By Rev. Doug Barnes
It should be a simple question: for what part of life is the Bible intended to be normative?
If you’ve spent time studying the Bible, and if you believe what you’ve studied, the answer should be obvious. After all, the Bible contains the wisdom of God, which He entrusted to us so that “the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
The Bible proclaims the truth by which God “makes Himself known to us … as much as we need in this life, for His glory and for the salvation of His own” (BCF Art. 2). While we believe that the ceremonial commands of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Christ and therefore are no longer to be observed, “nevertheless, we continue to use the witness drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to His will” (BCF Art. 25). For that reason, we confess that no work done by men can be truly good, except “those which are done out of true faith, conform to God’s law, and are done for His glory” (HC QA 91).
In short, the Bible – God’s inerrantly true revelation – is intended to guide and direct God’s people in every aspect of life.
In confessionally Reformed churches like the United Reformed Churches and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, we should be able to expect that statement to be accepted without hesitation, right? I mean, that’s a obvious, isn’t it?
Sadly, it’s not.
In recent years, a troubling theological perspective has been gaining popularity in our circles. Known as the Two Kingdoms – or, better, the Radical Two Kingdoms – view, this perspective is presented by advocates as the traditional Reformed view. Yet that’s not accurate. Although many theologians have used the language of “kingdoms” in describing the life and allegiances of men, few have used that language in the manner of these current advocates. And none of those views have the troubling implications of the new view.
Lord willing, I hope to explore several of those troubling implications in this and future issues. But we need to start with what is, arguably, the most disturbing element of the Radical Two Kingdoms (R2K) view: its impact on the application of Scripture to the life of God’s people.
In brief, the R2K viewpoint limits the reach of Scripture to the life of the church and the personal morality of the believer. Concerning the rest of life, Scripture allegedly is not intended to normatively speak.
That claim makes this view radical indeed.
But we should back up a bit. What exactly is the R2K view?
Like other relatively novel theological views, defining the view with precision can be difficult, since nuances held by one proponent are not necessarily held by another. In general, however, those who hold to the R2K view claim that life in this world, during this age, comprises two kingdoms. Both kingdoms belong to God; but they have different purposes, and God the Son governs them in different ways.
The Sacred Kingdom – sometimes identified as the Spiritual or the Redemptive Kingdom – comprises clear manifestations of the Kingdom of God. Within this realm, Christ reigns as Redeemer over the people whom He has saved. In order to reveal His will within this Kingdom, Christ primarily employs Scripture. The Bible – especially the New Testament – is therefore said to govern or “norm” Sacred Kingdom realms, particularly including the institutional church and the personal morality of church members.
The Secular Kingdom, on the other hand – also identified as the Civil or Common Kingdom – includes all other parts of life. In this realm Christ reigns as Creator over all men, exercising His authority not via Scripture, but by means of Natural Law. Natural Law is defined as the revelation of God’s truth as it is encompassed within the creation and written on the human conscience.
Because Christ is believed to rule these two kingdoms on the basis of different relationships, R2K proponents argue that it is inappropriate to use Scripture – which is meant to govern the Sacred Kingdom – for regulating life in the Secular Kingdom. For instance, according to R2K principles, it would be wrong to appeal to the Bible as the basis for passing a law or as the grounds for a court ruling. Likewise, it (allegedly) would be inappropriate to apply the instruction of Scripture to business management or to the teaching of science.
There is, in this divided view of life, no such thing as a distinctly “Christian” manner of governing, building, farming, or … well, of doing anything that is part of the Secular Kingdom. Therefore to attempt to direct life in the Secular Kingdom by means of Scripture is regarded as a wrong-headed confusing of the kingdoms.
That is more than a little disturbing.
In support of their radical bifurcation of life, R2K advocates appeal to Calvin. They particularly Calvin’s a statement in section 3.19.15 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, declaring that “there is a twofold government in man: one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. … There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority.”
However, the context in which Calvin makes these remarks have regard to the Christian’s liberty of conscience, which encompasses matters spiritual. His primary point is that liberty of conscience does not exempt Christians from the duty to obey laws of the state. The conscience, says Calvin, has to do with the “spiritual kingdom” which resides within man. My friends, what Calvin describes in this section of his Institutes is a far different concept than the Sacred Kingdom which, according to R2K advocates, distinguishes various aspects of the outward life and experience of men!
Moreover, Calvin was not shy about proclaiming the magistrate’s duty to govern according to the precepts of Scripture – a clear no-no by R2K standards. See, for instance, his instruction regarding the duties of magistrates in section 4.20.9 of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. There Calvin boldly declares that the magistrate is obligated to uphold all of God’s moral law – the first table, regarding man’s duty to God; as well as the second table, regarding man’s duty to other men.
But R2K advocates don’t want to own the whole of Calvin’s counsel. They prefer to cherry-pick an out-of-context statement, molding it to their purposes – and ignoring the reformer’s affirmation that God’s Word is an essential guide for all of life, including even the making of laws by the state.
Far more could – and, at the proper time, should – be said regarding this concern. But for now, let us focus on the heart of the matter. God gave His Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, by which we are made wiser than our enemies (Psalm 119). His Law has abiding validity (Matt. 5:17-19); and the whole of His Word was given to guide and equip men, that we might become complete before Him (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Certainly that means His Word is meant to govern our worship and our personal morals. However, God Himself never restricts Scripture to those aspects of life!
Christ is King over all of life; and His Word speaks to, guides, and regulates all of life. To deny this is to silence God’s counsel and restrict His explicit instruction over much of man’s life of man. This we must never be willing to do.