Reformed Churches from a Dutch background have faced many choices over the years: Voetius or Cocceius, Afscheiding or Doleantie, Wilhelmina or Mussert, Hoeksema or Schilder. Now they are faced with a choice between a Two Kingdoms, Natural Law approach to culture and a Neo-Calvinistic approach. While it would be nice for Anglo-Celtic Calvinists to be able to look on with concerned impartiality or perhaps to enter this fray with brotherly admonition, they cannot. For since the appointment of the first faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary cemented earlier ties between Continental and British Reformed thinkers, there has grown up a generic Calvinism which has spread from North America to wherever a student of Reformed Theology cracks a textbook; and so, any Reformed controversy will work its way through all the Reformed seminaries and into every Reformed denomination leading to endless faculty position papers and synodical pronouncements.
Every so often, however, a phrase used in a controversy has a meaning which has been so deeply impressed that it cannot be completely obliterated by recoining. In this instance, the phrase is ‘two kingdoms’. For those coming out of the Scottish Presbyterian tradition, that phrase will for ever be associated with Andrew Melville, who remarked to James the Sixth: ‘Sirrah, ye are God’s silly vassal; there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is king James, the head of the commonwealth; and there is Christ Jesus, the king of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, not a lord, not a head, but a member.’
The occasion of the remark was a discussion on the subject of the relation between the church and the state. James wished to impose his desires upon the church; Melville pointed out that it was not his place to do so; and so the phrase ‘two kingdoms’ has come down as the label stuck upon the trunk containing the Scottish Presbyterian view of legitimate church-state interaction. That interaction is defined as coordinate jurisdiction with mutual subordination.
For example, let us say that a member of a congregation commits an act which is both a crime and a sin. The civil magistrate will punish that person for his crime. The church will discipline that person for his sin. There is coordinate jurisdiction. Mutual subordination is that the state does not interfere in the ecclesiastical process and the church does not interfere in the civil process. The state cannot demand or enforce the person’s excommunication from the church, nor can the church demand or enforce release from prison upon the person’s repentance from his sin. Further, should there be an appeal of either the civil sentence or the church censure, then it is the civil courts which review the actions of civil courts and the church courts which review the actions of church courts; there is no appeal from one jurisdiction to the other. Further more, should the person involved be a government official, that position does not make him immune from church censure; and should the person be an office-bearer in the church, that position does not make him immune from prosecution.
This ‘two kingdoms’ view is not the only way of defining church-state relations. There is on the one hand the Scylla of Ultramontanism and the Charybdis of Erastianism on the other. Properly speaking, Ultramontanism is the claim of Papal authority over ecclesiastical and temporal powers. With less precision, it may be understood to include the overbearing influence of the church in civil matters, such as Protestant quasi-theocracies marked out by political intransigence and military disaster. Erastianism subordinates the authority and administration of the church to the civil government. It has always been associated with the Church of England, but also had a major part in the Secession of 1733 and Disruption of 1843 from the Church of Scotland and the Secession of 1834 and the Doleantie of 1886 from the Dutch Reformed Church.
Among those who hold to this middle course, there is a difference of opinion as to how this relationship of coordinate jurisdiction with mutual subordination is best maintained. Some favour the establishment principle and other the voluntary position. The idea of an established church contains the elements of state recognition of a creed and polity and endowment of the ecclesiastical body/bodies which holds/hold to that creed and polity; with establishment come statutory rights. The voluntary position is that which is commonly known as the separation of church and state.
Living, as we do, in multi-religious democracies with a separation of church and state, it would seem that of the subject of established churches must be limited to historical or idealistic discussions. Nevertheless, it is clear that the theory of the separation of church and state does not work out in practice. The church is merely another organisation in the community. It is subject to the state in such areas as employment law and charity regulation. Its actions are reviewable by the civil courts. Any privileges and exemptions which the church has are anachronistic and inconsistent. Yet, without these privileges and exemptions, the de jure separation of church and state leads to de facto Erastianism; without some concessions to the establishment principle the integrity of both of the ‘two kingdoms’ cannot be preserved.