Yes, the two kingdoms doctrine affirms Christ’s lordship – and the authority of Scripture – over the State: But what does that mean?

One of the most prevalent assumptions about the two kingdoms doctrine that frequently leads individuals to criticize or reject it is that the two kingdoms doctrine teaches that the state is not under the lordship of Christ or under the authority of Scripture. This is a terrible assumption, and it is a testimony either to the failure of two kingdoms advocates clearly to communicate their position or to the slanderous way in which that position has been caricatured by some of its opponents (or perhaps a bit of both?). I’ll let you decide.

Here I want to clarify two basic points. First, a biblical two kingdoms doctrine will always affirm that the state is subject to the lordship of Christ. In Matthew 28 Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and in Ephesians 1 Paul tells us that Jesus was placed in authority “above all rule and authority … not only in this age but also in the one to come” (1:21). For that reason I would argue that all magistrates are obligated, in fulfillment of the call of Psalm 2 to “Kiss the Son,” recognizing their subservience to Jesus and their obligation to serve him with their power. Magistrates have been given a task by Jesus that they are obligated to fulfill with their authority; they have not been awarded a blank check of unlimited discretion.

Second, a biblical two kingdoms doctrine will always affirm that the state is subject to the authority of Scripture as well as to the authority of natural law. What this essentially means is that magistrates are obligated to submit to and act according to the truth wherever they find it.

To be sure, this does not mean – and I do not think anyone thinks that it means – that civil government should use its coercive authority to enforce every single commandment or doctrine taught in Scripture. The real question, then, is not whether or not civil government is under the authority of Scripture, but what in fact does Scripture authorize or obligate the civil magistrate to do? And this is an age-old Christian debate:

  • Should the state enforce all of the precepts of the Torah, including its stipulations about capital punishment (the theonomist position)?
  • Should the state enforce the law of Christ, interpreting the purpose of the Torah only through that lens (the Neo-Anabaptist position)?
  • Or should the state enforce natural law, using the Torah as one guide among many in determining what natural law teaches (Calvin’s position)?
  • Should the state enforce only those principles of justice pertaining to the way in which human beings treat one another (the contemporary mainstream Reformed view)?
  • Or should it also enforce those principles of piety pertaining to our worship of God (the old Reformed view)?
  • Finally, should the state enforce the moral law of God rigorously and exhaustively?
  • Or should it use its discretion to determine the appropriate level of enforcement as well as the appropriate punishment for cases of disobedience?

In my view a biblical two kingdoms doctrine will affirm Calvin’s general position as identified above (#3), although with the caveat that the state ought not enforce fidelity to Scripture’s commands regarding our worship of God or even our teaching about God (#4). In addition, civil government not only may, but must use its discretion in determining how and to what level it should enforce the principles of justice revealed in natural law and in Scripture (#7). The reason for this is that Scripture itself teaches it; even the civil laws of Old Testament Israel were not the enforcement of the pure moral law of God without qualification.

This is the first of a series of three posts. Tomorrow I’m going to put up a post defending the claim in the second sentence of the last paragraph, that civil government not only may, but must use its discretion in determining how and to what level it should enforce the principles of justice revealed in natural law and in Scripture. Hopefully on Saturday I’ll offer some reflections regarding how all of this looks different depending on the sort of government we have (i.e., monarchy, republic, democracy, etc.)

Advertisements

About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on August 9, 2012, in Calvin, Law, Two Kingdoms and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Yes, the two kingdoms doctrine affirms Christ’s lordship – and the authority of Scripture – over the State: But what does that mean?.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: