The tyranny of the Welfare States under which we currently live (throughout the world, but the West especially) is a direct outfall of “two-kingdoms” style theology. By setting up a false division between heavenly and secular matters, the Church has consistently misallocated its wealth and abdicated its social responsibilities. Then, when the poor—even the poor within the Church—come into need, they are told, or it is assumed, that their needs shall be met by the civil order (presumably not Christian, or quasi-Christian at best). How’s it look for Christian charity when the Christians direct their own to the pagans for charity—and when these pagans got their funds through theft to begin with?
The reason why things like the recent health care debacle always eventually get passed—just as Social Security, Medicare, welfare, food stamps, and subsidies galore, galore—is because the Churches have consistently failed to meet these needs when they should. And they have failed because they never try. And they never try because they believe these things do not pertain to the function of the church. And they do not believe these things pertain to the function of the church because their theologians have assured them for centuries that the Church’s only job is to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. The Church is the “Heavenly Kingdom,” we are told. Everything thing else—all those “worldly” matters—pertains to the “Earthly Kingdom.” Thus we have “Two Kingdoms,” and never the twain shall meet until Christ returns.
Meanwhile we have a world filled—and churches filled—with people who have needs: financial needs, health needs, debt needs, old age needs, etc., etc. These are all things addressed by both 1) Old Testament law, and 2) New Testament teaching (usually based on Old Testament law). But the “Two Kingdoms” mentality tells us that 1) Old Testament law no longer applies, except maybe the Ten Commandments in a vague moral sense (what you do in your private life), and 2) social and civil matters must be left to fall out according to God’s providence—common grace—in the realm of nature and under the rule of earthly governments. Que sera, sera! So they ignore the vast majority if not all of the Bible’s social teaching. Then they direct their people to the pagan Welfare State for social needs.
So, for example, when Paul gives very clear directions to the Church on how to take care of needy widows, the Church today largely ignores this teaching. If a Christian widow over sixty with no money, no family, and no prospects came to the church, what would the church do? Would it pour over 1 Timothy 5 for matters of principle? Would it be prepared to support her indefinitely if necessary? Or would it assume she should live off of the State instead? For most, sad to say, the question of supporting her would not even arise.
A Reformation Legacy
Social issues like these have pressed the Church all through history. Social grievances lay behind the Peasants’ Revolt in 1525, which Martin Luther himself at first supported as God’s cause, but then vehemently opposed when their violence threatened his own job. It was Luther’s one-time colleague Andreas Carlstadt who appealed to the Bible for the church and the nobles to address the social problems. Luther had the “Two Kingdoms” mentality; in fact, he did more to popularize it among reformers and subsequent protestant theology than anyone: Moses does not apply at all, and the Bible does not apply to social and civil affairs.
Against Carlstadt’s local church, Luther blurted: “We don’t want to see or hear Moses. How do you like that, my dear rebels? We say further, that all such Mosaic teachers deny the gospel, banish Christ, and annul the whole New Testament.”1 For Luther, no biblical law applied or could apply to the civil realm. The civil realm by definition lay outside the Kingdom of Christ. There could be no Christian or Biblical civil order. The rulers were left unshackled by any law except, as Luther would argue, whatever was necessary to keep the peace. So the rulers expanded their powers, annexed more land, and raised taxes. The taxes went to help support nobles and then place State-sanctioned clergymen in the churches. These clergymen, dressed in fine clothes, on State’s payroll, then preached that the people should submit to the State’s payroll and not challenged it from the Bible. This was their way of ensuring “peace”—peace of mind for them.
The State clergy, including Luther, loved the arrangement. They enjoyed nice buildings, nice pensions, nice clothes, and the protection of the State. The common people on the other hand, had a rough time of it: they had to pay exorbitant fees, taxes, rents, and continually lost freedom of mobility, land, resources, and even status. For this they received the luxury of preachers they didn’t want, who preached what they didn’t believe, dressed in fine clothes paid for by taxes the people paid. Oh, and “peace.”
