Two Kingdoms & Separation From the World—a Defense

The essence of Anabaptism, and our most defining belief, is probably the doctrine of the two kingdoms, or the related doctrine of separation from the world. Basically all our distinctive beliefs flow from the two-kingdom concept. (Another possibility for the most defining belief is our insistence on a simple, theologically unadorned reading of the New Testament.)

In this article, I will give a defense for this doctrine. (For a more complete description of this doctrine, see instead my article on Anabaptist two-kingdom theology.)

The two-kingdom concept is this: Jesus inaugurated a heavenly kingdom on earth, which is a nation that demands our exclusive loyalties. Our job is to spread that kingdom over the whole world in preparation for Jesus’ return when he will have complete victory over the other kingdom, the kingdom/s of this world.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

First, I’ll show that the gospel that Jesus and the apostles taught is the gospel of the kingdom.

Jesus’ identity is defined by his kingship.

Jesus’ main title throughout the New Testament is “Christ,” which is the Greek word for “Messiah.” Both words mean “anointed,” and were used to signify God’s chosen king, the king of Israel, foretold to return autonomy to Israel. Furthermore, Jesus announced as King in gospels and Revelation.1Matt 2:2, 21:5 25:34, 27:11, John 1:49, 1 Tim 6:14-15, Rev 17:14, 19:16 In the New Testament, Jesus’ identity as Christ, a King, is at least as prominent as his identity as Savior. Thus, any understanding of Jesus’ message is not complete without understanding him to be King of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is the main thrust of the gospel.

The central message of the Christian gospel is the Kingdom of God, which is also called Kingdom of Heaven.2Note that Matthew tends to use “the kingdom of heaven” and Luke tends to use “the kingdom of God,” even when retelling the same teachings of Jesus. Luke probably used “the kingdom of God” because it would be more familiar with his Gentile audience. It is Jesus’ first message.3Matt 4:17 It’s constantly the subject of Jesus’ parables and teachings. It was Jesus’ subject after he died and rose.4Acts 1:3 In fact, the gospel is called the gospel of the kingdom.5Matt 4:23, 24:14, Luke 8:1

In fact, the Kingdom of God is probably the most frequent subject of the four Gospels. And note that the four Gospels are called “gospels” because they are considered to present the gospel. If the gospel we present is not based on the four Gospels, we’re on shaky ground. Their emphasis should be our emphasis.

Thus, it should be pretty clear that Jesus framed his mission in terms of the Kingdom of God. His Kingdom is at the very center of the gospel message. Soon I’ll explore what that means to the gospel.

Kingdom of God is the present reality of Christians, but it will not be present in its fulness until Jesus returns.

Many Christians believe that the Kingdom of God is not yet present, but will come when Jesus returns. However, Anabaptists believe that it is present, although not in its fulness until Jesus returns. Here’s why we believe that.

First, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he says that the Kingdom of God is “at hand,” or approaching very near.6Matt 4:17 It would be strange for him to say that if it weren’t going to come for another two thousand years or more. He taught his disciples to pray that the Kingdom of God would come,7Matt 6:10 so it certainly hadn’t fully arrived then, but he told the Pharisees that “the kingdom of God has come upon you.8Matt 12:28 So, during his ministry, the Kingdom of God was at least imminent, if not present.

Furthermore, Jesus told parables that demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is present during the church age. In Matthew 13, he says that wheat and weeds, which are good and evil people, will both be in the Kingdom until the judgment at the end of the age. He also compares the Kingdom to a net with both good and bad fish, which would be judged at the end of the age.

There are also many references in Scripture to the Kingdom as a future reality that is not yet fully present. However, these passages show that the Kingdom is present now in some sense. The next section will also show this to be the case.

Note that the Kingdom of God is not just a spiritual reality in our hearts. Scripture never confines the work of the Kingdom to our individual private lives. As this next point will show, it’s a real kingdom that rivals earthly kingdoms today.

Christians are saved by transferring their allegiance to the Kingdom of God and remain saved through obedience to King Jesus’ commands.

