Dear Brothers in the Office of the Ministry,
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:3–6).
I dare say we would all agree that this is the most interesting if not strangest election cycle we’ve ever seen. I thought I’d spill a bit of ink on the topic of the two kingdoms doctrine and a Lutheran approach to politics. I know full well from experience how delicate, and even explosive, these issues can be for a pastor as an election year intensifies.
It’s a fact that the overwhelming majority of LCMS clergy are Republicans. (Not too long ago, a poll of LCMS pastors in the state of Wisconsin found that 95 percent of our clergy there self-describe as either “conservative Republican” or “very conservative Republican.”) The laity also lean toward the right, but with much less intensity than the clergy. Add to this the fact that the few issues that the LCMS has taken a public stance on also are preferred issues of the political right (life, marriage and religious freedom), and this makes for a potentially precarious, if not volatile, mix for pastors, preaching and congregations!
Last year, I wrote in The Lutheran Witness about a very interesting connection between James Madison and the Lutheran “two kingdoms doctrine.”
Late in 1821, Rev. Frederick Schaeffer presided over the cornerstone laying of a new building for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew in New York City. Afterward, he sent his homily to James Madison, the “Father of the U.S. Constitution,” and chief author of the Bill of Rights.
Pastor Schaeffer’s address was rather strongly Lutheran, in spite of the general weakness of American Lutheranism prior to 1840.
Montpellier, Dec. 3rd, 1821
Revd Sir, – I have received, with your letter of November 19th, the copy of your address at the ceremonial of laying the corner-stone of St Matthew’s Church in New York.
It is a pleasing and persuasive example of pious zeal, united with pure benevolence and of a cordial attachment to a particular creed, untinctured with sectarian illiberality. It illustrates the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations. The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.
In return for your kind sentiments, I tender
assurances of my esteem and my best wishes.
[From The Lutheran Witness, January 2015)
Don’t you find it interesting that one of the chief architects of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights says, “Luther led the way?” I do.
Madison states, “…What is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations.” Luther wrote, “church leaders make poor kings and kings make poor bishops” (Luther’s Works, 45:109). Luther recognized, on the basis of Jesus’ words in the New Testament, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17), that there are two distinct realms. The state is ruled by reason, and the church is ruled by the Word of God. Both are indeed God’s, but He governs them differently. The one is the realm of Law and reason; the other is the Word of God and Gospel. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad … for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:3-4).
Luther, in the wake of more than a millennium of confusion of church and state, got the New Testament right. Whatever inconsistencies in practice, Luther recognized that passages such as, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32), meant that the religious mind of mankind is not subject to the coercion of temporal authority.
In his book, Tyranny and Resistance: The Magdeburg Confession and the Lutheran Tradition (CPH, 2001), David Mark Whitford notes three approaches to the questions of “what is due God” and “what is due to Caesar.” These were all current at the time of the Reformation and have obvious influence yet today.
1. The inclusively ecclesial view: “Authority for the governance of creation is founded by God in the church. God’s authority flows to the church (and especially the pope); the church then yields some of that authority to the emperor. As far back as Pope Leo’s bold move to crown Charlemagne emperor of the Romans (A.D. 800), Leo began the establishment of papal supremacy over secular authority” (Whitford, p. 31).
2. The exclusively biblical model: “The church must conform to the Gospel explicitly [i.e., including theocratic ideas from the Old Testament]. No deviation is allowed. The relationship between the secular and spiritual is antagonistic. This antagonism seems to elicit two responses: withdrawal [e.g., the Amish] or usurpation [i.e., the state must conform to the Bible, traditional Calvinism]. In many Anabaptist groups, the church withdrew from secular society and placed itself over and against the dominant culture. In some respects, this model is a resurrection and modification of the ecclesial model. The church must conform to the whole Bible, and the state as well. Both Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt and Thomas Muentzer fall into this category” (Whitford, p. 31).
3. “The third approach differs significantly from both the inclusively ecclesial and exclusively biblical models. Often labeled magisterial, the inclusively biblical approach is epitomized by Luther’s doctrine of the two realms. In Luther’s thought, each realm is part of God’s plan for ordering creation. The spiritual realm is eternal and everlasting; it is the realm of revelation and faith. Instantiated in the church, it exists to offer the grace of God to all through preaching the Word of God and celebrating the sacraments … Like the Law to Gospel, the secular realm is the spiritual realm’s dialectical partner; it is the realm of reason and unbelief. Both the secular and spiritual exist for God’s regulation of creation, but like Law and Gospel, they play different roles. Whereas the spiritual realm is eternal and proleptic, the secular is finite and fleeting. Here the sword instead of service is definitive” (Whitford, pp. 31-32).
