This past week we looked at what is called two kingdom theology. Contrary to some people this is not the separation of church and state.
God operates in this world in two distinct ways, two kingdoms. The kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right (Church). Thus, the Christian lives in two kingdoms simultaneously. This helps clarify what is happening. But it can also lead to tension for the Christian.
Kingdom of the Left
This refers to the way that God works through the “state” (in historic terms, but sometimes called “government”). The kingdom of the left is based on law to maintain order. The instrument to accomplish its ruling function is the “sword” (or any weapon that will serve the same purpose).
The law in the kingdom of the left is designed to maintain order. A simple example is the speed limit on the interstate system (here in the U.S.). The speed limit is set for the overall efficiency of transportation and for the safety of all who travel. If someone exceeds the speed limit, then the consequences are not just a ticket, but possibly accidents, injuries, and death.
…realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers… (1 Timothy 1:9)
As Christians living in the kingdom of the left, we want to follow the laws because we are not rebellious or lawless.
Kingdom of the Right
The kingdom of the right refers to the Church (not as an institution but as the people of God). The kingdom of the right is based on the Gospel, and the tools to accomplish its mission are the Word and Sacraments (Baptism and Lord’s Supper).
It is important to remember that the outward institutions of the church in the U.S. are governed according to the laws of the state in which is the congregation is located. The reason congregations have presidents, treasurers, etc. are because the laws require such organization for running non-profit organizations. And so we have elements of the kingdom of the left within the congregation. But the essence of the congregation is to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified (Gospel: what God does for us in Jesus Christ). And the basis for such is the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.
Living in the Kingdom of the Left
The tension for the Christian comes when living in both kingdoms. For as Christians in the kingdom of the left, we follow what Jesus said.
They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you’re right in what you say and teach. Besides, you don’t play favorites. Rather, you teach the way of God truthfully. Is it right for us to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”
He saw through their scheme, so he said to them, “Show me a coin. Whose face and name is this?”
They answered, “The emperor’s.”
He said to them, “Well, then give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and give God what belongs to God.” (Luke 20:22-25)
Paul wrote further on this:
Every person should obey the government in power. No government would exist if it hadn’t been established by God. The governments which exist have been put in place by God. Therefore, whoever resists the government opposes what God has established. Those who resist will bring punishment on themselves.
People who do what is right don’t have to be afraid of the government. But people who do what is wrong should be afraid of it. Would you like to live without being afraid of the government? Do what is right, and it will praise you.
The government is God’s servant working for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid. The government has the right to carry out the death sentence. It is God’s servant, an avenger to execute God’s anger on anyone who does what is wrong.
Therefore, it is necessary for you to obey, not only because you’re afraid of God’s anger but also because of your own conscience. That is also why you pay your taxes. People in the government are God’s servants while they do the work he has given them. Pay everyone whatever you owe them. If you owe taxes, pay them. If you owe tolls, pay them. If you owe someone respect, respect that person. If you owe someone honor, honor that person. (Romans 13:1-8)
Living in the Tension
But what do we do when we face a situation where the kingdom of the left conflicts with the kingdom of the right? The early church faced such a situation:
They (the Sanhedrin ruling council) called Peter and John and ordered them never to teach about Jesus or even mention his name.
Peter and John answered them, “Decide for yourselves whether God wants people to listen to you rather than to him. We cannot stop talking about what we’ve seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20)
Peter and John saw the limits of the kingdom of the left: when the kingdom of the left demanded the person in the kingdom of the right violated God’s command. In this case, proclaiming Jesus Christ.
Many more examples can be found where there is a clash between the two kingdoms. For instance, the Christians living within the sphere of the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945. How does one resist the kingdom of the left, yet still remain faithful to the exhortation of Romans 13?
Peter in his first letter helps in regard to the two kingdoms.
If you suffer, you shouldn’t suffer for being a murderer, thief, criminal, or troublemaker. If you suffer for being a Christian, don’t feel ashamed, but praise God for being called that name. The time has come for the judgment to begin, and it will begin with God’s family. If it starts with us, what will be the end for those who refuse to obey the Good News of God? If it’s hard for the person who has God’s approval to be saved, what will happen to the godless sinner? Those who suffer because that is God’s will for them must entrust themselves to a faithful creator and continue to do what is good. (1 Peter 4:15-19)
Dietrich Bonhöffer wrestled with this tension before and during the war, eventually assisting in some way with the assassination attempt on Hitler. He was arrested and eventually executed by direct order of Hitler before Hitler’s own death. Lest we think this is an easy decision made in a matter of days, Bonhöffer agonized over this decision for years.
But we face challenges in today’s world today. How do we address the issue of illegal aliens? How many of our own ancestors were illegal aliens in this country? Should Christians minister to them, even if the state prohibits such care?
The Real Problem
Perhaps one of the biggest issues we face is to separate how the “state” operates and how the Church operates. That is, is the kingdom of the left to be used, manipulated to become an instrument of the kingdom of the right? This is critical when studying the end times. It is interesting how the Left Behind series of books reflects the kingdom of the right primarily engaged in kingdom of the left activity. Is that legitimate Biblically? Given the above, that series presents a confusion of the two kingdoms and reduces the Church to just another “state” force.
Let’s let the church be church as God intended. Proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Added reference. In my continuing study of all these topics I came across a paper written by Rev. Joshua D. Reimche (LCMS) that he presented at the North Dakota District Fall Pastors’ Conference.