Two-Kingdom Mojo WorKKing

Advocates of 2k have long maintained that two-kingdom theology is the default position for most Protestants, even the critics who protesteth too much. After all, the only biblical alternative to 2k is theonomy, and even theonomists have not yet revolted against the American regime. (The political alternative is the confessional state with the magistrate enforcing the true religion but all Reformed communions have rejected this.) For this reason, finding 2k logic in a variety of remarks either about the United States or about biblical teaching should not be surprising. What is surprising is that none of 2k’s critics seem to object to the following:

For instance, was John Frame’s radar warning of the so-called Escondido theology’s dangers turned off when his comrade in modems, Vern Poythress, wrote this:

We must first seek to determine the scope of state responsibilities. In the area of punishment, I maintain that modern states are only responsible for punishing offenses against other human beings, not offenses directly against God.

To understand the issue, we must distinguish sins from crimes.

A sin is any offense against God. A crime is a legally reprehensible offense against another human being.

Sin describes damage to our relation to God; crime describes damage to fellow human beings. The two are not identical. Every crime is a sin, but not every sin is a crime. . . .

Crimes are offenses against other human beings, and hence they always ought to punished by restoration and retribution paid to other human beings and supervised by human courts of justice. In typical legal cases in the Old Testament, like theft, murder, or false worship, the fundamental system of recompense involves the principle “As you have done, it shall be done to you,” by the offended party. Governmental authorities supervise the procedures leading to penalties, but in the typical case they are not themselves the offended party. Moreover, the offended party in view is always another human being or a group of human beings.

God is of course offended by every sin whatsoever. But not every sin merits state punishments. Nor is the kind of penalty determined by how God is offended, but by how other human beings are affected. Hence the provisions of the law point away from the idea that the state is responsible for offenses against God as such. The legal punishments supervised by earthly judges make sense only when they are viewed as the fitting payment for offenses against human beings.

Another instance of 2k teaching came from John Piper when he distinguished the duties of a preacher from those of a political activist. On the one hand, ministers of the word should condemn homosexuality as sin. On the other hand, ministers lose their authority and credibility when they become part of a political crusade:

Don’t press the organization of the church or her pastors into political activism. Pray that the church and her ministers would feed the flock of God with the word of God centered on the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. Expect from your shepherds not that they would rally you behind political candidates or legislative initiatives, but they would point you over and over again to God and to his word, and to the cross.

Please try to understand this: When I warn against the politicizing of the church, I do so not to diminish her power but to increase it. The impact of the church for the glory of Christ and the good of the world does not increase when she shifts her priorities from the worship of God and the winning of souls and the nurturing of faith and raising up of new generations of disciples.

If the whole counsel of God is preached with power week in and week out, Christians who are citizens of heaven and citizens of this democratic order will be energized as they ought to speak and act for the common good. I want to serve you like that.

Adding to the 2k buzz was Doug Wilson’s recent opinion that churches should not display the flag of the United States:

A Christian church has absolutely no business displaying a national flag in the sanctuary, at least not as it is commonly done. The church born at Pentecost was a reversal of Babel, not a doubling down on the fragmentation of Babel. . . .

If the church places an American flag in the front of the sanctuary, this becomes part of our sacred architecture, and therefore says something. It becomes a shaping influence.

Important questions should come immediately to mind: What is this saying? And is it scriptural? It should not be too much to ask for some kind of scriptural agreement with what we are saying before we say it. Placing a flag in a sanctuary has many possible implications. It could convey the idea that we claim some sort of “favored nation” status. It could imply we believe that the claims of Caesar extend into every space, including sacred spaces. It could imply that our version of Christianity is similar to some kind of syncretistic “God and country” religion, where patriotism and religion are one and the same.

It is unlikely that we as Christians would display another country’s flag, such as the flag of communist China, in a sanctuary. So we should seek to be consistent in our choices. One last caution is in order: Many don’t like the national flag in the sanctuary because they have no natural affection for it anywhere. But being a Christian doesn’t mean we should hate our home country, just that we should know how to rightly order our allegiances. This is why, in my ideal scenario, the elders who vote in session to remove the American flag from the sanctuary should all have that same flag on their pickup trucks, right next to the gun rack.