Model #1 has been very significantly moderated by Vatican II, and today we find Roman Catholics very helpful in struggles for life, marriage and religious freedom. Model #2 is one that often affects or pulls in Lutherans who argue for America as a “Christian Nation.” America certainly has been that. America was certainly dominated by Christian founders (despite the deism and religious liberalism of men like Jefferson, who as President, by the way, went to church every Sunday … in the House Chambers!). We can only say “America was founded on the Bible” with a strong caveat. If by that we mean that the Bible as revelation is the authority for government, then this is false. When the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” this is arrived at through reason, not revelation. In other words, it is important to realize that the founders did not believe it reasonable to believe that there was no Creator! They were right. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). It is more precise and correct for us to state that this nation was founded upon reason, and reason, when it is working — that is, when it is most reasonable — accords with the ethical teaching of the Ten Commandments. (Rom. 1:14-15) The ethical teaching of the Ten Commandments, and thus Christianity, profoundly marked the founding of the United States. Nevertheless, the church and state were kept distinct. The state may coerce, punish, wage war, etc., but only so far as God-given inalienable rights are recognized and guarded. The state may not coerce the religious conscience; that conscience is responsible to God. To paraphrase a quote of Luther, “The state and the religious conscience are not good bedfellows. The bed is too narrow and the blanket too short!” Our founders recognized what so many courts and political leaders today have forgotten. A government favorable to responsible religion, particularly Christianity, causes a nation to thrive.
I would urge that all of us carefully work through the Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI on political power with our Bible classes and congregations. It says, “Christ’s kingdom is spiritual.” “The Gospel does not introduce laws about the public state, but is the forgiveness of sins and the beginning of a new life in the hearts of believers. The Gospel not only approves outward governments, but also subjects us to them” (Rom. 13:1). This is vital for us to remember, particularly when we object to laws that have allowed 58 million abortions, same-sex marriage and an ever increasing encroachment upon religious freedom. These matters, as vital as they are, are ultimately important only as they intersect and impact the chief purpose of the church, which Jesus put so clearly and simply: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
As Christian pastors, what can we preach during this volatile year? Should we openly support a particular party or candidate in our preaching? Of course not! Should we say, “If you vote for this or that person, you can’t be a Christian?” Certainly not! Our people have individual experiences in life that guide the exercise of their vote as citizens. For one, it might be hassling with the IRS in a small business. For another, it might be trying to work for better treatment and benefits for factory workers. Another may have grown up in the South under Jim Crow laws. Our people will make their political decisions on the basis of any number of factors that may, at times, mystify us. At times such as these, it is also appropriate, dear pastors (no matter where your particular political propensities lie), to recall that wonderful teaching of Franz Pieper: the “felicitous inconsistency.”
What can we preach? We can urge our people to be politically active and to stand in the public square for what accords with reason and the Ten Commandments. We can preach that we as Christian citizens will join with all people of good will to promote and care for life, from womb to grave; we will support traditional marriage, and we shall oppose laws, courts and governments restricting our God-given rights — rights that were acknowledged by the Bill of Rights as inherent (not granted!). We shall urge our people to be knowledgeable about candidates’ positions on issues that the Bible speaks about and on which the church has taken a stand, and to take these issues into consideration as they make their choices.
We must be quite careful not to coerce political activity. Coercion is not the business of the church [FC SD X 15]. We must avoid in every way the impression that politics or controverted issues are front and center and the Gospel is set in the background (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2). We must take care not to allow our politics (which may take positions on all sorts of issues about which the Word of God and the church are silent) to skew our theology and preaching! I may have a political view that there should be a wall on the border. But that doesn’t change one iota of Christ’s mandate to care for the illegal/undocumented neighbor who might well be living or working next to me. (Consider Jesus love for the ‘unclean’ Samaritans and even pagans; John 4, Matt. 15:21; Luke 10:25-37; Heb. 13:1). I might have strong views on Muslim immigration, but that dare not make me unwilling and unable to see that these people are in my community already, and they need Christ (Matt. 9:37; John 3:16; Rev. 7:9; 1 Cor. 2:2). When the requirements of the two realms clash in this sinful world, the Gospel must predominate. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Above all brothers, preach and teach Christ. By the blessed power of the Gospel, He continues to work the miracles of forgiveness, life and salvation. Both Madison’s comments and the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms beg for more discussion, but alas, that shall have to wait for another occasion.
