Archive Civic Polity Ecclesiastical Polity Peter Escalante Steven Wedgeworth The Two Kingdoms

John Calvin and the Two Kingdoms, Part 2

This is a continuation of our previous essay.

Now we move to our own consideration of John Calvin.  We will first treat his theoretical principles and then examine his particular application of those principles, noting his unique political application, but also showing the way in which it does not break from the more basic principles (and those shared by the other Reformers).  We will show, in order, how Calvin defined the spiritual kingdom, how Calvin defined the Church, what Calvin believed about Christ’s restoring Adamic dominion- and therefore what he believed about the restored humanity and ultimately the civil magistrate-, as well as then Calvin’s views on the distinction between the ministry and the magistracy.  We will show that this is not simply a two kingdoms distinction, but rather a building upon that distinction and further articulation of the appropriate jurisdictions within the temporal kingdom as well.

Calvin on the Spiritual Kingdom

Let us now demonstrate what it is that Calvin means by “the spiritual kingdom.”  He gives a lengthy definition of the spiritual kingdom in the third book of his Institutes (emphasis added):

Therefore, lest this prove a stumbling-block to any, let us observe that in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bold to performs (see Book 4, chap. 10, sec. 3–6). To these two forms are commonly given the not inappropriate names of spiritual and temporal jurisdiction, intimating that the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely honorably, and modestly. The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct. We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom. Now, these two, as we have divided them, are always to be viewed apart from each other. When the one is considered, we should call off our minds, and not allow them to think of the other. For there exists in man a kind of two worlds, over which different kings and different laws can preside. By attending to this distinction, we will not erroneously transfer the doctrine of the gospel concerning spiritual liberty to civil order, as if in regard to external government Christians were less subject to human laws, because their consciences are unbound before God, as if they were exempted from all carnal service, because in regard to the Spirit they are free. Again because even in those constitutions which seem to relate to the spiritual kingdom, there may be some delusion, it is necessary to distinguish between those which are to be held legitimate as being agreeable to the Word of God, and those, on the other hand, which ought to have no place among the pious. We shall elsewhere have an opportunity of speaking of civil government (see Book 4, chap. 20). For the present, also, I defer speaking of ecclesiastical laws, because that subject will be more fully discussed in the Fourth Book when we come to treat of the Power of the Church. We would thus conclude the present discussion. The question, as I have said, though not very obscure, or perplexing in itself, occasions difficulty to many, because they do not distinguish with sufficient accuracy between what is called the external forum, and the forum of conscience. For it stands as it were between God and man, not suffering man to suppress what he knows in himself; but following him on even to conviction. It is this that Paul means when he says, “Their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing one another,” (Rom. 2:15). Simple knowledge may exist in man, as it were shut up; therefore this sense, which sits man before the bar of God, is set over him as a kind of sentinel to observe and spy out all his secrets, that nothing may remain buried in darkness. Hence the ancient proverb, Conscience is a thousand witnesses. For the same reason Peter also employs the expression, “the answer of a good conscience,” (1 Pet. 3:21), for tranquillity of mind; when persuaded of the grace of Christ, we boldly present ourselves before God. And the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, that we have “no more conscience of sins,” (Heb. 10:2), that we are held as freed or acquitted, so that sin no longer accuses us.[1]

Wherefore, as works have respect to men, so conscience bears reference to God, a good conscience being nothing else than inward integrity of heart. In this sense Paul says that “the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good consciences and of faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5). He afterwards, in the same chapter, shows how much it differs from intellect when he speaks of “holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away, have made shipwreck,” (1 Tim. 1:19). For by these words he intimates, that it is a lively inclination to serve God, a sincere desire to live in piety and holiness. Sometimes, indeed, it is even extended to men, as when Paul testifies, “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men,” (Acts 24:16). He speaks thus, because the fruits of a good conscience go forth and reach even to men. But, as I have said, properly speaking, it refers to God only. Hence a law is said to bind the conscience, because it simply binds the individual, without looking at men, or taking any account of them … We see how the law, while binding the external act, leaves the conscience unbound.[2]

In his Commentaries, Calvin also says that the spiritual kingdom is “nothing else than the inward and spiritual renewal of the soul.”[3]  In another place he says that this kingdom “has its seat in our hearts.”[4]  Again, we see the key terms: conscience, internal, soul, hearts.

Yet there is still one other place where Calvin makes himself perfectly clear, contrasting the spiritual kingdom of Christ even against “ecclesiastical polity.”  This is found in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:3.

There is somewhat more of difficulty in what follows. Here the man is placed in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman, so that Christ is not the head of the woman. Yet the same Apostle teaches us elsewhere, (Galatians 3:28,) that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Why then does he make a distinction here, which in that passage he does away with? I answer, that the solution of this depends on the connection in which the passages occur. When he says that there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, in which individual distinctions are not regarded, or made any account of; for it has nothing to do with the body, and has nothing to do with the outward relationships of mankind, but has to do solely with the mind — on which account he declares that there is no difference, even between bond and free. In the meantime, however, he does not disturb civil order or honorary distinctions, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here, on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum — which is a part of ecclesiastical polity. Hence, as regards spiritual connection in the sight of God, and inwardly in the conscience, Christ is the head of the man and of the woman without any distinction, because, as to that, there is no regard paid to male or female; but as regards external arrangement and political decorum, the man follows Christ and the woman the man, so that they are not upon the same footing, but, on the contrary, this inequality exists.[5]

So we’ve seen that Calvin contrasts the two kingdoms along lines of internal and external.  The spiritual kingdom is the forum of the conscience, the mind, and the soul, while the temporal kingdom is the forum of the body, external arrangements, politics, and even ecclesiastical polity.  This is so true, that Calvin can say that “individual distinctions,” even those between the sexes, “are not regarded” in Christ’s spiritual kingdom- and yet they are very much regarded in the visible church.

Calvin’s definition of “the Church”

We will now look more closely at Calvin’s definition of the Church.  Given all of the various statements from Calvin on the spiritual kingdom being identified with the Church, we need to be clear about what Calvin means by the term.  We have used the language of invisible and visible, but Calvin is more nuanced than this (as we admitted at the very beginning).  There are not two churches, but one, considered in two ways, with the essence of the invisible church ultimately being the “true church.”  We’ve provided several scholars who have already testified that Calvin’s “supreme” meaning in regards to the Church is the invisible Church.  Let us see if we can further establish this.

Calvin states, “to God alone must be left the knowledge of his Church, of which his secret election forms the foundation.“[6]  Later he adds:

I have observed that the Scriptures speak of the Church in two ways. Sometimes when they speak of the Church they mean the Church as it really is before God—the Church into which none are admitted but those who by the gift of adoption are sons of God, and by the sanctification of the Spirit true members of Christ. In this case it not only comprehends the saints who dwell on the earth, but all the elect who have existed from the beginning of the world. Often, too, by the name of Church is designated the whole body of mankind scattered throughout the world, who profess to worship one God and Christ, who by baptism are initiated into the faith; by partaking of the Lord’s Supper profess unity in true doctrine and charity, agree in holding the word of the Lord, and observe the ministry which Christ has appointed for the preaching of it. In this Church there is a very large mixture of hypocrites, who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance: of ambitious, avaricious, envious, evil-speaking men, some also of impurer lives, who are tolerated for a time, either because their guilt cannot be legally established, or because due strictness of discipline is not always observed. Hence, as it is necessary to believe the invisible Church, which is manifest to the eye of God only, so we are also enjoined to regard this Church which is so called with reference to man, and to cultivate its communion.[7]

Note the use of “as it really is” and “before God” and “invisible.”  Also, it must be pointed out that the visible church contains those who “have nothing of Christ,” not even, we might add, a favorable place in his kingdom.

We can also see this understanding of the primacy of the invisible church playing out in the Catechism of the Church of Geneva- “M. What is the Church?  S. The body and society of believers whom God hath predestined to eternal life.”[8]  It later says that there is “also a visible Church of God… but here we are properly speaking of the assemblage of those whom he has adopted to salvation by his secret election.”[9]  When Calvin is “properly speaking” of the Church, he means the invisible Church.

Calvin can speak of the liturgical and expository-predicatory ministry as spiritual because it is the realm of the signification of the spiritual. We need not consider the Reformed doctrine of the sacraments in detail here, since we are confident that our readership is already quite familiar with it. What is important to note is that the Reformed only allow a relation of signification between temporal and spiritual, and that where this relation is covenantally established, one may use rhetorical language. We say that baptism cleanses, whereas strictly speaking it is the sign of inner cleansing in the Reformed consensus; we say the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, but we mean that they signify their benefits and our union with Him and each other in Him. Likewise, Calvin’s use of “spiritual” for ecclesiastical polity does not at all suggest a genuine fusion of the visible congregation as organized with the mystical body, which alone is really spiritual for Calvin.

Calvin on Christ’s kingship, Adamic dominion, and the civil magistrate

Andre Bieler, who by all accounts deserves the title of Calvin scholar, cites Calvin’s commentaries on Ephesians to show that Christ’s kingship is of universal extent:

As the right hand side of  God fills heaven and earth, it follows that the kingdom and power of Christ are equally extensive … There is nothing so elevated or excellent, by whatever name it may be named, that is not subject to the majesty of Christ. The word everlasting is explicitly used to point out that the exalted rank of Christ is not temporal, but eternal; and that is not limited to this world, but flowers also in the kingdom of God. For this reason, too, Isaiah calls him “everlasting Father.”

Note that Calvin’s distinction of Christ’s kingdom from temporality is a denial that it is transitory, not a denial that it extends over society. As Bieler goes on to say, “This Lordship extends not only over the elements of nature, but also over the whole of human society”, and “Christ’s work of redemption is thus carried out equally and individually on nature and society. The Lord controls both the history of the universe and human history.”[10]

Ronald Wallace, to whom the title of Calvin scholar also cannot be denied, says:

The true order in man’s relationship to the world has been restored in Jesus Christ. To his Son Jesus God has given the possession of the earth in fulfilment of the promise of the eighth Psalm, which describes the original plan of creation and the true status of man in this universe. Through being ingrafted into Christ and readmitted into the family of God in this world and thus to our right to share in the goodness of this creation. “God….by ingrafting us into His Son, constitutes us anew to be lords of the world, that we may lawfully use as our own all the wealth with which He supplies us.”[11]

And Bieler[12] cites exactly the same locus in Calvin, to exactly the same effect: man’s Adamic dominion has been in principle restored in Christ.

So Christ’s kingship is of universal extent, immediate in the spiritual realm, and in the temporal realm mediated by believers whose Adamic dominion has been restored in Him in order to serve- and their temporal representative is the magistrate, whose kingship therefore necessarily participates Christ’s.

Now let’s take a look at some of Calvin’s statements about the magistrate’s role in relation to religion.

Calvin admits that some readers might think he’s contradicting his earlier strong statements about the Church’s spiritual nature.  However, this is not the case, given Calvin’s view of human society and order:

Let no one be surprised that I now attribute the task of constituting religion aright to human polity, though I seem above to have placed it beyond the will of man, since I no more than formerly allow men at pleasure to enact laws concerning religion and the worship of God, when I approve of civil order which is directed to this end—viz. to prevent the true religion, which is contained in the law of God, from being with impunity openly violated and polluted by public blasphemy. But the reader, by the help of a perspicuous arrangement, will better understand what view is to be taken of the whole order of civil government, if we treat of each of its parts separately.[13]

More intriguingly, Calvin cites the same scripture that he did for ecclesiastical office in favor of civil office, and he even says that the two are logically related:

This Paul also plainly teaches when he enumerates offices of rule among the gifts of God, which, distributed variously, according to the measure of grace, ought to be employed by the servants of Christ for the edification of the Church (Rom. 12:8). In that place, however, he is properly speaking of the senate of grave men who were appointed in the primitive Church to take charge of public discipline. This office, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, he calls κυβερνήσεις, governments (1Cor. 12:28). Still, as we see that civil power has the same end in view, there can be no doubt that he is recommending every kind of just government…[14]

Note especially that Calvin says civil government is “recommended” by 1 Cor. 12:18 and that it has the “same end” as ecclesiastical government.  This “same end” also allows Calvin to say that civil rulers are “ministers of God,” and “the most sacred, and by far the most honourable, of all stations in mortal life.”[15] Additionally he says, “they are the vicegerents of God… a kind of image of the Divine Providence, guardianship, goodness, benevolence, and justice,” and also, “that they are not engaged in profane occupations, unbefitting a servant of God, but in a most sacred office, inasmuch as they are the ambassadors of God.”[16]  The civil magistrate is not a profane occupation, but rather a “most sacred office.”

Even being a sacred office and ministry, commanded by the Scriptures, magistracy can still also be established in its particulars by prudence.  Calvin has no problem allowing for diversity of form, judging the specifics of a polity to be dictated by circumstance and its advantages determined by utility.[17]  Paralleling what he says about ecclesiastical polity,[18] as we will argue in more detail below, Calvin affirms that the essence of civil government is commanded by the Word of God, but that its form may be left up to circumstance.

Calvin also believes that the magistrate must support the true church.  Rejecting the polity of the time of the Judges, Calvin says:

This rebukes the folly of those who would neglect the care of divine things, and devote themselves merely to the administration of justice among men; as if God had appointed rulers in his own name to decide earthly controversies, and omitted what was of far greater moment, his own pure worship as prescribed by his law.[19]

Calvin says that any view which says the magistrate is only concerned with “justice among men” and “earthly controversies” is folly.  Rather, the magistrate must also care for “pure worship as prescribed by [God’s] law.”  In addition to ordinary political titles, such as “father of his country,” “the guardian of peace,” “the president of justice” and “the vindicator of innocence,” Calvin goes so far as to call the magistrate “the pastor of the people.”[20]

Explaining how this can be consistent with the spiritual kingdom’s otherwordly nature, Calvin explains, “this does not hinder princes from accidentally defending the kingdom of Christ; partly, by appointing external discipline, and partly, by lending their protection to the Church against wicked men.”[21]  This is “accidental,” because it is not of the essence of the kingdom of Christ, but in this world, godly princes will still appoint external discipline and protect the Church.

Now it remains to examine the trickier question of the distinctive jurisdictions between the ministry of the church and the civil magistracy.  Here we will note the principles by which the distinction is made, as well as Calvin’s own particular view of the keys of the kingdom, as well as how those are applied in society.  We will then conclude this section with an examination of Calvin’s view of lay-eldership, the principal place where he differs from Richard Hooker.

The Ministry and the Magistracy

We do have to deal with what Calvin says about ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the keys of the kingdom, and church discipline.  Mr. Tuininga has offered up several quotes on these topics in an effort to prove that Calvin understands the visible institutional church to be a primary part of the spiritual kingdom of Christ.  To his evidence, we will add other statements made by Calvin on the keys and church discipline.  We will show that, even the passages of highest ecclesiology in Calvin still always reduce to the Word and the Spirit, pointing not to visible polity, but rather the persuasive role of testifying to the Word and the sacramental office.  This is very different from political mediation, even mediation through an ecclesiastical polity.

The Power of the Word

When Calvin refers to the power of ministers, he is always, even if circuitously, referring to the power of the Word, particularly the sacramental character of the preached word and the presentation of the Gospel, applied by the Holy Spirit.[22]

Calvin proclaims “that ministers and teachers penetrate to the mind and heart,”[23] and thus to the spiritual kingdom.  But how do they do this?  That is the key question.  It is not by external or political mediation, but rather by  “Word” and effectual persuasion of the heart through the power of the Spirit:

The arguments on both sides will be disposed of without trouble, by distinctly attending to the passages in which God, the author of preaching, connects his Spirit with it, and then promises a beneficial result; or, on the other hand, to the passages in which God, separating himself from external means, claims for himself alone both the commencement and the whole course of faith.

