The Evolution of Protestant Politics

Christianity and Politics XI: From the Reformation to Early America

Note: This is Part 11 of an ongoing series. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10.


In my series of articles on Christianity and politics, I have mostly attempted to make my argument from Scripture and natural law. In this entry, I aim to show how the ideas I’ve argued for relate to previous Protestant approaches to politics. I start with John Calvin since he is an important, and representative, voice within the classical Protestant approach. I then turn to some representative Protestant confessional statements of the past, since these (unlike the views of individual theologians, however revered) were actually authoritative for the practice of the churches. Lastly, I look at how classical Protestant political thought was adapted in America, using the American revisions to the Westminster Confession of Faith as an example.

The Classical Protestant Understanding of Politics

John Calvin (1509-64)

The most foundational element of Calvin’s understanding of politics is his argument (here taken from the Battles translation of Calvin’s Institutes III.19.15) that “there is a twofold government in man.” This twofold government, which is sometimes called the “two kingdoms” is often mistakenly equated with the difference between church and state. The distinction, in fact, is between government that is internal and “spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God” and government that is temporal and “political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men.” Spiritual government “pertains to the life of the soul, while [temporal government] has to do with concerns of the present life” such as “laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately.”

Calvin’s discussion of this twofold government is found in the middle of his treatment of how the conscience of the Christian is absolutely free from any human commandment that is not found in Scripture. A possible, but erroneous, conclusion from this fact might be (as it actually was with the Anabaptists) that Christians are not bound to submit to earthly governments at all. Calvin accepts that the Christian’s conscience is bound only to God’s word in spiritual matters, while simultaneously insisting that obedience to lawful human governments is also mandated by God: “As we have just now pointed out that [temporal] government is distinct from that spiritual and inward kingdom of Christ, so we must know that they are not at variance” (Institutes IV.20.2). That is to say, the inward kingdom of salvation in Christ and the outward kingdoms of earthly governments must be kept distinct, yet should not be understand as at odds. Each is appointed by God; each has its unique vocation in the world: one pertaining to eternal life, the other to earthly life. The latter is not sub-Christian, a “thing polluted” (IV.20.2), simply because it is focused primarily on how to live on this earth. This is an important point for those Christians today who struggle to see that vigorous political action by Christians is not at odds with heavenly-minded piety.

For Calvin, “civil government has as its appointed end, so long as we live among men, to cherish and protect the outward worship of God,” and “to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church,” in addition to its non-spiritual purpose “to adjust our life to the society of men, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness, to reconcile us to one another, and to promote general peace and tranquility.” Few Christians today would dispute the non-spiritual purposes of government Calvin enumerates, though even fewer would accept the spiritual mandate of civic government “to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church.” Be that as it may, Calvin’s view was the norm in Protestant political thought for centuries afterward, so one at least needs to understand it, even if one partially or wholly rejects it. Sound reasons would also have to be provided for this rejection, reasons beyond “it’s scary,” or simply pointing out that it would be a difficult task. I have my own reasons for tweaking the classical view, which I will address below.

The Augsburg Confession (1530)

The Lutheran Augsburg Confession was presented to Emperor Charles V (1500-58) at the imperial Diet of Augsburg in 1530 as a summary of Lutheran beliefs. The Confession’s Article 16 is entitled “On Civil Affairs” and says the following: 

Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that 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. They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians. They condemn also those who do not place evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, for 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 ordinances. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29.

In brief, this article states that just laws must be obeyed and that government is a good and divine institution. Like Calvin, the Confession rejects the Anabaptist notion that submission to God’s kingdom precludes submission to earthly governments. Unlike Calvin, there is no statement of a mandate for the civil magistrate to ensure that true religion prevails in a nation (see also Article 28). It does, however, require that the state practice charity in its ordinances, which at a bare minimum means that the laws of the state are shaped by Christian teaching. That said, the Augsburg Confession appears more concerned with preventing church officers from meddling in civil government than closing off the possibility that the state might have certain responsibilities regarding the promotion of true religion. In general, however, Lutherans did not employ Calvin’s argument in this regard.

