Since David VanDrunen published, in 2010, the first volume in what has become a series of important volumes, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought, Emory University Studies in Law and Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), there has been a certain degree of controversy in some quarters of the confessional Reformed world over the recovery of the “two kingdoms” as a way of thinking about Christ and culture and ethics. The qualifier some is important here because anyone who knows the history of Reformed theology knows that faithful, confessional theologians have been speaking of God’s “twofold government” (duplex regimen and duplex regnum) or “two kingdoms” since the 16th century. It is not a novelty but so divorced are enough contemporary Reformed Christians from their own tradition and heritage that when this way of speaking re-surfaced in 2010 it was taken, in some quarters as a radical departure from Reformed theology.
Why The Controversy?
That reaction, in some quarters, is part of a pattern. Because of the sad state of confessional Reformed covenant theology in the 20th century, when Richard Muller and others in his wake began to re-appropriate the historic Reformed way of distinguishing between theology as God knows it and theology as God has given us to know it, it was denounced as Barthian by one scholar (who should have known better). When some began to try to resurrect the teaching of, e.g., Zacharias Ursinus (1534–83) and the Westminster Divines (see WCF 7.2) on the prelapsarian (pre-fall) covenant of works, it was ridiculed as a deformation of Reformed theology. Similar reactions happened when some scholars began to try to recover the historic Reformed doctrine of the pre-temporal covenant of redemption, e.g., David VanDrunen and R. Scott Clark, “The Covenant Before the Covenants,” in R. Scott Clark ed., Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007). When some contemporary Reformed writers and historians began writing about and advocating the historic pan-Protestant (including the Reformed) distinction between law and gospel they were denounced as “antinomians” and “Lutherans.” E.g., some of the reviews and reactions to R. Scott Clark, “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in Clark, ed., Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry. These are analogous cases illustrating the decay of historic Reformed theology in the twentieth century. Doctrines which were nigh-well universally held and taught in the classical period of Reformed theology, when uncovered and dusted off in the late 20th and early 21st centuries were regarded with suspicion. For more on the project of recovery of the older Reformed theology, see R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008).
What happened? Beginning in 1978, Richard Muller began publishing on classical Reformed theology. He began challenging the dominant narrative about Reformed theology, which had been in place for over a century, that Reformed orthodoxy was a corruption of the Reformation, that it put reason over theology, and that it is was spiritually harmful. At the time he began his project, very few people had actually read our writers from the classical period. Most of those authors were locked away in Latin texts and difficult to access outside the libraries of Europe and the United Kingdom. Further, there had been vigorous movements within the broader Reformed world that had the effect of moving it away from what people thought Reformed scholasticism entailed. The Barthians (so-called neo-orthodoxy) on one side and the the followers of Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) on the other wanted to re-cast Reformed theology, albeit in different ways and for different reasons. There were other impulses within Reformed theology in the 20th century, too, that sought to distance it from its Reformed orthodox heritage. The revival-oriented movements with roots in the 18th century (the so-called First Great Awakening) and 19th century revivals (e.g., the 1814 Réveil movement in Europe) were suspicious of the Reformed orthodoxy and scholasticism of the 16th and 17th centuries. As a result, Reformed orthodoxy and especially scholasticism received what can only be described as a relentless beating in both academic literature and in the popular religious press. In the same way that the Enlightenment shamed anyone who dared show interest in medieval theology, so too anyone who manifested an interest in theology after the Reformation (but before the 19th century) was suspect and regarded as retrograde. When Karl Barth (1886–1968) quoted Reformed orthodox theologians such as Johannes Wollebius (1589–1629) and others like him, he was labeled “neo-orthodox,” which, in Europe at the time, was a way of saying, “reactionary fundamentalist.”
There were small cracks in the monolithic story about the nature of Reformed orthodoxy. At Stanford, W. Robert Godfrey, under the supervision of Lewis Spitz (1922–99), wrote his PhD dissertation on the Synod of Dort and characterized their work rather differently than the way it had come to be characterized in much of the academic literature. At Duke University, under the supervision of David Steinmetz (1936–2015), Jill Raitt wrote on Theodore Beza’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in a careful and perceptive way. It was Muller, however, another Steinmetz student, who would revolutionize the study of Reformed scholasticism and Reformed orthodoxy. Other Steinmetz students would follow and, in time, those reading Muller and those who studied with him would change the narrative about the nature of Reformed theology, piety, and practice in the classical period. About the same time, a parallel movement was taking place in the Netherlands under the leadership of Willem van Asselt (1946–2014). It came to be known as the “Utrecht School.” In 1999, Carl Trueman and I published Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press). In 2011, van Asselt published another collection of essays: Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011). The magisterial work in this field, however, is Muller’s 4-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).
The Vacuum And The New “Orthodoxies”
The work of VanDrunen et al. in recovering the language, categories, and thought patterns of “two kingdoms” (or, as Calvin had it, God’s “twofold kingdom” or “twofold government”) is another part of the broader process of recovering the Reformed tradition. Just as Muller’s work on Reformed orthodoxy met some resistance from those who were invested in the earlier narrative, so VanDrunen’s work in re-appropriating the older Reformed language of “two kingdoms” has met some stiff resistance. During the 20th century, the various alternative approaches to Christian ethics had become entrenched institutionally and intellectually. There are two main sources of criticism of the renewed interest in the older Reformed language.
The first and older source of resistance has been the neo-Kuyperian movement. The prefix neo signals “new” thus meaning “the new Kuyperians.” Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) was a genius and a polymath. A theological liberal in the mainline Dutch Reformed Church, he was converted and became a stalwart of Reformed orthodoxy, founder of two newspapers (one ecclesiastical and the other political), active in a political party, a member of Parliament, Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1901–05), founder of a university, and founder of a denomination. Just one of those accomplishments would have been enough for most men but Kuyper did all of them. He was truly extraordinary. He was also deeply influenced by Reformed orthodoxy and Reformed scholasticism. He read classical Reformed theology and even edited the Latin works of Franciscus Junius (the elder; 1545–1602). Few of his followers, however, i.e., the neo-Kuyperians, followed in his footsteps in that regard. They mostly accepted the older story and became rather disconnected from classical Reformed theology, piety, and practice. Either they assumed that whatever they did and taught must have been what the earlier Reformed did and taught or they dismissed classical Reformed theology as “scholastic” by which they typically meant rationalist or controlled by human reason rather than by divine authority and revelation.
In some cases, the neo-Kuyperian movement rejected the older Reformed view of natural law or seemed oblivious to it. After rejecting the older distinctions between nature and grace and sacred and secular, the neo-Kuyperians set about “transforming” and “redeeming” every area of life for Christ under the rubric of “worldview.” With the Reformed tradition they asserted the lordship of Christ over all of life—this truth has never been in question. When the neo-Kuyperians, however, were presented with the older Reformed way of speaking about “two kingdoms” or a “twofold kingdom” they rejected it as incompatible with Christ’s lordship. There formed a loose alliance between the neo-Kuyperian “transformationalists” and some of the Reconstructionists and theonomists in opposition to the renewed interest in the older categories about which more will be said below.
