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 â€“ after all, they called it a magisterial reformation for a reason.
In other words, the advocates of 2k insist that Christâ€™s kingdom cannot be located in temporal politics; 2k critics argue that Christâ€™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 Christâ€™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 â€œkingship is not of this worldâ€ [John 18:36]. In short, when any one of us hears that Christâ€™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 Christâ€™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 Lordâ€™s prayer (â€œthy kingdom come,â€ 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 mensâ€™ 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 Christâ€™s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct. Since, then, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and enclose Christâ€™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 Christâ€™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 Christâ€™s kingdom, then the stateâ€™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 Calvinâ€™s instructions to magistrates about the need for a Christian order. For starters, he didnâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 didnâ€™t. That would apparently mean that while outward order and righteousness is desirable and Godâ€™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 Christâ€™s kingdom was the path of suffering. The second petition of the Lordâ€™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 Godâ€™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 Calvinâ€™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.