It's Wrong When the Left Does It and Wrong When the Right Does It

According to the Presbyterian Layman Online (HT: AR) the PCUSA (the mainline, overwhelmingly liberal presbyterian denomination in N. America) has appointed a new director of what the Layman calls “controversial Washington lobbying office of the Presbyterian Church (USA).” My guess is that the controversy is  over the (mostly left-leaning) social policies advocated by the lobbying arm of the PCUSA. The Director defines the mission of the office thus:

Our mission is to advocate for the public policy approved by General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We are led primarily by the Holy Spirit as engage ecumenical, interfaith, Para-church, denominational and activist organizations to assist us in our advocacy. Our influence and authority given through the life, death, and burial of Jesus Christ is used to assist congress and the President to hear the calling of the PCUSA and others on public policy matters that affect the lives of God’s people. The Washington Office has used a myriad of ways to accomplish this work since 1946.

This is fairly common social-democrat (leftist) rhetoric. I recognize it because I was a social democrat and was raised socially leftist circles and studied it academically at the undergraduate level. Since that time my personal political/social views have developed in a rather different direction. The real question is not the side of the social aisle on which the lobbying arm falls but the very existence of the lobbying office. The Layman rightly calls the office “controversial” and it is, but only because it exists.

Where in the NT did any of the apostles institute a lobbying arm in Rome or in any regional governmental center (e.g., Ephesus)? Where did the apostles commission the visible, institutional church to lobby any government for or about anything?

I can show you exactly what the Apostle teaches the visible, institutional church (as an organization) to do:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and  dignified in every way.  This is good, and  it is pleasing in the sight of  God our Savior…. (1 Tim 2:1-3).

It’s not that Paul wants Christians to be socially disengaged. Not at all, but there is not a single bit of unequivocal explicit or implicit instruction in the NT that the visible, institutional church (as an organization) should have an office for lobbying. The only (special) “offices” instituted by Christ and his apostles for the post-canonical church are minister, elder, and deacon. The commission that Christ gave to his church is to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, and administer discipline (Matt 16; 18; 28:18-20).

The distinction here is between the work of Christians as members of the visible church and as members of civil society. The state is charged with enforcing justice insofar as it is possible in this life. When Christians see injustice in the world they ought to act to correct it but they must learn to resist the impulse to draft the visible, institutional church for their social cause, however just that cause may be. To draft the church for any cause, however, just that is not directly related to one of the three marks of the church does both a disservice to the church (because it distracts her from her divine vocation) and to the cause to be advanced. The church as church isn’t suited to speak to these causes. This is not a call for world flight, defeatism, non-Christian dualism of any kind. Christians can and may speak to social-civil-cultural questions and problems. They may even form societies to address them. They may advocate for justice vigorously in the public square.

“But,” someone says, “It would be so much more effective if the church (as defined above) would speak to this issue.” Some responses:

1) This is not an argument from Scripture, confession, or principle. It’s a purely pragmatic argument. That’s not a sufficient reason for the church (as defined above) to jeopardize her divine mission in this world. Our Lord indicated such an approach (Matt 26:11) when he prioritized his mission, to serve his Father, to obey the law, and the redeem his people over the pressing social questions and injustices of the day. Did Jesus heal every leper? Did he heal every blind man or woman? Did he raise all the dead? If not then why not? Because that’s not why he came. He came to save sinners. Was Jesus guilty of “world flight”? Careful here, blasphemy waits just round the corner. Of course not! He is God the Son incarnate. No one loved sinners with more of his faculties and with all himself than Jesus and yet he postponed glory for the age to come.

Both the mainline and those sideline Presbyterians who want to remake this world into a utopia should take a lesson from our Lord. He engaged the world more fully than any human before or since but he did so with eternity in view and he instituted his church (as defined above) to take the same attitude.

Finally, I noticed that the PCUSA instituted their lobbying arm in 1946. That’s very interesting. It was a decade after Machen’s death. About that same time the neo-evangelical movement began to develop a social conscience. The liberals would draft the church to pursue their eschatology of this-worldly heaven and the neo-evangelicals would try to craft a theology, piety, and practice that was disconnected from the visible church. A little more than 60 years on, how have these projects panned out? The mainline denominations continue to waste away and the neo-evangelical movement, in some respects, is hard to distinguish from the mainline. Today the emergent grandchildren of the neo-evangelicals sound just like the social-gospellers from the early 20th century.