As we continue together on the road of repentance toward Good Friday (and the parallel path of pain, antics, joys and disappointments during the political season), God grant you the strength of mind, body and soul to serve Him in word and deed. And I join all of you in fervent prayer for our nation and its leaders, present and future.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21).
Thanks for all you do dear brothers,
Pastor Matt Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Dear Pastor Harrison
I much appreciate the tone and content of the letter. I only regret that there was not as an explicit rejection of appeals to racism or other ways the candidates may be divisive. Should that letter ever be revised, I would ask that our position there — one we can historically be proud of as Lutherans — be more pronounced.
Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, MDiv
Thank you for this very balanced overview of the tightrope we must walk as pastors. I would caution, however, that by initially identifying that a majority of LCMS pastors are Republican, the implication is still there that this is the preferred, or sanctified party. For one, I do not know that a survey of Wisconsin pastors would necessarily reflect the make-up of pastors in other regions. I find myself encouraged by the use of felicitious inconsistency since wanting to remain conservative on issues like abortion often comes at odds with wanting to have a generous government towards those who are under-served. Finally, I commend Max Lucado for recently writing about the lack of decency in the purportedly Christian GOP front runner.
A very wise comment, Dr. Squires. As a lifelong LCMS Lutheran, I find this overt slant “to the political right”, a bit disingenuous by President Harrison. Abortion, religious freedom, and same-sex marriage, are only a few of the political issues that affect our society, and how citizens should vote. Gun violence, unregulated food and water supplies, inadequate healthcare and educational opportunities, are only a few of many examples that our Missouri Synod could address. A Republican governor now presides over a state where a decision was made to allow residents to drink water from a polluted river. Residents of Flint, Michigan (many, of whom, are children) are sick, and have either died as a result, or will in the near future. Where was the outrage from President Harrison when a mother of unborn twins had a miscarriage, after drinking this polluted water? The government claims that they are still studying whether this was the cause, but, in my mind, this could well have been an “unwanted abortion” of two infants, because of a high volume of lead in the water. If we, as Christians and LCMS Lutherans, are going to express moral outrage about POLITICAL decisions; let us, at least be consistent, and not “pick and choose” which political party is responsible for the “greater sin.” God’s Peace.
Thank you!! I am a Democrat because I believe they represent all of the people in the USA not just the white Christians. I was raised MO Synod Luth and have been an active member my whole life and I am 73 yrs old. I attended LCMS school Grades 1-9.
A member of my church said I couldn’t be a Christian if I voted for President Obama.
So, I appreciate your comment and Max Lucado’s. The Republican Party needs to look hard at the lies / false witness that they encouraged Trump to spread for the last eight years against our President. That he wasn’t born in the US, that he is not a Christian, that is Muslim, and all of the candidates have said these things all the while loudly claiming to be Christian. It reminds me of the Good Samaritan and the pious religious leaders. Who did Jesus say loved his neighbor?
From what the Republican Party says and what they do you could not say it was any of the so called “Christians of the Republican Right” that would stop and help the beaten Mexican or Muslim man laying in the road.
Our Presidents words and his actions are loving his neighbor.
Any way thank you for what you said.
I may not agree with you politically, but that makes me SO happy 🙂
I’m glad that we in the LCMS are not Right-heavy, but can be diverse in our political views, and yet stand together as confessional Lutherans.
Rev. Squires, can you please explain your comment about how you think a biblical view on abortion is at odds with wanting to have a generous government towards those who are under-served?
Information is key…our state, Minnesota, just passed the so called “Bulling Bill”. It is anything but. Google Minnesota Child Protection League to view what our government is pushing as education then check the voting record and see which party is responsible for it’s passage. I would also encourage you to take time to watch our current democratic leaders requiring homosexual indoctrination be taught in their schools in order to get financial aide. Would love to send you information on voting records on which party promotes and votes for federal funding of abortion, continued funding of Planned Parenthood, against traditional marriage, for gay indoctrination of our children K-12. Was there any question where our President stands on the homosexual issues when he appointed Kevin Jennings, organizer of GLSEN, as Safe School Czar? Each party has a platform….promoting the homosexual agenda has been part of the democratic agenda since th ’90’s. I did not know this till I was elected Vice Chair of the Democratic party in our township….along with David Minge as President (that was before he was elected to congress) and after I had signed a paper stating I would support all Democratic candidates and their party’s agenda. Pay attention! There is a distinctive difference in party platforms.
