The Dutch Reformed on the Kingdom of God

Perhaps in an effort to be ecumenical, Dr. K. linked to a great essay by David Engelsma of the Protestant Reformed Church (which was to Kuyperianism what the OPC was to the Bible Presbyterian Synod). In a longish piece, Engelsma writes the following about the kingdom of God (there is much more to the essay than this and is worth reading in its entirety).

1) It is spiritual in nature:

The kingdom of God is the church. The living reign of God in Christ by the Word and Spirit is the church. The realm is the sphere of the church. The citizens are the members of the church. The blessings of the kingdom are poured out on and enjoyed in the church.

There is a truth about the kingdom of God that is basic to the confession that the kingdom of God is the church. This is the truth that the kingdom of God is spiritual. Spirituality is an essential quality of the kingdom of God. Knowledge of the spiritual nature of the kingdom is essential to the right belief about the kingdom. The great errors about the kingdom that are afoot today have this in common, that they view the kingdom as earthly, as political, as carnal. This is the gross, wicked error of dispensationalism, that makes the kingdom of God an earthly Jewish world-power. This is the gross, wicked error of the liberals, that makes the kingdom an earthly, one-world government, which will satisfy all the fleshly desires of godless mankind: plenty to eat and drink; the gratification of every perverse sexual lust; the elimination of all inconvenient persons—unborn babies, old people, sick people, and, eventually, orthodox Christians; and the eradication of war and social strife.

Viewing the kingdom as carnal is also the error of those who suppose that the most important realization of the kingdom of God will be an earthly, political, visibly glorious Christian empire that Christ will rear up in the world before His second coming. Yes, they will agree, somewhat impatiently, the church is a manifestation of the kingdom at present. But the superior manifestation of the kingdom of God, the Messianic kingdom in its best and fullest form, the kingdom that finally fulfils the prophecy of the Old Testament in Psalm 72 and similar passages will be that future, earthly world-power that will have Christianised all nations.

Against these errors and on behalf of the right understanding of the kingdom of God, we must believe and confess that the kingdom of God is spiritual.

In his book, Thy Kingdom Come, Rousas J. Rushdoony, father of the Christian Reconstruction movement, says this: “The reduction of the kingdom of God to a spiritual realm is in effect a denial of the kingdom” (p. 178). I appreciate that Rushdoony sees the fundamental issue concerning the kingdom and states this issue bluntly. But in flat contradiction to this statement, I maintain that Scripture teaches that the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is essentially and entirely a spiritual realm. I maintain further that every denial of the spirituality of the kingdom is a denial of the kingdom of God.

It is significant that Rushdoony utters this denial, that the kingdom is spiritual, in the context of his denial that the church is to be identified with the kingdom: “The church … is not to be identified as the kingdom of God, but simply as a part of the kingdom” (p. 178). Mr. Rushdoony practiced what he preached. Writing in 1991, fellow Christian Reconstructionist Gary North informed the world that “Rushdoony does not belong to a local church, nor has he taken communion in two decades, except when he is on the road, speaking at a church that has a policy of open communion or is unaware of his non-member status” (Westminster’s Confession, p. 80).

In explanation of the spirituality of the kingdom of God, negatively, the kingdom is not earthly in nature. It does not consist of dominion by physical force—the sword and its terror. It does not promise or provide earthly blessings and goods—earthly peace and material prosperity. It does not claim any earthly country for its territory—Palestine, North America, Scotland, or the Netherlands. It does not possess or display any earthly glory—power, weapons, numbers, size, or impressive leader (the Christ of the biblical gospel of the cross is not impressive to the natural man). Indeed, its citizens are not citizens by virtue of any earthly characteristic, whether race, sex, nationality, status, or achievement.

In keeping with its unearthly nature, the kingdom of God cannot be known by man’s physical senses. This is literally what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ taught the same thing in Luke 17:20 when, in response to the Pharisees’ question, when the kingdom of God should come, He said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” The kingdom comes without “observation” in that the manner of its coming is invisible.

2) This kingdom expands through the lives of its citizens:

The rule of God in the life of the believer begins with his own very personal, spiritual life and experience. The kingdom comes more and more in him when he abhors himself as a sinner, trusts alone in the cross of Christ, loves his king, seeks the glory of God and the good of the neighbour rather than himself, and makes some progress in his fight against doubt, envy, bitterness, discontent, drunkenness, illicit sexual desire, or whatever may be his own besetting demon.

That demon, by the way, promotes the kingdom of Satan in the believer’s life. The two kingdoms clash most violently and with the highest stakes, not out there in society in the culture wars. That clash is mere child’s play in comparison with the war of the two kingdoms in the soul of every Christian.

To the noisy champions of a grand, showy, outward kingdom that is one day to Christianise the world, this personal spiritual extension of the kingdom is of little account. But to God, Scripture, and the Heidelberg Catechism—as to the battling believer—it is first and basic. The apostle of Christ virtually defines the kingdom in terms of its experience by the individual church member: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). That the kingdom comes in the life of an elect sinner is a wonder of the almighty, life-giving, gracious power of the Holy Spirit.

The kingdom comes first and importantly in the soul and experience of the child of God. But then it necessarily advances into the active life of the Christian in the world in every sphere and ordinance, with body and soul and with all his gifts.

As a citizen of the kingdom, he is a member with his family of the church, indeed of the purest manifestation of the church; is diligent in church attendance; submits to Christ’s authority in the elders; uses his gifts for the good of the congregation and denomination; and lives in peace with the other members as much as possible.

As a citizen of the kingdom, the Reformed man marries in the Lord, loves his wife, honours marriage as a lifelong bond, rears his children in the truth, and rules his household well.

As a citizen of the kingdom, the Reformed woman marries in the Lord, submits to her husband with due obedience, honours marriage as a lifelong bond, is a “keeper at home,” brings up her children in the faith, and cooperates with her husband’s rule.

