One Calling, Two Kingdoms

How to Win Over Baptists and Save the Country

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” -Ephesians 4:1-7 (ESV)

“…called to be saints…” -Romans 1:7, I Corinthians 1:2


Much of the recent confusion and noise around the debate over Christian involvement in politics and culture within evangelical Protestant circles stems from a disregard or a forgetting of the traditional teaching of Christian calling, or vocation. Remembering this principle would serve as a skeleton key for opening our discernment to what often appear as complex, interwoven, and conflated categories. More importantly, a renewed interest and understanding of vocation would infuse a much-needed dose of charity and humility into the conversation, helping those with different callings, debating in good faith, to recognize and affirm the callings of others, peaceably encouraging everyone to stay faithful, productive, and even zealous “in their lane”.

Every Christian is called to be a saint and is called to membership in a local church and is to be equipped there in order to build up the Body of Christ. However, most Christians aren’t called to full-time, vocational ministry, such as being a pastor, evangelist, or missionary. Most Christians are called to live ordinary lives, faithfully using the gifts and opportunities God has given them to do good. Pastors ought to equip them to do this in whatever the various callings and contexts demand of them rather than dismissing their valid temporal concerns in the realm of politics and culture.

Though vocation has remained an important point of Catholic social teaching from the Middle Ages on (though having been mixed with much error), modern day Protestants—and especially Baptists—seem to have lost the appreciation and practical application of this historic, formerly mainstream heuristic. The category of “calling” has helped previous generations of believers throughout the centuries navigate a faithful Christian life in their times.

That pillar of Reformation doctrine, the priesthood of all believers, was a much-needed corrective to the wide and unbiblical gulf between clergy and laity which eventually grew monstrous leading up to the 16th century, largely having been influenced by ancient monastic culture with its false ideals. Much has been written about this elsewhere, but I would just note that in our modern Protestant era the pendulum seems to have swung to the other extreme, and without the help of a robust appreciation of biblical calling many evangelicals are unable to clearly see, think about, or articulate what the teaching of vocation would otherwise enable them to.

One Kingdom, Two Callings

For the purposes of this essay, I will mostly focus on the two most talked-about callings, and the ones which most often come into conflict with one another: those of church and state. However, the principle can be expanded and applied to all the other spheres to which Christians find themselves called. General cultural interests, family, education, the arts, medicine, etc, all have their place, and hopefully the below will open up the mind of the reader to helpful implications regarding them as well.

For starters, it is obvious that the civil vocation of those serving in the state differs from the spiritual calling of those serving in the church, the former focusing mostly on the temporal and external and the latter mostly on the eternal and internal. More potentially confusing, however, is affirming that both derive their authority from the one Kingdom of God but use as his servants God’s power differently, as appropriate within their respective spheres and bounds. Hence the classical Protestant “two kingdoms” understanding of church and state relations. I have found it to be much less confusing to instead think of it as the “two powers” or “two swords” exercising God’s authority for the temporal and eternal good of the “two ages”, respectively. This is not to be confused with the modern two kingdoms theology, although its categories of the “common” and “redemptive” kingdoms can easily fit within the framework of separating the civil, temporal sphere of the state with the spiritual, eternal sphere of the church. The categories of these two callings can be confused in both versions, though I’d argue it is far more likely to happen in the latter. This will be an important distinction to remember later, due to the relatively recent and broad adoption of modern two kingdoms within confessional Baptist circles, I think mostly by way of biblical and covenantal, rather than explicitly political, theology interests.

Looking back at the Old Testament, God ordained a separation and balance of powers, mainly between the priesthood and kings. Kings were punished for interfering too intrusively with the roles of priests, and priests were limited in their activity in the kings’ civil governments. The prophets preached to both. Now that Christ has come, as both God and Man he is the perfect and eternal Priest and King serving and ruling his people from his heavenly Kingdom at the right hand of God through both church and state. He has all authority in heaven and earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. He rules both the state and church from his one Kingdom, but does so differently, using different means in each one. He calls some to serve him primarily through the state, and he calls others to serve him primarily through the church. The whole idea of a pope as head of both church and state is repugnant to Protestants because only Christ as God can fulfill both of these divine roles in his one person, and so it is an inherently false and blasphemous office if filled by any mere man. This is a big part of why the Reformers and Puritans called popery “antichrist”. Protestants believe these roles ought to be reflected separately by those serving in God’s Kingdom here on Earth (except perhaps the Church of England, I suppose, which makes the same error, with the king or queen also being the nominal head of the established church, though I don’t pretend to understand all the theological intricacies involved).

