The following will be a series of posts based on the MA thesis of David Nixon. David is a good friend and has graciously allowed us to publish his work in order to educate us about this important topic.
Two Kingdoms Contributions for Mission
The distinctive theological contours of the Two Kingdoms theology have significant implications for shaping the church’s mission in society, which will now be evaluated.
The Clarity of the Gospel
At the heart of the church’s mission is the gospel. Horton defines the content of the gospel, based on passages like 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, as “gospel indicatives ... announcements of God’s saving work in Christ”. The church was brought into being as individuals responded to Christ and gathered together as Christ’s new community, embodying the gospel’s reality and sharing the gospel message with the world. Horton states that the proclamation of the person and work of Christ is “the real mission of the church”. It is necessary to get the indicatives of the gospel message correct before majoring on the imperatives of gospel mission – as is reflected by the structure of many New Testament epistles. Also it can be understood as serving Carson’s distinction between “the gospel and its entailments”. In light of its centrality, Horton is particularly careful to maintain the clarity of the gospel by emphasising the uniqueness of Christ’s work, which he believes is best served by the Two Kingdoms theology.
Nevertheless, VanDrunen may be too eager to preserve the clarity of the gospel in suggesting that the Two Kingdoms theology is essential for protecting the soteriological doctrine of justification by faith alone from a subtle form of works righteousness. He controversially states: “The Protestant doctrine of justification is ultimately incompatible with a redemptive transformationist view of culture along the lines of neo- Calvinism”. In response, McIlhenny argues that while Transformationalists do see an ongoing redemptive significance for the Cultural Mandate: “Christian cultural activity is always done within the context of the completed work of God in and through Christ and the now/not yet completion of his kingdom”.With this clarification that answers VanDrunen’s concerns, Horton’s case for the usefulness for the Two Kingdoms in preserving the clarity of the gospel will be considered in three parts.
Firstly, in light of Christ’s ascension and promised return, he argues that the church is not a replacement for Christ in the world. He disagrees that the church’s mission is in complete continuity with Christ’s own mission, as is often deduced from John 20:21. For example, Goheen approves of the statement that the church’s mission “has all the dimensions and scope of Jesus’ own ministry” (italics in original). This is often called the “incarnational”model for ministry and can be contrasted with the “representational”model. Horton argues: “[Christ’s] mission is connected to our mission as the basis for its effects, but they are qualitatively different. He is the Savior and we are the saved; he redeemed and we are redeemed; he is building his church and we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken”. The continuity between Jesus and his disciples in mission is found in the concept of their union with Christ by the indwelling Spirit, rather than in the concept of incarnation. This recognises that Christ is continuing to work in this world through his disciples, without confusing the person and work of Christ with his disciples.
This allows for an overlap and difference between them, as Horton explains: “The incarnation (God the Son becoming flesh) is not a prototype for us and our incarnational living and ministry in the world; it is a unique event of a unique person, of which we have been made witnesses rather than co-agents” (italics in original). Instead, Horton argues: “the most crucial vocation of the church in this present age is the proclamation of the gospel ... Christ is absent in the flesh and there is no substitute. The church cannot fill that gap or seize the glories of Christ’s consummated kingdom until his return”. Elsewhere he describes this danger as a theology of “under-realized Ascension over-realized Eschatology”—meaning that the church can misconstrue its task as working to establish Christ’s kingdom on earth, rather than awaiting and witnessing to the coming of that kingdom when Christ returns. This emphasis on the uniqueness of Christ’s role in the accomplishment and consummation of the gospel is protected by the Two Kingdoms. The church’s responsibilities given by Christ are essential for his present work in this world and yet they are only a part of Christ’s total work. Thus, on this view, the fact that Christ will renew all of creation does not mean that the church has a responsibility for cultural renewal or social transformation now.
Secondly, Horton is concerned about the contemporary emphasis on “living the gospel,” which he asserts “confuses law with gospel”. He agrees that Christians should live “in view of ... in a manner worthy of ... bearing the fruit of the gospel” (italics in original). Yet the gospel is about the life and work of Christ, not about us:
“Christians are not the gospel, because they are not the ongoing incarnation of Christ. The gospel is Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is not a message about the love, virtues, and good works of the church, but of God’s love, mercy, and work in Jesus Christ.”
In other words, Christians in their lives by their good works “adorn” the gospel (Titus 2:10), but are not the gospel itself. Therefore, “we don’t live the gospel. We believe the gospel and we follow the commands,” (italics in original) as the appropriate response.
The Lutheran concern with distinguishing between law and gospel can be detected here, which is unsurprising given Luther’s pivotal role in the development of the Two Kingdoms. It reveals that the Two Kingdoms advocates are concerned that the mission of the church has become dominated with a message of law - understood as a call to be engaged in cultural activism and social transformation - rather than a message about what Christ has already accomplished in the gospel. In response to the Transformationalist emphasis on the kingdom theme in the gospels, with its ramifications for social transformation, Horton would respond: “the kingdom of God centres on the delivery of Christ, clothed in his gospel ... the kingdom is identified with the delivery of the gospel (italics in original). Therefore, the mission of the church, as the institutional representative of the Redemptive Kingdom, is concerned with the re-presenting of the gospel of Christ, rather than with the doing of social activism. The latter is a good and necessary pursuit for Christians in the Common Kingdom, but does not advance and should not be allowed to detract from the work of the Redemptive Kingdom. In this view, the benefits of the gospel for all creation in the Common Kingdom will only be experienced in the consummation.
Thirdly and consequently, Horton is concerned about the language used to describe the work of the church in society: “We use the verb ‘redeem’ too casually today ... The church comes into being not as an extension or further completion of Christ’s redeeming work but as a result of his completed work. Heralds announce victory; they don’t achieve it” (italics in original). Indeed, Horton warns about the danger of “confusing the church with God as the agent of redemption”. This upholds the sufficiency and completeness of Christ’s work in the gospel as “a completed event to which the church offers its witness”. Furthermore, he argues against seeking the redemption of culture as part of the gospel ministry entrusted to the church. Addressing Paul’s language of Christians as “co-workers” in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) he contends:
“This reconciling work fulfilled by Christ is distinct from the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to Paul. The apostle does not say that he participates in the work of reconciliation ... What continues – and what Christ’s ambassadors are called to participate in as co-workers with God – is the ministry of heralding this Good News to the ends of the earth.”
Nonetheless, this should not be read to suggest that these Two Kingdom advocates have spiritualised the gospel so that it only concerns the salvation of individual souls. They agree the Christian’s gospel hope is the physical resurrection and transformation of creation. However, they emphasise that Christ alone is the agent of this redeeming and reconciling work in the consummation.
Thus this shows that the Two Kingdoms advocates are committed to preserve the clarity of the gospel, which is the central message to be promoted through the church’s mission. This is an important contribution for understanding and undertaking the church’s mission.
The Priority of the Great Commission
What the church should be doing is at the heart of this study. An emphasis on the “Distinctive Calling and Competence” of the gathered church community is prominent in Two Kingdoms theology. As will be considered in the next chapter, some Transformationalists call for creative improvisation in the church’s mission. However, advocates of the Two Kingdoms argue that the church is not permitted to act without a mandate from Christ. Consequently, while they believe that Christ will transform all of creation ultimately, they do not consider it as part of the church’s mission as defined by the Great Commission to begin that work today. For example, Horton states:
“So the question is not whether Christ’s redeeming work extends to bodies as well as souls, but the timing. What are we to do in the meantime? We are to fulfill the Great Commission and our daily callings both as disciples and co-workers and fellow citizens of temporal kingdoms.”
He warns against “mission creep,”that is the church over-extending itself beyond its intended task and becoming distracted from its unique work. Specifically, he identifies this with the past ambitions of Christendom and present cultural transformation.
In the same way, VanDrunen argues that church only has “ministerial authority”. This means the church only has the power and authority (“the keys of the kingdom” in Matthew 16:17-19, 18:18-20) explicitly given: “The church was specially and supernaturally established by Christ ... Only Christ, therefore, by his own words and the words of his inspired apostles, could establish the authority, structures in the church and the scope of church officers' authority”.He understands the keys to be the church’s ministry of Word and Sacraments, which express on earth the true realities of heaven within the church community.This enhances Christian liberty by preventing the church legislating on issues going beyond the clear teaching of scripture. He specifically applies it to the church’s work of mercy ministry, which in its widest sense is analogous to its activities in cultural renewal and social transformation. Accordingly, the church and its diaconal officers are only responsible for care towards the “household of faith,” even though individual Christians have a wider responsibility “as we have opportunity ... to do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10). So he concludes: “The church’s nature is spiritual and its authority is ministerial, thus it should not take up cultural tasks that Scripture has not entrusted to it. Just because Christians should be doing certain things does not mean that the church itself should do them”.
Correspondingly, the distinction between the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate is significant. The Cultural Mandate sets out the general task of all humanity in the world, while the Great Commission sets out the specific task entrusted to the church as God’s redeemed community. In short, the Two Kingdoms theology understands the Great Commission to pertain to the progress and building of the Redemptive Kingdom, rather than the redemptive transformation of the Common Kingdom. Specifically, DeYoung and Gilbert argue that it pertains to the making of disciples to obey Christ in all areas of their lives. Thus, the church in its mission, as defined by the Great Commission, has as a narrower set of responsibilities than those incumbent upon the Christian, who must live as a dual citizen in the Two Kingdoms. There are many good works that individual Christians can do, but the preaching of the gospel and making disciples is what the church must do in its mission. In fact, there is some evidence that suggests starting with such a priority in mission will yield greater long- term influence upon a society and culture.
Particularly prominent in Horton’s writings is his insistence that “the Great Commission is not the ‘cultural mandate’”.Again: “Nowhere in the New Testament is the Great Commission fused with the cultural mandate”. He suggests that the Cultural Mandate is law, rather than gospel. While the Great Commission will have a positive effect in society, through individual lives that have been transformed by the gospel, nonetheless the aim of the Great Commission is not such societal transformation. He argues that the Great Commission can save many people in Babylon but it cannot change Babylon into Jerusalem. The Two Kingdoms view distinguishes between these kingdoms and mandates to produce a different motivation and purpose for Christians in their callings. Christians should love, serve, and bless their neighbours in the Common Kingdom while looking forward to the fullness of the Redemptive Kingdom at Christ’s return.