Governments should never be permitted to do the things that rightfully are motivated by love. Governments can only exercise power. Even our own Constitution only grants State and Federal governments limited powers. Whenever we see a right it is always inherent to the people, and the Constitution just recognizes its existence—but does not grant it to the people.
The government is the left hand of God—Law. God establishes earthly governments to enforce the Law—to punish murder, false testimony, theft, etc. (Romans 13). Since it can only act out of power, it cannot rightfully perform acts that must come from love—Grace: nursing the sick, feeding the hungry, visiting the lonely, sheltering the homeless, etc.
Jesus always talks about helping the least of these in terms of personal responsibility (Good Samaritan) and the shared responsibilities of the Church (Acts Church)—because we are the living stones of His Body. Never do you see Jesus teaching that the Romans should open soup kitchens, or provide free housing, income subsidies or free health care. The reason is that these are right hand of God things that must come from love.
Whenever the government gets involved in the things of love, it can only understand, accumulate and exercise power. So, it coerces those with money to pay for these things while creating and growing more powerful and controlling. It can’t help itself, that’s its self interest and only motivation. It might talk about compassion, but it can only understand and act out of power and control.
So, we simply watch others go without food, medical care, shelter, etc., when the people of God don’t act as they should and because governments “should never be permitted to do the things that rightfully are motivated by love”?
I find this VERY inspiring Pastor. God at the center of all out thinking and all our actions.
As good as it gets! Rev. Dr. Matt – many, many thanks for this piece!
Much appreciated from a Pastor, not a Republican.
Excellent article, much appreciated during these “interesting” times. This from a Pastor and a Republican.
I always appreciate that the LCMS considers all topics with theological care. I would like to see us all standing by our brothers and sisters of every race, across boundaries. Also not a Republican.
Thanks for your most brilliant presentation and scripturally sound message. You are a wonderful servant and spokesman of the Word and defender of the Scriptures in the spirit of Martin Luther and the founding clergy and laity of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Your statement of Holy Spirit-given faith resounds to the glory of the Triune God, and your testimony will be a light and lamp to this generation and the generations to follow. God speed and continue to hold high the cross and the love of Christ proclaim!
P.S. Luther captured the essential truth: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”
I appreciated your thoughts on the two kingdoms. A called worker can be a republican or a democrat, however it must not be made known from the pulpit or the lecturn. It should remain a private matter.
Thank you, Lloyd. This, too, is part of “FREEDOM to be Faithful.”
Thank you, President Harrison for the wisdom you shared on the issue of Church and State. I recently read in Dietrich Bonhoeffer”s book “Ethics” two statements that I think are also helpful on this issue.
He writes, “The divine mandate of government presupposes the divine mandates of labor and marriage. Government cannot itself produce life or values. It is not creative. It preserves what has been created, maintaining it in the order which is assigned to it through the task which is imposed by God. It protects it by making law to consist in the acknowledgment of the divine mandates and by securing respect for this law by the force of the sword. Everyone owes obedience to this governing authority – for Christ’s sake.”
Bonhoeffer also defines the divine mandate of the Church as different in this way. “It is the task of enabling the reality of Jesus Christ to become real in the preaching, teaching, and organization of the church and the Christian life. It is concerned , therefore, with the eternal salvation of the whole world. It’s a mandate that extends to all mankind, and it does so with all the other mandates. The Christian who is at once laborer, partner in marriage, and subject to a government is the whole man who stands before the whole earthly and eternal reality which God has prepared for him in Jesus Christ. A person can live up to this reality only if he responds fully to the totality of the offer and claim.”
The idea of Separation of Church and State comes from the Bible and not the US Constitution. God warned the Israelites when they wanted their own king. The kings used “church” to their advantage. The last statement of David in the Bathsheba story should be “It’s good to be the King.” But the story didn’t end there. We know that. Again, during the time of Jesus, “politicians” were using “church” for their own benefit (power). In essence, Jesus Christ was executed for preaching Separation of Church and State. Constantine used the Bible and other religions of his time to declare himself “god.” The Christian/Catholic Church was under the control of politicians until the Reformation. Those in power used the Bible for their own benefit (power). That is why the Bibles were chained and Christians executed in the Inquisition along with others that went against the politicians of the time.
