Let The Church Be The Church

trump-pulptI imagine, dear reader, that you and I were both distressed to see Secretary Clinton, as a candidate for the presidency, standing in the pulpit of a Christian congregation during this past election cycle but were we upset for the same reasons? Here is a test: would you have been offended to see Marco Rubio, Gary Johnson, or Donald Trump behind a pulpit? If you answer no, then I think that we do not agree on principle. If your objection to seeing Secretary Clinton in a pulpit was based on your objection to her political philosophy and policy aims, then I suspect that we do not agree about the nature and threefold mission of the visible, institutional church. Let us conduct a thought experiment. Based upon your reading of the New Testament, can you imagine Nero in the pulpit of a Christian congregation? You might object, “But that is not a fair example. Nero was a rank pagan, flagrantly sexually immoral, and a vicious persecutor of the church.” That is all true. Let us change the terms a bit. Let us imagine that, by the mysterious grace of God, Nero, like Saul of Tarsus (who also persecuted the church) was converted to the Christian faith and that he was in the pulpit of the congregation in Rome not as a lay reader of Scripture nor as a ruling elder but to solicit the support of the church for an urban renewal program—remember it was Nero who set fire to a neighborhood (because he wanted to re-develop it) and Nero who blamed the Christians for the fire. What if Nero was in the pulpit to solicit funds for poverty relief? I would oppose it still for the following reasons:

First, in the New Testament, our Lord himself made for us a very clear distinction between Caesar and God. When the Pharisees sent their disciples and the Herodians together—a remarkable scene indeed because they were mortal enemies united only by their desire to get rid of Jesus—to “entangle” Jesus (Matt 22:15; ESV) in his words, they gave him what they regarded as an impossible riddle: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” They attempted to put him on the horns of a dilemma. Were he to say yes, then he is a traitor to the Jews. Were he to say no, he is a traitor to Caesar. Scripture says,

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away (Matt 22:17–22; ESV).

His opponents marveled because our Lord was not placed in a dilemma. Our Lord, however, did not accept the premise of the question. He knew that believers live in what Calvin later called a “twofold kingdom” (Institutes, 3.19.15). He also knew, as the Apostle Paul wrote,

…there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1–7; ESV).

God rules over all things but he distinguishes his rule in two spheres or two cities. Our Lord and his apostle knew that Caesar, whether Clinton or Trump, is God’s minister in the civil sphere of God’s twofold kingdom. Therefore it is right to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Obviously, a coin is not absolutely or originally Caesar’s. Neither Jesus nor Paul were Manichean. They did not think or imply that there are two equally ultimate principles in the universe and that coins and taxes belong to Caesar as a competing deity. Such is the theology of Star Wars not Scripture. No, when our Lord “give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s” he was acknowledging a providential order to things. God, who owns all, has assigned some things to be given to Caesar and some things only to himself.

We see this distinction in operation when Paul says, in Philippians 3:20, ” But our citizenship is in heaven.” This verse does not imply that we do not also have an earthly citizenship. He also said that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:27–29). He did not have to choose between them. Both are true simultaneously. He exercised his Roman citizenship when he appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:8–12). He exercised his heavenly citizenship in the visible, institutional church.

Caesar would not be found in the pulpit of a first-century Christian church because he represented another city in God’s kingdom. He is not a minister in the Kingdom of God. Paul did not give policy advice to Caesar, even when he had opportunity to do, because he was not ordained to minister in the civil sphere of God’s kingdom but in the spiritual sphere.

About this point in the discussion someone will characterize this understanding of Scripture and this application of Calvin’s duplex regimen as “dualistic.” Was Jesus a “dualist”? Was Paul? They both clearly distinguished between two spheres or two cities in God’s kingdom. I have already unequivocally rejected ontological or cosmological dualism. There are not two cosmic principles. Being does not exist on a scale, with God at the top (all being) and us on the bottom (less being). There are, however, biblical distinctions to be made. Scripture distinguishes between body and soul. Our Lord said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Any theory that makes Jesus of Nazareth a “dualist” is a poor theory. We need to be biblical in the way we think about these things.