A Second, and perhaps most vocal group of critics comes from the theocrats and theonomists, which I have abbreviated as the “TheoRecons.” This movement has been influenced by neo-Kyperianism through the writing and teaching of Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987), who was not himself a theonomist or reconstructionist. The TheoRecon movement is almost universally postmillennial in its eschatology and thus anticipates a future earthly golden age before Christ’s return. It is driven by the theories and theology of the father of the Christian Reconstruction and Dominion Theology movements, R. J. Rushdoony (1916–2001). Rushdoony is most famous for his Talmudic 3-volume commentary on biblical law, Institutes of Biblical Law (1973–99). The Christian Reconstruction movement theorizes that Western society will collapse—Gary North (1942–2022), Rushdoony’s son-in-law, was convinced that collapse would happen in connection with the Y2K episode in 2000—and out of the collapse will arise a reconstructed Christian society normed by God’s law, including the judicial laws. This latter theory was made most famous by Greg Bahnsen (1948–95) in his 1977 volume, Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Arguably, the most popular Reconstructionist theonomist writing today is Douglas Wilson who seeks to establish a beachhead for the coming golden age in Moscow, Idaho. Building on the work of Norman Shepherd, this movement also developed the Federal Vision theology whereby baptized persons are said to receive provisionally the benefits of Christ (election, regeneration, justification, union with Christ, adoption) in baptism and to retain them by cooperation with grace. The Federal Vision wing of the TheoRecon movement is rebuilding a sort of medieval Christendom complete with a (future) theocratic government and a sacerdotal (priestly) ecclesiastical ministry and theology. Because the contemporary recovery of the older Reformed categories in covenant theology and ethics presents a clear alternative to the TheoRecon agenda, this group has been viscerally hostile it.
The History Of Reformed Doctrine Of The Twofold Kingdom
So far I have been explaining, in part, why the early Reformation (e.g., Luther) distinction between “two kingdoms” and Calvin’s (beginning in 1536) distinction between two spheres in one kingdom has met with such resistance in our time: (1) The Reformed have become disconnected from our own sources and traditions; (2) the vacuum left by the abandonment of the tradition has been filled by the neo-Kuyperian transformationalist movement and their sometime allies in the TheoRecon movement. The former of these has a considerable institutional presence in America. There are at least two universities and several colleges in North America which are more or less devoted to the neo-Kuyperian paradigm. The investment among many Reformed Christians in North America to those institutions and to the neo-Kuyperian “world and life view” rhetoric and associated agendas makes it difficult for them to hear any alternative. For many, the neo-Kuyperian program is Reformed orthodoxy and they do not much care to hear about how Calvin or the orthodox might have spoken about the relation of Christ to culture (e.g., by distinguishing the sacred and the secular) or about how the two spheres of God’s kingdom relate. They are deeply committed to an ideology of transformation and thus to a particular view of nature and grace that is less indebted to the magisterial Protestants and their orthodox successors than to other influences. The TheoRecons are typically postmillennial and the neo-Kuyperians are typically amillennial but both movements have an eschatology that looks forward to future earthly-cultural transformation and to a more or less glorious age on the earth before the return of Christ.
Earlier I asserted but did not show that speaking of two kingdoms or a twofold kingdom was a traditional way of speaking among the Reformed. Jonathan Beeke has shown that this way of speaking occurred in the first edition of Calvin’s Institutes (1536),1in 6.13:
Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone [of Christian freedom], let us consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homie regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in the worship of God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and civil life 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 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 honorably and temperately. For the former resides in the mind within, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom (regnum spirituale), the other, the political kingdom (regnum political). Now these two, as we have divided them, must be examined separately; and while the one is being treated, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds (mundi duo), over which different kings (varii reges) and different laws (variae leges) have authority.2
Calvin used this distinction in other places in this chapter of his first edition of the Institutes. He did not defend it at length. He simply articulated it and then proceeded to explain it. He did not regard it as controversial because it was not. Remember, in 1536 Calvin is largely repeating what he has learned from the older Protestants, e.g., Luther, Bucer, and Melanchthon. That Christ is Lord over all things was never in question among the Protestants. Where they differed from the Romanists is how Christ administers his kingdom on the earth and they also differed among themselves on how to talk about that administration. Luther spoke of “two kingdoms” and Calvin’s rhetoric varied from that. For him there is one kingdom with two spheres of administration. That said, under the one kingdom he spoke freely of two distinct kingdoms and laws.
Calvin preserved this paragraph almost verbatim in the various editions (e.g., 1539, when the Institutes took their more familiar form, and 1559). In the last Latin edition of the Institutes he wrote:
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.3
That this passage remained completely in tact through the decades, from the beginning of his writing until the end, seems significant. It seems to suggest that this way of thinking was a fixed part of his theology and ethics. Strangely, however, as I explained last time, this way of speaking and thinking has become foreign to us. As Beeke notes, against “the Anabaptists, Calvin argued that the spiritual kingdom does not obliterate the political kingdom, nor does the spiritual government eliminate civil government.”4The Anabaptists got this wrong because they misunderstood the relations between nature and grace. For them, nature must be obliterated, i.e., painted over or even destroyed, by grace. This was not Calvin’s view nor was it the view of his orthodox successors who argued vigorously against the Anabaptists by quoting the Thomistic dictum, “Gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit” (grace does not destroy nature but perfects it). Arguably, they meant something rather different by that phrase than Thomas had, but it is significant that they invoked it against the Anabaptists in defense of the distinction. Have the neo-Kuyperians and the TheoRecons maintained this classic Reformed distinction? They have not. Typically, what one finds in that literature are stern denunciations of “nature/grace dualism.” On this score anyway, it is not the advocates of the twofold kingdom who have changed Reformed theology.
Calvin’s way of speaking formed the conceptual background to Guy de Bres’ framing of the Belgic Confession art. 36. On the relation between art. 36 and the two kingdoms, Danny Hyde writes,
By using this language, the Belgic Confession grounds the civil government in God’s goodness, not his grace, in creation, not redemption. God rules over all things, but in two different ways, as the two kingdoms doctrine of the Reformers expressed. This doctrine was that God rules what Calvin called the civil kingdom and what Luther called the kingdom of the left hand as creator and sustainer of temporal, earthly, and provisional matters, while he rules the spiritual kingdom or kingdom of the right hand (Calvin and Luther respectively) as creator, but especially as redeemer of the eschatological kingdom. 5
In his Corpus Doctrinae, Zacharias Ursinus taught substantially the same distinction in his explanation of Heidelberg Catechism Q. 83. He put the question thus: “In what does the power of the keys of the kingdom differ from civil power?” He answered:
The points of difference are many, and such as are apparent.
1. Ecclesiastical discipline is exercised by the church; civil power by the judge or magistrate.
2. In the state, judgment is passed according to civil and positive laws; in the church, according to the divine law or word of God.
3. The power of the keys committed to the church depends upon the word of God, and the church exercises her power by the word, denouncing the wrath of God upon the impenitent; punishes the obstinate with the word of God alone, yet in such a way that this punishment takes “hold even upon the conscience: civil power employs the sword, and compels the refractory to submit to its authority by temporal punishment alone.