As Bob Godfrey keeps reminding us, if the visible church (as defined above) doesn’t feed the poor, someone else will. If the visible church doesn’t heal the sick, someone else will but if the visible church doesn’t administer the keys of the kingdom who else will? What other institution has a divine commission to bind and loose? None.

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    • They can spin off a separte and non-tax-exempt organization specifically for lobbying. As an example, the NRA does this, with it’s NRA Institute for Legislative Action. I imagine others do too.

      More likely, it’s “a wink and a nod”, and they just do it.

  1. “Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth; unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 31.4)

    “In cases extraordinary,” the synods and councils of the church may “petition” the civil magistrate. It doesn’t sound quite like “lobbying,” but it doesn’t sound like acting like Anabaptists, either.

    “The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, AND IT IS HIS DUTY, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 23.3)

    If the church is to preach the law (duty) as well as gospel, then the church is to preach the duty of civil magistrates identified in this section — if we wish to hold to historic, 17th century Reformed Confessionalism rather than American revisions of the same, that is.

    • If the church is to preach the law (duty) as well as gospel, then the church is to preach the duty of civil magistrates identified in this section — if we wish to hold to historic, 17th century Reformed Confessionalism rather than American revisions of the same, that is.

      But, because “historic” and “right” don’t always go together, some of us who think the revisions are superior are also with Kuyper when he wanted to revise Belgic 36:

      We oppose this Confession out of complete conviction, prepared to bear the consequences of our convictions, even when we will be denounced and mocked on that account as unReformed.

      We would rather be considered not Reformed and insist that men ought not to kill heretics, than that we are left with the Reformed name as the prize for assisting in the shedding of the blood of heretics.

      It is our conviction: 1) that the examples which are found in the Old Testament are of no force for us because the infallible indication of what was or was not heretical which was present at that time is now lacking.

      2) That the Lord and the Apostles never called upon the help of the magistrate to kill with the sword the one who deviated from the truth. Even in connection with such horrible heretics as defiled the congregation in Corinth, Paul mentions nothing of this idea. And it cannot be concluded from any particular word in the New Testament, that in the days when particular revelation should cease, that the rooting out of heretics with the sword is the obligation of magistrates.

      3) That our fathers have not developed this monstrous proposition out of principle, but have taken it over from Romish practice.

      4) That the acceptance and carrying out of this principle almost always has returned upon the heads of non-heretics and not the truth but heresy has been honored by the magistrate.

      5) That this proposition opposes the Spirit and the Christian faith.

      6) That this proposition supposed that the magistrate is in a position to judge the difference between truth and heresy, an office of grace which, as appears from the history of eighteen centuries, is not granted by the Holy Spirit, but is withheld.

      We do not at all hide the fact that we disagree with Calvin, our Confessions, and our Reformed theologians.

      • 1. I only point this out because the magisterial Reformers, and historic Reformed confessions and catechisms, are against y’all on this one. I simply want to “Recover the Reformed Confession’s” doctrine of the civil magistrate, and oppose a doctrine as much bound with Anabaptism and American revisionism as anything else that has crept into our churches.

        2. All due reverence to Kuyper aside,

        (1.) Our inability to infallibly determine what is or is not heretical does not keep the church from having heresy trials; it should not prevent the civil magistrate from having just laws, i.e. enforcing all ten commandments, including the first (correct belief) and second (correct worship).

        (2.) The true religion was not professed by the civil magistrates of the Roman Empire during the time of the apostles, therefore it would have been a waste of breath or ink for them to demand that they establish the true religion, and disestablish all false religions. The entire statement sounds rather Anabaptistic, as though we can derive no teaching on this subject from the Old Testament, when godly magistrates maintained godly laws. — Besides, how else does one interpret Romans 13:3, 4: “do that which is good… a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil?” How does Scripture, or how does Paul, define what is “good,” and what is “evil,” without reference to the moral law, summarized in the ten commandments? Are atheism, idolatry, blasphemy, and Sabbath-breaking “good” or “evil?”

