This post is the third in a series of initial reactions to Two Kingdoms Theology from reading David VanDrunen’s book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. In the first post, I summarized the biblical case for Two Kingdoms Theology, expressing my appreciation in the way it seemed to act as a middle ground approach to cultural pursuits between Dispensationalism and Neo-Calvinism.
Yesterday, I expanded my thoughts on the role of cultural pursuits for Christians, expressing some questions I still have about the proper motivation for cultural pursuits if we both believe them to be good but believe that they will pass away.
Today, I want to post some initial thoughts on the role of the Church under Two Kingdoms Theology.
Two Kingdoms Theology and the Identity of the Church
As the name implies, Two Kingdoms Theology sees two distinct kingdoms in operation in the world. The first kingdom is the Common Kingdom, comprised of all people everywhere. In the Common Kingdom, believers and unbelievers alike join for common cultural pursuits like establishing governments, creating art, building businesses, pursuing academic research, etc. This kingdom exists under the sovereign power of God, chartered by God’s covenant with Noah.
In the Noahic covenant, God promises to preserve human culture for as long as the earth remains; however, the earth will not remain forever, and God promises merely to preserve creation until the earth passes away. The Noahic covenant has no provision or promise for redeeming creation.
The other kingdom, then, is the Redemptive Kingdom, in which God pledges to do whatever is necessary for redeeming his people, by way of a covenant initially formed with Abraham. And ultimately, that pledge nailed Jesus to the cross to accomplish our redemption. Only those who have been redeemed through faith in Jesus belong to this Kingdom.
This means that the Redemptive Kingdom is, in fact, the Church.
Two Kingdoms Theology and the Role of the Church
In my mind, there are two main consequences for understanding the Church as the sole Redemptive Kingdom in the world, understanding the broader cultural pursuits to be good, but in no sense redemptive:
- We take a higher view of the Church as the redemptive institution in the world. While activities outside of the purview of the Church are good, we cannot really compare them to the redemptive power of the official mission and ministry of the Church.
- We limit the scope of the official mission and ministry of the Church to the specific redemptive activities that God has commanded for his Church. Again, while we might categorize many activities as good, we should not include them in the redemptive work of the Church unless God has specifically told us to do so.
To me, these two principles are incredibly important for evangelicals today. There seems to be an incredible push to classify every last activity we do as “ministry”, no matter how loosely they are related to the work that Christ has commissioned his Church to do. To be sure, Christians are called to live, work, and to do good in every corner of the world–but again, that doesn’t mean that such activities are redemptive.
So what does God himself identify as being redemptive? In other words, what means does God actually tell us that he will use to redeem people from the power of sin, death, and the devil? God says that he will use his Word (read, taught, sung, and preached), prayer, and the sacraments to save sinners. And these activities are properly the work of the Redemptive Kingdom (the Church), not the Common Kingdom.
By what authority, then, do we insist that our businesses, our hobbies, and our art will play a role in bringing sinners to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? As important as they are, the Word of God seems to make a very clear distinction between the kind of good we achieve in such activities.
The Church, then, ought to limit her official activities to only that which God has actually commanded. Of course, the members of the Church also live, work, and enjoy the cultural pursuits of the Common Kingdom because, as the name implies, we live in Two Kingdoms. But we need to draw a clear marker delineating the scope of the work of the Redemptive Kingdom.
I genuinely believe that we need to think very deeply about these things, and I feel that in my own life I have frequently been very sloppy to miscategorize the value of my various activities before the Lord. Let us all pray that God will lead and guide the Church into deeper reformation as he redeems for himself a people for his own possession through the finished work of his Son Jesus, and by the power of his mighty Spirit.