Two kingdoms doctrine

The two kingdoms doctrine is a Protestant Christian doctrine that teaches that God is the ruler of the whole world and that he rules in two ways. The doctrine is held by Lutherans and represents the view of some Calvinists.[1] John Calvin significantly modified Martin Luther's original two kingdoms doctrine[2] and certain neo-Calvinists have adopted a different view known as transformationalism.

According to what Luther describes as the two kingdoms, in many places, God rules everything that happens everywhere. He does it in what he describes as "two kingdoms" or in other places using "two different powers" or "two different ways of reigning".

One kingdom he calls variously the kingdom of law. Of man. Of old Adam. The other he calls the kingdom of Grace.

One of the clearest outline of Luther's idea is found in his Marburg sermon.

In the earthly kingdom, God has established 3 "ordos" or earthly governments and place everyone under all 3. They are civil government, the church, and what he calls the family or the married estate (but in modern terms what he describes sounds more like what Aristotle calls economia. Or maybe all the things like parents or employers that rule over us or we rule over in our personal lives?

Two kingdoms is one of many models Luther uses to teach how to distinguish law and gospel. The earthly kingdom includes everything our reason and senses can know. All righteousness in this kingdom, including in the church Luther identifies as the carnal righteousness that Paul says will end with the earth. In this kingdom God rules by the law he has planted in the minds (reason ) of all men (Romans 2:4)

In this kingdom Luther says man, alone with reason and free will both completely know and do all outward righteousness. No Bible or holy spirit is necessary for this. (Apology to the Augsburg confession, art 18, free will)

What, alone, the holy spirit is necessary for is the faith in Christ by which, alone, he rules in that other kingdom, that is as far from the earthly kingdom as heaven is from earth.

So this model of law-gospel distinction parallels and amplifies the doctrine of what Luther calls the Christian as at the same time being saint and sinner. A citizen of both kingdoms. In all he can sense to the extent that he is alive he is 1000% a slave of sin the law and death. And exists in the earthly kingdom. And.. to the extent that he is dead, in Christ, he is 1000% Lord over sin the law and death. And Luther says, what if someone were to ask "show me that one who is Lord over sin the law and death!" And Luther says: I can't. He's hidden in Christ. He's dead. Even now he is in the heavenly kingdom at God's right hand, ruling with Christ over all things. ("Only the Decalog is Eternal, Luther's Antinomian Disputations", Lutheran Press, 2008, pp161)

In a sermon for the 19th Sunday after trinity, Martin Luther preached on the two kingdoms or two kinds of righteousness (Luther, Martin, sermons of Martin Luther, the church postils, translated by John Lenker, Baker books 1995, vol 4)

This sermon explicitly and unmistakably makes clear that two kingdoms is a model or mode for Luther to teach others how to distinguish law/gospel in the context of our life and existence in everything sensible as a slave to the law sin and death, while existing completely, at the same time hidden completely in Christ and Lord over sin death and the law, and exist right now, in a heavenly kingdom....and at the same time, how a Christian is to understand that he is in his Person, internally fully a member of each kingdom simultaneously the saint/sinner in our very being.

And he illustrates this by contrasting two kingdoms, two kinds of righteousness, two very different powers God uses to reign and rule over every smallest happening and detail anywhere and everywhere

One can trace the law-gospel distinction as pervasive and pivotal a lens to understand scripture as early as Melancthon's 1521 Romans commentary (Concordia 1992), Melancthon's 1521 Loci communes at high decibal (Philip Melancthon Common Places 1521, Concordia 2014, cf p163 on old/new man) And in 1531 the Apology to the Augsburg Confession frames every one of its articles in a law-gospel parsing.

So by 1528, one may see in the Marburg sermons and the sermons before and after, sermons that apply law-gospel distinction to month of Sundays.

In the Marburg sermon, Luther states that the earthly Kingdom includes everything we can see and do in our bodies. This fully and especially includes whatever is done in the church. Everything! is carnal righteousness . Luther says This is taught why? so that it is clear that in the Heavenly Kingdom, the only thing that is included there is faith alone in Christ.

Luther make clear in his preface to his 1545 translations of St Paul's epistle to the Romans, that he is only describing what he was taught by St Paul.

Flesh vs spirit is not body/material/physical vs spiritual/transcendent/ethereal

The thomist scholastics understood that in this dichotomy the flesh was vice, the profane the secular vocations of marriage work etc. While the sacred was the church, Aristotelian virtues, being a priest monk or nun.

Luther saw this contrast from flesh and carnal righteousness to spirit, instead to be a movement from man's higher powers described by Aristotle and Aquinas, man's reason, his virtues as all being what Paul labels carnal righteousness and flesh to, alone, the invisible righteousness of faith in Christ, which in the sermon referenced here he says is "meaningless on earth except to God and a troubled conscience". (Cf Marburg sermon)

One editor here inserted the comment that the law and gospel distinction was only first defined in 1580 in the formula of Concord. I hope I have shown or provided references so the reader can evaluate for his own self what is described in this article.

Currently there is a renewed discussion among Lutherans about law and gospel in the life of a Christian and how law and gospel relate to sanctification.

Luther's take on this, is found in his Disputations against the antinomians and in his opening words it should come as no surprise that he says : " you have heard frequently that there is no better way of reaching and preserving the pure doctrine than that we follow this method, namely, that we devide christian doctrine into two parts, law and gospel, that there are two things which are set before us in God's Word, namely, either wrath or grace, sin or righteousness, death or life, hell or heaven. And these matters are certain and clear. "(Ibid P34)

Then, in the second disputation, Luther points to repentance as the law gospel description of the entire Christian life. (One can read this in more detail in a law gospel parsing of repentance both in the 1531 apology, Luther's large catechism on baptism, and the 1580 formula) which Luther recaps briefly as...

"Everyone who has faith has sorrow over sin. Every believer , who by faith begins to conquer the terrors of the Law, repents throughout his entire life For the entire life of the faithful is an exercise and a certain hatred against the remainder of sin in the flesh, which grumbles against the Spirit and faith. The pious repeatedly feel terrors. Then faith battles against unbelief and despair, as well as against lust , anger, pride , revenge , etc. This battle remains in the pious as long as they live. In some it is more violent, in others gentler. They therefore have sorrow and hatred over sin combined with faith and this is why they cry out with St Paul "o wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?! Staupitz used to say , death is desirable to the pious because there is never an end of sinning in this life. And this is most truly how it is. In pious minds the sadness over sin and fear of death is greater than the joys over the life and oneffible grace given thru Christ . To be sure , they wrestle with this unbelief and conquer it by faith, but this spirit of sadness always returns. Therefore repentance remains with them until death.

I bring this up because rthey thought sin is an easy and momentary matter that can be abolished by contrition, confession and satisfaction . They didn't comfort those who made confession by making them sure their sins were forgiven. Instead they imposed and obligated them with some work like celibacy or fasting or some other worthless effort."(p60 ibid)

In Martin Luther's thought

Martin Luther used the phrase "two governments" rather than "two kingdoms." [Cit needed]

His and Philip Melanchthon's doctrine which was later labeled "two kingdoms" was that the church should not exercise worldly government, and princes should not rule the church or have anything to do with the salvation of souls. [While luther did, also, teach this (apology to the Augsburg confession, article 23), they did not teach the separation of church and state, nor was this the substance and point of the two kingdoms doctrine. [Cit needed] there are numerous cits above for my points]

[3] Augustine's model of the City of God was the foundation for Luther's doctrine, but goes farther.[4]

[The gritch cit is titled luther Bd the modern state and nothing in page 48 convinces me that this assertion is true. It just asserts it's a fact with no footnote or peoof]

Luther was confronted with seemingly contradictory types of statements in the Bible. Some biblical passages exhort Christians to obey rulers placed over them and to repay evil with retribution, but others, such as the Sermon on the Mount, call for passivity in the face of oppression.

Luther reconciled these and in doing so took a middle course between Roman Catholics, who saw the second type of biblical statement as a sort of ideal for a more perfect class of Christian, and radical Christians who rejected any temporal authority.

[Cit needed]

Instead, Luther taught that the world is divided into true Christians and non-Christians, and that the sword is necessary to restrain evil committed by non-Christians.

[cit needed) The spiritual kingdom, made up of true Christians, does not need the sword. The biblical passages dealing with justice and retribution, therefore, are only in reference to the first kingdom. Christians, however, should only use the sword against evildoers, and never amongst themselves. Luther also uses this idea to describe the relationship of the church to the state. The temporal kingdom has no authority to coerce in matters pertaining to the spiritual kingdom. Luther had in mind the way in which the Roman Catholic Church had involved itself in secular affairs, and princes' involvement in religious matters, especially the ban on printing the New Testament.[5]

[Cit directly from Luther, not someone interpreting Luther without a cit]. Modern Scandinavia and Germany are proof that Lutherans never taught a doctrine of separation of church and state. And two kingdoms is not, even a little, about that. I hope my tone doesn't come off as harsh, but...help me out . I'm new at this. If there is a more polite way to work thru this, I would welcome guidance and moderation. :)]

God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly… The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself. Therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God's government and only misleads and destroys souls. We desire to make this so clear that every one shall grasp it, and that the princes and bishops may see what fools they are when they seek to coerce the people with their laws and commandments into believing one thing or another.

[cit needed]

Luther forbade Christians from allowing temporal rulers to meddle with their hearts in matters of belief, declaring that "if you give into him and let him take away your faith and books, you have truly denied God". However, in all temporal matters, subjects must obey and welcome true Christian suffering:

We are to be subject to governmental power and do what it bids, as long as it does not bind our conscience but legislates only concerning outward matters… But if it invades the spiritual domain and constrains the conscience, over which God only must preside and rule, we should not obey it at all but rather lose our necks. Temporal authority and government extend no further than to matters which are external and corporeal.