        (3.) This objection is founded in absolute ignorance of what our fathers maintained on the subject. Again, it is constantly in the mouths of the Anabaptists that we have “taken over” paedobaptism “from Romish practice.” Contrary to such assertions, the Reformed took their doctrine of baptism and of the civil magistrate from Scripture; our doctrines on these subjects bear little resemblance to that maintained by Romanism.

        (4.) “The principle is bad because bad people execute it against the true religion, not heresy.” Let’s try not to throw out the baby with the bath water, shall we?

        (5.) It is blasphemy. 1. If this was required under the Old Testament, it is contrary neither to the Spirit (who gave the Old Testament), nor to the Christian faith (which is continued to us from the Old Testament). 2. Even if we did not insist that civil magistrates HAD to enforce all ten commandments, how can the bare principle of the civil magistrate upholding all ten commandments, and punishing those that disobey any of the ten commandments, be contrary to Christianity?

        (6.) I do not see a logical stopping-point between the Reformed understanding of the civil magistrate, and the Anabaptist view; and Kuyper is only proving my point. On this supposition, how can a Christian serve as a civil magistrate? If we are to simply preach the law without legislating the law, how can Christians serve as legislators? If they can, how can they enact just laws without reference to God’s justice? — Besides, the Council of Nicea, the Synod of Dordt, and the Westminster Assembly all demonstrate that magistrates CAN sometimes do the right thing when it comes to religion; and all of us (even you Voluntaries) are still reaping the benefits of it.

        If he disagreed with the Confession, and admitted as much, he should have been suspended.

  2. Do you distinguish here the duty of a magistrate’s authority to kirks not settled or constituted in point of government verses a settled national church? Do you apply the Confession here to all magistrates indiscriminately? In other words, would apply the duty equally to a settled national Church of Scotland as to America 1776-2010?

    • “Do you distinguish here the duty of a magistrate’s authority to kirks not settled or constituted in point of government versus a settled national church?”

      As far as the magistrate’s calling of synods and councils is concerned, yes, I do so distinguish, a la the General Assembly’s receiving act.

      “Do you apply the Confession here to all magistrates indiscriminately? In other words, would (you) apply the duty equally to a settled national Church of Scotland as to America 1776-2010?”

      Concerning the duty of civil magistrates, yes, I would apply it to all indiscriminately. In all three institutions which God has ordained amongst men — family, church, and state — those that bear rule are to see to it that those under their headship keep the commandments as well. It is how they keep the commandments. Fathers keep the commandments not only by themselves observing them, but by seeing that their family keep them as well. Church rulers keep the commandments not only by themselves observing them, but by seeing that the church members under their charge keep them as well. And likewise, magistrates keep the commandments not only by themselves observing them, but by seeing that individuals over whom they bear rule keep them as well. If they don’t, they are sinning against the commandments, as much as if they were breaking the commandments in their own persons.

  3. Hi Sean,

    I appreciate your attempt to explain the nature of nursing fathers. An attempt to preserve family federalism needs many qualifications without inadvertently promoting Erastianism or theonomy in some fashion.

    The two kingdoms are separate. One is sacred, the other secular and ordinary. The magistrate is dependent upon the church, circa sacra; he cannot touch the sacred directly or implement the sacred without an established national visible church to instruct him – corporately.

    When you plead for the magistrate to enact particular first table laws according to his DUTY, outside an establishment, you are doing so outside the bounds of the principle itself.

    When you contend that it is his DUTY to preserve the unity and peace of the church in his country and jurisdiction – this presupposes he has a national established visible church to preserve.

    When you contend, it is his DUTY to keep the church pure and entire – this presupposes he has a national visible established church to keep pure and entire.
    In order to promote the duty of the civil magistrate according to the original WCF 23:3 it requires an establishment, a church visible to preserve. Second, it must be a national established church. Third, it must be the true Reformed church for it to work according to the mind of God.

    If you apply his duty to the preservation of the invisible church then he usurps Christ’s place and station.