Finally, the fellows who seem to have started this 2k groundswell, the Brothers B., round out this 2k round up with the comments by Tim Bayly on a recent news-talk television show in Indiana where participants discussed the pros and cons of a state constitutional amendment to make gay marriage illegal. Pastor Bayly started out quoting from Scripture, but as the discussion progressed he too resorted to notions about the will of the people, historical precedent, and activist judiciaries — all from the tool kit of those who debate in the public square without everywhere and always declaring the will of God. (Readers will need to watch a video to hear Tim Bayly’s remarks on polling data, the will of the people, and legislatures which start around minute 9:20).

All of which suggests that 2k is not radical but modest and sensible.

35 thoughts on “Two-Kingdom Mojo WorKKing

  1. Brian, I can’t help if Doug (and other 2k critics) use 2k when it’s convenient, and abandon it when they don’t want to follow Jesus and the apostles.

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  2. Not being American, I was always perplexed when I saw pictures of church sanctuaries with the US flag prominently featured, and concluded it was symbolic of the American civil religion. One would never see that in the (British) Commonwealth Realm, unless in Anglican cathedrals where regimental colours (often featuring the “Union Jack” or the national flag) are displayed after they are retired – not quite the same thing. Then I heard about a US law which requires that for public assemblies to be lawful the US flag must be displayed. I thought that must explain the flag in the sanctuary. Can anyone set me straight? If the US law no longer requires a flag be present for public assembly, then I agree with Pr Wilson, the practice should be reconsidered, because it sends an ambiguous message. I am Lutheran, and therefore a “2Ker” by definition.

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  3. D.G. Hart: After all, the only biblical alternative to 2k is theonomy, and even theonomists have not yet revolted against the American regime….Adding to the 2k buzz was Doug Wilson’s recent opinion that churches should not display the flag of the United States:

    RS: Perhaps this is chasing a rabbit, but didn’t the Reformers baptize children and the child was then both a citizen of the nation and a member of the church? Isn’t that even worse than having a flag?

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  4. Darryl, thankfully you don’t get to define 2K for the rest of us. What you’re failing to deal with, is the *radical* nature of you’re peculiar version of 2K. You promote a *secular* antichrist state, that will not bend the knee to Scripture. Machen would vehemently disagree with you on that point. In fact, Machen felt the only way to arrest the decline of *western civilation* was to teach the Law of God in the government schools. Teach them obligatory morality founded in the Christian Scriptures. He didn’t trust the teachers enough for them to teach doctrine, but the Law *should* be taught as the standard for all men and nations.

    Darryl, you’ve read Machen, do you remember him saying that? And do you agree with Machen on that point?

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  5. God is of course offended by every sin whatsoever. But not every sin merits state punishments. Nor is the kind of penalty determined by how God is offended, but by how other human beings are affected. Hence the provisions of the law point away from the idea that the state is responsible for offenses against God as such. The legal punishments supervised by earthly judges make sense only when they are viewed as the fitting payment for offenses against human beings.

    Meant to post this as explanatory, darn tags.

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  6. Richard, right, just like Edwards baptized children who were both citizens of the state and of the covenant community (depending on how much property their parents had). Do you want to spell out in any way how baptizing children is worse than showing a flag?

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  7. Doug, Machen in fact argued against prayer and Bible reading in public schools. You haven’t read Machen, ever. Here is what he wrote:

    But taking the public school as an established institution, and as being, under present conditions, necessary, there are certain ways in which the danger of that institution may be diminished.
    1. The function of the public school should be limited rather than increased. The present tendency to usurp parental authority should be checked.
    2. The public school should pay attention to the limited, but highly important, function which it is now neglecting — namely, the impartation of knowledge.
    3. The moral influence of the public-school teacher should be exerted in practical rather than in theoretical ways. Certainly the (thoroughly destructive and immoral) grounding of morality in experience should be avoided. Unfortunately, the true grounding of morality in the will of God may, in our public schools, also have to be avoided. But if the teacher himself knows the absolute distinction between right and wrong, his personal influence, without theoretical grounding and without “morality codes,” will appeal to the distinction between right and wrong which is implanted in the soul of the child, and the moral tone of the school will be maintained. . . .
    4. The public-school system should be kept healthy by the absolutely free possibility of the competition of private schools and Church schools, and the State should refrain from such regulation as to make their freedom illusory. . . .
    6. The reading of selected passages from the Bible, in which Jews and Catholics and Protestants and others can presumably agree, should not be encouraged, and still less should be required by law. The real center of the Bible is redemption; and to create the impression that other things in the Bible contain any hope for humanity apart from that is to contradict the Bible at its root. . . .
    7. Public-school children should be released at certain convenient hours during the week, so that the parents, if they choose, may provide for their religious instruction; but the State should entirely refrain both from granting school credit for work done in these hours and from exercising any control whatever either upon attendance or upon the character of the instruction.