Additionally, Horton distinguishes between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. He distinguishes them in terms of the “relationship between making disciples and living as disciples in the world”. This distinction is important because Christians are called to do good things as they live in society and engage with culture. Yet doing good things or transforming society is not the essence of the church’s mission according to the Great Commission. He warns: “If we confuse these mandates, then the Great Commission becomes the Great Society, another try at ‘Christendom’”.
All this has important implications for questions of the church’s priorities in mission. The church has only limited time and resources, so it is prudent to set priorities. Since the church is the single institutional expression of the Redemptive Kingdom in the present age, it should prioritise its unique task, rather than becoming overly burdened with the work that can be done by other institutions (whether in common society with non-Christians or in a parachurch association of Christians). After all, there are plenty of other institutions in the Common Kingdom that are concerned with the good work of societal transformation pursuant to the Cultural Mandate. Nonetheless, as Horton soberly warns: “if the Church does not fulfill its unique commission [the Great Commission], no other institution will pick up the slack”. Therefore, The Two Kingdoms priority accorded to the Great Commission helps ensure the church prioritises the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel to bring people into the kingdom. Otherwise it would be regrettable for the church to become focused on trying to advance the new creation in the present temporal Common Kingdom, while failing in the gospel mission entrusted to it of seeing people gathered in to inhabit the coming eternal Redemptive Kingdom.
The Marks as the Mission of the Church
The identification of the visible church as the only present institution belonging to the eternal Redemptive Kingdom, leads VanDrunen to conclude: “The church is where the chief action of the Christian life takes place”.He comments: “This high view of the church sets the two-kingdoms vision of this book apart from many redemptive transformationist models”.This feature of the Two Kingdoms theology is even praised by its Transformationalist critics.Partly this difference can be traced back to Neo-Calvinism’s founder, Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper’s ecclesiology distinguished between the “church institute” and the “church organism,”but he emphasised the latter because of his interest in the influence of individual Christians in society.
In the Two Kingdoms theology, the work of the church institute in ministering the Word and Sacraments is essential for the proper functioning of the church organism out in culture. Horton argues: “if the church is not first of all the place where Christians are made, then it cannot be a community of witnesses and servants”.Pointing to the historical examples (like Acts 6:7, 12:24, 19:20) he argues that the success of the church’s mission out in the world was attributed to its ministry of the Word: “The same means appointed by our ascended King for making lifelong believers recipients of the kingdom works in ever-widening circles to draw in those who are far off”. He wishes to define the mission of the church as the natural outworking of the ministry (“marks”or ordinary means of grace) of the church: “God’s mission is to serve us through the marks of preaching and sacrament and that the body will be built up in Christ together and bring its witness and good works to its neighbours in the world”. Indeed, these marks (which he also identifies with the keys of the kingdom entrusted to the church) are the fuel for the body of Christ to do its mission in the world: “Without the marks, the mission is blind; without the mission, the marks are dead”.This has significant implications for defining and delimiting the mission of the church:
“Unlike the various vocations of Christians in the world, the institutional church exists not to fix the world’s temporal problems (which inevitably divides Christ’s body over policy agendas) but to administer Christ’s own service of reconciling sinners to himself, caring for his flock in body (through the diaconate) as well as in soul (through the ministers and elders). Having been first ministered to in these ways, the members love and serve each other according to their particular needs and then carry this service out to their non-Christian neighbors.”
This understanding of the nature and marks of the church corresponds with the “Spirituality of the Church” principle. This means the church is separate to the state and societal institutions, so it should respect their independent existence and functions in the Common Kingdom. VanDrunen points out that the church should not be:
“usurping the legitimate authority given by God to another institution or community in the common kingdom. As noted, when Jesus came, he did not establish a family, a state, a school, or a business, but the church alone. These other institutions already existed under divine authority through the Noahic covenant, as aspects of the common kingdom.”
Instead, the church’s mission should concentrate on the work that has been uniquely entrusted to it by God.
As will be considered shortly, this could result in cultural quietism. Nonetheless, the church institute in discharging its mandate should be equipping individual Christians for living distinctively according to the principles of scripture in all their common callings alongside non-Christians. Also the church should use its ministerial authority to preach about moral and ethical issues, but not presume to determine public policy since: “Scripture does not give detailed prescriptions about civil affairs, the church has no authority to delve into them”. Without such scriptural prescriptions it is up to each Christian to exercise wisdom in weighing up the competing values and support policies that do not violate their biblically-informed conscience. Accordingly, the church should not cause division within the community by prescribing support for a particular policy, which not all Christians agree is best when faced with multiple valid policy options. Instead, the church should minister clearly and relevantly the Word and Sacraments, leaving policy determinations to individual Christians.
Part 6 will look at some of the weaknesses of the Two Kingdom approach to missions.