4. The church has different steps of admonition, and if the offender is brought to acknowledge his sin and repents of it, it does not proceed to execute punishment in his case; the magistrate punishes the offender even though he repent.
5. The church in the exercise of discipline, looks to the reformation and salvation of the offender; the magistrate to the execution of justice and the public peace.
6. As the church exercises discipline in the case of none except the obstinate and disobedient, so it is bound to reverse its decision, and to remove the punishment, whenever there is sufficient evidence of repentance on the part of the offender. The magistrate when he has once inflicted punishment neither reverses the decision, “nor removes the punishment. The thief that repents upon the cross, or in the hour of death, is received by Christ into Paradise; the magistrate proceeds to the execution of the punishment to which he is sentenced, and sends him into exile. So Christian discipline often takes cognizance of things which the state does not notice, as when the church casts out of her communion those who do not repent, and refuses to recognize them as her members, whilst the magistrate, nevertheless, tolerates them; and so, on the contrary, the state may banish those whom the church receives. The magistrate may, for instance, inflict capital punishment upon adulterers, robbers, thieves, etc., and yet the church may receive them, if they give proper evidence of true repentance. The difference, therefore, between ecclesiastical and civil power, is clear and apparent. 6
The “civil and positive laws” to which Ursinus referred were distinct from special revelation or “the divine law or the law of God.” Like Calvin and the rest of the Protestants of the era, Ursinus had a natural theology and a doctrine of natural law that undergirded not only his understanding of the prelapsarian covenant of works but also his ethics. As his colleague Caspar Olevianus wrote repeatedly, the moral law that God gave at Sinai was, in substance, identical to the natural law and it is that natural law by which the magistrate governs.7 This may be shocking to some modern Reformed sensibilities but it was standard Reformed theology in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ursinus’ distinction between the spheres of authority and the standards of judgment in no way, in his mind, lessened the authority of Christ over both spheres.
This way of speaking was pervasive among the classic Reformed theologians. In his commentary on Hebrews 11, William Perkins (1558–1602), wrote, “We must know that there be two kinds of kingdoms, a spiritual kingdom and a politic, so there be two kinds of peace, a spiritual and a politic. Spiritual peace is inward in the church, and politic peace is outward in the commonwealth. Spiritual peace is begun and preserved by the spiritual means of grace in the ministry of the church, but war is an ordinary means for the establishing and preserving of politic peace. “8
In Perkins we hear echoes of both Luther and Calvin. For Perkins, war is the secular “ordinary means” i.e., the divinely ordained means, for obtaining peace in the secular realm just as the preaching of the gospel and the use of the sacraments are the sacred “ordinary means” to advance God’s kingdom in the spiritual kingdom. Perkins was hardly denying Christ’s lordship. Rather, he was explaining how Christ has willed to administer his twofold kingdom.
Later, in the 17th century, the great Scottish Reformed theologian George Gillespie (1613–48) rejected the Scottish Covenanter position, the so-called “Mediatorial Kingship of Christ” that Christ is Mediator over the nations in precisely the same way he is mediator over the church. He wrote:
One Instance more of his mis-alledging and perverting of testimonies. In the close he cites a passage of Mr. Case his Sermon August 22. 1645. “He (Christ) is King of Nations and King of Saints. As King of Nations he has a temporal Kingdom and Government over the world, etc. and the rule and regiment of this Kingdom he has committed to Monarchies, etc. Here is Erastianism, (says Mr. Coleman p. 38.) a step higher then ever I or Erastus himself went. And I desire to know of Mr. Gillespie, if he will own this as good divinity.” Yes Sir I own it for very good divinity, for my Reverend Brother Mr. Case, says not that Christ as Mediator is King of Nations, and has a temporal Kingdom in the world, and has committed rule and regiment to Monarchies or other lawful Magistrates, (which is the point that you and Mr. Hussey contend for, being a great Heterodoxy in Divinity) but he says of the Son of God, that he is King of Nations, and has committed Rule to Monarchies, which I own with all my heart. The distinction of the twofold Kingdom of Christ, a universal Kingdom, whereby he reigns over all things as God: and a special economical Kingdom, whereby he is King to the Church only, and rules and governs it, is that which being rightly understood, overturns, overturns, overturns the Erastian principles.9
It would be exceeding strange to see someone suggest that Gillespie, by distinguishing between the two spheres of Christ’s kingdom, was denying Christ’s Lordship over all things since he was, by using the distinction, defending that very idea. What he was denying is the Covenanter doctrine that there is no distinction between the spheres. If distinguishing is denying, then we must indict virtually the entire Reformed tradition from 1536 to the end of the 17th century.
In Franciscus Junius the elder (1545–1602) and in other Reformed writers after him, the language of a “twofold kingdom” (duplex regnum) became widely used under the head of Christology (doctrine of Christ).10 It was used by the Leiden theologians after the Synod of Dort (e.g., in the Synopsis of Purer Theology).11 Francis Turretin (1623–28) also invoked Christ’s twofold kingdom to explain his administration of all things. In Institutes 14.16.2 he explained:
But before all things we must distinguish the twofold kingdom, belonging to Christ: one natural or essential; the other mediatorial and economical. Christ possesses the former over all creatures with glory and majesty equal to that of the Father and Holy Spirit. The latter (according to the economy of grace) he administers in a peculiar manner as God-man (theanthrōpos). The former extends equally over all creatures; the latter is terminated specially on the church. That is founded on the decree of providence, this on the decree of election. That is exercised by Christ inasmuch as he is God (Theos) and the Logos (Logos); this inasmuch as he is God-man (theanthrōpos). Hence it is called his “mediatorial and economical kingdom” because it is a dominion peculiar to the Mediator and as it were his own according to the dispensation of grace. The other belongs to him by nature and is on that account called “natural.” The mediatorial belongs to him from the free institution of God because he constituted him King over the church (Ps. 2:6). 12 (emphasis added)
For Turretin, the twofold kingdom (duplex regnum) the natural sphere is that which belongs to as God. The mediatorial sphere is that which belongs to him as the God-Man. Under the natural sphere is his general reign over all creatures. Under his mediatorial reign is his government of the elect, in the church.13 Here again we see how important the classic Reformed distinction between nature and grace are to understanding the classic approach to Christ’s twofold kingdom. Could it be that the neo-Kuyperians, after jettisoning much of their theological and conceptual heritage from Reformed orthodoxy are now unable to understand our older writers? This is surely the case with the TheoRecons.
Thus far we have seen that the language and conceptual distinction between two spheres in Christ’s kingdom is well and deeply established in 16th and 17th century Reformed theology. However unfamiliar it may have become to some modern Reformed Christians, it certainly is no novelty, and there is no evidence that speaking this way led the Reformed to downplay Christ’s dominion over all things.
Rhetoric: How Should We Speak About This Question?
Thus far I have attempted to give a partial explanation for why “R2K” is controversial in some circles and to show briefly that Reformed Christians have been distinguishing between two kingdoms or two sphere’s in Christ’s kingdom for a very long time, going back to the first edition of Calvin’s Institutes in 1536.
