Witte on the difference between Calvin & Luther & Anabaptists

“Calvin charted a course between the Erastianism (the doctrine that the state is supreme over the church in ecclesiastical matters) of Lutherans that subordinated the church to the state, and the asceticism of Anabaptists that withdrew the Church from the State and society. Like Lutherans, Calvin and his followers insisted that each local polity be an overtly Christian commonwealth that adhered to the general principles of natural law and that translated them into detailed positive laws of religious worship, Sabbath observance, public morality, marriage and family life, social welfare, public education and more. Like Anabaptists, Calvin and his followers insisted on the basic separation of the offices and operations of church, and state, leaving the church to govern its own doctrine and liturgy, polity and property, without interference from the state. But, unlike both groups, Calvin insisted that both church and state officials were to play complementary legal roles in the creation of the local Christian commonwealth and in the cultivation of the Christian citizen.”

John Witte, Jr.
The Reformation Of Rights – pg. 78

A couple notes here.

First, Calvin’s expectation “that each local polity be an overtly Christian commonwealth that adhered to the general principles of natural law,” must be understood in the context that natural law can only yield Christian conclusions when interpreted in a Christian community. Natural law, when pursued in the context of a Christian people and a Christian Worldview, can be expected to fulfill Calvin’s expectations and is the only place where it can really work without the use of raw force to implement it. It is the height of foolishness to think that Natural law will translate “into detailed positive laws of religious worship, Sabbath observance, public morality, marriage and family life, social welfare, public education and more,” when it is considered apart from Christian people living in a Christian commonwealth. One problem with Natural law as the R2Kt people pursue it is the expectation that the Natural law, as promulgated by Christian Natural law theologians, will be embraced by people who do not share the Biblical starting point that the Christian Natural law theologians have. Indeed, what is interesting is that Calvin expected Natural law to translate into detailed positive laws in areas that the current R2Kt Natural theologians insist that Natural law does not speak to at all (i.e. — religious worship, and Sabbath observance).

Second, the appeal to public education must be take into account that public education in a Christian commonwealth will be doing the same thing that public education in Secular humanist pluralist commonwealth does, and that is to catechize children into the guiding dominant mindset. There is nothing wrong with public education when it is pursued in the context of a Christian commonwealth, which is the context for which Calvin and Luther were advocating its existence. (Though I still would never require it through legislation.)

Third, this quote does serious damage to R2Kt idea that pluralism is the ideal societal arrangement. Calvin does not agree with the innovative thinking that is without Reformed historical legs that is coming out of Westminster West.

Calvin’s Two Kingdom vs. R2K Theology

“Calvin’s principle of separation of church and state bore little resemblance, however, to modern American understandings of a ‘high and impregnable law between church and state.’ Despite his early flirtations with radical political implications of the two kingdoms theory, Calvin ultimately did not contemplate a ‘secular society’ with a plurality of absolutely separated religious and political officials within them. Nor did he contemplate a neutral state, which showed no preference among competing concepts of spiritual and moral good. For Calvin, each community is to be a unitary Christian society, a miniature corpus Christianum under God’s sovereignty and law. Within this unitary society, the church and state stand as coordinate powers. Both are ordained by God to help achieve a Godly order and discipline in the community, a successful realization of all three uses of the moral law. Such conjoined responsibilities inevitably require church and state, clergy and magistracy to aid and accommodate moderate each other on a variety of levels. These institutions and officials said Calvin, ‘are not contraries, like water and fire, but things conjoined.’ ‘The Spiritual polity, though distinct from the civil polity does not hinder or threaten it but rather greatly helps and furthers it.’ In turn, ‘the civil government has its appointed end…to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church…and a public manifestation of religion.’

Calvin’s principles were as much reminiscent of medieval forms of church-state relations as prescient of modern forms. To be sure, Calvin anticipated a number of modern concepts of separation, accomodation, and cooperation of church and state that later would come to dominate Western constitutionalism. But Calvin also appropriated many of the cardinal insights of both the ‘two powers’ theory of Pope Gelasius and and the ‘two swords’ theory of the Papal Revolution. Particularly like his medieval predecessors, Calvin saw that to maintain its liberty, the church had to organize itself into its own legal and political entity, and to preserve for itself its own jurisdiction and responsibility. It had to wield its own ‘sword,’ maintain its own ‘power.’ Calvin differed from his medieval predecessors, however, in insisting on a more democratic form of ecclesiastical and civil polity, a more limited ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and an equality of church and state before God.”

