In the 17th century, Presbyterians argued for their ecclesiology from the structure of the Jewish church. It was divided geographically and functioned with varying levels of authority (presbytery, general assembly, etc). Gillespie said “it is plain from Scripture that there was at least a two-fold ecclesiastical court among the Jews, the synagogue and the sanhedrim, the latter having authority above the former.” An important part of this argument was distinguishing between the church and the state in Israel. “That there was an high ecclesiastical sanhedrim, distinct from the civil sanhedrim, is observed by Pelargus, on Deut. 17., and Sopingius, ad Bonam Fidem Sibrandi, p. 261, et seq., beside many others cited before, part 1, chapter 11. And that it was so we prove from three places of the Old Testament… We find Deut. 17, a distinction of two supreme judicatories, to be set in the place which the Lord should choose to put his name there,—the one of the priests and Levites, the other of the judges.” Both the Episcopalians and the Separatists/Congregationalists argued that appeal cannot be made to Israel. In response, Gillespie argued
Is it right dealing now to forbid us to reason from the form of the Jews? I will not use any further expostulation, but let the reader judge. The truth is this: Even as that which is in a child, as he is a child, agreeth not to a man, yet that which is in a child, as he is animal rationale, agreeth also to a man; so what we find in the Jewish church, as it was Jewish, or in infancy, and under the pedagogy of the law, agreeth not indeed to the Christian church. But whatsoever the Jewish church had, as it was a political church, or ecclesiastical republic (of which sort of things the diversity and subordination of ecclesiastical courts was one), doth belong by the same reason to the Christian church. I say further, though the commonwealth and civil policy of the Jews be not in all points a pattern to our civil policy, yet I am sure it is no error to imitate the civil policy of the Jews in such things as they had, not for any special reason proper to them, but are common to all well constituted commonwealths; and so we may argue from their commonwealth, that it is a good policy to have divers civil courts, and the higher to receive appellations from the inferior, as it was among them. Shall we not, by the very like reason, fetch from their ecclesiastical republic diversity of spiritual courts, and the supreme to receive appellations from the inferior, because so was the constitution of the Jewish church, and that under the common respect and account of a political church, and not for any special reason which doth not concern us?
The Church of England should derive it’s ecclesiastical polity from the Jewish church, and the commonwealth of England should derive its civil polity from the commonwealth of Israel.
In an essay titled Goodwin vs. Gillespie: An Old Testament Debate for Church Polity, Jonathan Brack summarizes a debate that took place in the Westminster Assembly between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists.
Mr. Calamy argues for a Gillespie-like understanding of a distinction between civil and ecclesiastical courts from Deuteronomy 17:12:
Here is a distinctive that hints 2 courts. By ‘priests’ is not meant one priest but many. By “Judge” cannot be meant the high priest, for he is contradistinct from the priest. 2. Cron. 19:8–11 ther is the resistution of them by Jehosaphat. This text showes the distinction of the Judicatories. The words in the 8 v. read with a reduplication.
Goodwin, a Congregationalist, objected.
In questioning the often-used Deut. 17: 8–9 and 2 Chron. 35:8 texts posed by Gillespie, where Gillespie demonstrated a distinction between church and state in the Old Testament, Goodwin showed himself to be functioning from a different hermeneutical angle. An angle that disagreed on the status and nature of the Jewish church in the Old Testament,
That which belonged to this Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, it was either matters Judiciall, therefore called ‘matters of the Lord’ because God had given expresse … Or matters of the king, the things of his revenew, or perhaps matters of warre and peace, yet soe as they did not … The church & state ware involved in one. Their lawes ware the lawes of God. Their judicialls had spirituals in them. 
Goodwin along with Phillip Nye challenged the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical.
Phillip Nye launched into a long speech attempting to disprove the civil and ecclesiastical distinction made from Deuteronomy 17:8–9.
The matter before us is about the validity of this place of scripture to prove that besides the priests an addition of elders. My concievements are that the totum totalum of the common wealth ware of a mixt nature … Ther is no such a perpetuall intermixture throughout all as in the Jewish church.
Goodwin’s point was that everything given in Deuteronomy was “ecclesiastical” in a certain sense. This was because, for Goodwin, ecclesiastical and civil are one and the same in the Old Testament. To this, Lord Say added that on these grounds,
It ware much better to find out those places that established a ground for this ruling elder in the New Testament wher this constitution was.
So the Congregationlists argued that Israel was a unique entity of a “mixt nature” that cannot be appealed to in order to establish church government under the New Covenant.
Brack goes on to highlight how the Presbyterians pointed out inconsistencies in the Congregationalists on this point.
After Calamy represents the basic Presbyterian position of Old Testament roots for elder-rule, Gillespie strengthens the argument by arguing for hermeneutical implications,
Something to strengthen what is spoken. The analogy betwixt Jewish & Christian church, little question of that little question… If this faile, the argument of Baptisme from circumcision will faile also.
…How can the Assembly agree to pedo-baptism by appealing to the Old Testament, without also functioning the same way for the debate on church polity?… If one were to cut loose the Old Testament ground for elder rule, then one were to cut loose the very ground for Presbyterianism, not to mention baptism…
To this Mr. Vines pressed Goodwin and Lord Say on the exact same hermeneutical point made by Gillespie two days earlier,
For that we must not looke to the state of the Jewish church, is only a warrantableness for the analogy of the Old Testament & New, granted. The brother that spake last said before we must cut loose the argument of Jewish church; [for] but how shall we prove pedo-Baptism?
Richard Vines saw the inconsistency in hermeneutical method being deployed by the Congregationalists. If we were to cut loose the Old Testament ground for church polity, then what is to stop us from the Anabaptist tenet of cutting loose our progeny as well?
In 1953, in an essay titled The Relevance of the Theocracy, Kline wrote a short essay arguing against appeal to Israel for matters of civil government and ecclesiology. He said any such appeal is unwarranted because Israel was a unique theocratic entity unlike any other. It was a type of heaven. As a result, “church” and “state” were of a “mixt nature.”
If we do listen we will not try to segment the Theocracy into the usual three discrete institutions. We will not then say: “Here (e.g. in Aaron) is the church, and here (e.g. in Moses or David) is the state, and there the family.” Not even roughly speaking. For all that can be said accurately is, “Here are theocratic priests, here are theocratic kings, here are theocratic prophets and there are the theocratic people from whose ranks all these have come. (Cf. Ex. 28:1; Dt. 17:5; 18:5.)…
That the horns of the dilemma are vaporous is evident, for the argument rests on an utterly false equation of the theocratic monarchy with the ordinary state. As observed above, neither church nor state is isolable within the Theocracy. It is therefore impossible to identify one theocratic institution such as the kingship with the ordinary concept of the state…
Our chief criticism again, in terms of the thesis of this article, is that to label the priests and/or the prophets as the church within the Theocracy [as the Presbyterians did] is unwarranted… God was in the midst of the covenant people and, therefore, all was church, as also all was family and all state – the church of God, the family of God, the Kingdom of God – all in one and one in all, and such was the Theocracy. However, if all is church and all is family and all is state, then nothing is church and nothing is family and nothing is state in the usual sense of those words. Strictly speaking all is Theocracy and nothing but Theocracy.
Like many modern Presbyterians, Kline has neglected the roots of Presbyterianism and is unaware that he has adopted the Congregationalist hermeneutic (see my post on Congregationalist covenant theology).
I will close with these words from Brack:
In recent church polity debates among Presbyterians and Particularists… appealing to Old Testament ecclesiastical polity in order to gain support for the purported theories of New Testament polity assumes a presupposed debated hermeneutical method. In other words, a foul is committed in the debate, since a disagreement over how one uses the Old Testament is not properly neutral. This truth, in the mind of many Presbyterians, is a strange inconsistency in the pattern of basic Reformed hermeneutic strategies.
Recognizing that Israel in the land of Canaan was a type of heaven necessarily leads to congregtaionalism and the rejection of paedobaptism, as Presbyterians warned from the beginning.
This mistake of the Jews, respecting the kingdom of the Messiah, lying at the foundation of all the opposition with which they treated him, and of their own ruin; it behoves us to guard with diligence against every thing which tends to secularize the dominion of Christ : lest, by corrupting the Gospel Economy, we dishonour the Lord Redeemer, and be finally punished as the enemies of his government. Our danger of contracting guilt, and of incurring divine resentment in this way, is far from being small. For we are so conversant with sensible objects, and so delighted with exterior show, that we are naturally inclined to wish for something in religion to gratify our carnality. Under the influence of that master prejudice, the expectation of a temporal kingdom, Jewish depravity rejected Christ; and our corruption, if we be not watchful, may so misrepresent his empire, and oppose his royal prerogatives, as implicitly to fay, ” We will not have him to reign over us.”*
* “As the great source of the infidelity of the Jews was a notion of the temporal kingdom of the Messiah, we may justly say, that the great source of the corruption of Christians, and of their general defection, foretold by the inspired writers, has been an attempt to render it, in effect, a temporal kingdom, and to support and extend it by earthly means. This is that spirit of Antichrist, which was so early at work, as to be discoverable in the days of the Apostles.” Dr. George Campbell’s Four Gospels Preface, p Iviu Second edition
If you’re going to take political action that is going to compromise the gospel, then you are sealing your own doom. Over the past 50 years, conservatives have spent tens of billions of dollars lobbying, trying to elect candidates, trying to organize in various ways. When I was a kid, I was out passing out literature for Barry Goldwater, back in 1964.
And what has it gained? Are we any better off, to borrow a campaign slogan – are we better off today than we were 50 years ago? What have all those conservatives and libertarians done with those billions of dollars that has shown any improvement in the political or the moral climate of the country?
Now, if that money had been put into the preaching of the gospel – the uncompromised, unvarnished, pure gospel, perhaps there would be something completely different to show for it. But it was put into compromised political action, and there’s nothing to show for it. Absolutely nothing. Tens of billions of dollars – when you think of all the campaigns, all the organizations.
And I’ve been involved – my [PhD] degree’s in political theory, political philosophy. I’ve been interested in politics all my life and have been involved from time to time, working on Capitol Hill. And I learned a very good lesson on Capitol Hill – that what happens there is of little consequence. That if one is interested in changing society, you don’t go to Capitol Hill, you preach the gospel.
If anybody is operating under the illusion that political action is going to make a significant change in society apart from a sea change in the beliefs in the American people, then they’re condemned to futility. They will waste their lives.
I am strongly committed to the biblical understanding of two kingdoms: the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth. Paul did make it clear that the ministers of the sword (the state) serve God, but Christ also made it clear that His kingdom is not of this world. Here is a sermon I preached on John 18:28-38 http://www.porticochurch.com/messages/John_18_28_20071118.mp3 in which I speak against what I see as an unbiblical focus on transforming culture.
I make an effort to point this out because every time I address this issue I am simply mis-categorized as a “transformationist” or theonomist and thus ignored. I am neither, so please give me a couple minutes of your time.
Two Kingdoms Natural Law
A very prominent form of two kingdom theology today is advocated primarily by Westminster California, led by David VanDrunen. You can find a helpful overview on WSC’s Jan. 6 Office Hours Podcast. This view is largely a response to theonomy (the view that the Mosaic case laws, or judicial laws, ie stoning, should be enforced in detail by every nation on earth). They correctly oppose theonomy by pointing out the distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this earth. (They could also counter theonomy by adopting A. W. Pink or John Owen’s views of the Mosaic Covenant)
However, they take this view one step further and say the kingdom of heaven is ruled by the Bible and the kingdoms of earth are ruled by natural law. This is precisely where I disagree. Such a view is nonsensical. Natural law, the law written on the hearts of all men, is the moral law, the 10 commandments. This is the unanimous Reformed view as stated particularly in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 19
I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
II. This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.
Therefore, to say the kingdoms of this world are ruled by natural law and should enforce natural law is to say that they are ruled by the 10 commandments and should enforce the 10 commandments.
Two Kingdoms Theocracy?
The result of such a view winds up exactly where they claim to not want to be: a theocracy. R. Scott Clark wrote a post against homosexual marriage called Natural Law, the Two Kingdoms, and Homosexual Marriage in which he appeals to the state’s duty to enforce the creation laws regarding marriage.
The magistrate has a right and a duty to enforce marriage and divorce laws in order to enforce natural, creational boundaries in the same way he has a duty to protect a society from theft and fraud… I argue that the state should regulate marriage on the basis of natural, creational law and that those who advocate pushing back the boundaries of marriage to include homosexual marriage are advocating the recognition of the violation of natural, creational law…
Such a statement would seem to be subject to my criticism above. If the state has a duty to enforce natural law, the law of creation, then it has a duty to enforce the moral law. To say one is to say the other. Clark anticipates this objection and says:
To anticipate an objection, this is not a theocratic argument. It is not the magistrate’s duty to police every sort of violation of natural law and sin. For example, no one but theocrats want the state enforcing obedience to the first table of the law. The magistrate’s natural sphere of concern and authority is in the second table.
If that is R. Scott Clark’s view, then how is it any different from those who say the state should enforce the second table of the moral law (such as John W. Robbins and J. Gresham Machen)? Answer: It’s not different.
Clark even states 2K Natural Law does not mean the state should enforce every natural law. Well, if that’s the case, then again, what is the point in making a distinction between moral law and natural law and then saying the church is ruled by one and the state is ruled by the other? There is no point. It is an invalid distinction.
[Note that D. G. Hart’s precise criticism of Kloosterman in this post http://oldlife.org/2009/12/21/if-not-two-kingdoms-two-decalogues/ is that he divides the the Decalogue into two tables. Thus Hart’s criticism would equally apply to Clark’s natural law position, which Hart is supposedly defending.]
Lee Irons makes the same criticism of the 2K Natural Law view (though at this point I do not agree with Irons’ conclusion regarding the duty of the state):
Clark seems to be saying that the state has a moral obligation or duty to enforce the moral law (= natural law), a duty that itself derives from moral/natural law. My problem with this is that, if logically carried through, this will lead to a view of civil government that is just as theocratic as that desired by the theonomists. The only difference so far as I can tell is that on Clark’s view there would be more leeway in the specifics of the penal code…
…Most theonomists would be perfectly happy with a state run on natural law principles, since they argue that the general equity of the Mosaic Law is identical with natural/moral law as revealed via general revelation (cp. Bahnsen, No Other Standard, pp. 206, 222).
Again, I agree with the Reformed doctrine of natural law. It is biblical (Romans 1). I’m merely objecting to the claim that it is the moral duty of the state to enforce it in society.
But R. Scott Clark is too smart to miss this point. So what is he really trying to say? Well, his practical position is really that the state is obligated to enforce laws that are derived from fallen man’s observation of himself. I cut his quote short earlier. Here it is in its entirety:
I argue that the state should regulate marriage on the basis of natural, creational law and that those who advocate pushing back the boundaries of marriage to include homosexual marriage are advocating the recognition of the violation of natural, creational law [recognized in the West by pagans and Christians for two thousand years.]
Thus, the argument against homosexual marriage is not a “theocratic” argument, but an argument from the nature of things grounded in natural revelation, in the most fundamental observations about how human beings relate to one another, about what it is to be human, about what it is to be a civil society, about what a family is, and ultimately, that there really is such a thing as nature or creation itself that limits the choices of sovereign, ostensibly autonomous late modern humans.
This is the inevitable conclusion that “natural law” must lead to. Natural law will ultimately find no need and no place for God, precisely because it is natural law, not supernatural law. It is quickly reduced to fallen man looking inside himself and at others to decide “what is right in his own eyes.” Irons notes:
Another problem with the appeal to natural law as the principle for determining the positive enforcement duties of the civil magistrate is that we live in a pluralistic society in which the very content of natural law itself is highly contested at critical points. Many citizens believe, for example, that committed same-sex relationships are not in any way sinful. Again, I affirm that the these people are wrong, and that deep down they know they are wrong. I know that because I believe the Bible’s teaching concerning the content of natural law (e.g., Romans 1). But such an appeal to Scripture will have minimal persuasive value in the public square. A natural law theorist may not go out with the intention of making a naked appeal to Scripture. He may try appealing to various arguments that support his interpretation of natural law, keeping his biblical beliefs out of play to achieve maximum rhetorical effect. But since the ultimate epistemic basis for his interpretation of natural law is Scripture, at the end of the day this will come to light at some point in the argument and it will become evident that he is not really making a good-faith religiously-neutral appeal.
Here are two related posts of mine to elaborate on this problem, and comments I made on D. G. Hart’s blog:
If Not Two Kingdoms, Two Decalogues (note Hart’s fundamental misunderstanding of natural law. He rejects WCF’s definition and instead argues that natural law is that which we can observe in ourselves and others. It may be true that the foundation of the state should be our observations of nature – but that is not the same thing as the law of creation.)
Then What Are We to Do?
This is not an easy question to answer. Appealing to natural law in opposition to Scripture is erroneous, arguing for theonomy misunderstands the Mosaic covenant, and arguing for theocracy misunderstands the kingdom of heaven. I am not certain I have arrived at an answer, but J. Gresham Machen’s words (echoed by Gordon Clark and John W. Robbins) make sense.
What then is the remedy for the threatened disruption of society and for the rapidly progressing decay of liberty?
There is really only one remedy. It is the rediscovery of the law of God.
If we want to restore respect for human laws, we shall have to get rid of this notion that judges and juries exist only for the utilitarian purpose of the protection of society, and shall have to restore the notion that they exist for the purposes of justice. They are only very imperfect exponents of justice, it is true. There are vast departments of life with which they should have nothing whatever to do. They are exceeding their God-given function when they seek to enforce inward purity or purity of the individual life, since theirs is the business only of enforcing – and that in necessarily imperfect fashion – that part of righteousness which concerns the relations between man and man. But they are instruments of righteousness all the same, and when that is not recognized, disaster follows for the state. Society will never be preserved by attaching savage penalties to trifling offences because the utilitarian interests of society demand it; it will never be preserved by the vicious practice (followed by some judges) of making ‘examples’ of people is spasmodic and unjust fashion because such examples are thought to have a salutary effect as a deterrent from future crim. No, we say, let justice never be lost from view – abstract, holy, transcendent justice – no matter what the immediate consequences may be thought to be. Only so will the ermine of the judge again be respected and the ravages of decadence be checked.
-The Christian View of Man p. 193
[Update: I just read a very helpful post over at Feeding On Christ that I highly recommend: Theonomy, Two Kingdoms, and a Middle Road)