What I have not done yet, however, is to define “R2K.” This is, in part, because many of the critics (especially on social media) do not seem to know what they mean by it other than to say that it is something that someone told them leads to bad social outcomes. Here again, I caution such critics who seem to be very concerned about the abiding validity of God’s moral law, a concern that I share heartily, to remember that the ninth commandment is a part of God’s moral law. It forbids from condemning someone unheard. If someone thinks that “R2K” is “dangerous” but has done no reading for himself, he has condemned a view and its proponents unheard, which is a violation of God’s moral law. In that case, whose kingdom are we defending: ours or Christ’s, and to what end? This leads to another observation about the fuel for the fire that heats the discussion. As Bob Godfrey explained in his recent series on the end of Christendom, Christians have lost their privileged place in the West. It happened decades ago in Europe, even though state churches remain in place, and it has finally happened here. This has caused some Christians to panic, to try to find some way, any way, to recover their lost place.
American Christians are especially susceptible to such a panic because most of us have no clear sense of how the church existed before Christendom. Church history is not a strong suit of American Christian education and, thus, for most American Christians, church history begins with their lives or perhaps a generation earlier. Those who do a little more reading than ordinary might know something about the church in the nineteenth or even eighteenth centuries, but it was two hundred years after the apostles before Christianity was recognized as a legal religion (AD 313) and 350 years before Christianity was declared the state religion in the Roman empire (c. AD 33-AD 380/381). None of the Apostles ever asked the church to be made the state religion but Christianity was, effectively, the state religion in the American colonies and in the Republic from the early 17th century until the end of the blue laws in the 1970s and 80s. Arguably, were we principally interested in expanding the kingdom, we might better pray for persecution since, historically, the church has grown dramatically under such circumstances.
One Kingdom, Two Spheres
So then, what is “R2K”? To some of its critics, the “R” in this expression stands for radical. What exactly is radical about it and why it is allegedly radical is never made entirely clear. The adjective “radical” is a scare tactic designed to bamboozle the uninformed. Others, more positively inclined toward a 2K analysis of Christ and culture, say that the “R” stands for “Reformed,” as distinct from the Lutheran versions of a two-kingdoms ethic. There are differences between the Lutherans and the Reformed but there are also continuities.
In this space I have been arguing that we should speak as Calvin and many of his orthodox successors did, of a “twofold kingdom” (duplex regimen or later, duplex regnum). To be perfectly clear, to say that something is duplex is to say that it is one with two spheres. When I was a boy, we lived in a duplex. It was one building with two halves. My family lived on one side of the way and my neighbors on the other. Thus, technically, I am advocating one kingdom with two spheres. I learned this way of speaking from Calvin, who, as we saw last time, distinguished two spheres of administration in Christ’s kingdom. Let us be clear, for Calvin and his successor, and for this author, Christ is sovereign over all things. To say that, however, as Calvin explained, does not mean that there is no distinction in the way Christ reigns.
The reader will remember from the earlier installments in this essay that the Reformed distinguished between nature (creation) and grace (redemption). Under the influence of the neo-Kuyperians and the TheoRecons, this distinction has fallen on hard times. Nevertheless, it remains extraordinarily important. Without this distinction, we risk all kinds of mischief and trouble, not the least of which is the Pelagian heresy. The Pelagians and the Remonstrants (whom the Synod of Dort repeatedly called Pelagians) conflated nature and grace, thereby making grace a universal, natural endowment.
Properly distinguished, special grace is God’s saving favor toward his people. Nature, however, is universal. Christians and non-Christians share nature in common. We both live under what the old Reformed theologians called “common grace,” whereby God restrains evil and makes use of the gift with which he has endowed all image bearers. Thus, one aspect of Christ’s reign over all things is general. This is the sphere of nature. Christ makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). Civil government is under the general, natural, or secular sphere of Christ’s twofold kingdom. He rules it by his natural law, which is substantially identical to the moral law or the Ten Commandments. Here, this American proponent of Calvin’s categories and language wants to revise the older tradition. To theocrats and theonomists, this revision is unacceptable. Thus, there is an irreconcilable difference of opinion. As I have explained many times in this space, virtually all the magisterial Protestants and their orthodox successors were theocrats. They were not theonomists—they called theonomy an Anabaptist error—but they could not imagine a state without a state-church. The American founders did, however, imagine a state without an established church and they were correct. So was Abraham Kuyper, who vigorously called for the revision of Belgic Confession art. 36 to remove the theocratic (i.e., state-church elements) in the original text of the article. The United Reformed Churches in North America have adopted these revisions.
Responses To Some Objections
So, to speak of “2K” (i.e., a twofold kingdom) is to recognize Christ’s lordship over all things. There are critics who claim that a twofold kingdom ethic is 1) contrary to the Reformed faith and 2) denies Christ’s Lordship. In part two of this essay, I gave sufficient evidence to reject claim 1. The premise of claim 2 is that Christ is only really recognized as Lord under some theocratic or quasi-theocratic ethic. This is the fallacy known as “begging the question” (petitio principii). To beg the question is to assume what must be proved.
How does it deny Christ’s Lordship to hold that the same person of the Trinity who spoke to Adam before the fall (Gen 2:17), who, in effect, commanded him to love God with all his faculties and his neighbor as himself, also revealed the substance of that same law at Sinai (e.g., in the Decalogue), and again in the incarnation (e.g., Matt 22:37–40), and again in the various epistles? In this view, Christians are obligated by God’s natural and special revelation under the special, redemptive sphere of Christ’s kingdom, but the substance of the moral law that was delivered to Adam before the fall and at Sinai is also revealed in nature. According to our classic Reformed theologians, Paul teaches this clearly in Romans 1:18–27 and in Romans 2:14–16. In both those places, Paul uses the natural law as an analogue to the Old Testament Torah. The Jews were under the Torah but the Gentiles are under natural law. Paul says that God is clearly revealed in nature and unbelievers suppress that knowledge. Still, it is clear enough to serve as a basis for prosecution and conviction before the bar of divine justice. Further, he prosecutes sexual immorality not on the basis of the Torah but on the basis of natural law. Those outside the special saving sphere of Christ’s kingdom, i.e., the general or secular sphere (nature), are under that abiding natural moral law.
It is a serious misunderstanding of the historic Reformed view of natural law to assume that it entails human autonomy. It does not. Natural law is neither code nor license for autonomy. The natural law is, after all, God’s law. It reflects his nature and the nature of his creation. Consider a natural analogy. One may self-identify as a bird but should a human attempt to fly by leaping from a bridge or a tower, that human will quickly learn that, in reality, he is not a bird. So too it is with natural law, which may only be violated for so long before penalties and limits are imposed. Paul says in Romans 1:27 that men who commit shameless acts with one another not only act against nature (φυσικὴν) but they necessarily receive the “due penalty” for their moral errors (ἔδει τῆς πλάνης αὐτῶν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς 1ἀπολαμβάνοντες). Paul does not say exactly what that is but anyone who has paid attention to the news for the past four decades or even the last four months can fill in the blank. Thus, under natural law, I have argued for capital punishment and against same-sex marriage (which would include de facto marriages such as civil unions), and against abortion, and against other crimes against nature and humanity.
