A tale of two kingdoms

Mark G. Schroeder

Throughout 2017 we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. As Lutheran Christians, we recognize that the single greatest blessing God gave to his church through Martin Luther was the rediscovery of the central truth of the Bible: that sinners are justified by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, which we know by Scripture alone. If that was the only truth that God gave back to his church through Luther, it would give us every reason to celebrate.

But God didn’t stop there. Through Luther, God restored other biblical truths and teachings to his church that have been cherished not only by Lutherans but by many other Christians as well. Luther led the way to translating the Bible into the language of the people. He recognized the importance of congregational worship that focused on Christ and wrote Christ-centered hymns for worshipers to sing. He wrote catechisms to instruct the young and championed education for boys and girls. On the basis of the Scriptures, Luther reminded Christians of the priesthood of all believers and emphasized how they can serve God faithfully in all vocations of life.

One other biblical doctrine that Martin Luther rediscovered was the doctrine of the “two kingdoms” or “two realms.” It’s a teaching that is particularly timely for us to know and to practice today.

In Luther’s day, the church had become hopelessly politicized, with religious leaders inserting themselves into the role of government. From the other direction, government leaders sought to exert their influence over religious and spiritual affairs. Church and state had become so entwined with each other’s roles that confusion and abuse became common.

Luther returned to the Scriptures and emphasized that these two kingdoms, both established by God, have separate and distinct roles to play. The church’s role is to be spiritual, limited to proclaiming the message of the Scriptures and leading people to Christ. The government’s role is to be God’s agent to keep order in society, to protect its citizens from physical harm, and to punish wrongdoers. For either kingdom to assume the role of the other is a violation of God’s divine arrangement. Since both are established by God, Christians have a responsibility to recognize and to support both kingdoms.

This teaching is particularly important for Christians to remember as the church finds itself surrounded by an increasingly godless culture. If secular government reflects the culture, it’s not surprising that it will seek to defend and even promote behavior that runs completely counter to God’s will and to natural law—and counter to the truths that the church proclaims.

In response, the church and its members need to do two things. First, the church and its members need to continue to proclaim God’s truth boldly, even to the point of disobeying the government when ordered to violate God’s will. Second, the church and its members need to avoid the temptation to insert the church into the secular realm of legislation and politics. Without doubt, the church will stand for the truth and proclaim it. But it will leave the law making, lobbying, and policy setting to others.

As citizens of the secular kingdom as well as the spiritual, we should be salt and light in our world. We should be ready to use our political freedom to say what we believe and to promote good, wise, and just laws, but we will avoid confusing church and state.

Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.



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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017

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