Two-Kingdom Tuesday: More Spiritual (and Less Corinthian) than Thou

Contemporary Reformed Protestants are divided on their reading of the Reformation. The 2k advocates find in Calvin and others precedent for the spirituality of the church, that is, the idea that the kingdom of Christ is not to be identified with the state or the civil order but with the visible church which possesses the keys of the kingdom. The 2k critics, whether theonomists (hard or soft) or neo-Calvinist redeemers of culture, read in Calvin and others the basis for magistrates enforcing both tables of the Law, ensuring a Christian society, and even supervising the spiritual kingdom – after all, they called it a magisterial reformation for a reason.

In other words, the advocates of 2k insist that Christ’s kingdom cannot be located in temporal politics; 2k critics argue that Christ’s kingdom is in fact everywhere and that the church implements some, the state and families the rest.

What ends this contest, game, set, and match, for 2k proponents is the spirituality of the church.

Here is Calvin on the nature of Christ’s kingship:

I come now to kingship. It would be pointless to speak of this without first warning my readers that it is spiritual in nature. For from this we infer its efficacy and benefit for us, as well as its whole force and eternity. . . . For we see that whatever is earthly is of this world and of time, and is indeed fleeting. Therefore Christ, to lift our hope to heaven, declares that his “kingship is not of this world” [John 18:36]. In short, when any one of us hears that Christ’s kingship is spiritual, aroused by this word, let him attain to the hope of a better life; and since it is now protected by Christ’s hand, let him await the full fruit of this grace in the age to come. (Institutes, II. xv. 3)

Here is Calvin on the second petition of the Lord’s prayer (“thy kingdom come,” for the catechetically challenged):

God reigns where men, both by denial of themselves and by contempt of the world and of earthly life, pledge themselves to his righteousness in order to aspire to a heavenly life. Thus there are two parts to this Kingdom: first, that God by the power of his Spirit correct all the desires of the flesh which by squadrons war against him; second, that he shape all our thoughts in obedience to his rule. . . . Now because the word of God is like a royal scepter, we are bidden here to entreat him to bring all mens’ minds and hearts into voluntary obedience to it. This happens when he manifests the working of his word through the secret inspiration of his Spirit in order that it may stand forth in the degree of honor that it deserves. (III. xx. 42)

And finally, Calvin on the magistrate:

But whoever knows how to distinguish between body and soul, between this present fleeting life and that future eternal life, will without difficulty know that Christ’s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct. Since, then, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and enclose Christ’s Kingdom within the elements of this world, let us rather ponder that what Scripture clearly teaches is a spiritual fruit, which we gather from Christ’s grace; and let us remember to keep within its own limits all that freedom which is promised and offered to us in him. (IV.xx.1)

For anyone wondering why this matter is so decisive, consider the following: if Calvin is right about the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom, then the state’s establishment of righteousness, no matter how beneficial or comprehensive, is always outward and temporal. The state does not deal with the spiritual or eternal realities because it lacks the means to do so. And if an institution ordained by God to punish wickedness cannot advance the kingdom, how much less the media or environment?

This means that 2k advocates have no trouble explaining Calvin’s instructions to magistrates about the need for a Christian order. For starters, he didn’t know any better; he was a man of his time and regarded the religious duties of magistrates the way we take usury in the form of credit cards for granted. For the main course, Calvin wasn’t stupid; to advocate a separation between the Christian and temporal authorities was to be a radical. Calvin needed Reformed magistrates if he and others were not to wind up like Huss and Wycliffe.