It may be dramatic and even emotionally satisfying to appear before a legislature to read from Deuteronomy 17:1–7 to advocate for capital punishment, but it would not be a very good use of the passage nor would it be a very good argument in the secular sphere. One may certainly confirm from the Torah a general equity principle of capital punishment for capital crimes (e.g., murder) but Deuteronomy 17 is aimed at God’s national-covenant people. No nation has that status today. Further, it is aimed at preventing idolatry. I, for one, do not want the secular (usually pagan) civil magistrate determining and enforcing religious orthodoxy nor is there any warrant in the post-theocratic New Testament for expecting the civil magistrate to enforce religious orthodoxy. Make no mistake about it, more than a few of the most vocal critics of any 2K ethic are so vociferous because they want an established church in the USA.
The doctrine of a twofold kingdom is not mere theory. After the overturning of Roe, Doe, and Casey, American Christians (and others convinced that humans conceive, gestate, and give birth to humans) will need to make arguments appropriate to and compelling in legislative chambers. Christians ought to be arguing from nature and not from special revelation that was given specially to God’s temporary national covenant people. We have plenty of evidence from nature (sonograms anyone?) and reasons from which to argue for the protection of legally innocent human life in utero. We have plenty of evidence from which to argue for the termination of legally guilty life in prison. Now, the legislature might not find those arguments immediately persuasive, but the overturning of Roe etc. ought to encourage us to persevere.
It is true that epistemologically there is no such thing as neutrality before God and that everything is, in that sense, religious, but it does not follow from that principle that we must have a theocracy. The Israelite theocracy was intentionally temporary. After it God has instituted no other theocracy. All theocratic arguments today rest, in one way or another, on an unwarranted equation of national Israel with a post-theocratic political state. That is a false equation or identity. Seventeenth-century Scotland was not a new Israel. The USA is not a new Israel. Hungary is not a new Israel. There are no new national Israels.
Accepting Our Pilgrim Status
Because we may not simply point to divinely revealed special revelation and demand capitulation from the governing authorities on the basis of divine authority, we will likely lose some arguments. We will have to compromise on some things. We will have to adjust to our new marginal status in America. Christians are no longer powerbrokers, whatever scary narratives NPR or PBS may try to dream up. Christians advocating for recognition of the Sunday Sabbath under secular law might have to enter into temporary alliances with labor unions, who might also favor the recognition of Sunday if only to allow workers to watch football games. We need not insist that a state or a city recognize the crown rights of King Jesus in order to obtain a social good for the church and others. It will also help our case immensely if our pastors and churches keep the Sabbath themselves before seeking to impose it on their pagan neighbors. When a pagan legislator asks us how we observe Sunday, our case will be much stronger if we say may truthfully say that we worship twice every Lord’s Day and that we rest in between. It rather weakens the Christian case when the pagan legislator says to us, “But I see you Christians in my restaurant on Sundays and on my golf course and at the mall.” In such a case, how will we respond to the accusation that we are guilty of special pleading?
Christians should be prepared to co-exist peacefully with their pagan neighbors just as the apostolic church and early post-apostolic churches were. The early Christians did not seek dominion. They did not seek to transform culture. Mostly they sought to be left alone. Indeed, when the pagan Roman governor Pliny the Younger sought to find out about Christian worship services, he had to torture female servants to get it out them. The truth is that we are a pilgrim people and we must be prepared to accept that uncomfortable reality again. In the USA, we have a right to make arguments to our legislators and in our courts and we should do that. We should be involved in secular, civil life. There is nothing about a post-theocratic appropriation of a 2K ethic that counsels quietism.
So far in this series I have attempted to set the background of the current controversy over the so-called “R2K” ethic, sketch the history of the Reformed approaches to the twofold kingdom, and discuss the question of rhetoric, i.e., how should we discuss these issues. In this final installment, I wish to discuss some of the practical implications of the way the controversy is being conducted within the confines of my own federation (denomination) of churches (URCNA). In recent weeks things have become somewhat heated but only in one classis (regional assembly) of our churches, classis Michigan. Most of the churches in the classis are in Western Michigan and proximate to Grand Rapids, the hub of cultural and political conservatism in Michigan.
A Storm Brewing In Michigan
There have been rumblings and indications for several months (or more) online, on social media, and in the email list for URCNA pastors that something was forthcoming and now it is before us. The Synod of the URCNA convenes in 12 days in Buffalo, NY. There the churches will consider an overture from Classis Michigan that seeks to address the controversy via “pastoral advice.” This is a document which gives guidance to the churches, but which is not binding (e.g., the URCNA adopted Nine Points of Pastoral Advice on Justification regarding the self-described Federal Vision theology and other errors).14
At the same time, in advance of synod, there have been sermons and articles written in what a cynic might construe as a campaign to persuade members of the URCNA and delegates to synod to consider the idea that Christ rules his kingdom sovereignly, in two distinct spheres, to be a serious error. One notable sermon, from August 2022, caught the attention of a number of URCNA ministers when the preacher claimed that laity in the URCs are being, “confused with a false understanding” of the law and the gospel by “false teachers.” He said, “They portray the law and the gospel as contrarians, as competitors and they pit the two, as it were, against each other just like the Marcions [sic] of old did of heresy.” He alleged that the same is true of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He attacked what many of us regard as the Reformation distinction between law and gospel (and the teaching of our confessions) as “crafty” and preachers as “deceptive” who teach an “enmity against the law of God.” He charged unnamed URCNA pastors with “changing the gospel into something else.” He claimed that the same preachers get justification right, but “then they go ahead and say that since it [sic] the promise and not the law that saves we have to abandon the law. And they become antinomians, they become enemies of the law, discarding the law altogether.” At the center of his concern, however, is what he characterized as “false understanding and the false doctrine, the so-called radical two kingdom doctrine.” This he said, is “not the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is another gospel. There I said it—with all the possible repercussions and consequences. It is another gospel. Because that’s clearly not what the Bible teaches.” This way of speaking and teaching, he said, leads to a “sanctification-less message.” The questions raised and allegations made were public, but they are being pursued ecclesiastically by the assemblies of the church. These direct quotations suffice to give the reader a sense of the rhetoric in some quarters.
Fallacies And Idiosyncrasies
More recently, in September, another URCNA minister, Doug Barnes, published an article in The Outlook (Sept/Oct 2022) which responded to one of his critics, noting that the critic had been influenced by what he characterized as “the radical two kingdoms view.” He characterized “R2K” thus: “…the R2K view divides life into two kingdoms: the spiritual realm and the secular realm. The spiritual kingdom is eternal, whereas the secular realm is temporary, having no eternal import.” The gospel, he continues, “according to R2K advocates, stands at the heart of the spiritual kingdom.” Like our preacher quoted above, he also writes, “I discovered that proponents of the R2K are the ones skewing the gospel.” The first example he cites for this approach is something I published in this space in 2017.
The Good news is the message that Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate, who obeyed in the place of his people, suffered for them, was crucified, dead, and buried for them, was raised for their justification, and is coming again. We receive Christ and his benefits by God’s free favor (grace) alone, through faith (resting, receiving, trusting) in Christ alone. That is the gospel. Any doctrine that denies this message is a “gospel issue.”
