Our conversation has been going on for some while now, and it would probably be helpful to review what has been said and what remains to be said. Everything began with the C/A review of David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms. We received mostly positive feedback overall, though Darryl Hart did fire a few snipes. We responded here, and the comments took off. Dr. Hart argued that the “two kingdoms” are not different in quality, one spiritual in kind and the other earthly and temporal, but rather that both are temporal and physical yet having different zones, goals, and means. He even maintained that church officers were spiritual rulers in the kingdom of God. Church discipline is then a coercive force in the kingdom, and the church is indeed an alternative city, though it should nonetheless mind its own business. In this case, that means that it does not have any particular voice in the common public sphere.
While this conversation was in full swing, we had our own sort of apparition of Mary. “Mary Campion” appeared in the comments offering particularly clear articulations of both positions, yet later revealed herself to be Michael Hickman and offered the Roman Catholic counter. Michael suggested that the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession was the necessary safeguard to allow the Church a voice in the public sector without being dominated by the State. We have already devoted two posts to interacting with this. The first sought to define “the Church” and thus show why it should be considered qualitatively spiritual. Our view is that the Church is not a worldly-temporal entity and thus is in no real “competition” with the State. The State is designed to deal with bodies, as it guides temporal matters in various ways according to prudence. The Church, though always embodied, is designed to deal with hearts. Once the visible and invisible distinctions are made in regard to the Church, we concluded that invisible Church is properly the spiritual kingdom of God and is always guided by the Holy Spirit, while the visible Church exists in the temporal kingdom and lives according to law.
Secondly we sought to discuss apostolic succession in particular, though there ended up being little interaction with my particular biblical observations or criticisms of the Roman doctrine. What seemed to come out, through much coaxing, was that apostolic succession is the necessary means to identify the Church (the successor of Peter), and that this Church is itself a temporal and spatial power which must direct the political kingdoms of the world. Not settling for a general advisory role, this view also claims that the magisterium (the Pope) is the one class of humanity able to properly interpret and use the natural law, and in the event that the civil magistrates should come to disagree with the magisterium, they would need to submit to his will or face civil as well as spiritual sanctions.
What makes apostolic succession relevant and appealing to this discussion is that it seeks to guarantee that there will be a protected interpreter of nature and reason capable of ruling those who have lost this ability. It clearly identifies “the Church,” and it attempts to provide a true “new city” and “new humanity” in the form of the clergy. It offers an enduring apostolic office and even a vicarious Jesus Christ for the world to see and follow. It provides clarity and singularity of direction.
The Protestant position is that through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the role of faith, each Christian has received Jesus Christ in full, and each is a successor to the apostles, both in doctrine and in baptism. “The Church” is quite simply “the people,” and the people are presumed competent self-governors, capable of recognizing and enacting the principles of civic order on the one hand, and the principles of Christian confession and charity on the other. Neither the magistracy nor the ministry has the whole competence of the Christian people by delegation, but rather by representation.
Thus we come back to our original dispute about the nature of the Church and the relationship between the spiritual kingdom and the temporal kingdom. Though offering very different postures towards the civic arena on a surface level, what inevitably comes out is the fact that both Dr. Hart’s ecclesiology and the Roman Catholic ecclesiology (represented by Michael’s comments) define “the spiritual kingdom” as the visible Church and thus end up with a competing spatial-temporal power to the worldly kingdom. Dr. Hart’s visible Church keeps to its own business and does not meddle with the public square at large, while Michael’s visible Church claims to have the only reliable means to lead the public square, yet both still leave us with kingdoms in hostility. Both confuse law and gospel by having coercion in the spiritual kingdom, and both define the Church firstly by its clergy and secondarily by those who are in submission to them. They subscribe to a sort of sacerdotalism, which they would positively refer to as “High Church.” Both are at odds with the two kingdoms expressed by the magisterial Reformation, and both fail to provide a way for the two kingdoms to exist in the same place and at the same time without creating violence.
