I’m certainly not well-versed in the current Reformed debates on the two kingdoms. But what I have read in some quarters has given me the impression that the two kingdoms, church and state, ought to be as two ships passing in the night. Each are on their own charted courses and should steer quite (quite!) clear of each other.
Now, this may be a position held in modern confessionally Reformed circles. And it may have a pedigree going back to early 18th century American Presbyterianism. But if my impression approximates to reality, then the position of some can hardly be advanced as classically reformed. It may employ Melville’s famous terminology of the two kingdoms, but not the substance.
In my recent reading of the First and Second Books of Discipline (1560 and 1578 respectively) drafted by the architects of Presbyterianism, it is clear that the two kingdoms were to be distinct. They ought not intrude on each other’s territory. But note how they envisaged the ideal relationship, as recorded in the opening sections of the Second Book of Discipline:
10. The civil power should command the spiritual to exercise and do their office according to the word of God. The spiritual rulers should require the Christian magistrate to minister justice and punish vice, and to maintain the liberty and quietness of the kirk within their bounds.
11. The magistrate commands external things for external peace and quietness amongst the subjects; the minister handles external things only for conscience cause.
12. The magistrate handles external things only, and actions done before men; but the spiritual ruler judges both inward affections and external actions, in respect of conscience, by the word of God.
13. The civil magistrate craves and gets obedience by the sword and other external means, but the ministry by the spiritual sword and spiritual means.
14. The magistrate neither ought to preach, minister the sacraments, nor execute the censures of the kirk, nor yet prescribe any rule how it should be done, but command the ministers to observe the rule commanded in the word, and punish the transgressors by civil means. The ministers exercise not the civil jurisdiction, but teach the magistrate how it should be exercised according to the word.
15. The magistrate ought to assist, maintain, and fortify the jurisdiction of the kirk. The ministers should assist their princes in all things agreeable to the word, provided they neglect not their own charge by involving themselves in civil affairs.
Hardly did the Scottish Reformers admit the “Am I my brother’s keeper?” principle in their concept of the two kingdoms. No, Cain ought not intermeddle in Abel’s affairs. But neither should he ignore him as though he had relationship whatsoever. The civil magistrate was to have a concern and exert his influence in the Kirk circa sacris. So likewise the Kirk had a prophetic mantle to tell the civil magistrate how he ought to rule the people!