The article continues by articulating the historic Reformation (and Reformed) distinction between law and gospel. The way I spoke in the article is the way our Reformed forebears spoke and, more significantly, it is the way we speak in our confessional standards and thus the reader might imagine my surprise to see that quotation being cited as an example of error. I have not subscribed to The Outlook for a while, so I did not see it until someone sent to it me, but the parent organization, Reformed Fellowship Inc., has published, in booklet form, for 15 years, a series of articles I wrote for that publication responding to the Federal Vision: Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace. In that very booklet (e.g., pp. 4–5, 18–19) I advocated the substance of the view which at least one Michigan preacher and now Barnes now finds problematic. In his review, Barnes did not note the context of the passage he quotes, nor does it seem that he bothered to see if I had said anything else about how to characterize or define the gospel. In fact, I have. In 2004 I published an essay on this very topic, “When The Good News Becomes Bad.” It has been online for a decade or more. In it I articulated the historic Reformed distinction between law and gospel, but I also accounted for the fact that there is a broader sense of gospel and a narrower sense. Rev. Barnes seems to have missed that nuance in his research nor does he seem to have consulted the chapter, “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in R. Scott Clark, ed., Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006), 331–63 or “Law and Gospel in Early Reformed Orthodoxy: Hermeneutical Conservatism in Olevianus’ Commentary on Romans,” in Jordan J. Ballor, David S. Sytsma and Jason Zuidema eds., Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Muller on the Maturation of a Theological Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2013). For more on the historic Reformed and Reformation distinction between law and gospel, see the resources below.
Barnes goes on to say, “[m]ost R2K advocates emphasize that the gospel thus defined alone has a place in the pulpit.” He then quotes yours truly again, this time from an essay I wrote against the intrusion of “woke” or critical theory into the agenda of the church:
The church, as a visible institution, as the embassy of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, has no social agenda for the wider civil and cultural world. To use a World War II analogy, as an institution, the church as such is more like Switzerland than it is like Germany. Christians are free to form what the Dutch Reformed used to call societies (committees, organizations) to achieve this end or that but they are not free to impose those agendas on the visible, institutional church by way of programs or in public worship. Christian organizations must stand or fall on their own, without the endorsement of the visible church.
Again, I stand by these words. The church, as an institution, is a spiritual institution with a very definite mission. Christians, however, are free to organize and advocate as they will, within the confines of God’s moral law. Barnes responds to my argument from the silence of the New Testament about the social issues facing the Roman empire in the first century by arguing “sizable chunks of John’s Revelation condemn the wicked works of the Roman government, while Daniel was not shy about calling out the social sins of the four world empires. Amos and Isaiah, among others, were bold in addressing the social sins of the nations that surrounded Israel.”
He also complains that I do not account for places in the New Testament where Scripture addresses “all manner of sins.” With regard to his appeal to the Revelation perhaps Barnes is assuming a particular stance regarding the dating of the Revelation or how to interpret symbolic language, but as I understand it, the Spirit, through the Apostle John, is instructing the churches of Asia Minor (and the rest of us) as to the nature of inter-adventual life. I have never read the Revelation the way Rev. Barnes seems to assume to be obvious. Certainly, we may learn from the OT prophets (major and minor) and one of the things we should learn is to whom they were speaking (God’s drifting national people) and to whom those words apply now, the visible church. I cannot imagine how Barnes concludes that I think that Reformed preaching should not remind God’s people about the sins of the nations, nor can I imagine how he thinks that his conclusion follows from his premises. Perhaps just as he operates from a different hermeneutical handbook than I, he also has his own rules of logic?
Nothing I wrote, in the passage Barnes quotes (or anywhere else) could be construed by a fair-minded reader as forbidding preachers from preaching the law—which is the first part of “the law and the gospel”—nor could anyone look at my writing and conclude that I think that preachers should not apply the law to congregations in their pedagogical, civil, and normative uses or even apply it to the broader culture. There are dozens of articles on the HB (and elsewhere) on the application of the law in all three uses and to multiple audiences. What Barnes seems not to understand is my argument that the church as an institution, may not be harvested for a social agenda unless he equates preaching and applying God’s holy law with one social agenda or another and the harnessing of the visible church to that agenda. Frankly, Barnes’ essay reveals that he simply does not seem to grasp the traditional Reformed position on the third use of the law and thus he seems to impute his impoverished understanding to me and then proceeds to critique it. What we have here is a series of straw men, which he proceeds to knock down.
Perhaps the most telling example of his inadequate understanding of the historic Reformed approach to the distinction between law and gospel is his quotation and application of Acts 20:27, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” and says the phrase, “‘the whole counsel of God’…addresses matters encompassing all of life.” Amen! That is not in question, but the issue is how? The traditional Reformed way of understanding Paul’s expression, the “whole counsel of God” is as shorthand for the law and the gospel. Notice how Calvin interpreted this phrase in his 1552–54 commentary on Acts:
I do not doubt but that he had respect unto the place of Ezekiel, where God denounces that his prophet shall be guilty of the blood of the wicked unless he exhorts them unto repentance (Ezek 3:18, 20.) For upon this condition he appoints pastors over his Church, that if anything perish through their negligence, an account may be required at their hands; yea, that unless they show the way of salvation without guile and crooks, the destruction of those who go astray may be imputed unto them. Those men must needs be wonderful dull whom such a sharp threatening cannot awake. Wherefore the Epicurean impiety of the Popish clergy the more accuses itself, where, though they cry and brag of their honorable titles, yet they think no more upon giving of an account for so many souls which perish, than if there sat no Judge in heaven, neither is their ungodliness any whit less filthy before the whole world, in that being given only to devour sheep, they usurp the name of pastors. Furthermore, the Lord shows how dear souls be to him, seeing that he so sharply punishes the pastor’s sluggishness for their destruction; but we see what small account many men make of their own salvation, for which even God himself bestows to be careful.15
As Calvin understood “the whole counsel of God,” it referred to a call to repentance and the preaching of the “way of salvation without guile and crooks…” i.e., the law and the gospel. God’s Word does speak to all of life but, like Calvin, we do well to be careful to observe how. For Calvin, in Acts 20:27, Paul was speaking chiefly about salvation and Calvin mentioned nothing about a social agenda or even the ills of the surrounding (nominally) Christian world. Perhaps Barnes should also give Calvin lessons on how God’s Word speaks to the whole of life because he too seems to have missed that memo.
All of this is background to the Overture 12 from Classis Michigan, asking the Synod of the URCNA to adopt pastoral advice regarding “the Relationship of Church, State, and Family,” (hereafter O12).16 The preamble to O12 observes the pervasive “moral and cultural decline” in the USA and Canada (the URCs are located in both countries). It expresses concern about what I previously characterized as the end of Christendom, that North America is “…renouncing, both in law and in socio-cultural life, its historic Christian heritage in pursuit of liberty without the Gospel, justice without God’s law, truth without the Scriptures, flourishing without obedience, atonement without the cross, love without faithfulness, peace without repentance, salvation without Christ, and a world without creational norms.”
