Yet Another Reason Why a Reformed Two-Kingdoms Ethic is Necessary

Critics of the two-kingdoms ethic should consider this story from Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports that Roman bishops and archbishops have been influential in lobbying for a social-democrat version of “health care reform.” I understand that they were seeking to influence legislators to adopt pro-life policies as part of the program but they were also supporting the program. The National Council of Bishops as a social-democrat track record on policy questions. Nevertheless, judging by what I read, I suppose that most of the critics of any two-kingdoms ethic are socially conservative and thus oppose the democrat health-care reform bill. They are on the horns of dilemma. They’re pro-life. They support ecclesiastical intervention in social policy but I suppose they are unhappy with the health care bill. Are we to understand that, if that intervention comes in the form of oh, I don’t know, theonomic/theoceratic, predestinarian, fundamentalist ethics from some theonomic rabbi,  that’s okay with them but it if it comes in the form of liberal social-democrat advocacy by bishops and archbishops (acting in their office), that’s not okay? How are they going to have ecclesiastical intervention in policy without ecclesiastical intervention in social policy. The only way to do it is to limit which ecclesiastical entities influence policy.

So, they want a “one-kingdom” system but with only the right sorts of churches writing policy. Thus, the fundamental question here isn’t two-kingdoms, it’s religious pluralism. If the real “problem” for the critics is religious pluralism then their real agenda would seem to be more profound than they have hitherto admitted: one-church theocracy (i.e. state advocacy of one church and enforcement of the first three commandments, as numbered by the Reformed churches).

What is the actual alternative by the critics of any two-kingdoms (or one kingdom with two distinct spheres) construct and how is not an theonomic/theocratic Taliban?

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  1. I want an Anglican theocracy like the 16th and 17th century with a new Act of Uniformity, to wit, ordering all national churches to use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. All clerics shall comply or face imprisonment to upwards of one year. If impenitent, they shall be deprived and defrocked. All people shall attend divine worship and all holy days upon penalty of hefty fines. Make it penal to stick.


  2. It’s not an alternative to the 2 kingdoms distinction, but I’d suggest the more appropriate distinction to apply to this situation would be the mater/coetus fidelium distinction – between the Church as the church (mater) and the Church as a body of believers (coetus). The Mater must keep her focus on the notae ecclesia (marks of the church- preaching/sacraments/discipline).

    The Coetus does have an obligation to involve itself in these issues (whether you label it the kingdom of man or the civil realm). We ought to insure that Christian ethics (such as right to life issues) be protected in legislation as well as ensuring that policy just makes good sense. In addition, we ought provide benevolence for the sick and needy within our communities. Certainly Christians must use their talents toward these ends on an individual basis, but when this distinction is applied correctly, there’s room for para-church organizations to help systematize these efforts. I’d argue that there’s more than just room- there’s responsibility.

    When the mater does her job, the coetus ought to respond and be felt within the other kingdom/realm; not out of sense of theonomic or eschatological conquest, but rather as an expression of gratitude for grace and concerted effort for God’s name to be glorified in our society.

    Until those of us on the conservative side of the issues (both theological and political) are ready to embrace this approach, we better get used to the left setting our agenda as these Roman bishops seem to be doing.

  3. It seems as if the “two-kingdoms” message is far too little too late on this one, given that the horses are already out of the barn, and the gate is almost half-way closed on it.

    • John,

      What on earth has this to do with the “two kingsoms”?

      Who among the advocates of the two-kingdoms ethic advocates Christian faith on the Sabbath and paganism on Monday?

      Do critics of the 2 kingdoms have no obligation to the 9th commandment?

  4. John,

    You are not going to gain a lot of credibility around these parts linking to a loony farm institution like American Vision.

  5. John,

    I’ll see rio’s suggestion and raise another objection: the antinomian charge won’t get you very far either. Don’t you know that antinomianism is more urban legend than reality? After all, we’re wired for law, so the disposition is actually for legalism. AV’s cute, if disingenuous, story about an antinomian missionary is really hard to find. It’s easier to swing a dead cat and hit missionaries incorrectly employing the RPW to the social structures, on top of correctly employing law to the believer’s daily life.

  6. I’m not really familiar with the term 2 kingdom ethic, but from reading the posts I have a few questions that maybe will allow for me to understand this issue.

    Are what I’ve heard called parachurch organizations considered part of the 2 kingdom ethic?

    Do the 1 kingdom advocates prefer a segregation of believers from the “world”?


