Two-Kingdom ecclesiology is incompatible with the Kingdom of God.
Something is amiss, even in Reconstructionist circles. Two-Kingdom ecclesiology has truncated the Kingdom of God and equivocated on the Bride of Christ. These are errors to any Christian but it is blatant inconsistency on the part of those who hold to these errors while at the same time claiming to hold to Christian Reconstructionism or even Neo-Calvinist One-Kingdom Theology. An overemphasizing of the local institutional Church has caused an almost black hole effect; sucking all ecclesiological distinctives into the gravitational pull of the local Church. The visible Church (which is closely related to the Kingdom of God though not the same thing) has been confined to the local Church. This error brings about a separating of jurisdiction that necessitates one flavour or another of Two-Kingdom Theology. Maybe a Roman Catholic “Two Swords” style of split jurisdiction, or maybe even the novel Escondido R2K view (Escondido being the location of Westminster West Theological Seminary; the primary pusher of R2K Theology).
The Church of Jesus Christ is not limited to the local Church. For your consideration,
“The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”
“All true believers, in whom the Spirit of God dwells, are members of that Church which is the body of Christ, no matter with what ecclesiastical organization they may be connected, and even although they have no such connection.”
“The Reformation ushered in another ecclesiology. Whereas Rome had identified the church with the infallible institution that exists above the people, the Reformation concept returned to the New Testament notion of the church as a gathering of genuine Christ-believers, as the people of God. The church, outside of which there is no salvation, was detached from all formal institutions and located in the invisible realm of mystical union with Christ. Unity and catholicity now lack concrete organization but serve as the hidden foundation of all Christendom.”
There is a peculiar reading of WCF Chapter XXV that conflates particular societies (institutional local churches) with the visible and universal Church. Considering that WCF XXV.II is abundantly clear that the universal church is not confined to the walls of local societies, I can only call this view of the confession a wholly illiterate view. Either modern churchmen cannot read, or they have the extraordinary power to read what is not there. This distinction is more thoroughly established here.
For the sake of clarity, when I say “institutional Church” I do not say that disparagingly. I simply mean the collection of broadly orthodox Christian fellowships that meet regularly for the teaching of the Word and the partaking of the sacraments. This can be done in a very informal way, or a very formal way. This can be a house church or a megachurch, as long as it is established, regular, and Christian. I prefer the term “institutional Church” over the term “the local Church”, but they can be used interchangeably and I do use both terms. Some use the term “institutional Church” in a way that denotes a certain vague level of formality, but I do not use the term in this way.
Relegating of the Kingdom of God, and therefore the Bride of Christ, to the confines of “the” (or “a”) local church is a view that destroys the Biblical and Confessional idea of the catholicity of the Church. It does far more than that, however. It creates an artificial two-kingdom paradigm in how we think about life and culture.
If the institutional local Church is the Kingdom of God, this means the culture outside of the narrow realm of the institutionalized Christian religion is non-redemptive and necessarily within different jurisdictional and covenantal boundaries as the redemptive institutional Church kingdom. The way in which one gains redemption or spiritual vindication is only through a formal connection to an institutional Church.
This two-kingdom ecclesiology makes perfect sense to both the Roman Catholic and the R2K (Reformed/Radical Two-Kingdom) advocate. It fits consistently within their worldview. However, it is not consistent thinking at all to the Christian Reconstructionist or Neo-Calvinist.
A two-kingdom and pessimistic (or a Klinian ambivalent) view of creation will see the institutional Church as the end of Christianity. The only promise for the world is that God will sustain His Church (they mean the institutional Church) throughout history. This is very much like a man living on his back connected to life-support. It is a mere sustaining and maintaining of a culturally inept, irrelevant, and historically defeated Church. Redemption, in this view, does not originate from the Church to redeem the world, but rather is relegated to the institutional Church. In this way the institutional Church remains the gatekeeper of redemption. Redemption never flows out, however. It is bottled within for only those within. The world can progress or regress without affecting God’s plan of this life-boat version of the Church. The key feature of this form of two-kingdom ecclesiology is isolation.
The cultural worthlessness of the R2K sect is no great surprise. However, because of this errant ecclesiology, the two-kingdom implications for even the Postmillennial Theonomist is most troubling. It is troubling because they do not see the problem. A Christian Reconstructionist who conflates the visible Church with the institutional Church also diminishes, constrains, and truncates the Kingdom of God. If we do not know what the Kingdom of God is, how are we to seek it?
An advocate of two-kingdom ecclesiology with an optimistic view of creation will drift towards Roman Catholic two-kingdom theology (as opposed to the R2K variant). All cultural redemption must originate from and flow through the institutional church. The only ecclesiological difference of substance is that the Roman view believed this happened through “AN” institution, i.e. the Roman Catholic Church. Although they did not typically directly rule the populace based on the Roman doctrine of the Two Swords, all human institutions and persons, from the family, the civil government, to the individual, were subject to the Institutional Church (The RCC). The Protestant version of the same idea is simply that all cultural redemption must come from and flow through “THE” institutional church. RJ Rushdoony describes this problem very well in Intellectual Schizophrenia, page 41.
