One of the most important aspects in the debate over so-called Christian Nationalism is the nature of Christ’s Lordship and Kingdom. According to Augustine, there are two cities. According to Luther (and more than a few Reformed writers) there are two kingdoms. According to Calvin, there is one kingdom with two spheres (the sacred and the secular). The TheoRecons, however, typically reject those distinctions.
In the fifth article of the Statement, the framers write:
WE AFFIRM that in addition to possessing the titles of Savior, Messiah, and many others, Jesus, the Son of God, Who is truly God, is also the King of all earthly kings, the Lord of all earthly lords, and the Lawmaker for all earthly lawmakers. He is the possessor of all authority in heaven and on earth. We affirm that as God, Jesus Christ is preeminent over all creation, sovereignly rules over all things visible and invisible in heaven, earth, and hell, and ordains all things according to the counsel of His perfect will for the good of those who are in Him. In His mediatorial rule, Christ rules by His Spirit and Word through earthly authority, which He divinely has ordained to execute His will on the earth to orient humankind toward Himself. We affirm that Christ alone, through the blood of His cross, grants repentance and forgiveness of sins to reconcile sinners to His Father.
The Statement invokes some important categories in the history of Reformed thought, but it is not clear from this article exactly what they mean by them. For example, there is no question whether Christ is King over all—the holy Scriptures clearly indicate this truth. When Jesus said that his kingdom was not “of this world” (John 8:36), he affirmed that he indeed has a kingdom. That was the irony of the mocking at the cross, “Hail, King of the Jews” (John 19:3). He was King of the Jews and of everyone else. Peter cites Psalm 110:1 in Acts 2:35. The ascended Christ is at the Father’s right hand and he is ruling the nations. This is what both Psalm 2 and 110 teach us: Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies.
They also invoke Christ’s mediatorial kingship, but they do not explain just what they mean by that. Do they intend here to affirm the Scottish covenanter view of Christ’s mediatorial kingship wherein Christ is said to be Mediator for nations (as political entities) in the same way that he is Mediator of the church? It seems so, but it is not entirely clear. If so, they are dissenting from William Perkins, Samuel Rutherford, and George Gillespie, who each rejected the Covenanter view.
Therefore Christ, as he is God, has under him, emperors, kings, princes to be his vicegerents; who therefore are called gods (Ps 82:1). But as he is Mediator, i.e., a priest, prophet, and king of the church, he has no vicegerent, vicar, or lieutenant, who, in his either kingly or priestly office, in both, or but one, can be in his stead.1
Like many Reformed writers after him, Perkins affirmed both Christ’s general dominion over all things, and his special (saving) dominion over the visible church.
Samuel Rutherford also rejected the Covenanter view as, “the heart and soul of popery.” He argued the “Magistrate is not the Vicar nor Deputy of Jesus Christ as Mediator.” Rather, he argued,
Christ is the head and only head of the Church, for by what title Christ is before all things, he in whom all things consist, and is the beginning, the first borne from the dead, and hath the preeminence in all things; and he is onely, solely and absolutely all these, by the same title he is the Head of the body the Church, Col. 1:17, 18.
According to Rutherford, Christ’s special or saving or mediatorial rule is restricted to the church.
George Gillespie agreed with Perkins and Rutherford.
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.
He appealed to Calvin’s doctrine of the twofold kingdom to distinguish Christ’s general (universal) rule over all things, and his special or saving rule over the church.
The framers of the Statement reject the position held by Perkins, Gillespie, and Rutherford (and implicitly by Calvin, who did not make the legitimacy of the magistrate contingent upon his recognition of Christ’s mediatorial Lordship and who clearly distinguished between Christ’s general dominion and his special, mediatorial kingship over the church.