The Scots Confession (1560)

In contrast to the Lutherans, all of the key political ideas expressed by Calvin (and other Reformed pastors and theologians) were soon enshrined in major Reformed confessions. The 1560 Scots Confession is a good place to begin, since it was written by followers of Calvin while he was still alive. The Scots Confession was approved by the Scottish Parliament and served as the official doctrinal statement of the Scottish national church. Chapter 24, on the civil magistrate, says the following:

We Confess and acknowledge empires, kingdoms, dominions, and cities to be distincted and ordained by God: the powers and authorities in the same (be it of Emperors in their empires, of Kings in their realms, Dukes and Princes in their dominions, or of other Magistrates in free cities), to be God’s holy ordinance, ordained for manifestation of his own glory, and for the singular profit and commodity of mankind. So that whosoever goes about to take away or to confound the whole state of civil policies, now long established, we affirm the same men not only to be enemies to mankind, but also wickedly to fight against God’s expressed will. We further Confess and acknowledge, that such persons as are placed in authority are to be loved, honoured, feared, and held in most reverent estimation; because that they are the lieutenants of God, in whose session God himself doth sit and judge (yea even the Judges and Princes themselves), to whom by God is given the sword, to the praise and defence of good men, and to revenge and punish all open malefactors. Moreover, to Kings, Princes, Rulers, and Magistrates, we affirm that chiefly and most principally the conservation and purgation of the Religion appertains; so that not only they are appointed for civil policy, but also for maintenance of the true Religion, and for suppressing of idolatry and superstition whatsoever, as in David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, and others, highly commended for their zeal in that case, may be espied. And therefore we confess and avow, that such as resist the supreme power (doing that thing which appertains to his charge), do resist God’s ordinance, and therefore cannot be guiltless. And further, we affirm, that whosoever deny unto them their aid, counsel, and comfort, while the Princes and Rulers vigilantly travail in the executing of their office, that the same men deny their help, support, and counsel to God, who by the presence of his lieutenant craveth it of them.

There is no material difference between this chapter and Calvin’s teaching on the magistrate. It can be summed up like this: distinct nations are ordained by God, as are their civil rulers; these rulers are meant to rule for God’s glory and the good of their people; to unlawfully resist their lawful rule is to resist God; such rulers are tasked, as per Romans 13:1–7, with “the praise and defense of good men, and to revenge and punish all open malefactors;” they are also given responsibility “for maintenance of the true Religion.”

The Belgic Confession (1562)

The Belgic Confession was written in the early 1560s for the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, eventually becoming the official doctrinal statement of those churches. The original form of Article 36 (“Of Magistrates”) reads as follows:

We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, hath appointed kings, princes and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose he hath invested the magistracy with the sword, for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the protection of them that do well. And their office is, not only to have regard unto, and watch for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred ministry; and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of anti-Christ may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must therefore countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honored and worshipped by every one, of what state, quality, or condition so ever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to pay tribute, to show due honor and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers, that God may rule and guide them in all their ways, and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order, which God hath established among men.

Summarized, this article states that the civil magistrate is a legitimate, divine authority and that it must enforce just laws so as to facilitate a just and well-ordered society. On the role of the magistrate regarding true religion the Belgic Confession is somewhat more specific and detailed than the Scots Confession. Among the magistrate’s responsibilities is to protect the free exercise of the church’s ministry, remove idolatry from the church, and ensure that the gospel is preached faithfully and that faithful worship takes place.

