Veith, Gene Edward Jr., & A. Trevor Sutton. Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017. Chapter 7. “The Church and the World” pp. 173-195.
Veith and Sutton compare change within both Christianity and culture to the very slow motion of the plates of the earth’s surface. When there is a collision it becomes a major issue. Veith and Sutton find important points of conflict such as religious liberty, political involvement, and definition of moral standards (Veith & Sutton 2017, 173). The interplay of Church and world has been the subject of much discussion and writing. Veith and Sutton find this tension is well addressed by a well reasoned understanding of Luther’s doctrine of two kingdoms. However, it has often been misunderstood, to the detriment of all involved.
Veith and Sutton briefly describe “Augustine’s distinction between the city of God and the city of man” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 175), pointing out that the Augustinian concept is not the same as Luther’s two kingdom theology. Augustine finds the city of God as a place of love for God, and the city of man as a place of love for self. The two will always be in conflict. In Luther’s two kingdom theology, the monarch over all is God. The two kingdoms are not about self-love or God-love. They are the temporal and the eternal. The heavenly kingdom is all about law, but the place of love in the temporal is love for the neighbor, not for the self (Veith & Sutton 2017, 176). The Christian lives in both worlds at once, not being a separatist or a dualist. The kingdoms are present and related to one another. We cannot escape from either (Veith & Sutton 2017, 177).
The two kingdom dorctrine does not endorse or glorify the status quo. Related misunderstandings can lead to a fatalistic conservatism or to a pursuit of any sort of progressivism because God must be doing everything that crosses anyone’s mind (Veith & Sutton 2017, 178). However, the period of the Reformation was not quietistic or revolutionary. There was a critical attitude toward princes and other authorities. There were also conflicts within the kingdoms as Christians sought to learn how their theology would be lived out in culture (Veith & Sutton 2017, 179). Veith and Sutton quote the Augsburg Confession article 16 for clarity on the doctrine (Veith & Sutton 2017, 180). God uses the civil realm for certain functions and the churchly realm for others.
Veith and Sutton consider how God rules over his temporal kingdom by means of law, creation, and vocation (Veith & Sutton 2017, 181). God’s statements of law, even of moral law, do not strictly apply to the spiritual. The heavenly kingdom is all about gospel, not law (Veith & Sutton 2017, 182). The law is separated from religion per se. “The essence of the Christian religion is the Gospel, which is not about morality, but, rather, is about forgiveness for failing to be moral” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 182). The heart of the Gospel is forgiveness in Christ. Moral standards, applied to the secular culture, help to restrain evil and promote good. They may eventually lead to repentance and forgiveness, which constitutes an involvement in the spiritual kingdom (Veith & Sutton 2017, 183). God’s creation and natural laws are also part of the temporal kingdom. This has important implications far beyond what we might first assume. “For example, contrary to the beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism, which teach that the physical realm is an illusion, the universe does exist. Physical reality, however, is not all that exists, contrary to what the naturalists and materialists say (Veith & Sutton 2017, 185). The universe, as created, has order and design. Veith and Sutton emphasize again that the temporal and spiritual worlds are not dualistically exclusive. Events in the temporal world can be eternally significant, while sometimes miraculous events, rooted in the eternal spiritual world, can cause temporal results. Yet at its core, the temporal kingdom is the product of an intelligent creator (Veith & Sutton 2017, 186). Veith and Sutton also note that “God works in His temporal kingdom by means of vocation” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 187). He uses ordinary events and earthly relationships to accomplish His purpose. The doctrine of vocation helps us to see how our relationships and our responsibilities are to be used.
Lutherans confess that God is present in the temporal and spiritual kingdoms alike. However, he is often hidden in the temporal world, revealed in the Word of God (Veith & Sutton 2017, 189). The two kingdoms work together. “The Church...does not exist apart from the ordinary physical mundane-seeming congregation. The spiritual church dwells in, with, and under the very physical church” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 190). Counter to a Calvinist view, the local church is not the spiritual kingdom of God. Lutherans find the local church inhabiting both kingdoms at the same time (Veith & Sutton 2017, 191). The Christian, in his vocation, participates in society to love and serve his neighbor, though still bearing a spiritual perspective of the presence of God (Veith & Sutton 2017, 192). The Luthearn confesses that God makes himself physically present for the good of the world, both in the incarnation and as he works through the physical means of Word and Sacrament. God uses means to come to humans (Veith & Sutton 2017, 192-193). Veith and Sutton conclude that this use of means to accomplish God’s will on earth should give Christians a real way to participate in God’s work as they live out their vocations in the world. The spiritual and temporal kingdoms work together (Veith & Sutton 2017, 194).