Thursday, June 03, 2021

The Two Kingdoms?



Two Kingdoms?


Last time I said  this about toleration: 

‘Rubbing shoulders with such immoral people is inevitable it we are to live in the world, and it is desirable that we be in their company in order that they may hear of the gospel. This is an attitude of toleration to people who were not Christians . The NT church lived and worked among queers, some of which were converted to Christ (‘such were some of you’) .The Church may have to bear the charge of ‘bigotry’, but such talk is not to be fostered.’

In Europe, in particular, Christians and in some cases others with views of a religious kind are held and developed  with the tacit belief that their  religion  pervades the society in which they live. This in turn is because of the idea of the  establishment of Christianity as a arm of the state has become the default position. It wasn’t always such.  So, in the sixth century or so the Holy Roman Empire emerged. Before that, Augustine lived in the birth pains of this Empire. Though in the case of his attitude to the Donatists he employed armed force, the army of a particular region of the Empire. Soon the top men in the faith were a part of the elite who ruled the Empire.

In the West the Holy Roman Empire lasted until the sixteenth  century when that alliance between the Protestant Christian church formed a church – state alliance in England. And when besides the antics of Henry the VIII he became the 'Defender of the Faith'. At the time when the Protestant magisterial reformation occupied cities such as Strasbourg or Geneva, and  the church benefitted for the shielding of the arms and fortifications of the city forces, not only freeing the church from persecution,  under the umbrella of  the link with the state, used as a means of church discipline.

So, shamefully,  Calvin was able to have Servetus, a heretic as far as the Reformed were concerned,  put to death by the city authorities of Geneva. In Protestant England the King and his successors became ‘Defenders of the Faith’. In Reformed Scotland, where the Westminster Confession of Faith held sway from 1647, it was the law of the land, the part of the project of ‘Covenanted Uniformity’, ‘betwixt the Churches of Christ in the kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland’. This became a reality only in Scotland. The Scots are (in theory) still governed by Chapter 23 of the Westminster Confession.

The civil magistrate may not  assume to himself the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority,  and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of  God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God.

In England, Cromwellian England interfered by the death of Charles I in 1648/9, and when in 1660 again kings as defenders of the faith was governed by the re-establishment of the monarchy, in the person of Charles II, with the help of the Act of Uniformity in 1660, which still holds in theory. From the establishment of the Christian Religion came a different interpretation  of the place of the church and the wider society of the New Testament, and in others in Europe Rome ruled.

In terms of confessions, in time  the Westminster Confession was changed to conform with the American constitution, and in England Dissent spawned its own Confessions it  spawned, the Savoy Declaration of Independency in 1658. In the chapter of the civil magistrate included this: ‘It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto, in the management whereof, as they ought specially to maintain justice and peace, according to  the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so for that end they may lawfully now under the New Testament wage war upon just and necessary occasion. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith had a similar wording for the civil magistrate.

This view of the Protestant church and state that made  the torture of foes of the  Christian church legal is by an extension of Romans 13 1-7, beginning ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities ‘ and ending in v.5 paying taxes’ And also I Timothy 2.2-3 and I Peter 2.13. Christians were to be good citizens. The Apostle’s status as a free Roman citizen  made it possible to gain his freedom from prison at Philippi.(Acts 16.25f) But chiefly, by the policy of the adoption by Christian churches as modelled on the Old Testament theocracy . And the recognition in the OT of the sheltering role of the government. But all this was to be superseded by Christ’s assertion that his kingdom was not of this world, Christ’s and the Apostles’ teaching of the spirituality of the kingdom of God, and the nature of the kingship of Jesus Christ.

In I Corinthians 5 Paul made  a difference between who are ‘insiders’, professing Christians and the crowd we outsiders which we have to mix with. The question here was , could Christians dine off food that had been dedicated to an idol. In the course of discussing Christian behaviour  in the world the Apostle Paul stated  that Christians are free to buy and eat it. He clarified earlier advice about the company the Christians should keep. And not go to law with another Christian.

The Enightenment, secularism, and Dissent followed, in Protestantism in Europe, and in the United States of America,  when its constitution was established and the copies of the Westminster Confession (to those who subscribed to it) made consistent with the American constitution.

In the light of this sketch, it supported toleration as it  was historically until Christianity was allowed became part as the apparatus of state.  This is a course that the woke don’t follow. In their activities there is no evidence of them taking account of the government, rather of secretive behaviour. More likely they use force, or deception, or through their use of political-style lobbying as a prelude to gaining a change in the law.   

God’s kingdom, (mentioned by Paul) which transcends all other organisations, the members of which worship Christ her king,  need  ‘room’ in order to flourish 'in the present evil age'(Gal.1.4), agencies in education, literature and society. The growth of such a kingdom, God’s kingdom, creates effects in society, as you would expect, but not of a worldly, political character.  Politics should not enter the life of Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world. As our Saviour said 'render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God’s'. (Mark 12.17)

And Paul said,

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought  captive to obey Christ….(2 Cor. 10.4,5)

Note the repeated contrast of work ‘in the flesh’, which means here 'physical exertion ' in contrast to  ‘divine power’. Paul refers to two worlds here, a life of physicality, and a spiritual life. The work of the gospel is ‘not of the flesh but of divine power'.

Believers are in these two worlds, and we need to make this clear to our children and the rising generation, with wisdom and patience.