Jack and the Kingdom of God (Updated)

jack bauerIn a piece that appears in Christianity Today online Ted Olson argues that a plan, which was cancelled, to free the Korean hostages in Afghanistan by taking hostage the families of the kidnappers is a bad idea because the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have done it. His closing line: “It’s hard to imagine Paul writing to the Corinthians.” Would the Apostle Paul have cut off anyone’s head? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that he thought that the civil magistrate shouldn’t do so. In fact, the Apostle taught that the civil magistrate had a duty to bear the sword (Rom 13:4).

The real point here is this: though God is sovereign over all spheres, he administers his sovereignty in distinct spheres or kingdoms. The church is the kingdom or sphere of God’s saving work, the locus of the administration of the covenant of grace. The civil magistrate is not the church, it is not an administration of the covenant of grace. The civil magistracy is an administration of law, of a sort of covenant of works, of the principle “do this and live.” Of course the civil magistrate does not administer a soteric covenant of works but it does administer a civil, temporal, legal covenant between citizens.

This editorial reminds me that much of the evangelical left (e.g., Sojourners) and right (i.e., the “take back America” crowd) do not understand the difference between law and gospel and they are confused about its corollary, the difference between works and grace.

We don’t need grace from the magistrate. That’s not his job. We need him to conduct wars and prosecute justice. If one wants grace: go to church, that’s why Christ instituted it as a distinct kingdom.

This editorial seems to assume that there’s a Pauline way to rescue hostages. If so is there a Pauline monetary policy? What would Paul write to the Corinthians about the the sub-prime crisis? Should the Fed lower interest rates or should he stand pat because God is opposed to inflation?

I’m not saying what the Koreans (or Americans or Afghanis) should do about the hostages. That’s not my place. I’m a minister of the Word, but so far as a I know, the Apostle Paul didn’t articulate a social policy. Maybe that was intentional? Maybe he didn’t make assumptions that Olsen seems to make and he did make assumptions that Olsen seems to neglect?

UPDATE: Ted Olsen wrote to ask about my response to his initial post (confusing enough yet?). This led to a helpful exchange which he has posted on the CT Liveblog site and which I’m also posting here.

Ted Olsen

There has been some online discussion of my earlier blog post on plans to rescue the South Korean Christian aid workers being held hostage by the Taliban. I was particularly troubled by word that the Afghan government wanted to seize the families of Taliban members holding the hostages “as a way of applying pressure.” Read that blog post, then read a conversation I’ve been having with R. Scott Clark, …associate professor of historical and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California. He’ll be posting the exchange on his site, The Heidelblog, too.

[Ted quotes my original post which is above, so I omit it here]

Ted’s First Response

Thanks for your comments about my blog post. I think you’ll be interested in an earlier article I wrote that makes some similar points that you’re making.

But what I find interesting is that you missed the point that I was talking about the church rather than the government. The hostages are Christian aid workers. Should we automatically assume that it is the duty of the government to save Christian aid workers and missionaries when they fall into persecution? If we go into dangerous places to fulfill our Great Commission mandate, should we look to Caesar when Jesus’ promise of persecution is fulfilled?

I do think that it is the church should proclaim justice to the civil magistrate, and that Christians should speak against the government taking innocent people hostage, just as I believe that Christians should speak against the government enabling the killing of the innocent unborn. I also think that the church, and Christians in democratic societies, should speak on behalf of their persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. But I think our witness is damaged when the government takes innocent people hostage in an effort to rescue us from kidnappers.

Do you disagree?

Clark responds:

Hi Ted,

Since you wrote, I’ve re-read the post a few times to make sure I didn’t miss something. I understood that you were talking about “the church” (more on that in a second) but that’s why I was criticizing your post. I should have been clearer.

Two things. When I say “church” I mean the visible, institutional church. Where you say “church,” I would say “Christians.” I understand the Kingdom [used in this sense] to be the visible church and I understand it’s ministry to be wholly spiritual, i.e., to be concerned with Word and sacrament.

Christians can speak to all sorts of things, but not in the name of the church, per se.

I wasn’t commenting on what the governments in the US, Korea, or Afghanistan should or shouldn’t do. I agree with you that Christians shouldn’t have put the respective governments in such a position, but I wouldn’t tell them what to do once they face the crisis.

I’m an amillennialist so I agree with you that Christians ought to expect persecution—though they shouldn’t go out of their way to solicit it.

So, when you say the “church” should proclaim justice to the magistrate, I think I must disagree if the word “church” means, “institutional entity established by Christ.”

