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Thursday
Sep022010

A Two Kingdoms Primer 

Here's a brief primer on the basics of the Reformed doctrine of the two kingdoms.

As you consider the distinctions between these two kingdoms, please keep in mind the following presuppositions upon which the distinctions are based:

1).  Christ is Lord of both kingdoms.  He rules the kingdom of Christ (regnum gratiae) as the mediator of the covenant of grace, and he rules the civil kingdom (regnum potentiae) as sovereign Lord.

2).  Every Christian is simultaneously a citizen of both kingdoms (Philippians 3:20; Romans 13:1-7).

 3).  The state is a post-fall, common grace institution given by God for the administration of justice and to restrain evil (Genesis 4:18 ff; Romans 13:1-7).

 4).  Non-Christians do not accept or acknowledge Christ's Lordship over the civil kingdom.  This is the basis for the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian ways of thinking and doing.  The failure to acknowledge Christ's Lordship renders one guilty before God (Romans 1:18-25), but does not invalidate the civil kingdom or the non-Christian's place in it. 

5).  While Paul calls Rome a minister of God (Romans 13:4), a generation later John describes that same empire as the beast, empowered by the dragon to persecute the people of God (Revelation 13).  The Christian's confession that "Jesus is Lord," is likewise a confession that Caesar isn't.  Christians must be cognizant that the kingdom of Christ can be seen as a threat to the power of the state.  In fact, throughout Scripture, the state is the dragon's weapon of last resort against Christ and his kingdom. 

6).  From the time Adam was cast from Eden, God has intended the kingdom of Christ (the church) to dwell and advance in the midst of the civil kingdom (the world).  This is the foundation for the missionary endeavors of the church, as well as a hedge against either utopianism (an over-realized eschatology) or escapism (i.e., monasticism).

 

The Distinction Between the Two Kingdoms

 

Christ's Kingdom

This is a spiritual kingdom and is ruled by Christ in his mediatorial office, in and through the historical manifestation of the covenant of grace (the church)

The Civil Kingdom

Here we speak of human government (the state) and Christ's rule over the earth and its creatures (the kingdom of power), according to God’s divine purpose for humanity (his eternal decree)

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Christ's Kingdom

The charter of Christ’s kingdom is the “Great Commission” (cf. Matthew 28:16-20)

The Civil Kingdom

The foundation of the civil kingdom is the “Cultural Mandate” (Genesis 1:28' Genesis 9:6-7)

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Christ's Kingdom

The church is given the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19).  The kingdom is closed to the unrepentant and heretics through church discipline

The Civil Kingdom

The state is given the sword (Romans 13:4).  Those who break the law are subject to civil and criminal justice

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Christ's Kingdom

Requires “spiritual discernment” (1 Corinthians 1:13 ff; 2:14)

The Civil Kingdom

Requires the light of nature (i.e., general revelation--Romans 2:14-15)

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Christ's Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is manifest on earth through the ordinary means of grace and through those biblically mandated activities of the church (i.e., evangelism, discipleship, and diaconal ministries)

The Civil Kingdom

The civil kingdom is manifest in all human cultural endeavors and governing institutions.  In the civil kingdom, Christian citizens seek to be salt and light as they fulfill their callings and vocations along with their non-Christian neighbors

____________________________________

Christ's Kingdom

The focus is upon our heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20-21)–which is realized in our membership in Christ’s church.  The church is the assembly of Christian believers

The Civil Kingdom

The focus is upon our national citizenship (i.e., the country of our birth, or of which we are presently citizens).  As such, this kingdom includes all people (Christians and non-Christians alike) who are citizens of a given nation/society

____________________________________

Christ Kingdom

Entrance is granted into this kingdom only by virtue of regeneration.  The focus is upon redemptive grace–God saving his people from the guilt and power of sin

The Civil Kingdom

Entrance into the civil kingdom is granted by virtue of birth (or naturalization).  The focus here is upon common grace–God providing for all of his creatures

____________________________________

Christ's Kingdom

As citizens of Christ’s kingdom, we live under the authority of Christ as revealed in Scripture (special revelation)

The Civil Kingdom

In the civil kingdom, we live under the authority of the laws of the land (i.e., general revelation and natural law)

____________________________________

 

Consequences of Confusing the Two Kingdoms or Denying our Dual Citizenship

When these two kingdoms are confused or conflated, we see the rise of the "social gospel" of Protestant liberalism, American civil religion of the Christian right and the liberal left, as well as the rise of Constantianism (Christendom).  The church must never take up the sword and Caesar must never enter the pulpit.