It has also been argued to me that the Kingdom of God touches everything. All Christians are kingdom citizens and everywhere they go is God’s kingdom and everything they do is kingdom work. The problem is that, if we trace out what the New Testament actually says about the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven,” the way we have often spoken of the kingdom since the middle of the 20th century does not accord well with the biblical usage. Yes God’s kingdom touches everything but God’s kingdom is twofold. Therefore it does not touch everything in the same way nor to the same end. All Christians are kingdom citizens and everywhere they go is God’s kingdom but God’s kingdom is twofold. Therefore we must distinguish in what sense we are using the word “kingdom.” Is everything that Christians do “kingdom work”? Not in the sense in which that phrase has often been used since the mid-20th century (or slightly before). If we are speaking about the twofold kingdom, then perhaps.

When Secretary Clinton or any other politician takes to the pulpit to stump for votes or to address civil policy it is a confusion of the two cities in God’s sovereign, providential rule over all things. The visible, institutional church, as the embassy of God’s kingdom on the earth, has been commissioned to do three things:

  1. Preach the gospel purely;
  2. Administer the sacraments purely;
  3. Administer church discipline.

I take these categories, as formed above, from Belgic Confession (1561) art. 29:

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it.

The Belgic, however, was following Scripture closely. Our Lord commissioned his visible, institutional church to preach the gospel (Mark 16:15; Matt 28:20). He commanded her to administer the two sacraments that he instituted: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt 28:19; Luke 22:19–20). He ordained church discipline (Matt 18:15–20). The first two can be done purely because they are relatively objective. Either the good news about Jesus is being preached or it is not. The sacraments likewise can be administered purely. Either Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are being practiced as instituted or they are not, e.g., the addition of five false sacraments is a corruption of the sacraments. Either church discipline is being practiced or it is not (e.g., as in the mainline Protestant churches, where they only persons ever disciplined are those who still believe the historic Christian faith).

This is the threefold mission of the earthly, institutional embassy of the kingdom of God on the earth. A politician ginning up resentment against his opponent or attempting to persuade the congregation to support this or that social policy does not meet these tests. It is not the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, nor the administration of discipline.

So far we have been considering the church as organization. If we think of the church as organism, i.e., if we think about her members, who are citizens in God’s twofold kingdom, then we should encourage them as citizens and Christians to engage the social questions of the day but they do so as individuals and not on behalf of the visible, institutional church. If Christians want to form an organization and invite candidates to address them, great! Give to Caesar what it is Caesar’s. Invoke your rights as a citizen but we have no example or precept in holy Scripture of turning the visible, institutional church into an embassy for Caesar’s kingdom. When we gather for public worship, we do not gather as citizens of the earthly city but as citizens of the heavenly city. We each have our own history and culture and we do not escape it but, as citizens of a twofold kingdom, we do transcend the earthly city when we are exercising our heavenly citizenship.

Church history tells us that the visible church has rarely minded her business. She has only periodically focused on her threefold divine mission. By the end of the 4th century she was well on her way to becoming an agent of Caesar’s kingdom. She remained so until the Reformers re-asserted the relative independence of the church from the state but even in the Reformation that principle was worked out very imperfectly. As Abraham Kuyper argued, the state that can put to death religious heretics can also persecute the orthodox and so it has. It is also true that the principle of the spirituality of the church has been abused to justify great wickedness (e.g., chattel slavery and man-stealing) yet the abuse of a true principle does not invalidate the principle. We should banish the abuse not the principle.

Let Christians resist the impulse to draft the visible, institutional church for a social agenda, however laudatory and beneficial it may be. Let Christians energetically engage God’s world as citizens of a twofold kingdom. We do not have to choose between social engagement and a spiritual institutional church. We can and should have both, for the benefit of the earthly city and for the purity and peace of the embassy of the kingdom of heaven.

—Thank to Justin Esposito for his editorial help with this essay.

    Post authored by:

  • 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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13 comments

  1. I struggle with two kingdoms. I see an antebellum South practicing an immoral form of slavery. Denying reading the Bible and not baptising infants is enough for me to think the church should have said something and acted to discipline members who engaged in such a sinful practice. Please correct me because I am also in agreement with what you wrote above

    • My senior thesis was on the this, except during the Colonial era. Let me tell you that the vast majority of ministers spoke on this. Unfortunately, many masters refused to listen and reviled the ministers.

