Christianity & Culture: God’s Double Sovereignty - September 4, 2020
The doctrine of the two kingdoms is most often applied to the Christian's obligations to the state, but it also illuminates the cultural controversies which are causing so much confusion in today's church.
Should Christians get involved in politics? Yes, as part of our vocation in God's secular kingdom. The goal should not be necessarily the election of Christian rulers, nor to make America a "Christian nation." Rather, it should be to apply God's law in our social relationships and to establish justice and righteousness in our land. Abortion, for example, is a monstrous crime against the weakest and most defenseless in our society, and Christians are right to work against this evil, as against many others. Christians in politics must play by political rules, whether hard-ball power plays or the arts of compromise and consensus building. The church should be gentle and loving, while never compromising its doctrines. The rough-and-tumble of the political process, however, means that Christian politicians should not be prevented from exercising power or from making a tactical compromise by the charge that to do so is "not Christian." That confuses the kingdoms. Christian politicians, however, like all politicians, must exercise their power justly and in accordance with God's law.
Can a Christian take part in the expressions of the surrounding culture? Yes. Christians are still part of their culture and can be expected to share the tastes of their neighbors. A Christian can enjoy, perform, and get involved in secular art forms; they need not be religious, but they are subject to God's law. Christians need to draw the line at music or any other form of entertainment that violates God's canons of morality by tempting us to sin.
Can a Christian, then, like rock music? Yes, for the most part. This does not mean, however, that Christians should demand rock music in church. The secular kingdom, again, must be kept separate from the spiritual kingdom. Churches must keep themselves distinct from the surrounding culture.
To return to our earlier categories, a liberal would have little trouble accepting any brand of currently popular music and would even import it into the church. By this way of thinking, the church must always give in and conform itself to whatever the culture is doing. A Christian who believes in Christ above culture would reject secular music and try to devise a completely distinct Christian style, to which every subsequent piece of music should conform. A Christian who believes in Christ against culture would allow the world its own music but never listen to it, developing instead a separate Christian musical style.
A Two Kingdoms approach would allow the Christian to enjoy secular music, even, for those with the God-given talent, to pursue a musical vocation. The Christian's standards for this music would be God's moral law, but also God's aesthetic laws, which were built into the created order and human nature by God himself. The Christian musician might express his or her faith artistically, but the work would be assessed not primarily by its theology but by its aesthetic merits, which also come under God's dominion. The music, though, would not have to be explicitly religious at all it is part of God's dominion even in its secularity.
This same Christian musician, whether a rock 'n' roller or a concert violinist, would very likely object to electric guitars or chamber music in church. Art designed to please and to gratify the senses has its place, but worship belongs to the Word of God. Here, theological truth must take priority. The purpose is not to entertain the congregation but to convict them of sin and convert them to Christ. The audience is not the culture but God, whom the entire congregation is seeking to glorify in his terms, not ours.
Ken Myers has said in his brilliant book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes that the contemporary church has reversed Christ's injunction to be in the world, but not of the world. Instead, he says, we are not in the world with our separate schools, bookstores, music companies, and other cultural institutions, so that we seldom interact with non-believers and yet, we are of the world. Our music, stores, schools, and corporate structures, may be separate, but they are exactly like their secular counterparts.
Recognizing God's double sovereignty over all of life can enable Christians to be engaged in a positive, transforming way, with their culture without succumbing to the deadly, spirit-quenching sin of worldliness. It is a formula for both faithfulness and relevance.
Dr. Gene Edward Veith is the author of some 20 books regarding Christianity and culture. A retired English professor and college administrator, he also directs the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. Reprinted courtesy LCMS Life Ministry.
Could you make the case for the importance of parents and their authority? Learn why parental authority should be “upheld by church and state alike” in a recent article from the Public Discourse.
“God wants you to vote for the people, principles and platforms that will uphold and advance His justice in the world. In other words, you should vote in ways that will best serve your neighbor and his needs.” – Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann, professor of systematic theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis
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