  7. no, it’s the other way around, the 2 kingdom view is associated with more segregation. vs the 1 kingdom sees a renewal of all of God’s creation, distaste for too much a divide between sacred vs. secular. i’m curious, do the WSC faculty not have much engagement with covenant seminary? the differences on this issue are vast. The reformed, renewal of all of God’s creation is pervasive in the curriculum at CTS.

  8. “i’m not interested in engaging in ad hominem discussions (“loony farm”). ”


    The point is, if you had referenced Bill Gothard, Walter Camping, or the John Birch Society as good resources against 2k views, you would have received the same reaction. Some organizations have so discredited themselves so as not to deserve to be taken in a serious, scholarly manner. American Vision is one such organization.

  9. Got it riorancho. scholarly or not, discussion on the internet, I think the Lord calls us to something greater than referring to people as on the loony farm. may the Lord bless you all and in your endeavors to serve God’s kingdom whether 1 or 2.

  10. What’s wrong with the article that John Cho linked to originally?

    I thought it was really good.

    Who cares if it came from American Vision or from Westminister Seminary or from Saddleback Church or from Ligonier Ministries?

    Regardless of source, the content was still good.

    Attacking the source is an ad hominem red herring. Pathetic.

    And for that matter, I have seen folks completely disparage anything that comes from R. Scott Clark. I have ignored them.

    • TUAD,

      True enough, ideas should be evaluated on their own merit. At the same time, though, sources matter, don’t they?

      But I’ll bite: what made it so good?

    • “And for that matter, I have seen folks completely disparage anything that comes from R. Scott Clark. I have ignored them.”

      Here’s an example of an article titled:

      “Yet Another Reason You Have To Have Your Head Examined If You Read Heidelblog”.


      “I know … I know … I should just quit reading these guys but I am compelled by the strange reality that, for some unknown reason, people take these guys seriously.

      We see here that R. Scott Clark didn’t even read the article correctly. The burden of the article is to reveal the influence of Roman Bishops and Arch-bishops as they lobbied to make sure that government financed abortion would not be part of the massive socialism health care bill. There is only one brief reference to the way that Clark characterizes the whole article and that passing reference hardly supports Clark’s contention that the article is about the Roman Catholic pursuit of Social Democratic version of health care.

      If Clark can’t even summarize a two bit internet journalism article correctly what gives us any confidence in his ability as a Academic Theologian and Historian to rightly interpret what he reads and studies?”

  11. Truth,

    Be real. We evaluate sources all the time before reading. If Hal Lindsay has an article on understanding the secrets of Revelation, I’m not going to bother reading it. If Joel Osteen has a new book on the keys to church growth, I’m going to pass that one by also. If the KKK runs an article on race relations, I’ll pass on that also. I know where these people and groups are coming from; they have already established their credibility on these issues. IMO American Vision is a theonomic, patriarchal, legalistic, pro-South, dare I say racist and sexist organization. I don’t need to read their critiques of 2k to know where they are coming from.

  12. wow, riorancho are you a WSC grad? methinks it’s hard to have conversation with you. do WSC students read anything by Francis Schaeffer or Jerram Barrs? I would hope the conversation amongst Christians would be more loving.

  13. the point of bring up Schaeffer was the tone of your responses. but yes, he also held to a 1 kingdom view. I’m curious (and this is not at all to be mean), is there an emphasis on being winsome at WSC, or is it more bent on winning the debate? Again, I don’t at all mean to be excessively critical, I’m just interested to hear what the ethos is at other seminaries. at CTS, we were taught to be very careful on not being rude even it’s someone who is very wrong in their thinking.

  14. Zrim, riorancho,

    Here’s a scriptural example of someone who opened his mouth at the source of where something originated without first coming and seeing the content:

    “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
    “Come and see,” said Philip. (John 1:46)

    • TUAD,

      I asked what made the piece “so good”? Instead of whining about how mean my interlocuter is, I’ll settle for why the implication of antinomianism is a good faith charge against 2K.

      • Zrim,

        Do you support what the missionary in the article did, and what he said to justify himself?

        Do you agree with everything he said? Yes or no? If no, what did you disagree with him about? Why?

        • TUAD,

          You’ll understand if I’m hesitant to answer your questions since they seem to assume the mere caricature the piece traffics in.

          But I asked you first. So, again, why is the piece was good to your mind? Is there something it is seriously addressing?

            • Do you support what the missionary in the article did, and what he said to justify himself?

              No and no.

              Do you agree with everything he said? Yes or no? If no, what did you disagree with him about? Why?

              No. Christians mayn’t violate God’s law. Because he says so.

            • What’s good about the article is that it might help 2K’ers see the deficiencies and/or potential misapplications (or unintentional abuses?) of rigidly upholding 2K doctrine. Or to help 2K’ers see the implications and outworking of 2K doctrine and how badly they can turn out.

