The so called Two Kingdom view of the separate institutes of secular state vs the church identifies a fairly clear boundary between the authority of each: one demanding some compliance with a nominal set of ethical behaviors for the well being of both Christian and all members of society of any religious persuasion and includes powers (e.g. punishing injustice, warfare) while the other holds higher standards in both ethical and spiritual matters but who's authority is limited in scope to the spiritual (e.g. sacraments, doctrine).

According to adherents of this view1, ordained church office bearers carry a special authority over spiritual matters in the context of the church. Likewise those who hold public office under any political structure2 have a special charge to create and enforce laws that fulfill a specific purpose. Given the the separation between both domain and available powers, under any circumstances would it be valid for an individual man to hold both ordained office in the church and a public office3 in the state? Is such a dual role4 possible for an office-bearer in the same way that it would be for a normal Christian to maintain any political role or is there a fundamental conflict of interest in being ordained resulting in some sort of unacceptable schizophrenia?

If there is a difference between the thinking of Reformation era theologians who used "two kingdom" terminology (viz. Martin Luther, John Calvin) and the modern "Radical Two Kingdoms" theological framework (viz. Meredith Kline, Michael Horton) on this issue, I would like to hear the difference between them spelled out.

1 Please note that this is not the quite same as the modern Evangelical parlance of "separation of church and state". Please limit answers to actual implementations of Two Kingdom theology.

2 For the purposes of this question the sort of public office I am referring to might be characterized by those of a mayor or constable—offices that are charged with either legislating or enforcing civil structures as their primary responsibility.

3 I am not thinking of the sort of office that might be conferred by the state automatically to religious office holders such as the right to officiate marriages, I'm thinking more along the lines of mayor or constable or parliamentary representative.

4 I am aware that most 2K views see all Christians as holding dual citizenship. This question is not about citizenship or the roles of all believers but specifically about office bearing.

  • It is perhaps good that this question is on SE, where discussion is discouraged. My brother's blog (almost 3 million hits) has managed to have very nice discussions on many things, including catholicism and Federal Vision. But not Two Kingdoms. Jul 22, 2013 at 3:28
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    @AdrianKeister I understand the scenario. Believe me I thought twice before asking this. I've had a handful of R2K related questions written up for months. Some of the theologians and church leaders I respect most are themselves the most disrespectful when this issue is broached. I choose this question because I thought I found an angle that A) was a genuine question on my part and B) might not stir the pots between 1K, 2K and R2K too much in the answering.
    – Caleb
    Jul 22, 2013 at 11:57
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    @AdrianKeister Quite frankly the fact that this issue hasn't already been launched into is probably more of an indication of our general lack of expertise than it is our constructive environment. I suspect the majority of our daily participants these days wouldn't even recognize most of the serious issues facing the church whether they were framed in the context of the latest controversies or the long legacy of historical ones.
    – Caleb
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:00
  • Ah, I see. Just curious: what's R2K? Jul 22, 2013 at 12:03
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    @AdrianKeister "Radical 2 Kingdom" is the [not so] affectionate label being used in a few circles for the current popular iteration of theology using the two kingdom nomenclature that they think does not match the historical view using roughly the same verbiage. See also Horton, Frame, Escondido Theology and various inter-related controversies.
    – Caleb
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:07

3 Answers 3


This is an interesting question. Bear with me as I attempt to build a bit of Confessional background to my answer.

It's clear from Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession that the office of the ministry was instituted by God to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments (http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article5). This is God's "Right Hand Kingdom or Realm." See also articles 7 and 8 in the Confession. Then, the Confession notes that no one should do these things "publicly" (i.e. in the name of a congregation) unless he be regularly (or rightly) called (Article 14).

Then, Article 16 talks about Civil Affairs (http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article16). This is God's "Left Hand Kingdom or Realm" of civil government. It's interesting that in this Article there is no distinction between the various offices; i.e. "it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage." In this Article, bearing a civil office is lumped in with marrying a wife. Then, you have Article 23 later which states it is right and proper for "priests" (i.e. those holding the office of the ministry) to marry. So, there's a logical connection then that seems to state that those who hold the office of the ministry could, theoretically, hold a civil office.

However, Article 28 (http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article28) goes into more details about the distinctions between God's Left Hand Kingdom (civil government) and His Right Hand Kingdom (the Church). Both are instituted by God to care for His world; the Left Hand to enforce order, keep peace, pursue justice; the Right Hand to proclaim the Gospel by which people are saved by grace through faith.

A key quote from this Article is: "If bishops have any power of the sword, that power they have, not as bishops, by the commission of the Gospel, but by human law having received it of kings and emperors for the civil administration of what is theirs. This, however, is another office than the ministry of the Gospel."

The point is that bishops may have their office in the Right Hand realm as well as their office in the Left Hand realm, but that they have to understand that these are separate offices with different roles. So, the Confessions seem to recognize that the possibility exists for one person to hold both a Left Hand ("secular" or "civil) office and a Right Hand ("spiritual" or the office of the ministry).

That said, is this advisable, even if it is technically allowed? That's probably a separate question that what was originally asked. On the one hand, it would be hard for a pastor to separate his office in the ministry with his office as, for example, a mayor. On the other hand, if a pastor may get married, perform marriages, even serve as a soldier (e.g. a military chaplain), then why can he not serve as a mayor?

