Darryl and Scott, meet Shiphrah and Puah...
I've previously said that advocates of a radical two-kingdom theology apparently see no limits to state authority over Christians and the Church in the civil sphere. Their second kingdom, the kingdom of man, rules with absolute authority over both. Moreover, when the Church seeks to apply God's Word to the civil sphere it is violating not merely civil authority but the will of God who grants civil authority its power. The only check God permits upon civil authority is natural law; applying God's Law to civil authority is denying the legitimacy of that authority.
Thus, the Church is to be silent before the world on the major cultural sins of our day. It should be as silent on abortion today as it ought to have been on prohibition in the early twentieth century--and believe me, as Darryl Hart has made clear in numerous comments on this blog, the two are closely related social ills in his two-kingdom view. The Church may speak to Christians about such matters but not to the world. Before the world the Church speaks only of Christ, not of God's Law.
Though this approach might strike some as cowardice, a neat and clean escape from the obligations of Christ's Law of Love, to advocates of the two-kingdom view the opposite is true: by its silence before the world--except to speak of the cross of Christ--the Church demonstrates the Gospel most clearly. Any addition to the cross, any attempt to apply God's Law in the civil sphere is moralism, a refusal to recognize the legitimacy of civil authority and rebellion against God.
That this view bears no resemblance to the practice of the Luther, Calvin and the rest of the magisterial reformers makes no difference to Drs. Clark and Hart: what does the practice of men matter when the Word of God speaks so clearly?
But, of course, the question before us is ultimately Scriptural: does the Word of God truly demand such drastic division between the two kingdoms? Is the wall of separation between Church and state not merely a secularist construct but the requirement of God's Word as Dr. Hart maintains both in his published writing and on this blog?
Is it against the calling of a minister of the Gospel to act as a minister in opposition to abortion in the civil sphere as Dr. Clark believes? Is abortion legislation really a matter of "states' rights" as Dr. Hart believes? (Note that in Dr. Hart's view appropriate Christian action against abortion is apparently not only constrained by the doctrine of the spirituality of the Church he finds in the Word, but equally by the U.S. Constitution--as though in the civil sphere the U.S. Constitution is as inviolate, even in the face of the murder of infants, as the Word of God in the Christian sphere.)
The radical two-kingdom view's Scriptural foundation has three parts:
The stool's first leg is the distinction between Old Testament, theocratic Israel and the New Testament Church. This is merely a negative leg in that the distinction between Church and Israel serves not to mandate the radical two-kingdom distinction, but only to keep the obvious link between civil and religious authority in Old Testament Israel from automatically accruing to the New Testament Church.
The stool's second leg is formulated on Christ's statement to Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world." Though this is not the sole passage advocates of a radical two-kingdom view point to as establishing the Church as a spiritual kingdom with no overlap with civil authority, it exemplifies such passages.
The stool's third leg is an argument from silence: the New Testament Church and Christ's apostles are not shown by Scripture to have taken positions on issues of civil righteousness. The apostles speak of God's Law only to the Church, advocates of this view assert; their silence in the face of civil unrighteousness in their day requires us to avoid such issues in our day.
Lacking a positive command to avoid the exercise of religious authority or suasion in the civil sphere, radical two-kingdom advocates build the logic of their position on these three planks. Thus, demonstrate any one of the planks to be invalid and radical two-kingdom logic collapses.
Is it possible to demonstrate biblically that one or more of the planks radical two-kingdom logic rests upon is invalid? I believe it is.
Drs. Hart and Clark and their friends in the radical two-kingdom camp take it for granted that one-kingdom, theocratic Old Testament Israel is no template for the two-kingdom New Testament Church. But is this so? Were there never eras in the Old Testament when Israel existed in a two-kingdom environment like that of the New Testament Church? Of course not; there were such times. At the outset of the Babylonian exile God spoke through prophets calling Israel to submit to Nebuchadnezzar and He punished Israel for rebelling and turning for help to Egypt.
Israel lived a two-kingdom existence during both the Babylonian exile and the Egyptian captivity. But did Israel live in absolute submission to civil authority during those two-kingdom periods? Or did God call on the Israelites to violate civil law in obedience to His higher demands even during its periods of two-kingdom existence?
Interestingly, and importantly for this discussion, on at least two occasions during Israel's two-kingdom existence God not only led Israelites to disobey civil authority, but manifestly blessed their disobedience.
The first such occasion is found in Exodus 1:15-21 where we read of the Israelite midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, defying the command of Pharaoah to kill male Israelite children. Scripture tells us not only that God "dealt well with the midwives" for their disobedience, but He "gave them families."
Of course, the radical two-kingdom response to this passage is predictable: Shiphrah and Puah were being ordered to sin themselves. They didn't march on Pharaoah's palace to oppose his edict, they only refused to heed its directly sinful requirements for their own lives. So too, we should avoid the practice of abortion as Christians. But opposing the civil authority that stands behind abortion is beyond our purview just as it was for them.
So my questions for Drs. Hart and Clark are these:
First, if we can't use Shiprah and Puah's civil disobedience as examples for our day since we're not being required to practice abortion, can we at least use them as examples demonstrating that there are times when civil disobedience is correct for the believer in a two-kingdom world?
Second, how would you preach to Shiphrah and Puah if they were in your congregation? Would you call on them--and their Hebrew customers--to disobey Pharaoah's edict, or would you avoid treading on civil ground here as well?
Third, how would you preach on Shiphrah and Puah in our day? What practical applications would you make from their lives?
But there's an even stronger example of civil disobedience in the two-kingdom life of Old Testament Israel, and that's the example of Esther. Esther, Ahasuerus's queen, like the rest of Persia was forbidden by law to approach the throne of Ahasuerus. "I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish," she tells her cousin Mordecai (Esther 4:16).
Yet Mordecai urges Esther to violate Persian law to save the lives of her people.
Note that unlike Shiphrah and Puah, Esther is not required to kill. There is no sin required of her, yet Mordecai tells her that it's her duty as a child of God to oppose the murderous regime of Haman and Ahasuerus, even at the expense of breaking Persian law, even at the cost of her life.
What will radical two-kingdom advocates do with this story? Honestly, I don't know. A clearer call to obey the Law of God, to advance the Law of God even against the kingdom of man would be hard to find. But I suspect they'll look for some crack, some casuistry, some taxonomic distinction to keep from applying the story of Esther to our lives today. Somehow, via any possible means, the example of Mordecai calling Esther to stand against the murder of innocents even when it entails violating civil law and breaching civil authority must be found invalid for our day. In our day Mordecai would accept the king's edict, Esther would be silent, God would not bless such breaching of His spheres of authority and the Jews would die.
The three-legged Scriptural stool of the radical two-kingdom view will not stand. Its first leg, the fundamental dissimilarity between the Church and Israel is upended by the two-kingdom eras of the Old Testament. Its third leg, the silence of Scripture in showing the people of God opposing unrighteous-yet-legitimate civil authority is equally broken. It is a view that cannot stand the test of scriptural scrutiny. It is a view that betrays the lives of the Reformers even as it claims their mantle. It is a position more aligned with Anabaptist views and theology than Reformed, and it deserves our condemnation, seeing how easily it confirms us in our indifference to the wickedness surrounding us.