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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Vasilca

Citizens of Two Kingdoms Part I (CC-9)

This blog post surveys the reformist concept of separation of state and religion. It was first advanced by Martin Luther under the metaphor of Two Kingdoms in the early sixteenth century. Martin Luther believed the secular government should not interfere with the work of the church, and the church should not involve herself in the affairs of the state.

royal gold crown
Royal Gold Crown

Citizens of Two Kingdoms

Two Worlds

We Christians belong to two worlds: the eternal world and the temporal world. Both worlds are God's kingdoms, and he is the supreme ruler of both. But he chose to rule them in two different ways. The eternal kingdom, also called the spiritual kingdom, is governed directly by him through the gospel and grace. The temporal kingdom, created by God and given to Adam and Eve to inhabit, is ruled by humans according to their capabilities.

The rule of God is perfect because he is perfect. The inhabitants of the spiritual kingdom are people who have come to the Father through his son Jesus Christ the Savior. Christians are, therefore, a new creation who obey voluntarily and spontaneously through their faith in Christ. For any individual, the spiritual kingdom starts during the life on earth from the moment they discover Jesus Christ. At the death of the body, that person's Spirit has the chance to enter the eternal kingdom because they walked in Christ's footsteps while on earth. The story of the Bible from the beginning to end is about the battle between good and evil for the spiritual kingdom that resides in the soul of men.

The temporal world, also known as the material or earthly kingdom, is ruled by God as well, but this time he does it through secular governments. Secular governments are created by men whom God gave the mandate to rule over other men using coercion by law and sword. Secular governments are imperfect, corrupt, and sinful, reflecting man's imperfect, corrupt, and sinful nature. The inhabitants of the temporal world consist of believers in Christ as well as unbelievers. Believers in Christ are, therefore, citizens of the spiritual kingdom while being at the same time citizens of the earthly realm. The broader category of unbelievers include secularists, i.e., agnostics and atheists, as well as people of other major religions such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

The doctrine of two kingdoms was first advanced by Martin Luther (1483–1546 AD) under the name "two governments" in the early 16th century. Its central thesis was that the church should not exercise worldly government and that the princes should not rule the church or have anything to do with the soul's salvation.

two-column table

This theological doctrine has had profound implications in the political philosophy of English- and German-speaking countries of Europe, as well in the founding of the United States. For instance, in the mid-17th century, English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) stated, "ours is a twofold society, of whom all men in the world are members, ... hence there arises two following societies, the civil and the religious. From that twofold concern, members have to attain a twofold happiness: the first one is from this material world, and the second one is from the spiritual world." James Madison (1751––1836), the principal author of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, explicitly states "now we have the proper distinction between the civil and ecclesiastical spheres." Thus, for the first time in history, the founding fathers conceived a new society with unassailable religious freedoms and clear separation between church and state.

Two Cities

Saint Augustine of Hippo (345–430 AD) uses the image of Two Cities when teaching his contemporaries about the material world and the spiritual world. The City of Man and the City of God are societies distinguished from one another by the standards by which they live. The former lives by the standards of the flesh, while the latter lives by the Spirit. St. Augustine tells us that ultimately it is the kind of love that each city has that makes all the difference. "We see then that two kinds of love created the two cities: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, while the heavenly city by the love of God carried as far as contempt for self."

The City of God is not only outer-worldly; it is also an embodiment of the social and cultural life that God desires for this world. In his letters, St. Augustine presses the Christians to recognize cultural systems often disordered, in need of both resistance and reordering by Christian labor. He leads by example, involving himself as bishop in the concrete realities of civic and political life of the city of Hippo in the Roman province of Numidia.





The Earthly Kingdom

We know from the Scriptures how the earthy kingdom looked like during the time of Jesus. Most Jews, considered to be God's chosen people, lived in Judea, which was a province of the Roman Empire. Many more millions lived in the Roman Empire proper, stretching from the Atlantic to Asia Minor and from North Africa to Scotland. Life was miserable, violent, and unpredictable for most people. Food was in short supply, wars were always around the corner, and pestilence and illnesses were part of daily life. Most people were sinful and wicked and lived in spiritual darkness. Except for the Jewish people, who believed in one God, many other tribes and nations were polytheistic or practiced idolatry.

