation. Only if the distinction between spiritual and temporal authority is maintained can the Church speak clearly on the realm of the world. In the second place, the conception of the two realms is not a specifically Lutheran doctrine to be retained or abandoned, but is based on the New Testament and expresses an essential Christian truth. It arises so immediately and logically out of the Gospel itself that to surrender it would entail a surrender of the Gospel. In other words, we Lutherans are so little disposed to give up the doctrine of the spiritual and secular realms that we should, on the contrary, expect rather that the other Christian churches, once they have properly understood it, will also acknowledge it as a genuine expression of the Christian position, and will find in it a firm basis for a common Christian approach to society.

Likewise, Protestant Reformer John Calvin piggy backed onto Luther’s idea of the two kingdoms, stressing in his Institutes of The Christian Religion, the two kingdoms ought not to be conflated. While differences between a proto-Presbyterian and Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms exists, there are remarkable similarities.

Calvin wrote,

I call ‘earthly things’ those which do not pertain to God or his kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call ‘heavenly things’ the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.

A logical problem permists. Why do so many religious citizens so bewildered by something inherent in Holy Scripture; thus apart of Christian piety and practise?

Likewise, politically, the notion a political party (Republican Party) can couch polity governance – apart of the secular realm – upon exclusive religious claims; lording over a nation of diverse factions, of non-believers, and non-Christian religions, is simply nonsensical. It betrays the soil in which the American republic germinated in – a soil of a secular texture. Moreover, and of vastly more importance, it is not a faithful exegesis, thus obedience, to the secular realm inherent in Holy Scripture’s revelation.

 

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2 thoughts on “DE REGNIS DUOBUS REDUX

  1. Great topic, David. This is such a problem for so many in the church. I don’t know, but maybe a proper understanding as laid out by the eminent theologians you have highlighted, would have spared us another 4 years of un-American (ideals) rule.

    Luther’s comment that ” I would rather be ruled by a smart Turk than by a stupid Christian” come to mind.

    But American Christianity is soaked in biblicism, and it’s hard to get our poor brethren to see sometimes see the forest through the trees.

    As my pastor says (no doubt others, too), “We fall off both sides of the horse. Being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. And being so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good.”

    Your post, David, is spot on.

    Thanks, Brother.

    • Steve,

      I appreciate it, Sir. Over at Old Life Theological Society you’ll see where I get a lot of the ideas concerning the two kingdoms. In Presbyterian theology, there is the two kingdoms, but also, the doctrine of the spirituality of the Church.

      Dr J. Gresham Machen (Princeton Theological Seminary, Founder of Westminster Seminary) articulated this doctrine well in confessional Presbyterian circles. While some have contended the two kingdoms doctrine is Lutheran, not Presbyterian, both Luther and Calvin taught it; it is also consistent with the second generation of reformers.

      You are correct in your assessment of broadly defined conservative evangelicalism (sociologically considered) in their attempt to conflate the two kingdoms. Also, the quote from your pastor is spot on.

      There was a famous quote that said, “Roads that lead somewhere are always well maintained.” Hence, a robust doctrine of the two kingdoms does not mean Christians should look at earthly things as unimportant. It does mean, however, earthly things are penultimate, unlike the ultimate sphere of Christ’s Kingdom, glimpsed in His Church.

      Presbyterian historian, and OPC elder D.G. Hart writes about a lot of those issues, showing in detail, how much of evangelicalism is a revamping of a “theology of Glory” unlike Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’, giving explanatory reasons for why many conservative Christians conflate the secular kingdom with the Sacred Kingdom. There’s some good reading, there.

      You are also spot on when it comes to biblicism. A large issue!

      Thanks for your comments, have a blessed Thanksgiving, my Lutheran brother.

      Blessings,
      djb

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