The problem of such a conception of the Church is that when the ministerium claims to have political power it makes an impostor double of real temporal power, and can only have the human ends of a ministerial corporation as its motive. True spirituality and Word-authority requires no political power whatever for its potency. If aggressive the impostor temporal power will seek control of the whole commonwealth. If defeated or passive, it will simply withdraw from reality, and live in a mental-ghetto substitute for the City.
What is also interesting is that both positions have existed in both “peace” and “war” varieties over history. Dr. Hart likes to cite Samuel Rutherford and other de jure divino (DJD) Presbyterians as his authorities, and these men were precisely “war” separatists. They believed in the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant. The American “Covenanters” would not even support the Constitution until quite recently. Today of course the militant nature of the movement is almost completely gone. It lives a peaceful life, though it would be an understatement to say that it has failed to enjoy a “catholic” outlook on other churches and the public sphere at large. It still retains the separatist disposition. Dr. Hart would find many supporters in this tradition, and while he would not call for a complete rejection of the world, he would nonetheless maintain that the Christian is only truly Christian when apart from the world. The Christian spends his time in the world as a necessary holding bin, but he does not offer Christian or biblical wisdom to this world. He waits for the appropriate time to leave the City and enter the Church before he can do this.
The Roman Catholic Church has had a similar arch of development, as it once encouraged its members to rebel against non-Roman rulers and even issued a call to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. To this day the Roman Church retains its political claims (the Pope is the head of his own political State), though it chooses not to act upon them. Contemporary Roman Catholicism encourages peaceful interaction with the world, and many modern Roman Catholics defend the “separation of Church and State” as staunchly as anyone. “The Church” is pretty easily identifiable, and it has its own sort of world within the world at large. Though typically encouraging of social activity, it is still the case that there is a separatist conception of the Church. The “spiritual kingdom” still refers to an alternative political structure which has its own laws and rulers and exerts coercive force over the body.
This now brings us to the true alternative. If Papalism and Separatist-ism (whether it be Anabaptist or DJD Presybterianism) both fail to provide for harmony between the kingdoms and both fail to allow Christian men to be both Christians and men (those political animals) at the same time, then what is left? The solution is the true Protestant doctrine of the two kingdoms: a robust commonwealth and mere Christendom.
Law is a reality (both for God and creation), and all men are political animals by fact of creation. Furthermore, man is always both body and spirit, and he always has bodily concerns and spiritual concerns. Thus man needs to order both his body and his spirit. Politeia, the original name for Plato’s Republic, had as much to do with the right ordering of the soul as it did actual city planning, and thus it should not be thought unusual for us to say that there are both bodily and spiritual sorts of politics. Man is always concerned with both, and thus he fashions representative governments for both. The magistracy rules the bodily realm, and the ministry rules the spiritual realm. The magistracy is of law, with coercive authority, and the ministry possesses moral and doctrinal authority, though only in a persuasive fashion. The magistracy has to do with the temporal order, knowable by reason, and the ministry has to do with the mysteries of revelation. The magistracy as such only has competence around sacred matters, not in them; and the ministry as such only has authority around temporal matters, not over or in them.
Revelation is architectonic, but Christian revelation itself establishes the distinction between temporal and spiritual, and it denies that the representatives of the believers in matters of faith have any divinely guaranteed competence beyond what all have. Since the Word refuses temporal power and works by Spirit and attraction alone, the ministerium, acting as “men of the Word”, has no properly political power in the worldly sense. The Church is more than the ministerium, of course, and Christians find themselves in differing vocations throughout the world. They are always united, and thus it is proper to point out that they have one head: Jesus Christ. He is the King of kings. (Dr. Hart’s odd notion that the world may be called the kingdom of God, but not the kingdom of Christ is nonsensical at best and heretical at worst.) This one Jesus Christ, the Godman, does reign in two ways, of course, delegating His temporal power to the magistracy through the people, all the while reigning directly in the spiritual kingdom through His Spirit in men’s hearts received by faith.