As with Calvin, none of these state responsibilities requires (or even allows) the state to usurp the authority of the church by taking to itself the church’s exclusive ministerial vocation (preaching the word, administering the sacraments, etc.). Nonetheless, the state is seen to have been ordained by God—in its own distinct vocation—to ensure that the church is carrying out its unique vocation properly. Contemporary versions of the Belgic Confession reject the specific requirement of the state to promote true religion, as do the American Revisions to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1789). I will discuss these changes below.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)

The Reformed understanding of the duties of the civil magistrate, both in the civil realm and in the spiritual realm, remained remarkably consistent throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. It can be seen in nearly the same form in the original version of the Westminster Confession of Faith, published in 1647, and adopted by the English Parliament the same year. Chapter 23, “Of the Civil Magistrate,” argues (among other things), that God

hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good, and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil-doers.

It also states that the magistrate “ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth.” The Confession insists, in keeping with Calvin, that the “civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” The magistrate may not take upon itself the vocation of the church, in other words. Nonetheless, the magistrate

hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

In short, the governing authorities of a nation can (and must) ensure that the church acts properly within its own authority to preserve true religion and faithful worship. How might the magistrate do this without wrongly interfering in the ministry of the church? One example given is the calling of synods (church bodies to deliberate on church matters), as well as ensuring that such synods carry out their task faithfully. It would be wrong for the magistrate to engage in preaching or the administration of the sacraments at these synods; it would be wrong for the magistrate to make authoritative pronouncements on doctrinal matters (writing confessions of faith, for example). But the magistrate could call the church together to do these things, and make sure it brings them to completion. The mandate to do so may not conform to contemporary sensibilities about how church and state must remain separate, but it is important to note that this is not a merging of church and state either (any more than was the case with Calvin).

Protestant Politics in America

The original Westminster Confession states that it is the duty of the civil magistrate to “maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth” (emphasis added). That is to say, the specific way in which a given nation organizes its government may look different than in other nations, just as some of the specifics of how it “maintain[s] piety, justice, and peace” may look different. This is a principle of Christian political thought that extends far beyond the Protestant Reformation. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) wrote in his Summa Theologica, for example, that the “general principles of the natural law cannot be applied to all men in the same way on account of the great variety of human affairs: and hence arises the diversity of positive laws among various people” (ST I-II.95.2; Reply Obj. 3; p. 1015 of the translation of the English Dominical Province). Quoting the much earlier statement of Isidore of Seville (c. 560–632) (in his Etymologies), Aquinas continues (ST I-II.95.3):

Law shall be virtuous, just, possible to nature, according to the custom of the country, suitable to place and time, necessary, useful; clearly expressed, lest by its obscurity it lead to misunderstanding; framed for no private benefit, but for the common good.

Centuries later, the Italian Protestant theologian Girolamo Zanchi (1516-90) would echo these sentiments (broadly shared among Reformed theologians) when he argued that 

among the other characteristics required for establishing political laws this one is definitely not the least important: It is essential that the laws be possible. By ‘possible’ I mean, in accordance with both nature and the customs of the people . . . .” (Girolamo Zanchi, On the Law in General, p. 41)

The Westminster Confession, then, in stating that magistrates must rule “according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth,” expresses a common sentiment in Christian thinking on politics: while there are some unchanging principles of justice, laws must be fitting for a specific place and time. Figuring out the limits of this flexibility may be difficult, but it is not for that reason unnecessary.

Protestant political thought underwent several changes in the American context. The original Puritan settlements of New England in certain ways approximated the political thought of Calvin and the 16th and 17th century Reformed confessions surveyed above: church and state were not identical, but civil magistrates were tasked with both civic justice and promotion and protection of true piety and worship.

By the time of the American Revolution, the situation in America had changed, though not nearly to the degree that modern, radical secularists suppose. It is not my intention here to attempt a summary of early American religious thought (an impossibly large task for this article), but the kinds of changes I am referring to can be observed in the alterations that were made to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) by the American Presbyterian Church, changes which were debated and codified in 1787–89. These changes serve as a good, representative example of how older Protestant political thought was adopted and adapted in America.

