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Two Kingdoms Doctrine

  From the inception of Christianity believers had to define the relationship between the reality of the civil authorities and the claims of faith. When the Roman Empire became officially Christian, in the 4th century, this problem became acute as bishops became embroiled in political intrigue. Constantine\'s heirs in Byzantium deposed patriarchs at will, while in the West, following the sack of Rome in 410, it became clear that the Church was the only stable institution in an age of turbulence and transient government. Augustine of Hippo responded in a classic work of 22 books, The City of God, which contrasted the civitas Dei (‘city of God’) with the civitas terrea (‘earthly city’) or civitas diaboli (‘city of the Devil’), and it was to his writings that Martin Luther turned when rejecting the medieval alliance between emperor and pope as two forces within Christendom.

In formulating the Doctrine of Two Kingdoms (Augustine thought in terms of the city state, Luther of the new nation states of western Europe), Luther duplicated the division between Law and Gospel. Since Christian believers are justified by faith alone, they belong to the kingdom of grace and faith, and obey the law of Love. Yet they must also obey the secular ruler. ‘The Gospel … does not overthrow worldly authority, civil force and order of marriage, but rather desires that all these should be accepted as the true order, and that every one should show Christian love and good works according to his own calling and vocation.’ The order of Government is in fact one of the divinely ordained orders of creation, and ‘the godly prince’ has a duty to intervene and reform the Church if the ecclesiastical authorities fail to correct abuses. Conversely the Church can refuse obedience if the State becomes tyrannical. Later Luther sharply distinguished the heavenly kingdom of grace and faith from the earthly kingdom of sin and death. In the kingdom to the right of God, God and Christ rule without the law through the Word and the sacraments. In the kingdom to the left of God, not Christ but the emperor with the sword rules, and all moral and civil law are placed. For Luther the Church, as the invisible community of believers, has no legal character. He used the Two Kingdom Doctrine to condemn the peasants of Saxony who rebelled in the name of Christian freedom against oppressive feudalism and extortionate taxes. KDS

Further reading W.A. Visser\'t Hooft and , J.H. Oldham, The Church and its Function in Society.



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