If by “church” you mean “Christians functioning as citizens” then yes, I think Christians, operating on the basis of natural, creational, common law have a right and duty to call the state to fulfill it’s creational function including the various causes you mention. I don’t think, however, that our faith gives us special insight as to what governments ought to do or any special status. I’m sure you agree with the latter, but I’m not sure about the former.

Thanks for writing.

Ted’s Second Response

Scott,

thanks again for taking time. And yes, as an editor, I very much appreciate that you met your deadline instead of taking more time answering e-mail!

Can I ask two clarifying questions (and these are honest questions about your views; I’m unclear on whether we actually disagree)?

1. Does the magistrate’s duty to bear the sword include the ability to take innocent people hostage in order to influence and punish the guilty family members?

It seems to me that even in very strong “two kingdoms” views, the duty to bear the sword is rather limited. The Augsburg Confession, for example, repeatedly uses important adjectives: “lawful civil ordinances are good works of God … to award just punishments, to engage in just wars.” I do not deny that it’s the duty of a government to rescue those in mortal peril, to use force in doing so, or to punish kidnappers and murderers. But I do believe that the means by which and the extent to which the government bears the sword matters (jus in bello). As Augustine wrote, “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.”

2. Does it matter that the Koreans were sent by a church?

Saemmul Presbyterian Church, to be specific. I wholeheartedly agree that there is entirely too much confusion between the visible, institutional church and the invisible church (Christians). And in this case, it seems to me, the difference matters quite a bit. The church sent these aid workers into a dangerous situation, knowing they were likely to persecuted. That does not mean that the church should not ask the government to intervene against persecution. (Indeed, Paul appealed to Caesar when he faced persecution; yet he did so in service to the gospel rather than merely to spare his life.) But I’m uncomfortable—horrified, even—with the government seeking to kidnap innocent Afghans in order secure the release of Christian workers sent by a church. And I think that, given the church’s involvement, it does not violate covenant theology for both Christians AND the church to say, “It is unjust to kidnap innocents so that church workers may go free. Please do not do this on our behalf.” That, to me, would certainly be part of the church’s proclamation ministry.

Again, thanks for this conversation. It’s good to think deeper about these things.

Clark responds:

Hi, Ted,

These are important questions. I’ll interact below. (Ted’s questions/comments are indented)

1. Does the magistrate’s duty to bear the sword include the ability to take innocent people hostage in order to influence and punish the guilty family members?

I agree that the magistrate is responsible to the moral law, but I also think that it’s long been recognized that under war, governments have liberty to do things that they would not ordinarily do. We have practiced carpet bombing killing large numbers of civilians that we would not otherwise have done. We’re certainly at war with the Taliban and if their taking hostages is an act of war then perhaps taking their families hostages is also an act of war?

That said, I’m not saying what the governments should do except to say that they should act according to the second table of the moral law as it applies to war.

My query is how Scripture applies to this whole question. Your original post seemed to assume that there’s a biblical or Christian response to this problem and I don’t see it. Isn’t that the force of your invocation of Paul, of asking what Paul would say (either to the Korean congregation who sent the missionaries or to the governments involved)?

That was the assumption I wanted to query. I don’t know that we can deduce any sort of social policy from Scripture beyond whatever it tells us about the natural, creational law. Certainly there wouldn’t be a “Christian” position on rescuing the hostages. There might be a wiser position or perhaps a position that accords with the natural law more than others. E.g., it might be more just not to take hostage the family of Taliban members.

It seems to me that even in very strong “two kingdoms” views, the duty to bear the sword is rather limited. The Augsburg Confession, for example, repeatedly uses important adjectives: “lawful civil ordinances are good works of God … to award just punishments, to engage in just wars.”

Of course, this is part of what is in dispute here, whether the war in Afghanistan is just and whether in the face of the patently unlawful acts by the Taliban a government is entitled to retaliate.

I do not deny that it’s the duty of a government to rescue those in mortal peril, to use force in doing so, or to punish kidnappers and murderers. But I do believe that the means by which and the extent to which the government bears the sword matters (jus in bello). As Augustine wrote, “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.”

I know it’s heresy to disagree with Augustine on the just war, and I agree with Augustine’s general theory that there are such things as just wars, I think Augustine (inasmuch as he assumed Christendom) was still confusing the two kingdoms and the covenants of works and grace.