The American revisions do not alter the government’s responsibility to punish evil with the sword and to reward good. They do, however, make significant changes regarding the magistrate’s responsibility toward the church. The magistrate no longer is tasked to ensure 

that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. (original WCF 23.3)

Nor does the revised confession grant that the state “hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God” (original WCF 23.3).

The American revisions also remove the mandate in the original WCF 20.4 stating that those who attempt to undermine legitimate power in church or state should be called to account “by the power of the civil magistrate,” in addition to the church. 

Although the revisions delete the imperative that the civil magistrate is “to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church,” the revised Confession does, in fact, contain something quite similar:

[A]s nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger.

This language makes it clear that the revised Confession is not a modern secularist document. To begin with, the language of “nursing fathers,” as James Hutson has documented, had been used long before the revised Confession to explain the positive responsibility the State has to protect the church. Even more, the revised Confession says that civil magistrates are not to give preference to any Christian denomination, but also that they must ensure that all genuinely Christian denominations are protected so as to be able to carry out their spiritual ministries without hindrance, “that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance” (WCF 23.3).

Two things should be noted. First, the revised Confession has no category for religious toleration extending beyond orthodox Christian churches (by which they would have understood Protestant churches). Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845), in his Commentaries on the Constitution, recognized the similar dynamic at work in the framing of the Federal Bill of Rights:

The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical patronage of the national government.

One can disagree with the revised Confession’s limit of religious liberty to genuinely Christian denominations, but it is undeniable that this is what it argues for.

Second, the revised Confession does argue that the civil magistrate has a positive responsibility to ensure that the true church is protected, and that it is enabled to carry out its ministry without hindrance from any outside source. Modern secularists would turn this dynamic on its head in arguing that the State must be neutral with regard to the church, or—as is increasingly the case—must refrain from any actions that would be beneficial to the church. That is very far from what the revised WCF states. It makes it clear that the state must be kept distinct from the church, and (unlike the original WCF) does not grant the state authority to ensure that the church remains pure in its doctrine and worship. Nonetheless, it is decidedly not neutral with regard to the church. The basic stance of the revised WCF is that the civil magistrate must not interfere in the internal matters of true Christian churches, but that it must ensure that those churches are kept safe and are enabled to regulate their own internal affairs and to prosper in so doing. This is not secularism. It is simply a sharper differentiation between the vocations of church and state than is found in the original WCF.

John Witherspoon (1723-94), American founder and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was also very active in the early American Presbyterian Church. In fact, he was not part of the 1787 Constitutional Convention precisely because he was occupied elsewhere in Philadelphia, working on the revisions to the WCF.

Witherspoon’s own political philosophy fell firmly in the mainstream of contemporary American political thinking. In it the state has, just as in the revised WCF, a more limited role with regard to religion than was the case in Reformational Europe. Witherspoon, though, was no modern secularist either.

Witherspoon wrote, for example, the following on the duties of the magistrate regarding religion in his university lectures on moral philosophy (essentially a combination of ethics, politics, and law):

What the magistrate may do on this subject [religion] seems to be confined to the three following particulars. (1) The magistrate (or ruling part of any society) ought to encourage piety by his own example, and by endeavoring to make it an object of public esteem. . . . (2) The magistrate ought to defend the rights of conscience and tolerate all in their religious sentiments that are not injurious to their neighbors. . . . (3) The magistrate may enact laws for the punishment of acts of profanity and impiety. . . . (Lecture XIV: Jurisprudence)

In these comments one can see the same emphasis as in the revised WCF on toleration of all Christian denominations that do not “injure their neighbors,” but also an encouragement to the magistrate to set an example of Christian piety so that the entire public will seek to emulate it (something seen in the public calls for thanksgiving, prayer, etc., of all the earliest U.S. Presidents except Jefferson; on this see Mark David Hall, Did America Have a Christian Founding? Chapter 4), and support for laws banning profanity and blasphemy (both of which have been common for most of America’s history).

