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.’

The Age Of Indistinction

The will, the values, even the faith that has sustained and ordered what we have known of civilization in the era of the Protestant ethic has come to an end. The polymorphous dispensation has arrived, and we know it when men dress as children, and women dress as men. We know it when we reach for a familiar object with a familiar brand but find upon inspection of the small print that is ‘made in China.'”

James O. Tate
Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be — Arriving at Indistinction
Chronicles April Issue pg. — 18

The one guiding star of the Revolutionary West (starting with the fall of the Bastille and continuing on through the countless revolutions that it has inspired) is the pursuit of equality and hence the elimination of distinctions. Most cheered when the distinction between slave and master was erased, chattering on how uncivil such an arrangement was, but now having given egalitarianism its head it demands further erasures. Women can be as ‘Butch’ as any man and men can be as caring and sensitive as any woman. Why recently the news cycle is all agog over the fact that a ‘man’ is pregnant, (though, I can’t seem to understand all the excitement over a being who has female sex organs being pregnant), while Hollywood continues to give us a stream of Movies that have women in roles playing the tough cop or Military commander. Viewing children as belonging to their parents is hardly treating them as equals with their parents and so movements are launched for ‘child rights.’ Cultures may be distinct (for now) but they all must be considered equal in value. My money has it that even cultures are going to eventually be thrown into the great egalitarian blender so that even in culture we will all arrive at a lack of distinction.

Perhaps the place where Tate’s lack of distinction is seen most clearly is in American Pulpits throughout the country. The French have a bit of a maxim about gender, claiming that there are three genders — Men, Women, and


It’s funny because it is so close to the truth. Clergy more then any other career perhaps has reached the apex in the age of polymorphism. The reality of that is seen in how difficult it is to imagine a testosterone heavy, gun loving, Patrick Henry anti-government proclaiming, pro-spanking, former Navy SEAL Commando in a pulpit week in and week out. Our mental picture of Clergy is more typically someone who is soft spoken, vulnerable, effeminate, polite and generally nice. Polymorphism has prevailed in the pulpit, and the ministry has become the poster child for the age of indistinction.

So pull out a indistinct weak beer, invite your local clergy and engage in some colorless conversation and have a drink to blandness, indistinction and polymorphism — the new Three horses of the Apocalypse.

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.

Calvinism and Religous Rights

“The Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution was defended in its day on a variety of grounds — with Enlightenment arguments among the most well known. It is no small commentary for this volume, however, that every one of the guarantees in the 1791 Bill Of Rights had already been formulated in the prior two centuries — by Calvinist theologians and jurists among others. Some of these rights were already formulated by Theodore Beza and the French and Scottish resistance fighters of the the later sixteenth century, more by Johannes Althusius and the Dutch constitutionalists at the turn of the seventeenth century, still more by John Milton and the English Puritans in the middle of the seventeenth century, and more yet by the New England Puritans from John Winthrop and Nathaniel Ward in the seventeenth century to Elisha Williams and John Adams in the eighteenth. Moreover, a number of the core ideas of American constitutionalism — popular sovereignty, federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, church and state, and more — were also quite fully formulated by Calvinists in the prior two centuries, especially in the Netherlands, England, and New England….The Calvinists wove many strong theological threads into the fabric of early American Constitutionalism.

John Witte Jr.
The Reformation Of Rights; Law, Religion, And Human Rights In Early Modern Calvinism — pg. 31-32

The very idea of an American Nation grew up out of the soil of Calvinistic Christianity. This doesn’t mean that all of the Founding Fathers were Calvinists or Christian. Nor does it mean that those who were Christian were perfectly consistent in their Christianity. What it does mean is that the origin, shape, and trajectory of These United State was Christian and Calvinistic. Even those Founding Fathers who were furthest away from Christian thought had been largely immersed in a cultural milieu wherein they imbibed Christian and Calvinistic political thought categories. Indeed, one can argue that even the Enlightenment arguments stemming from Locke, Rousseau, and others that some used to justify disunion with England were arguments that owed their origin to Christian categories.

In the book quoted from above Witte’s labor is to show how a long history of Calvinistic thinking in political theory by eminent theologians and jurists ended up shaping the West’s jurisprudential self understanding when it comes to the issue of natural religious rights. Witte contends that Reformed political theory eventually became so standard that it became the proverbial water in which Westerner’s swam for centuries.

This thesis runs contrary to much of what we are taught growing up about how the Enlightenment, as crystallized in the French Revolution, yielded to men rights of individual liberty that were unknown due to the stultifying presence of Christian ideas of Monarchy, Aristocratic privilege, and religious establishment. What Witte has done is to uncover the long Christian and Reformed legacy that spoke of the right of men to liberty against tyranny, tracing the story from Calvin’s genesis work on political theory in relation natural religious rights, to Beza’s development in light of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre by Roman Catholic upon the Hugenots, to Althusius development in light of the Dutch Revolt against the Roman Catholic Philip of Spain, to Milton’s work in England during the conflict with King Charles I, and finally to the work of New England Puritan in the Holy Commonwealth. In each successive stage Witte draws out how Calvinistic political theory developed and adapted to the events swirling about and how Calvinist political theory sought to apply Scripture as a means by which men could understand their roles given their times.