Examining Stellman’s Pragmatic Objection to the Reformed View of the Two Kingdoms

My attention was recently directed to a 2007 blog post from Jason Stellman (who is frying bigger fish at the moment, and that’s a good thing). I don’t know whether he still holds to the opinions expressed in that post. Nevertheless, since my friend pointed it out to me, I thought I’d briefly respond.

Pastor Stellman began this way:

For the sake of continuing the argument for the doctrine of the two kingdoms (though I’m disappointed at the lack of biblical arguments to the contrary), I will concede, for one post and one post only, that there is only one kingdom, and that the Church and State are to work together to see God’s kingdom realized.

This seems to be a way of describing all positions except for the rather radical position associated with Escondido (and perhaps the Amish position) as “One Kingdom.” I think that’s a terribly inaccurate description – considering that Westminster Confession (even in the American revision) teaches that the Church and State are to work together to see God’s kingdom realized:

… it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord …

(American version of WCF 23:3)

The main difference between the dominant American view and the traditional Reformed view is how the Church and State work together to see God’s kingdom realized, not whether they work together. Sadly, Stellman’s apparent position is not only at odds with the traditional Reformed view, but also with the view that is part of the confessional stance of the PCA and OPC.

Additionally, it is surprising that Stellman was (in 2007) unaware of the Biblical argument for Calvin’s position and the position of the Westminster Assembly. The purpose of this post isn’t to present that argument, but it is surprising that Pastor Stellman wasn’t given the Biblical arguments for the traditional Reformed position during his seminary training at Escondido.

Stellman tries to argue against the traditional Reformed view on pragmatic grounds, however. He writes:

First of all, if the State’s precepts must come exclusively from Scripture rather than from natural law, what better place to start than the Ten Commandments? Let’s begin with the first one (you know, the one about how it is illegal to worship any other God but Yahweh).

If, as critics of two kingdoms theology insist, our faith must not be bracketed (since Jesus rules every square inch of the universe), then the first commendment must be enforced in the civil sphere, which would effectually bring an end to Mormonism, Catholicism, atheism, and pretty much any other “ism” that fails to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (this may sound to some like a pretty good idea, to which my only response is a shudder).

(typo in original)

First, the idea that “the State’s precepts must come exclusively from Scripture rather than from natural law” is not really the position taken by Stellman’s opponents.

Second, if the Mosaic civil laws are taken as an example of good civil laws, we can see that Stellman’s application of the first commandment is not quite correct. There is no civil law requiring that all non-worshippers of Jehovah be punished.

Third, it is amazing that Stellman shudders at the idea of getting rid of anti-Christian religions. Why does he shudder? Isn’t that a good thing?

Stellman continued:

Secondly, consider this dilemma: If biblical law is intended to be a blueprint for a godly society, then the State must inflict capital punishment on those offenders who commit capital crimes according to the Old Testament. But then, we’re also called to “turn the other cheek” in the Sermon on the Mount. And since there aren’t two kingdoms but one, the civil magistrate must somehow figure out how to kill people with the sword as well as with kindness.

Stellman is just confused. The “turn the other cheek” command relates to personal retaliation, not to civil justice. After all, the New Testament confirms that the civil magistrate carries a sword (not an extra sturdy cheek).

Part of the confusion seems to be Stellman’s lack of awareness of the fact that even the Old Testament is not “One Kingdom.” The King is not permitted to offer up sacrifices, just as the high priest is not the king over the land.

Furthermore, the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (from which the command to turn the cheek derives) is an Old Testament command:

Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

It is saddening to discover that Stellman is apparently unaware of this law. That law, of course, is fully consistent with capital punishment, even if Stellman cannot understand the consistency.

Finally, Stellman states:

Finally, since we are called in Philippians to prefer others’ needs before our own, then every time we find ourselves at a Stop sign, we must, in obedience to this command, let every other car go before us, until we’re the only one left.

This is lousy exegesis on Stellman’s part. The verse in Philippians does not mean what Stellman is suggesting.

Moreover, since what Stellman is suggesting is something that would bind the individual, as such, if Stellman were right it would be irrelevant to the issue of whether we have two kingdoms radically separated or not. If Stellman really believes that the verse means that, he ought to be obeying it, even in the most secular and God-ignoring society.

Stellman tacks on one last comment in closing:

(Oh, and you know how in basketball you sometimes do a “pump-fake” to deceive your defender, or how in baseball the manager gives secret signs to the hitter about whether or not to bunt? Well you can just forget about that, they break the ninth commandment).

Again, this exegesis is lousy and irrelevant to the discussion. We could get into an explanation of why deception is permitted in games, we could get into the difference between deception and lying, but most importantly – the 9th commandment is definitely binding on all men. No one ought to break it. And if Stellman’s exegesis were correct, then he should not pump-fake, even if he’s living in the most pagan society on earth.

In short, the attempted pragmatic objections to the traditional Reformed view fall flat.


One Response to “Examining Stellman’s Pragmatic Objection to the Reformed View of the Two Kingdoms”

  1. Ronald W. Di Giacomo Says:

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