When the Christian's dual citizenship is denied (or ignored), we see the rise of asceticism, pietism, radical pacifism and Anabaptism.

Therefore, a Christian is free to work with non-Christians in the civil kingdom to promote the common good and preserve a just society.  But the kingdom of Christ is tied to word and sacrament and the church (and its officers and members) must speak to the pressing moral issues of the day in terms of law and gospel, not in terms of the political activism found in the civil kingdom.  Yes, the church must address moral issues as they are found and framed in Scripture (through the preaching and catechetical function of the church), but the church is not to engage in partisan politics, nor endorse any political party or candidate.

Reader Comments (55)

Mr. Riddlebarger,

Thank you for this very helpful overview! Can you direct me to some works / theologians (new and old - I know Van Drunen recently put something out) on 2K?

My family and I have been attending an OPC church in SoCal for the past few months where the pastor and most of the members are theonomic. Recently, I heard one of the elders make some critical remarks about 2K theology and WSCAL. I have not looked into the debate so it would be great if you could direct me to some resources.

Mike
September 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike
Just trying to figure out a few things.
1. Wasn't the cultural mandate "pre-Fall"? I understand that the entrance of sin changed things, but if I recall my WSC days, Adam and Eve were to extend the kingdom of God throughout the world.
2. Didn't Adam already have the sword before the Fall? I am thinking both of Kline's work and Beale's remarks on Adam's priestly authority in the garden, part of which had the idea of protection.

Just some distinctions/issues I am trying to work out in my understanding of 2K.
I look forward eagerly to your book.

Matt
September 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt S Holst
A proper understanding of the distinction between the two kingdoms helps to explain the inherent problems in the Crusades and the current Islamic call for adherence to sharia law. We cannot bring heaven to earth, no matter what our religion. Unfortunately those who do try to realize heaven on earth resort to hellish means to accomplish their end.
September 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Yamada
The foundation of the civil kingdom lying in the cultural mandate is an interesting thing to ponder...

The (original) cultural mandate (subdue the earth) is very much 'theocratic' and, of course, the theocratic ideal is thwarted by the fall (now the earth will subdue Adam - "to dust you shall return."). Thus it is strange for the civil kingdom to be rooted in that cultural mandate - it would make more sense for it to find its roots in God's protection of Cain after Abel's murder, even if the civil realm itself is sort of proleptically realized immediately after the failure of the garden-theocracy.

(I've also wondered if there is significance that Noah is not actually called to subdue - כבש - the earth, only to fill it. Thus Noah doesn't take up the cultural mandate per se, only a post-fall/typological variation of it. This is why I wrote 'original' cultural mandate above. A concordance search of כבש is actually really interesting ... some references in Numb 32 and Josh 18 might draw attention to a typological 'subduing' happening in the Mosaic economy.)

Hmmmm. Gotta re-read some MGK ... Kim, what am I missing here?!

Really nice post ... looking forward to the book!
September 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew
One of my questions about the way the two kingdoms doctrine is presented is its focus on the state in the civil kingdom. (Perhaps my political views are showing here!) I agree with the doctrine, but I would want to parse it slightly differently, in order to avoid the implicit crowning of the state as the supreme authority, under Christ, over civil and 'secular' life. Is this nuanced reformulation the thrust of Kuyper's sphere sovereignty?
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Walker
Matt, pre-Fall, Adam's mandate to extend the kingdom of God throughout the world was also cultic; there were not yet unbelievers outside of that sphere. Common grace didn't really start until Gen 3:16ff; i.e. there will remain childbirth, marriage, work, food, and all that entails, i.e. sun, rain, life, etc. The fall created the separation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man, and we see the effects pretty quickly, with Cain.
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad
“…but I would want to parse it slightly differently, in order to avoid the implicit crowning of the state as the supreme authority, under Christ, over civil and 'secular' life. Is this nuanced reformulation the thrust of Kuyper's sphere sovereignty?”

Philip, I don’t think Kuyper’s doctrine of sphere sovereignty necessarily translates in 2k thinking to make the state the “supreme authority over civil life.” True, 2k rightly makes much over the fact that “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Ro. 13: 1-2). And there are a host of implications for the spirit of that letter. But there is also the institution of the family, which is the cornerstone of civil life, a concept which seems to go a fair ways in keeping any notion of the state as supreme in sane perspective.

Funny how the “family values” crowd seems to place so much weight on what happens in the halls of legislation, i.e. Prop 8. Could it be that to combat ill definitions of the family is actually best “fought” by families nurturing right and wrong themselves and not by legislation aimed at culturally and politically disenfranchising certain groups?
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
Dr. Riddlebarger,

This is an excellent short post. Simple yet not simplistic. Thanks for your labors.

I'm chomping on the bit to read your forthcoming book on this doctrine.

Hurry up, will you?! =)
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Lenzner
@Andrew,

For what it's worth, Dr. VanDrunen is doing a lot of work with Genesis 9 and Noah's "refracted cultural mandate." His forth coming book should help navigate the Noahic waters...
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDJ
“But the kingdom of Christ is tied to word and sacrament and the church (and its officers and members) must speak to the pressing moral issues of the day in terms of law and gospel, not in terms of the political activism found in the civil kingdom. Yes, the church must address moral issues as they are found and framed in Scripture (through the preaching and catechetical function of the church), but the church is not to engage in partisan politics, nor endorse any political party or candidate.”

As a pastor I say a hardy amen to this, but my struggle is how do I “speak to the pressing moral issues of the day in terms of law and gospel” and not appear to implicitly be endorsing a particular party or candidate when one party seems hell bent on breaking every one of God’s commandments to the greatest degree possible. If for example I am preaching on the eighth commandment and point out that all efforts by the state to redistribute wealth is stealing it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which party supports such a policy. Sure I can try to counteract this by pointing out that the other party has been guilty of neo-mercantilism from their very founding and are thus guilty of “cheating and swindling” their neighbors by “schemes made to appear legitimate.” This would work out beautifully for me as a pastor if it wasn’t for the fact that after the presidency of a man named after a city in northern Ohio the other party gave up fighting against crony capitalism and has doubled down on this evil practice.

This pattern of “doubling down” is for me the problem. Almost every bad political idea in America had its origin in a Mega Old Party—including the anti-God ideology of Progressivism. The problem is the other party took the ideology of Progressivism and ran with it to the extent all other voices have been drowned out. The bottom line is that one party has become so radicalized that to preach on the application of God’s Law naturally gives the impression that you are preaching against it, even if you never mention parties or names.

So what am I as a pastor to do? Am I just to use personal examples of how to apply the Ten Commandments and never suggest that we apply God’s Commandments to how we live in the Civil Kingdom? If so am I not guilty of failing warning my flock not to participate in and support evil? Is it not true that by their votes they will either hinder or advance evil in our society? Will God not hold them accountable some day by how we vote? Will God not hold pastors accountable for clearly teaching his Law so that Christians can participate in civil society in a God pleasing way?
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Larson
Zrim: fair point, I probably over-stated what I was detecting. What I really meant was that of the two formulations, SS seems to be asserting less with respect to the place of the state whereas 2K tends to be expressed with a heavier focus on the state. I think the former is more amenable to a wider range of views on the proper place of the state under Christ's sovereignty. Since that's a political matter, I would prefer to express the doctrine in a way which tries to be scrupulously neutral on political questions.
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Walker
@DJ

Thanks for pointing that out. It's been a few years since he and I talked about that passage. I'm not sure how tightly he'd tied it up at that point. Glad to hear he's done some more work with it. I do need to put his new book on my wishlist ....

Thanks for the note!
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew
nice post, very helpfull!
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharles S
Keith Larson, you write "If for example I am preaching on the eighth commandment and point out that all efforts by the state to redistribute wealth is stealing . . . " While I may agree that wealth redistribution at least at some level may constitute bad policy and poor legislation I am hard pressed to see a Biblical mandate against it if our elected officials chose to go this way. My remedy is to vote for someone else, but I am not seeing this as having anything to do with the eighth commandment, etc. (I concede my theology/beliefs may inform my individual political choices.)
Can you expound on how you get to where you apparently are? Might one argue that some manner of wealth redistribution is helping the widows and the fatherless? (I am just making a point I don't believe that the Bible sets out what a state may or may not tax and spend on.)

It seems to me you are starting with a political position and then coming up with a "biblical" argument to support it.
September 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterreg
Excellent, Kim! Very much looking forward to your book. When will it be available?
September 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Davilla
Philip, yes, I agree re your point about SS and 2K. I think that is why VanDrunen suggests that these two doctrines are best when they go together.