The framers of the Statement explicitly reject the basis for the distinction made by Calvin, Perkins, et al:
WE DENY any theology which would seek to segregate sacred aspects of life, where God’s Word is authoritative, and supposedly secular aspects of life, where the Christian must operate by a standard other than God’s Word. We deny any theology which claims that bringing God’s Word into the civil sphere is unwise, unfruitful, sinful, or anything other than fitting and required. We deny that Jesus’ kingship and lordship are merely heavenly or that His Word is only authoritative over confessing Christians.
The framers must be unacquainted not only with Perkins, Rutherford, and Gillespie but also with Calvin’s foundational work on this very question in Institutes 3.19.15:
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.
For Calvin, there is only one kingdom of God but that kingdom has two spheres: the sacred and the secular. One is spiritual or sacred, and the other temporal or secular. This is not a fanciful interpretation. He used these very categories this way in Institutes 2.2.13, 20. For Calvin, “earthly things” are secular. These have to do with this present life. “Heavenly things” pertain to the “pure knowledge of God,” true righteousness, and the “mysteries of the heavenly kingdom.” To the “first class” category belongs every day life, including civil or secular government. To the latter belongs principally the administration of Word, sacrament, and discipline in the visible church.
Did Calvin “segregate” the sacred and the secular or nature and grace? It seems that the framers intended, by that word, to prejudice the reader against the historic Reformed and ancient Christian distinctions between nature and grace and the sacred and the secular.
In their denial of this distinction they could not be more wrongheaded. Setting aside for the moment the pejorative verb “segregate,” there is no distinction which would be more helpful in our attempt to work through the relations of Christ and culture.
It is not the distinction between the sacred and the secular that is causing problems for Christians as much as the ignorance, neglect, and rejection of that distinction. According to Calvin and Gillespie (since they both use the language “twofold kingdom”), Christ is Lord over all but he rules his kingdom in two distinct spheres.
The rejection of this distinction has lead to the sacralization of the state and the secularization of the church. Would that the framers (and the other advocates of TheoRecon Christian Nationalism) were as zealous for the reformation of the embassy of Christ’s heavenly kingdom on earth, the church, as they are to “take back” the secular sphere of Christ’s kingdom. When it comes to theology, they take a minimalist approach but when it comes to secular politics, they take a maximalist approach. They have things backward.
Not only do they reject the historic Christian (and biblical) distinction between the sacred and the secular but they also set up a straw man regarding the role of Scripture in public life. Where exactly did any of the Apostles bring “God’s Word into the civil sphere”?
Fair-minded Christians may disagree about the wisdom of appealing to Deuteronomy when testifying before a legislative committee on the death penalty. That is a prudential matter but I should like to know why it is wise to do so? Why not make an argument for capital punishment from nature? Why not oppose same-sex marriage on the basis of nature? After all, no American legislature is obligated to institute the Mosaic civil penalties. They are obligated to enforce God’s moral law as revealed in nature, which tells us that the only just punishment for taking another life unjustly is to forfeit one’s life. Genesis 9:6 itself reflects this natural truth. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of human biology can see that same-sex relations are contrary to nature.
Whom do the framers have in mind when they deny “Jesus’ kingship and lordship are merely heavenly or that His Word is only authoritative over confessing Christians”? God’s Word is authoritative for all people, but the precise question before us is the application of God’s Word, under the New Covenant, after the expiration of the Mosaic/Israelite theocracy to secular government. We have no example of this in the New Covenant, and even the Westminster Divines, theocrats all, appealed to natural law (i.e., general equity) rather than to Scripture per se.
The Statement here then seems to beg the question, that is to assume what it must prove.
We will continue our interaction next time.
1. Golden Chaine ch. 18 in The Works of William Perkins (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018) 6.53.
2. For more on Gillespie’s context see David MacKay’s essay, “From Popery to Principle: Covenanters and the Kingship of Christ” in Anthony T. Selvaggio, ed. The Faith Once Delivered. See also Scott McDermand, Westminster’s Youngest Divine: George Gillespie.
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