As citizens of the kingdom, the parents establish good Christian schools, to carry out the godly instruction of the children of the kingdom that they themselves cannot give.

As a citizen of the kingdom, the man labours faithfully in his job, whatever it is, high-powered or menial, as to the Lord, to provide for his own needs and for those of the kingdom. This includes that he recognizes and submits to the authority of his employer. If he is the employer, he treats his workers justly and pays them well.

As a citizen of the kingdom, the believer honours civil government as God’s servant, submits to the authority of the state and its functionaries, obeys all laws that do not require him to disobey God, and pays the taxes that the state decrees. If he is the ruler, which is perfectly proper, although quite rare, he keeps order in society, legislates in accordance with the law of God for national life, punishes those who disturb the common order, and protects those who are outwardly law-abiding.

As a citizen of the kingdom, the member of the church is honest and kind in his dealings with his neighbours, whether believing or unbelieving, and helpful to the needy as he has opportunity. As much as possible, he lives in peace with all men.

As a citizen of the kingdom, the Christian freely uses and enjoys the good creation of God his king, always in service of the kingdom and to the glory of the king of the kingdom. This creation, freely used and enjoyed, includes his own natural gifts of music, or art, or scientific study, or poetry, or gardening, or athletics, and much more besides.

Thus, in the active life of the member of the church the kingdom extends into all areas of human life in all the world.

I suspect this meets with Dr. K’s approval because Engelsma promotes Christian schools. As much as this might wind Zrim up, I could certainly live with talk about the necessity of Christian schools if it came with language that also sharply distinguished the kingdom of God from culture wars, politics, the arts, and word and deed. So while the pow wow on Mount Lookout might have suggested the basis for lessening the conflict between neo-Calvinists and two-kingdom advocates, Engelsma’s position looks much more promising.

95 thoughts on “The Dutch Reformed on the Kingdom of God

  1. Wow. What got into Dr. K. We must be winning him over…

    Of course, some will overlook several hundred words and focus like a laser beam on:

    “If he is the ruler, which is perfectly proper, although quite rare, he keeps order in society, legislates in accordance with the law of God for national life.” They will argue that, in the U.S., “the people are the ruler.” Sigh…


  2. Just got asked by a Neocalvinist (borderline theonomist) firebrand what old-time theologians I could cite in support of 2k. I thought about Jesus:

    “Jesus was not much of a culture warrior. Look at who he hung out with. Mostly his disciples (in order to build the church) and ‘sinners’ (in order to show who he came to save). He didn’t say much negative about Caesar and reserved most of his criticism for the religious culture warriors of his day, The Pharisees.”


  3. Another thought about Jesus: Do we really have many examples of him going to teach people unsolicited? I get the impression that people either sought him out or he taught and people either gathered around or they didn’t. He was aggressive in cleaning out the temple (his church) but we don’t see him tearing up the saloon a la Carrie Nation, do we?


  4. Erik Charter: Another thought about Jesus: Do we really have many examples of him going to teach people unsolicited? I get the impression that people either sought him out or he taught and people either gathered around or they didn’t. He was aggressive in cleaning out the temple (his church) but we don’t see him tearing up the saloon a la Carrie Nation, do we?

    RS: Are you saying that Paul, who seemed to be an open-air preacher at times, was not like Jesus in that regard? So many people were following Jesus that He didn’t have to find a crowd.


  5. Darryl,

    I suspect you might have a problem with the Christian ruler legislating in accordance with the law of God.


  6. Don, since natural law is God’s law, I’m not sure what would be the problem (or even if a ruler could avoid legislating in accordance with God’s law — since it is impossible not to legislate morality).


  7. “Although quite rare” would seem to concede that “legislating in accordance with the law of God for national life” is not possible. So, a moot point.

    “The Reformed man . . .rears his children in the truth” but is to “establish good Christian schools, to carry out the godly instruction of the children of the kingdom that [he himself] cannot give.” So what differentiates “the truth” from “godly instruction”, and why can he not give it? Or is calculus part of “godly instruction”?


  8. But I can live with the language of necessity of Christian schools. It’s the language of binding that rankles. Then again, the latter flows from the former. Harrumph.


  9. Greg – I think “rare” means that it is unlikely that a godly, Reformed man will win office very often. It’s when that happens that he has to legislate/rule according to the Word of God. I have no problem with this — a thoroughly Christian politician should not advocate for abortion, gay marriage, etc. This is a different matter than the church spending time trying to sway the political system, though. We are talking about the responsibilities of a Christian individual elected to office. Somebody forward this to the Catholics.


  10. Greg, think catechism versus curriculum. Does instilling the 3 Persons really have something to do with instilling the 3Rs? Worldview evidently thinks so. But I’m stumped.


  11. Erik, although rather oblique, my point was that if it is so rare, why should it make the top 10 list, i.e., the rare is included with common responsibilities? (No need to answer, I understand why Englesma included it.)

    Zrim, me too.


  12. Excellent article by Engelsma. This quote jumped out at me:

    That demon, by the way, promotes the kingdom of Satan in the believer’s life. The two kingdoms clash most violently and with the highest stakes, not out there in society in the culture wars. That clash is mere child’s play in comparison with the war of the two kingdoms in the soul of every Christian.

    R.L. Dabney was right to label as derelicts those pastors who neglect their proper calling by wasting their congregants’ time and opportunities in presuming to instruct them on politics and other cultural matters.


  13. So,J-H, Engelsma should not have wasted our time by instructing us in his essay above on “honoring civil government?” Messing with politics, you know.


  14. 2866oa – Only as far as Scripture instructs us, which doesn’t provide much of anything by way of detailed policy prescriptions.