  • This is an interesting and useful answer, thanks for pulling together some of the pieces into one place. I think it would be even more useful if you could lead off with a bit about how the Augsburg Confession relates to the 2K movement of today. Of particular concern is how the modern 2K movement with their unique articulaation of this issue views this confession that is also held by non-2K folks. Can you shed some light on where this answer fits into the current scene?
    – Caleb
    May 6, 2014 at 19:26

In the course of listening to White Horse Inn broadcasts I've consistently heard the participants refer back to John Calvin when commenting on Two Kingdom Theology. I think it very useful to look at how Mike Horton treats Cavlin's comments on the Two Kingdoms in his recent book on Calvin. If we assume that Horton is in agreement with Calvin, then I think Horton's interpretation of Calvin's views is a valid representation of what a modern Two Kingdoms view looks like.

"For Calvin, they [secular government and the church] are side by side: distinct by not separate.", — Calvin on the Christian Life, pg 221, Mike Horton, Crossway, 2014

So, yes. A Christian is a member of both kingdoms and is expected to participate in both. If he is apt to govern, then he should govern. If he is apt to be an elder, than he should be an elder.

Calvin believed that secular government also was bound to protect the true church, so mapping Calvin into modern politics is awkward. Formal religion is being pushed out of Government.

Calvin covers his views in The Institutes of the Christian Religion right after man's freedom and before civil government. You could go to the source, if you so chose.

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    This does not answer my question. I am not asking about Calvin's views, I am asking specifically about the modern Two Kingdom theological movement. This may or may not be the same as Calvin's views, that would be something an answer would have to establish, which this does not do yet. Perhaps you could edit to cover that, but as it stands it does not even touch on my question. Now Horton's own views might speak to this, but what you quoted seems to be him talking about Calvin not him talking about what he believes.
    – Caleb
    Jun 4, 2014 at 18:48
  • I added a leading paragraph to make explicit that Horton's views should be equated with Calvin's views.
    – Sam
    Jun 5, 2014 at 14:06
  • Useful related Mortification of Spin podcast posted today: mortificationofspin.org/mos/podcast/35364
    – Sam
    Oct 30, 2014 at 13:32

The Book of Concord is the seminal reference for Lutheran theology, and is a collection of statements from the period. Some Lutherans ascribe to all of the BOC, others argue about applicability of various documents beyond the Augsburg Confession. Here one relevant text from the Augsburg Confession,

Article XVI: Of Civil Affairs.

1] Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that 2] it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage.

3] They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians.

4] They condemn also those who do not place evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, for 5] the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. Meanwhile, it does not destroy the State or the family, but very much requires that they be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity be practiced in such 6] ordinances. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates 7] and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29.

Here we have an explicit statement that individual Christians may hold state office, in the Augsburg Confession. The BOC continues with Defenses and Solid Declarations, which essentially repeat the explanation in the AC.

The Sixteenth Article [of the Augsburg Confession] the adversaries receive without any exception, in which we have confessed that it is lawful for the Christian to bear civil office, sit in judgment, determine matters by the imperial laws, and other laws in present force, appoint just punishments, engage in just wars, act as a soldier, make legal contracts, hold property, take an oath, when magistrates require it, contract marriage; finally, that legitimate civil ordinances are good creatures of God and divine ordinances, which a Christian can use with safety. 54] This entire topic concerning the distinction between the kingdom of Christ and a political kingdom has been explained to advantage [to the remarkably great consolation of many consciences] in the literature of our writers, [namely] that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual [inasmuch as Christ governs by the Word and by preaching], to wit, beginning in the heart the knowledge of God, the fear of God and faith, eternal righteousness, and eternal life; meanwhile it permits us outwardly to use legitimate political ordinances of every nation in which we live, just as it permits us to use medicine or 55] the art of building, or food, drink, air.

This statement here makes reference to Luther's earlier writing on Two Kingdoms with "in the literature of our writers."

Twice the BOC explicitly states that "a Christian" may serve in civil office. Any speculation that there could be some distinction in Lutheranism between what a pastor may do and what "a Christian" may do can easily be disproven by reading the appropriate sections.

To explain it further, consider someone with dual vocations of pastor and sheriff. I've seen Two Kingdoms described as "hat you're wearing." Such a dual-vocation person would proclaim forgiveness of sins in church, and arrest bad guys in the saloon. It is about separation of jobs. Our hypothetical person shouldn't arrest people for failing to attend church, nor should he apply forgiveness of sins during the arrest of a bad guy.

  • Missing from this answer are 1) the connection between Mr. Luther and Lutheranism on the doctrine of Two Kingdoms (as I understand it, there is not a one-to-one fall over there) 2) whether the Augsburg statements that apply to Christians apply to those Christians that hold ordained office (I'm almost certain it's basically an irrelevant point because nobody holding Two Kingdom theology would come from a tradition that had Christians avoiding civil office. On the other hand they do draw a clear distinction between ordained and unordained persons). All you have presented on the later is hearsay.
    – Caleb
    Aug 12, 2013 at 11:40

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