Carlstadt gained Luther’s and his patrons’ ire by pointing out that they did in fact refer to Moses selectively when it served to line their own pockets. He chided them: “Yet, however unskilled and foolish you are, you still demand the appropriate interest and tenth [tithe]. You gather in rents and moneys and thus put the poor under great pressure whom you cannot teach but whom you know how to cheat.”2 He himself had taught his flock the finer points of Mosaic justice, including the poor laws, inheritance laws, and laws against theft, etc. These laws, obviously, the nobles and their fat lackeys in the pulpit did not want the crude masses (as they saw them) to hear. Carlstadt knew these State-sanctioned drones would work to undo everything he preached. He blasted them:
What should you preach if you can do no better than to limp behind your master of all error, having no concern about what you are still doing wrong[?] And you preachers in your gilded shirts, look out for me. As soon as I find some leisure, you shall have no peace and you shall have trouble with me until your preaching is more firmly grounded and you have ceased or changed you carnal living.3
Luther believed the law only had use for the unbelievers, which he equated with the masses. These ignorant beasts need the law to frighten them into not sinning. Luther, his followers, and the princes used this doctrine to live sumptuously while they imposed great tax burdens on these assumed unbelievers. Carlstadt was playing spoilsport: “Whom will you frighten off sin when you wallow and delight in your sins and preach delight in sin?”4
Carlstadt would rather see preaching of right living to both the masses and the princes. This would necessitate clergy with a different attitude and doctrine:
I know then that you shortchange your preaching when you preach the law contrary to the law and intention of the Holy Spirit. I would like to tell you something here which might benefit the small flock of God. But I know full well that you have so much to do with your large incomes, rents, and registers, that it would be more beneficial for me to write to pigs and dogs than to you.…
If you preachers would properly carry to market the pieces pertaining to the law (of which Moses writes exceedingly well and which Christ also had in his preaching), the small people of God might be led to the right pasture; but you give them chaff and sugar-coated poison to eat.5
Carlstadt knew that Luther and his listeners did not want the masses to accept Moses for the very reason that it would mean a huge reformation of the very civil code by which they fleeced the masses and fattened themselves. According to Moses, half of their civil code was at least uncharitable if not illegal. The nobles didn’t want Moses valid, and Luther—just as the Catholics had done for centuries before him—worked very hard to keep him invalid (except in the few instances they found him useful, for example, on tithes). Moses simply didn’t apply to Christian princes, they said. Carlstadt saw this as a rejection of the biblical model, and he strongly desired that the people be ethically armed against oppression:
I see well, of course, how the prophets worked in proclaiming sins and what effort and work they had with the supreme princes, kings, and priests of the Jews in making them recognize their sins, and how they failed in this. It would be good if simple Christians could understand such secret and treacherous sins, for there are several which have such good appearance in the eyes of the world that Dr. Luther himself refuses to acknowledge them as sinful and wicked, though God is truthful and Luther a liar.6
(Much more about the historical background to the Reformation and these “two kingdoms”-type abdications can be found in my recent Blaming Moses: Rejections of Mosaic Civil Law during the Early Reformation.)
Today’s churches, like Luther, refuse to preach the law to the princes, kings, and themselves. They ignore laws that pertain to social issues, and abdicate their responsibility to the “other kingdom”—the State.
But they still pass the plate. They still want the giving. They still dress finely and build enormous buildings. This is not bad per se, but the Church building and the pastors’ salaries are historically the greatest portion of the Churches’ budgets. And when the church grows, what do we do? We take in more money and build yet a bigger building, sometimes borrowing millions—thereby pledging future tithes to the building. Money is drained and drained for these purposes. And what return do we get on these investments? What stewardship? A building that sits empty up to six days a week. And should someone in the church turn up with long-term health, insurance, or dependency issues, they get directed to the extorting State for their help: “There’s no program here for that.”
Now, this is not absolute. I have personally witnessed charity in many ways and for many causes given out of Church emergency funds. But this is a far cry from the community of charity, financial counsel, and earthly redemption that the Church is called to be. We focus so much on preachers and buildings, that who can tell me of a denomination that has even considered setting up a denomination-wide health insurance plan for the poor, funded by tithes? I want to be proven wrong on this. Let me hear it. Please. What church, denomination, convention, confederation, or group of churches has set up social security, welfare programs, poor relief programs, financial counseling, debt counseling centers, etc., for its people. Few if any have anything like an old-age pension for anyone except their clergy. If they do, they never speak of them and keep them well hidden.
Decades ago, the Catholic Church in America made a conscious decision not to fund their nuns in old age. The church simply doesn’t foresee having enough money. This was a conscious abdication of the Church’s responsibility (despite what one thinks of nuns in general). The nuns where directed to go to the State. Why did it come as a surprise that an organization representing 90 percent of nuns in America backed Obama’s health care reform, despite the fact that their own bishops unified against it? The very Church they should depend on directed them to the State for sustenance.
Do you know how easy it would be for church bodies to create such programs as non-profit organizations? A few already exist as private companies, like Samaritan ministries. Every denomination should, and could, have its own. All it would take is a simple re-budgeting, and thus, a resetting of our priorities as Christians. Ah, but there’s the rub.
It would also mean ignoring the nonsensical Platonic pietism of the Two Kingdoms crowd. Yes, of course, we need the preaching of the gospel, and the administration of the sacraments. Personally, I think we need much more of the Lord’s Supper in our churches. But the church is much more. Preaching and communing must drive us to good works. If the church is only to emphasize preaching and sacraments, then how can it escape the censure of St. James as part of the “be ye warmed and filled” crowd? The devil can do as much. Without directing their people to do good works and to fund good works through their tithes, these Two-Kingdoms preachers are no better than thieves—an organized scheme of extortion to line their pockets and build bigger buildings while preaching sermons about why our funds should go to pay preachers and build buildings. This is organized crime—a Pulpit Mafia, Gangsters for Jesus.
We need good works. And what good works should these be? Coffee and donuts and small-talk after church service? I think James had in mind the giving of clothing and food to those among us who had need of it. Enough of prayer and preaching at this point. Act. I think Paul and the apostles had in mind the sort of society envisioned by Moses: where economic freedom reigns, and where the law allows avenues for the poor among us to regain a foothold and become productive. And as a last resort, for the really destitute, the truly poor, they could find support.
Every church member who reads this ought to give a copy to their pastors and elders. They should begin to look into ways in which their churches or denomination could begin to live up to the Biblical standard in these areas. It will probably take some sacrifice. I will take a lot of faith and vision. Most of all, it will take a lot of work and perseverance. Sacrifice, faith, vision, work, perseverance: what else could be more Christian? So why say it belongs in any other Kingdom?
(This article is also available in my collection similar essays, Inglorious Kingdoms: Saving the Public Square from the Tyrannies of Bad Theology.)