  15. Darryl,

    You say that since natural law is God’s law, I’m not sure what would be the problem (or even if a ruler could avoid legislating in accordance with God’s law.

    I agree. I assume you would also agree that natural law can not conflict with divine law, though it may fall short of it.


  16. Don,

    Why not just track with second table coherence, divorced from any cultic specificity(WCF 19:4) and ethnic or palestinian(promises to the land) particularity? Then we can douse it with some traditional ‘wisdom’ like particularity and variability to a given cultural context or unique set of circumstances-war, turmoil, land mass, frontier, technological peculiarities(to a time)-gunpowder and the printing press, industrial revolution and the like all require accomodation and wisdom and flexibility


  17. 28 yadadadadadada, no more anonymous comments here for you. Sorry, them’s the rules.

    And how exactly is Engelsma’s piece about politics? If you tell someone the culture wars are unimportant by mentioning the culture wars you are a culture warrior? Huh? That logic hasn’t worked out for 2kers. We say the culture wars are unimportant and generally hear the reaction that we are unfaithful.

    Too bad you can’t respond.


  18. Erik,

    You ask, “What about the other thousand words or so?” I am in perfect agreement.

    If you know me so well, with what about the article do you think I would disagree?

    Let me ask you a question. Do you believe the visible church is temporal or eternal?


  19. j-heetderks, can you point me to a reference for that Dabney comment? That intrigues. I’d like to read a bit further.


  20. Darryl,

    Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean when you say the authority to implement and enforce God’s law is another matter.

    I understand the necessary distiinction between the authority of the minister versus the civil magistrate as it pertains to implementing and enforcing God’s law . But when it comes to the second table of the law, is it not the duty of both to uphold, while respecting that distinction?


  21. As long as are “using” natural law (the deep structure), there’s no need for Christians to come out apart from that second kingdom? So is Revelation 18 only for certain situations, only for times closer to the end, when Christ comes?

    2 And he called out with a mighty voice,
    “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
    She has become a dwelling place for demons,

    3 For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality,
    and the kings of the earth and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”
    4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,
    “Come out of her, my people,
    lest you take part in her sins,
    lest you share in her plagues;
    for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
    and God has remembered her iniquities.

    9 And the kings of the earth, who lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will say,

    “Alas! Alas! You great city,
    you mighty city, Babylon!
    For in a single hour your judgment has come.”
    11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.

    121 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,

    “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
    and will be found no more;
    22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more,
    and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more,
    23 and the light of a lamp
    will shine in you no more,
    and the voice of bridegroom and bride
    will be heard in you no more,
    for your merchants were the great ones of the earth,
    and all nations were deceived
    24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
    and of all who have been slain on earth.”


  22. Sean,

    I’m perfectly happy to do just as you say, i.e., just track with second table coherence, but is it possible to divorce that from our Judeo/Christian heritage? You have been so thoroughly indoctrinated in that heritage that you seem to think that it is non-cultic. I dare say that if you lived in an Islam country, you would quickly learn how very cultic culture is.


  23. Larry, Several Dabney articles are posted on the website of New Hope Presbyterian Church (Fairfax, VA) under Resources -> Articles to Read. The one I’m referring to is called Preachers and Politics. I don’t know if URLs will “take” in the com box so I won’t try, but Google knows how to get you there.


  24. Don, I would argue that confessionally we’ve already done it in the american revision to the WCF. As a nation we’ve already done the political and legal work with the Jeffersonian wall of separation of church and state. Apart from that, in any amorphous cultural ‘thing’ we want to call our heritage, Machen and others have warned us of losing that very biblical cultic particularity to the degree we define the cult according to civil religion or moralistic impulses including being a ‘church-going people’. As far as the islamists go, well, let them be a lesson to us of the inability to separate the coercive power of the sword of the state from state-sanctioned religion. Christianity does not go forward via coercion, the church are ministers of reconciliation.


  25. Don, we’ve been around this one before at OL. I sure wish someone could explain why the magistrate has a duty to uphold the second table but not the first. That looks like something akin to Jefferson’s Bible, where we cut out the parts that make us squeamish. Why wouldn’t the magistrate, if you are going to advocate his or her enforcing God’s law (as in the Decalogue), also protect the good name of God?


  26. Sean,

    How would you argue that the WCF divorces the Judeo/Christian cultic tradition from the civil magistrates responsibility when it calls them to defend and encourage them that are good, punish evildoers, and act as nursing fathers to protect the church of our common Lord.

    Are you saying that Jefferson’s wall constitutes the political and legal outworking of the revised WCF? Seems to me that it attemts to eliminate God from having any jurisdiction in determining who are the good and who the evil doers. And I seriously doubt that Jefferson would sign up as a nursing father of the Church.

    Machen was clearly concerned that the church not confuse its spiritual responsibility with the civil responsibililty of the magistrate, not in divorcing the civil magistrate and Judeo/Christian tradition. The problem with Islam is not that the government is unable to separate the coercive power of the sword of the state from state-sanctioned religion, but that the state-sanctioned religion is evil, desiring to wield the sword while Christ has commanded His church to put away the sword.


  27. Don,

    Since when and where does ‘cultic particularity’ adhere as it regards a nation/state outside O.T. ethnic Israel? There is no ‘cultic particularity’ OUTSIDE the church visible and militant as it administers the word and sacraments. Constantinianism sounds good rhetorically, problem is there’s no scriptural ground for it this side of the resurrection, and historically it’s oppressive and destructive of the ministry of the visible church. The american revisions purposely sought to reject it’s theocratic/establishmentarian tradition, that’s why we have an amended confession differing from the one constructed under more erastian convictions. It was a purposeful break.


  28. Darryl,

    Yes we have covered this ground before. I bring it up now in the context of lessening the conflict between neo-Calvinists and two-kingdom advocates. I don’t think of myself as a neo-Calvinist, but I think that if both recognize that the true magistrate and minister are responsible for upholding the law of God according to their realms of authority, Christian liberty is upheld without the need to “assign” the minister and magistrate to separate kingdoms.


