Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Biblical Defense of the Two Kingdoms: Part Two - Exile

We have seen that, throughout redemptive history, God's people find themselves in one of two situations: theocracy or exile.

A "theocracy" exists when God's dominion is coupled with a domain, his rule with a realm. In other words, for a theocracy to exist, God's people must have a land to call their own (such as the land of Canaan). In a theocracy, there are not two distinct kingdoms, but one. All of life is holy.

But what about the other condition, exile?

Exile is radically different from theocracy. When the people of God are without a homeland, they find themselves co-existing in two kingdoms, with a divine distinction being made between cult and culture, the holy and the common, and the sacred and the secular.

To demonstrate this, let's consider Abraham.

In the Abrahamic covenant, the patriarch was chosen from among the sinful members of the human race and made the father of a distinct people (Gen. 17:1-14). But it is the nature of Abraham’s distinctiveness that is important for our discussion. Abraham’s distinctiveness, as I will demonstrate, was not cultural but cultic. In other words, the covenant that God made with him contained no instructions governing his activity in the common grace realm, but he was to continue to participate in culture as he had done before—he conducted business transactions (Gen. 23:16), settled land and property disputes (Gen. 21:22ff; 26:26ff), engaged in warfare (Gen. 14:14), and showed appropriate deference to earthly kings (Gen. 20:17).

Exactly unlike Israel in Canaan, the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and their descendents were called to coexist peacefully in the land that God had promised them, waiting in hope and journeying in faith until Yahweh would drive out the Canaanites forever (Heb. 11:8-22).

The situation of the patriarchs before the giving of the law, therefore, can be characterized as pilgrim politics which highlighted their status, not as a triumphant theocratic army, but as “resident aliens” and “tolerated sojourners” whose inheritance was not yet a reality.

Moreover, it was specifically in the cultic and religious sphere that Abraham’s particularity was displayed. This is seen most strikingly in the fact that the sacrament of the Abrahamic covenant—circumcision—was a bloody rite foreshadowing the sacrificial redemptive work of his true Seed (Gen. 17:9-14; Rom. 2:28-29; Col. 2:11). As OT scholar Meredith Kline has written, “Tolerated pilgrims, not triumphant possessors—such is the life of the nontheocratic community of faith, waiting while the kingdom is withheld.”

The patriarchal community, therefore, was culturally common but religiously distinct.

And such is the case with us today. As we await the true, heavenly theocracy our calling is to lead peaceful, quiet, and Christlike lives (I Tim. 2:2). We dare not take up the sword in the name of Christ, we do not wage our warfare in the voting booth, and we must not attempt to usher in the eschatological kingdom by cultural, secular, common grace means (II Cor. 10:4).

More to come....

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Biblical Defense of the Two Kingdoms: Part One - Theocracy

The doctrine of the two kingdoms has been defined, but now it must be biblically defended. Our next few posts will be an attempt to do this.

Crucial in this connection is the fact that, throughout redemptive history, God's people find themselves in one of two conditions, generally speaking. The one is theocracy, and the other is exile.

A “theocracy,” as its name suggests, has to do with the rule of God over a people. But there is more to a theocracy than the bare fact that God is exercising control over his children (which is always the case). A true theocracy exists when God’s dominion is coupled with a domain, when his rule is connected to a realm—an actual piece of real estate within the borders of which God rules his people in a special and unique way.

Though other examples exist, Israel’s situation in the Promised Land is perhaps the most obvious example of a theocracy in the Bible: God had given the land of Canaan to his people and charged them with the task of subduing and exercising dominion over his enemies.

Moreover, when God's people are in a theocratic situation, all of life is holy. There is no distinction between the religious and the everyday, the cultic and the cultural, or the sacred and the secular. It was for this reason that when Israel was in the land of Canaan, their uniqueness and peculiarity extended to both the "religious" and the "non-religious" realms. They were forbidden from marrying foreigners (Ezra 9:1ff), from entering into covenants with other nations (Ex. 23:20-33; cf. Josh. 9:1-15), and even from sharing the diets of the surrounding pagan peoples (Dan. 1:8-16).

In a word, when God's people are in a theocratic context enjoying a God-given land, their uniqueness extends to all areas of life, both civil and spiritual. Or to put it more simply, in a theocracy there are not two kingdoms, but one.

The question arises, then, "What about us? Are we in a theocracy?" Though we often act as though we are, the answer to this question is no. The Church in this present age is in exile.

More on this in my next post....

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Two Kingdoms: A Definition

What is the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms?

A succinct statement would go something like this: While God is the sovereign Ruler over all of creation, his Lordship is exercised in two distinct kingdoms, the one civil and earthly, and the other spiritual and heavenly.

This distinction has been stated in various ways. Calvin spoke in terms of the "civil" and "spiritual" kingdoms. Luther referred to the former as "the kingdom of God's left hand," and to the latter as "the kingdom of God's right hand." OT scholar Meredith Kline has described the earthly, civil kingdom as creational, secular, cultural, and profane, while to the spiritual, heavenly kingdom belong the categories of redemptive, sacred, cultic, and holy.

Christians today find themselves in the often awkward position of having dual citizenship, belonging to the temporal kingdom of this present age, and to the eschatological kingdom of the age to come. This tension is seen all over the New Testament, and it effects our lives in a myriad of practical and unexpected ways.

This is the subject of this blog. So stay tuned....