There is a fascinating section in this lecture that immediately follows what I’ve just quoted, where Witherspoon seems to make room for an even more robust role for the state regarding true religion:

Many are of the opinion that besides all this, the magistrate ought to make public provision for the worship of God in such manner as is agreeable to the great body of the society, though at the same time all who dissent from it are fully tolerated. And indeed there seems to be a good deal of reason for it, that so instruction may be provided for the bulk of common people, who would many of them neither support nor employ teachers unless they were obliged. The magistrate’s right in this case seems to be something like that of a parent: they have a right to instruct, but not to constrain.” (Lecture XIV: Jurisprudence)

The magistrate, in other words, should ensure that faithful Christian worship is facilitated, though allowing dissenters to be protected and tolerated. Even Thomas Jefferson, by no means an orthodox Christian, acted in a similar fashion. He ensured that the Capital building was made available for Christian worship services, himself often attending. Witherspoon recognized how important it was for the American people to be formed in Christian virtue, noting in his 1782 “Sermon Delivered at a Public Thanksgiving” that “civil liberty cannot be long preserved without virtue” (cited in Jeffery Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, 29). Thus, because the majority of citizens will not be instructed in the necessary Christian virtue unless “they were obliged,” “the magistrate ought to make public provision for the worship of God in such manner as is agreeable to the great body of the society.” Witherspoon distinguishes the right of the magistrate to promote instruction in Christian teaching from constraint, or the imposition of the particular Christian teaching of a single Christian group upon those who dissent from that teaching. While this role for the magistrate is more limited than the Reformation confessions call for, it is far more than would be accepted by radical secularists today.

My view, in sum, following the revised WCF, is that the civil magistrate should act in ways that are supportive of all true Christian churches and basic Christian teaching, but should not intervene in the internal governance of the churches (unless those matters become civil matters; e.g., crimes committed by church officers). I don’t think the entirety of the older Protestant view on the magistrate can be squared with the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. That is not a theological argument against establishment, but I would argue that one would at least have to amend the Constitution if one desired to conform it to the older Protestant view.

The reasons, however, that I don’t think this is the most prudent approach are as follows. First, the moral and spiritual environment for establishment does not currently exist in America. The Protestant establishment of religion was the product of a society that had been shaped by Christianity for well over a thousand years. Any establishment at the moment in America would be theologically perverse. I think nearly all proponents of the permissibility of establishment would grant this.

Second, I think the revised WCF is better than the original in granting wide latitude to all genuine Christian groups to freely exercise their faith. The last thing we need in our current moment is different Christian denominations fighting each other for official government acknowledgment and resources. We have enough on our hands protecting our churches from an intrusive state and various other attacks. I think most proponents of classical establishment would probably also agree with this point as a matter of prudence. Stephen Wolfe, for example, despite what many seem to insinuate, argues along these lines in chapter 10 of The Case of Christian Nationalism.

Third, as I see it, the New Testament only grants authority regarding the internal governance of the church to the officers of the church. I think most people who oppose establishment frame their opposition the other way round: they are mostly afraid of Christians imposing their will on the general populace via the state. I am more concerned—from a biblical and theological standpoint—about the state interfering in matters that God has not granted it authority to pronounce upon. I’m aware that the older Protestant view did not give the magistrate carte blanche to interfere in internal church matters. But perhaps it still granted it too much leeway in this direction. Should the U.S. government have the authority to mandate that the Presbyterian Church in America (my denomination) call a second General Assembly every year? The older view allows this. I don’t see God having granted the state that authority.

Nonetheless, and as I’ve attempted to show above, the state cannot and should not be neutral with regard to true Christian churches. It has a responsibility to protect them and to be broadly supportive of those churches as they carry out their spiritual ministries today. Such an understanding has predominated in America until the last 60-80 years, when it has been overturned merely by judicial fiat, through recourse to no provisions in the constitution whatsoever. In the next article in this series I will explain a variety of ways in which I believe the state should continue to support Christian churches today.