That this is so is undisputed. What is in question is how the visible, institutional church, as Christ’s representative institution on the earth should respond. O12 calls the visible church to “set forth, to all powers and authorities, the claims of Christ and the freedoms possessed by His Kingdom people, the church (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 3:10; Col. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:9-11, 17; 3:15; 1 Pet. 2:16-17; 5:11).” The audience for O12 seems not to be the church but the powers and principalities of this age. The ground given for this address to the magistrate is Matthew 28:18, Hebrews 12:28–29, and Matthew 10:26–33. This paragraph seems particularly revealing of the intent of the classis:
In a cultural context in which ultimate authority is being seized by – or readily surrendered to – the state, imperiling our sacred obligations and exposing both government and citizens to divine judgment, we must be mindful that freedoms not defended are soon forfeited. It is the obligation of the church to oppose whatever seeks to usurp ultimate authority, lovingly protecting our neighbors from enslavement to tyranny.
We did not see this sort of language coming from the assemblies of the church pre-Covid. That O12 comes from Western Michigan is significant since the governor there imposed a strict lockdown, provoking a strong reaction in many quarters. This language seems to reflect that reaction. Ironically, it is as a proponent of a twofold kingdom analysis of Christ and culture that I have advocated for and defended the liberty of the churches over against unconstitutional orders by health authorities and others. For more on this see the resources below.
The grounds for O12 are significant and they help us to understand the intent of the overture:
1. Serious cultural errors and a broad moral decline presently are infecting and marginalizing the church, such that our civil society is renouncing, both in law and in socio-cultural life, our historic Christian heritage.
2. Increasingly the state is imperiling our God-given obligations and exposing our government and citizens to divine judgment.
3. These developments have sown confusion among the churches regarding the relationship between church and state, the proper submission due to governing authorities, and the boundaries belonging to the family, the church, and the state. The need to apply Scripture and our Confessions to our contemporary context is important for the unity of the churches on these significant matters.
I will address these grounds in the comments on the nine points below:
1. Jesus Christ claims and owns total authority over the nations as the Creator and Ruler of the kings, judges, and governors of the earth (Ps. 2:7-12; Ps. 110; Luke 23:3; John 19:11; Acts 17:7; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:15-17; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 1:5).
The rhetoric of the overture reminds one more of that of the Covenanters regarding the “crown rights of King Jesus” and the “Mediatorial Kingship of Christ” than it does that of the Apostle Paul. There is no question whether Christ owns and claims authority over all nations. What is at issue is how he has ordained to administer that authority. According to Calvin and many of his Reformed orthodox successors, Christ does so through his twofold kingdom. Are our brothers in Michigan accounting for that distinction?
The congregations of Western Michigan did suffer but were they jailed or martyred? The Apostle Paul was unjustly handled and jailed—and he did finally invoke his civil rights (Acts 25:11)—but he did not declare the mediatorial kingship of Christ.
2. The one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal), and apostolic church was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ long before our contemporary temporal authorities came into existence, and the church grows and remains until the return of Christ, even when the nations where she is found crumble (Matt. 16:18; Mark 3:13-19; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:7-13; Col. 1:18; Belgic Confession Art. 27).
3. The church of Jesus Christ does not have her position in the nation assigned to her by the permission of civil government, but jure divino – she has her own organization, and she possesses her own office-bearers (Matt. 10:1-15; 18:15-20; 28:18-20; Acts 14:23; 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 6:1-7; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:9-13; Belgic Confession Arts. 30 & 31; URCNA Foundational Principles 3, 6, and 12).
Amen. Perhaps my brothers in Michigan are more amenable to a twofold kingdom analysis than some of their rhetoric would lead us to believe?
4. The authority of the state and the authority of the church exist side by side, instituted by God according to the purpose and means assigned by God and in service to God, as recognized in the Scriptures. The magistrate is instituted by God and is endowed with power, in order that it, on its part and within the limits set for its authority, may maintain and promote the flourishing of human life and its development as a society pleasing to God in agreement with the law of God (Mark 12:13-17; Acts 5:29-32; Rom. 13:1, 4; 1 Cor. 6:1-7; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:1-4; Belgic Confession Art. 36).
The language of “flourishing” comes from the neo-Kuyperian school of rhetoric. The verb “to flourish” does not occur in our confession. Thus, it has the status of an opinion or that of social theory, but it has no place in an ecclesiastical document.
We should also be careful not to assume any sort of American-Israelite view of the USA or any other post-theocratic nation. The nation of Israel was the last theocratic state as far as Christians are concerned. God has made no national covenant with any other.
5. The church shall recognize and honor the magistrate in its God-given power and service by faithfully proclaiming the full demands of the Word of God, both for the office and life of the magistrate and for that of its subjects; and by being mindful of the apostolic injunction to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for all men, including kings and those in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-2; see also Ezra 6:10; Jer. 29:7; 1 Pet. 2:17; Belgic Confession Art. 36).
Amen. It might have been helpful here too for the brothers to remind us all of what we confess about the fifth commandment in Heidelberg 104, “That I show all honor, love and faithfulness to my father and mother, and to all in authority over me; submit myself with due obedience to all their good instruction and correction, and also bear patiently with their infirmities, since it is God’s will to govern us by their hand.” In O12 are the brothers “bearing patiently with the infirmities” of Governor Whitmer et al.?
6. The magistrate, under penalty of forsaking its proper office and falling into tyranny, should forbear assuming the right and power of the only King of the church, Jesus Christ, who from heaven rules and protects and saves His church. The church with its officers, in all that has been given and entrusted to her, owes allegiance and responsibility to Christ alone, and shall for the coming of His kingdom and the overthrow of the kingdoms of antichrist have her expectations fixed alone upon the power of His Spirit and the revelation of His glory. (Ps. 2:7- 9; Dan. 2:44; Rev. 2:4-5; Rev. 11:15; Rev. 20:7-10; Belgic Confession Arts. 27 & 36).
Tyranny is a great evil and our Reformed forebears, e.g., Theodore Beza (1519–1605) and others in our tradition opposed it mightily (on this see the resources below). Nevertheless, this article is arguably as indebted to Protestant Resistance theory as it is to Scripture or the Confession. We would do well here to remember that the author of our confession, Guy de Bres (1522—67) chose martyrdom over rebellion. He had the opportunity to rebel against the city of Antwerp and thereby to be delivered from death. He chose death because he believed that rebellion against the magistrates in Antwerp, even though what they were about to do was wicked in the sight of God and all righteous men. What this means is that good and godly men, formative influences on our theology, piety, and practice disagreed in theory and in practice over the question of resistance to unjust magistrates. That very fact urges us to be moderate in our rhetoric about and to the civil magistrate.
Here again, the twofold kingdom analysis of Christ and culture helps us as we, as citizens of the secular polity seek to uphold natural liberties. One of the classical functions of Reformed natural law theory is to resist tyranny.
