Matt Tuininga has been engaged in a debate with Brad Littlejohn (and Steven Wedgeworth and, of course, Peter Escalante because wherever Steven goes, Peter does) about 2k. Matt is sitting on an essay that attempts to refute Littlejohn (et al) about the spiritual nature of the kingdom of Christ. Ever since Wedgeworth reviewed VanDrunen‘s Natural Law and Two Kingdoms, I have been dumbfounded by a reading of 2k which puts the church’s institutional arrangements in the temporal realm and locates Christ’s authority entirely in the realm of the Spirit’s rule in believer’s hearts. One example of why this may be stupefying comes from an essay by Littlejohn which concludes this way:
Mr. Tuininga has insisted that we do not need to assume that two-kingdoms thinking entails the rejection of distinctively Christian action in the civil kingdom, of things like Christian education or Christian worldview thinking, as Hart and VanDrunen have suggested. But without challenging the basic parameters of their dualism, it is hard to see how he will succeed. Fundamentally, those attempting to re-establish this kind of two-kingdoms thinking will find that the Cartwrightian vision is an illiberal one, in which a clerocracy of human authorities within the Church may claim divine sanction for their teachings and their rulings about what constitutes the conditions for membership in Christ’s kingdom, and what shape Christian life in the world must take, thus undermining both the freedom of the church and the state. Much as the modern R2K theorists proclaim their Liberal credentials, they have not changed the fundamental schema, and it is thus no wonder that so many Reformed churches of this stripe suffer from an atmosphere of legalism, authoritarian dogmatism, and spiritual tyranny.
In other words, communions like the OPC and the PCA (and I guess Doug Wilsons’ CREC) are clerocracies where spiritual tyranny reigns. I would have thought this view of the institutional church close to an Anabaptist reading. But I suppose that Littlejohn is following Hooker. How the church as a temporal authority, ruled by an earthly monarch, is going to be any less tyrannical, even if its reach only goes to externals, is a mystery. Still, a view that divorces the spiritual character of the keys of the kingdom from the actual administration of the word through preaching and discipline (i.e., the means of grace) is a mystery possibly only resolved by content analysis of the drinking water in Moscow, Idaho.
Not to be missed, by the way, is that the 2k position advocated by the likes of VanDrunen and me, is designed to distinguish those areas where the church has real authority (the Word) from those where Christians have liberty (the rest of life) as their consciences determine. In which case, Littlejohn is wrong to see the modern revival of 2k as a return to ecclesiastical tyranny. It is, instead, an effort to recover Christian liberty from the pious intentions and historical circumstances of some in the Reformed world eager to assert the Lordship of Christ without sufficient qualification.
Tuininga is eager to correct Littlejohn, not so much on his reading of Hooker, but on Calvin.
Calvin is absolutely clear here that he is distinguishing the spiritual government of the church by the pastors and elders, through the means of the keys of the kingdom, from the political government of the magistrates. He clearly draws in the distinction between the two kingdoms in 3.19.15 when, referring to 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Romans 12:28, he declares that Paul is not discussing the magistrates, but “those who were joined with the pastors in the spiritual rule of the church.” Here again Calvin makes it evident that when he is talking about the “spiritual rule” of the church he is not talking about some immediate governance of the invisible church. He is talking about the concrete government exercised by pastors and elders on behalf of Christ. Christ himself governs through these men: “Christ has testified that in the preaching of the gospel the apostles have no part save that of ministry; that it was he himself who would speak and promise all things through their lips as his instruments.” Calvin maintains that Christ’s spiritual government is exercised through the ministry of the church, in its fourfold office. (4.11.1)
Calvin’s views here have to be understood in the context of the willingness among the Zwinglians and Lutherans to cede church discipline to the civil government on the basis of the type of two realms interpretation that Wedgeworth attributes to Calvin.
Some of this is simply a historical debate of whether Cartwright or Hooker was closer to Calvin. But the bigger issue is that of ecclesiastical authority: do ministers when they go into the pulpit and members of sessions and consistories when they deliberate with church members actually hold the keys of the kingdom or does Christ reserve them for himself and the Spirit? It sure would be hard to read the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity in a way the severed spiritual authority from real blooded ministers and elders. But, as odd as it sounds, some critics of 2k — some who even circulate among the getting-over-theonomy-ranks of James Jordan and Peter Leithart — believe the version of 2k on the rise in the OPC and elsewhere is authoritarian. Holy cow! If only Littlejohn and Wedgeworth (and Escalante) could spend a few days with the crazy Baylys or their fellow Gordon-Conwell alum, Tim Keller, that is, with those who expand church power over every square inch.