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Ben C. Dunson is Founding and Contributing Editor of American Reformer. He is also Visiting Professor of New Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Greenville, SC), having previously taught at Reformed Theological Seminary (Dallas, TX), Reformation Bible College (Sanford, FL), and Redeemer University (Ontario, Canada). He lives in the northern suburbs of Dallas with his wife and four boys.

4 thoughts on “The Evolution of Protestant Politics

  1. There are two points to be made here. First, all of the remarks made by those who contributed to the Reformed traditions were made during Christendom. The significance of this statement cannot be overstated. Why? First, the general consensus of the public’s worldview was in the context in which Christianity was the dominant influence over society. Just as some past Christian heroes showed themselves to be partial products of their own time regarding race, so too it is possible that descriptions of the relationship between the two kingdoms by those contributed to the Reformed traditions were greatly influenced by Christendom.

    Second, and this point points to today’s broken relationship between Church and state. It seems that the government has a duty to fulfill to the Church that is not returned by the Church. In mathematical terms, there is a part of the relationship between Church and State that is not symmetrical. That part of the relationship is found in who sets the limits for whom. And this is part of what has been heavily influenced by Christendom. The Church gets to independently define limits for what the government can require of the Church but the government cannot return the favor. Every requirement that the government could put on the Church is limited by what the Church says it can be.

    Such fosters an antagonistic view between the Church and the State in the absence of Christendom and when a nation’s demographics do not favor the Christian religion. But such also privileges Christianity over all other religions, it privileges Christians over all other people. In short, such promotes and protects a Christian ethnocracy regardless of what the religious demographics of a given nation are. And in the absence of such a privileged position, it binds to the consciences of Christians the duty to establish that privileged place in the state and society for themselves and those who would follow in whatever nation they reside. Such is the price to pay when we don’t consider the influence that a person’s situational context can have on their reading of the Scriptures.

    The problem is that no such obligation is put on the Christian in the New Testament. In other words, an obligation is now alleged to be implied by the Scriptures which has arrived at through deductions by those who contributed to our Reformed traditions. And such an obligation might not only add to our obligation to carry out the Great Commission, it might require the Church to pursue a kind of relationship with the state and society that interferes with our obligation to carry out the Great Commission. That interference could come in the form of creating unnecessary stumbling blocks to listening to the Gospel in unbelievers as believers assume a superior relationship to unbelievers in both the state and society. That interference could come in the form of Christians lording it over others–something Jesus prohibited us from doing.

    One of the foundational tenets of the relationship between the 2 kingdoms promoted in the above article is the assumption of what Paul meant in Romans 13 when he referred to good and evil. It is safe to believe that his immediate Roman audience understood what he was saying, but we might easily do not. We can speculate, but we can’t be sure. But we can learn from some of Paul’s other epistles, as well as Romans, that the definition for the good and evil that government is required by God to respond to is not identical with what many Christians who contributed to the Reformed traditions say it was. I Corinthians 5, for example contrasts Paul’s concern for sexual purity in the Church with Paul’s apathy toward sexual purity in society. Even the discussion of homosexuality in Romans 1 shows that Paul thought differently from those who contributed to the Reformed traditions.

    So why does Dunson quote from the Reformed traditions as if they are binding for today without considering the contextual differences of back then with today?

  2. Ben,

    Stephen and Timon have recently argued that the American revisions give latitude and allowed for room for non-establishmentarians within the tent, but do not exclude establishmentarians per se. Do you agree with this?

    Also, the ARPC revised their confession before the mainline Presbyterian church, and it very clears out the same ideas that you suggest the American revisions contain. Why are the American revisions less clear on tolerance being only for Christian denominations?

  3. Ben,

    Are there plans to eventually publish all of the essays in this series into a book? I would certainly pick up a copy or two to share with friends.

  4. Ben, this is superb! Thanks. You might have also mentioned the London Baptist Confession of 1689 which does not assign a role for the civil magistrate in church affairs in contrast to the WCF. This is pretty crucial.

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