Paul, speaking to the Colossian church, says that God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”;9Col 1:13 ESV in other words, the citizenship of Christians has been transferred from one kingdom to another.10This is not just about Jewish Christians, since the Kingdom is mentioned in books written to Gentile Christians. Also note Col 4:11, where Paul lists “the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (ESV), suggesting that there were others working for the Kingdom rather than just Jews. Paul also tells the Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven.11Phil 3:20 And in his letter to the Ephesians, he speaks of how they followed “the prince of the power of the air” and were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” but had now been made “fellow citizens with the saints” through Christ.12Ephesians 2 ESV By being members of God’s Kingdom, we are saved from all other powers and have received a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.13Hebrews 12:28

After his resurrection, Jesus told his apostles to spread the gospel and to teach their followers to obey his commands. And these commands are necessary for us to remain saved and in the kingdom of God; for evidence of that, you can see this article on faith and works. Note that in his letters, Paul lists sins that, if we practice them, we will not inherit the Kingdom of God.141 Cor 6:9-10, Gal 5:21, Eph 5:5

Just as we remain citizens in good standing with respect to our earthly nations by obeying their laws, that’s also how we remain in our heavenly nation. The difference is that if we do break Jesus’ laws, we have only to confess our sins and repent, and he will forgive us. But if we do not repent, we will eventually be returned to the domain of Satan until we do repent.151 Cor 5:5

Separation From the World

In the first section, I showed that Jesus’ gospel is the gospel of the Kingdom of God. We are saved by becoming part of that Kingdom. In this section, I’ll show that Christians must remain separate from the world by not being involved in the workings or mindsets of nations of the world.

We call this doctrine the two-kingdom concept because the Kingdom of God is not the only kingdom that claims our allegiance. There is another nation, or nations, that make parallel demands on us—the kingdom/s of this world.

Earthly nations have rightful authority. Christians are asked to obey and pray for earthly nations, but are never expected to be patriotic.

We recognize that earthly nations have a right to exist, because God gives them that right. They are set in place over their land areas, and whatever nation is functioning as the owner of the land area we happen to be in, we respect and obey.

The New Testament is clear that we should obey the earthly nations that we find ourselves in.16Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17 We should also honor our leaders171 Peter 2:17 and pray for them.181 Tim 2:1-4 Jesus tells us that we should pay taxes.19Matt 22:21

However, nowhere are we told to give any allegiance to an earthly nation. In fact, nowhere do the apostles model any allegiance to an earthly nation. Paul took advantage of laws that were in his favor,20Acts 16:37, 21:39, 22:25 but he never hinted that he had any loyalty to the nation of which he was a citizen. He called Israelites his brothers, and longed for their salvation, but he gave his loyalty to Christ rather than to the earthly nation of Israel.

In fact, in the passages cited in the footnotes above, whenever the New Testament writers speak of nations, they always refer to them as a foreign reality. They never speak of them in the first person, like calling them “our” nation or “our” king. Nor do is any hint given that we can influence those governments and their decisions—we are told to be subject to their decisions and offer supplication for them, not to them. (Of course, there weren’t democratic societies then, so this isn’t a strong argument, but it gives some evidence against governmental allegiance and involvement.)

Also note that if we are saved through a transfer of citizenship to God’s Kingdom, our allegiance must change too. Besides, other Kingdoms or laws are what we’ve been saved from. To render them allegiance after having been brought into God’s Kingdom is highly questionable.

Finally, when obedience to God’s kingdom conflicts with obedience to earthly kingdoms, we must obey God rather than men.21Acts 5:29 This was the witness of many faithful Christians throughout the ages, when governments ordered them to go against their conscience, but who stood firm even through torture and death.

