As I’ve argued previously, “natural law” two kingdoms theology logically results in theocracy for anyone who recognizes WCF/LBCF 19.2.
Well Kim Riddlebarger has made my point for me:
Then there are those in the current debate who contend, in agreement with Calvin, that it’s the civil magistrate’s duty to enforce the first table of the law. Well, as important as Calvin is in understanding reformed political theory, when Calvin speaks of the role of the civil magistrate, Calvin could not even begin to conceive of a secularist democracy that now rules Europe. And therefore his value in terms of his understanding of how the church ought to relate to the magistrate is limited because of the change in circumstances. And that, I think, is self-evident in the fact that all of the reformed confessions written at the time of the reformation have all been changed in the United States in the articles that deal with the churches relation to the civil magistrate, because the situation here is entirely different than it was in the days of the reformation. And the reformed churches, both Presbyterian and Reformed, acknowledge that.
Let me play a bit of advocacy here: What if Calvin’s right about the civil magistrate? And by the way, I tend to think he is, he’s on the right track here. What would the magistrate enforcing the first table of the law look like in a real world of Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress? Do we really want the magistrate, in it’s current form, to protect the church, it’s gospel, and it’s doctrine? There is a law of unintended consequences and we have to think very, very carefully about the consequences of taking particular actions. It’s one thing to argue, “Yeah, Calvin says we should recover the first table of the law, enforced by the civil magistrate!” Ok, I think there’s a good, biblical basis for that, and I’m going to argue for it. But what’s that gonna look like in the United States? We no longer live in an America with a generic Protestant political establishment…
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 1: Why This Has Been an Important and Controversial Doctrine @49:30
While Adam is building this temple garden in Eden he is under probation, where God has commanded of him perfect obedience. The question is, perfect obedience to what? Well, I would say to the moral law, which is later enshrined and codified in the two tables of the law we commonly speak of as the 10 commandments… Natural law reflects the same commandments written upon the human heart and subsequently revealed on the two stone tablets at Mt. Sinai.
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 3: Adam in Eden – Tracing the Redemptive Historical Themes of the Two Kingdoms @21:30 and 38:50
I think we have to be realists. One of the things that we’ll talk about is, it’s one thing for Christians to very triumphally say “Well, you know what we need, we need to recover the law of God as the standard for civil government.” Well, whether that’s true in theory or not is a separate question. The reality is, “Are we in our lifetimes ever going to live in a country, in a situation where we are under a theocratic state as Israel was in the Old Testament. And the answer to that is “No.” So a lot of the discussion that goes on about the ideal is only so much time wasting because the question we have to deal with, at least that I have to deal with as a pastor having to answer questions for people in my church and in my pews, is “How do we survive in this current situation?” And I’m going to argue that keeping those two kingdoms distinct is a very, very important starting point… So throw out the ideal. We’ll talk about the ideal. The ideal is important, I mean, we ought to look at what the ideal is to understand what ought to be so we can think about a theoretic about how we ought to approach stuff. But the fact is we live in a time and place when we are going to be a minority, a small minority of a minority and we’re going to have to get the best deal that we can in the political kingdom, in the civil kingdom. And that’s just how it is.
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 4: Adam Cast From Eden – The Birth of the Civil Kingdom @52:30
Thankfully, for the coherence of discussion, Riddlebarger is consistent in his natural law theory. If the civil magistrate is to enforce natural law, then it is to enforce the 10 commandments.
Note: Natural Law Two Kingdoms will not get you to the non-establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. It will land you in Geneva.
It is interesting to note Riddlebarger’s pragmatism. He says that the ideal (the enforcement of the 10 commandments) is not practical because we live in a different context under a secular government. He says the American reformed churches changed the confession because they were in a different context. But what led to this change in context? Was it the erosion of true religion? Was 18th century colonial American a pagan, secular society? No. 18th century America was very Protestant. What led to the change in context (change in government) is a change in how these men interpreted the Bible. It was not an appeal to natural law to the exclusion of Scripture. Rather, as Charles Hodge explains, it was primarily an appeal to Scripture, to an interpretation that disagreed with Calvin’s interpretation, that led to changes in how Calvinists viewed the state:
The American Church
The doctrine current among us on this subject is of very recent origin. It was unknown to the ancients before the advent. In no country was religion disconnected with the state. It was unknown to the Jews. The early Christians were not in circumstances to determine the duty of Christian magistrates to the Christian church. Since the time of Constantine, in no part of Christendom and by no denomination has the ground been assumed, until a recent period, that the state and church should be separate and independent bodies. Yet to this doctrine the public mind in this country has already been brought, and to the same conclusion the convictions of God’s people in all parts of the world seem rapidly tending. On what grounds, then, does this novel, yet sound, doctrine rest? This question can only be answered in a very general and superficial manner on the present occasion.
1. In the first place it assumes that the state, the family, and the church are all divine institutions, having the same general end in view, but designed to accomplish that end by different means. That as we cannot infer from the fact that the family and the state are both designed to promote the welfare of men, that the magistrate has the right to interfere in the domestic economy of the family; so neither can we infer from the church and state having the same general end, that the one can rightfully interfere with the affairs of the other. If there were no other institution than the family, we might infer that all the means now used by the church and state, for the good of men, might properly be used by the family; and if there were no church, as a separate institution of God, then we might infer that the family and the state were designed to accomplish all that could be effected. But as God has instituted the family for domestic training and government; the state, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives; and the church for the promotion and extension of true religion, the three are to be kept distinctive within their respective spheres.
2. That the relative duties of these several institutions cannot be learned by reasoning a priori from their design, but must be determined from the Word of God. And when reasoning from the Word of God, we are not authorized to argue from the Old Testament economy because that was avowedly temporary and has been abolished, but must derive our conclusions from the New Testament. We find it there taught:
(a) That Christ did institute a church separate from the state, giving it separate laws and officers.
(b) That he laid down the qualifications of those officers and enjoined on the church, not on the state, to judge of their possession by candidates.
(c) That he prescribed the terms of admission to and the grounds of exclusion from the church, and left with the church its officers to administer these rules.
These acts are utterly inconsistent with Erastianism and with the relation established in England between the church and state.
3. That the New Testament, when speaking of the immediate design of the state and the official duties of the magistrate, never intimates that he has those functions which the common doctrine of the Lutheran and Reformed church assign him. This silence, together with the fact that those functions are assigned to the church and church officers, is proof that it is not the will of God that they should be assumed by the state.
4. That the only means which the state can employ to accomplish many of the objects said to belong to it, viz. pains and penalties, are inconsistent with the example and commands of Christ; with the rights of private Christians, guaranteed in the Word of God (i.e., to serve God according to the dictates of his conscience); are ineffectual to the true end of religion, which is voluntary obedience to the truth; and productive of incalculable evil. The New Testament, therefore, does not teach that the magistrate is entitled to take care that true religion is established and maintained; that right men are appointed to church offices; that those officers do their duty, that proper persons be admitted, and improper persons be rejected from the church; or that heretics be punished. And on the other hand, by enjoining all these duties upon the church, as an institution distinct from the state, it teaches positively that they do not belong to the magistrate, but to the church. If to this it be added that experience teaches that the magistrate is the most unfit person to discharge these duties; that his attempting it has always been injurious to religion and inimical to the rights of conscience, we have reason to rejoice in the recently discovered truth that the church is independent of the state, and that the state best promotes her interests by letting her alone.
– Charles Hodge, The Relation of Church and State originally appeared in Princeton Review in 1863. It is now taken from a recently re-released book of essays by a variety of authors edited by Iain Murray, The Reformation of the Church.
So it was not an appeal to natural law that led to the undoing of state churches, nor was it a degrading of religion in society, but it was the proper interpretation and application of Scripture to the question of civil government. In this regard, Ron Baines has an excellent essay in the first issue of JIRBS titled SEPARATING GOD’S TWO KINGDOMS: Two Kingdom Theology among New England Baptists in the Early Republic.
[We insist] that sin refers to moral fall and guilt, and further, that this fall consisted in three things: a darkening of the light of reason, an impairment of the power of the will, and a corrupting of our affections. From this it follows that without spectacles, as Calvin expressed it, the book of nature can no longer be read, such that neither from nature nor from the light of our reason can we know whether, and if so, in what way, there is any means whereby we may escape the power and guilt of sin. From this flows the need for a further special revelation to be added to nature, having two purposes: both to teach us to understand again the book of Nature, and to open for us the path to reconciliation with God. So we receive a word of God in twofold form: A word of God within the creation, and a word of God with which he adds to created things (Band aan het Woord, 10).
I agree (though I disagree with the term “book of nature”).
There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him—so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.
Canons of Dort III.4
Samuel Renihan’s review of Kingdom Through Covenant is available now in the JIRBS 2014 edition. I highly recommend it!
I understand the authors’ reservations. To embrace the covenant of works, in their minds, is to embrace all of the errors of classic covenant theology. But they are operating under a false dilemma. Along the same lines it would seem that their opinion is that covenant theology is equal to the classic formulation of the covenant of grace being one in substance, varying only in administration. They state that “It is more accurate to think in terms of a plurality of covenants, which are part of the progressive revelation of the one plan of God that is fulfilled in the new covenant” (602). That is the dominant paedobaptist portrayal, but it is not the dominant portrayal of the history of Baptist federal theology. A good dose of Baptist historical theology might be of great benefit.