A Fond Farewell
This month we conclude the De Regno Christi series with a final look at the Protestant doctrine of the two kingdoms and how it relates to Christâ€™s mediatorial reign.
Two Kingdoms, One King
Abraham Kuyper famously declared, â€œthere is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not declare, â€˜This is mine!â€™â€ The doctrine of Christâ€™s social Kingship rests upon Christâ€™s mediatorial rule over all things in heaven and on earth. It is important to recognize that the universal Kingship of Christ does not confound holy and common, sacred and secular, or church and state.
From Augustineâ€™s emphasis on the two cities (the city of God and the cities of men) developed the medieval doctrine of the two swords. In 494 A.D. Pope Gelasius I wrote to Emperor Anasasius declaring:
There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal powerâ€¦ You are also aware, dear son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in things divine you bow your head humbly before the leaders of the clergy and await from their hands the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly mysteries you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these matters you depend on their judgment rather than wish to force them to follow your will.
Christendom was built upon Gelasiusâ€™ doctrine of the two swords and its fundamental distinction between the spiritual authority of the church and the earthly authority of the state. The resolution worked best on paper. Weak princes were often dominated by strong bishops and weak bishops often dominated by strong princes. Popes and Princes pressed the boundaries of their authority by means of political intrigues and violence. The lines distinguishing between sacred and secular were far from straight. Eventually, Popes claimed for themselves sovereignty over all matters temporal and eternal.
The Two Kingdoms
At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther distinguished between Godâ€™s administration over things secular and things sacred. Luther divided Godâ€™s sovereign rule between the kingdom of Godâ€™s left hand (secular/temporal) and the kingdom of Godâ€™s right hand (heavenly/spiritual). Calvin, concurring with Luther, divided the realms of secular and sacred by distinguishing between the civil and the spiritual kingdoms. At the heart of the Reformation doctrine of the two kingdoms was an attempt to formulate the medieval doctrine of the two swords minus the accretion of papal sovereignty over things temporal.
For Presbyterians, the classic formulation of the doctrine of the two kingdoms is found in the Church of Scotlandâ€™s Second Book of Discipline (1578). Building upon the foundation laid by John Knox and Andrew Melville, the Second Book of Discipline distinguishes between the temporal kingdom (the civil power) and the kingdom of God (the church). The civil power possessed the power of the sword. With sword in hand, civil magistrates serve God by establishing approximate justice and preserving stability and order. On the other hand (Lutherâ€™s right) the church enjoys possession of the Keys of the kingdom and exercises authority over matters of faith.
The Sacred Kingdom Administered
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Christ exercises the office of King, â€œin subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies (WSC. 27).â€ The catechism emphasizes Christâ€™s mediatorial reign over the church. Reformed theologians refer to the church as â€œthe kingdom of grace.â€ This is because the church is Christâ€™s special possession, his beloved bride, and the first fruits of the glorified new creation. Within the visible church, among those who have submitted to Godâ€™s grace, Christ is presently reigning upon His cross.
Christ administers the kingdom of His Grace through divinely commissioned Pastors and Elders exercising the keys of the kingdom and dispensing the means of grace. The power of Christâ€™s appointed pastors and rulers is ministerial rather than magisterial. Christ has spoken through His Word. The church has a right to expound that Word but never add to it. The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, scripture alone, creates a regulative principle for public worship, church government, and spiritual discipline. Where Christ speaking in His Word is silent, the church must be silent.
The Secular Kingdom Administered
Because of the intimate relationship between Christ and His church, it is tempting to think that Christ is King only over the church. Such a construction does not do justice to the universal language of Christâ€™s reign as it is expressed in the Great Commission and in Psalm Two. The Apostle Paul declares that God â€œput all things under His [Christâ€™s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:22).â€ Christ, as mediator between God and man, reigns over all things in heaven and earth. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nature obeys His royal command. Providence unfolds providence only by His sovereign leave. Reformed theologians refer to Christâ€™s universal reign as the kingdom of His power.
The kingdom of Christâ€™s power is an administration of justice tempered by common grace. As such, Christ reigns through â€œministersâ€ of justice (Romans 13) who exercise the sword in order to restrain sin, preserve order, and approximate what semblance of justice that can be found this side of glory.
Although the kingdom of grace is regulated solely by Godâ€™s revelation in Scripture, the kingdom of power is regulated by the moral law of God as it is revealed in nature, wisdom, and of course Scripture. Therefore, unlike the church, the state is not confined to the principle of sola scriptura. Scripture may provide a great deal of insight into the work of civil authority but it is not regulative or sufficient to meet the needs of princes or presidents. Natural law, tradition, ancient prescription, and right reason provide the ethical guides that govern the secular affairs of men.
The Kingdom Consummated
When Adam was driven from the holy garden, mankind was forced to live
â€œEast of Eden.â€ In the garden, dwelling in the presence of God, all of manâ€™s various endeavors were focused upon building the holy kingdom of God on earth. All of life was worship.
After the fall, dwelling apart from the intimacy of Godâ€™s presence, the church would be a pilgrim people dwelling in the world but never at home within it. Although cult continued to be united with kingdom, culture has become the common realm of saint and sinner. In this age we live in the tension between the already and the not yet. It will not always be so. Scripture makes clear that the present tension will be overwhelmed by the glorious return of Christ the King. When the King returns the kingdom of His grace and the kingdom of His power will be perfectly united in the kingdom of His glory. All rebellion will cease, and all of life will again be holy before the face of our God, â€œand the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and His name one (Zechariah 14:9).â€ And therefore we pray, come Lord Jesus!