There is a difference between the church and the state. They are two different kingdoms, with different spheres of authority. The Bible gives us information on how each sphere properly operates. They are not, however, the only two spheres of authority, contrary to the impressions given by some recent advocates of so-called “Two Kingdoms” theology.
There is also the kingdom of marriage. In that kingdom, there is husband and wife. As with the first two kingdoms, the Bible provides guidance as to how this kingdom should be run.
Another kingdom is the kingdom of family. In that kingdom, there are parents and children. As with first three kingdoms, the Bible provides guidance as to how this kingdom should be run.
Another kingdom is the kingdom of the workplace. In that kingdom, there are masters and servants. As with the first four kingdoms, the Bible provides guidance as to how this kingdom should be run.
Rarely does the same person govern all five kingdoms. Perhaps Adam, Noah, and Abraham could be viewed as examples fitting such a description, though even Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek.
We each have different roles in each of the five kingdoms. In each of those roles, in each of the five kingdoms, we should live in accordance with the Word of God.
– In our church, we should look to God’s Word regarding the elders, the deacons, and the brethren;
– In our state, we should look to God’s Word regarding the king;
– In our workplace, we should look to God’s Word regarding the masters and the servants;
– In our marriage, we should look to God’s Word regarding the husband and the wife; and
– In the family, we should look to God’s Word regarding the parents and the children.
In all things, we should seek to govern our lives in accordance with the Word of God found in Holy Scriptures. That is the sort of “theonomy” that I favor: a five kingdom theonomy. It is a theonomy in which we let the Word of God govern and instruct us in every part of life – in all seven days, not just Sundays – in all spheres of life – not only those designated “religious.” There are many authorities that God has set up in various aspects of our life. When we serve as an authority, we must look to God’s Word for guidance, and when we serve under an authority, we must likewise look to God’s Word for guidance.
Focusing on the two kingdoms that are most usually of interest, what are the alternatives?
The idea that there are two kingdoms (the civil magistrate and the church) is a distinction that goes back, in terms of historical theology, at least to Augustine (leaving aside the Biblical question, which is an important one).
There are, however, a variety of positions with respect to the two kingdoms.
The ultramontanist position holds that the bishop of Rome (over the mountains, i.e. the Alps) has supreme power of all earthly powers, both secular and religious. This attitude is expressed in Pope Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam, which includes that famous line: “Now, therefore, we declare, say, define, and pronounce that for every human creature it is altogether necessary for salvation to be subject to the authority of the Roman pontiff.”
We, the Reformed, reject this position on a variety of grounds, including on the ground that the Roman bishop is not only not the head of the visible church, he is outside the visible church.
Whether or not Erastus himself ever held the position, the position labeled “Erastian” is a position similar to that seemingly held by the Holy Roman Emperor (at times) and by Constantine and many of the Byzantine emperors, namely that the state has power over the church.
This view was rejected by the Westminster Assembly, although apparently a small contingent of men who held such a view were present and although apparently Parliament at the time had many members who held such a view. Perhaps my Anglican friends would not appreciate me saying this, but this position seems to be the de jure position of the Anglican church, which has the monarch as its head, although de facto the Anglican church seems to have a large degree of autonomy from Her Royal Highness (May God save the Queen!).
3. Classical Reformed
The remainder of the Reformers held a view that provided a greater level of equality and autonomy between church and state. The state does not administer the sacraments, but can call councils. The church does not have authority over the state, but it may petition the state with respect to matters that concern the church. However, the state does serve the church in a sense, in that it upholds God’s law and promotes the true religion.
4. American Reformed
Some of the Americans took the position that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and that consequently the state should give a large amount of toleration to a variety of Christian denominations. The motivation seems to have arisen from a concern over the question of “persecuting” heretics. Later this was expanded to include a large amount of toleration even for non-Christian religions.
While I label this “American,” many of the sentiments that seemingly flourished initially in America later became popular in other parts of the world. For example, the church of England subsequently revised its 39 articles to make them more inclusive with respect to those who do not hold to the classical Reformed view (or the Erastian view).
It seems that some contemporary theologians – names typically associated with Westminster West (located in Escondido, California) – are advocating a position with respect to the two kingdoms that takes matters even further away from the classical Reformed position. Their position seems to include such ideas as that the American “blue laws” related to the Lord’s day, criminal punishment for adultery, and the like are not proper. The position appears to reflect an idea that there should be a radical separation of church and state, and consequently is sometimes referred to as “r2k,” although the adherents of the position do not appreciate that label.
I say “seems to include,” because there does not appear to be a lot of clear positive statements of their positions.
Various people have argued that civil government is intrinsically evil, and that consequently Christians should not be involved in any way in civil government. Certain sects, such as the Amish, are known for holding to such a position. However, it should be understood that such a position is clearly contrary to Scripture.