This is not just my interpretation of Scripture, but also what the pre-Nicene church taught. See the quotes below. Note that one could easily use selective quotation to make it sound that the early Christians were either anarchists or nationalists. Reading the whole of what they wrote, however, we see that they are neither—they are merely citizens of a different kingdom. They do speak of a certain level of allegiance to the Roman empire, but the reason given is not patriotism, but convenience for the sake of the Kingdom.

to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 17)

For since man, by departing from God, reached such a pitch of fury as even to look upon his brother as his enemy, and engaged without fear in every kind of restless conduct, and murder, and avarice; God imposed upon mankind the fear of man, as they did not acknowledge the fear of God, in order that, being subjected to the authority of men, and kept under restraint by their laws, they might attain to some degree of justice, and exercise mutual forbearance through dread of the sword suspended full in their view, as the apostle says: “For he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, the avenger for wrath upon him who does evil.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.24.2)

Wherefore we have no country on earth, that we may despise earthly possessions. (Clement of Alexandria, Instructor 3.8)

when his sovereignty was in a prosperous position, and when affairs were turning out according to his wish, he [Decius] oppressed those holy men who interceded with God on behalf of his peace and his welfare. And consequently, persecuting them, he persecuted also the prayers offered in his own behalf. (Dionysius, Epistle 11—to Hermammon)

Consider that every command of the emperor which does not offend God has proceeded from God Himself; and execute it in love as well as in fear, and with all cheerfulness. (Theonas, Bishop of Alexandria, to Lucianus, the Chief Chamberlain 2)

Constancy is a virtue; not that we resist those who injure us, for we must yield to these; and why this ought to be done I will show presently: but that when men command us to act in opposition to the law of God, and in opposition to justice, we should be deterred by no threats or punishments from preferring the command of God to the command of man. (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 6.17)

For who are more deserving to obtain the things they ask, than those who, like us, pray for your government, that you may, as is most equitable, receive the kingdom, son from father, and that your empire may receive increase and addition, all men becoming subject to your sway? And this is also for our advantage, that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, and may ourselves readily perform all that is commanded us. (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 37)

. . . God preparing the nations for His teaching, that they might be under one prince, the king of the Romans, and that it might not, owing to the want of union among the nations, caused by the existence of many kingdoms, be more difficult for the apostles of Jesus to accomplish the task enjoined upon them by their Master, when He said, “Go and teach all nations.” (Origen, Against Celsus 2.30)

Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or Cæsar, an emperor would wish. . . . But we merely, you say, flatter the emperor, and feign these prayers of ours to escape persecution. . . . Learn from them that a large benevolence is enjoined upon us, even so far as to supplicate God for our enemies, and to beseech blessings on our persecutors. Who, then, are greater enemies and persecutors of Christians, than the very parties with treason against whom we are charged? Nay, even in terms, and most clearly, the Scripture says, “Pray for kings, and rulers, and powers, that all may be peace with you.” For when there is disturbance in the empire, if the commotion is felt by its other members, surely we too, though we are not thought to be given to disorder, are to be found in some place or other which the calamity affects. (Tertullian, Apology 30-31)

(In reply, we need only state) a well-known fact, that we acknowledge the fealty of Romans to the emperors. No conspiracy has ever broken out from our body: no Cæsar’s blood has ever fixed a stain upon us, in the senate or even in the palace; no assumption of the purple has ever in any of the provinces been affected by us. (Tertullian, Ad Nationes 1.17)

all the powers and dignities of this world are not only alien to, but enemies of, God; that through them punishments have been determined against God’s servants; through them, too, penalties prepared for the impious are ignored. (Tertullian, On Idolatry 18)

To the emperor, therefore, we render such reverential homage as is lawful for us and good for him; regarding him as the human being next to God who from God has received all his power, and is less than God alone. And this will be according to his own desires. For thus—as less only than the true God—he is greater than all besides. (Tertullian, To Scapula 2)

But as for you, you are a foreigner in this world, a citizen of Jerusalem, the city above. Our citizenship, the apostle says, is in heaven. You have your own registers, your own calendar; you have nothing to do with the joys of the world; nay, you are called to the very opposite, for “the world shall rejoice, but ye shall mourn.” (Tertullian, The Chaplet 13)

The Kingdom of God defines our lives as an earthly nation would, and when loyalties clash, we obey God.

God’s Kingdom makes demands on us in the same way that earthly nations do. It is a counter-reality to the governments of the current age. Consider the story of when Jesus told us to pay taxes:

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Matt 22:15-21 ESV

We are told to pay Caesar, or the government, what belongs to it. Since governments issue money, that money belongs to them, and they can ask for it whenever they want it. However, Jesus also tells us to render to God what belongs to him. Just like the coin he was shown had Caesar’s image on it, we ourselves are made in the image of God. Therefore we recognize that the government has a right to our money, but God has a right to ourselves. We can’t offer ourselves to an earthly nation, because we are already the property of a heavenly nation.

Note that God’s Kingdom is a complete social unit. We have all the political elements of a nation: a King, citizens, laws, citizenship rituals, assemblies, local leaders (elders), a justice system and discipline process, which can include banishment, if necessary.22Some of this wording was gleaned from this page. All that is missing is a land area and an ethnicity, which we don’t have because we consider all the earth and all races to be our inheritance. Currently they are being proctored by nations which God has given the right to exist. However, we evangelize people out of those Kingdoms so that when Jesus returns, a new humanity can rule the earth.

We are grateful for what the government does for us, and we appreciate things like the worldly justice system, monetary system, roads, etc. We try to use them wisely. However, we don’t need them.

But if God’s Kingdom makes the demands of us that an earthly nation does, then we need to choose between them, rather than trying to accept them both. Today, the West has accepted the Anabaptist idea of separation of church and state. Before we upheld that ideal and died for it, governments in the West each had a state religion, in which their form of Christianity was mixed together with the earthly government. The Anabaptists recognized that this could not be. Even though now the West recognizes this as well, Christians still try to take part in both, mixing their loyalties in dangerous ways, as the next point will show.

These quotations from Origin lend support to this point:

Celsus also urges us to “take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.” But we recognise in each state the existence of another national organization, founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches.  Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God.  And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word.  And if those who govern in the Church, and are called rulers of the divine nation—that is, the Church—rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy.  And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God—for the salvation of men. (Origen, Against Celsus 8.75)

As there are, then, generally two laws presented to us, the one being the law of nature, of which God would be the legislator, and the other being the written law of cities, it is a proper thing, when the written law is not opposed to that of God, for the citizens not to abandon it under pretext of foreign customs; but when the law of nature, that is, the law of God, commands what is opposed to the written law, observe whether reason will not tell us to bid a long farewell to the written code, and to the desire of its legislators, and to give ourselves up to the legislator God, and to choose a life agreeable to His word, although in doing so it may be necessary to encounter dangers, and countless labours, and even death and dishonour. For when there are some laws in harmony with the will of God, which are opposed to others which are in force in cities, and when it is impracticable to please God (and those who administer laws of the kind referred to), it would be absurd to contemn those acts by means of which we may please the Creator of all things, and to select those by which we shall become displeasing to God, though we may satisfy unholy laws, and those who love them. But since it is reasonable in other matters to prefer the law of nature, which is the law of God, before the written law, which has been enacted by men in a spirit of opposition to the law of God, why should we not do this still more in the case of those laws which relate to God? (Origen, Against Celsus 5.37)

The Kingdom of God will always have different values and methods from earthly nations; thus, Christianity cannot mix with earthly politics.

Neither individual Christians nor whole churches should join up with earthly nations. Whenever this has happened, their values have nearly always been compromised. This is not surprising, because Jesus makes it clear that no one can serve two masters:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

This saying is specifically about not serving both God and money, but the general principle applies to other loyalties as well. Remember that money is tied up with the systems and kingdoms of the world.

Earthly governments try to maximize their possessions. They try to gain mastery over other nations and to increase their wealth. But Jesus warns us against wealth, and instead tells us to give to others rather than to build up treasures on earth.

Other passages also encourage us not to be like the world. Paul tells us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers; to come out from among them and be separate.232 Cor 6:14-18 Jesus says that, though we are in the world, we are not of the world.24John 15:19, 17:6-18

Jesus said that if his kingdom were of the world, his servants would fight.25John 18:36 Instead, his Kingdom is from heaven, and our values differ from those of earthly nations. While they protect their interests through violence and coercion, we show love even to those who would like to kill us. When Peter tried to defend Jesus’ life, Jesus told him to put it away, and he even healed the person Peter injured.