But if Calvin believed, as Federal Visionists, neo-Calvinists, and various theonomists do, that temporal institutions other than the church, or cultural activities usher in the kingdom, you would think he would gut the spirituality of the church from his text. He didn’t. That would apparently mean that while outward order and righteousness is desirable and God’s providential intention for this world, it is not a blueprint for a theology of glory where supposedly more faith and morality will resurrect Christendom. Calvin was emphatic that the way of Christ’s kingdom was the path of suffering. The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he argued:

ought to kindle zeal for mortification of the flesh; finally, it ought to instruct us in bearing the cross. For it is in this way that God wills to spread his Kingdom. But we should not take it ill that the outward man is in decay, provided the inner man is renewed [II Cor. 4:16]. For this is the condition of God’s Kingdom: that while we submit to his righteousness, he makes us sharers in his glory. (III. xx. 42)

What 2k critics cannot fathom is Calvin’s argument that the fruit of grace is spiritual. The fiercest critics of 2k are basically Corinthian; they associate the coming of the kingdom with redeemed television, better health care, a larger GDP, decrease in crime and secularization, and faith-based policy (especially regulating sex). In which case, neo-Calvinists and theonomists cannot agree with what the Westminster Divines taught about the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that it is the visible church outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Why do theonomists keep telling us about the saving ways of sanctified laws for the polity or neo-Calvinists about the redemptive capacities of a health environment? Have they never read Calvin on the spirituality of the church or Paul on the theology of glory? The answer, apparently, is a big NO.

37 thoughts on “Two-Kingdom Tuesday: More Spiritual (and Less Corinthian) than Thou

  1. “the kingdom of Christ is not to be identified with the state or the civil order but with the visible church”

    Isn’t that the Romanist view of 2k? If the church is not of this world, how can it be identified with the VISIBLE church? What is it about “not of this world” that needs explanation?

    My understanding is that 2k teaches the kingdom of God is identical to the Spiritual church (aka, the invisible church), not to any visible, institutional manifestation.


  2. Darryl, you write: “…neo-Calvinist redeemers of culture, read in Calvin and others the basis for magistrates enforcing both tables of the Law…

    Well, as I’ve said before, while Calvin held that magistrates should enforce both tables of the Law, such a view is not genuinely neocalvinist (Kuyperian).

    Wish you could get it straight.

    You also wrote that neocalvinists “cannot agree with what the Westminster Divines taught about the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that it is the visible church…

    Again, as a neocalvinist I certainly affirm this confessional teaching about the visible church.

    Whatever other criticisms you might have of neocalvinism, these two just don’t hold any water.
    On occasion you seem to appreciate that sphere sovereignty affirms the spirituality of the church, so why do you seem to keep forgetting?


  3. Vern, I recommend that you consult the church order of most Presbyterian churches. The church is visible and spiritual. The visible officers have spiritual power.

    Baus, I recommend you read VanDrunen on 2k and Natural Law. The Dooyeweerdian blurring of creation and redemption, which is legion in the neo-cal world (your exceptionalism may only prove the rule), has not been good for avoiding the Corinthian problem. Plus, if you are right, what’s up with Koyzis’ redeeming the world at Redeemer College?


  4. Vern,

    Good question. But chapter 25 of the Westminister Confession says that the Visible Church IS the Kingdom of Christ. Straight up. Of course, that does not mean that all within it are members of the Invisible Church, but the same was also true of Israel (Rom. 9:6). The key is that the NT kingdom is superior to the OT kingdom in that our powers are purely spiritual, “ministerial and declarative” as the PCA Book of Church Order says. As WCF 7 says, the means of grace that God gives to the NT church are simpler, and yet MORE glorious than the temporal means given to the OT church. That is something Corinthians and theonomists never seem to get, who seek an earthly power and glory, contra I Corinthians 4.

    Chris Hutchinson
    Blacksburg, VA


  5. Chris, well, just another flaw in the WCF that has to be changed….How did this bit of popery get into the WCF? Certainly the proof-texts don’t support it.


  6. Vern, you’ve got it. Crisler has it all figured out, but Calvin and the Divines were wrong. I wish I had that kind of brilliance.

    Be careful, though. Your incapacity to wrestle with affirming two truths paradoxically related is the straight road to rationalism.


  7. Vern, if you are being serious in your comments than it sounds like your a Zwinglian. God has decided to use something of this world, namely the DNA of Mary who is the Mother of God (orthodoxy) which will for eternity be united to the Son of God (two natures, one person). On top of that, He has promised to use means to communicate the benefits of Christ, the preached Word of Christ by Ministers in a rightly ordered church and the Sacraments which are physical bread and wine.