John Witte, Jr.
The Reformation of Rights pg. 76

Now what we are clearly seeing is that Calvin did hold to something that could be called a ‘Two Kingdom Theology.’ However what Calvin developed was far different than what Luther held to and what Westminster West Seminary is trying to sell with their radical two Kingdom Theology. Compared to Luther and Westminster West (which on this score is trying to Lutheranize Calvinist theology) Calvin’s two Kingdom theology is far more nuanced and subtle then the dichotomizing theology evidenced in Lutheran and Westminster West theology. Calvin’s theology eschews pagan pluralism, and embraces the idea of a kind of feudally arranged Christendom, where, because the individual parts that comprise the whole are organized as a Christian community, the whole therefore can be denominated ‘Christendom.’

Ongoing Book Review — Witte’s The Reformation of Rights — Beware R2kt

Calvin’s Mature Formulations

“Calvin’s later formulations on religious liberty had the opposite tendency. As his thinking matured, and he took up his pastoral and political advisory duties in Geneva, Calvin began to think in more integrated and more institutional terms. He blurred the lines between the earthly kingdom and heavenly kingdom, between spiritual and political life, law, and liberty. He also focused more closely and concretely on the institutional responsibilities and relationship of Church and State. Whereas the religious liberty of the individual had been a principle concern of Calvin in the 1530’s, religious liberty of the Church took priority and precedence thereafter — to the point where the individual’s religious freedom would have to yield to the church’s in the event of conflict. This new priority was no more clearly demonstrated than in Calvin’s actions toward Severtus….

Calvin still insisted that liberty and law, freedom and order — and now rights and rules — belong together. But the law and order side of the equation took prominence in his later writings as he struggled to define the functions and interrelationships of moral, political, and ecclesiastical laws and structures within both the earthly and heavenly kingdoms. By the time of his 1559 Institutes, Calvin in effect superimposed on the Lutheran two kingdoms theory his own variant of the Catholic two swords theory. He assigned the church a legal role in the governance of the earthly kingdom, and the state a moral role in the governance of the heavenly kingdom. At the same time, he rendered obedience to church officials and law both a spiritual and a civic duty, and obedience to political officials and law both a civic and a spiritual duty….

At the foundation of Calvin’s later formulations was a newly expanded theory of the moral law, which God uses to govern both the heavenly and earthly kingdom. Calvin described the moral law much as he had described the ‘spiritual law’ before — as moral commandments, engraved on the conscience, repeated in Scripture, and summarized in the Decalogue…. Calvin generally used (varied) terms synonymously to describe the norms created and communicated by God for the governance of humanity, for the right ordering of individual and social lives. He considered the commandments of the Decalogue to be the fullest expression of the moral law, but he grounded many other human customs and habits in this moral law as well.”

John Witte, Jr.
The Reformation of Rights — Law, Religion, & Human Rights In Early Modern Calvinism
pg. 56-59

Calvin can not be appealed to as a proponent of Radical Two Kingdom Theory and was not a carrier of that virus. And as time passes and I continue to advance through Witte’s book we shall see ongoing testimony that the heirs of Calvin were not proponents of the Radical Two Kingdom theology that is being taught as basic Calvinism as Westminster West. We shall see that Calvin, Beza, Althusius, Milton, and the Colonial Puritan divines in the fledgling New England colonies were strangers to Radical Two Kingdom Theology.

Now I really don’t mind if some Reformed people exist who desire to teach Two Kingdom Theology. Clearly, Two Kingdom Theology in one form or another is something that all Reformed people need to take into consideration. But, as we have seen on this site, the Radical Two Kingdom Theology that is being pushed in some quarters is more Lutheran then it is Reformed, and I take great umbrage at the proponents of Radical Two Kingdom theology acting as if their pet theories have been embraced for centuries in the Reformed Church and cantering on as if it is a great pity that so many Reformed people have left the safe haven of their version of Calvinism 101. These Radical Two Kingdomists are the ones pushing aberrant Calvinism and Witte — somebody who doesn’t hold a Theonomic or Theocratic agenda — is going to show us that.

Comparing & Contrasting Two Different Christian Visions

This conversation may be getting old to some. If it is just ignore it. Still, I think it provides the advantage of really teasing out the differences between radical two Kingdom Theology and Biblical Theology. It is interesting, that according to John Witte, in a recent book that he has put out chronicles that the young Calvin embraced Luther’s two Kingdom theology but, Witte points out, as Calvin matured he increasingly moved away from Luther’s Two Kingdom Theology.

It is essential to keep in mind as we examine this that since Two Kingdom Theology hold that only people are Christians that applying the appellation ‘Christian’ to anything else is an absurdity. Therefore they reject the idea of ‘Christian Family,’ ‘Christian Schools,’ ‘Christian Scholarship,’ ‘Christian Law,’ and ‘Christian Culture.’ Now while we agree that the term ‘Christian’ should apply primarily to individuals we think it obscene to suggest that God’s word doesn’t speak to how to establish Christian families, schools, scholarship, law culture, and any number of other areas. What the Two Kingdom types want God’s people to apply to these areas is not God’s Redemptive Word as found in Scripture but rather God’s Creative Word as found in Natural Law. So Natural law holds sway in where we do all our non-spiritual living and God’s Redemptive word holds sway in the Church where we do our spiritual living.

Below I have created by latest conversation with Sean and Zrim. The italicized parts I included from a previous post because they help the conversation make sense. The blockquote is the most recent and input from Sean or Zrim and the non intalicized non blockquote sections are my responses.

I agree that Romans 1 and 2 can’t be made to contradict one another and I haven’t appealed to it as such, i’ve referenced it in just the way Paul makes use of it, to acknowledge commonality with the Gentile(when the gentile does…..). I fear you confuse sin with crime.

It’s true that the there is commonality with those who do not have the law. There is commonality but not neutrality. I fear you confuse the two. The commanality that exists between the two is denied by those who do not have the law, choosing instead to insist that the common ground that belongs to God is in fact their ground that belongs to them and their deity. I do not confuse sin w/ crime but I do recognize that sin often leads to crime. In order to say anymore about that you’ll have to develop just how I am confusing the two.

“Including when it deifies the belief that no god should be the god of the public square. All tribes are equally particular in their civil application of their beliefs about God. (i.e. — Humanismdom, Islamdom, Christendom, Pluralismdom etc.). All cultures have a sense of the ‘taboo’ thus revealing that their culture is an expression of the cultic religious system.”

They all reflect a commonality in that they reflect however imperfectly the imago dei. Again sin and crime needs to be distinguished.

They all don’t reflect equally, however imperfectly, the imago dei. You have just made the multiculturalists argument that all culturals are equal, which is what I would expect a R2Kt pluralist to make. Christian culture (wherever it might exist) does indeed imperfectly reflect the imago dei, just as fallen individuals who have been redeemed imperfectly reflect the imago die, but because it has been Redeemed it is far superior and to be preferred above all other imperfect reflections of the imago dei.

”All culture are organized cultically. The attempt to have a non-cultic culture would result in a cultic culture that is an expression of the non-cultic cult.”

Not in a culture that rightly distinguished common from holy, sacred from secular. In that instance it is not a deifying of the common but rightly distinguishing cult from culture and insisting that cultural and cultic institutions rightly adhere to their respective bounds.

Did it ever occur to you that cult and culture, sharing a root word, are intimately bound up with one another? Certainly one can distinguish between the two but to divorce and compartmentalize between the two such as you are doing is utter nonsense. In a culture that rightly distinguished common from holy, sacred from secular, that ability to distinguish would be a testimony that such a culture that does make such distinguishing is a Holy culture. It is the set apart culture because it is operating the way that God wants it to. It is the culture to be preferred above all other cultures. It is the Holy culture because it makes distinctions between Holy and Secular. It is the sacred culture because it is the true culture. You haven’t avoided what you so desperately want to avoid. All cultures are organized cultically.

“I am confident that disobedience to the State when it positions itself as God in significant non-cultic realms (like deciding some people group are sub-human and are to be liquidated) is biblical reason for obedience to God rather then men.”

I overstated with the “only”, unintended, I have no objection to overcoming certain tyrannical acts, particularly when those acts emanate from a state who is using forcible coercion to apply it’s cultic distinctions(identity movement, naziism) (regard of other ethnicities as sub-human, diminishing the imago dei). This is simply upholding the distinction between common and holy and affirming the imago dei.

Ah, so now, in your non-cultic culture any behavior that that you deem cultic by what is non-cultic is ok. Et Tu Brutus? That is a major inconsistency on your part. Anything that I would advocate the State do to not do would likewise simply be affirming the imago dei and an avoidance of diminishing the imago die. In the end you’re position is not any different then mine. The only difference is that you are willing for a culture to defy God up to a later point then I am. I draw lines way before when they start putting yellow stars on people and you don’t start drawing lines until they actually are putting them in the ovens.