    Without an established national visible church to guide the magistrate, circa sacra, he would be acting as the head of the church using the general light of the moral law (corporately) touching the first table. He would use the general light of the moral law to suppress blasphemies and heresies.

    The analogy to family federalism breaks down here and he cannot be a nursing father in such a capacity or act corporately as a single believer, even if he was a Christian. Hopefully we can learn to be more like Daniel within the Mede and Persian Empire. Did he require the first table of Cyrus?

    • Kevin,

      Thank you for your response. I will try to respond to your points as you raise them.

      I have been called both an Erastian and a Theonomist, while I am neither; I am simply an Establishmentarian. I invariably correct such terminology; but I would rather be forced to wear titles I do not deserve, than abandon what I perceive to be the truth of God.

      I do not hold to the “two kingdoms” view — either the historic view employed by Establishmentarians, or the modern view advocated by Voluntaries. I adhere to the Covenanter doctrine of Christ’s mediatorial reign over the nations, as well as the church.

      You seem to acknowledge the Establishment principle throughout your points. If so, you would acknowledge that it is the magistrate’s duty to establish the church. I really don’t see what the difference is between us (perhaps a distinction without a difference?).

      I am emphasizing that the magistrate has a duty to uphold the law of God, as revealed in the ten commandments. You are emphasizing that the magistrate would not be competent to carry this out without a national established church. I agree. It is likewise his duty to establish a national church.

      If I might compare it to an individual: It is the duty of every individual to obey the law of God, summarized in the ten commandments. But one might say, an unbeliever is not competent to obey such, as an unbeliever, without the gospel and church of Christ empowering and informing him to keep the law. True; but that does not negate his duty to keep the law, but merely adds to his obligation.

      It is the duty of every individual or institution to receive the gospel and to keep the law. In the life of the state, administered by civil magistrates, this would be seen in establishing the church, promoting the spread of the gospel, and enforcing both tables of the law in public judicatories.

      No one in this discussion has ever applied this question to the invisible church; so that remark is not pertinent.

      “Did he require the first table of Cyrus?”

      “Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” (Dan. 3:28, 29).

      See also Daniel chapter 4 throughout: Nebuchadnezzar was driven to madness, “till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will… I blessed the most High, and I priased and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? … Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (vs. 25, 34, 35, 37).

      After recounting these events to his son, Daniel says, “And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified” (Dan. 5:22, 23).

      “Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions” (Dan. 6:25-27).

      Nothing here about Cyrus; but it seems that Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus made decrees condemning those that spoke against God, or requiring them to “tremble and fear before the God of Daniel,” which could be understood of worship. Belshazzar is condemned for his refusal to worship the true God, his blasphemy, and his idolatry. Note also that 1. it is not within the context of a national church, 2. not being guided by the law of Moses, for God’s covenant people, and 3. those enforcing such laws are represented as godly, and honoring to God; and those not doing so are represented as ungodly, etc.

  4. Hi Sean,

    We must have the light of Christ to reform religion but the king typically does not. He has the light of nature as do most of his natural subjects. To quote Rutherford, “that power of Government is immediately from God and mediately from the people”. We choose our magistrates and they are as gods and God directs their heart howsoever he will.

    You said, you adhere to the “covenant doctrine of Christ’s mediatorial reign over the nations, as well as the church”.

    How does Christ communicate to nations the benefits of his mediation by his reigning over them? Once you place your king under the mediatorial reign of Christ you have created a head for the church. Rutherford writes, “But Christ, God-man, the mediator and head of the body of the church, hath neither pope nor king to be head under him; the sword is communicable to men; but the headship of Christ is communicable to no king – nor any created shoulders.”

    Magistracy is an ordinance of God that has its office and power immediately from God. The office of magistracy is derived from the law of nature – thus we have two kingdoms but you deny the two kingdom view.

    You said, “No one in this discussion has ever applied this question to the invisible church; so that remark is not pertinent.” But you apply Christ’s reign as mediator over the nations to have all kings suppress heresies and to keep the church pure and entire. Christ is mediator as prophet, priest and king to the church (not state) and to those only within the invisible church. Christ’s visibly governs in the church (not state) by this laws, officers, and censures…. and you deny the other kingdom – what am I to think?