In general, the Democrat Party is using those things in the Bible that we should do out of Love, but is preaching that the Government is our Church and the SCOTUS is Our Supreme Entity, i.e. a religion that they wish to control.
In general, the Republican Party is using those things in the Bible that we should do out of respect/response for God’s Love, but is preaching that the Government is our Church, enforcing God’s Law.
Recently, a person stated that the Republican Party was Old Testament and the Democrat Party was New Testament. Maybe he was thinking of Law and Gospel. Our two political parties “Thump” the Bible but never actually read the Bible.
I guess I read Jesus quite differently than many. The Jesus I find in the Gospels calls me to follow him in faith at all times. Therefore I do not accept that there are places and times where my thoughts and actions are to be controlled by reason rather than faith. Let me ask this question: When I enter into the voting booth, an I to leave my faith behind and let my reason dictate my vote? And if so, am I entering the voting booth as an American, and not as a Christian?
Robert Bjornstad; you are entering the voting booth as an Christian AND an American. Since God, “fearfully and wonderfully” created us with intellect to be STEWARDS of His creation, we do not need to leave REASON completely outside of the voting booth, just as it naturally coexists with our faith in every facet of our lives. God’s Peace.
Rev. Martin W. Liebmann Jr.
The two kingdoms are separate, and need to be kept separate. However, we as Christians are members of both kingdoms, and have responsibilities in both. As a Christian, I must be first faithful to the Triune God. The decisions I make in carrying out my responsibilities in the left must be governed by my faithfulness to God. I cannot separate myself. I am one person with obligations in both kingdoms. As a Pastor, I cannot tell another how to vote, but I do have a responsibility to God and my people to discuss the right and wrong of various policies from the point of view of God’s Word.
A question about WAR! When an individual is asked to put oneself under the command of another, because reason tells us that violence must be responded to by violence; the individual is no longer allowed to say “no”. If asked to kill then the individual must kill, or be ready to be punished for insurrection. In this situation one has put the option to follow ones faith aside. Can a disciple of Jesus do such a thing?
“reason tells us that violence must be responded to by violence”
To the contrary, reason tells us that violence may be responded to by just force. Violence is the use of unjust force.
A Christian may use just force in various vocations in the Kingdom of the Left, e.g., soldier, policeman, hangman, citizen.
It would certainly depend on where you stand whether you see force as violence or not. And whether it is just or not.
The difference could certainly be based on reason or on faith.
“It would certainly depend on where you stand”
I was speaking of absolutes. In this case reason’s distinction between just force and violence is congruent with Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
LMMV (Lufauxran mileage may vary).
Without Jesus Christ, we not only tend to be bankrupt in our thinking, but we can spiral down into the pit of hopelessness.
It is as difficult to separate religion and politics as it is to separate Siamese twins joined at the hip. If you slice away one twin from the body, one or both will die. While we can all agree that we render to Caesar obedience for the purpose of orderly civil government, it is impossible for a Christian to render obedience in areas impacting the moral values and direction of the national body of which we are a part. One can set up a dichotomy which allows Christians to separate the politician who promotes abortion from his or her other political positions, and justify a separation of church/state justification…but it is a false justification. A Christian must sort out the candidates by their claimed positions, and those who do not reflect Christian values promoting traditional marriage and life for the unborn are unsuitable for our vote. Your neighbor may not care about these issues, but you, as a Christian, must use your vote as God leads you. God would not ask you to violate your Christian Faith and convictions to support a scoundrel, and in the absence of a better candidate, a Christian should forfeit his or her vote rather than lend support to the devil.
Being a pastor at St. John Nottingham for over 51 years, I feel blessed to be able to share the good news of the Risen Christ. It troubled times it is all the more important to share this message. The new hymnal does to include this verse, but I still enjoy singing it for encouragement in challenging times.
the Church shall never parish! The dear Lord to defend.
to guide, sustain, and cherish, Is with her to the end..
I pray the Lord be with you as you guide the church in these times.
The first two sentences in the quoted excerpt from Noah Webster were also in a July, 2000, Lutheran Witness article, “Public Service and Citizenship: Thoughts from a Christian Politician,” by Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-IL). The article was reprinted as a September 2, 2009, LCMS News article.
God bless you in your work to lead our blessed synod.