Since Christianity is the religion of redemption by grace through faith alone, it does not allow for the law-order to serve as a direct means of justification or sanctification. Thus the temporal kingdom has peace, order, and justice for its end. The conscience, with respect to transcendental ends, it leaves free, allowing it to be governed by the Word of God. The ministerium are appointed for order’s sake within the assembly of the Word, speaking on behalf of the people and pointing to the Word, calling men to believe. Even in the case of Church discipline, the most the ministerium does is to turn the one disciplined out of its assemblies. It does not coerce faith or punish the body, and any experienced minister knows that in regards to the spiritual health of the individual, church discipline is only as efficient as the receiving individual’s heart. Apart from that, the only success is the clearing of a roll and the protection of other members.
But we do in fact believe that Christians as Christians can and should have something to say to the civic arena. Ironically, this observation is itself not uniquely Christian. Non-Christians have historically said that religion is the heart of a city, and that, in fact, religion is good for the political project. Calvin writes:
That it extends to both tables of the law, did Scripture not teach, we might learn from profane writers; for no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship. Thus all have confessed that no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care, and that those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations, Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make it not their care.
Thus “reason” and “nature” both teach that religion holds the first place in philosophy. Rather than needing to learn it from positive biblical law, we can know that religion is necessary for the well-being of a society through the natural law. The heart and the head need to be in conversation.
What Christian revelation teaches is that this religion which is needed by the State is, in fact, a spiritual matter. It is not something that can be achieved through laws, and thus the responsible State should provide for the existence and protection of religion without coercing belief.
The only necessary “Christian magistrate,” particularly in the modern context, is a Christian constitution, which is only to say founding and guiding principles which articulate the dual reign of Christ and therefore allow for maximum freedom in the spiritual kingdom. This is not an obvious or automatic human arrangement, however, and that is where we, in defending a robust secular arena, differ sharply with the modern secularist. The best features of our modern arrangement are themselves irreducible beyond the developments of Christendom, particular the insights of Protestant jurists.
As early as Girolamo Zanchi, the Reformed were espousing a view of principled toleration. Zanchi states, “We doe certainly hold that a prince ought not to use one kinde of measure towards all these sorts [divergent religions]. For some of them are to be loved, cherished and honored; some to bee winked at; some not to be suffred; other to be quite cut off.” This was further expanded by Protestant thinkers such as Locke, Thomasius, and Pufendorf. Our “creedal test” would be quite simple: all those who acknowledge the distinct nature of jurisdiction between the two kingdoms are allowed. This is but another way of saying, those who subscribe to our founding principles should be admitted, while those who reject our founding principles will be found to be incompatible in the civic arena and thus should go elsewhere.
Whether or not one “personally believes” in a religion is not, of course, a necessary indicator of how well he can read or even apply the teachings of that religion. You can imagine a non-believing “biblical theologian,” just as well as you can imagine a Jewish person accurately explaining the City of God. And you can imagine a true believer who fails to understand or articulate sound doctrine, just as well as you can imagine Augustinian monks engaging in semi-Pelagianism. This is the real world.
And so while not reverting to the fallacy that all religions are equally reducible to the same tenets, the Reformed take on Christendom can allow for non-believers to be good and productive citizens. It can even allow for non-Christian magistrates. What it requires is prudent magistrates and pious (in the old sense of the term) citizens.
The dominion mandate is sponsored by common grace, and falls to all. The Christian State sponsors this cultivation architectonically, and following Biblical distinctions understands that only temporal peace and order and justice, the conditions of temporal felicity, are its aim. Such a State welcomes the civic contributions of all, even of unbelievers, but what must be firm is the constitutional recognition of the Kingship of Christ, evangelically understood:which means, recognition of the dual mode of governance.
Much more could be said to the particular questions about the allowance of diversity in the city, as well as the consistency and coherency of past thinkers upon whom this tradition has been built. We will leave this to the comments, as we welcome your response and input.