    I’ve seen you trot out this nonsense about Machen and the law in public education at other blogs, Doug. Isn’t lying against the law of God that you profess to love and defend?

    BTW, because I follow Christ and recognize that the state is a secular institution (as in a power of this age — saeculum) I don’t consider a secular state to be anti-Christian.

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  8. D. G. Hart: Richard, right, just like Edwards baptized children who were both citizens of the state and of the covenant community (depending on how much property their parents had). Do you want to spell out in any way how baptizing children is worse than showing a flag?

    RS: Let me repeat my question: ” Perhaps this is chasing a rabbit, but didn’t the Reformers baptize children and the child was then both a citizen of the nation and a member of the church? Isn’t that even worse than having a flag?”

    My question has to do with a state chuch in the time of the Reformers and their actually baptizing children into citizenship of the state. I am not arguing against infant baptism, though that is a point for another date. I am also not attacking your position and am actually curious. I am simply raising a question about what the Reformers did and asking your view of that versus your view now.

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  9. Darryl says: BTW, because I follow Christ and recognize that the state is a secular institution (as in a power of this age — saeculum) I don’t consider a secular state to be anti-Christian.

    How is being a *minister* unto God; secular?

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  10. Doug, are you forgetting that you said in the other thread: “What you fail to add, is Paul also calls the magistrate, a minister of God.” You were right there (for the wrong reasons, of course), so why are you now wondering how a secular magistrate can be a minister unto God?

    And have you missed how Tuninga has pointed out how Hutchison has showed that to do what you do with the sacred and the secular is to be more liberal than Christian:

    http://matthewtuininga.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/you-are-probably-a-liberal-if-you-reject-the-idea-of-the-secular/

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  11. To clear the air a bit about the presence of the American flag in church sanctuaries, there’s also this little bit: In addition to the possible reasons that Wilson lists, there is a view of patriotism that is born from fear and apprehension. I grew up in confessional Lutheran congregations where the Flag was always displayed on one side of the chancel (and the synodic flag on the other). All of these congregations were derived from German immigrants.

    During the early 20th Century, particularly during and after WW1, the Germans who had settled in this country were viewed with suspicion; they often felt compelled to hold “loyalty parades” through their communities to “prove” their patriotism to the majority. Hence, the flag was brought into the church buildings as an additional step of demonstrating loyalty to the American people (and government).

    Luther’s teachings certainly place him in the 2K category and I’ve never heard anything from a confessional Lutheran pastor that differs (never mind the mainline ELCA which is not only in an entirely different category, but was derived from many non-German synods and congregations who never faced the same patriotic pressures). In many respects, the display of the flag in Lutheran churches is simply a carry-over from earlier times.

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  12. Richard, in case you missed it, Old Life is pro-2k. In case you also missed it, this means Old Life rejects Christendom (as do all the Reformed churches who revised their teachings on the magistrate). So I’m a fan of Calvin’s Geneva established church. But I am enough of a historian to know that Calvin had to pick his battles. He might even disagree with me.

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  13. Doug, so you think the magistrate is a minister of God. I guess that means he preaches, administers the sacraments, and executes church discipline. Oh, but wait. A pastor is also a minister of God. So he must also execute offenders of civil law.

    You need more emoticons.

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  14. Just to stir the pot a bit. Many, especially Baptist sanctuaries display the American flag in addition to the “Christian” flag of the Methodists. What is puzzling on this is the dilemma this causes. By US law the US flag is to be displayed at the most prominent place, the right hand of the speaker, and the other flag on the left hand of the speaker. And this is exactly how it is displayed when eve I had seen it. So, in this thought the flag of the Kingdom of God is under the kingdom of the nation. I have observed the same in “Christian” schools. Puzzling! Off course many churches display the US flag by-itself, and I just thought to add to the discussion…

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  15. Darryl, you wouldn’t consider Kuyper’s model to be “Biblical” (i.e. rooted in Biblical principles)? It has some features of 2K in that it recognizes “common grace” and sphere sovereignty and the role of the state to provide for an ordered society where the church (and other religions) can freely proclaim its message. But its acknowledgement of the king of kings and Lord of Lord’s, the ultimate kingship of Christ, and the importance of Christians influencing the ordering of society in submission to that Lordship/kingship, the rooting of political life in Christian principles (worldview) seems to go beyond 2K.