              Your honest answers show that you understand that.

            • TUAD,

              What’s good about the article is that it might help 2K’ers see the deficiencies and/or potential misapplications (or unintentional abuses?) of rigidly upholding 2K doctrine. Or to help 2K’ers see the implications and outworking of 2K doctrine and how badly they can turn out.

              It may be instructive to point out that the same could be said of the (Reformation) gospel itself. In fact, it was when Paul was rhetorically responded to charges that his gospel of grace could lead to antinomianism. Rome and the evangelicals say such things about our gospel. But just as Paul didn’t author the gospel of grace, 2Kers didn’t write the rules about the nature of the kingdoms and their relationship to each other.

              It’s not as if I don’t get how lethal truth can be in the hands of sinners. But that’s not truth’s fault, and it doesn’t mean truth should be hid or diminished or handled with kid gloves simply because sinners might screw it up. And it certainly doesn’t mean it should be grossly misrepresented, to wit the ridiculous article in question. Your handle suggests you know a thing or two about truth. Hopefully this much makes sense as well.

  15. Truth,

    So I assume you’ll check out everything you hear that comes from the National Enquirer because it is wrong to ever consider the source?


    When you are in the ministry for awhile, and you experience first-hand the terrible consequences; the abuse, broken marriages, bitter children, the despair from living by law instead of grace, the legalistic pride that looks down and separates from most believers, that come from organizations like American Vision, being nice to them is not a huge concern of mine. Wasn’t trying to be rude to you, just saying challenging our 2k using AV was not the best way to go.

    • “American Vision! Can anything good come from there?” Riorancho asked.
      “Come and see,” said John Cho.

    • John,

      Thanks for this. I’m a big fan of Ken Myers and the hosts of Ordinary Means are WSC grads and friends. This sort of criticism seems much more helpful since Ken has actually taken some time to understand the two kingdoms/spheres before criticizing it. There is a difference between thoughtful, helpful criticism that seeks to advance a discussion and that which lacks those qualities.

      Have you pursued any of the links I provided?

      Can you say briefly what you understand the two-kingdom ethic to be? I ask because the AV piece you posted did not seem remotely relevant to the 2-kingdom ethic as I understand it so it would be helpful to know if we’re talking about the same thing.

      • “I’m a big fan of Ken Myers and the hosts of Ordinary Means are WSC grads and friends. This sort of criticism seems much more helpful since Ken has actually taken some time to understand the two kingdoms/spheres before criticizing it.”

        Ken Myers: “This is where I challenge my two-kingdom friends. I think there is a danger in two kingdom thought of separating Christ as creator and Christ as redeemer, at least more than the New Testament does. I think that the New Testament speaks, just as the Old Testament, about the identity of God as creator and redeemer in a non-modalistic way. God is both creator and redeemer at once, and Christ is both creator and redeemer at once. In fact, redemption is a recovery of creation; redemption is a restoration of creation. So I think that we need to be careful from separating creation and redemption too starkly.

        So I would say that there ought to be a Christocentric politic and aesthetic. Christians will not be the only ones who can recognize properly human and hence Christocentric realities. I think that is what the Reformed idea of common grace means. That non-believers will have the capacity to see that because they perceive things that are built into the structure of creation, built in there by Christ. So there is no getting away from Christ.”

        • I intend to listen to the interview.

          I quite agree that we need to be more thoroughly Trinitarian in our theology. I appreciate that about Gunton but he also made some proposals regarding the doctrine of the Trinity which were not helpful, e.g. social Trinitarianism where relationship swallows up being.

          Second, in Scripture the Holy Spirit is always HOLY and never common. Creation was holy until it was defiled. Thereafter, in Scripture, the Spirit is found, if you will, in the believing community and/or among the elect. He is not associated with that which is “common.” In other words, the fall creates the need to distinguish between the holy and the common or the sacred and the secular. Before the fall there is not the same distinction.

          We should observe the distinction between creation and fall or we risk falling into a sort of Pelagianism.

          I know that Calvin says that all gifts are from the Holy Spirit. I don’t know what I think of that. Right now I would rather say that all common gifts are operations of the Trinity among all people. Surely the Holy Spirit is involved but we think and speak of it as a common operation and not a special, sanctifying, or saving operation.

          If we don’t make that distinction we verge on to natural theology (as opposed to natural revelation and natural law).

          I wonder if Ken’s language doesn’t lead to a blurring of the law and the gospel. Nature and culture are expressions of law, not gospel. The law points us to Christ by way of teaching us our sin. The gospel is not in “culture” per se.

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