Luther’s Doctrine Of The Two Kingdoms -- By: Kenneth Hagen

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 07:4 (Fall 1998)
Article: Luther’s Doctrine Of The Two Kingdoms
Author: Kenneth Hagen

Luther’s Doctrine Of The Two Kingdoms

Kenneth Hagen

The understanding of “Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms” is complicated for several reasons: the doctrine is not Luther’s;1 Luther had more than two kingdoms; Luther had more than one doctrine, or so it seems; the terms kingdom and government are not technical terms; and the doctrine is often criticized, misunderstood, and misused. Since the problems of misunderstanding and misuse lie in modern philosophical assumptions (such as liberalism) and political agendas (such as Nazism), I see no need to force Luther into modern problems.

Let us try to set our focus on Luther, on his time and corpus, setting aside modern agendas. To do so, I offer seven assertions.

1) Set aside the assumption that the two kingdoms equal church and state. The kingdom of God for Luther includes more than the church militant, and the kingdom of this world includes more than the single, divinely instituted secular government.

2) The two cities of Augustine’s City of God Against the Pagans do not equal Luther’s two kingdoms. The two cities for Augustine are two loves—one of the flesh and one of the spirit; the two cities represent the cosmic conflict between the divine and the demonic. The two loves and the cosmic conflict are also in Luther but do not equate with the two kingdoms of God and this world. Both kingdoms of God and the world in Luther are in conflict with the Devil.

3) The famous charge of “quietism” leveled by Reinhold Niebuhr, that German Lutherans particularly were passive regarding the kingdom of this world, has been adequately rebuffed by Brent Sockness.2 Furthermore, I always remind my students that when you think of the man Martin Luther who lived in and taught the two kingdoms, “defeatism” and “quietism” are the last words that come to mind. Erasmus wished that Niebuhr would have been right.

4) To focus on Luther in his context, remember that everything in the Middle Ages, above the earth, on the earth, and beneath the earth, was under the rule of God. No independent, neutral, secular realm, no secular state existed apart from God. The saeculum is God’s creation.

5) Remember that for Luther the “kingdom of the Devil,” the third kingdom, was active but not in control of the kingdom of the world. The regnum diaboli stands as a threat to both the kingdoms of God and the world.

6) Still trying to focus on Luther in his historical context, Luther’s distinction between the two kingdoms ...

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