I have obviously heard this argument many times before, but perhaps not in as outrageously absolute terms. John MacArthur, Jr., via partner-in-intellectual-crime Todd Friel, just posted their radical version of the classic dualism between theology and politics and the alleged irrelevance of “earthly” stuff to the kingdom of God.
Let me say up front there is more than one theological issue at stake here: this great error deals not only with the nature of the kingdom of God, but also with the role of biblical law in that kingdom, the prophetic role of the pulpit to society, as well as eschatology (a biggie!). I also acknowledge up front that there are a few points upon which we would agree (political decline does not mean the current rule and will of Christ is failing, for example). The overall tenor and direction of these statements, however, are as dangerous and irresponsible as they are outrageous and simply wrong.
What happens in America politically has absolutely nothing to do with the kingdom of God. Whether America is Republican or Democrat, whether it is libertarian or socialist, whether it becomes a communist country or whether it becomes a dictatorship—what happens in America has absolutely nothing to do with the kingdom of God [his emphasis].
Note the stark dichotomy marked by the word “absolutely.”
Friel splices himself in to concur with this view: “No earthly kingdom has anything to do with the kingdom work that Jesus is doing.”
What is their rationalization for this view? Here’s is MacArthur’s scriptural support:
Jesus said to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would fight.” We don’t fight on that level. I’ve got a lot of battles. None of them are political.
This verse is to Dispensational, premil, fundamentalists what “judge not” (Matt. 7:1) is to the unbeliever—that is, it is the most frequently abused verse related to the issue of the nature and scope of the kingdom of God. Thankfully, there is no need to write a new dissertation on it: Christian Reconstructionists already did this long ago, notably in a 1991 essay in the book Christian Reconstruction: What It Is and What It Isn’t (see p. 27 ff.).
I gave a lecture on this very topic, on this very essay actually, at GGC15. Listen to it, or read Gary North’s original version reproduced below. However you imbibe this, please learn it so that you will not be deceived and ruined by the misapplications of men like MacArthur and Friel.
(For more on what I mean about the danger of these guys’ position, see “Driscoll, MacArthur, Trump: who’s really to blame?”)
The Nature of God’s Kingdom
Few passages in the Bible are misinterpreted in our day as often as this one. The only other one that seems to rival it is the favorite verse of the people who resent all church discipline (or any other kind of discipline imposed in the name of God): “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). (Can you imagine a police department that went by this rule?) We will consider the interpretation of this passage in Chapter 2. But before we do, we need to know exactly what Jesus meant by the word, “kingdom.”
What about the kingdom of God? Does it have any jurisdiction or manifestation on earth, or is it strictly heavenly and limited to the human heart? Whenever a Christian argues that Christians have a God-given responsibility to work today to build God’s kingdom on earth, unless he is referring only to personal evangelism or missions, someone will object. “Jesus wasn’t building a political kingdom. He was only building His church. The church isn’t an earthly kingdom. After all, His kingdom is not of this world.”
Notice the implicit argument. First, Jesus was (and is) building His church (true). Second, Jesus was (and is) also building His kingdom (true). Third, the church is not supposed to be political (true). Fourth, His kingdom therefore is not political (true only if His kingdom is identical to His church).
Question: Is His kingdom identical with His church?
Protestants and Catholics
It always astounds me when I hear Protestants cite John 18:36 in order to defend a narrow definition of God’s kingdom in history. Four centuries ago, this narrow definition was the Roman Catholic view of the kingdom. Roman Catholics equated the kingdom with the church, meaning the church of Rome. The world is outside the church, they said, and it is therefore doomed. The institutional church is all that matters as far as eternity is concerned, they argued. The world was contrasted with the kingdom (“church”), and the church could never encompass the world.
In sharp contrast, the Protestant Reformation was based on the idea that the institutional church must be defined much more narrowly than God’s world-encompassing kingdom. Protestants always argued that God’s kingdom is far wider in scope than the institutional church. So, from the Protestant viewpoint:
- The kingdom is more than the church.
- The church is less than the kingdom.
The Protestant doctrine, “every man a priest”—as Protestant an idea as there is—rests on the assumption that each Chris tian’s service is a holy calling, not just the ordained priest’s calling. Each Christian is supposed to serve as a full-time worker in God’s kingdom (Romans 12:1). What is this kingdom? It is the whole world of Christian service, and not just the institutional church.
What we find today is that fundamentalist Protestants have unknowingly adopted the older Roman Catholic view of church and kingdom. Writes Peter Masters of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle: “Reconstructionist writers all scorn the attitude of traditional evangelicals who see the church as something so completely distinct and separate from the world that they seek no ‘authority’ over the affairs of the world.”1 We do not argue, as this critic argues to defend his own position of cultural isolation, that “The kingdom of God is the church, small as it may sometimes appear, not the world. . . .2
This definition of the kingdom of God as the institutional church is the traditional Roman Catholic definition of the kingdom, and it has led in the past to ecclesiocracy. It places everything under the institutional church. The church in principle absorbs everything.
This same definition of the church can also lead to the ghetto mentality and cultural isolation: it places nothing under Christianity, because the kingdom is narrowly defined as merely the institutional church. Because the institutional church is not authorized to control the State (correct), and because the kingdom is said to be identical to the church (incorrect), the kingdom of God is then redefined as having nothing to do with any thing that is not strictly ecclesiastical. This is our critic’s view of the kingdom.