“The Roman Catholic Church holds that the visible and invisible church are very closely linked and that the visible church is the institutional church. In other words, the Roman Catholic Church is the Kingdom of God on earth. The immediate implications of this for everyday life are far-reaching. The world is divided into two realms, first, the realm of grace, which is the Kingdom of God or the church, and, second, the realm of nature, which is the rest of the world. As a consequence, the only way in which the home, the school, and the government can be linked with God is through the institutional church, in that they possess no direct relationship with Christ and hence no direct relationship with God. Their relationship being mediated and subordinate to the institutional church, it becomes necessary for the state, school and home to be under the authority of the church in every avenue of life, and, as members of an inferior realm, the realm of nature, to be under constant suspicion and guard”
Rushdoony saw this equivocation as leading to a dividing of the world into two realms and leading to the domination of society (one realm) by the institutional Church (the other realm). I wholeheartedly agree with Rushdoony given that the Church in question has an optimistic view of nature or a view of the Church that is outward thinking in any way. The two-kingdom theology and the two-kingdom ecclesiology of the Escondido R2K sect also results in domination. However, it is the humanistic society that dominates the institutional Church, not the other way around. R2K theologians attempt to barricade the Kingdom of God behind the walls of the local churches, but while they are acting purely defensively, the humanists are marching on and gaining ground.
Even if you hold to a theonomic ethic and an optimistic eschatology, a two-kingdom ecclesiology corrupts your view of the world. Every good deed must be within, “covered”, or by permission of a local institution in order for it to be legitimized. The ecclesiologically two-kingdom theonomist will often say that all good work is Kingdom work, but when that Kingdom work looks more or less “churchy” all of the sudden there is a need for ordination, covering, or permission. The work of the activist, the apologist, the evangelist, the father, the mentor, the entrepreneur, and the educator is only seen as legitimate Kingdom work in relation to its formal ties to a local institution. If there is no formal relationship, Kingdom work that was once understood as good work becomes illegitimized and sometimes even discouraged altogether.
Instead of being a helpmate of Christ in building the Kingdom of God, local Churches have often become a competitor of the Kingdom of God. Local church celebrities pit themselves against those that they perceive as illegitimate. Instead of working in unity with those within the universal church (as defined by the early reformers and confessions), they too often become elitists and schismatics. Not content in being a righteous tool of God for the building of the Kingdom, the local churches see themselves as the Kingdom. The paintbrush, in its pride, has deceived itself into thinking it is the portrait. The trowel, in its pride, has deceived itself into thinking it is the wall. A paintbrush thinking it is a portrait will paint no portrait. A trowel thinking it is a wall will build no wall. Likewise, the institutional Church that believes itself to be the Kingdom of God will do little genuine Kingdom building.
The one Kingdom, theonomic, and optimistic view of creation should see the institutional Church as a means. A means to what end? A means of building the Kingdom of God so that the visible universal Church grows and the effects of obedience to God’s Holy Law is made evident throughout all the world. The local Church is important, but ultimately it is a tool for the building of the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom itself. Depending on how we see the local Church, it will either play its role in isolation, domination, or redemption.
The local Church is a means to an end, not the end. Therefore, it is subject TO that end. Too often the Christian is fed the lie that the local Church is the end and they ought to make themselves subject to that end. To equivocate on the meaning of the visible Church is to mix up the Kingdom with the principality. It is to mix up the tree with the branch. This is no small mistake. Seek first the Kingdom of God.
“To define the kingdom of God or the visible Church in terms of the institutional church is to take the road to Rome, to drift toward the subordination of every avenue of life to the church. Many Protestants indeed share in this position and view every avenue of life with suspicion apart from ecclesiastical domination. But for us the biblical church,the kingdom of God on earth, is to be identified with the reign of God in the hearts of men wherever they are. Consequently, we must hold that the Christian home is a part of the visible church, as is the Christian school, the Christian state, and the Christian man in his calling, godly men everywhere in their calling serving as priests of the Kingdom of God on earth. The Christian as scientist manifests the activity of the visible church, of the Kingdom of God on earth, in his particular sphere of activity. The Christian farmer, as he subdues the earth and exercises dominion in the name of God is thereby manifesting the activity of the visible church in his particulars phere. Consequently, the Institutional church is definitely not one area above all the other areas of life, but is one aspect of the Kingdom of God on earth among many others. For us, therefore, the institutional church together with and not above the school, the home, the Christian man in whatever calling or sphere of activity is his, equally represents the visible church,the Kingdom of God.”