  29. Sean,

    You elude me with terms like cultic particularity, Constantinianism, and theocratic/establishmentarian tradition. Doesn’t the WCF call civil magistrates to act as nursing fathers to protect the church of our common Lord? Do you think this will happen in a non-Judeo/Christian culture such as paganism, Islam, or Communism? The church goes underground when the civil government thinks it, rather than God’s law, is sovereign.


  30. The kingdom comes first and importantly in the soul and experience of the child of God. But then it necessarily advances into the active life of the Christian in the world in every sphere and ordinance, with body and soul and with all his gifts.

    Sounds perfectly neo-Cal to me.


  31. Don, you are not meaning to imply that the magistrate belongs to the spiritual kingdom, as if a civil authority has power to oversee the means of grace. Are you a Caesaropapist?


  32. Don,

    Sorry, work demands brevity and the dude prefers it as well. What I’m saying is the american colonists having come out from underneath a state-church structure in England, were opting for a dis establishment or anti establishment (not preferring one church over another) governance from the civil magistrate. They also decided that the state, being rather incompetent(compared to the church), in matters of biblical doctrine(think Jefferson even) had no business adjudicating matters of doctrine much less calling and holding heresy trials for example. Seems a rather foregone conclusion from our perspective, but obviously a radical BREAK at the time.


  33. Darryl,

    To your question about whether I imply that the magistrate belongs to the spiritual kingdom, as if a civil authority has power to oversee the means of grace, of course I absolutely deny it. I believe in separate realms of authority as prescribed by the WCF. Separate realms of authority, however, do not necessarily or even practically lead to the need for separate kingdoms. To conclude that, denies that we are first natural, of the earth, made of dust. Becoming spiritual does not jettison our natural origin or separate us or the visible church from the earth or earthly government, rather it fits us to bear the image of the heavenly man once the visible/temporal gives way to the now invisible/eternal kingdom.


  34. And I nor the OPC (at least historically) are all that friendly with the PRC (ad hominen, I know, but occasional snarkiness seems appropriate on this list). BTW you keep calling neo-Calvinists post-millennielists when it benefits your rhetorical agenda despite the documented inaccuracy.


  35. Darryl,

    First, I look at the verse in its context. Jesus was standing before Pilate who was attempting to understand why, if He was the King of the Jews, were His very own people, over whom He was supposedly King, handing Him over to the Roman government to be executed. Jesus informed Pilate that the source of His kingdom power to rule as King of the Jews did not come from earthly authority because His kingdom and power originates in heaven. Clearly, Jesus was clarifying the source of His Kingdom, not whether it had any significance or bearing upon this world. His very purpose for coming was that His Kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.

    This all makes perfect sense of what Paul said regarding the earthly and spiritual. The heavenly man does not ignore the earthly source of man who was made good, but not yet perfect. Rather the heavenly man makes the earthly man perfect (incorruptible), though still of the earth, just like the seed that yields to the beautiful flower. The consumation of this process occurs when Jesus comes again to separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, etc.


  36. Sean,

    Thanks for the clarification. I heartily endorse the way that the church/WCF has distinguished the realm of authority regarding the church versus the civil magistrate. What I have qualms with is when the church, or some faction within the church, bows to Jefferson instead of scripture. The WCF, not Jefferson, is right when it defines the role of the civil magistrate. The two are poles apart.

    Obviously, whether or not the civil magistrate comports with the WCF, we as Christians are still subject to the governing authorities where scripture/WCF acknowledge that authority. The further the magistrate wanders, however, the more likely that the church will need to go underground. Though even this possibility will not constrain the power of the gospel. The power will simply visibly manifest itself in the next country(ies) that God ordains, and God help us to live in the ungodly culture that rules after the church goes underground.


  37. Don,

    I’m not sure how the two are poles apart in America where freedom of the exercise of religion and prohibition of the state to enact law respecting establishment of religion are laid out in the first amendment. If you have a desire to have the state ESTABLISH only ‘christian’ freedom of the exercise of religion, then we are right back to where we were in Europe with the state calling councils and adjudicating orthodoxy and heresy. So you have in this scenario, in opposition to what you’ve already stated you were for(seperate realms of authority) the state transgressing the bounds of it’s ‘realm’ and imposing it’s authority upon the ‘realm of authority’ that rightly and solely belongs to the visible church. Just on the grounds of competency, I’m all for keeping the state out of the role of defining and adjudicating orthodoxy. Better they just insure that ALL their citizens enjoy the freedom of exercise of religion, rather than be arbiters of ‘true’ religion.


  38. Don,

    Not just competency grounds, but principled grounds as well. The state ONLY has available to it, for compliance, coercive power. Whether the point of a pen and/or a sword.


  39. Sean,

    I really do subscribe to the WCF. So of course I agree “that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger.”

    Where we are disagreeing is when you want to divorce the basis upon which the civil magistrate is to determine good or evil from its Judeo/Christian heritage. You cite WCF 19.4 for support, though it seems pretty clear to me that 19.4, especially in light of the scriptural proofs and 19.5, is not saying that the moral law as given in the Decalogue, has expired.

    Also, if you are going to argue from the WCF, you cannot ignore passages such as “Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord.”


  40. Don,

    How about when the general equity clause itself is an appeal to natural law, not the decalogue per se, over against the King’s Law within the system of jurisprudence as it was practiced at that time in England(see DVD NL2K).

    Or how about when the WCF makes accomodation for the ‘light of nature’ when ordering something so cultically particular as the worship of God; WCF 1:6″… and that there are some circumstances
    concerning the worship of God, and government of the church,
    COMMON to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by
    the light of nature……”

    But even more to the point you seem to want to affirm ‘realm sovereignty’ that would ostensibly remove the civil magistrate from being an arbiter of the true religion but then you want them to prefer and safeguard the faith of our ‘common lord’ so that they again would be making determination on true religion and would effectively render the american revisions as inconsequential and unnecessary, which if that were the case one has to wonder; ‘why the revisions?” and the american presbyterians got it wrong. Which is in fact the position of say the CREC who confess the original 1647 confession but not the 1788 american revision.


  41. Sean,

    To your first point, are you saying that the Decalogue conflicts in any way with natural law? That would be odd since God is the Author of both.

    Not sure how WCF 1.6 pertains.

    To your third point, I am simply agreeing with what the WCF says about ‘realm sovereignty’ and safeguarding the faith of our ‘common lord’. Are you saying that you don’t subscribe to the WCF?


  42. Not to thread jack, but is “Judeo/Christian Tradition” really a thing? Or better yet, what is being meant by the Judeo/Christian tradition, in the context that it’s being used in this thread? I thought liberal Protestants came up with that phrase to counteract fascists and fundamentalists.


  43. @McMark:

    I understand Revelations Chapter 18 as a vivid prophecy of the fall Jerusalem in 70AD. God’s Covenant Nation had become Babylon! So this Chapter is alluding to Israel’s impending judgment.


  44. Don,

    To the degree that the decalogue is ethnocentric or tied to promises in the land or even covenantally considered as addressed to Jews than there is not a seamless uniformity between the decalogue and natural law. Even the decalogue is going to contain some cultic particularities as regards worship, let’s say, that aren’t going to be readily available via general revelation but instead require the illumination of special revelation of which the decalogue is most certainly a part. Further considered, covenantal status is itself PRIVILEGED status. IOW, a ‘people’ or a country-nation-state, can not on their own DECIDE that they are going to be God’s covenant people and take to themselves chosen people/state status. It is a privilege bestowed solely by the suzerain(God) upon whom He chooses. According to scripture that included ethnic Israel, a holy nation which has now been replaced by the Church, and even now, within the church, we ONLY encounter the Law and Prophets through the mediation of Christ-see Romans and Galatians and Hebrews and Acts. So, ‘technically’ or better ‘covenantally’ our ‘testament’ is the NEW testament, and we encounter or embrace or engage or are discipled by the ‘old’ testament AS it has been taken up in Christ and further illuminated(given greater meaning or fulfillment) in Apostolic teaching. For example, we now know that ‘true Israel’ is spiritual Israel. That Abraham’s descendants are us, not necessarily ethnic Jews, so on and so forth.

    So when you say judeo-christian heritage, while a commonly used term, actually has no BIBLICAL meaning, outside of the peculiar cultic people of the covenant. It’s not a term that has application to american culture or any other culture.


  45. Sean,

    When I refer to the Decalogue, I am not referring to it in its ethnocentric or covenantal sense, but in its universal sense as Paul uses it in Romans 1 through 3 to show that 1.) God and His law are known by every man, 2.) Every man has two options – suppress or manifest, at least to some degree, the work of the law written in their hearts, and 3.) God holds the whole world guilty because they cannot/do not fulfill the law and do not glorify the Lawgiver.

    The cultic particularities to which you refer are the ceremonial laws that were given to Israel, i.e., the church under age (WCF 19.3). These, and sundry other judicial laws (WCF 19.4 cites Ex. 21:1–23:19 as the judicial laws), not the Decalogue, are abrogated by the new covenant and the expiration of the State of that people (WCF 19.3 and 4).

    WCF 19.4 refers to Israel as a body politic, acknowledging not only its priestly function but also the kingly responsibility to uphold judicial law. Upon the expiration of Israel’s covenantal status as a state, the priestly function of Israel is now assumed by the church (word, sacrament and discipline), but the kingly function is assumed by civil magistrates who continue to be bound by the moral law as given in the Decalogue (WCF 19.5). WCF 23.3 confirms that the kingly function is taken up by civil magistrates when it describes them as nursing fathers whose duty is to protect the church of our common Lord.

    Regarding your statement about covenantal status, I did not mean to imply that any particular nation/state can claim covenantal status as God covenanted with Israel under the old covenant. But this does not mean that governing authorities from any nation are exempt from the moral law as laid down in the Decalogue.

    Finally, regarding my use of the term Judeo/Christian heritage, I was referring to any culture that to some degree is bound by the moral law as given in the Decalogue. Cain’s family is the prototype for all cultures that are not so bound (Gen 4:16)


  46. Luther,

    See my response to Sean concerning my use of the term Judeo/Christian heritage. Aside from its reference to the Decalogue given by God to Jews and Christians, I think the term is useful as a reminder that cultures are not independent of the degree to which the Decalogue binds a nation. The Bible and history, it seems to me, clearly reveal this.


  47. Don,

    I’m really perplexed now, because then this takes me back to my earlier point, if you want civil magistrate oversight and enforcement of the decalogue, are you prepared to have the state once again call church councils and prosecute heresy and heretics? Do you confess the 1788 WCF?


  48. Sean,

    I practically quote the WCF 19.3,4,5 and 23.3. Have you read these sections? Do you agree with them? Specifically, do you agree that the moral law binds all, justified or not IAW WCF 19.5; or that the civil magistrate’s duty is to protect the church of our common Lord IAW 23.3. I assumed you did.

    I carefully laid out my argument. Please don’t change the meaning by altering my words.


  49. Don,

    I’m not trying to change the meaning, I’m just looking for clarification. Do you confess the 1788 WCF? and do you see a role for the magistrate to call councils and prosecute heretics as part of it’s ‘kingly’ role to protect the “church of our common lord”? in accord with the ongoing obligation to enforce the moral law in the decalogue. I’m trying to understand, because the 1788 revisions were particularly oriented at REMOVING the erastian and establishmentarian language and intent of the original confession.