The magistrate only works for the law. He doesn’t work for the gospel at all. Here I dissent from much of contemporary evangelicalism when it continues to assume a sort of Christendom and continues to confuse the two kingdoms. The magistrate, as he wages war, should act justly and bring justice—as much as possible in this life—but not in the interests of grace; except as bringing justice and thus peace will facilitate the interests of the church.

2. Does it matter that the Koreans were sent by a church? Saemmul Presbyterian Church, to be specific. I wholeheartedly agree that there is entirely too much confusion between the visible, institutional church and the invisible church (Christians). And in this case, it seems to me, the difference matters quite a bit. The church sent these aid workers into a dangerous situation, knowing they were likely to persecuted.

Thanks for this clarification. I do remember reading and hearing this. We have prayed for the safe deliverance of the hostages.

The church probably erred in sending the missionaries to Afghanistan. I think we agree that, if they chose to do this, they should accept the consequences. Certainly this denomination should not ask the government to act one way or the other.
Individuals are free to speak to the government about policy and to encourage this or that course, but the church as church should remain silent on penultimate matters. The church as church may speak to ultimate matters (life, death, truth, salvation etc) and it’s true that some policy questions verge on ultimate questions, but churches should exercise extreme caution.

That does not mean that the church should not ask the government to intervene against persecution. (Indeed, Paul appealed to Caesar when he faced persecution; yet he did so in service to the gospel rather than merely to spare his life.)

Here we disagree. Paul invoked his rights as a citizen. He didn’t put his appeal to the magistrate on the basis of the gospel. He didn’t say to the magistrate, “Listen, I’m an apostle of Christ therefore you ought to….” He invoked the same legal rights that any citizen had. Yes, it was to the advan tage of the gospel, but the appeal was made on the basis of common or natural law not special revelation or grace.

But I’m uncomfortable—horrified, even—with the government seeking to kidnap innocent Afghans in order secure the release of Christian workers sent by a church.

Personally, so am I, but my discomfort lies in my understanding of natural law, not special revelation. I might be wrong in my understanding of NL. Perhaps there’s a common/natural way of justifying taking Taliban families as hostage? After all, haven’t the Taliban and other Jihadists utterly blurred the line between combatants and non-combatants? They can’t have it both ways.

And I think that, given the church’s involvement, it does not violate covenant theology for both Christians AND the church to say, “It is unjust to kidnap innocents so that church workers may go free. Please do not do this on our behalf.” That, to me, would certainly be part of the church’s proclamation ministry.

Well, I’m not sure how this relates to covenant theology, but it would violate the spirituality of the church for the visible, institutional church, to speak to penultimate public policy matters. The only commission the church has is to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments, and church discipline. Anything the church does outside of those three things is problematic.

Scott

UPDATE 20 May 2009 2PM Pacific

A couple of correspondents have written to ask the same question so I thought it might be helpful to try to clarify the last paragraph above.

1. By “ultimate” concern I mean those things that have to do with presuppositions and clearly revealed truth or good necessary consequences derived from God’s Word. The church as church, as the divinely instituted organization commissioned by Christ and ordained to preach the moral law, the gospel and to administer the sacraments and discipline is called by that Word to confess the faith, to confess a piety, and a practice. The church, so defined, is called to instruct belieOfvers in the faith and in the Christian life.

2. As to penultimate issues, i.e. issues of public policy that are not clearly revealed in those portions of God’s Word that are intended to be applied to the civil magistrate in the NT (see WCF ch. 19), what I mean to say is most clearly expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith 31.4, Of Synods and Councils:

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.

By “penultimate” matters I mean those questions that are not ecclesiastical. The taking of hostages in time of war is not a “case extraordinary.” If the magistrate attempts to tell the church that she or her ministers may not preach the whole counsel of God, the church would have cause to make a “humble petition” for the sake of conscience. E.g. if the civil authorities in the United States pass a law that intends to or is interpreted by authorities to prevent ministers from preaching that homosexual conduct, theft, murder, covetousness, or idolatry (to name but a few) are sins, then the church and her ministers should have to dissent from any such restraint on the Word. When it comes to preaching the whole counsel of God, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The church might well and probably should petition the magistrate in such a case but I doubt that the church, as such, has any special insight into the conduct of foreign policy or renewable resources or fiscal policy.