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  16. “Pastor Bayly started out quoting from Scripture, but as the discussion progressed he too resorted to notions about the will of the people, historical precedent, and activist judiciaries — all from the tool kit of those who debate in the public square without everywhere and always declaring the will of God.”

    Yes, praise God that there are men today who follow the apostle Paul’s example on Mars Hill, using both natural and special revelation (as well as the truth found in every man’s heart) when they are invited to proclaim God’s truth in the public square. Praise God for men who are not ashamed of the gospel or fearful of the persecution that comes when it is proclaimed.

    Nobody has ever argued that we should voluntarily ignore much of our ammunition except for you R2K nuts. But just because you won’t touch God’s word when you’re addressing “political issues” in the public square doesn’t mean that we will stop using the ammunition you’ve claimed for yourself alone. We have never agreed to leave that little pile just for you. It’s just that since you’re understandably feeling rather exposed and under-armed, you can’t bear to see anyone make use of what little ammunition is in your gun you never shoot.

    Let me repeat–only R2K nuts are trying to reduce the amount of truth we can proclaim. Nobody else has ever had a problem with using “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.”

    It’s just plain dishonest for you to represent people outside your camp as hypocritical when their actions are completely consistent with their position. I know it bothers you when they get the privilege to quote God’s word in the public square when you’ve been trying to gag it, but tut-tutting when they *also* making use of other arguments just makes you look like a fool or a lier.

    The church of Jesus Christ is the pillar and foundation of the truth. May God continue to provide leaders within his church who do not try to hide that pillar under a bushel.

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  17. Joseph, what are you talking about? Why, just the other day, in broad public day light, this 2k nut appealed to both the sixth and second greatest commandments to explain why legalized abortion (you know, that signature set of politics you all think makes or breaks western civ) should be opposed. Granted, I didn’t couch it in the theonomic hysterics of holocaust but more of a Borkian sometimes-you-sometimes-you-lose sort of way. Still, what are you talking about?

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  18. Terry, where I think neo-Calvinism goes beyond 2k and beyond the Bible is becoming absorbed with the things of this world such that they don’t follow Paul in Colossians 3 and set their minds on things above. Neo-Cals seem to have little use for an otherworldly Christianity, hence the resort to charges of fundamentalism. And the way to justify a this-worldly Christianity is by making common work part of the redemptive kingdom.

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  19. Joseph B., that is odd because 2kers actually follow Jesus, Paul, and Peter who never insisted that Nero make the Bible the basis of Rome’s laws but who told Christians to submit to and suffer under the powers that be. But thanks for increasing my suffering.

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  20. Dr. Hart – Your quote from Vern Poythress’ “The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses” is interesting. If my recollection is correct, in that book Poythress actually tries to offer a balanced synthesis between Kline’s views and theonomic concerns. Greg Bahnsen viewed Poythress’ work as a form of mild theonomy. This is evidenced in the very quotation you offered, where Poythress distinguishes between sins and crimes (a staple distinction in theonomic writings, as anyone familiar with theonomic literature will know; and one which is rooted in a proper exegesis of Scripture, since even under the theocratic civil code of the old covenant not all sins were punishable by civil penalties – i.e., not all “sins” were civil “crimes” even under the old covenant theocracy). My hunch is that most theonomists would view Poythress’ comments as a form of milder or “Second Table of the Law Theonomy” rather than as support for or evidence of reversion to the 2K position. After all, his comments assume that the civil magistrate recognizes the Divine (hence binding) authority of the second table of the law, and it assumes a view of human dignity that comports only with the biblical view of man.

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  21. “Let me repeat–only R2K nuts are trying to reduce the amount of truth we can proclaim.”