Keith, the first question may be one of jurisdiction. Does the preacher have jurisdiction to speak to those outside the church or only those within? The second, for better or worse, it may be helpful to distinguish between what a believer does in her own body (and mind) and what she does politically. Wouldn't you agree that it is one thing, for example, what Christian Jane may do with her unwamted preganancy, another to say how she may vote?
September 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
The difficulty with the 2 Kingdoms view is that it does not honor the Lordship of Christ in the area of politics and governing. Christians who are called to civil service as Governors, legislatures and Judges must fulfill their vocation in the same way a software developer does, and that is in accordance to God’s Word. A man, who is called to write laws, cannot do so according to his own autonomous thinking but must write laws that are in harmony with the Bible. A man called to sit in judgment of crimes must deliver punishments that are in unity with the Bible. And a man called to sign legislation into law must also do so in accord with the Bible. The 2 Kingdoms view becomes very dispensationalist when it addresses the political realm, that is the 2K view seems to hold that the law and moral code found in the Old Testament no longer applies.

God’s Word is the ultimate standard and unchanging authority for all men in every area of life, including the Political realm. This Word obliviously includes the moral order known as the Law. The only place man can find how to govern and be governed is in the Bible. If we want to be Godly Fathers, auto-mechanics, artists, employees, employers, or Governors, we go to the Bible. The Bible instructs us on how we are to raise our kids as well as what kind of Laws ought to be passed and what the appropriate penal sanctions ought to be for violating such laws. Whether the magistrate is a Christian or not, he is subjected to the same standard, and this standard is found only in the Bible, and therefore must conduct himself in accordance with this standard. When the magistrate does not follow this standard, the Bible calls it sin.
September 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdlzr
dlzr,
You write "The Bible instructs us on how we are to raise our kids as well as what kind of Laws ought to be passed and what the appropriate penal sanctions ought to be for violating such laws. Whether the magistrate is a Christian or not, he is subjected to the same standard, and this standard is found only in the Bible, and therefore must conduct himself in accordance with this standard. When the magistrate does not follow this standard, the Bible calls it sin. " and "A man called to sit in judgment of crimes must deliver punishments that are in unity with the Bible. "

So we should stone adulterers and uppity children? Man, every post you write I see Torquemada or an ayatollah standing in the shadows.

Did Paul tell the Romans how to govern? Did Jesus? The christian ought to focus on his own conduct and the purity of the church. How unbelievers live is not our focus.
September 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterreg
"1). Christ is Lord of both kingdoms..."

"4). Non-Christians do not accept or acknowledge Christ's Lordship over the civil kingdom. This is the basis for the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian ways of thinking and doing. The failure to acknowledge Christ's Lordship renders one guilty before God (Romans 1:18-25), but does not invalidate the civil kingdom or the non-Christian's place in it. "

ESV (Acts 5) ...they set them before the *council.* And the *high priest* questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. ...God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins...

? = The Apostles obey the exalted Christ. The 'Rom. 13' established institution (council, High Priest) is *invalidated* as an authority over the Apostles (and the Apostles preach it as so!)

Rev. R, please address the matter of when the voice of Christ in his church supersedes the authority of the civil magistrate (while still affirming their ministerial role). When does Christian love of Christ's law invalidate the laws of the Civil Magistrate? How do we become "salt and light" and not Amish?

Thank you for this discussion! We want to "think and do" rightly.
September 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRevK
reg, thank you for your comments and you raise legitimate concerns. First of all it is clear from the Bible that the state executes the sword. So the Church cannot begin to exercise her own civil justice. So if man is found in an adulterous affair, the state ought to execute the penal sanctions. Now the question is what ought the penal sanctions be? Do we conduct a poll, do we ask so called wise men, or do we turn do God’s word, which Jesus spoke to us in the Old Testament to find the authority and standard for such penal sanctions. Sadly our civil justice system is based upon man’s autonomous reasoning and not on the Bible.

So Jesus did speak to us on how to govern in the Old Testament. Also when Paul spoke to us in Romans 13, he said the civil rulers are God’s servant. How should a servant of God conduct himself? If you are called to be a servant of God, what or who are you going to use as your standard, your guide, and your authority, Locke, Jefferson, Marx or the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word?

Having Christians called to politics and governing under the Word of the Lord is a long road to hoe for us in the here and now. But perhaps by the elections of 3012, not 2012, but 3012 we may get there. The great thing about living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ is that He has all the time in the world to execute his plans.
September 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdlzr

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