A Radical Failure to Encourage the Magistrate

Rev. Doug Barnes

Imagine, if you will, a Reformed minister publicly criticizing someone for openly confessing the sovereign reign of Christ. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Yet it happened recently – as a logical expression of the Radical Two Kingdoms (R2K) view that we’ve been critiquing in these pages.

As explained previously, the R2K view divides life into two kingdoms: the spiritual and the secular. The spiritual kingdom is eternal and is largely manifested in the church; whereas the secular kingdom, encompassing most of the remainder of life, is said to be merely temporary.

Christ exercises authority over both kingdoms, R2K advocates assure us.

However, they maintain that He rules the spiritual kingdom as Redeemer, revealing through Scripture His will for the spiritual life and worship of the saints. But Scripture was written only for the spiritual kingdom. For all that comprises the secular realm, God has provided natural law.

A recent prayer by Oklahoma’s newly re-elected governor ran afould of that worldview.

Gov. Kevin Stitt is bold in his Christian convictions. And at a recent prayer rally, he expressed those convictions openly.

A disclaimer is in order: Gov. Stitt belongs to an Assemblies of God congregation. He uses terminology that Reformed folks find theologically problematic. However, the heart of what he said was a confession that Christ is the King, that He is sovereign over the people of Oklahoma, and that His will for the state is good. It was an expression of reliance on Christ.

And it was spoken by the governor – acting as the governor.

That didn’t sit well with the Rev. Dr. R. Scott Clark, URC minister and professor at Westminister Seminary California. “As a Christian and as a private citizen, Stitt has every right to say that Jesus is Lord over all things,” Rev. Clark wrote in his online journal. “The issue here is that, when he ‘claimed’ the State of Oklahoma for Christ by ‘the authority that I have as governor,’ he confused the two spheres. His job as governor is to serve all the citizens of Oklahoma – Christian, pagan, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim. Stitt had no business as governor claiming Oklahoma for Christ” (https://heidelblog.net/2022/11/oklahoma-governor-claims-state-for-christ-controversy-ensues, accessed 15 Nov. 2022 at 11:23 a.m.; emphasis original).

To be clear, Rev. Clark emphasized that R2K advocates believe “Christ is ruling whether or not the magistrate acknowledges it” – a statement that all Christians should readily affirm (Matt. 28:18).

But then Rev. Clark approvingly quotes Steven K. Green, who declares: “The idea of separation of church and state remains a core concept in the American experience.” To that, Rev. Clark explains that although Christian officials should pray and live consistent with their faith, “once they are elected or appointed to office they ought to respect the natural limits imposed by their position.”

To Rev. Clark, that means ruling in a manner that is distinctly secular: “The adjective secular is an honorable word. … As governor, Stitt is not functioning in a religious or sacred capacity.”

According to the R2K view of Rev. Clark and cohorts, it would be inappropriate for the magistrate to formally acknowledge the lordship of Christ and the magistrate’s reliance on Him. This would confuse the kingdoms and compromise the magistrate’s “secular” calling. By the same token, it would be inappropriate for the church to formally advise the civil government, as that would not only confuse the kingdoms, but also would extend the church beyond its proper realm.

This keeps the relationship between church and state clear-cut and orderly. As Christians, in our private life, we should openly confess Christ, pray to God, and live according to the instruction of His Word. But the church should not advise the magistrate; nor should Christian magistrates openly confess Christ or rule according to His Word in their governing roles. We must not confuse the sacred and secular kingdoms!

Sadly for the well-organized R2K advocates: the Bible is not consistent with their carefully defined categories.

Concerning the church’s calling with regard to the state, we often find the prophets advising, and even rebuking, the magistrate. Nathan was not shy about rebuking King David for his sin (2 Samuel 12). Michaiah was insistently honest in calling King Ahab to turn from his rebellion (1 Kings 22:13 ff.). Jeremiah’s prophetic career was punctuated by instances of urging the king and his advisors to turn back to the living God.

