Like I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been peppered with questions lately, privately and publicly, regarding the doctrine of the “Two Kingdoms”: namely, the distinction between Christ’s heavenly kingdom and the kingdoms of this age. Yesterday, I took up the first question which centered on the provenance of the doctrine. Many critics wrongly assume anything Two Kingdoms related is Lutheran (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What I tried to show yesterday is that this doctrine (like justification) is shared by the two branches of the Reformation.
Today, I want to take up a second objection, that the Two Kingdoms view engenders an individualistic and passive view of the church’s role in kingdom-living today.
This concern is based on the assumption that the church as the aggregate of professing Christians is the same thing as the church as the institution founded by Christ for preaching, baptizing, administering Communion, catechizing, and making disciples. In a Reformation perspective, Christ creates his church in the power of his Spirit through Word and sacrament. This is his kingdom of grace. Yet this kingdom of grace will not yet be a kingdom of glory and power until Christ returns. Until then, God’s common grace satisfies the needs of believer and unbeliever alike and believers serve alongside their unbelieving neighbors in divinely ordained callings that promote the general welfare rather than the salvation of sinners.
Yes, it is true, we are saved merely by receiving Christ and all of his benefits. That is why faith comes through the preaching of the gospel. We are sitting there, hearing the Good News. God ratifies his promise in baptism the Supper. Our action in this meeting is to respond, “Amen!” to everything that God has sworn, to praise God from whom all blessings flow, and to be refashioned as characters in God’s unfolding drama. “Re-salinated” by God’s service to us through his ambassadors, we are dispersed out of the salt shaker and scattered into the world as new creatures. The place for our good works, our activity, our service, is primarily out in the world, not in a plethora of church-based “ministries.”
Our Lord credited Mary Magdalene with choosing “the better part” when she sat at Jesus’ feet to hear him teach her who he was and what he had come to do, while Martha scolded her sister for making her do all the work. There is a time to receive and then there is a time to pass out the gifts that you have been given. The theater for our good works is in the world, through our ordinary callings, wherever our neighbors (believer and unbeliever alike) need us.
Next time, we’ll finish up by looking at one of the most significant objections to the Two Kingdoms view: that it denies the presence of Christ’s kingdom today; that it’s sort of like dispensationalism: let’s just wait until Jesus gets back; that its proponents don’t care about transforming the culture here and now.