[Re-posted and lightly edited from the old HB Aug 2007]

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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19 comments

  1. The evangelicals may have Jack Bauer as their kingdom poster child, but I’ll take Jack McCoy for 2K.

    Wise, world-weary and worn, win some-lose some institutional district attorney carrying leather briefcase beats smart, young, hip, renegade, individualist, always kicking can CIA agent toting a cloth man-bag. McCoy drinks Scoth in his office (win or lose), Bauer chugs Red Bull.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    You said: “The church as church may speak to ultimate matters (life, death, truth, salvation etc)”

    I wondered if you might explain what you mean by this. Does this mean that a pastor can say from the pulpit that murder is wrong? Does this mean he can say that abortion is wrong without violating 2K?

    E

    • E,

      As I’ve said many times here and elsewhere, the minister’s vocation is to preach the whole counsel of God including the law and the gospel. Yes, the minister must preach against the violation of God’s law but the minister isn’t called to prescribe to the magistrate the length of sentences for second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.

    • Echo,

      I’m not sure why there would be any problem saying “murder is wrong.”

      But I think what often is missed is that to even use the term “abortion” is participate in some measure of politics. I can hear the boo’s already. But I think it is quite disengenuous to act as if we live in some sort of bubble, unencumbered by the real world. Like it or not, the a-word is a hugely political term in 21st century America. So, if one wants a pass on “condemning abortion,” either one has to be at ease with some degree of politics entering a pulpit by “condemning abortion,” thereby fudging on 2K rules and just admitting it, or one has to behave as if the last 35+ years never politically happened.

      Also, I don’t see why it’s not enough to preach against murder and leave politics to its domain. To be a sinner is not analogous to being intellectually dim: justified sinners in pews can figure out that the imperative against murder means they can’t have abortions, just like preaching against stealing means you can’t write bad mortagages.

      • ….what often is missed is that to even use the term “homosexuality” is participate in some measure of politics. I can hear the boo’s already. But I think it is quite disengenuous to act as if we live in some sort of bubble, unencumbered by the real world. Like it or not, the h-word is a hugely political term in 21st century America. So, if one wants a pass on “condemning homosexuality,” either one has to be at ease with some degree of politics entering a pulpit by “condemning homosexuality,” thereby fudging on 2K rules and just admitting it, or one has to behave as if the last 35+ years never politically happened.

        • Who says that a 2-kingdoms ethic cannot preach the law? The church has to speak to the sins of the age. Would be it an equal violation of the so-called “2K” ethic to preach against the sin of gluttony or the sin of sloth or against the materialism and idolatry of the age? I don’t think it works to say that if one preaches against the reigning sins of the age then one has somehow imported politics into the pulpit. By preaching against the reigning sins (whatever they are, sexual or not) one is fulfilling part of one’s vocation as a preacher of the Word. The fact that they’ve also become cultural/political issues should encourage the minister, however, to address such issues in an ecclesiastical fashion rather than in a political or partisan fashion. In this respect I think our pastor at OURC has done an admirable job.

        • Bryan,

          I have to admit, that device is clever if not just plain good old fashioned fun. Good one.

          But I don’t find the word “abortion” in the Bible; I can locate “homosexuality.” Indeed, the NT seems replete with concern for the very behaviors that precipitate certain surgical procedures (leading to death), namely sexual sins. If you want to suggest that the a-word is not to traffic in politics, fine. But, whatever else this implies, I think it’s only to perpetuate the kind of naivete that is a hallmark of American religion in general. And if you’re worried that I’m helping make the world safe for sexual deviancy, well, all I can say is that it was a pretty lonely job trying to make it clear to our pastoral staff that a third child out of wedlock was grounds for overdue discipline instead of baptism. And it was only made worse by having to make equally clear that the petition going ’round the council meeting against the strip joint was a good example of both hypocrisy and obnoxiousness.

          2K has nothing against the preaching of the law. But this 2Ker likes wisdom as much as he delights in the law. I don’t understand what beef anyone could have against wisdom.

          • Zrim,
            Not meaning to be overly snarky, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity. I wasn’t really entertaining the idea that you would be congenial to that line of reasoning on homosexuality.

            In regards to abortion in the Scriptures, I think Kline addressed this matter rather well:
            “The most significant thing about abortion legislation in Biblical law is that there is none. It was so unthinkable that an Israelite woman should desire an abortion that there was no need to mention this offense in the criminal code…
            …Consistently in the relevant data of Scripture a continuum of identity is evident between the fetus and the person subsequently born. And Exod 21:22-25 makes clear that this prenatal human being is to be regarded as a separate and distinct human life.”
            Meredith Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus” JETS 20 (1977): 193-201. (http://covopc.org/Kline/Lex_Talionis.html)

            We cannot neglect to address abortion in ecclesiastical life just because it is a political issue.