    Christ, as mediator – prophet, priest and king, have no visible vicegerents under him. Those belong to the other kingdom – natural and immediate.

    When the two meet in an establishment, the relationship of the state to the church is circa sacra only. Not of his intercessory and mediatorial dominion for the church. He will judge the nations accordingly.

    • Kevin,

      I’m not really addressing Christ’s mediatorial reign over the nations (Ps. 2) at this time; I’m more addressing the Establishment principle, which you seem also to maintain. Would you agree that it is the duty of the magistrate to establish the church in whatever nation to which the gospel comes? If so, is it not the duty of the magistrate to both establish the church and enforce just laws (in lands blessed with the gospel, laws founded upon God’s law in the Ten Commandments)?

  5. Sean,

    “Christ is not only King in his church; but in order to his church, King over the kings and kingdoms of the earth Psalm 2:5-8. To him is given all power in heaven and earth; ergo, all sovereignty over kings.”

    The above statement – is the assertion of a Priest Prelate. Rutherford answers thus:

    “If all these be his vicegerents, over whom he hath obtained power; then because the Father hath given him power over all flesh, to give them eternal life John 17:1,2 then are all believers his vicegerents, yea and all the damned men and devils, and death and hell are his vicegerents: for Christ, as Mediator, hath all power given to him, as King of the Church, and so power kingly over all his enemies, to reign while he makes them his footstool, Psalm 110:1,2 to break him with a rod of iron, Ps. 2:9, I Cor. 15:24-27, Rev.1:18-20, vs 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and by that reason the priest prelate arguments fall to the ground, ergo. all things are his vicegerents. What more vaine? He is Prince of the Kings of the earth, and King of Og of Kings, of all his enemies; ergo, sea and land are his vicegerents.

    Sean, Rutherford shows how it is not only vain to believe that Christ is mediator over the nations but reduces the assertion to absurdity – as it is. Christ is mediator to the church only.

    Therefore, it is also absurd to talk about establishments when the foundation is false. You have given the kings of the earth that which belongs only to the church in your view of establishments, based on Psalm 2. The preist prelate grounds his doctrine of establishments on the same principle.

    Once this admitted, then the doctrine of the WCF 23:3 becomes more clear in its original context. Maybe you can show me, where in the WCF, where Christ is mediator over the nations?

  6. Kevin,

    Reformed Presbyterians (Covenanters) maintain the doctrine of Christ’s mediatorial kingship over the nations; and historically maintained exactly the same Establishment principle as other Reformed theologians. The “priest prelate” to whom you are referring was not arguing for the Reformed Establishment principle, but for Erastianism.

    I know that Rutherford, Gillespie, et al. rejected Christ’s mediatorial reign over nations. But I also know that they maintained the Establishment principle. Do you do likewise? or are you trying to use their arguments against the thing they opposed, equally against the thing they maintained? I would not recommend that; it’s not a very good argument at all.

    I regard Christ’s mediatorial kingship over the nations, to use a phrase from discussions of covenanting, as a “super-added obligation” for magistrates to enforce the Ten Commandments. They already have an obligation to obey God as Creator; they likewise have an obligation to obey Christ as Mediator. But it is the same law which they are to obey; it does not require them to keep any other laws than what they are already to observe and execute. This is why Covenanters had the same doctrine of the Establishment principle as other Reformed churches that rejected mediatorial kingship over nations, with neither any more “extreme” or more “liberal” than the other in maintaining that principle.

    It is thoroughly disingenuous to borrow the phrase “two kingdoms” from historic Reformed Establishmentarians, divorce it from their Establishment principle, and attempt to use it against that principle. Meet them on the ground which they actually offered for the position, without trying to turn the discussion into a question over a phrase which they themselves coined.

  7. Sean,

    When you maintain “Christ’s mediatorial kingship over the nations’ where the WCF does not, this is what is disingenuous.

    You said, “The “priest prelate” to whom you are referring was not arguing for the Reformed Establishment principle, but for Erastianism.”

    Who cannot see through the smokescreen you are erecting here! They were working out principles based upon their respective alliances, true, but the principle you have adopted regarding the mediatorial kingship falls on the Erastian side. The WCF does not adopt it.

