Monday, 1 October 2012

Three Cheers for Presbyterian 2Kers!

D.G. Hart is an American Presbyterian who advocates a Lutheran "Two Kingdoms"  view of church-state relations (hence a "2Ker"). That might not seem particularly interesting unless you know that it is not the majority Presbyterian view. In fact, there is a significant stream of Theocratic thought in Presbyterianism history which certainly continues to be advocated in modern American Presbyterianism. The more theologically disparate Evangelical movement in America also inherited aspects of the Christian Theocratic tradition. In contemporary political discussions, this often leads to comparisons of "the Religious Right" with the "Islamist" movement. On the face of it, I'm sure such comparisons are irksome to political activists on the Christian Right (I was going to say "conservative Christians", but not all conservative Christians are activists; Lutherans in particular tend to the oppsite extreme, political quietism). But to the extent that Christian activists deny the validity of the separation of church and state, they do share a common conceptual framework with Islamists in the area of political thought and action, although I would immediately stress that the New Testament expressly forbids the use of violence to further Christian goals, a prohibition which explains why the notion of  a "Christian terrorist" is an oxymoron.

Anyway, here's Hart reflecting on this subject after a trek through Turkey, which was established as a secular Muslim-majority state by Mustafa Kemal after WWI (Australians will note with interest that  Mustafa Kemal was the commander of the Turkish forces who repelled the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in 1915):            

"The ...history of Enlightenment and secularization ...makes the Religious Right and political Islam stand out. Both groups in different ways oppose secularization. Both also do so by appealing to the sacred texts of their faith. These similarities are what invite comparisons of activist evangelicals and political Muslims, no matter how unflattering or inflammatory. In fact, although born-again Protestants have not blown-up any buildings – wrong headed associations with the Christian militia and Timothy McVeigh notwithstanding – evangelicals’ continued reliance on older religious foundations for civil authority may look odder than political Islam considering that American Christians have so much more experience with alternatives to confessional states (or theocracy) than Muslims do. The United States, a secular nation hallowed by evangelicals, has almost 250 years under its belt and it stands as one of the chief alternatives to Christendom’s political theology. In contrast, the break up of the Ottoman Empire is still less than a century old and places like the Republic of Turkey are still trying to figure out the nature of secular democracy in a Muslim society. Evangelicals’ experience with secular politics may explain their reluctance to use violence. But it makes all the more unusual born-again Protestants’ appeal to the Bible as the norm for politics and social order. To unpack this anomaly a brief comparison of Christian and Muslim understandings of secularity may be useful.
As Bernard Lewis, among many others, has written, secularity in its modern sense – “the idea that religion and political authority, church and state are different, and can or should be separated – is, in a profound sense, Christian.” The locus classicus of this idea is Christ’s own instruction, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” [Matt. 22:21]. This was directly the opposite of Roman and Jewish conceptions where either Caesar was God or God was the monarch. For Muslims, God was the supreme authority with the caliph as his vice-regent. What makes the contrast with Islam all the more poignant is that Christianity stood between Judaism and Islam chronologically such that Muslims could well have appropriated Christian notions of secularity. As it happened, Islam followed theocratic models of the ancient near east. Christianity, of course, made social order a lot more complicated as later disputes between popes and emperors demonstrated. Indeed, discomfort with secularity often arises from a legitimate desire for greater moral and political coherence. But for whatever reason, Christ himself apparently favored a social arrangement that differentiated spiritual matters from temporal ones."

I would say you can read it all here but I've quoted it all, although you may like to check out the comments or follow the blog.

I've created a new label for this post, "Crypto-Lutheranism", which I'll use to identify positive Lutheran influence upon the Reformed.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this much needed message, Pastor Mark.

Further down in the Wikipedia link it does say that John Calvin echoed Luther's perspective on 2K. It is taught at the Westminster seminaries in Philadelphia (founded by John Gresham Machen) and in Escondido, California (where Michael Horton and R Scott Clark teach). Admittedly, there is a Reformed 'rump' of newcomers who believe that 2K is bunk, although they have come from different (highly conservative) denomination backgrounds (e.g. literalist Evangelical or Pentecostalist).

Please keep banging the drum here, because a number of Evangelicals in the United States do see their place as representing latter-day 'prophets' (e.g. Francis Schaeffer). Whilst highly articulate, they offer an 'intellectual' argument for anti-intellectualism. I do not think all of them align with more populist ministers from Fuller Theological Seminary, such as C Peter Wagner, but they seem to share the same goals. It seems unlikely whether they will vote in the US general election coming up in November. Apparently, as many as 18m might have sat out the 2008 election because neither candidate was suitably 'Christian' (read 'biblical').

This is a complex subject and it would be good to hear from more clergy, particularly Lutheran, on the subject.

Both Westminster seminaries (as well as other Reformed, also Anglican/Episcopalian and Catholic ones) are based on 2K and, going back, Machen, who founded the OPC, took principled stands against Prohibition but also supported Blue Laws which prevented Sunday trading in shops.


Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for the info Churchmouse.
We'll keep banging the drum, but not sure how many hear/heed our beat - we're a pretty obscure voice at the old manse. Machen is an interesting case, no doubt about it.

ELP said...

It seems to me that what the Confessio Gallicana says concerning Church and State is clearly in line with Lutheran doctrine.
One must also remember the very influential view of "spirituality of the Church" held by many Southern Presvyterians during the 19th century.

Anyway, great post Mark!

joel in ga said...

The Bible has a lot to say about political order, economics, private property, etc. For Christians to ignore that is to miss out on a great deal of wisdom. How are 2Kers supposed to apply that wisdom?

It seems 2Kers (as in your article) tend to assume a very powerful, coercive State, just like most non-Christian secularists do, and that's really why both find 'theocracy' so disturbing.

There is some, possibly widespread, support among Lutherans in America for a Ron Paul-style, very limited government. (I am one of those supporters.) Given the very limited role of government approved of in the Bible, it seems to me that a Christian theocracy would look precisely like that sort of free society, with almost no government coercion in any area of life.

Anonymous said...

Hmm -- The Southern Presbyterians of whom you speak were not necessarily 2K. They were and are also a small part not only of Presbyterianism in the USA but of the Reformed denominations there.

Machen and the Princeton Greats were from 'up North'.

We could find grave fault in every denom if we chose to do so. Since when were all denoms perfect? It would be impossible, for all of us are riddled with sin.


Anonymous said...

I do not know if my previous comment -- a reply to ELP -- posted. I had some trouble with the verification.

A brief recap: the Southern (American) Presbyterians of whom s/he speaks were not necessarily 2K nor representative of the wider body of American Presybterians and the Reformed denominations in the United States.

Machen and the Princeton Greats were from 'up North'.

Certainly, no denominations are free from occasional error or mistakes, since all of us are riddled with sin in a fallen world.