When a State Agency Endorses Two Kingdoms

And they didn’t even address the situation in Ireland.

The state office in question was the Westminster Assembly, a gathering of ministers to write a new set of church standards for the English church. One of their most forceful arguments about the spirituality of the church came in the chapter on Christian liberty. First, their understanding of such freedom was completely removed from political, economic, or social considerations:

1. The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

A servant could enjoy such liberty as much as Charles I.

To make sure that everyone knew they were talking about spiritual matters, not politics, the divines added this:

4. And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And, for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity (whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation), or to the power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the church, they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against, by the censures of the church.

The theological gospel was not a social gospel. The freedoms purchased by Christ were not leverage for social justice. Heck, the divines even say that you can’t use Christian liberty to disobey the legitimate rule of the visible church.

This is why it is so great to live in the greatest nation on God’s green earth. We don’t need to use the Confession of Faith to dismantle oppressive legislation or exploitative policies. We have the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Imagine that. Political documents regulating political affairs, and ecclesiastical ones shaping the church.

How novel!

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9 thoughts on “When a State Agency Endorses Two Kingdoms

  1. Certainly the theological gospel is not a social gospel. But such does not imply that significant elements from the social gospel are not contained in the theological gospel.

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  2. “Political documents regulating political affairs, and ecclesiastical ones shaping the church.”

    Em … Solemn League and Covenant ??

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  3. “Political documents regulating political affairs, and ecclesiastical ones shaping the church.”

    Is this a political statement? Is it true that a church with the wrong politics about church and state always confuses law and gospel? Can a church with the correct law about the “spirituality” of owning slaves nevertheless fail to have a gospel of free grace (grace not conditioned on the sinner)?

    I am asking about cause and effect. When John Knox (as a private person) says something about female magistrates (when the wrong female is magistrate), is this something merely a symptom of Knox (as a private person) having a false social gospel?

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  4. MMC: I am asking about cause and effect. When John Knox (as a private person) says something about female magistrates (when the wrong female is magistrate), is this something merely a symptom of Knox (as a private person) having a false social gospel?

    Better: that his gospel was defective in some way.

    Knox wanted Scripture’s stricture against female elders to hold in the common realm; hence he pulls out Timothy in support of his contention. But he senses that his argument is weak, so he introduces it with non-Scriptural arguments as well as this caveat: I except such as God, by singular privilege, and for certain causes known only to himself, has exempted from the common rank of women, and do speak of women as nature and experience do this day declare them. Nature, I say, does paint them forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish; and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel, lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment.

    Apparently, then, women who are not weak, frail, impatient, feeble, foolish, inconstant, variable, cruel, and lacking in the spirit of counsel and regiment are exempt. Which is many of them, to be honest.

    Knox’s conceptual flaw is that he wants Scripture to rule in the civil realm; he’s a one-kingdom kind of a guy, which is ultimately theocratic. That flaw harms the understanding of the gospel because it encourages us to place civil society under the Law as a religious obligation — that is, it places the imperative before the indicative.

    But now: Does that mean that Knox had a completely false understanding of the gospel? No.

    Human beings do not have a self-consistent set of beliefs. Because of that, a defect need not come to fruition in all of its implications.

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  5. Did Jenny Geddes (with her short phrase & tall stool) make a political or an ecclesiastical statement? (Or was a statement made at all? [Nothing to see here. Move along.])

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