Over two millennia since Jesus's first coming, Christianity has expanded considerably all over the world, with many good people now walking in the footsteps of Jesus. But did the character and condition of the earthly world change? Not too much, really. It is true that the quality of life and longevity have increased substantially for most inhabitants of this earth, but the nature of the people has changed little. Many of us are still sinful, many are still wicked, and many still live in darkness. Moreover, contemporary society's conditions have become much more complex and unpredictable, as we shall see further down.

Worldly Complexities

In contrast to the earthly kingdom during Jesus' time, ours is characterized by extreme complexities, contradictions, and a fast pace of change. Let's review some of them.

- Fast pace: the pace of daily life is relentless; everything moves too fast. All people are in a hurry; all things need to happen today. There is hardly time to spend with your family, to rest, meditate, or pray. Society also becomes different when things change faster; changes that needed ten years one generation ago now may take only one year.

- Overwhelmed by information: our society is bombarded 24/7 with information, news, and entertainment. It is hardly possible to distinguish between true or false information and news. As a result, people are confused.

- Flooded by knowledge: the pace of advancement of overall knowledge is breathtaking. If seventy years ago, human knowledge was doubling every twenty-five years, forty years ago it took only eight years to double, and nowadays it doubles every year.

- Enslaved by technology: we are prisoners of our own technology. At work, at home, and at play, people use more and more electronic gadgets under the illusion they will simplify their lives. Unfortunately, quite the opposite happens: instead of mastering them, we become enslaved by them. Our lives become more complex, not simpler.

- Materialistic individualism: this view of the world that considers individuals as discrete, self-contained, independent units of survival becomes more and more prevalent, particularly among secularists. Moreover, they view the world as strictly composed of matter, and hence measurable, controllable, predictable, and ultimately disposable. Individualism places the interest of one above the common interest; encourages pride, greed, and lust; denies the existence of spirituality as an unseen component of the human condition.

- Rudeness and violence: our society is growing ruder and more violent year after year. In our daily interactions, we seldom are courteous and civil with each other; on the contrary, we are mostly rude and verbally aggressive. Domestic violence, street violence, and gang warfare are commonplace in most American households, towns and, cities.

- Diversity of people: ours is a heterogeneous society, composed of people of many different ethnicities, cultures, customs, languages, and religions. This diversity makes communication much more complicated and frightens many people.

- Variety of religions: ours is a religious society. Recent statistics show that about 47 percent of Americans are Christian Protestants, 21 percent are Catholics, 4 percent are other Christians, 2 percent are Jews, and 3 percent are of different faiths. The balance of 23 percent considers themselves secularists, i.e., nonreligious, atheists, or agnostics.

- People on the move: statistics show that almost 50 million Americans move to new places every year. On the one hand, this mobility creates opportunities for young people, but on the other, it stresses families and makes relationships much more fragile.

- Corrosive popular culture: popular culture promoted by strong financial interests in Hollywood has downgraded to nothing more than machinery to dumbing down the society. All men's vices are portrayed as "individualism" and no virtues are talked about because people in Hollywood have not heard about that word. But they know very well the five pillars of lust, i.e., money, food, fame, power, and sex, are present in all they do.

- Family under attack: for about two generations now, the traditional American family values have been under attack from all directions. Indeed, the family itself, regarded by many as the fundamental nucleus of human society, has been assailed and described as an outdated concept of the past. The results are frightening: divorce rates of married couples have soared to over 40 percent, percentage of out-of-wedlock children to white parents is 29 percent; to Hispanics, 53 percent; and to blacks, 71 percent. Cohabitation among young people has become the norm. All kinds of other "family" forms have sprung up: single-parent families, stepfamilies, families of same-sex couples, child-free couples, couples with adopted children, etc.

- Alienation of the individual: it is also called estrangement of the individual from society. The broader term "social alienation" is a condition in social relationships characterized by a low degree of integration or shared values and a high degree of distance between an individual and a group of people. People alienated from family, friends, and co-workers have a sense of low-esteem, worthlessness, and lack of direction in life.






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Useful links: Wikipedia Pew Research

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