The Two Kingdoms: A Third Way -by Wedgeworth and Escalante

What this reading of the two kingdoms boils down to is a recognition of an internal sphere, where the justifying and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit actually takes place, and then an external sphere which is shared by all men, and is shaped, in measure, by the spiritual affections without ever being conflated with the spiritual realm. 

 

In our lengthy papers on John Calvin and the Two Kingdoms we have critically interacted with the particular expression of the two kingdoms as espoused by representatives of Westminster Seminary in California (sometimes called “radical two kingdoms” or “R2K”). 

We have sought to explain John Calvin’s own view of the two kingdoms, arguing that the kingdoms are not properly speaking “Church” and “State,” but rather on the one hand the spiritual and invisible realm, which is ultimately seated in the human heart, and  on the other, the visible and temporal realm in which all men and all institutions necessarily exist in this life.  Thus, while there is a distinction between the kingdoms, there can never be a total separation. 

Our opponents misunderstand the Reformers, and when they read them referring to the spiritual kingdom as “the church,” they interpret them as referring to the visible church, even its polity and institutional form.  This allows them to limit what can be deemed kingdom work to the visible church, mediated through the clergy.  Thus the kingdom is then highly restricted and highly regulated. 

In these papers, we’ve devoted the largest portion of the work to examining the historical record.  We believe that the Biblical and pastoral work has been done quite well in the past by writers and thinkers like Francis Schaeffer, but in this current controversy, their contributions to Reformed piety have been muted by the role of historical revision.  Therefore we go to the older sources, looking particularly at John Calvin.   

We argue that Calvin shared the basic theological principles of Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli before him, as well as those of Richard Hooker after him.  His distinctive ecclesiastical expression has to do, not with the two kingdoms, but with the respective jurisdictions of the Church and the State within the visible kingdom, the freedom of citizens in association, and safeguarding the ministry of the church from the magistrate. 

Most specifically, Calvin reserves the keys to the kingdom, and especially excommunication, to the ministers and lay-elders of the church.  He does this consistently, however, by depoliticizing excommunication, arguing that it is not actually coercive, but is rather a mode of persuasion, the negative effect of the preaching of the Word. 

What this reading of the two kingdoms boils down to is a recognition of an internal sphere, where the justifying and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit actually takes place, and then an external sphere which is shared by all men, and is shaped, in measure, by the spiritual affections without ever being conflated with the spiritual realm. 

There is then an important role for the two kingdoms, namely in maintaining the proper distinction between law and gospel and the liberty of conscience that belongs to all believers thanks to the work of Christ.  This is no hindrance to civic involvement, however, but rather the proper precondition for it to exist without undoing true freedom.  Our discussion is important because it allows for both Christian liberty and an active faith for all of life, even a Christianity that expresses itself socially and even politically.  In short, it opens up a sort of mere Christendom. 

You can find our extended explanation of this matter in two parts: Part 1 & Part 2.

 

Steven Wedgeworth is a graduate of RTS Jackson, MS and is currently serving as pastor for Immanuel Presbyterian Church (CREC) in Clinton, MS. 

Peter Escalante is a graduate of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.  He resides in Northern California where he works in antiquarian books and conducts small private seminars on a wide range of topics in his free time.