The two Kingdoms are radically different. Earthly kingdoms win through violence. Jesus’ Kingdom wins through love. We cannot mix them. On this point, several noted early Christian writers concur:

Moreover, we are to despise ingratiating ourselves with kings or any other men, not only if their favour is to be won by murders, licentiousness, or deeds of cruelty, but even if it involves impiety towards God, or any servile expressions of flattery and obsequiousness, which things are unworthy of brave and high-principled men, who aim at joining with their other virtues that highest of virtues, patience and fortitude. (Origen, Against Celsus 8.65)

For when He [God] might have bestowed upon His people both riches and kingdoms, as He had before given them to the Jews, whose successors and posterity we are; on this account He would have them live under the power and government of others, lest, being corrupted by the happiness of prosperity, they should glide into luxury and despise the precepts of God; as those ancestors of ours, who, ofttimes enervated by these earthly and frail goods, departed from discipline and burst the bonds of the law. Therefore He foresaw how far He would afford rest to His worshippers if they should keep His commandments, and yet correct them if they did not obey His precepts. Therefore, lest they should be as much corrupted by ease as their fathers had been by indulgence, it was His will that they should be oppressed by those in whose power He placed them, that He may both confirm them when wavering, and renew them to fortitude when corrupted, and try and prove them when faithful. For how can a general prove the valour of his soldiers, unless he shall have an enemy? And yet there arises an adversary to him against his will, because he is mortal, and is able to be conquered; but because God cannot be opposed, He Himself stirs up adversaries to His name, not to fight against God Himself, but against His soldiers, that He may either prove the devotedness and fidelity of His servants, or may strengthen them, until He corrects their wasting discipline by the stripes of affliction. (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.23)

[Lucilius, Pagan:] “Moreover, to reckon the interests of our country as in the first place.” [Lactantius:] When the agreement of men is taken away, virtue has no existence at all; for what are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation?—that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues,—all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence. . . . For how can a man be just who injures, who hates, who despoils, who puts to death? And they who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things: for they are ignorant of what this being serviceable is, who think nothing useful, nothing advantageous, but that which can be held by the hand; and this alone cannot be held, because it may be snatched away. (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6.6)

For it is impossible for him who has surrounded himself with royal pomp, or loaded himself with riches, either to enter upon or to persevere in these difficulties [the heavenly way]. (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6.4)

Yes, and the Cæsars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Cæsars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Cæsars. (Tertullian, Apology 21)

But as those in whom all ardour in the pursuit of glory and honour is dead, we have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings; nor is there aught more entirely foreign to us than affairs of state. We acknowledge one all-embracing commonwealth—the world. We renounce all your spectacles, as strongly as we renounce the matters originating them, which we know were conceived of superstition, when we give up the very things which are the basis of their representations.  Among us nothing is ever said, or seen, or heard, which has anything in common with the madness of the circus, the immodesty of the theatre, the atrocities of the arena, the useless exercises of the wrestling-ground. Why do you take offence at us because we differ from you in regard to your pleasures?  If we will not partake of your enjoyments, the loss is ours, if there be loss in the case, not yours. We reject what pleases you. You, on the other hand, have no taste for what is our delight. (Tertullian, Apology 38)

Hence arose, very lately, a dispute whether a servant of God should take the administration of any dignity or power, if he be able, whether by some special grace, or by adroitness, to keep himself intact from every species of idolatry; after the example that both Joseph and Daniel, clean from idolatry, administered both dignity and power in the livery and purple of the prefecture of entire Egypt or Babylonia. And so let us grant that it is possible for any one to succeed in moving, in whatsoever office, under the mere name of the office, neither sacrificing nor lending his authority to sacrifices; not farming out victims; not assigning to others the care of temples; not looking after their tributes; not giving spectacles at his own or the public charge, or presiding over the giving them; making proclamation or edict for no solemnity; not even taking oaths: moreover (what comes under the head of power), neither sitting in judgment on any one’s life or character, for you might bear with his judging about money; neither condemning nor fore-condemning; binding no one, imprisoning or torturing no one—if it is credible that all this is possible. (Tertullian, On Idolatry 17)

Hippias is put to death laying plots against the state: no Christian ever attempted such a thing in behalf of his brethren, even when persecution was scattering them abroad with every atrocity.  But it will be said that some of us, too, depart from the rules of our discipline. In that case, however, we count them no longer Christians (Tertullian, Apology 46)

There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters—God and Cæsar. And yet Moses carried a rod, and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? (Tertullian, On Idolatry 19)

Objections

This section deals with some objections:

  • The Old Testament saints took part in their earthly government, and some, like Daniel, took part in a foreign government. But that was the Old Testament, which was never intended as an example of God’s perfect will. We are under the New Testament, which supersedes it.
  • We can do a lot of good by taking part in earthly government and working toward justice. We can also do a lot of good by joining gangs and working toward justice, but should we do that? I’m sorry, but the values of the Kingdom of God are antithetical to those of the world. It may be possible to keep your hands clean while being part of an earthly government, but most likely we will be compromised in large or small ways. We can do much more good by doing justice by the warfare of the Kingdom: love, prayer, and compassion.
  • Why stick to pre-Nicene quotes? Because we have good reason to believe that changes happened to the faith following the council of Nicaea.

Early Christian Quotes That Challenge My Position

Here are all the quotations from the pre-Nicene Christians that I know of so far which seem to challenge the position I’ve espoused. These are all quotations that make it sound like it is possible to hold public office while being a Christian:

  • Clement says that states can be managed by holy men.
  • Cyprian cites a decree that makes it sound like there were Christian senators and knights.
  • Origen says that Christ restored government and taught rulers to rule well.
  • Melito seems to believe that a king could be obedient to God.

For governments are directed not by corporeal qualities, but by judgments of the mind. For by the counsels of holy men states are managed well, and the household also. (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 2.19 ANF)

But the truth concerning them is as follows, that Valerian had sent a rescript to the Senate, to the effect that bishops and presbyters and deacons should immediately be punished; but that senators, and men of importance, and Roman knights, should lose their dignity, and moreover be deprived of their property; and if, when their means were taken away, they should persist in being Christians, then they should also lose their heads; but that matrons should be deprived of their property, and sent into banishment.  Moreover, people of Cæsar’s household, whoever of them had either confessed before, or should now confess, should have their property confiscated, and should be sent in chains by assignment to Cæsar’s estates. (Cyprian, Epistle 81—to Successus)

He restored also the laws of rule and government which had been corrupted, by subduing all enemies under His feet, that by this means (for it was necessary that He should reign until He had put all enemies under His feet, and destroyed the last enemy—death) He might teach rulers themselves moderation in their government. (Origen, De Principiis 3.5.6)

Perhaps one who is a king may say: I cannot behave myself aright, because I am a king; it becomes me to do the will of the many. He who speaks thus really deserves to be laughed at: for why should not the king himself lead the way to all good things, and persuade the people under his rule to behave with purity, and to know God in truth, and in his own person set before them the patterns of all things excellent—since thus it becomes him to do? For it is a shameful thing that a king, however badly he may conduct himself, should yet judge and condemn those who do amiss. “My opinion is this: that in ‘this’ way a kingdom may be governed in peace—when the sovereign is acquainted with the God of truth, and is withheld by fear of Him from doing wrong to those who are his subjects, and judges everything with equity, as one who knows that he himself also will be judged before God; while, at the same time, those who are under his rule are withheld by the fear of God from doing wrong to their sovereign, and are restrained by the same fear from doing wrong to one another. By this knowledge of God and fear of Him all evil may be removed from the realm. For, if the sovereign abstain from doing wrong to those who are under his rule, and they abstain from doing wrong to him and to each other, it is evident that the whole country will dwell in peace. Many blessings, too, will be enjoyed there, because amongst them all the name of God will be glorified. For what blessing is greater than this, that a sovereign should deliver the people that are under his rule from error, and by this good deed render himself pleasing to God? For from error arise all those evils from which kingdoms suffer; but the greatest of all errors is this:  when a man is ignorant of God, and in God’s stead worships that which is not God. (Melito, Discourse to Antoninus Caesar)

I don’t think that these quotations throw a wrench in my argument, for several reasons:

  • The argument doesn’t depend on Christians never being able to serve in a public office, so these quotations don’t provide evidence against my position; they merely complicate it.
  • It is never said that a Christian can take part in such things as war, executions, or other activities we know to be against Christ’s Kingdom. However, one might reasonably reply, “How could one be a king in a meaningful sense without taking part in such?” (c.f. Melito). To that, I reply that Melito seems to be talking about an idealistic possibility, and if so, he could easily have imagined a nonresistant king.
  • These are just a few quotations against quite a few others. For Clement and Origen, we know that they made statements that very much fit my view.
  • The witness of Scripture seems fairly clear and conclusive, even without consideration of the post-apostolic Christians.

Thus, even with a few pieces of evidence that complicate the Two Kingdom view, it still seems to fit the biblical evidence perfectly and to fit the post-apostolic evidence quite well. Unless there’s another view that fits the biblical and post-apostolic evidence, we should espouse the Two Kingdom view. If you know of a view that explains the full range of the data better than this one, be sure to let me know in the comments.

Conclusion—The Church Changed in the 300s

I think that the witness of Scripture and the early church is clear: Jesus inaugurated a heavenly kingdom on earth, which is a nation that demands our exclusive loyalties. Our job is to spread that kingdom over the whole world in preparation for Jesus’ return when he will have complete victory over the other kingdom, the kingdom/s of this world. From Scripture and from the early church, it isn’t perfectly clear that we can’t associate with earthly governments at all, but it is heavily indicated.

However, starting in the time of Constantine, when the Roman Empire befriended Constantine, the church began to grow inextricably tied to the Roman Empire. In fact, some of the biggest schisms in the post-Nicene church seem to have happened along political fault lines. Thus, the church changed in the 300s. One of the central aspects of the gospel became subservient to political convenience.

As time passed, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as many Protestant churches and movements, strayed even farther from the historic faith. They have set up state churches which are antithetical to the values of the Kingdom of God. Even today, when they are no longer state churches in the West, many of them are heavily involved in earthly politics, when they should be living out their separateness as part of the Kingdom of God.

  • 1
    Matt 2:2, 21:5 25:34, 27:11, John 1:49, 1 Tim 6:14-15, Rev 17:14, 19:16
  • 2
    Note that Matthew tends to use “the kingdom of heaven” and Luke tends to use “the kingdom of God,” even when retelling the same teachings of Jesus. Luke probably used “the kingdom of God” because it would be more familiar with his Gentile audience.
  • 3
    Matt 4:17
  • 4
    Acts 1:3
  • 5
    Matt 4:23, 24:14, Luke 8:1
  • 6
    Matt 4:17
  • 7
    Matt 6:10
  • 8
    Matt 12:28
  • 9
    Col 1:13 ESV
  • 10
    This is not just about Jewish Christians, since the Kingdom is mentioned in books written to Gentile Christians. Also note Col 4:11, where Paul lists “the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (ESV), suggesting that there were others working for the Kingdom rather than just Jews.
  • 11
    Phil 3:20
  • 12
    Ephesians 2 ESV
  • 13
    Hebrews 12:28
  • 14
    1 Cor 6:9-10, Gal 5:21, Eph 5:5
  • 15
    1 Cor 5:5
  • 16
    Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17
  • 17
    1 Peter 2:17
  • 18
    1 Tim 2:1-4
  • 19
    Matt 22:21
  • 20
    Acts 16:37, 21:39, 22:25
  • 21
    Acts 5:29
  • 22
    Some of this wording was gleaned from this page.
  • 23
    2 Cor 6:14-18
  • 24
    John 15:19, 17:6-18
  • 25
    John 18:36

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