[Cit needed]

In Reformed theology

Reformed (or radical) Two-Kingdoms (R2K) advocates have spent a good deal of time trying to portray Calvin as a keen disciple of Luther on this issue. But while Calvin deployed two-kingdoms language, he generally did so with somewhat different aims and his practical stance was more activistic. Calvin sought to protect the church from the encroachments of the state, and to emphasize that Christians have a spiritual obligation to the state, but the temporal realm does not have the independence that it has in Luther.[6] Despite similarities in language, this difference helps to account for the profound contrast between the passivity of the Lutheran tradition toward the state and the historic pattern of social and political activism evident among Reformed Christians. Calvin's role in Geneva underscores his conviction that distinctively Christian concerns have an important role in the public square, and that magistrates are obligated to further Christian virtues.[7]

Calvin as well as later Reformed orthodox figures clearly distinguish between God's redemptive work of salvation and earthly work of providence. Scottish theologian Andrew Melville is especially well known for articulating this doctrine, and the Scottish Second Book of Discipline clearly defined the spheres of civil and ecclesiastical authorities. High orthodox theologians such as Samuel Rutherford also used the Reformed concept and terminology of the two kingdoms. Francis Turretin further developed the doctrine significantly by linking the temporal kingdom with Christ's status as eternal God and creator of the world, and the spiritual kingdom with his status as incarnate son of God and redeemer of humanity.[1]

The Reformed application of the doctrine differed from the Lutheran in the matter of the external government of the church. Lutherans were content to allow the state to control the administration of the church, a view in the Reformed world shared by Thomas Erastus. In general, however, the Reformed followed Calvin's lead in insisting that the church's external administration, including the right to excommunicate, not be handed over to the state.[1]

Response and influence

Luther's articulation of the two kingdoms doctrine had little effect on the practical reality of church government in Lutheran territories during the Reformation.[3] With the rise of cuius regio, eius religio, civil authorities had extensive influence on the shape of the church in their realm, and Luther was forced to cede much of the power previously granted to church officers starting in 1525.[8] However, Calvin was able to establish after significant struggle in Geneva under the Ecclesiastical Ordinances a form of church government with much greater power. Most significantly the Genevan Consistory was given the exclusive authority to excommunicate church members.[9]

James Madison, the principal author of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, explicitly credited Martin Luther as the theorist who "led the way" in providing the proper distinction between the civil and the ecclesiastical spheres.[10]

Luther's distinction was adopted by John Milton and John Locke. Milton wrote A Treatise of Civil Power. Locke later echoed the "two kingdoms" doctrine:

There is a twofold society, of which almost all men in the world are members, and from that twofold concernment they have to attain a twofold happiness; viz. That of this world and that of the other: and hence there arises these two following societies, viz. religious and civil.[11]

Sociologist Max Weber also wrestled with the tensions embedded in Luther's Two Kingdom Doctrine in his essay about the nature of politicians, Politics as a Vocation.

In Roman Catholicism

The Catholic Church has a similar doctrine called the doctrine of the "two swords," in the papal bull Unam Sanctam, issued in 1302 by Pope Boniface VIII. Boniface teaches that there is only one Kingdom, the Church (here meaning the Catholic Church), and that the Church controls the spiritual sword, while the temporal sword is controlled by the State, although the temporal sword is hierarchically lower than the spiritual sword (the flesh matters less than the soul; cf. Mt 10:28), allowing for Church influence in politics and society at large.

In Oriental Orthodoxy

While the Popes of Alexandria held immense political influence within the Roman Empire even into the 6th century, the Non-Chalcedonian Coptic Church has generally shunned the marriage of ecclesiastical authority to political power, at least since it became evident that Chalcedonian orthodoxy would be the official christological position of the Byzantine imperial church (pejoratively labeled melchite, meaning "of the king"). The Coptic Church, which accounts for the majority of Egyptian Christians, has never sought to control or subvert the historically Islamic government of Egypt.[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b c VanDrunen 2007.
  2. ^ Ecclesial Calvinist http://theecclesialcalvinist.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/the-two-kingdoms-theology-and-christians-today/
  3. ^ a b MacCulloch 2003, p. 157.
  4. ^ Gritsch 1986, p. 48.
  5. ^ Sockness, Brent W. (1992). "Luther's Two Kingdoms Revisited". Journal of Religious Ethics. 20 (1): 93. Retrieved November 10, 2013. – via EBSCOhost (subscription required)
  6. ^ Calvin, Institutes, IIII.19.15; IV.20.1-32 http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/calvin-institutes-christianity/book4/chapter-19.html
  7. ^ Ecclesial Calvinist http://theecclesialcalvinist.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/the-two-kingdoms-theology-and-christians-today/
  8. ^ MacCulloch 2003, p. 164.
  9. ^ MacCulloch 2003, p. 238.
  10. ^ Madison (1821), To Schaeffer (Books) (scan).
  11. ^ Locke, John (1858), On the Difference between Civil and Ecclesiastical Power (Books) (scan).
  12. ^ "Encyclopedia Coptica". Egypt: The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church.


Further reading

  • Ouweneel, W.J.; Boot, J. (2017). The World is Christ's: A Critique of Two Kingdoms Theology. Ezra Press. ISBN 978-0-9947279-6-1.
  • The two 'Kingdoms' (PDF), AU: Lutheran Church, Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions, 2001, archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-10-27.

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