    To the point, Reformed Presbyterians (Covenanters) couch their doctrine of the establishment principle using Erastian principles unlike the principles of the WCF.

    You do not like my use of the “two kingdoms” when speaking about establishments because it does not fit with this one Erastian principle you have adopted under the name, Reformed Presbyterians (Covenanters).

    You have failed to provide a reference to where the WCF has adopted Christ’s mediatorial kingship over the nations. You have provided a reference to your own “super added obligation” but nothing more.

  8. Kevin,

    I am not attempting and have not attempted to vindicate my denomination’s position on the mediatorial kingship of Christ. I am addressing the Establishment principle. As I have repeatedly said, because the historic exposition of “two kingdoms” was fully consistent with the Establishment principle, I do not think it germane to the discussion at all to bring up my denominational peculiarity. I will not be drawn into a discussion of that point. If you would like to argue that one, argue it with Dr. Symington (

    Do you not recognize that the manner in which most today hold “two kingdoms” (perhaps yourself included?) is entirely at variance with the historic doctrine of “two kingdoms?” Do you not acknowledge that attempting to wield that doctrine against the Establishment principle, and the civil magistrate’s duty to uphold both tables of the law, would have been the farthest thing from the mind of any of the original Reformers, whether of the First or Second Reformation?

    My understanding of the relationship between church and state is neither Popish nor Erastian; it is the historic Reformed position. I may differ with the historic Reformed concerning whether Christ is King over nations as Creator or as Mediator; but that does not alter in the slightest my understanding of how the church and the state are to relate each to other. And as I have stated and implied repeatedly, the doctrine of church-state relations today maintained by many advocating “two kingdoms” is not Popish, nor Erastian, nor Reformed, but Anabaptistic.

    It seems that many need to “Recover the Reformed Confession” concerning the doctrine of the civil magistrate.

      • Edgar,

        Consult your WCF and tell me where Christ is confessed as Mediator over the nations.

        Contrary to our confessions, consider the sermon of covenanter JAMES R. WILLSON A.M.
        Wilson, Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newburgh, New-York 1821.
        In this sermon (emphasizing the mediatorial commentary) said,

        “ It is committed by God the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ as Mediator….All thrones, principalities and powers are subjected to him as Mediator; in no other sense could they be given to him, for as God he possessed them equally with the Father…”

        These statements are contrary to the WCF. Furthermore, most of the sermons on civil government at make the same error. Once you see it, it is appalling to draw our Christ (as Mediator) into the civil sphere in this way.

        Again, the WCF does not mix the two kingdoms in this manner. It is time to “Recover the Reformed Confession” in light of what it teaches.

        Edgar, I’m always open to correction. Please reply from the WCF where Christ is confessed to be Mediator over the nations.

        • Kevin,

          I thought we already covered this. The doctrine of the civil magistrate, confessed in both the original Westminster Standards and the original Belgic Confession (and many other original Reformation confessions), affirms that the civil magistrate is to enforce both tables of the law. Our standards assert that it is the duty of the civil magistrate to countenance and maintain the church (WLC Q. 191).

          They might have had disagreements as to whether magistrate is under Christ’s reign as Creator only, or as both Creator and Mediator; but as a simple matter of historical fact, in all of the controversies that later erupted regarding the Establishment principle with the Relief Synod, the majority Seceder synods into the 1800s, the United Presbyterians in Scotland, et al., the Covenanters were part of a united front with the rest of the Establishmentarians (Original Seceders, Free Church, et al.).

          While our position concerning Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship over the nations is not confessed in the Westminster Standards, neither is it specifically contrary to those standards; whereas Disestablishmentarianism is directly, specifically, and in so many words contrary to the standards. How can you inveigh with such vigor, determination, and invective against Mediatorial Kingship (which is merely “non-confessional”), while totally avoiding Disestablishmentarianism (which is specifically “un-confessional”)?

          • Sean,

            I too, thought we already covered this. That is why I aksed Edgar to show how Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship Recovers the Reformed Confessions. As you said above, “While our position concerning Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship over the nations is not confessed in the Westminster Standards, neither is it specifically contrary to those standards;..”

