Video: More on Two Kingdoms

In today’s video, I address some questions that were raised in response to my previous video.

Within the video, I reference Brad Littlejohn’s The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed and his Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work. I mention Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity and the recent Davenant Institute modernizations of it (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3).

If you have any questions for me, please leave them on my Curious Cat account. If you have found these videos helpful, please tell your friends. If you would like to support my continued production of them, you can do so on my Patreon account. You can also get the audio of these videos on Soundcloud or iTunes.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Audio, Church History, Controversies, Ethics, Philosophy, Podcasts, Politics, Questions and Answers, Scripture, Society, The Church, Theological, Video. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Video: More on Two Kingdoms

  1. cal says:

    Thanks for responding to my questions.

    Hooper wasn’t just some individual, but a well-credentialed bishop in the church. His reasoning may have been flawed, but how this scenario played out, where he was just forced to concede, raises the question about decision. Yes, let us debate which issues pertain to the gospel and which are adiaphora but those designations require a judgement, and where does that judgement come from?

    My issue was not so much with monarchy as a form of civil government, but that civil government’s sovereignty over issues within the church. Which leads to the issue about the Anabaptists, which in their Swiss origins, was not so much how you characterize their views of the church, but about the prudential decision that when the church is under the state the witness of the gospel is vitiated. It was Zwingli who then went about chasing them out and putting them to death. Again, it comes down to the ability to decide after the debate. If James’ council in Jerusalem functions as an example of this prudential reasoning, then *who* is ultimately saying “it seems good to us and the Holy Spirit”?

    The question of the decision, who decides and how, is really what concerns me. Even when it is not a question of “Thus says the Lord” and comes down to the exercise of wisdom, when is the debate concluded and who has the right, within a church context, to do that?

    Thank you for your measured and intelligent opinions. I enjoy listening to you unpack these issues.

    • The question of who gets to decide the debates really is in large measure a contextual one. Also, ‘deciding the debate’ in such situations is seldom simply a unilateral issue; it would usually involve various parties with interests. For instance, Constantine pressed for a settling of the Arian dispute at the Council of Nicea, but clearly didn’t settle the matter unilaterally.

      The sorts of decisions that are at issue here take rather different forms in different times. In the unsettled context of Tudor England, where there was a national church and a broadly Christian population, such decisions were ones in which the state most definitely had a proper interest. The monarch was like the chief worshipper (i.e. leading representative of the worshipping community) and patron of the church, who had a proper interest in and responsibility for maintaining the order and safety of the church, both as an institution and as a body of the faithful, within their realm.

      Fractious members of the church could threaten the peace and good order of the realm. It is a rather different situation now, naturally. While we may prefer the context in which we make such decisions, we should be aware of the limitations of our choices regarding our contexts and the various trade-offs that have been involved.

      When a vast array of contested issues start to be regarded as matters of conscience (justifiably or not—and there are many justifiable cases), something has to give. Either people’s conduct has to be compelled more coercively, or we have to break up into smaller groups governing conduct, or we have largely to abandon the project of public religion and move in the direction of privatizing faith. And, since public religion is mostly being abandoned as a result of a tendency to expand the realm of conscience, the result will tend to be one of increasingly atomized congregations catering to individuals’ private conscientious convictions (or simply their personal preferences) and a diminishing of the public witness and authority of the gospel will result. Furthermore, the congregations that result will often tend to have elevated claims about their authority of their teaching as it relates to people’s consciences.

      The forms of decision, then, are prudential, with some principial matters that need to be maintained. For instance, some sort of distinction between the ministry of the gospel and the ministry of the sword needs to be upheld. However, the ways in which these ministries are dependent upon and responsible to each other must also be recognized. And that varies from context to context. In an apostate nation, we obviously would want to deny that the state has the same proper interest in the ordering of the temporal affairs of the church.

      However, such issues don’t have uniform answers. In a highly Christianized country, the rule of the monarch as the chief representative of the worshipping community and patron of the church in their realm is a scaled-up version of the dynamics of many local churches, where leading church members without ecclesiastical office, but who uphold the church financially and speak on behalf of many in the congregation can, often not improperly, throw their considerable weight into establishing and maintaining the good order of the congregation. Can such power be abused? Sure, and it often is. But it has its place and often serves the good of the Church.

      • cal says:

        Thanks again for you response. There are some areas where we fundamentally disagree about the Scriptural witness, how it defines the exercise of wisdom, the vision it casts of human history. However, I have some additional thoughts on some of the examples you use.

        Constantine is a useful example for the level of frustration that he caused among many parties. Yes, Nicaea formally served his purposes, producing a document that settled the matter, though it did not, in fact, do this. And yet Constantine wanted a resolution, and not only did he exercise state pressure on bishops to conform, various church factions took advantage of this point. Hence the trumped-up charges against Athanasius, getting him expelled. Church discernment became a game of court-intrigue. Also, Constantine’s decision to bolster the “Catholics” in Africa, against the Donatists, prolonged a schism that was, more or less, coming to an end.

        That’s the problem with a monarch, or any “first-among-equals” sort of church patronage, arrogating itself prerogatives which it gains through means that ought not to be criteria. Do wealthy congregants who have enormous pull get selected in their role? Or do they just exercise power that seems to run roughshod over established forms? Who can stop these people once they get going? The Church of England’s history, with its total inability to resist a monarch, is a case in point. The only examples involved schism. Can this form of patronage serve good? Sure, but in the same way that Mussolini got the trains to run on time: is it worth it?

        And while “we” (whoever that may be) may not want an apostate nation-state (or any other form of government) to govern the church, there’s no reason they would not see the same expedient that the godly monarch would. Christians may be an influential or substantial minority/majority that need to be brought into line. And ecclesiastical figures may agree with this policy, in as much as it had been deemed to be in terms of adiaphora. An example would be the TSPM in the PRC. What gives anyone the right to say they would rather join the Underground churches rather than submit to the state or its affiliated church?

        Again, I agree with the concern about not making the church into the arbiter of salvation, but two-kingdoms thought needs to be far more Scripturally informed than it generally is.

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