So, pietists have sharply separated the kingdom of God (narrowly defined) from the world. Separating the institutional church from the world is necessary, but separating God’s kingdom from this world leads to the surrender of the world to Satan’s kingdom. Thus, it is never a question of “earthly kingdom vs. no earthly kingdom”; it is always a question of whose earthly kingdom, God’s or Satan’s? To deny that God’s kingdom extends to the earth in history—the here and now—is necessarily to assert that Satan’s kingdom is legitimate, at least until Jesus comes again. But Satan’s kingdom is not legitimate, and Christians should do whatever they can to roll it back. Rolling back Satan’s earthly kingdom means rolling forward Christ’s earthly kingdom.
What Christian Reconstructionists argue is that this originally Protestant view of the kingdom of God in history has been steadily abandoned by Protestants since at least 1660, to the detriment of the gospel in general and Protestantism specifically. They call for the recovery and implementation of the older Protestant view of God’s kingdom. This is what has made Christian Reconstructionists so controversial. Today’s Protestants do not want to give up their medieval Roman Catholic definition of the kingdom of God, and they deeply resent anyone who asks them to adopt the original Protestant view. Their followers are totally unaware of the origins of what they are being taught by their leaders.
The Kingdom of God
There are a lot of definitions of the kingdom of God. Mine is simultaneously the simplest and the broadest: the civilization of God. It is the creation—the entire area under the King of Heaven’s lawful dominion. It is the area that fell under Satan’s reign in history as a result of Adam’s rebellion. When man fell, he brought the whole world under God’s curse (Genesis 3:17–19). The curse extended as far as the reign of sin did. This meant everything under man’s dominion. This is what it still means. The laws of the kingdom of God extend just as far as sin does. This means every area of life.
God owns the whole world: “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). Jesus Christ, as God’s Son and therefore legal heir, owns the whole earth. He has leased it out to His people to develop progressively over time, just as Adam was supposed to have served as a faithful leaseholder before his fall, bringing the world under dominion (Genesis 1:26-28). Because of Jesus’ triumph over Satan at Calvary, God is now bringing under judgment every area of life. How? Through the preaching of the gospel, His two-edged sword of judgment (Revelation 19:15).
Reform and Restoration
The kingdom of God is the arena of God’s redemption. Jesus Christ redeemed the whole world—that is, He bought it back. He did this by paying the ultimate price for man’s sin: His death on the cross. The whole earth has now been judicially redeemed. It has been given “a new lease on life.” The lease that Satan gained from Adam has been revoked. The Second Adam (Jesus Christ) holds lawful title.
The world has not been fully restored in history, nor can it be; sin still has its effects, and will until the day of final judgment. But progressively over time, it is possible for the gospel to have its restorative effects. Through the empowering of God’s Holy Spirit, redeemed people are able to extend the principles of healing to all areas under their jurisdiction in life: church, family, and State.
All Christians admit that God’s principles can be used to reform the individual. They also understand that if this is the case, then the family can be reformed according to God’s Word. Next, the church is capable of restoration. But then they stop. Mention the State, and they say, “No; nothing can be done to restore the State. The State is inherently, permanently satanic. It is a waste of time to work to heal the State.” The Christian Reconstructionist asks: Why not?
They never tell you why not. They never point to a passage in the Bible that tells you why the church and family can be healed by God’s Word and Spirit, but the State can’t be. Today, it is the unique message of Christian Reconstruction that civil government, like family government and church government, is under the Bible-revealed law of God and therefore is capable in principle of being reformed according to God’s law.
This means that God has given to the Christian community as a whole enormous responsibility throughout history. This Godgiven responsibility is far greater than merely preaching a gospel of exclusively personal salvation. The gospel we preach must apply to every area of life that has been fouled by sin and its effects. The church and individual Christian evangelists must preach the biblical gospel of comprehensive redemption, not just personal soul-winning.3 Wherever sin reigns, there the gospel must be at work, transforming and restoring. The only area of life outside of the reach of Spirit-empowered restoration is an area that was not affected by the fall of man. This, of course, means no area at all.
There are millions of Christians today (and in the past) who have denied the obvious implications of such a view of God’s earthly kingdom. Nevertheless, very few of them have been ready to deny its theological premises. If you ask them this question—”What area of life today is not under the effects of sin?”—they give the proper answer: none. They give the same answer to the next question: “What area of sin-filled life will be outside of the comprehensive judgment of God at the final judgment?”
But when you ask them the obvious third question, they start squirming: “What area of life today is outside of the legitimate effects of the gospel in transforming evil into good, or spiritual death into life?” The answer is obviously the same—none—but to admit this, modern pietistic Christians would have to abandon their pietism.
What is pietism? Pietism preaches a limited salvation: “individual soul-only, family-only, church-only.” It rejects the very idea of the comprehensive redeeming power of the gospel, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, and the comprehensive responsibility of Christians in history. In this rejection of the gospel’s political and judicial effects in history, the pietists agree entirely with modern humanists. There is a secret alliance be tween them. Christian Reconstruction challenges this alliance.
This is why both Christians and humanists despise it.
- Peter Masters, “World Dominion: The High Ambition of Reconstructionism,” Sword & Trowel (May 24, 1990), p. 18.(↩)
- Gary North, “Comprehensive Redemption: A Theology for Social Action” (1981), reprinted in North, Is the World Running Down? Crisis in the Christian Worldview (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1988), Appendix C.(↩)