Two kingdoms doctrine

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The two kingdoms doctrine is a Protestant Christian doctrine that teaches that God is the ruler of the whole world and that he rules in two ways. The doctrine is held by Lutherans and represents the view of some Calvinists. [1] John Calvin significantly modified Martin Luther's original two kingdoms doctrine [2] and certain neo-Calvinists have adopted a different view known as transformationalism.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers.

God in Christianity is the eternal being who created and preserves all things. Christians believe God to be both transcendent and immanent. Christian teachings of the immanence and involvement of God and his love for humanity exclude the belief that God is of the same substance as the created universe but accept that God's divine nature was hypostatically united to human nature in the person of Jesus Christ, in an event known as the Incarnation.

John Calvin French Protestant reformer

John Calvin was a French theologian, pastor and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism, aspects of which include the doctrines of predestination and of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation of the human soul from death and eternal damnation, in which doctrines Calvin was influenced by and elaborated upon the Augustinian and other Christian traditions. Various Congregational, Reformed and Presbyterian churches, which look to Calvin as the chief expositor of their beliefs, have spread throughout the world.


According to the doctrine, God rules the worldly or left-hand kingdom through secular (though this point is often misunderstood, also churchly)[ citation needed ] government by means of law, i.e. the sword or compulsion; and in the heavenly or right-hand kingdom (his spiritual kingdom, that is, Christians insofar as they are a new creation who spontaneously and voluntarily obey) through the gospel or grace.

A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, often a state.

Gospel description of the life of Jesus, canonical or apocryphal

Gospel originally meant the Christian message itself, but in the 2nd century it came to be used for the books in which the message was set out. The four canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—were probably written between AD 66 and 110, building on older sources and traditions, and each gospel has its own distinctive understanding of Jesus and his divine role. All four are anonymous, and it is almost certain that none were written by an eyewitness. They are the main source of information on the life of Jesus as searched for in the quest for the historical Jesus. Modern scholars are cautious of relying on them unquestioningly, but critical study attempts to distinguish the original ideas of Jesus from those of the later authors. Many non-canonical gospels were also written, all later than the four, and all, like them, advocating the particular theological views of their authors.

The two kingdoms doctrine is simply another form of the distinctive Lutheran teaching of Law and Gospel. The official book that defines Lutheranism, the Book of Concord which was compiled in 1580, references a sermon by Martin Luther on this from 1528 preached on the 19th Sunday after Trinity in Marburg about the two kingdoms or kinds of righteousness. [3] [4]

Law and Gospel theology topic about Gods Law versus the Gospel of Jesus

In Protestant Christianity, the relationship between Law and Gospel—God's Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ—is a major topic in Lutheran and Reformed theology. In these religious traditions, the distinction between the doctrines of Law, which demands obedience to God's ethical will, and Gospel, which promises the forgiveness of sins in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ, is critical. Ministers use it as a hermeneutical principle of biblical interpretation and as a guiding principle in homiletics and pastoral care. It involves the supersession of the Old Covenant by the New Covenant and Christian theology.

<i>Book of Concord</i> Lutheran doctrinal standard of 10 authoritative credal documents: Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian Creeds; Augsburg Confession; Apology of the Augsburg Confession; Small and Large Catechisms; Smalcald Articles; Melanchthon’s Tractate; Formula of Concord

The Book of Concord (1580) or Concordia is the historic doctrinal standard of the Lutheran Church, consisting of ten credal documents recognized as authoritative in Lutheranism since the 16th century. They are also known as the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The Two Kinds of Righteousness is a Lutheran paradigm. It attempts to define man's identity in relation to God and to the rest of creation. The Two Kinds of Righteousness is explicitly mentioned in Luther's 1518 sermon entitled Two Kinds of Righteousness, in Luther's Galatians Commentary (1535), in his Bondage of the Will, Melanchthon's Apology of the Augsburg Confession, and in the third article of the Formula of Concord. It is also the implicit presupposition governing Luther's Freedom of a Christian as well as other works.

In that sermon, Luther states that the worldly (left hand) Kingdom includes everything we can see and do in our bodies. This fully and especially includes whatever is done in the church. This is taught so that it is clear that in the Heavenly (right hand) Kingdom, the only thing that is included there is faith alone in Christ. "Christ alone" and "faith alone" are Lutheran slogans that are reflected in this way.

Solo Christo is one of the five solae that summarize the Protestant Reformers' basic belief that salvation is obtained through the atoning work of Christ alone, apart from individual works, and that Christ is the only mediator between God and man. It holds that salvation cannot be obtained without Christ.

