The Roots of an Evangelical Magisterium

Can the Kingdom of God be restricted to a particular visible institution?

One cannot help but wonder “Whatever happened to “faith alone”? Are we not being led to believe that rather than “justified by faith” that our “faith is justified” by the evangelical magisterium? Is the kingdom of God now synonymous with a particular visible institution to which one must give their nod of approval? Scary stuff. Sadly it seems the Reformation has been hijacked by Anabaptists who think they’re Presbyterians and who act like Roman Catholics.


I am increasingly convinced (and concerned) that a great number of Protestant evangelicals are unwittingly rejecting the incredibly insightful political theology of early Lutheran and Reformed theologians. What may seem like a merely theoretical or academic issue, political theology has profoundly practical implications for ecclesiastical polity, the role of ministers, church discipline, the priesthood of all believers, a theology of vocation, a theology of institutions, church unity, ecuminism… and the list seems to go on ad infinitum.

For a more thorough treatment of the relevant history and theology, I’d recommend O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations and a handful of other resources, but for the sake of convenience, here are some outstanding online resources:

Wedgeworth and Escalante on Calvin and the Two Kingdoms

Brad Littlejohn’s series on the Two Kingdoms

For our purposes here, we simply note the overwhelming tendency of American evangelicals to restrict the “kingdom of God” to a particular visible institution, affiliation, coalition, or what have you, accompanied by the “right brand” of theology or political ideology. In many respects, this tendency is rooted in our unique church-state philosophy, which often pits two visible institutions – church and state – against one another. This is why we’re so good at culture wars, even within the church. Its in our DNA to band together stand up for whats “right” against “them” (whoever “them” may be). To this end, we like to make long checklists of what makes someone “us,” just to be sure that “us” really is “us.” In short, we want the visible church to be synonymous with the church eternal, and we’ll excommunicate de facto as many people as necessary to make sure that happens. But wait, I thought we were talking about Protestantism…. hmmmm.

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