    I take that back, you don’t sound Zwinglian. It seems you misinterpret the spirituality of the church for the Anabaptist error of unmediated grace which obliterates nature. Only a rationalist thinks that physical institution is in any way in opposition to the spiritual in se.


  8. Hey guys, not of this world means not of this world. Just what is it about “not of this world” that you don’t understand? The WCF identified the “not of this world” kingdom of God with the “of this world” visible church, so, despite its many good qualities, it’s in error on this point.

    Tim, Jesus didn’t say Mary was not of this world.

    Also, grace is always unmediated. If you don’t believe that, you’ve rejected the Reformation in favor of sacerdotalism. The sacraments are signs and seals, not means of grace, as some erroneously confess. See what Paul teaches about Abraham and circumcision. Sad that I would need to have to say any of this.


  9. Darryl G. Hart beat me to the “in but not of” punch (what was that once about great but small minds?).

    But, Vern, is 86-ing the doctrine of the visible church and the language of the means of grace really worth it for the sake of putting 2k six feet under? And you can’t have it both ways: you can’t suggest of 2k-SOTC latant Romanism and Anabaptism. True, those -ism’s are two sides of a skewed coin, but it’s a coin that has trouble with paradox truth. What’s next, human responsibility over God’s sovereignty, already in favor of not yet? But I wonder what you do with the fifth commandment and Luke 14:26?


  10. “In which case, neo-Calvinists and theonomists cannot agree with what the Westminster Divines taught about the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that it is the visible church outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation”

    dgh, remind me…since you’re the eminent librarian…were these the same Divines who were acting at the behest of Parliament to create a ruling document for a unified, Reformed and state church in England?


  11. Vern, you have misconstrued the Protestant and Reformed position. With regards to the Sacraments and the manducatio ignomatum the Reformed rejected the Roman (and Lutheran) position, but this by no means concedes to what you are saying that God hasn’t chosen to use certain means ORDINARILY. There is a difference of topic between the direct application by the Spirit and the due use of means that He has freely chosen as the OCCASION to apply the benefits of Christ to those who have been given faith. No concession to sacerdotalism here…

    Calvin in his commentary on I Timothy 4 makes the connection that holding common (Creational) good gifts of God as profane is to not take the Lord’s Supper seriously. It is a Gnostic error to think the Spiritual/Supernatural is in opposition to the Natural/Common (i.e. that God cannot attach promises to physical things and freely effectuate them by His Spirit). Indeed, God must use someone from among us humans to redeem us; and yet someone not merely human but also mighty God.

    In response to “Jesus didn’t say Mary was not of this world.” That is an odd assessment that we should not see a spiritual connection between the physical humanity of Christ who is the head of the Church and our Federal Representative and the humanity of the Church his body.


  12. Tim, see Abraham and circumcision. Abraham was saved PRIOR TO the “occasion.” Circumcision was a sign and seal of what he already had. There was a COMPLETE separation of the Spiritual from the physical in Abraham’s case.

    In fact, the giving of the sign PRESUPPOSES this absolute distinction. Without an absolute separation of grace from any institutional or physical means, the institutional and physical would be completely worthless, even sinful. Whatever is not of faith…..

    I see the church and sacraments not as means of grace, but rather as means of graciousness. Grace is the means of the sacraments.


  13. I’ve been a theonomist for over 20 years and I have yet to find a theonomist leader who teaches that laws are salvific as per your comment, “Why do theonomists keep telling us about the saving ways of sanctified laws for the polity.” Could you tell me who you are referring to please.


  14. Darryl, I haven’t seen anything from VanDrunen (in that or any other work) showing that neocalvinists either hold that magistrates should enforce both tables of the Law, or deny that the Kingdom of Christ is the visible church (or deny the spirituality of the visible church).

    If you have a quotation and/or reference…


  15. Tim, as I understand theonomy, the law is a reflection of God’s kingdom. Since the state is part of God’s kingdom, it should enforce his law. The point isn’t about whether law saves but where the kingdom of Christ is.

    Baus, the good Dr. K. says the magistrate should enforce both tables. And I didn’t say that neo-cals deny that the kingdom of Christ is the visible church. I said they blur the kingdom of Christ and find that he reigns everywhere, and so do not distinguish between Christ’s redemptive and creational rule. DVD’s chapters on Dooyeweerd are very good for showing the origins of the modern day objections to 2k.


  16. Ken, the very same ones. Those Westminster Divines, with the imprimatur of Parliament, identified the kingdom of Christ, not with Parliament, but the visible church.

    Why do people keep mistaking the magisterial origins of the Reformation for the magisteriality of Christ’s kingdom? Why especially when most of the Reformed creeds asserted the autonomy of the keys of the kingdom from the magistrate? It’s like saying, because creation is the platform for the plan of salvation, then food and art and social order are redemptive. Hey, wait a minute. That sounds familiar.


  17. Of course, this puts Dr. Kloosterman in good company with Calvin who, while maintaining the spirituality of the church, could still hold:

    The duty of magistrates…extends to both tables of the law, … those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. – Calvin, Institutes, IV:20:9


  18. Mark, the recent discussion of Christ and culture at Reformed Forum showed that the good Dr. K. is quite comfortable with establishing Christ’s kingdom outside the church. In which case, this puts you and Dr. K. with Dooyeweerd, not with Calvin. Dooeyweerd rejected the distinction between the creational and redemptive rule of Christ. Dutch Calvinists have been trying to redeem all of life ever since.


  19. “Why do people keep mistaking the magisterial origins of the Reformation for the magisteriality of Christ’s kingdom?”

    Because the men of the Reformation obviously didn’t apply their understanding of their own words the way you think you should have. I think too that you cherry pick Calvin quotes much as your ilk accuse the FVers of cherry picking him.

    But to bring this closer to home for you, let’s take your own OPC’s history as an example – and I presume they trace themselves to Knox and the 16th century Scottish kirk – there’s no question that your own predecessors would reject your readings of their actions and your subsequent conclusions. From Knox’s interaction with Mary to the National Covenant to the Directory for Public Worship, presbyterians had a very different understanding of 2k theology than what you are falsely attributing to them (as members of the magisterial Reformers). Even the swishy MacCulloch can see this very clearly, and he has a real axe to grind in this discussion.

    When Hyper-2k reaches back to the Reformation it becomes a distortion of history; it’s revisionism. Drop the historical claims beyond 1788 and be proud to be the product of American presbyterianism. Try something like “Machen rejected the historic Presbyterian understanding of 2k. American Presbyterians have been trying to be aggressively pluralistic ever since.”


  20. Ken, perhaps you’ve heard of J. Gresham Machen. As I understand it, he was very influential in the founding of the OPC. I learned my 2k views from him.

    But you’re missing the point: if Calvin is right that the fruits of grace are only spiritual, then you have lost your chief reason for a Christian state, namely, that Christian laws reflect Christ’s reign. To repeat, 2k advocates can explain Calvin’s ideas about politics and sometimes agree with them. You, however, cannot agree with Calvin on the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom. In which case, you pick megabigger cherries than I.


  21. I could retort, “Perhaps you’ve heard of John Knox. As I understand it, he was very influential in the founding of the Presbyterian church which as I further understand was a precursor to the OPC and Mr. Machen. I learned my 2k views from Knox, who his from Calvin.” I could then follow that up with, “To reiterate, Hyper-2k-ers can read about the Magisterial reformers political involvement and sometimes understand what they’re reading. They, however, cannot agree with the magisterial reformers regarding the role of the civil magistrate in society” but then we’d just be in a p***ing match, so I won’t.

    Explain to me how your Hyper-2k view of Calvin doesn’t make the good doctor schizophrenic?
    Hyper-2k is extrapolating on kernels gleaned from Calvin while winnowing much of what you think was his (and the rest of the historic Presbyterian church’s) chaff, and as such you’ve created something new. I’m surprised you balk at this characterization.