Having two separate callings in each of the spheres has been commonly accepted knowledge in Protestant Christendom but, at least practically speaking, it seems to have been somewhat lost or at least very muddled after over 150-plus years of modernity mixing with liberal democracy in America. Now it seems many vocations want to collapse others into their own, therefore making a major category error and creating confusion.

The Baptist Problem

I’m a Baptist. I’m an American. These two things have gone really well together for about three centuries. Baptists are quintessentially American. One could even argue that many of the principles of our republican form of self government were inspired, or at least greatly bolstered, by Baptist church polity, namely congregationalism. However, the soil out of which Baptist political theology grew, in both England and America, was that of a broadly pan-Protestant Christendom, often even establishment itself. Within that context Baptist dissent and the distinctives of Baptist political theology made a lot of sense. Religious (that is, Christian) liberty within Christendom is a very great blessing and privilege indeed.

But of course our nation can no longer be described as anything nearing Christendom, and all the remaining established churches petered out in the then recently united states about two hundred years ago. Baptist political theology has won the day (or country), or so it would seem. However, when there is no longer a need to dissent from establishment or enmeshed church-state relations, and religious liberty has already spilled over into including non-Christian beliefs, even to atheism itself and worse, what relevance does Baptist political thought have to most Baptists in American pews today? And what does this have to do with vocation?

In the past, American politics made Baptists to flourish, and the flourishing of Baptists has made American politics much better overall. However, carried-over assumptions Baptists have had in their political theology have actually served to inadvertently undermine the formerly Christianized American politics which caused Baptists to flourish in the first place. One way that being a Baptist within the context of America has undermined itself is by a collapsing of the various callings into a sort of homogenous, general, apolitical sainthood, which has fostered a one-dimensional view of what the Christian life in America ought to look like. And it seems that the democracy within the church is at a loss as to how to respond to the democracy outside when it is no longer dominated by cultural Christianity.

As has been noted elsewhere, due to their sheer numbers in America, the need for Baptists to be on board with any cultural or political movement in order for it to be successful is unquestionable. However, the need for a kind of Baptist political theology 2.0 is also much discussed. I believe a big help to this would be a rediscovery among Baptists of the category of “calling.” And, either Baptists will apply the Bible to our times (not the 17th, 18th, 19th, or even 20th century) or they will not be able to completely shepherd and disciple their flocks well in our times, especially if things outside continue getting darker. It seems likely many conservative Baptist churches will lose members over politics and culture in the coming years if there isn’t a course-correction. I am thankful for the Baptist drafters of the Statement on Christian Nationalism and the Gospel, but I realize many of its main ideas are hotly disputed by many influential, confessional Baptist leaders today. To my mind there is no good reason for Baptists not to be able to affirm the American government’s prerogative to legislate, adjudicate, and enforce matters pertaining to the moral law of God or to affirm and advocate for a mere (that is, unestablished) Christendom. Yes, Baptists have been wrongfully persecuted by established churches in America’s past. We should be the first to be willing to suffer persecution in the public square from a hostile, secular state for some of our most basic beliefs now.

Several Callings

“Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called”. -I Corinthians 7:20 (NKJV)

A trend I have noticed in recent years is that when teaching or preaching about Christians getting involved in politics and culture, many pastors from their pulpits have what seems to be an assumption that every member of a church has the same calling as that of the pastor. In other words, pastors are often preaching to their flocks as if they are preaching to other pastors at a pastors conference. There often doesn’t seem to be an acknowledgement of the category of a church member whose main job is in the temporal, civil, political sphere and wielding actual political power, whether as an executive, legislator, or judge or in some other position of major cultural influence, or that anyone in their congregation should so much as aspire to such. Church members with such callings, striving to do their work faithfully, being informed by the Bible and motivated by love of God and neighbor, shouldn’t be made to feel in conflict with any other obligation as a church member, unless of course it is being erroneously conflated with the pastoral, gospel-preaching calling, which it so often is.

And conversely, there seems to be a trend of growing frustration of the more politically and culturally-minded people in the pews that their pastors are not addressing politics and culture nearly enough, or if they are then not accurately or astutely enough. It is not a coincidence that the Christian nationalism movement is mostly that of the laity of evangelicalism rather than something widely promoted and worked towards by its pastoral leadership. There are of course exceptions to this rule, and I’m thankful for them. But the focus is on the temporal not the eternal, so it is only natural that those not called to vocational ministry would be the most interested. Laymen could easily get fired for going too far in their evangelistic endeavors on the job. And pastors should be fired by their congregations for straying too far into political activism. Both scenarios would be a reasonable response by an employer or church to an inappropriate boundary-crossing on the part of the employee or pastor. I would encourage everyone to listen to a short podcast by AD Robles from June 2nd, 2023 where he insightfully contrasts the very different responses of Ezra and Nehemiah, in their respective roles of priest and governor of post-exilic Israel, to the same situation for an excellent illustration of this whole idea. It is entitled, “Pastors Are Not Enough”.