Hence Paul glories, that by means of the Gospel he had begotten the Corinthians, who were the seals of his apostleship (1 Cor. 4:15); moreover, that his was not a ministry of the letter, which only sounded in the ear, but that the effectual agency of the Spirit was given to him, in order that his doctrine might not be in vain (1 Cor. 9:2; 2 Cor. 3:6).[24]

Calvin explains that while God uses the ministers for teaching, the power and efficacy actually comes from God alone:

And it is indeed necessary to keep these sentences in view, since God, in ascribing to himself the illumination of the mind and renewal of the heart, reminds us that it is sacrilege for man to claim any part of either to himself. Still every one who listens with docility to the ministers whom God appoints, will know by the beneficial result, that for good reason God is pleased with this method of teaching, and for good reason has laid believers under this modest yoke.[25]

It is important to see the manner in which the ministry is spiritual, in its testimonial-relationship to the Word of God.  This is why, for Calvin, as soon as the ministers stray from the Word, they cease to be spiritual, and, as we will show, how important parts of ecclesiastical administration and polity are themselves not properly spiritual, but temporal and considered as adiaphora.  This fundamental assumption about the power of the Church has to be kept in mind when reading Calvin’s later remarks.

The Inviolable Conscience

We must also pay close attention Calvin’s understanding of the conscience.  Conscience is at the heart of Calvin’s understanding of the spiritual realm, and he defines it this way:

The definition must be derived from the etymology of the term. As when men, with the mind and intellect, apprehend the knowledge of things, they are thereby said to know, and hence the name of science or knowledge is used; so, when they have, in addition to this, a sense of the divine judgement, as a witness not permitting them to hide their sins, but bringing them as criminals before the tribunal of the judge that sense is called conscience. For it occupies a kind of middle place between God and man, not suffering man to suppress what he knows in himself, but following him out until it bring him to conviction.[26]

This conscience stands only in relation to God,[27] and it is not bound by human laws.[28]  But Calvin does not take this in a theonomic turn, demanding that human life be normed then by detailed divine positive law.  Rather, following something of a “regulative principle,” he distinguishes between the aspects of church power which are properly spiritual, and thus governed wholly by the Word in an inward manner, and those aspects which are temporal, and thus continuous with all human government, and must be submitted to, not spiritually and on the level of conscience, but out of respect for common order and authority:

Let us now return to human laws. If they are imposed for the purpose of forming a religious obligation, as if the observance of them was in itself necessary, we say that the restraint thus laid on the conscience is unlawful. Our consciences have not to do with men but with God only. Hence the common distinction between the earthly forum and the forum of conscience. When the whole world was enveloped in the thickest darkness of ignorance, it was still held like a small ray of light which remained unextinguished, that conscience was superior to all human judgements. Although this, which was acknowledged in word, was afterwards violated in fact, yet God was pleased that there should even then exist an attestation to liberty, exempting the conscience from the tyranny of man.[29]

Calvin here uses the distinction between the “earthly forum and the forum of conscience,” the same distinction he earlier tied to the two kingdoms.[30]  In both sections of Calvin’s Institutes his focus is on the freedom of the conscience.  Yet Calvin also believes in the legitimacy of human laws, even human laws in the church:

Another thing also worthy of observation, and depending on what has been already said, is, that human laws, whether enacted by magistrates or by the Church, are necessary to be observed, (I speak of such as are just and good,) but do not therefore in themselves bind the conscience, because the whole necessity of observing them respects the general end, and consists not in the things commanded. Very different, however, is the case of those which prescribe a new form of worshipping God, and introduce necessity into things that are free.[31]

Here Calvin is clearly affirming the visible church’s right to make human laws and the necessity of the people to submit to them.  The qualification is that these not be made an issue of conscience.  He adds that they also may not be said to be necessary for the true worship of God.[32]

Included in this sort of appropriate adiaphora is church polity.  We’ve already cited Calvin to this effect in his commentary on 1 Cor. 11:3,[33] but we can also add a statement from the Institutes:

First, then, let us understand that if in every human society some kind of government is necessary to insure the common peace and maintain concord, if in transacting business some form must always be observed, which public decency, and hence humanity itself, require us not to disregard, this ought especially to be observed in churches, which are best sustained by a constitution in all respects well ordered, and without which concord can have no existence. Wherefore, if we would provide for the safety of the Church, we must always carefully attend to Paul’s injunction, that all things be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). But seeing there is such diversity in the manners of men, such variety in their minds, such repugnance in their judgments and dispositions, no policy is sufficiently firm unless fortified by certain laws, nor can any rite be observed without a fixed form. So far, therefore, are we from condemning the laws which conduce to this, that we hold that the removal of them would unnerve the Church, deface and dissipate it entirely. For Paul’s injunction, that all things be done decently and in order, cannot be observed unless order and decency be secured by the addition of ordinances, as a kind of bonds. In these ordinances, however, we must always attend to the exception, that they must not be thought necessary to salvation, nor lay the conscience under a religious obligation; they must not be compared to the worship of God, nor substituted for piety.[34]

This section definitely places Calvin against the divine right Presbyterians who would later claim his name.  To the necessity of polity, he reasons from the analogy of human society.  He says that polity is necessary, not for the faith, but for decency, good order, and “humanity.”  Still, Calvin allows for diversity of polity, even the addition of ordinances as bonds- beyond the mere spiritual prescription of the Word- with the one qualification that “they must not be compared to the worship of God, nor substituted for piety.”

Calvin and the Keys of the Kingdom

The most difficult section of Calvin’s thought for this matter, indeed the one place where it could appear to stand in contradiction to our thesis, is his treatment of the keys and the role of excommunication.  Still, even here, we claim that Calvin is capable of consistent interpretation, if care is paid to his qualifications and respect given to his previously-stated guiding principles.  Even excommunication is not an external act of political mediation or coercion, but rather reduces back to the Word and the testimony of that Word to the Christian conscience.

In the opening section of Book 4, chapter 11 of the Institutes, Calvin uses the expression “spiritual government” in connection with “ecclesiastical power” and the “jurisdiction” of the Church.  This is clearly contrasted against “civil government.”  Calvin goes on to explain that the Church is to have a sort of council, modelled after the Jewish Sanhedrin, and that this jurisdiction, which is again distinct from the civil magistrate, holds the keys to the kingdom, the oversight of morals, and the power of excommunication.  This is Calvin’s distinct contribution to the question of Church polity, his emphasis on lay elders and the office of “ruling” in the Church.  It is the one area where he most stands apart from Luther, Zwingli, and the English Reformed.[35]

Yet even here, it can be shown that Calvin’s unique emphasis is still actually in the area of external and practical application.  Even the keys are really a variation of the Word-ministry, and as such, they must also operate from within Calvin’s earlier qualified restrictions:

We now understand that the power of the keys is simply the preaching of the gospel in those places, and in so far as men are concerned, it is not so much power as ministry. Properly speaking, Christ did not give this power to men but to his word, of which he made men the ministers.[36]

What Calvin is concerned to preserve is the distinction between the magistracy and the ministry as relates to the execution of doctrine and spiritual signification:

Some, in imagining that all these things were temporary, as magistrates were still strangers to our profession of religion, are led astray, by not observing the distinction and dissimilarity between ecclesiastical and civil power. For the Church has not the right of the sword to punish or restrain, has no power to coerce, no prison nor other punishments which the magistrate is wont to inflict. Then the object in view is not to punish the sinner against his will, but to obtain a profession of penitence by voluntary chastisement. The two things, therefore, are widely different, because neither does the Church assume anything to herself which is proper to the magistrate, nor is the magistrate competent to what is done by the Church.[37]

Calvin also adds that the primitive order of the Church was “perpetual, not temporary.”[38]  He does not want the distinct order of the ministry to be subsumed by the magistrate upon the prince’s conversion.

Still, it is important for our discussion to point out that, even while distinguishing between the jurisdiction of ministry and magistracy, Calvin does not actually separate them, and he maintains that they have the “same end.”[39]

Perhaps going further than any modern participant in the conversation would be willing to, Calvin states:

But as the magistrate ought to purge the Church of offences by corporal punishment and coercion, so the minister ought, in his turn, to assist the magistrate in diminishing the number of offenders. Thus they ought to combine their efforts, the one being not an impediment but a help to the other.[40]

Calvin very decidedly wishes to restrict excommunication to the ministers of the Church, but he says that it is actually not an external act of force, but rather an aspect of proclaiming the Word.[41]  It is precisely its non-coercive character which makes it unfit for the civil magistrate’s jurisdiction.

When it comes to external aspects of the Church, however, Calvin is not afraid to allow the magistrate coercive authority:

And hence all that these holy men sought by this exception was, to prevent irreligious princes from impeding the Church in the discharge of her duty, by their tyrannical caprice and violence. They did not disapprove when princes interposed their authority in ecclesiastical affairs, provided this was done to preserve, not to disturb, the order of the Church, to establish, not to destroy discipline. For, seeing the Church has not, and ought not to wish to have, the power of compulsion (I speak of civil coercion), it is the part of pious kings and princes to maintain religion by laws, edicts, and sentences. In this way, when the emperor Maurice had commanded certain bishops to receive their neighbouring colleagues, who had been expelled by the Barbarians, Gregory confirms the order, and exhorts them to obey.  He himself, when admonished by the same emperor to return to a good understanding with John, Bishop of Constantinople, endeavours to show that he is not to be blamed; but so far from boasting of immunity from the secular forum, rather promises to comply as far as conscience would permit: he at the same time says, that Maurice had acted as became a religious prince, in giving these commands to priests.[42]

This reading is confirmed by Calvin’s reading of the keys in his commentaries.  Regarding Matthew 16:19, Calvin says that the keys are “the office of teaching.”[43]  He also says that “binding and loosing” is nothing other than proclaiming the gospel:

The second metaphor, or comparison, is intended directly to point out the forgiveness of sins; for Christ, in delivering us, by his Gospel, from the condemnation of eternal death, looses the cords of the curse by which we are held bound. The doctrine of the Gospel is, therefore, declared to be appointed for loosing our bonds, that, being loosed on earth by the voice and testimony of men, we may be actually loosed in heaven. But as there are many who not only are guilty of wickedly rejecting the deliverance that is offered to them, but by their obstinacy bring down on themselves a heavier judgment, the power and authority to bind is likewise granted to the ministers of the Gospel. It must be observed, however, that this does not belong to the nature of the Gospel, but is accidental…[44]

Calvin does extend the keys to the ruling elders and Consistory based upon Matt. 18: 16-18.  Commenting on the expression “tell it to the Church,” Calvin says:

Now since among the Jews the power of excommunication belonged to the elders, who held the government of the whole Church, Christ speaks appropriately when he says that they who sinned must at length be brought forward publicly to the Church, if they either despise haughtily, or ridicule and evade, the private admonitions.[45]

Interestingly enough, Calvin does not provide an explicit divine command for this conciliar model, but rather appeals to the inter-testamental Sanhedrin:

We know that, after the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, a council was formed, which they called Sanhedrim, and in Greek Synedrion, (συνέδριον) and that to this council was committed the superintendence of morals and of doctrine. This government was lawful and approved by God, and was a bridle to restrain within their duty the dissolute and incorrigible.

It will perhaps be objected that, in the time of Christ, every thing was corrupt and perverted, so that this tyranny was very far from deserving to be accounted the judgment of the Church. But the reply is easy. Though the method of procedure was at that time depraved and perverted, yet Christ justly praises that order, such as it had been handed down to them from the fathers. And when, shortly afterwards, he erected a Church, while he removed the abuse, he restored the proper use of excommunication. Yet there is no reason to doubt that the form of discipline, which prevailed in the kingdom of Christ, succeeded in the room of that ancient discipline.[46]

While most definitely endorsing his Consistory on the basis of the Sanhedrin, Calvin does not actually say that the Consistory model is the exclusive one commanded by God for all people.  He says that the proper use of excommunication is commanded, and that this should not be done by the civil magistrate, but that is actually all that he says.

Furthermore, Calvin defends this based on history, even the examples of the heathen.  In other words, he appeals to general revelation:

And certainly, since even heathen nations maintained a shadowy form of excommunication, it appears that, from the beginning, this was impressed by God on the minds of men, that those who were impure and polluted ought to be excluded from religious services. It would therefore have been highly disgraceful to the people of God to have been altogether destitute of that discipline, some trace of which remained among the Gentiles.[47]

Calvin also hedges the power of excommunication by making it dependent upon the faithful application of the Word, saying that in fact, through the testimony of the Word it is not human power, but rather Christ alone judging:

So neither does he say in this place that every kind of decision will be approved and ratified, but only that in which he presides, and that too not only by his Spirit, but by his word. Hence it follows, that men do no injury to the authority of God, when they pronouncenothing but what comes from his mouth, and only endeavor faithfully to execute what he has commanded. For, though Christ alone is the Judge of the world, yet he chooses to have ministers to proclaim his word. Besides, he wishes that his own decision should be pronounced by the Church; and thus he takes nothing from his own authority by employing the ministry of men, but it is Himself alone that looses and binds.[48]

He further qualifies that only those “who are truly and sincerely reconciled to Christ” may ever be “loosed,” even if the Church “endures hypocrites.”[49]  Thus the invisibility of the Church figures even here.  “God is declared to have the sole claim to the government of the Church, so that he approves and ratifies the decisions of which he is himself the Author.”[50] The visible church is not actually a mediator.  It is rather a testimony to the Word.

The Magistrate’s Relation to the Government of the Church

We’ve earlier pointed out that the term “Erastian” is an unhelpful one.  Properly speaking, it did not merely indicate the existence of a “state Church,” nor even a political arrangement where the civil magistrate can make demands and requests of the ministry.  Rather, it had to do with the direct jurisdiction surrounding excommunication.  Calvin restricts this to the ministers and lay-elders of the Church, denying the magistrate immediate authority here.

Still, it is not correct to say that this implies an outright separation of the ministry and the magistracy along ontological lines.  In fact, Calvin has much to say about the magistrate’s support of Church order and discipline.  He says, “I now attribute the task of constituting religion aright to human polity… when I approve of civil order which is directed to this end–viz. to prevent the true religion, which is contained in the law of God, from being with impunity openly violated and polluted by public blasphemy.”[51]

Calvin had previously said that “it is the part of pious kings and princes to maintain religion by laws, edicts, and sentences.”[52]  He even grants legitimacy to the magistrate’s participation in ministerial ordination when he says, “For it is one thing to deprive the Church of her right, and transfer it entirely to the caprice of a single individual; it is another thing to assign to a king or emperor the honour of confirming a legitimate election by his authority.”[53]  Commenting on John 18:36, Calvin says princes are not restricted from “accidentally defending the kingdom of Christ; partly, by appointing external discipline.”  Thus, even while not directly possessing the power to excommunicate, the magistrate could appoint external discipline, make religious laws, and confirm the legitimate ordination of ministers by his authority.  As we will see, this was exactly the arrangement in Geneva.

For Calvin, the ministry is an institution of the visible church, which by a trope may be called “spiritual” on account of that which it signifies and subserves. But it does not in any way politically mediate the spiritual kingdom, anymore than sacraments confer grace.[54]

Therefore, both the magisterial and ministerial estates are in the temporal kingdom, and have the third estate, the household and neighborhood, as base- and this base of families/persons is the first and primary order of the corpus christianorum. The ministerium in act can be called “spiritual” improperly, by a trope, but it stands to the truly spiritual order as sign to signified, and is simply the vanishing point of the temporal. But, to borrow the Lutheranism, the ministerium has no spirituality extra usum, and in use, it has no political personality whatever.

Lay Eldership

It remains for us to consider lay eldership. It was crucial in the controversy between Hooker and Cartwright, and for very good reason. Lay eldership, to Hooker’s mind, was at best redundant, and at worst violated evangelical principles by reduplicating the “lay” power of the one Christian commonwealth as a subordinate office of the ministerium. If the non-ordained are ecclesially represented in lay eldership, is this not as much as saying that the church and the commonwealth are two distinct corporations, and thus a fall back into the old Papist scheme of things?

Dr. McKee offers some very pertinent observations:

Why did Calvinist Reformed reject the long exegetical tradition of identifying those who rule in the church with “clergy” (ordained principally for sacramental functions)? The intense concern of the Protestant theologians for the role of “lay” Christians, the passionate rejection of an essential distinction between “laity” and “clergy” is probably one key reason. A second, more narrowly biblical reason for choosing a lay interpretation is no doubt the fact that Matt. 18: 15-18 assigns discipline “to the church,” and according to Calvin and others, this means it was not given to the clergy alone.[55]

 She goes on to pose a crucial question:

Why, if the oversight of morals is clearly “lay” for Protestants, do the Calvinist Reformed insist that these laity hold an ecclesiastical office and that this office is distinct from Christian magistracy? The answer to the first half of the question is primarily scriptural, the answer to the second is primarily theological and practical. Why leaders who exercise discipline are ecclesiastical is easily seen. The reference in I Cor. 12:28 to God placing the office in “the church” is plain, and Calvin explains that Rom 12:8 means the same because there were no Christian magistrates for Paul to address. The scriptural evidence for lay leaders in Christian discipline does not exclude the Zwinglian (or Lutheran) position, however. It could still be argued that the situation has changed now that “all are Christian” or the “society is Christian.”

The Calvinist answer to the Zwinglian argument for leaving discipline to the Christian magistracy in a time when church and Christian society are coterminous is based on a different conception of the nature of the church. Essentially, Calvinist Reformed refused to identify the church with Christian society, even when the two appeared to coincide. Old and New Testaments witness to one faith but not one polity; Jewish political organization is not required and indeed did not exist for the New Testament church. However, by common consent (practical reason) all societies must have some form of organized polity, and thus the church must have the offices necessary to exist as a distinct body. So in principle, if not in fact, ecclesiastical leaders are distinguished from civil leaders, and the lay leaders who share discipline with the ministers of the Word are theoretically distinct from the Christian magistracy. Another factor which may have influenced Calvin;’s thinking here is the criticism of the early church (God’s order for the apostolic church!) implied in the Zwinglian conviction that ecclesiastical elders were only needed until they could be replaced by the more forceful Christian magistracy.[56]

 There are several things to note here. First, Dr. McKee clearly acknowledges that the Reformed did not all share the Genevan model. And the “different conception of the nature of the church” cannot be, as we have seen, a fundamental difference in principle; since all the Reformed recognized each other’s ecclesiastical polities, and even those of the Lutherans and the English. What Calvin and the Genevans differed on was whether the congregation as a distinct local schola was to be absorbed into the commonwealth. And here, although the modern order of liberty was really not at all in the Genevans’ view, it is true that accidentally, the more differentiated order of congregational-commonwealth relations they proposed, and the more integral model of congregation they proposed, would allow in future for greater legal distinctions productive of a free civil society. Zwingli’s view does run the risk of creating a totalizing State of the objectionable kind, confusing public and private, and at risk of confusing inner and outer. While one might make a good case that the Christian magistracy is diaconal in nature, having distinct offices associated with the pastors preserves the sign of the distinction of coercion and persuasion, without denying that the magistrate and civic order are of divine institution.

Dr. Partee puts the Genevan principle very precisely:

In sweeping overview, (1) Erastian political theory places the state over the church. According to (2) Roman theology (grace perfecting nature), the church is placed over the state. (3) The Radical Reformers taught separation of church and state; saints pure of heart should separate themselves from secularists dirty of hand. (4) Calvin thought the divinely established order produced a twofold government. The spiritual pertains to the inner man and eternal life; the political pertains to civil justice and outward morality (IV. 20.2). While the church is chiefly responsible for holiness, and the state for justice, peace, and freedom, there can be no final separation because Jesus Christ is Lord of both church and state. Since we are pilgrims on earth and not perfect we need the help of civil government, which “has its appointed end, so long as we live among men, to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church, to adjust our life to the society of men, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness, to reconcile us with one another, and to promote general peace and tranquillity (IV.20.2).[57]

So Book 4 is crystal clear after all-  and here we have a Calvin scholar (publishing a scholarly work on Calvin with Westminster John Knox Press meets Mr. Tuininga’s standards, we would hope) summing up its crystal clear doctrine.

Dr. VanDrunen claims that Jesus is Lord only of redemption. According to this doctrine, God rules the church (the spiritual kingdom) as a redeemer in Jesus Christ and rules the state and all other institutions (the civil kingdom) as creator and sustainer, and thus these two kingdoms have significantly different ends, functions, and modes of operation:

Through these two doctrines, therefore, the older Reformed writers rooted political and cultural life in God’s work of creation and providence, not in his work of redemption and eschatological restoration through Jesus Christ.[58]

As we have shown, this is clearly not reflective of any consensus among Calvin scholars, and not consonant with the old Reformed consensus. The older Reformed writers, with the exception of the semi-Anabaptist Disciplinarians, most certainly did root cultural and political life in the kingship of Lord Jesus, as Lord of creation, providence, and civil order.

And let us not forget to examine the Genevan consistory as it was. While claiming the title of a church court, it was actually appointed by the magistrates of Geneva.  “There were to be twelve elders.  They were to be chosen from the membership of the city councils…. “[59] Bruce Gordon describes the situation by saying, “The small Council made the most important decisions for the city, and after the Reformation controlled the church, hiring and firing ministers and working with the Consistory.”[60]

He adds:

The council insisted that the amended version read that the elders were appointed by the magistrates.  Calvin’s visceral distaste for any involvement by theologically untrained politicians in matters of doctrine was not to prevail.  The additional paragraph concerning the Consistory brought the point home.

All this must be done in such a way that the ministers have no civil jurisdiction nor use anything but the spiritual sword of the Word of God as St Paul commands them; nor is the authority of the consistory to diminish in any way that of the magistrate or ordinary justice.  The civil power must remain unimpaired.  In cases where, in future, there may be a need to impose punishments or constrain individuals, then the ministers and the consistory, having heard the case and used such admonitions and exhortations as are appropriate, should report the whole matter to the council which, in turn, will judge and sentence according to the needs of the case.

The Consistory, a mixed body of clerical and lay officials, was to oversee the morality of the people, and in contrast to similar bodies in the Swiss Reformed churches it possessed the right of excommunication.  Yet the Ordinances make it very clear that the ministers were entirely subject to the rule of the magistrates.  They were paid officials of Geneva, and it was to the council they owed allegiance.[61]

In fact, Gordon says that the Consistory was a “secular-church body.”[62]

This sounds like a near confusion of the kingdoms.  It need not be, but given Calvin’s use of calling it a spiritual office/jurisdiction, it certainly could seem that way. But it wasn’t. It was a failed experiment in publicizing what can only be a privatized kind of discipleship, and a too idealistic attempt at uniting the civil law with the third use.

Whatever else one thinks about it- and we think it was ultimately a failure- the Consistory was in practice quite obviously temporal rather than spiritual even in the improper sense of the latter term. But even had Calvin’s ideal prevailed, the model would still have necessarily been in the temporal kingdom, in Calvin’s view, though one tangent upon the invisible through the third use of the law.

The Consistory was, in fact, a confusion- but not, as some think, of the two kingdoms. It was rather a confusion of the estates- an imprudent conflation of the two directive estates on the one hand, ministry and magisterium, under their common aspect of guide of morals, together invading the sovereignty of the estate of the household and of civil society. This was peculiarly possible in a small town such as Geneva, and in fact, it was basically an institutionalization of the notorious nosiness and bossiness of small towns anywhere.[63] Calvin, whose humanism shared not only the lovely aspects of the school but some of its mistakes, was in schemes of municipal moralizing much  like many other humanist municipal reformers  of the 16th century who tried overidealistic and coercive schemes of social reformation.

The consistory model was not adopted by the other Reformed communities, and Hooker’s arguments against it in principle, his criticisms of Calvin’s use of equivocal expressions to lend the scheme an air of greater authority than it would have as a policy of prudence,[64] and his revelations of what would follow were the consistory model generally adopted, were all accurate. The consistory consistently applied would have aborted the natural development of civil society in evangelically reformed commonwealths.

Calvin could persuade himself that the consistory’s reformation of morals was a common and consensual project of the Christian people of Geneva, but the evidence shows his mistake. The real school of the rising Protestant townsmen throughout Europe, in which they acquired their discipline, was the canonical evangelical doctrine of vocation, not busybody committees for the regulation of morals. Still, for all his equivocations, Calvin did not and could not confuse the two kingdoms in his patterns and policies of lay eldership and consistories. He confused a number of other things, but not the two kingdoms.

The last question remaining for us to consider is really the most important one of the controversy, and it is appropriate to conclude with it. Is the magistrate’s office a lieutenancy of Christ? Dr Cheneviere says of Calvin’s doctrine:

Le magistrat est donc plus que le simple representant du peuple ou que le simple technicien charge par les lois de faire fonctionner la machine sociale. Il est le representation de Dieu sur la terre. Il n’est pas necessaire pour cela que le magistrat soit lui-meme conscient du role que Dieu lui fait jouer; il n’est pas necessaire qu’il le proclame; qu’il le veuille ou qu’il ne le veuille pas, qu’il le sache ou qu’il ne sache pas, le magistrat est ce representant, et doit etre considere comme tel par les sujets.[65]

Here we have the matter of the magistrate’s Divine representation, though his representation of the people also, that being  Calvin’s doctrine, is presumed. The question then is whether this is a delegation of Christ’s kingship, either directly or mediately through the people or both. But if this can happen without the magistrate being a Christian, it would seem that he only represents God the Father. But what possible “representation of God on Earth” would not be in the image of the Son? Hooker’s conclusion is inescapable.

The kingdom of Christ is coextensive with the universe, and most certainly includes civic order. Even those who have not yet received the Gospel, but have legitimate political orders founded in the Noahide covenant, receive common grace through the mediation of Jesus. Jesus’ reign is worldwide in Calvin’s eye:

Evidently, then Calvin thinks of the kingdom of Christ as the church, but not simply so, for it is the manifest intention of God “to reduce the whole world to order and subject it to his government”, and to this end he has conferred on Christ “the sovereignty of the whole world”. Whereas the kingdom of Christ was previously “confined within narrow limits”, now it has been extended to “the ends of the earth”. In short, the kingdom of Christ must be thought of as pertaining to all men, as well as to the church.[66]

So might this not mean simply that the believers, organized definitively under the ministerium, have spread throughout the world?  Milner clearly say no: for Calvin, Christ’s reign is universal. But he goes on:

What this discloses to us, however, is not a contradiction in thought, but the utility of a metaphor which brings together three distinct ideas- the world, the church, and the elect- in such a way as to make the church the point of intersection between the world and the elect.

We should not permit the analogy, therefore, to leave us with nothing more than the impression of two externally divided and recognizable spheres. It is true that Christ governs “outwardly” in the world- significantly referred to as either gospel or law- and that just this preaching of the word demarcates the boundaries of the visible church; but the ascension of Christ to heaven is correlated with the universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the outward reign of Christ with the inward government of the Spirit….How seriously we are to take this encomium of the Spirit’s government may be judged from the fact that the kingdom of Christ is “spiritual”, and “not external”, referring as it does to “the inner man.”[67]

So Christ though he rules essentially and directly in the hearts of his saints, is also the principle of benevolent outward rule as well, and this necessarily encompasses magistrates as well as ministers in the outward kingdom, while His spiritual kingdom is purely spiritual and is bound to no organizational form.

Calvin in Summary

Calvin’s two-kingdoms doctrine is at one with Luther’s. He distinguishes, as we have shown, between the inner and the outer, and like Luther, he places polity and administration of the visible church in the temporal kingdom.  As we have shown, not only are civic and ecclesiastical polity regarded as parallel and analogous, they are even continuous: ecclesiastical polity is part of “outward decorum” and its forms are developed by prudence, within certain basic principles of order which apply as much to broader civic life as to the more specialized concerns of the Christian temple within the Christian commonwealth. Dr. Kirby is right.

In Calvin’s  writings, he never gives a systematic doctrine of the commonwealth. He does however teach that magistrates and ministers both are representative at once of God’s order and of the people. He nowhere says that the people represented by the ministers are somehow a different people than the ones represented by the Christian magistrate, and he does say that these Christian people have had their Adamic dominion relatively restored in Christ.  This doctrine, in conjunction with the representative character of the magistrate, shows very clearly that Calvin is a “magisterial Reformer”, asserts the Lordship of Christ over the commonwealth,  and cannot be assimilated to the neo-two-swords doctrine of Cartwright, or the political atheism of VanDrunen.

As we have always granted, however, Calvin does have ambiguities. He never gave a systematic account of Christian politics, and he did use ambiguous language which sometimes sounds as though the ministers are the “church” in a way that the people themselves, or the office of magistrate, are not. But this can be easily explained, as we have seen, particularly by emphasizing the role of Word and Spirit. When Calvin speaks of two polities, civil and spiritual, he  is not teaching two different commonwealths along the Papist or Anabaptist model, but he is trying to prevent magistrates from making popes of themselves by claiming spiritual jurisdiction, in what would in fact be a violation of the two kingdoms. Certain tendencies of the Zurich school, though still based on common evangelical doctrine, could head in that direction- and Calvin didn’t want that. Too, he had no assurance whatever that the monarchs were going to become stably Reformed, and Papist monarchs were committed to the extirpation of evangelicals; thus the people had to be ready to be in a pilgrim state.

Lay eldership we have seen is not a marker of a different constitutional foundation from the commonwealth, but rather an attempt to include non-ministers in the work of reformation of morals beyond the general rules of civic order, and to stand on the overlap point in that regard. Calvin nowhere claims that discipline, in the sense of a particular political order, is a third mark of the church, or de jure divino. As Dr Hancock observes:

Calvin…does not mean that the Bible furnishes us with detailed prescriptions for church polity, but only that ecclesiastical laws must conform to the general principle that “all things be done decently and in order” (I Cor. 14.40). Where no question of conformity exists such laws ought to be obeyed for the peace and tranquillity of the church; but owing to their diversity of time and place, they may not be regarded as binding upon the conscience.[68]

Calvin consistently defines the spiritual as the inward, the invisible. His use of tropes of sacramental signification to speak rhetorically though technically improperly of the visible ministerium or the temple association as “spiritual” is what misleads the ideological descendants of Cartwright. But Calvin is quite clear, in his doctrine of sacraments, about how this language works.

Nothing in Calvin’s  the nature and relation of ministry and magistracy, or even his pattern of lay eldership, violates his fundamentally Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms. Neither does he deny the Kingship of Jesus over the commonwealth, or the magistrate’s qualified vicariate of Christ, representative of the people’s participation in Christ’s kingship. He does not establish the “church” as a distinct political sovereignty essentially unrelated to the Christian commonwealth, and which the householders and magistrates of the commonwealth must either obey as political superiors (the original Cartwrightian model), nor ignore entirely as being irrelevant (the disabled Discipliniarianism of the VanDrunen model).

The Bigger Reformed Picture

We have established our case now regarding Calvin himself. This controversy began because we have argued, following Dr. Kirby, that Hooker is a Reformed doctor of the first rank, and moreover, that he is a more faithful reader of Calvin than was Cartwright. Mr. Tuininga, with very little reason, noisily asserts the opposite. We have shown that claim to be false. But let’s leave Hooker aside for a moment, and look at the broader Reformed tradition.

De jure divino Presbyterianism is crucial for the argument of Mr. Tuininga and Dr. VanDrunen- and yet none of the Continental Reformed adopted Cartwrightian Presbyterianism. While their pastoral collegia were certainly egalitarian and synodical, they did not constitute standing ministerial colleges as churches in their own right, nor did they adopt the peculiarly Disciplinarian doctrine of the relation of ministerium and magistracy within their commonwealths which, as Dr. Witte rightly says, were explicitly “unitary Christian commonwealths.” Were all of them betraying Calvin? One such Reformed city, Emden, was blessed with a man who was the greatest Reformed political mind of his day and perhaps of any other: Johannes Althusius.  If Mr. Tuininga were right, and Hooker so unrepresentative of Calvinist political thought, we would expect Althusius to sound more like Cartwright than like Hooker. Well, does he? Let’s see what Dr. Figgis has to say:

Now in Althusius, despite his federalism, we have no hint of any independence for the Church; it is not envisaged as a separate society. Its officers are merely part of the general machinery of the State. The latter, indeed, is conceived as holy and the author’s view of the State is definitely that of Luther, the Anglicans, Zwingli, Erastus, as opposed to that of Jesuits and Presbyterians; the difference being that in his case the sovereignty over religious matters is inalienably vested in the people, for the original contract of association can only disappear with the State, whereas the others as a rule vest it in “the godly Prince.” The point to note is that Althusius holds a high not a low view of the State; it is something consecrated; the embodiment of justice. His most frequent tag is from S. Augustine, remota justitia, quid regna nisi magna latrocinia? The rights of the State extend over all persons and causes; there is no conception of a contract between Church and State, or an alliance between them….It is not a Church with civil officers that (he means) by a Christian commonwealth, but a State with ecclesiastical among other ministers…It is the ordered life of the community as a whole, consecrated to civil ends, with education, like religion, cared for, with all possible provision for leading the good life, and for correlating the smaller activities of town and provincial life with that of the State, which Althusius contemplates.[69]

In Althusius, the magistrate, representative of the local corpus christianorum from whom, under God, he receives his power, looms so large that Eric Voegelin thinks that Althusius is on the verge of complete secularity. The greatest Reformed political theorist sounds very much more like Richard Hooker than like Cartwright. And in fact, the likeness runs even deeper- both Hooker and Althusius have a doctrine of popular sovereignty,  and both have a non-voluntaristic idea of social compact.

But for considerations of length, we might also consider the doctrine of Pierre du Moulin, who in his outrage at the beheading of Charles I wrote Regii sanguinis clamor. A good many of the French Reformed political theorists after Henri IV were royalists and “Erastians.”

If all or even most of the Reformed sounded like Cartwright in their political doctrine, Mr. Tuininga might have an interesting point worth our consideration, without that invalidating the massive evidence provided by Dr. Kirby who makes so many elegant and compelling connections that he simply cannot be waved away.  But in fact, the greatest of the Reformed political theorists sounds very much like Richard Hooker, as do many other Continental Reformed writers. Thus Mr. Tuininga’s attempt to marginalize Hooker by a taxonomic move fails, and simply reveals the limitations of his own perspective.


In this essay, we were concerned only to answer some of the claims of the VanDrunen school as expressed by Mr. Tuininga. It has not been an express, let alone extensive, consideration of Reformed political doctrine in itself, ancient or modern, or of our own understanding of it. 

Dr. VanDrunen’s ecclesiology is closer to the moderate Anabaptism of Pilgram Marpeck than to the old Reformed consensus, and is simply the introverted collapse of the formerly aggressive Disciplinarian clericalism. Dr. Hart has  invoked “historical development,” but never shows us when and how the principles of Thomas Cartwright “historically” transformed into the principles of Roger Williams. Mr. Tuininga, following Dr. VanDrunen, wants to claim that the R2K’s political atheism- or political deism, if you will- was germinally there in Calvin all along, although this comes at the cost of granting that Calvin was nearly alone on this account; not only is Luther out, but so are all the other Swiss, and the truly Calvinian line supposedly passes exclusively through clerocrats like Cartwright and the Covenanters. But we have shown that Mr. Tuininga’s reading of the primary Calvinian sources, and of the secondary works, is superficial and seriously flawed. Cartwright says things Calvin simply doesn’t and wouldn’t say, and Calvin could not possibly accept Dr. VanDrunen’s denial that Jesus is Lord of the commonwealth without violating his most fundamental principles.[70]

There is one other writer whom we feel compelled to mention in our conclusion.  Indeed, this more commonly read scholar, one whose work has even been characterized as so official as to be boring, says exactly what we wish to concerning the kingdom.  Indeed, for many, his Systematic Theology is a beginner’s guide to Reformed doctrine.  We mean Dr. Louis Berkhof. Speaking of the Kingdom of God, he writes, “the Reformers returned to the view that it is in this dispensation identical with the invisible Church.”[71]  As for his own position, Dr. Berkhof states that he believes that, “The primary idea of the Kingdom of God in Scripture is that of the rule of God established and acknowledged in the hearts of sinners by the powerful regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit.”  He adds that “the present realization of it is spiritual and invisible.”[72] If our view is bizarre, then so is the most basic Reformed seminary formation.

Dr. Berkhof shows the practical relevance of defining things this way, in that a spiritual kingdom actually allows for a more active secular and vocational sphere, where Christians can bring the kingdom to all areas of life:

It is also a mistake to maintain, as some Reformed Christians do, in virtue of an erroneous conception of the Church as an organism, that Christian school societies, voluntary organizations of younger or older people for the study of Christian principles and their application in life, Christian labor unions, and Christian political organizations, are manifestations of the Church as an organism, for this again brings them under the domain of the visible Church and under the direct control of its officers. Naturally, this does not mean that the Church has no responsibility with respect to such organizations. It does mean, however, that they are manifestations of the Kingdom of God, in which groups of Christians seek to apply the principles of the Kingdom to every domain of life. The visible Church and the Kingdom, too, may be identified to a certain extent. The visible Church may certainly be said to belong to the Kingdom, to be a part of the Kingdom, and even to be the most important visible embodiment of the forces of the Kingdom. It partakes of the character of the invisible Church (the two being one) as a means for the realization of the Kingdom of God….In so far as the visible Church is instrumental in the establishment and extension of the Kingdom, it is, of course, subordinate to this as a means to an end. The Kingdom may be said to be a broader concept than the Church, because it aims at nothing less than the complete control of all manifestations of life. It represents the dominion of God in every sphere of human endeavor.[73]

And there is only one King of God’s Kingdom. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.  Nor could, we believe, John Calvin.

A printable form of the essay can be found here.

[1] Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.19.15.

[2] Inst. 3.19.16

[3] Commentary on Luke 17:21.  Interestingly, Calvin says that this is properly true only of “the beginnings of the kingdom of God.”  But he does not go on to relate the kingdom to church polity.  Instead he says that the kingdom’s aim is the whole world: “for we now begin to be formed anew by the Spirit after the image of God, in order that our entire renovation, and that of the whole world, may afterwards follow in due time.”

[4] Commentary on John 18:36

[5] Commentary on 1 Cor. 11:3.  Mr. Littlejohn himself made use of this point in Calvin, and so it should not be said that he gave no defense for his own reading.  This text is clear and to the point.

[6] Inst. 4.1.2

[7] Inst. 4.1.7

[8] taken from Treatises on the Sacraments, ed. Henry Beveridge (Christian Focus, 2002) 50.

[9] ibid 51

[10] Andre Bieler, Calvin’s Economic and Social Thought, ed Edward Dommen, trans James Greig, World Alliance of Reformed Churches/World Council of Churches, Geneva, 2005: 216-217.

[11] Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life, Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1959: 131-132.

[12] op cit, 219

[13] Inst. 4.20.3

[14] Inst. 4.20.4

[15] ibid

[16] Inst. 4.20.6

[17] ibid 4.20.7-8

[18] 4.10.27

[19] 4.20.9

[20] 4.20.24

[21] Commentary on the Gospel of John 18:36

[22] Dr. Avis explains this concept in his The Church in the Theology of the Reformers 81-94.  Other scholars have written on this topic as well, but for now we will point to the first chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession, which says “The Preaching of the Word of God Is the Word of God.”  It goes on to explain that this depends upon the “inward illumination of the Spirit,” but that it is nevertheless united to the external means.

[23] Inst. 4.1.6

[24] ibid

[25] ibid

[26] Inst. 4.10.3

[27] ibid 4.10.4

[28] 4.10.5

[29] ibid

[30] 3.19.15

[31] 4.10.5

[32] 4.10.8

[33] Remember especially this expression of Calvin’s, “…outward propriety and decorum — which is a part of ecclesiastical polity.”

[34] Inst. 4.10.27

[35] The Rev. Dr. Walter Lowrie has a very critical overview and explanation of this point in his The Church and Its Organization in Primitive and Catholic Times: An Interpretation of Rudolph Sohm’s Kirchenrecht (1904) (Longmans, Green, and Co, 1904) 49-61.  We would agree with many of  Dr. Sohm’s and Dr. Lowrie’s observations about early Reformed ambiguities, but would deny that Calvin actually ever made the matters in question ones of divine right or essential requirement for the Church.

[36] Inst. 4.11.1

[37] ibid 4.11.3

[38] 4.11.4

[39] 4.20.4

[40] 4.11.3

[41] 4.11.5

[42] 4.11.16

[43] Commentary on Matthew 16:19

[44] ibid

[45] Commentary on Matthew 18:16

[46] ibid

[47] ibid

[48] Commentary on Matthew 18:18

[49] ibid

[50] ibid

[51] Inst. 4.20.3

[52] ibid 4.11.16

[53] 4.4.13

[54] The language of “conferring” grace is actually somewhat tricky, but it was in fact rejected in the The Mutual Consent of the Churches of Zurich and Geneva as to the Sacraments, which can be found in Treatises on the Sacraments op cit 217.  Some further explanation can be seen in the quote from Heinrich Bullinger quote provided by Bryan Spinks in Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism. (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2006) 34: “But this you ascribe to an instrument through which it is worked, some implement or flow-sluice or canal, the very sacraments, though which grace is infused into us… But we do not believe this… God alone works our salvation… God, and no created thing, confers and indeed confers through the Spirit and faith.”  Thus, the only “conferring” is done by the Spirit.

[55] Elsie Anne McKee, Elders and the Plural Ministry: The Role of Exegetical History in Illuminating John Calvin’s Theology, Librairie Droz, Geneva, 1988: 196-197.

[56] ibid., 197. See also J. Wayne Baker, “Calvin’s Discipline and the Early Reformed Tradition: Bullinger and Calvin”, in Calviniana: Ideas and Influence of John Calvin, ed. Robert V. Schnucker, Vol. X, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 1988.

[57] Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, Westminster John Knox Press, 2008: 293.

[58] Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Eerdmans, 2010) 2.

[59] Jeannine E. Olson, “Calvin and social-ethical issues” in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin. ed. Donald K. McKim (Cambridge University Press, 2004) 160.

[60] Bruce Gordon, Calvin (Yale University Press, 2009) 69.

[61] ibid 127-128

[62] ibid 133

[63] Dr. Witte, after having painted a glorious picture of the Consistory model as seedgarden of liberty and rights, rather weakly admits that thing in fact was a busybody police regime which pretty much constantly “breached” all those highminded libertarian-democratic principles upon which it was purportedly founded; op cit, 79 ; Willliam G. Naphy recalls a controversy caused by the Consistory’s admonition of Genevan politicians for dancing at a wedding!; “Calvin’s Geneva” in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin ed. Donald K. McKim (Cambridge University Press, 2004) 31.

[64] Nearly three centuries later Earl Curzon would echo Hooker’s criticism of Calvin exactly, in a remark regarding Gladstone : “I recall a phrase of that incorrigible cynic Labouchere, alluding to Mr. Gladstone’s frequent appeals to a higher power, that he did not object to the old man always having a card up his sleeve, but he did object to his insinuating that the Almighty had placed it there.”

[65] Marc-Edouard Cheneviere, La Pensee Politique de Calvin. Editions Labor, Geneva, 1937: 152.

[66] Benjamin Charles Milner, Jr. : Calvin’s Doctrine of the Church. Brill, Leiden, 1970: 169-170.

[67] ibid., 171-172

[68] Ralph C Hancock, Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics, Cornell UP, Ithaca, 1989: 174.

[69] op cit, 209. American readers, accustomed to the modern secularist State and Christian reactions to it, must remember that Dr. Figgis is speaking of a Christian State, founded in revelation and natural law and observant of its proper limits, not a modern totalitarian bureaucracy. Althusius was in fact the great exponent of federalism and subsidiarity in the commonwealth. One must also bear in mind that by “Church” Dr. Figgis means the organized ministerium, not the whole Christian people or corpus christianorum- for the Christian people are “church” in Althusius’ view, and sovereignty is vested in them. As we have said many times before, we are not suggesting even Althusius’ model for direct application in our time- a more contemporary pattern, faithful to Althusius’ general outline but taking into account the full flower of civil society and personal freedom, might be Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, with the appropriate qualifications or the better Kuyperian thinkers.  But Althusius’ principles allow for the creation of a civil society which can allow for maximum personal freedom within constitutional bounds- the Cartwrightian tradition, however, always opposed such a settlement, and only accepts it now by way of amputating the civil realm from the kingdom of Christ altogether.  For a comparison of Hooker and Althusius emphasizing their limited differences (and unaware of the basically Lutheran-Calvinist structure of Hooker’s thought), see Carl Joachim Friedrich’s Inevitable Peace, Harvard University Press, 1948: 110-111. For Althusius and his relation to Reformed theology, see also Corrado Malandrino, “La teologia federale calvinista e il federalismo nel pensiero di Althusius”, in Calvino e il calvinismo politico, ed Corrado Malandrino and Luca Savarino, Claudiana, Turin, 2011; and see also Dr. Witte, op cit, 143-203.

[70] Curiously, for all of Dr Hart’s hostility to Neocalvinism, and VanDrunen’s very delicate attempt at a heavily qualified partial acceptance of Kuyper, the new 2K may owe more to Neocalvinism than it does to Calvin.  Kuyper’s ambiguous view sometimes seems to say that the State must serve God, but cannot know which one- anticipating Maritain’s similar error. VanDrunenism  approximates Maritain’s view and for similar reasons, both as default regroupings of failed totalitarian clerocracies, which now claim the State is incompetent to recognize Christ (of course, as a “lay” institution, it would be incompetent in their clericalist eyes), but still wish to hang about on the sidelines and bemoan the social ruin consequent upon their destruction of the secular order by their incoherent account of worldly life.

[71] Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1996) 569.

[72] ibid 568

[73] ibid 569-570

By Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante

Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante are the founders and editors of The Calvinist International.

11 replies on “John Calvin and the Two Kingdoms, Part 2”

[…] In the intimate world of evangelical and Reformed blogs, two kingdoms theology is a trending topic (#Kuyper2012, #mychurchismoreinvisiblethanyours, #cantherebeaXnhangman?, etc.). Two conversations are ongoing. First, Matt Tuininga has been engaged with some of the more – let’s say – magisterially-inclined proponents of two kingdoms (2K) theology. On this front, the trio of Steven Wedgeworth, Peter Escalante, and Brad Littlejohn argue that the classical version of 2K theology did not map neatly onto our modern division between the institutions of church and state. Instead, the early reformers and later scholastics maintained a notion of a unified corpus christianorum, albeit a corpus that underwent reconstructive surgery on its doctrine of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. In response, Matt holds out that at least one prominent strand of the tradition (running from Calvin to Cartwright) emphasized the uniquely spiritual government of the institutional church. This strand, rather than its magisterial or “Erastian” rival, helped to pave the pathway to our modern liberal conceptions of religious freedom and separation of church and state. Yesterday, Peter and Steven dropped a (gigantic) response in two parts. […]

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