            You and Edgar may benefit from reading (Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed … By David VanDrunen) and maybe you might understand that we are not TOTALLY avoiding Disestablishmentarianism as you inveigh?


            Furthermore, it goes together well with George Gillespie”s work on the subject from Aaron’s Rod Blossiming, Gillespie writes,

            “Christ, as Mediator hath right to the whole earth, and all the kingdoms of the world, not as if all government even civil, were given to Christ (for in this kind he governeth not so much as any part of the earth, as he is Mediator…”


            When Edgar places dogmatic emphasis on Recovering the Reformed Confessions his way, there is no value in such where there no confessional evidence to support his bias. In fact Gillespie argues the opposite position and he was there, so was Rutherford.

            Let me konw what you think of David VanDrunen’s book.

            • Sean and Edgar,

              You will need to go to page 90 of Aaron’s Rod Blossiming.


              Also, I just found a note from Chris Coldwell below. You will need to ask him for the exact reference, if interested.

              “Doesn’t Symington depart from a distinction Gillespie makes in his debate with the Erastians, Of a Twofold Kingdom of Jesus Christ: A General Kingdom, as He is the Eternal Son of God, the Head of all Principalities and Powers, reigning over all creatures; and a particular kingdom, as he is mediator reigning over the church only. Gillespie insisted on this so strongly, it is one of the few documented changes to the Westminster Confession due to one divine’s insistence as the words were being passed.”

            • Kevin,

              I have VanDrunen’s book. I didn’t get much chance to read it before I deployed to Afghanistan in April; but from what I saw, I’m not too impressed.

              Mediatorial Kingship might not be contained in or confessed by the Standards, but it is not contrary to the Standards. We are not bound by the deliverances of George Gillespie, but by our Confessional Standards.

              Disestablishmentarianism is as contrary to the Standards as Anabaptism, Congregational Independency, or Arminianism.

  9. Sean,

    You said, “I am not attempting and have not attempted to vindicate my denomination’s position on the mediatorial kingship of Christ. I am addressing the Establishment principle.”

    I understand. I was in the covenanter movement for many years. There are huge implications in applying Christ’s mediatorial kingship to nations indiscriminately.

    God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, as in (WCF 23:1) and Christ the mediatorial king of all the church as mediator (WCF Ch.8) is a key distinction in addressing the Establishment Principle.

    For example, Christ and the Apostle’s might have wrought reformation by the sword and destroyed kings and emperors, the oppressors of the Lamb, but Christ and the Apostle’s reformed the church by suffering.

    Sean, I have shown you a precise doctrine within your system of belief that is Erastian in nature. You have in turn resorted to name calling “Anabaptistic” without any precision.

    Thanks for the book notation. I’ve read it and many like it throughout my covenanter days. Keep the above distinction in mind as you read.

  10. Kevin,

    Fair enough. I’ll make a brief comment or two.

    I think the distinction would be, Covenanters do not assert anyone to be Christ’s vicegerent, whether in church or in state. That is the absurdity which Rutherford explodes in the quotation you provided, and not the specific question of whether Christ exercises authority over the state only as Creator, but also as Mediator.

    Psalm 2 does not merely present all (and therefore magistratical) authority granted to Him in heaven and earth, generally and indistinctly, in consequence of his being Mediator; but specifically and particularly presents,
    I. The initial opposition to both “Jehovah” and “Christ” (v. 3) by
    (1.) The “heathen” (nations, v. 1), and
    (2.) The “kings of the earth” and “rulers” (v. 2).
    II. In consequence of the dominion granted to Him (v. 8) — not inherent in Him as He is Creator, and therefore it is His dominion as He is Mediator — He is given
    (1.) The “heathen” (nations) and “the uttermost parts of the earth.” This could potentially be taken as referring solely to His Kingship over Zion (v. 6), as the Gentiles (heathen, nations) are received into the church, over which all acknowledge He exercises Kingship as Mediator; except that,
    (2.) In consequence of this, the “kings” and “judges of the earth” are to submit to Him (v. 10-12), giving Him the “kiss” (v. 12) of civil homage (cf. 1 Sam. 10:1).
    Therefore nations in their national capacity, and kings in their kingly capacity, etc. are subject to Christ, not only as Creator, but also as Mediator.

    I am not creating a smokescreen, Kevin. I recognize and realize that the early Reformed maintained Christ’s dominion over the nations to consist solely in his authority as Creator, not as Mediator. I recognize that there is no expression of Mediatorial Kingship over the nations in the WCF. I know that this was not accidental, but intentional, on the part of the Scottish commissioners (notably Gillespie, as I recall). I know that there were basically no non-Erastian Reformed ministers or theologians asserting Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship over the nations until the Killing Times. All this is indicated by Dr. McKay in his excellent historical overview of the doctrine, in the festschrift for Dr. Spear that came out a few years back, “The Faith Once Delivered.” (I was at the RPTS Conference in 2007 when individuals gave their papers essentially from that book, and got to talk a bit with Dr. McKay that weekend — sat next to him at Synod, and spoke with him after he preached in the evening at College Hill RPC.)

    I say again: The modern “two kingdoms” doctrine, or the modern rejection of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship over the nations, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the historic doctrine maintained by the Reformers. I know you might have read it already, but others might not have: the same Rutherford that you quoted above against Mediatorial Kingship also wrote “A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience” ( If that work comports with the views of modern defenders of “two kingdoms,” then I’m the Pope of Rome. — And I’m an Historicist, so that’s saying something. 😉

    We have modern-day Disestablishmentarians quoting Establishmentarians of the past on “two kingdoms,” as though that proves something, and accusing modern-day defenders of the Reformed Establishment principle of holding Erastianism; and suddenly I’m the one that lacks precision? I do not deny that some Covenanters have engaged in historical revisionism; but do not think that your party is exempt from such, either.

    Please also know, Kevin, I bear you no ill will through any of this; I’m just defending what I perceive to be a truth of God in Christ, which is being opposed. I hope that you and your family are well. It’s been quite a while since we’ve been able to exchange pleasantries; I hope we can catch up sometime, brother.

  11. Sean,

    I understand that you take exception to various out-workings of the doctrine when pleading your viewpoint. The historic confessions have their place in magistracy, in their context, and we may find ourselves applying them if and when a Christian magistrate is ever restored – though I’m not a historicist so I’m not holding my breath 😉

    It’s always a wonder to me how someone’s eschatology drives their bias and special pleading to their desired end.

    I do not see the two-kingdoms and the Establishment principle as opposed either, though I see it differently than you, based in creation. We all need to bow the knee before the kings of kings, de jure, though reformation of the church is not through political means. Your doctrine has a heavy lean to this end. My doctrine has a heavy lean for the church to accomplish this end. The best you can achieve through political means is an outward adherence to the law and we all know where that leads.

    I think you would be much better-off to work the work of reformation through grace and suffering via the word and sacraments. The sword of the word saves, the sword of the magistrate is used to protect society and the church. Though how heavily do we lean to the latter?

    Glad to see that you understand that all is not as neatly packaged in the doctrine of the civil magistrate historically speaking, placing Christ as mediator over the nations. As you keep reading, keep asking yourself how much weight you have given your bias in this regard and weigh it against the issue at hand.

    Again, I would keep this distinction in mind while reading your bias into the establishment principle and especially, keep an eye out for drawing your argument into special pleading to gain your point. Both sides know how to play that game and it is not really that important or fruitful for either side to do so – merely academic. I don’t think an Establishment is on our horizon too soon.

    On the other hand, I don’t think anyone would be too unhappy to see it all work together as it should. I know your desire. Thanks for the interaction.

  12. “It’s always a wonder to me how someone’s eschatology drives their bias and special pleading to their desired end.”

    I’m actually Amillennial… and not one that calls himself an “optimistic Amil,” either. Just so you know.

    As I’ve said throughout the discussion, my doctrine is that magistrates have a duty; which of course is law; which of course does not save. The fact that it does not save, cannot save, does not negate the fact that it is still their duty (in my understanding). Nor do I necessarily think that it will actually happen (I’m Amil, remember?); that does not change the fact that it is still the magistrate’s duty.

    Thank you for the interaction, as well. I hope we may have had the occasion to profit others by our discussion and clarification of these things.

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