  50. Sean,

    I subscribe to the WCF adopted by the PCA in 1788. All quotes have been taken directly from that version. I do not see a role for the magistrate to call councils and prosecute heretics as part of it’s ‘kingly’ role to protect the “church of our common lord”, nor does the WCF to which I subscribe.?


  51. Don, thanks. Can u please explain then, how the civil magistrate are supposed to act in accord with the notion of being ‘nursing fathers to the church of our common Lord’ without violating both the ecclesiastical ‘realm’ of the church and avoiding the erastian and establishmentarian notions that the American Presbyterians thought to amend the confession so as to no longer, well, confess. Is it merely allowing the lawful assembly of all religious citizens free from violent interference and lawless disruption? And how is that distinct from the protections currently afforded in the first amendment?


  52. Sean,

    If I am to respond, and it won’t be tonight, I need to understand your perspective. Do you subscribe to the WCF. Do you acknowledge that it calls civil magistrates to protect the Christian Church?


  53. Don, I confess the wcf 1788. I acknowledge the intent of the revisions to remove the state from determining or favoring one denomination over another. As the confession is ‘received’ in our day the confession does not demand or anticipate that the civil magistrate make distinction beyond what has already been provided for in the first amendment. Furthermore, to expect the civil magistrate to favor Christian denominations over non-Christian much less to make distinction between confessing trinitarian communions is to violate the bounds of ecclesiastical domain.


  54. Sean,

    The WCF revision does indeed remove governmental “preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest,” and the first amendment definitely restricts the government from making laws regarding the establishment or free exercise of any religion. While the first amendment has evolved significantly since its inception, the WCF of 1788 has not. The WCF very clearly calls the magistrate to specifically protect the Christian church. When you say that the confessions “as received in our day does not demand or anticipate that the civil magistrate make distinction beyond what has already been provided for in the first amendment” you seem to imply that the WCF is a pliable document that can be interpreted according to the prevailing political thought as reflected in the constitution. This smacks of erastianism which you have rightly condemned on several occasions..

    I would agree with you that the Christian church does not demand that the civil magistrate make distinction beyond what has already been provided for in the first amendment, complying with the apostle Paul to submit to the governing authorities. But this should not preclude the church from praying for all in authority, as Paul commands us, that the civil magistrate would fulfill it’s God-given duty.

    I believe that the WCF of 1788 most closely reflects the thinking of Richard Hooker. The core of Hooker’s thinking on the relations of church and state is unity. Society, he argued, is itself the fulfillment of natural law, of which human and positive law are reflections, adapted to society. Public power is not something personal, for it derives from the community under law. Such power can derive either directly from God or else from the people. The prince is responsible to God and the community; he is not, like Hobbes’s ruler, a law unto himself. Law makes the king, not the king law. (quoted from the on-line Encyclopedia Britannica). This, I am convinced, most closely comports with the apostle Paul.


  55. Don,

    Thanks for the feedback. I used the idea of the confession ‘received’ because rather than communicating ‘pliability’ about doctrinal or even moral non-negotiables, the idea of ‘received’ instead communicates that we confess that which IS inherent to reformed theology, piety and practice. So, the idea of having ‘received’ the confession per the 1788 revisions, in effect confesses not only the rejection of Erastian or Establishmentarian language and intent of the prior confession, but also that the FORM of government under which the church exists, is NOT part of what we confess. Remember Constantantinianism is a post and non apostolic historical development not an origination born of scriptural exegesis or prescription. Yes, the state has mandate from God but that mandate as Paul lays it out is to secure equitable justice for it’s citizens not establish preference for the christian church. That it took the confessing church over a thousand years to come out from underneath the historical circumstances of either constantinianism or establishmentarianism is irrelevant to what we now confess. One would have to show that one or the other of the aforementioned historical circumstances is inherent to reformed theology piety or practice. Which is why christian reconstructionists/theonomists reject the revised standards with the amended paragraphs and maybe more importantly amended scripture proofs.


  56. Don,

    BTW this discussion is had better in R.S. Clark’s Recovering The Reformed Confession(RRC) and/or at I just can’t remember where I first read on it. I’m sure Darryl has covered this ground before as well. Just search through the posts either here or at heidelblog and I’m sure you’ll get all the info you need.


  57. Sean,

    I believe you are stretching the bounds of of the 1788 revision beyond its scriptural and reformed intent.We both agree that Paul calls the ruler to secure justice for it’s citizens, saying “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” But in addition to this verse from Rom 13, the proof texts for WCF 19.3 also include both Isa. 49:23 and Rom. 13:4 which clearly designate rulers as servants of the true (Judeo/Christian) God. Should the church not teach, hope, and pray that our rulers submit to God’s prescriptive will?

    Don’t hear me arguing as a proponent of theonomy, but rather as one who thinks that the scriptural/reformed teaching on the relations of church and state is unity, each having its own realm of authority. Society is not created by the state but is the fulfillment of natural law whose Author is God, the Father of Jesus Christ who sent the Holy Spirit that we might submit to God’s law and put to death the misdeeds of the body. Though the Spirit is given only to those who are righteous by faith, God’s law applies to all.

    BTW, I appreciate your patience and this dialogue.


  58. Sean,

    I have read Clark’s RRC, though it’s been a while. I’ll take another look. I’ve also read DVD’s LGTK.


  59. Luther,

    Neither am I aware of its use in the contexts you have cited, and if you are wondering, I am not a liberal.


  60. I love this paragraph: That demon, by the way, promotes the kingdom of Satan in the believer’s life. The two kingdoms clash most violently and with the highest stakes, not out there in society in the culture wars. That clash is mere child’s play in comparison with the war of the two kingdoms in the soul of every Christian.