<i>Sola fide</i> Christian theological doctrine

Sola fide, also known as justification by faith alone, is a Christian theological doctrine commonly held to distinguish many Protestant churches from the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

The biblical basis for this doctrine is the distinction St. Paul makes in Romans 8 between the physical body and the spirit. This marks Luther's break with the traditional scholastic understanding of Romans 8. The Scholastics understood that in this dichotomy the flesh was vice, profane and secular while the spirit was virtue, sacred and churchly.

Epistle to the Romans book of the Bible

The Epistle to the Romans or Letter to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the longest of the Pauline epistles.

Holy Spirit, is a term found in English translations of the Bible that is understood differently among the Abrahamic religions. The term is also used to describe aspects of other religions and belief structures.

Scholasticism A method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics ("scholastics", or "schoolmen") of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700

Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending dogma in an increasingly pluralistic context. It originated as an outgrowth of and a departure from Christian theology within the monastic schools at the earliest European universities. The rise of scholasticism was closely associated with the rise of the 12th and 13th century schools that developed into the earliest modern universities, including those in Italy, France, Spain and England.

Luther saw this contrast instead to be a movement from true virtue, which especially included the sacred and churchly and any righteousness we can do or that is visible, to alone the invisible righteousness of faith in Christ, which in the sermon referenced here he says is "meaningless on earth except to God and a troubled conscience". [5]

Theological virtues are virtues associated in Christian theology and philosophy with salvation resulting from the grace of God. Virtues are traits or qualities which dispose one to conduct oneself in a morally good manner. Traditionally they have been named Faith, Hope, and Charity, and can trace their importance in Christian theology to Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13, who also pointed out that “the greatest of these is love.”

In Martin Luther's thought

Martin Luther used the phrase "two governments" rather than "two kingdoms." His and Philip Melanchthon's doctrine which was later labeled "two kingdoms" was that the church should not exercise worldly government, and princes should not rule the church or have anything to do with the salvation of souls. [6] Augustine's model of the City of God was the foundation for Luther's doctrine, but goes farther. [7] Luther was confronted with seemingly contradictory types of statements in the Bible. Some biblical passages exhort Christians to obey rulers placed over them and to repay evil with retribution, but others, such as the Sermon on the Mount, call for passivity in the face of oppression. Luther reconciled these and in doing so took a middle course between Roman Catholics, who saw the second type of biblical statement as a sort of ideal for a more perfect class of Christian, and radical Christians who rejected any temporal authority. Instead, Luther taught that the world is divided into true Christians and non-Christians, and that the sword is necessary to restrain evil committed by non-Christians. The spiritual kingdom, made up of true Christians, does not need the sword. The biblical passages dealing with justice and retribution, therefore, are only in reference to the first kingdom. Christians, however, should only use the sword against evildoers, and never amongst themselves. Luther also uses this idea to describe the relationship of the church to the state. The temporal kingdom has no authority to coerce in matters pertaining to the spiritual kingdom. Luther had in mind the way in which the Roman Catholic Church had involved itself in secular affairs, and princes' involvement in religious matters, especially the ban on printing the New Testament. [8]

God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly… The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself. Therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God's government and only misleads and destroys souls. We desire to make this so clear that every one shall grasp it, and that the princes and bishops may see what fools they are when they seek to coerce the people with their laws and commandments into believing one thing or another.

Luther forbade Christians from allowing temporal rulers to meddle with their hearts in matters of belief, declaring that "if you give into him and let him take away your faith and books, you have truly denied God". However, in all temporal matters, subjects must obey and welcome true Christian suffering:

We are to be subject to governmental power and do what it bids, as long as it does not bind our conscience but legislates only concerning outward matters… But if it invades the spiritual domain and constrains the conscience, over which God only must preside and rule, we should not obey it at all but rather lose our necks. Temporal authority and government extend no further than to matters which are external and corporeal.

In Reformed theology

Reformed (or radical) Two-Kingdoms (R2K) advocates have spent a good deal of time trying to portray Calvin as a keen disciple of Luther on this issue. But while Calvin deployed two-kingdoms language, he generally did so with somewhat different aims and his practical stance was more activistic. Calvin sought to protect the church from the encroachments of the state, and to emphasize that Christians have a spiritual obligation to the state, but the temporal realm does not have the independence that it has in Luther [9] . Despite similarities in language, this difference helps to account for the profound contrast between the passivity of the Lutheran tradition toward the state and the historic pattern of social and political activism evident among Reformed Christians. Calvin’s role in Geneva underscores his conviction that distinctively Christian concerns have an important role in the public square, and that magistrates are obligated to further Christian virtues [10] .