    • Thomas,

      This is a good and fair question. Yes, in my opinion, the Southern Presbyterians abused the doctrine of the spirituality of they used it to justify man stealing and chattel slavery. As I tried to suggest above, the abuse of a principle doesn’t invalidate the principle. The South systematically sought to de-humanize Africans in order to justify sins. The problem was less the spirituality of the visible church (after all, even Southern Presbyterians inter alia might still have formed organizations to oppose kidnapping and chattel slavery) and more a problem of theological anthropology, the doctrine of man (humanity) as made in the image of God.

      To clarify one other matter. I’m not arguing for “two kingdoms,” strictly speaking. Certainly there have been orthodox writers who have spoken this way and it’s a perfectly good way of speaking but I’m arguing for one kingdom within which there are two spheres or two cities. Calvin’s expression duplex regimen is in the singular, not the plural. I think that by speaking of one kingdom with two spheres/cities it is clearer that God is sovereign over all things but that he administers his providence distinctly in each sphere.

  2. Extremely offensive to see those and other politicians behind the pulpit going after their social agendas. Extremely offensive candidates. Liberal churches aren’t less-pure churches but false churches, confusing the two kingdoms, preaching heresy. Although I did just get Bertrand Russell’s book Why I’m Not a Christian at a local UMC sale so maybe they’re leaving liberalism. Lord willing, I hope I meet others who have left liberalism, like some in my family.

  3. A learned critic of the HB has asked about the phrase “two cities.” For a few years now I have been using Calvin’s expression “twofold kingdom” (duplex regimen). It’s one kingdom with two spheres. We might also say one kingdom with two cities. After all, here I am in California. It’s one state with multiple cities. The U.S. is one nation with multiple states. That seems fairly straightforward.

    I’m influenced to speak of two cities, within God’s kingdom, by two things: first, there are manifestly two cities in Scripture. According to the NT Christians have a dual citizenship. Christians are simultaneously members of two cities, the heavenly and the earthly. Secondly, Christians have been speaking this way since at least the 5th century. Augustine of Hippo articulated a version of this doctrine in a rather well known work, The City of God. The doctrine itself predated Augustine by several centuries as is evident in ch. 5 of the Treatise to Diognetus (c. 150), to which I’ve referred and quoted repeatedly in this space.

    So, “two spheres” (a quasi-Kuyperian way of speaking) is a corollary of “two cities.” We could add a corollary, the sacred/secular distinction. Again, this is a manifestly biblical distinction. In 1 Cor 10:27–28 the Apostle Paul distinguished between a common (secular) meal and a sacred (religious) meal.

    If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—

    When we administer communion we speak about setting aside elements from common (secular) use for sacred use. This is a basic Reformed distinction.

    There is one kingdom and within that kingdom there are two spheres or cities, sacred and secular.

    I hope this helps.

  4. Excellent job, Dr. Clark!
    You and I follow each other on Twitter and I know from your many posts that you’re quite conservative politically (I’m more moderately so), but theologically, we agree completely! This Kingdom confusion is a problem on the Left as well as the Right. I’ve had many disagreements with President Obama, but he has always had my prayer support and it will be the same for President-elect Trump. Neither Trump or Mrs. Clinton got my vote last week, but our obligation now is as believers is to pray for our leaders and continue to proclaim the truth of God’s Word. Thank you for clarifying the vital importance of two cities and two spheres.

  5. Hello Dr. Clark,
    I apprecite that you’re using the duplex regimen language as I feel it’s more helpful to the 2 kingdom debate that has been going on for some time. It really keeps the aspect of sovereignty front and center within both “cities”.
    The part I have trouble with is after reading guys like Bannerman and Calvin on church and govt. their positions seem so consistent and helpful to sooo many issues.
    I guess my question is that how could a community made up of mostly Christians or some Christians not seek to enforce both tables of the law? Where would be the exegetical warrant to say we only enforce the second? I mean we’re talking about creational ethics that are written on humanity’s heart that we believe all humanity is obligated to obey…So how could we not seek to enforce them?
    WhAts the diff between the 4th law and the 8th I guess? You want to enforce the the 8th but not the 4th. Why?