Nor can we protest that this is irrelevant, since only the kings of Israel were rebuked. Daniel brought God’s wisdom to the kings of both the Babylonian and the Medo-Persian empires. Amos publicly condemned the sins of Syria, Philistia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. Isaiah preached against the sins of the leaders of Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Cush, and Egypt.

God is completely sovereign, and Christ has been enthroned as King of all nations. Therefore His church is not to be silent in confronting sins and rebellions against the King of kings! And it’s more than a little silly to suggest that special revelation is not meant for that “secular” realm, given the fact that so much Scripture addresses the sins of of nations, without reference to “natural law.” It seems clear that God was not willing to limit Himself to the R2K system.

Nor is it biblical to rebuke the magistrate for openly confessing Christ and employing His Word.

Rev. Clark, in his recent post, quotes a portion of Psalm 2 to demonstrate that Christ already rules as King, regardless of whether the magistrate acknowledges that. However, he ignores the conclusion to that psalm, in which God commands kings and judges of the earth: “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him” (Ps. 2:11-12). Note well: in vs.10, this command is given to kings and judges as kings and judges – i.e., in their “secular” role.

Thus it should not surprise us to see Daniel record (four times!) the kings of world empires confessing the sovereign lordship of our God (Dan. 2:44-48; Dan. 3:28-30; Dan. 4:3,34-37; Dan. 6:25-27). Note well that these are not Israelite kings – overcoming the frequent R2K complaint that only Israelite kings are commanded to confess the Lord.

However, the Daniel passages are Old Testament, and Rev. Clark and company tend to be dismissive regarding biblical evidence that doesn’t come from the New Testament.

So look to Romans 13, where the governing authority is described as a servant appointed by God (vs.1) and a minister of God for our good (vs.4). As such, he is called to be “an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (vs.4). Implicitly, that the means the magistrate must understand and apply the moral law of God. Admittedly, he can perceive that law from the “natural law” written on his heart (Rom. 2:15); but given the inclination of man to twist what God has revealed about Himself (Rom. 1:18-23), that’s a less than reliable guide absent the insights of Scripture.

The founders of our nation recognized that. It was absolutely common to justify the need for particular laws and statutes by appeal to the Bible – including laws against blasphemy and desecration of the Sabbath. It’s only as our nation has drifted from its Christian worldview that “secularism” has become a commendable concept.

And, of course, our Reformed forefathers recognized the magistrate’s calling to govern by the wisdom of God’s Word and to openly confess Christ as King. Article 36 of the Belgic Confession of Faith leads us to confess that “civil rulers have the task, subject to God’s law, of removing every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship.” Notice: they and their work are subject, above all, to God’s Law. They are to defend liberty not for the spread of the pagan, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim faiths – but for the preaching of the Christian gospel and the worship of the true God.

In short, R2K advocates insist on divorcing the state from the church – indeed, from all religion – as part of their effort to dichotomize life into the sacred and the secular.

But that is an impossible task.

Mankind is inherently religious, as Romans 1 shows us; and every society will serve a god. The only question is: which one?

America today serves the false god of secularism. According to that religion, man is the ultimate source of knowledge and judgment. Man sits on the hightest throne. And man will not brook competition.

My friends, that is a theocracy – in which the true God has been replaced by man, the impostor god.

How much better, how much more glorifying to God, when the magistrate openly confesses Christ and pursues his governing tasks with unapologetic reliance upon God’s Word!

Rev. Clark warns that such a desire will lead to religious wars and conflicts tearing our society apart. As though secularism isn’t accomplishing that on its own!

On the other hand, Godly leaders who openly confessed Christ were the authors of a system of government that preserved liberty for the nurture and spread of the gospel; were the driving force for ending the evil of chattel slavery in America; and have been the source of the righteous laws that made our land great.

When Christian leaders today seek to emulate that example by openly confessing Christ’s sovereignty, we should encourage and defend them.

And rather than seeking to silence them or protesting their theological flaws, we should disciple such leaders – and strive to raise up bold magistrates from our churches, who will eagerly confess Christ in their work, for the glory of God and the good of our land!