“There is a Theocratic city to come but we must not under-realize our eschatology and forget that there is a Theocratic city that is now. Christ has come. Christ brought His Kingdom. Christ bound the Strong man. The Theocratic city now rules. Our living and advocacy in every area of life should reflect hegemony of our Theocratic King.”

Well, this is an obvious confusion of kingdoms, and the defining of the kingdom as something other than spiritual in this age, it’s a misunderstanding of the nature of the kingdom ala “jewish dreams”, and an example of overrealized eschatology.(christendom)

And here we begin to see your gnostic theology. In your view any aspect that belongs to Christ’s Kingdom cannot be corporeal since Christ’s Kingdom is by definition incorporeal that is to say Spiritual. Christ has brought a Spiritual salvation and that salvation does not apply to things you perceive to be non-Spiritual. Does Christ bring Salvation to our Political structures? ‘No’, you say because they are not Spiritual. Does Christ bring salvation to our economic relationships? ‘No,’ you say because they are not Spiritual. Does Christ bring Salvation to our Families? ‘No,’ you say because they are not Spiritual. Does Christ bring salvation to our understanding of the World as conveyed in Schools? ‘No,’ you say because they are not Spiritual. This is nothing but gnosticism.

“By being obedient to Him in every area. By not only praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ but also by realizing that with the ongoing coming of His already present Kingdom opposing Kingdoms must crumble. By resolving that when appropriate they must obey God rather then man. By being willing to endure a theology of the Cross as a result of the opposition to pursuing the glory of God in every area of life.”

Not sure we disagree here, depends if you have in mind a golden age in which cultural institutions this side of the second advent are undergoing reclamation. In that case you’ve violated your theology of the cross.

I do have in mind a Triumphant age in which cultural institutions this side of the second advent submit to Christ’s always present Lordship. And I would contend it is only post-millennialists who have a theology of the cross because it is only post-millennialists that the enemies of Christ would bother to persecute for the Kingdoms sake. It’s easy to talk about a Theology of the Cross when you don’t do anything that would make anybody want to persecute you.

It is interesting that W2K views, in the context of Reformed confessionalism, are often called “Gnostic” or “Fundamentalist” or “Dispensational,” at least to me. I deliberately rejected broad Evangelicalism years ago on the same sorts of grounds. What I find similar to broad Evangelicalism (indeed, most western religion) and the principles of theonomy/transformationalism is that heaven implies earth, that the gospel itself has a direct bearing on and obvious implication for earth, that the eternal and temporal are not really all that distinct. (What’s this mean for something like the Creator/creature distinction?) But if everything is sacred then nothing is.

This is an important observation and it is why I insist that while everything is Holy there must remain a ‘Holy of the Holy’ in the administering of Word and Sacrament. In just such a way your last sentence loses its force. I agree that the eternal and the temporal are distinct. I don’t agree that the eternal and the temporal are divorced and compartmentalized as if heaven and earth have nothing to do with each other. In the end I think there are two dangers to avoid. One danger is conflating the two so that they are indistinguishable. This is the danger that I believe the Church embraced in the Medieval ages. The other danger is divorcing the two so that they are isolated from one another. This was the danger of the Ana-Baptists and frankly it is the danger of the R2Kt people. Only in Reformed thinking was heaven and earth reconciled so that they neither became completely identified with one another on one hand nor were completely divorced from each other on the other hand.

This is why I say that consistent theonomy seems necessarily to have to be co-belligerent with something like the religious right, which is itself simply the conservative version of modern Liberalism; I am not sure why some theonomists, like the ones here, reject the RR. Like I said, I have spoken with theonomists who seem to understand this and readily admit co-belligerancy. It’s also why I think very often in Federal Vision you find deep roots in theonomy and postmill’ism—it seems consistent with the idea of monocovenantalism or the collapsing of kingdoms and covenants.

I reject the christian right because it is not particularly Christian nor definitively ‘right.’ It is, as you say, just a ‘conservative’ version of modern liberalism. Now, there may be some issues with which I will share a co-belligerancy but that is a far different thing then accepting the Christian Right. Shoot, on the right issue Zrim I would even be co-belligerent with you.

And just so I don’t get tarred with that broad brush you’re swinging, I reject the Federal Vision project as it pertains to justification. I’m still working my way through the bi vs. mono issue, but your comment there was insightful and has set me to thinking about some connections.