    I know this is a blog, and that blogs by their very nature involve a certain informality of communication and a certain polemical atmosphere. Fine. But at the same time I just don’t see how addressing fellow believers with whom we disagree as “nuts” or with similar insulting and denigrating terminology is in any way godly or honoring to Christ’s Lordship over our speech/writing, even in the context of a blog. Should we not strive at mutual edification and instruction, even in our polemics with one another? Should we not strive to maintain a high standard of Christian civility, even when communicating with those with whom we strongly disagree? And should we not also be concerned with how our communication with each other looks to the unbeliever who may happen to visit this site? I.E., should we not be concerned about how our manner of communication in such contexts might impact our witness for Christ and His gospel, whether for good or ill? (To be honest, brethren, if an unbeliever were visiting this site I suspect that some of the “dialogue” he/she would encounter would likely confirm to him/her the common view amongst contemporary pagans that Christians are just plain nasty people, and especially nasty in how they treat one another; or at least that Christians are no less nasty than pagans.) Brethren, whether we be pro-2K or anti-2K or something in between, may we all strive to have our speech and communication “seasoned with salt”, even our polemics.

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  22. Geoff, thanks. If Poythress is a mild theonomist, then such theonomists are much milder than the Reformed churches of the 16th century who asserted the magistrate’s responsibility to enforce the true religion. Even so, I’m not sure the hermeneutical gymnastics to be performed in separating first from the second table.

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  23. An apology: I don’t comment often at Old Life. Perhaps my record high is at the posting, 6/30, (2K Dodges a Bullet— 4?). I have sometimes complained of the shabby treatment some Brothers there have given in writing to Brothers who have something wrong. (“Wrong”?) Head man, Darryl, says that Old Bob is the “pot calling the kettle black”. He is often right, and may be here. Sorry, guys! I believe I told a story somewhere here that I still think fits. It follows in the line of recent OLT commentor, Goeff Willour. In a good piece he said some of us support the thought of some Pagans that us Christians are a bunch of nasty folks. The story— Sorry for repeat if it is. In the early 1950s I was a student at Westminster Seminary, Phila. Homiletics class of 15 or so. Prof. was R.B. Kuiper (b. 1874) He had been CRC famous pastor and also, I believe, president of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary. Not at same time! Student preacher was Clark H. possibly now with the Lord. In his sermon he had tried to be strictly Reformed. In his sermon he loudly criticized already ordained Brothers of different views, not in what most would call “non-essentials” of our Christian faith. When old RBK rose to the podium to evaluate Clark’s effort—long quiet. Room SOOO quiet. Then he looked at Clark and in his low, gravelly vioce, he stared at our classmate and said. ‘YOU’RE not so SMART!” All us young guys wilted with Clark who was cowering under his bench. Figuratively! Maybe RB would say this today of some stuff @ OLT? Over the 60 years since then, I have tried not to be unnecessarily feisty as Clark was that day. Seems like I failed! Not too comforting to realize I have some company in Darryl and some others @ OLT. I don’t think I will be missed (maybe by Brother Jon and 1 or 2 others) if I can keep my vow to Old Bob to forget about this site. Love 2 U all in Jesus

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  24. I heard Vern Polythress say some of those things on a Reformed Forum podcast. And I was in the pew when Pastor Piper said those things. And in both cases, I was incomplete agreement. So, mark me down as a 2k-loving-calvinistic-baptist. I don’t see any other sensible and scripturally-supported approach.

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  25. Maybe I am misunderstanding the quote above from Dr. Poythress, but, how can every crime be a sin if fallen governments determine what is a crime? For example: If killing in self-defense were to become a crime (as it already can be in some states), and I kill in self-defense, I may have committed a crime but I have not sinned. If preaching parts of Bible or saying that Christ is the only way to Salvation are determined to be hate speech and criminal offenses, committing the crime is once again, not a sin.

    Could it be better said: “Every crime could be a sin, but every sin is not necessarily a crime”?

    I appreciate the explanation.

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  26. D.G. Hart wrote:

    “Geoff, thanks. If Poythress is a mild theonomist, then such theonomists are much milder than the Reformed churches of the 16th century who asserted the magistrate’s responsibility to enforce the true religion. Even so, I’m not sure the hermeneutical gymnastics to be performed in separating first from the second table.”

    Self-correction: On second thought I believe the term Bahnsen used to describe Poythress was not “mild” but “weak theonomist.”

    Regarding your comment about separating the first and second tables of the law, good point, that is hermeneutically difficult to do (though I personally think that a theological case can be made for laws that defend the external observation of the second table of the law in the non-theocratic context of contemporary nations, since the second table of the law has to do with horizontal relationships between man and man in general, and not only relationships between fellow believers within the covenant community). My point is that I believe good exegesis supports the distinction between “sin” and “crime,” since even under the old covenant theocracy not all sins were punishable by civil penalties.

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