7. The church must fulfill its obligation freely and fully to preach and teach the Law and Gospel of Jesus Christ, proselytize, establish churches, and disciple those who wish to follow Christ, despite any form of censorship or penalties imposed by temporal civil authorities. We reject all false doctrine asserting that the church must surrender the content or form of her message to the prevailing ideological and political convictions of our day. The Christian church is in all things to acknowledge and declare the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose Word upholds all things. The civil magistrate is called to protect the preaching of the Gospel and all the holy service of God with all the means given to it by God, in order that freedom of conscience to serve God according to His Word be guaranteed and every anti-Christian power which would threaten the church in the exercise of her holy ministrations be resisted and prevented (Psalm 82; Matt. 28:18-20; Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; Belgic Confession Art. 36; Canons of Dort Head 2, Art. 5).
We confess as much in Belgic Confession articles 27 and 28 but what is less clear, based upon the rhetoric emanating from at least a couple of places in Western Michigan, is whether we agree about what we mean when we say, “law and gospel.” In light of the rhetoric appearing in the pages of the The Outlook and proceeding from certain pulpits in the classis, it would behoove the brothers to be perfectly clear by what they mean by what has become, sadly, a disputed phrase.
It is good to see that the brothers reject “all false doctrine asserting that the church must surrender the content or form of her message to the prevailing ideologies and political convictions of the day.” Does this mean that they disagree with brother Barnes’ article? After all, this language would seem to mean that the church, as an institution, may no more become hostage to the cultural-political agenda or ideology of the middle-class right than it may of the upper-class left in America.
8. The church and her members must remain committed to meeting in person for religious worship, prayer, the study of the Bible, or any other purpose necessary to her mission in spite of disturbance or interruption from any persons. The sacred duties to assemble for worship and engage in Christian ministry are divine obligations laid down in Holy Scripture and should be recognized and protected by civil authorities. Christians have the obligation to join with the assembly of Christ’s church wherever God has established it, even if civil decrees forbid it and death and physical punishment result (Ps. 92:1-2; Psalm 100; Heb. 10:19-25; Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 38; Belgic Confession Art. 28).
As a resident of a very blue state, which was locked down harder than Michigan, I understand the frustrations of the brothers which come to clear expression in this article. Nevertheless, the Church of Christ should speak to ecclesiastical matters and should speak very cautiously to matters of public policy beyond its vocation and authority. It seems clear now, in hindsight, that the public health authorities overreacted to the Covid pandemic, but does that overreaction license the assemblies of the church to make declarations like this? What if, God forbid, the bubonic plague should break out again? In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the magistrates cleared out entire towns, including the churches. Are there no circumstances in which the magistrate might limit or restrict the ability of the church to meet? In San Diego County it is wildfire season. At times authorities issue evacuation orders. Does the magistrate have the right to make such orders that might even temporarily affect the ability of the visible church to meet?
9. Parents in Christian churches must continue to disciple, educate, and catechize their children in the faith and confession of the church and lawfully resist all persecution, reprisal, or the seizure of their children by the state. We reject the false ideology that beyond its God-ordained and limited sphere as a ministry of public justice, the state should become sovereign over human life and so presume to fulfill the vocations of the family and the church (Eccl. 2:24-26; Eccl 3:12-14; Daniel 1; Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 1 & 13; Belgic Confession Art. 36).
Again, my brothers seem to be embracing a twofold kingdom analysis of Christ and culture, insofar as they are recognizing that there are distinct spheres in which entities are limited.
The question that keeps arising as I work through these points is not whether we all agree that there are, in nature, divinely ordained limits on the authority of the civil magistrate but whether O12 sufficiently recognizes the divinely ordained limits upon the visible, institutional church? In article 17 of our church order we all agree: “In all assemblies only ecclesiastical matters shall be transacted, only in an ecclesiastical manner.” In O12, have the brothers confined themselves to speaking in an ecclesiastical manner to “only ecclesiastical matters?” It seems fairly obvious to me that their frustration with the state of the world and the collapse of the culture permeates this overture. Further, has the rejection of the old distinctions by the neo-Kuyperians led to confusion about the marks, vocation, and authority of the visible church? These are important questions with which Synod Niagara shall have to deal carefully and prayerfully.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
1. Jonathan D. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi: Christ’s Twofold Kingdom in Reformed Theology. Studies in Reformed Theology, Volume 40. (Leiden: Brill, 2021), 77.
2. The quotation is revised from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. and ed. Ford Lewis Battles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 6.13. NB: Neither the edition of the 1536 Institutes Opera Calvini (in the Corpus Reformatorum) nor that which appears in vol. 1 of the Opera Selecta use paragraph numbers. The Latin text for this quotation appears in 1.232–33.
3. Institutes, 3.19.15 (1559; Battles edition).
4. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi, 81.
5. Daniel Hyde, With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession (Grand Rapids: Reformed Fellowship, 2008), 481.
6. Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharius Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, 3rd American Edition. Trans. G. W. Williard (Cincinnati: T. P. Bucher, 1851), 450.
7. In his 1576 commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, Caspar Olevianus freely invoked and evoked Luther’s language about two spiritual kingdoms in the world, the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Satan. See Caspar Olevianus, An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, trans. Lyle Bierma. Volume 2: Classic Reformed Theology, ed. R. Scott Clark (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009), 9.
8. William Perkins, A Cloud of Faithful Witnesses Leading to the Heavenly Canaan or A Commentary Upon Hebrews Chapter 11 in The Works of William Perkins (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 3.351.
9. George Gillespie, Male audis or, An answer to Mr. Coleman his Malè dicis: Wherein the repugnancy of his Erastian doctrine to the word of God, to the solemne league and covenant, and to the ordinances of Parliament…. (London, 1646), 55. [spelling modernized] Andrew Melville made a two kingdoms argument to the Scottish crown. Vid.
10. On this see Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi, 125–31.
11. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi, 135ff.
12. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–97). See also J. H. Heidegger, The Concise Marrow of Christian Theology, trans. Casey Carmichael, Classic Reformed Theology, ed. R. Scott Clark (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), XIX.xxi–xxii.
13. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi, 161.
14. For more on this document and what it intends to say, see the following resources: Explaining the Nine Points of Synod Schereville
15. John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, 2 vols. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 2.252–53. The spelling and vocabulary have been modernized for readability.
16. O12 begins on p. 103 of the provisional agenda.
- How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Why I Am A Christian
- Support Heidelmedia: use the donate button
- Thomas P. Roche, Meet the Theonomists.
- Resources On The Federal Vision Theology
- Resources On Theonomy And Reconstructionism
- Resources On The Twofold Kingdom
- Resources On Natural Law
- Resources on Reformed Scholasticism
- James Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. Library of Religious Biography (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2013).
- Jonathan D. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi: Christ’s Twofold Kingdom in Reformed Theology. Studies in Reformed Theology, Volume 40. (Leiden: Brill, 2021).
- Resources On Common Grace
- Resources On Christ And Culture
- Resources on the Law/Gospel Distinction
- Resources On the Doctrine of Sanctification And The Third Use Of The Law
- Sanctification Is A Work Of God’s Grace: Resources On Sanctification
- Resources On Keeping Justification And Sanctification Together Without Confusing Them
- Resources On Covid And Religious Liberty
- Resources On Religious Liberty
- Beza’s Role In Developing Resistance Theory
- Malthus or Althusius? An Introduction To A Pioneering Reformed Social Theorist