    And I don’t see this as a blurring of church and state AT ALL, I mean everyone expects the US govt to punish stealing and murder(moral laws), but not sabbath keeping and idolatry(moral laws). Furthermore, most of the confessions talk about the enforcement of the whole moral law in the civil sphere because they couldn’t understand the idea of splitting the moral law between civil and ecclesiastical enforcement though certainly they practiced church discipline as you stated.

    I also wouldn’t see this as an overrealized eschatology trying to some how inaugurate the KOG(though I am in fact postmil), because I think God will do that through the Gospel. I believe that it is merely being an ethical Christian. It’s very frustrating when people throw out the whole you’re trying to inaugurate the kingdom language, I think it’s bogus and they’re just buzz words.

    I was raised in a staunchly republican home, with a Christian vibe, so I’ve had to try and think through these issues a lot over the past few years since becoming a Christian and discovering reformed theology.
    Sorry now I’m just rambling.
    Thanks, and love the podcast!

    • Hi Wyatt,

      Good questions. Thanks for the encouragement.

      1. The Reformed writers I’ve read, who use the language of “two kingdoms,” affirm divine sovereignty over all things but I agree that some have inferred that “two kingdoms” somehow diminishes divine sovereignty. That doesn’t follow, of course, but it is a problem.

      2. Calvin and many of his successors outside the U.S. assume the propriety of an established church. Apparently this is an issue for a remarkable number of people even within the U.S. Yes, it’s possible to be consistent but if the premise is bad, then what benefit is consistency?

      3. The state enforcement of the 1st table requires a state church. Where did Jesus or the apostles seek to have the church established as the state church? Such evidence does not exist because neither our Savior, nor his apostles, nor their immediate successors in the 2nd century ever intended that the NT church would established as a state church. There was a state church under Israel. That arrangement expired with the death of our Lord See WCF 19.4. The Mosaic covenant was intentionally temporary and typological. It was a great sermon illustration pointing to Christ. The state church was never intended to be permanent but since the 4th century many have sought to re-establish it. One great problem with this re-establishment was the re-institution, mutatis mutandis, of the OT religious system as preachers became priests. One sees both things in some wings of the Christian Reconstruction movement.

      The very existence of the two cities in the NT militates against an established NT church. The NT church is a semi-eschatological church. It is a pilgrim church. I’ve been explaining this at great length in a series of posts on 1 Peter. Peter doesn’t say, “demand that Nero recognize us as the state church.” He says, “if you suffer for being a Christian, that is honorable. If you suffer for breaking civil law, I have no sympathy for you.” That’s the effect of two cities.

      Do you want Barack Hussein Obama, Jerry Brown, or Donald Trump to enforce the 1st table? I don’t! To borrow a phrase from Greg Bahnsen, “By What Standard?” The problems are insurmountable. Herod, Pilate, or Claudius enforcing the 1st table? It never entered the minds of the apostles. We all know and agree as to what murder is. We don’t all agree as to what constitutes idolatry. Is a picture of Jesus idolatry? The Reformed confess that it is but we don’t want the magistrate punishing Lutherans for it.

      3. I favor some state-enforcement of the 4th. It’s part of the 2nd table. Concern for neighbor is built into the commandment. Under natural/creational law I don’t know that the state can enforce the Christian Sabbath (which is not natural but supernatural) but the pattern of 1 day in 7 is creational. Most states have laws regulating the number of hours that can be required by an employer. Most states have laws instituting a day of rest. Enforcing the Christian Sabbath in a pluralist culture is obviously complicated. Muslims observe Friday. Orthodox Jews observe Friday sundown to Saturday Sundown. Christians observe Sunday. This is a place where we must negotiate civil policy.

      4. We disagree sharply re an over-realized eschatology. We can tell what the apostolic expectations were. They told us.

      Those aren’t buzzwords. They reflect a sad historical reality. The establishment of a state church was nothing if not the fruit of an over-realized eschatology. The medieval church sought to establish the KOG on the earth. It failed. I, for one, am grateful for the wisdom of the American founders. They spared us from un-ending European religious warfare. Go back and look at the history from the Peace of Augsburg to the end of the Thirty Years War. It wasn’t pretty. The outcome was a decimated European church that helped to foster the Enlightenment and all its attending evils. No, I’m quite satisfied to follow the apostolic and early Christian pattern. As a civil matter I will protect my neighbor’s right to worship as he will. As a matter of the heavenly city, I will seek to persuade him to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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