  22. Also, you quote Book IV, chapter 20, section 1 but you neglected this from section 9…

    “The duty of magistrates, its nature, as described by the word of God, and the things in which it consists, I will here indicate in passing. That it extends to both tables of the law, did Scripture not teach, we might learn from profane writers; for no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship. 2658Thus all have confessed that no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care, and that those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations, Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make it not their care.”

    I can quote more from this excellent section if this quote is not sufficient to demonstrate the lack of context in your original post.


  23. More importantly, perhaps from section 2…

    “But as we lately taught that that kind of government is distinct from the spiritual and internal kingdom of Christ, so we ought to know that they are not adverse to each other. The former, in some measure, begins the heavenly kingdom in us, even now upon earth, and in this mortal and evanescent life commences immortal and incorruptible blessedness, while to the latter it is assigned, so long as we live among men, to foster and maintain the external worship of God, to defend sound doctrine and the condition of the Church, to adapt our conduct to human society, to form our manners to civil justice, to conciliate us to each other, to cherish common peace and tranquillity. All these I confess to be superfluous, if the kingdom of God, as it now exists within us, extinguishes the present life. But if it is the will of God that while we aspire to true piety we are pilgrims upon the earth, and if such pilgrimage stands in need of such aids, those who take them away from man rob him of his humanity. As to their allegation that there ought to be such perfection in the Church of God that her guidance should suffice for law, they stupidly imagine her to be such as she never can be found in the community of men. For while the insolence of the wicked is so great, and their iniquity so stubborn, that it can scarcely be curbed by any severity of laws, what do we expect would be done by those whom force can scarcely repress from doing ill, were they to see perfect impunity for their wickedness?”

    You’re right about Calvin not being stupid; that’s an epithet he uses for those who would cleave Christ’s spiritual kingdom from the present temporal kingdom so sharply. Calvin espouses an already/not yet with the temporal providing a real spiritual benefit.


  24. Ken,

    Thanks for your helpful posts that prove how much closer I am to Calvin than you are (since you seem to want the state to be founded on the Christian religion). As your quotes show, Calvin appeals not to Scripture but to natural law for his argument that the social order starts in worship. He says the ancients, like the Greeks, agree. Last time I checked, you and the Baylys were not arguing for a return to Plato and Aristotle.

    Second, he clearly distinguishes between the church as the spiritual kingdom of Christ and the state as a temporal authority to provide social order. I agree. You conflate the church and the state by saying that the state must be rooted in Christianity and the Bible.

    As for schizophrenia, I think you need to realize you are a member of the club. How can you with any integrity live in the United States, a nation founded without recourse to divine law, while insisting that the United States must be founded upon divine law? I guess your way of avoiding the problem is by complaining about those of us who point out your own bad faith. Really, Ken, why don’t you go out and rebel rather than constantly kvetching on blogs about 2k?

    Now where I disagree with Calvin comes on this matter of human experience showing that societies may only be grounded in religion. The United States is obviously an exception to this. (Yes, I know there were a lot of Chrisitans running around and that the U.S. has an English background.) Formally, the Constitution does not acknowledge God or religion. This is why the truly consistent followers of 16th c. patters, the Covenanters, would not participate in U.S. elections or military.

    I also get it that many don’t think the U.S. was properly founded since it lacked religion. But what if the U.S. was a pretty nifty political arrangement that worked exceptionally well until it took on imperial notions through two world wars and lots of other military conflicts? I

    f the U.S. is a legitimate government, then how are Christians to negotiate its secular form and operations? The “radical” 2kers are trying to work out a justification for Christian involvement in the existing government and political arrangements, especially those that guarantee freedom to idolaters and blasphemers. This project may not be successful on all fronts. But how is it any worse than those like yourself whose position argues for the illegitimacy of the U.S.all the while submitting to its imposed infidelity. At least a lot of Reformed types in the 16th c. figured out ways to resist such tyranny and did something about it. All you seem to be capable of doing, Ken, is kvetching about 2kers who acknowledge the current political order.

    It’s really quite simple Ken. If you really follow Calvin, start a revolution. Blogging doesn’t cut it.


