Our older Reformed writers regularly mentioned “two kingdoms” in different ways. E.g., in the opening line to his 1576 Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (translated into English and available in the Classic Reformed Theology series) Caspar Olevianus (1536-87) employed the distinction in the way Luther often did:
For it is certain that there are two Spiritual kingdoms in this world, to wit, a kingdom of darkness and and kingdom of light: and it is necessarily the case that every man lives in one or the other of them.
He goes on to identify the “Kingdom of Christ” with the visible, institutional church through which the Holy Spirit operates, through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, to bring his elect to new life, true faith, and to conformity to the image of Christ.
In this case, the other kingdom is spiritually antithetical to the Kingdom of God. Other Reformed writers in the classical period, however, wrote of “two kingdoms” such that the distinction was between the sphere in which God operates savingly (e.g., the visible church) and the common or secular sphere shared by believers and non-believers.
Calvin wrote of God’s “twofold kingdom” (duplex regimen), which is the way I think we ought to speak. In Institutes 3.19.15, Calvin said:
Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homine regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the “spiritual” and the “temporal” jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life—not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority.
So, for Calvin, there is one kingdom with two aspects: the spiritual (saving) and temporal (common, secular).
For a variety of reasons, just as, for a time, we lost other Reformed categories of thought and analysis (e.g., the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, law and gospel distinction, archetypal/ectypal distinction—for more on how this happened, see Recovering the Reformed Confession) so too we lost this distinction. Through the 19th and 20th centuries the older language was replaced with different ways of speaking leaving most Reformed people with the impression that the kingdom of God has only one aspect and not too. It became common for Reformed folk to decry “dualisms” as if all such distinctions did not come from Scripture or from faithful, confessional Reformed reflection on Scripture but rather from Plato. So, e.g., under the influence of this approach more than one person has argued that the distinction between body and soul is evidence of such “Platonic dualism.” In this regard, for a time we seemed to have lost track of basic biblical teaching. Our Lord said,
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28; NASB).
Our Lord was most decidedly not a Platonist and yet he openly distinguished between body and soul. Evidently all dualisms are not diabolical.
As Americans approach another Independence Day celebration and this one in the midst of what seems like a super-heated cultural-political context, it seemed like a good time to reflect again on the teaching of the Apostle Paul where he reminded the Philippian congregation about where their most fundamental loyalties lie.
Scripture says, “For our citizenship (πολίτευμα) is in heaven, whence we expect our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the only time in Scripture (either in LXX or the NT) this word “citizenship” occurs, so we must pay careful attention to its context to understand what Paul meant by it.
Philippi was home to those who retired from service to the Roman Empire. Luke tells the story in Acts 16. He describes it as “a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12; NASB). The congregation was formed when Paul went outside the city and met some women who had assembled for prayer. These women evidently formed the core of the new congregation. Perhaps Eudia and Syntache (Phil 4:2) were among them? In Philippi There Lydia, the business woman, was converted (Acts 16:14–15) by the Spirit, through the preaching of the gospel and she and her covenant household were baptized following the Abrahamic pattern (Gen 17:1–10). There Paul was confronted by a slave girl whom others apparently exploited in some sort of “divination” scheme (Acts 16:16). When Paul cast out the demon, the scheme collapsed and her handlers took Paul and Silas before the magistrate (Acts 16:19–21). Paul and Silas were thrown into prison only to be miraculously delivered (Acts 16:25–30), in the course of which their jailer was brought to faith (and he and his household were also baptized; Acts 16:31–34).
Perhaps most interesting of all is the confrontation between Paul and the city officials. Paul had done nothing wrong and had been imprisoned unjustly, probably in violation of Roman law. As a Roman citizen Paul might have complained about them to the imperial authorities. We surmise that that they knew they had been unjust because when they discovered that Paul was a Roman citizen and under the protection of the law, they were quite solicitous (Acts 16:35–40).
Here we have the “twofold kingdom” of which Calvin spoke but we also clearly see the “two kingdoms of which Olevianus wrote. Christ is the Mediatorial king over his church, where he exercises his special, Spiritual, saving authority. This is what Louis Berkhof called the “regnum gratiae” (the kingdom of grace; Systematic Theology, 406). He explained,
It is a spiritual kingship, because it relates to a spiritual realm. It is the mediatorial rule as it is established in the hearts and lives of believers. Moreover, it is spiritual, because it bears directly and immediately on a spiritual end, the salvation of His people. And, finally, it is spiritual, because it is administered, not by force or external means, but by the Word and the Spirit, which is the Spirit of truth and wisdom, of justice and holiness, of grace and mercy. This kingship reveals itself in the gathering of the Church, and in its government, protection, and perfection.
This is an excellent summary of what we read in Acts 16. There is, however, a second aspect of God’s kingdom, which extends more generally, which is not saving but in which Christ exercises his sovereign providential control. Berkhof called it the “regnum potentiae” (the Kingdom of Power (Systematic Theology, 410). We see that aspect (or that kingdom) in Paul’s civil interaction with the Philippian civil authorities. There he asserted his right as a Roman citizen to be treated justly in accordance with Roman law. He did not invoke OT civil laws or penalties (Paul was no theonomist). He did not deny the validity of the Philippian or Roman civil governments (he was not an Anabaptist or an Anarchist). He did not call for a revolution nor did he seek its “transformation.” He called them to live up to their own laws, which were grounded in the natural, universal laws of justice which their own writers recognized and with which Paul was quite familiar (see Romans 2:14–16). He lived out his own teaching in Romans 13.
Paul lived in a twofold kingdom, the Spiritual, special, sacred, redemptive, sphere administered in the visible church and the general, common (secular) sphere administered in daily life at work and in public life.
Yet, there is a priority among these kingdoms of spheres. Paul says explicitly to the Philippian congregation, many of whom had direct ties to the Roman government, who likely had some pride in their military and civil service, that “our citizenship is in heaven.” It is not that we have no other citizenship, Paul clearly did. He spoke just as our Lord Jesus had to Pilate in John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” When it comes to the gospel, to salvation, even to martyrdom for the sake of Christ, his gospel, and his church our kingdom, in that sense, is not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven.
This should not trouble Christians. It is the plain teaching of Scripture but given the sorts of Independence Day celebrations about which one reads, it would seem that our Lord’s way of thinking and speaking (to Pilate) and Paul’s way of speaking to the Philippians—this verse comes in the context of a stern warning about the dangers of Judaizing—has been lost.
There were Judaizers in the congregation who were obscuring the heavenly kingdom by those whom Paul called “enemies of the cross of Christ.” They were what Luther called “theologians of glory,” of this-worldly triumph and power (Phil 3:17–19). As our Lord said, they have their reward in this world because, as Paul says here, their “end is destruction” because their “god is their appetite” and their “glory is in their shame” because they “set their minds on earthly things.” They wanted to put the Philippian Christians under the law for their standing before God. This is what triumphalism (theology of glory) does. This worldly triumphalism is often wed to moralism, presenting oneself to God on the basis of law keeping.
There is a better way: Paul’s way and our Lord’s way. Let us celebrate our civil liberties and our independence and all the benefits that it brings but let us also remember that “our citizenship is in heaven” because our King Jesus is there, saving his people and ruling over all things for our benefit. Now, however, is not the time for earthly glory. That day Wil come when the King returns.