I have been kicking around for a while the way that some have kicked around the doctrine of the two kingdoms. (I myself prefer to call it the spirituality of the church, following the Old School Presbyterian tradition, which receives constitutional status, for instance, in the OPCâ€™s Form of Government (3.4), which reads: â€œAll church power is wholly moral or spiritual. No church officers or judicatories possess any civil jurisdiction; they may not inflict any civil penalties nor may they seek the aid of the civil power in the exercise of their jurisdiction further than may be necessary for civil protection and security.â€) What still leaves me strangely intrigued is the Bayly Bros. kvetch that 2k (read: the spirituality of the church) leaves the resurrection without policy implications. Does this mean that states, counties and townships should establish new policies for burial procedures so that mourning visitors to cemeteries will not be injured when headstones suddenly pop out of the earth?
What it seems to mean is that the gospel must have direct bearing on government, particularly on the rule of law, what conservative politicians usually call, law and order. Here is how the Baylys put it:
How does a pastor preach the Law to Christ’s Kingdom without spillover into other kingdoms? How are we to preach God’s Law so that the Christian understands God’s demands without leading the unconverted to think he can keep the Law as well? How do we preach on cultural sins to Christians without addressing any kingdom beyond Christ’s? How do we parse the person, dividing earthly citizenship from citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ? How do we parse the Law, applying it carefully in Christ’s Kingdom yet avoiding its implications for the kingdom of man?
The two-kingdom concept seems simple enough initially. Two kingdoms: the kingdoms of earth and the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ. Two forms of authority: divine and eternal; human and temporal.
In one sense it’s elementary, so basic I doubt any Christian would deny it. There are human kings and the King of Glory, kingdoms of earth and the Kingdom of God.
The problem comes in knowing how to deal with the inevitable collisions between kings and kingdoms.
If Christianity is about law, morality, and uprightness, then this view of the state and its functions, combined with a desire for a faith-based political activism that goes in the public square and takes no prisoners makes perfect sense.
What is baffling about this understanding of the gospel, however, is that it is all law and no forgiveness. And without forgiveness the gospel is not good news â€“ a gospel of law, human righteousness, and condemnation of sin is not a gospel.
I was reminded of this point quite poignantly during a recent worship service where the New Testament lesson came from the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Matthew 18 reads:
23 â€œTherefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, â€˜Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.â€™ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, â€˜Pay what you owe.â€™ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, â€˜Have patience with me, and I will pay you.â€™ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, â€˜You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?â€™ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.â€
It is hard to listen to this passage and not worry that the world will hear contemporary Christian activists as unforgiving scolds. What is more pressing is whether our heavenly father thinks of such law-and-order believers? Will he look at them as unforgiving servants? Is it not possible that all the faith-based hectoring and finger-pointing in the public square is unbecoming of those who have been forgiven? Isnâ€™t the point of this passage that the Christianâ€™s public face should be one of forgiveness and acceptance?
Does this mean that the state, to be truly Christian, should be like the church, doling out forgiveness for sin? Should the state have mercy on repentant doctors and mothers guilty of abortion? Is that really what faith-based activists want? Isnâ€™t this what the Democrats for the most part give us? In fact, the idea that the state should conform to the church is the way that many evangelicals wind up on the political Left. They believe that the ministry of mercy and compassion will fix the halls of power; the state should be about love, forgiveness, and compassion.
To counter the left, Rightist evangelicals invariably respond with a Christian message of law and order and thereby give the impression that the gospel is one of making people moral (or the world safe for Mormonism â€“ thank you, Ken Myers for that bon mot).
In which case, the Religious Right is right to think that the state should execute justice rather than mercy. But they are wrong to think that the stateâ€™s functions are the fundamental building blocks of Christianity.
The problem we face today is that in so wanting the state to uphold standards of law and justice, and in trying to make a Christian case for this, we have turned the church into the state. That is, Americans have generally come to associate the conservative Protestant churches with those believers who advocate law and order (i.e., social conservatism) because the message these Christians invariably promote in public is not one of gospel but of law.
What we are now living through is a crisis of justification, not only within the churches who have members who should know better, but also one within the state, where Christian citizens have disregarded 2k in pursuit of a righteous society. Which came first, the chicken of moralism in the church or righteous activism in the state? It is hard to tell. But in both cases, the opposition to antinomianism has produced the over compensation of neo-nomianism. In both cases as well, sanctification precedes justification, good works and personal righteousness precede forgiveness and imputed righteousness. It is any wonder that justification-priority folks think the sky is falling?
What critics of 2k need to remember is that the doctrine is not about liberal or conservative politics. It is is essentially an effort to preserve the good news that Jesus Christ died to save sinners from the guilt of sin and the penalty of the law.