  25. Seems a nerve’s been touched…

    “Closer to Calvin…” Seems like conflation is viral. You write under the assumption that my view is underpinned by theonomy (at least that’s your charge in your original post). I’ve tried to make it clear that I’m not. I’m advocating a fairly pure Calvinist position, one that takes advantage of natural as well as revealed law. If Plato has the right idea, then use him by all means. But you thinking that my position is theonomic is akin to me calling your Hyper-2k position anabaptist, but come to think of it, it is.

    “…this matter of human experience…” This has been my beef all along. Your position isn’t grounded in some sort of exegetical revelation but rather its pragmatic. Nothing wrong with that, but its not historically Reformed.

    “…start a revolution…” Tell me good doctor, how do revolutions start? With individuals simply running into the streets assaulting the first government officer they see…or do they begin with intense dialogues that harden convictions which lead to eventual action?

    “Blogging doesn’t cut it.” You’re right, but oddly enough, blogging, like the printing press, has certainly changed the paradigms by which ideas are shared and movements have begun. Be patient.


  26. …how do revolutions start? With individuals simply running into the streets assaulting the first government officer they see…or do they begin with intense dialogues that harden convictions which lead to eventual action?

    The latter. But, in keeping with the running point in the post and comments, why not pour one’s energies into reformation instead of revolution? The former is an ecclesiastical term, the latter a civil one. Implicit in your answer, Ken, is the idea that Christians have some vested interest in civil revolution instead of–or more craftily, in addition to–ecclesiastical reformation. How does that not ring pharisaical to you?


  27. Darryl, if Kloosterman holds that magistrates can/should enforce both tables of the Law, he sides with Calvin, but he has to know that he is clearly outside the Kuyperian fold on that one. What don’t you understand about this?

    your wrote:
    Dooeyweerd [sic] rejected the distinction between the creational and redemptive rule of Christ.

    This is simply not the case. Dooyeweerd distinguishes clearly between creation and redemption, as well as the many distinct ways Christ rules over ‘creational’ societal spheres, differentiated from His rule in church. Dooyeweerd holds to a “2+” kingdoms view, or a plural kingdoms view. This should be obvious. There’s no “blurring” here, but greater distinction.

    In any case, by definition the Two-Kingdoms view (whether the neo-twokingdoms of your articulation and others, or the paleo-twokingdoms view of the Reformers) means that outside the church is also (non-ecclesial) kingdom/s of God. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be God’s two kingdoms, now would it?


  28. Ken, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and this is the nervy part because you guys think you are purely Calvin), you are just as 2k as I am. You allow for this regime to tolerate the presence of Servetus types and worse. And you think you are following Calvin? Give me a break.

    So when exactly will you and your theonomic (both hard and soft) allies figure out a way to accept the legitimacy of religious freedom and a state that is not based on the cultus? There aren’t too many options here. You can either be Geneva where Servetus lost his life, or England where Cranmer lost his, or Spain where who knows who lost theirs, or you can be the greatest nation on God’s green earth. What about political history do you not understand?


  29. Baus, I feel your pain. Your trying to hold Dooyeweerd and American Presbyterianism together. But D doesn’t make the fine distinctions that the American Presbyterians do, and he doesn’t have the Vossian eschatology, which regards glorification rather than recreation as the end.

    Maybe the Dooyeweerdians should hold a summit and work out the kinks. I suggest they read DVD’s book to prepare.


  30. Darryl, I love your writing and it has helped me think through various issues, but honestly, when I read your blog posts, it seems like there is a lot of oversimplification to what you say. Also you seem to be kind of….mean in how you respond to people who disagree with you. I don’t know…I just think that there are ways to dialogue without trying to slap people around. I just thought I’d put that out there.


  31. No I haven’t. I am also somewhat new to this whole debate, but very interested in it. So my vantage point is very much from an outsider’s perspective. I just wonder if there are more edifying ways to have debate about these issues, than some of what I am picking up on here. I don’t know. I don’t mean to be an ass or anything, I am just trying to let you know what I think (not that it counts for much anyway). So yeah…


  32. whs, word to the wise — maybe you don’t use the word “a – -” while complaining that I am mean. But if you want to point to examples, I’m all ears and except for my “a – -“.


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