THE TWO KINGDOMS

A STUDY BY

GARY RAY BRANSCOME


 

Even though all men are accountable to God, and thus His subjects in the sense that they are under His authority, only believers are citizens of His heavenly kingdom (Psalm 103:19, John 3:3-5). Therefore, God, in effect, presides over two realms which are known in theology as the Two Kingdoms. When I began this essay I wrongly assumed that these two kingdoms correspond to church and state, since that is what I had been taught. However, that is an oversimplification which, when taken to its logical conclusions, creates confusion and leads to a number of serious errors.

It is true that God exercises dominion over the world in general through national governments (which are vehicles of His wrath). It is also true that God deals with believers through church institutions (which are vehicles of His grace). However, just as governments are often corrupt, and rulers are often in rebellion against God; so church institutions are often corrupt, and church leaders (and members) are often in rebellion against God. Therefore, both the church (in its institutionalized form) and the state correspond to God’s earthly kingdom. At the same time, the words, “the kingdom of God is within you,” tell us that God’s heavenly kingdom does not correspond to any visible institution but is the “body of Christ,” which consists only of believers (Luke 17:21, 1Corinthians 12:13, 20). Furthermore, because believers are under the authority of both church and state, it is only the church as an institution (not individual believers) that is to be separate from the state. That separation means, essentially, that church offices should not be political offices, that church officials should not have the power to sentence people to death, and that the power of government is not to be used to advance the Gospel (2Corinthians 10:4). It also means that unless some crime has been committed the state should never interfere with local congregations. At the same time, every believer is free to get involved in the government, and to influence legislation, as did Daniel and Esther. As Christians, we have just as much right to express our beliefs politically as anyone else. And, if God places us in a position of authority, like Daniel and Joseph we should always conduct ourselves in a way that is above reproach.

Far from being a separate institution, those who are saved through faith in Christ [the Body of Christ] are to exert a godly influence wherever God has placed them (in both church and state). Believers are to work within both the church and the state like a hand inside of a glove. We think that we have religious freedom in this country, but if we really had religious freedom a Christian congressman could stand up in congress and say, “I am introducing this bill to stop abortion, because the Bible condemns murder,” and everyone would say, “He has just as much right to his opinion as anyone else, put it to a vote”.

 

THE KINGDOM OF GOD’S POWER

Since government existed before the Bible was written its authority does not come from the Bible, but from the law that God has written on the heart. It is that law which tells us that some behavior is good and other behavior is evil, and it is that law that tells us that good behavior should be praised while evil behavior should be punished (1Peter 2:14). Moreover, in dealing with behavior that warrants punishment, rulers look to reason to codify our natural knowledge of right and wrong and to devise such ordinances as are necessary to achieve the purpose of government. Nevertheless, as Christians we should never lose sight of the fact that the Ten Commandments were given as the basis of political law, not religious law, and because they were written in stone by the hand of God they are to be the law of every nation, not just Israel.

 

THE KINGDOM OF GOD’S GRACE

 

In contrast to the state, the church draws its authority from the Bible alone, and uses persuasion rather than force to accomplish its ends. While the state condemns only outward acts and requires only outward “civic” righteousness, the church condemns all sin and endeavors to make men truly righteous by leading them to forgiveness in Christ. While the state dispenses condemnation and death, the church dispenses forgiveness and life.


THE TWO KINGDOMS

 

Prior to the Lutheran Reformation, church leaders used the power of the state to keep God's Word from the people while terrorizing anyone that challenged their authority. Today, the atheist redefinition of “separation of church and state” seems to have pushed things to the opposite extreme. However, that is a delusion for Satan is still having his way. Just as Bible-believing Christians were forced (when there was no separation of church and state) to support an institution that taught doctrines they abhorred: today they are forced (in the name of keeping church and state separate) to support an educational system that teaches doctrines that they abhor. Just as Bible-believing Christians were told (when there was no separation of church and state) to keep their beliefs out of the political realm: today they are told to keep their beliefs out of the political realm, in the name of keeping church and state separate. What the world does not understand, is that even though God intended for the state to be an institution of the law, and the church to be an institution of the gospel, both are to do His will (Philippians 2:10).

 

The Biblical relationship of church and state is better illustrated by the difference between the role of Moses and the role of Aaron than by abstract clichés. According to God's plan, Moses was the head of the state and the Ten Commandments were the basis of the political law, not the religious law. In contrast, the role of Aaron had to do with calling the people to repent and seek God’s mercy, not the Ten Commandments. Moreover, because our natural knowledge of right and wrong has been corrupted by sin, it is right and proper that rulers should look to the political laws of Israel as a guide to good government. In fact, many of our laws can be traced back to the Bible. Our distinction between first, second, and third degree murder comes from the Bible, as does the principle that judges should be fair and impartial treating everyone alike. Nevertheless, rulers are not bound to a rigid and legalistic understanding of those laws just because they are in the Bible. On the contrary, the freedom we have in Christ allows a just and reasonable interpretation that conforms to our time and culture. Lawyer and columnist David Limbaugh once said:


“In the Book of Exodus following the Ten Commandments are further laws, sometimes collectively referred to as the Book of the Covenant. As a lawyer I was fascinated to discover just how much of our law - torts, contracts, property and criminal law - is obviously traceable to this section of scripture."


SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

 

In contrast to our present day legal system, the Law of Moses authorized rulers to punish those who prophesied falsely in God's name. However, in order to understand the Biblical mindset, it is important to notice that the punishment was for fraud, not heresy. Furthermore, those found guilty had to be convicted on the basis of objective evidence, not doctrinal disagreements. Nevertheless, that aspect of Biblical law tells us that even though the government has the right to deal with religious fraud, it is not up to the state to determine what doctrine should be taught (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, Titus 3:10).

 

Another thing to consider is that under Biblical law the emphasis was on local enforcement of the law. Each community had elders who decided most matters, and the people were warned of the danger inherent in giving men too much authority (1Samuel 8:7). The problems that resulted from ignoring that warning, and from the centralization of power, should advise us as to the wisdom of limiting the power of the state, especially in regard to the church.

 

CONCLUSION

While we want to keep our churches free of state control, we should never try to separate God from government. Even though the European State churches were sometimes corrupt and oppressive, the secular governments that hold sway today are no improvement. In fact, heresies worse than any taught in the past, are now being taught in the public schools. Therefore, while we do not want an establishment of religion (state church) we do want a government that acknowledges the truth of God and Lordship of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:10). If you have any doubts about that, you need to ask yourself what the world would be like if Europe had embraced the Moslem religion instead of Christianity. If you do, I am sure that you will join with me in thanking God for America’s Christian heritage, and in working to keep America Christian.