Heidelcast Series: God’s Holy Law


The historic, confessional, Reformed understanding of Scripture is that it contains two kinds of words, law and gospel. The law promised eternal life to Adam on condition of perfect obedience on behalf of all humanity. Adam sinned, transgressed God’s holy law, and . . . Continue reading →

Does The Twofold Kingdom License Antinomianism Etc?

We are in the midst of a tempest in a teapot regarding the contemporary, post-theocratic appropriation of Calvin’s distinction between the sacred and the secular, which is called God’s “twofold government” of the world.

One allegation, which has apparently persuaded some to declare what they are calling “Reformed Two Kingdoms” heterodox, in an act by the leadership of a Reformed congregation, is that “R2K” (whatever that means) licenses all manner of lawlessness. Is this true?

Categorically no. Here are the specific allegations, that R2K advocates:

  1. Affirm same-sex civil unions to protect legal and economic interests
  2. Nero did not violate God’s law when he burned Christians at the stake for not obeying Nero.
  3. Scriptural ethics do not norm the common kingdom, as it is left to natural law.
  4. We owe virtual unlimited submission to the State, per a superficial reading of Romans 13.
  5. Christians can advocate for the repeal of anti-bestiality laws and not be in sin.
  6. Christians need not advocate for anti-abortion laws. Just because abortion is murder does not mean the state must make a law against it.
  7. Defend Tullian against the charge of antinomian theology.

These allegations are easily disposed. The unstated assumption of the allegations is that all contemporary Reformed advocates of “two kingdoms” (or as I would prefer, “twofold kingdom”; hereafter 2K) are in complete agreement in their application of a 2K analysis of contemporary issues. The other assumption is that any approach the leads to a conclusion with which one disagrees is intrinsically corrupt. This is a test that the critics’ own position cannot pass. Neo-Kuyperianism and cultural transformationalism have led to no bad outcomes or permitted no unhappy conclusions? Are we reading the same news about Grand Rapids? Of course, this is a fallacious criticism: cum hoc, ergo propter hoc (with it, therefore because of it). Transformationalism and 2K should be judged on their respective merits rather than on the basis of logical fallacies.

  1. I have consistently advocated against same-sex marriage. Post-Obergefell, civil unions are a moot question, are they not? Here are the resource pages on LGBTQ/Revoice and homosexual marriage. I know of one contemporary advocate of 2K who has publicly said, prior to the Obergefell decision, that he would support same-sex civil unions (but opposed gay marriage). To my knowledge, no one has shown that 2K logically leads to permission of same-sex civil unions.
  2. I know of no advocate of 2K who thinks that Nero acted justly in murdering and martyring Christians. Again, how does this conclusion follow logically or necessarily from 2K? I have argued consistently that Nero violated the moral law of God. He was a horrible tyrant. In Belgic Confession art. 37 we confess about Nero and his like:

    They will then receive the fruits of their labor and of the trouble they have suffered; their innocence will be openly recognized by all; and they will see the terrible vengeance that God will bring on the evil ones who tyrannized, oppressed, and tormented them in this world. The evil ones will be convicted by the witness of their own consciences, and shall be made immortal—but only to be tormented in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    On the basis of God’s natural, moral law, I have defended civil and religious liberty at length (see resources below). I have defended the American Revolution as a just war against a tyrant and the Reformed theory of resistance to tyrants generally (see the resources below).

  3. This allegation begs the question. This is another informal logical fallacy. It assumes what it must prove, namely that natural law and “Scriptural ethics” are two distinct things. In fact, the moral law is the substance of the natural law and the natural law is the moral law. This is basic Reformed theology and I am surprised that some of the transformationalist critics in this debate seem not to know even elementary points. When I appeal to natural law to forbid abortion, gay marriage, sodomy, bestiality (to anticipate a point), etc., I am appealing to Scriptural ethics just as Paul did in Romans 1 and 2. The law of nature was revealed at Sinai (in typological form) and again in the New Testament. Our Lord Jesus summarized it in Matthew 22:37–40. See the resources below for more on the historic Reformed use of natural law.
  4. I know of a no advocate of any form of 2K who argues for unlimited submission to the State. I have addressed this at length here and on the Heidelcast. The benchmark is Acts 5:29. We must obey God rather than men. When and where do we draw that line? Christians of good faith are going to disagree. Early on, when we were told that it was “two weeks to flatten the curve” and we knew less than we do now about the nature of Covid-19, I argued that we should submit to the magistrate’s unusual request to suspend services. Later, when we knew more about Covid-19, I defended the right of congregations (e.g., Grace Community Church) to practice civil disobedience with the caveat we should do so respectfully and that we should submit to health and safety regulations. It was, after Calvin who not only gave us the “twofold kingdom,” (which our critics seem conveniently to ignore) but also the doctrine of the lesser magistrate (Institutes, 4.20). It is not clear to me that Calvin himself can pass the test posed by our critics since, in Institutes 4.2.23 he addresses the question of how far we ought to submit to tyrants. Unless we are going to reject the right of the local fire department to inspect our fire extinguishers and AED equipment. We would certainly allow the health department to inspect the church kitchen and codes inspectors to make sure that the wiring is up to code. How many churches will burn this year because of faulty electrical wiring. I know of a congregation in my hometown that has burned down not once but twice for that reason. See the resources below on Acts 5:29, Covid and religious liberty.
  5. Has any advocate of 2K argued for the repeal of anti-bestiality laws? Again, how does this follow logically or necessarily from 2K? Is there any straw man to which our critics will not resort? One begins to wonder about their willingness to discuss this matter in good faith. For the record, bestiality is a violation of the natural, moral law, which is reflected in holy Scripture. It is an abomination. Those who practice it ought to receive a capital punishment. See the resources on LGBTQ below.
  6. This seems like another straw man. The question is poorly formed. Are the critics supposing that any Christian layman who does not actively advocate for anti-abortion regulations is in sin? This is a difficult case to make. For my part, I have been actively protesting abortion since 1987. I have protested hospitals and abortion clinics. I have written against abortion and attempted to persuade others of the intrinsic value of human life. We know from nature that murder is wrong and we know from nature that infant humans are due the protection of law. Even the pagans knew that abortion was a crime. The early Christians opposed abortion, though I know of no case where they issued a protest to Caesar about the pagan practice of chemical abortion and abandonment of newborn infants. The Christians themselves rebelled against the status quo by protecting their infants. On the premise of the criticism, we should have to condemn the entire ancient Christian church before Constantine. For more on this see the resources below.
  7. Years ago I did defend Tullian against the charge of antinomianism. I was wrong. Mea culpa. What this has to do with 2k I do not know and the critics have not demonstrated. I took Tullian at his word that he was teaching the third use of the law in his congregation and that he was battling neonomianism. As it turns out Tullian was (and is) a practical antinomian and I have denounced him as such. The critics conveniently ignore that fact. I have also steadfastly taught the third use of the law and exposited the Decalogue in that light (see the resources below for more on this).

Some of these allegations are simply bizarre and say more about the critics than about those criticized but any fair-minded person who consults the resources below will see how false the allegations are.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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