    But doesn’t it confuse the Two Kingdoms with the Two Cities?


  61. Don Frank

    Neither am I aware of its use in the contexts you have cited, and if you are wondering, I am not a liberal.

    I got that.

    Back in the 1930s-1950s, liberal Protestants were attempting to create the American civil religion. I was under the impression that the “Judeo-Christian Tradition” was their attempt to undermine orthodoxy and fundamentalism with an ecumenical term. And now many of those within traditions that embrace orthodoxy have internalized it, it’s just fascinating how terms change meaning over time.


  62. Luther —

    They are sort of using it correctly. “Judeo-Christian” was used a few times in English but it really got popular during the 19th century as a translation of Nietzsche’s “judenchristlich”. Nietzsche is identifying what he considers a moral perversion of man’s spirit, a collection of common moral elements paradigm in that perversion which originated in Judaism and came to “infect” the west via. Christianity. So Conservative Christians are using the term in its original meaning of an underlying moral paradigm common to Christianity and Judaism, and even better for them theologically a moral paradigm taught by the Jewish God but contrary to man’s natural inclinations. 🙂 Anyway as far as I can tell it wasn’t so much Protestants as Jews and Catholics who popularized the term since it allowed for the notion that morality was not Protestant but rather “universal” (at least in the early 20th century sense).

    Where I think there is a lot of irony is considering part of modern Conservative Christianity in an evangelical age where Christianity is seen as more exclusive. The emphasis in modern Conservative Christianity seems to be on salvation not sanctification. While Judaism in all its American forms is an unblinking works religion, which would deny in the strongest terms all 5 of the Tulip points. If the focus is on salvation not sanctification Christianity and Judaism have little in common.


  63. Don,

    I’m not really sure what else to say on the confessional front. I get that you’re not a theonomist. You think I overreach on my interpretation. I don’t really know what to make of your statements affirming separation but calling the magistrate to act as ‘nurturing fathers to the church of our common lord’ yet agreeing with first amendment provisions, but maybe ‘pushing’ or even praying for a compliance more specific to the wording of ‘nurturing fathers……………..’ To be honest it wouldn’t be something(civil magistrate acting as nurturing fathers…………) that I’d be anxious to see. As it is, I have to research a paper I have to present to my session on the RPW?!. I can’t imagine the difficulty in getting a magistrate up to speed and hoping his legislation doesn’t overreach(don’t they all?!) I’ll grab up Richard Hooker at some point and see if it’s something I haven’t heard or considered before(certainly possible).


  64. Sean,

    Note that it is not I who am calling the magistrate to act as nursing fathers but WCF 23.3 which, in part, states the following:

    3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven;e or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord,without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger.g And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief.

    The church’s job according to scripture is simply to teach, pray, and trust in God.


  65. I take the unitarian’s point. If “christians” put the emphasis on the Christian life instead of on salvation from God’s wrath, then they may have more in common with “jews”. If the Reformed clergy assures his covenant members every week that they are now saved (as evidenced by their being there), then what he’s going to talk about might turn out to be God’s law as a “whip to get you all more sanctified”.

    But see Gary North’s rather infamous approach to the “judeo-christian” construct.


  66. Hauerewas: I must admit I thought that after John Murray Cuddihy’s The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi Strauss and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity, no one would be able to recommend being “judeo-Christian” again. As Cuddihy points out, civility is that part of the modernization process that requires the separation of private affect from public demeanor. (mark, this is not the same as a distinction between two public kingdoms)

    Hauerwas: It is the great bourgeois project to adapt the individual’s inner life to the socially
    appropriate.”Niceness” is as good a name as any for the informally yet pervasively institutionalized political correctness expected—indeed required—of members of that societal community called the civic culture. Intensity, fanaticism, inwardness—too much of anything, in fact—is unseemly and bids fair to destroy the fragile solidarity of the surface we call civility.

    Civility presupposes the differentiated structures of a modernizing “civil society.” It is an order of “appearance” constitutive of that behavior. This medium is itself the message and the message it beamed to the frontrunners of a socially emancipating jewry came through loud and clear: “Be Nice.” “The Jews, ” writes Maurice Samuel looking back on the epoch of Emanclpation, “are probably the only people in the world to whom it has ever been proposed that their historic destiny
    is—to be nice.”

    Hauerwas: Of course, you may well object that being nice is not a bad alternative to being killed. but the Holocaust is but the other side of assimilation into the new and oppressive order of civility.
    The differentiations most foreign to the shtetl subculture of Yiddesheit were those of public from private behavior and of manners from morals. Jews were being asked, in effect, to become bourgeois, and to become bourgeois quickly.–13


  67. Don,

    I’m not the sharpest tool in the drawer, but I can read the words. Here’s my problem, and it’s the same problem I have when people try to reverse systematics back into the hermenuetical and exegetical effort-BT. The confession is not a systematic theology text or primer. It’s a historical document of confession and to read it ahistorically seems to miss the ‘genre’ if you will. It’s like reading Genesis one and failing to account for poetic narrative or chiastic structure. To divorce the words from the context, in this case historical, is to miss an enormous amount of the what is being conveyed. IOW, in 1778. we are coming out from underneath the constantinian and erastian historical consequence. The intent wasn’t to leave the door open for a better more conducive to the church establishmentarianism.


  68. Sean,

    Didn’t mean to imply that you were intellectually challenged, but I got the impression that you were crediting me with the “nursing fathers” line. I agree that in 1788 America was coming out of a British erastian influence and that the confession had given more powers to the state than is scripturally warranted. That is not the same as saying that it was revised to be more consistent with the political context of the time but that the church learned from history to further restrict the powers of the state. The WCF has been revised since, but 23.3 remains unchanged.