          • Bryan,

            We cannot neglect to address abortion in ecclesiastical life just because it is a political issue.

            I never said that we ought not address abortion in ecclesiastical life. That would be absurd. But it is one thing to tell Christian-Jane what she may or mayn’t do with her unwanted pregnancy, another to tell her (implicitly or explicitly) how to vote or otherwise make law. Do you see the difference?

            Let me relay a peronal experience. I have a good Presby pastor friend. When visiting his church one Sunday I noticed the printed prayer request was to pray for the “outlawing of abortion.” When I suggested a request to outlaw the war on terror the aswer was that that “was politics and politics don’t belong in the church.” I fail to see how the statement “outlaw abortion” isn’t a political statement but something about the war on terror isn’t. What do you think?

      • Zrim,

        For those of us who think abortion = murder with no further nuances required, it amounts to the same thing to condemn murder as to condemn abortion. If it’s not political to condemn murder, then it’s not political to condemn abortion.

        Just because it’s a political issue doesn’t mean I’m being political by saying it in the pulpit if the Bible already says it. Unless the Bible is political.

        Let me be clear: I don’t think it’s an act of politic to say that abortion is murder and is thus clearly condemned by Scripture, because for me, abortion is not in the least bit morally ambiguous and is precisely equivalent to pointing a gun to someone’s head and pulling the trigger. Women who have abortions have an equal portion in the age to come with those who sacrificed their children to Molech. And if I were preaching on such atrocities recounted in the OT, it’d be perfectly reasonable to remind people that the very same thing is going on in the world around them, and people aren’t so sure it’s wrong.

        I suspect you disagree.

        E

        • Echo,

          Yes, I do disagree. I am making a distinction between morality and politics. I think this distinction seems to be something of an affront to the “moralizing of politics and the politicizing of religion,” which is our day.

          But I never said abortion isn’t immoral. It clearly is. And if it helps you, my political views are that, once states get their rights given back (which is REALLY what Roe is all about), Jane mayn’t have sway over the life or death of her unborn, at will or whim, on the grounds that she “houses” him/her. I even make no allowances for sexual assault. I think I’m pretty conservative.

          But my politics are states’ rights on this one (not fetus or female). And the rules wouldn’t change for the pastor/church who held my political views. If they suggested that states get their rights back I’d 2K them as hard as I’m trying to 2K you. Either admit to speak of “abortion” is political speech (pro-lifers actually depend on it being political) and this is where 2K is weak, or pretend it isn’t political speech. If I were you I’d go for the former, because the latter makes it sound like you’ve been living under a rock for 35+ years.

  3. Not only has the church always condemned abortion, even the pagan Hippocratic oath from 200 years before Christ – not BCE – forbids it. It is after all, a major violation of the natural law.
    Further, that the left has politicized life in general goes without saying. Regardless the church is to preach the whole counsel of God, the squawking and sham cries of outrage, discrimination, persecution and hate from the world not withstanding. After all, if there is no such thing as sin, there is no need for a saviour.
    The same of course also goes for marital rights for sodomites and lesbians which, as somebody commented over at OLTS “seems to be the radical Reformed chic”.

  4. I’ve been reading this blog and basically scratching my head. Have things changed so much in just nine years since I moved outside West Michigan and left Dutch Reformed circles?

    From 1990 to 1999, I attended every single one of the pre-URC meetings of the CRA/ARC that led to the formation of the URC, and I think I attended all the URC synods during that period. I attended many though certainly not all of the classis meetings in the United States, and covered the formation of virtually all of the United States congregations of the URC and many of the Canadian churches.

    In that decade, I don’t think I even one time heard anyone discussing a “two kingdoms” view that the church (either as institute or organism) should not speak out on moral matters that Scripture clearly addresses. And if somebody had argued that the church as institute should not loudly condemn abortion, I’d venture to speculate that most URC elders I knew back then would have not-so-politely told the advocate of such views to go back to the CRC from whence they came.

    Since moving out of Michigan I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the PCA and I do recognize that there’s a long tradition in the Southern Presbyterian world of trying to avoid the church speaking on political questions. But to put it mildly, that certainly doesn’t seem to be part of the historic Dutch Reformed tradition.

    Is this “two kingdoms” theology a significant view within the URC, or is it a few individual people advocating it from a Presbyterian background? I certainly can’t speak for the URC congregation I’ve been attending for the last year, but I’ve never heard anything remotely like this in that church.

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