Initial Thoughts on “Two Kingdoms Doctrine” Discourse

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Matthew Tuininga’s three-part series on the Two Kingdoms Doctrine (2K) published by Reformation21.org is an essential introduction to the contemporary debate within conservative Reformed circles concerning the role of the church in its relations to society and culture. Part One introduces the conflict, Part Two reviews John Calvin’s historical-exegetical approach to the temporal-spatial dimensions of 2K, and Part Three is an analysis of the scriptural basis of 2K. I recommend it for all who are making their first foray into the controversy. The Aquila Report has provided a very helpful analysis of some recent, especially vocal contenders with diverse perspectives on the issue. Finally (as far as introductions go), I recommend David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms—his book essentially reflects my position on this issue.

Pacifism & Common Ownership as Subversive?

In its commentary on Chapter 4, “Of Creation,” of the Westminster Confession of Faith, The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America introduces the following perspectives on economics:

12. We reject Marxist communism because of its doctrines of atheism, necessary class struggle, economic determinism, dialectical materialism, and the inherent illegitimacy of private property.

13. We reject that form of capitalism which holds that men possess absolute property rights and that the state has no right to protect the weak and restrain evil in economic affairs.

14. We reject that form of socialism which denies the right to own property. We warn against the concentration of economic power in the hands of the state, as it tends to deprive men of the due reward of their labor. (Deut. 17:14-20; 1 Sam. 8:10-18.)

The RPCNA’s bold endorsement of measured capitalism isn’t (by any stretch of the imagination) standard fare in academic circles—but it is perhaps less objected to within Reformed evangelical academic circles. Tuininga includes an interesting paragraph in Part Three of his exploration of 2K; he seems to echo a similar distaste for socialism and communism:

On the other hand, none of this nullifies the continuing normativity of the created order, what Christian theologians have classically called natural law, or of the authorities God has ordained to govern that order (i.e., civil government, parents). This is a fundamental point, because it has been in the name of the realization of the kingdom on earth that social liberals – from the Anabaptists of Calvin’s day to the liberation theologians of our own – have advocated numerous destructive social or political policies subversive of that order (i.e., millennial revolution, pacifism, common ownership of goods, radical feminism, same-sex marriage).

Tuininga lists pacifism and the common ownership of goods as policies that subvert the natural (moral) law in:re structural-kingdom governance. I’m almost certain that the “pacifism” Tuning is referring to is not of a personal nature. I wonder what he has to say to conscientious objectors or those believers who would prefer that the state not use the sword, because they deem a certain application of it to be unjust.

It would seem that he and the RPCNA have similar perspectives about the role of the church as it pertains to broader socioeconomic and ethical recommendations for Christians. This requires a broader excavation, and (like many other things), I’d like to discuss this in the future.

The task of Christian dogmatics, as it pertains to constructing a thorough theology of expectation, is to facilitate the view that Christ’s Kingdom is primarily spiritual in this age of “already, but not yet.” The blessed shepherd will usher in cosmic redemption and reconciliation, and his government shall see no end. Creation years for the day when it can hear the heavenly assembly sing,

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.

It is clear that attempting to “redeem” fallen structures of humanity that are covered by the Noahic covenant and simultaneously accepting anything but disappointment in the process, in this stage of God’s redemptive history, is unwise—at least in the broad 2k consensus. At the same time, Romans 13 makes it clear that the government has been given a sword to execute justice—all this is true.

The Reformed know well that he Book of Acts shouldn’t be used as a guideline for Christian praxis in the modern world—but I find it interesting that a consistent application of 2K, especially as articulated by Tuininga, would perhaps label the praxis of the very early church as “subversive” and pushing a “destructive social [and] political [policy].”

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

I doubt this was his intention, and I’m sure he doesn’t believe the early church was guilty of this. But I do wonder what Tuininga would have to say about modern attempts at recreating the Fellowship of the Believers, with its implied communitarian socialism. Another interesting question: What would 2K advocates say to “retreat” ideologies like Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option?”

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