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Thursday, March 1, 2012

March 2012

You may have heard recently that Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), was given the opportunity to speak before congress concerning a potential law that would require the insurance companies of religious institutions to pay for contraceptives and abortion causing "medications." (The law would not apply in the case of church workers such as pastors, youth directors, etc.) Some may be surprised to see a church body president speaking before congress because we tend to think church and state should have nothing to do with each other. In light of this, I thought it might be helpful to reexamine our view on how the church and the state (or governments) relate to each other by taking a look at what we call the doctrine of two kingdoms.

As Christians we live in two kingdoms. We live in the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of heaven. In our context, we are American citizens and citizens under the reign of Christ. Martin Luther referred to these kingdoms as the kingdom of the right hand (the church) and the kingdom of the left hand (the state). As Christians, we live in both.

What is key to this understanding of our lives is that the same God is God of both kingdoms. However, He is doing very different things in these kingdoms. In the right hand kingdom, God is proclaiming His law to condemn sinners and gospel to forgive them. Citizenship is based on the gracious work of God in baptism which declares you to be forgiven and, therefore, a child of God. Life in this kingdom is based on and sustained entirely by God's grace and deals with salvation.

The left hand kingdom functions differently. The same God is in charge of this kingdom. But He is doing different work with His left hand. Here He works according to the law of creation, or, the natural law. He orders societies through governments in order to maintain order. Since sin reigns in our world, God has established governments to uphold and maintain laws to keep sin in check. If people in the society break laws, God has granted the government authority to punish. If people uphold laws, God has granted the government authority to reward (Romans 13:3-4). So, for example, if you don't speed, you won't get a ticket. If you do speed, you're busted. You get the idea. Salvation is not found here, it isn't supposed to be. No one gets to heaven by being a good citizen. Yet, as Christians, we are called to be just that. We are to be subject to our government (Romans 13:1) and pray for our leaders (I Timothy 2:l-2).

Because there is only one God over both the right hand and the left hand, He has one law by which he governs them. It is not as though it is okay to murder in the church but not in the state or something like this. The difference is in how they deal with the law and with sin. In the left hand kingdom, sin is punished. In the right, it is to be repented of and forgiven. What confuses things, however, is when one kingdom starts to do the other's job. The state should not be teaching or dictating the faith, and the church should not be making and enforcing laws. They have different roles. However, when one starts to do the other's job, or one begins to act sinfully, they are to keep each other in check. If the church begins to enforce laws, the state needs to tell them to go back to the forgiveness business. When the state
begins to act sinfully, the church needs to stand up and remind the state that our common God is not pleased with such decisions.

This is where President Harrison came in. He spoke to the congress about forcing religious organizations to pay for something that is held to be sinful by many church bodies. The government would be forcing churches to sin and binding their consciences. His address is both moving and faithful. If you get a chance, I encourage you to check it out on YouTube. If you have questions about this or would like to pursue the topic further, please send me an email or give me a call!

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