Calvin as well as later Reformed orthodox figures clearly distinguish between God's redemptive work of salvation and earthly work of providence. Scottish theologian Andrew Melville is especially well known for articulating this doctrine, and the Scottish Second Book of Discipline clearly defined the spheres of civil and ecclesiastical authorities. High orthodox theologians such as Samuel Rutherford also used the reformed concept and terminology of the two kingdoms. Francis Turretin further developed the doctrine significantly by linking the temporal kingdom with Christ's status as eternal God and creator of the world, and the spiritual kingdom with his status as incarnate son of God and redeemer of humanity. [1]

The Reformed application of the doctrine differed from the Lutheran in the matter of the external government of the church. Lutherans were content to allow the state to control the administration of the church, a view in the Reformed world shared by Thomas Erastus. In general, however, the Reformed followed Calvin's lead in insisting that the church's external administration, including the right to excommunicate, not be handed over to the state. [1]

Response and influence

Luther's articulation of the two kingdoms doctrine had little effect on the practical reality of church government in Lutheran territories during the Reformation. [6] With the rise of cuius regio, eius religio , civil authorities had extensive influence on the shape of the church in their realm, and Luther was forced to cede much of the power previously granted to church officers starting in 1525. [11] However, Calvin was able to establish after significant struggle in Geneva under the Ecclesiastical Ordinances a form of church government with much greater power. Most significantly the Genevan Consistory was given the exclusive authority to excommunicate church members. [12]

James Madison, the principal author of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, explicitly credited Martin Luther as the theorist who "led the way" in providing the proper distinction between the civil and the ecclesiastical spheres. [13]

Luther's distinction was adopted by John Milton and John Locke. Milton wrote A Treatise of Civil Power . Locke later echoed the "two kingdoms" doctrine:

There is a twofold society, of which almost all men in the world are members, and from that twofold concernment they have to attain a twofold happiness; viz. That of this world and that of the other: and hence there arises these two following societies, viz. religious and civil. [14]

Sociologist Max Weber also wrestled with the tensions embedded in Luther's Two Kingdom Doctrine in his essay about the nature of politicians, Politics as a Vocation.

In Roman Catholicism

The Catholic Church has a similar doctrine called the doctrine of the "two swords," in the papal bull Unam Sanctam , issued in 1302 by Pope Boniface VIII. Boniface teaches that there is only one Kingdom, the Church (here meaning the Catholic Church), and that the Church controls the spiritual sword, while the temporal sword is controlled by the State, although the temporal sword is hierarchically lower than the spiritual sword, allowing for Church influence in politics and society at large.

In Oriental Orthodoxy

While the Popes of Alexandria held immense political influence within the Roman Empire even into the 6th century, the Non-Chalcedonian Coptic Church has generally shunned the marriage of ecclesiastical authority to political power, at least since it became evident that Chalcedonian orthodoxy would be the official christological position of the Byzantine imperial church (pejoratively labeled melchite, meaning "of the king"). The Coptic Church, which accounts for the majority of Egyptian Christians, has never sought to control or subvert the historically Islamic government of Egypt. [15]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 VanDrunen 2007.
  2. Ecclesial Calvinist
  3. "Section 9, Article VI. The Third Use of the Law", Formula of Concord .
  4. Marburg sermon (full text), OR Lutheran, archived from the original on 2013-07-01.
  5. Luther (1900), Werke [Works], XI (St. Louis ed.), Third use, p. 1726ff, archived from the original on 2011-02-02.
  6. 1 2 MacCulloch 2003, p. 157.
  7. Gritsch 1986, p. 48.
  8. Sockness, Brent W. (1992). "Luther's Two Kingdoms Revisited". Journal of Religious Ethics. 20 (1): 93. Retrieved November 10, 2013.  via  EBSCOhost (subscription required)
  9. Calvin, Institutes, IIII.19.15; IV.20.1-32
  10. Ecclesial Calvinist
  11. MacCulloch 2003, p. 164.
  12. MacCulloch 2003, p. 238.
  13. Madison (1821), To Schaeffer (Books) (scan), Google.
  14. Locke, John, On the Difference between Civil and Ecclesiastical Power (Books) (scan), Google.
  15. "Encyclopedia Coptica". Egypt: The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church.