The Elections Are Over. Now What? A Discussion on the Two Kingdoms Doctrine

The election is over. Maybe your candidates won. Maybe they lost. If they won, perhaps you feel elated. If they lost, perhaps you feel depressed, concerned, frustrated or even scared. As Christians, we take great comfort in knowing that God is in control. Ephesians 1:20-21 tells us that Christ reigns at the right hand of the Father, above all authorities in heaven and on earth, in this age as well as in the age to come. This means we don’t just look to Christ as our hope for the future. We look to Him right here, right now, in election week and beyond. Ephesians 1:22-23 goes on to tell us that God places all things under Jesus’ feet and appointed him to be head of everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Now, go back and re-read that last sentence. Jesus is the head, not just of the church, but of everything. He rules for the church, but he is the head of everything. This means he rules this world both through the church and outside of the church. Everything belongs to God. Everything is His domain. Even the elections. Especially the elections.

Our culture insists on what is often called the separation of church and state. But God sees no separation. In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Lutherans have an explanation of how God does this. It is called the “two kingdoms” doctrine.

The “two kingdoms” doctrine is a way of articulating the fact that God has two ways of ruling this world. We call these kingdoms the right kingdom and the left kingdom. In the right kingdom, God rules through the church. He rules through proper preaching, where law and gospel are rightly distinguished, without human laws or coercion, which brings faith to people and forms them into a new creation. He does this through the gospel which teaches “an internal, eternal reality and righteousness of the heart, not an external temporal one” (Augsburg Confession XVI.4).

God rules the world from the left kingdom through worldly law, including coercion, punishment, etc. in order to preserve and protect the world for as long as God determines it to exist. He does this through governments and families. This is why we have worldly laws and worldly consequences for breaking them. If you lie to your parents, you’re likely to get grounded. If you rob a bank, you’re likely to do time in prison. You may notice that these worldly laws are often initially based on God’s laws, such as the Ten Commandments.

The “two kingdoms” doctrine demonstrates that while God transcends time, we do not. We are confined to a time and place in which God calls us to do the works that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), namely to love and serve our neighbors. Confusion may arise when one believes that the gospel (right kingdom), because it is eternal and internal, does not affect one’s external life. Therefore, it’s easy to misunderstand and assume that inwardly one is free on account of the gospel (and this is most certainly true!) while externally one must somehow be conformed to the world. In reality, we need to be active in the world, but not be of the world. We live in both kingdoms. We are saved by the gospel and are part of the body of Christ (right kingdom) and we are called by God to work and serve in the world (left kingdom). We need never fear, however, that we must do something in the world in order to be saved. We must also recognize that we cannot improve upon God’s reign. And, we must recognize that the two kingdoms will not be united, yet God reigns through both.

The reality is that God’s kingdom is already finished. The final battle has already been won. All has already been accomplished. God already reigns in both kingdoms. He has, however, awakened us in faith so that we may receive His kingdom and has shown us where we fit into His beautiful design. When we realize that all is accomplished and that God is fully reigning in both kingdoms, we can be at peace. We recognize that both kingdoms are the means in which God has chosen to love and serve the world. We are able to cooperate with God’s kingdom work by serving in offices of authority, including political offices, disciplinary offices, the military, etc., or by volunteering to help those who are oppressed, and by serving anywhere else that God calls us to and can do so without fear and without the feeling that God somehow made a mistake and its up to us to change things. We can simply serve as God has called us to serve, because He already has a plan and because He reigns over all.

So, in this post-election week, we need not fear that the world is spiraling out of the control of God’s mighty hands and we need not unnecessarily gloat when our candidates win. Instead, recognize that God has created you for such a time as this, not to change His kingdom, but to be a part of it in helping your neighbor. If he has called you to be passionate about a cause, let Him guide you in doing His kingdom work. As Christians, we live and serve in both the right and left kingdoms while our God lives and reigns in both the right and left kingdoms. Be at peace. Christ is on the throne!

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