    I am not familiar with the argument you are making about the WCF. The WCF itself maintains that it contains the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures but you say it is not a systematic theology. How do you reconcile these statements?

    To your last statement, you seem to be opposed to a literal reading of the state’s duty to be as a nursing father (which btw is quoted directly from Isaiah 49:23) that protects the church of our common Lord because a literal reading would not close the door to church establishmentarianism tightly enough. But if that were the case, why did the fathers of the revision who were most sensitive to the dangers of church establismentarianism include it.

    It seems clear to me, especially in light of the first sentence of WCF 19.3 (which absolutely forbids the state from assuming to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith), that the fathers of the revision are not establishing separate and independent realms but rather distinct yet unified realms.


  69. Don, what does “distinct yet unified realms” mean? It sounds to me like semantics. Michigan and Ohio are distinct. They are not unified.

    If church and state are unified and not separate, then how can officers in the church not have powers in the state or vice versa?

    And if your reading is correct, how is the magistrate supposed to be a nursing father to both Presbyterians and Unitarians, or Lutherans and Roman Catholics? Are these communions “distinct yet unified”?


  70. CD-Host,

    Thanks for that explanation. I first came across the “myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition” in an article by Arthur A. Cohen writing for Commentary, about the late 1960s. He has a book with the same name, but I think it is out of print. I also remember some very theological conservatives, (during the late 1970s) who would constantly remind us that we were either Christian or Jewish, and couldn’t be both. But it seems the term has become more popular… I’ve always thought that since End-Time oriented Protestants and hard-core pro-Israeli Jews were finding themselves in the same political camps, it has become a useful ecumenical term.

    I just don’t find it being used prior to the 1930s, in any big way. Karl Jaspers and Paul Tillich (intellectual students of Nietzsche) used it, but they are not the usual guys traditionalists turn to for understanding the Gospel.


  71. @Luther —

    Religious people on both sides disliked the term. It had a lot more to do with political alliances. For example the American anti-Communist movement in the 1950s (who had inherited it from European anti-Fascist movements of the 20-50s). I suspect that’s where the right picked it up, and since the Western Republican anti-Communist right and today’s religious right merged during Clinton as part of the shift of Southern evangelicals away from the Democrats maybe they picked up each other’s language? Not sure. As far as Pentecostals … Christian Zionism and Rightwing American Zionism are a great example of politics make strange bedfellows. But its a good thing that the American right is philo-semitic.

    As for Tillich I don’t see how one can be a Christian existentialist and accept Genealogy of Morals. So I don’t know but I don’t find it surprising he wouldn’t use the term.


  72. Darryl,

    “Distinct yet unified realms” simply means that both church and state exist together in this temporal kingdom, and like body and soul, they can be distinguished in terms of their roles but not separtated. Because they are distinct in their roles, an officer in the church as an officer in the church does not have jurisdiction in matter of the state and vice versa.

    Your last question cannot be answered so simply because we, in this country, have strayed very far from the WCF in terms of how it defines the role of the civil magistrate. I’m sure you know the history of the 1788 revision of 23.3 better than I do, so you know that it was necessary to prevent the British Anglican Church from ruling over America, both spiritually, and by extension, politically. This is one example of how the state is to be a nursing father that protects the church from state control. The revision applies to all denominations of Christians, so Unitarians don’t count. All Christian denominations are unified in their devotion to Jesus Christ and what He teaches though they are distinct in other ways.


  73. Don, so church and state are part of the same body. But in this particular body, the United States, we also have Jews, Unitarians, Muslims, and Mormons. Is your understanding that the U.S. is wrong to have so many non-Christian groups, or that these religious people are not part of the “body”? But if the U.S. is allowed to practice a form of religious freedom that extends to non-Christians, then the nursing father business has to refer to the magistrate as a protector of the religious freedoms of Unitarians and Jews. Those freedoms were certainly in the minds of American Presbyterians when it came to Roman Catholics, who were both part of the original U.S. republic and also followers of what the Confession of Faith calls the anti-Christ.


  74. Darryl,

    My understanding of WCF 23.3 “that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger” includes religious freedom and incorporation into this nation of all Christian and non-Christian alike, subject to natural law and the decalogue, both authored by the true God.

    The statement quoted above from WCF 23.3 does not, in my view, conflict with the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, but rather is ensured by the civil magistrates who fulfill this God-given duty. It is thanks to civil magistrates operating according to this biblical doctrine that the religious freedom of the church of our common Lord was not swallowed up by the politically driven Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches of earlier centuries. But Satan never tires of trying to swallow up the church of our common Lord for we know that the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. Only now, he is doing it by tricking the civil magistrate into believing that true freedom of religion means the unbridled freedom to fulfil our every passion, as long as we do no harm to others, except of course unborn babies.


  75. Don, I’m not sure what all of the metaphors add up to. Does this mean the magistrate has an obligation to be a nursing father to Unitarians? But is Satan using Unitarians to undermine the doctrine of Christ? So should the magistrate regulate religious freedom so that Unitarians don’t have freedom to fulfill their passion of denying the deity of Christ?


  76. Darryl,

    You’ve probably heard the joke What do you get when you cross a UU with a Jehovah’s Witness? Someone who goes door-to-door for no particular reason.

    To your question, the civil magistrate as the servant of God is obligated to the church of our common Lord to uphold justice in accord with the moral law which forever binds all, justified or otherwise, to the obedience thereof. The Unitarian does not subscribe to that law so does not fall within the magistrates bounds of obligation. However, the Unitarian is certainly entitled to freedom from violence or danger in his private practice of religion.


  77. Don,

    I’m totally stealing this one.

    What do you get when you cross a UU with a Jehovah’s Witness? Someone who goes door-to-door for no particular reason.


  78. Luther,

    I’ve also heard it told as someone who goes door to door looking for a discussion, but I like the version I posted better.


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