Every Christian has the same basic duties and obligations in both the ecclesial and civil spheres, but their main jobs are different, so their ability to be effective in the sphere which doesn’t encompass their main calling will usually be limited. All the members of a church have specific duties as citizens of heaven, such as those outlined within a church covenant. Those members as earthly citizens of any given place would also have duties in their civil spheres, where they may have more influence and ability to do good than a pastor who is not called to whatever particular place. Laymen can win souls in their arena but will be limited in that capacity. Likewise, pastors can be an agent for good in the civil realm, though they are limited there as well, because it’s not supposed to be their main thing. Even lay elders, if not retired, are limited by their other vocational obligations. However, full-time pastors don’t get dragged before woke HR departments to be questioned for saying true things. And conversely, laymen can’t get fired by their congregations for pursuing God-honoring politics and cultural change for good, unless they are being put under misguided discipline.


Instead of being frustrated with one side or the other, we need to charitably adjust our expectations based on any given person’s God-given vocation. Clarity ought to bring charity, at least for all of those pursuing the truth in good faith. Pastors don’t need to hinder Christians desiring to serve God in the civil sphere, and those more politically minded shouldn’t be surprised when pastors want to primarily focus on preaching the gospel and building up the church. Both can work together in harmony under God’s authority and within the multifaceted economy of God’s Kingdom, which transcends them all. Both callings’ goals don’t need to be mutually exclusive. There is no need for one to say to the other, “I have no need of you”. Both actually need each other to fulfill God’s plan for both the temporal and eternal good of his people while we all await the eschaton.

So perhaps the key to more peace and liberty in the church, clearer consciences, a more renewed culture, and a more robustly Christian political order lies in, through the lens of vocation, all of us mustering the Christian humility to bid godspeed to those aspiring to fulfill God’s calling for each church member, including the pastors. A Christian in the church who can’t stop thinking and talking about politics should probably consider a civil vocation, service in government, or another kind of career influencing law or culture. And, a Christian working in the world whose conscience bids him to shy away from talking about politics and culture because he doesn’t want to hinder an evangelistic witness may want to consider more of a church vocation. If more Christians ran for office instead of arguing with their pastors about politics, and more pastors just preached the gospel and fed their flocks rather than trying to discourage their laymen from getting into politics, out of fear of idolatrous motives or what have you, we would be getting much closer to having the Christian(ized) nation we all want. 

Image Credit: Unsplash

Print article

Share This

Kurt M. Wagner

Kurt M. Wagner is a generalist, life-long learner, and recovering sinner working in the behavioral health field in Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two small children. He is a member of Sellwood Church in Portland.

One thought on “One Calling, Two Kingdoms

  1. Every soul was born with a temple, predestinated by the transgression of Eve and her husband Adam. This temple is a kingdom and it is a kingdom of this world. Jesus as God in man, as the second Adam, turns over the tables in this kingdom and binds the spirit of this world for a renewing, whereby a saved soul can rest with the King of Kings, Jesus Christ and have the peace that passes understanding, reigning with the power of the Holy Ghost. This Kingdom is eternal and it conflicts with the kingdoms of the world. There is only one day, the day of the Lord, it is our day, our day of Salvation and Peace by Jesus Christ when we were born into Him by repentance at the Cross and raised up in Him in His everlasting Kingdom of Peace. Only one master can be served, one Kingdom, King, Baptism and Faith. The other horns ( kings) of this present world try to take back our cleaned temples and make war with our God if we stray from the Cross and glory in ourselves. God’s providence makes a way of escape to the better Kingdom and this providence must be honored but it is not a place of rest nor a place of peace. As ambassadors of the better Kingdom we need not fight but teach with our very lives the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There will be sufferings, but for the Love for Jesus we can be willing as He was willing because He loved His Father. We cannot deny any neighbor no matter their present relationship with God our Love and direction and mercy towards the Cross because we Love Jesus as our God as He loves the Father as we are made in His image and we are renewed by the Holy Spirit as He promised. There is one present Kingdom and believing in this present Kingdom keeps our predestinated Temple Clean with the oil of gladness until He returns to take us to His Heavenly Home. John in chapter one of Revelation reminds us of the Patience of the Saints. We cannot be over taken by our King’s chosen time of return for His people by a lack of understanding and patience.
    Jesus is the door (way) and merit, we must enter through that door and find our way to His feet at the Cross and by Faith, He will hold out His Scepter to us unto eternal Life and Truth in Himself, His Kingdom, His Church and Heaven.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *