The Two Kingdoms Doctrine in Work & Politics

Dear Church Family,

Several weeks ago, we had our first Midland Reformed Theological Conference with Dr. David VanDrunen who spoke on In the World but Not of the World: A Reformed Two Kingdoms Perspective on Christianity and Culture. You can follow the imbedded link above to find audio recordings (and now photos) from that conference. Since then, I have been reflecting on some of the key concepts from that series of lectures:

  1. Introducing the Biblical Two-Kingdoms Doctrine
  2. The Church and the Individual Christian
  3. The Two Kingdoms Doctrine and the Old Testament
  4. The Two Kingdoms Doctrine in the New Testament

In concluding this series, I would like to offer some reflections on some of the points that were brought out in the final lecture of the conference, “Church, Vocation, Politics: The Practicality of the Two Kingdoms” – specifically with regard to vocation and politics.

The Christian’s Vocation, Objectively and Subjectively Considered

As we think about our work in this world (the jobs that we do), it is helpful to begin with a definition of ‘vocation.’ At one time, the word ‘vocation’ (or calling) was limited to ecclesial or religious work in the church. Only those who served in full-time church work, it was believed, could be said to have vocations or callings from God. This was a particular teaching of the Roman Catholic Church; however, all lawful work may be deemed a vocation or calling from God. VanDrunen gives helpful clarification:

Vocation usually refers to what we do for a living – that is, for our financial well-being – but this is not always the case. For example, many people legitimately claim full-time parenting or full-time homemaking as their vocation without drawing any salary for their work. Whether paid or unpaid, work must be productive to constitute a vocation. Spending each day watching television or playing a daily round of recreational golf are not vocations in the sense that gainful employment or rearing a family are. The term ‘vocation,’ furthermore, indicates that our work is a calling. God is the one who ultimately calls each person to productive work and grants that work, however mundane, a noble character. (VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 187)

 

Even as believers share many common vocations with unbelievers, it is helpful to distinguish between the objective and subjective nature of our work. This is where the understanding that believers share a ‘cultural commonality’ with unbelievers while maintaining a ‘spiritual antithesis’ with unbelievers is key (I wrote about this idea in the first article linked above, “Introducing the Biblical Two Kingdoms Doctrine”).

The objective standards by which Christians evaluate their work are the same for which unbelievers evaluate their work. There is not an objective, distinctively Christian way to milk a cow, train for war, make a futon, write a poem, balance a spread sheet, fix a car, or drill for oil. These are things that we have in common with unbelievers with regard to our work. These are callings and vocations which are part of the ‘common kingdom’ that believers share with unbelievers.

At the same time, because Christians also maintain a spiritual antithesis with unbelievers, there are subjective ways in which a believer’s work is different from that of an unbeliever. In his vocation and calling, a Christian ought to work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men (Colossians 3:23-24), seek satisfaction in his work as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19), do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and do all things from faith (Romans 14:23). So, while the outward product of a Christian’s work may be no different from that of a non-Christian (it may be better or worse), the attitude and purpose for which a Christian does his work is very different.

The Christian Faith and the Civil Magistrate

One of the main points that was brought out in the conference was that the Church and the civil magistrate are both ordained by God to serve His purposes, but each serves God’s purpose through different means and for different ends. The Bible clearly limits the role of each. The Church’s mission is to gather and perfect the saints (WCF 25:3; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-13); for the effective carrying out of its mission, God has given to His Church the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19; 18:17-19). The civil magistrate’s mission is to protect its citizens and maintain justice (WCF 23:3; Romans 13:1-7); for the effective carrying out of its mission, God has given the civil magistrate the sword, or physical coercion (Romans 13:4).

Unlike the Church in the Old Covenant where Israel was a theocratic nation-state, in the New Covenant, God has called Christians from every nation to serve Him under various forms of political rule. Thus, since the coming of Christ, there is no such thing as a distinctively Christian civil government. “Because Christianity does not require a certain form of government, a specific kind of cultural expression, or a distinct way of arranging society, its adherents may legitimately live hyphenated lives [e.g., American-Christian, German-Christian, Canadian-Christian] that are secular and Christian.” (D.G. Hart, A Secular Faith, 252).

So, while Christians ought to agree about the moral issues of our day which are clearly taught in Scripture, they may differ as to how to address them through cultural means and public policy. The Church, therefore, may and ought to speak with a unified voice with regard to moral issues, but because there is no single Christian political or cultural approach to such matters (as prescribed in Scripture), the Church cannot impose one particular agenda upon its members for addressing those issues in the political or cultural context. The answer to the question of “whether Christian-inspired policy, arguments, or candidates are appropriate on Christian grounds…is that such involvement is inappropriate, because using Christianity for political ends fundamentally misconstrues the Christian religion.” (D.G. Hard, A Secular Faith, 253).  Each individual Christian is free to use discretion and wisdom (while seeking the advice and help of other Christians and even non-Christians) to work these things out.

Conclusion

There is a danger of slapping the word “Christian” as an adjective on any noun we like; we begin to cause confusion, lose biblical distinctions, and trivialize the gospel and the work of the Church. Whether it be with regard to vocations (e.g., Christian plumber, Christian engineer, Christian soldier) or politics (e.g., Christian public policy, Christian candidate) or the arts (e.g., Christian painter, Christian author) – we forget that there may be a subjective, distinctively Christian way in which a believer engages in such activities, but the objective standards are not distinctively Christian, but common to humans created in God’s image.

This distinction between that which is sacred and that which is secular (that which is Christian and that which is human, that which is redemptive and that which is common, that which is revealed in Scripture and that which is revealed through natural law) may cause uneasiness in some people. But these are important distinctions that will help us to maintain the proper mission of the Church and not trivialize the gospel, while maintaining sanity in our various vocations with a proper biblical focus.

As this is the last reflection on our conference and the doctrine of the two kingdoms, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to read Dr. VanDrunen’s book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and listen to the audio recordings of the lectures from the conference. There is much food for thought here.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch