Those of you who have read the First Post here know that the Kingship of Jesus Christ informs my proposals for government and society. For instance, the fact that Jesus is now the rightful king of the universe and that this has implications for how society ought to be governed, is the essence of the basic argument being made here. Furthermore, Jesus' rule has a royal character that raises natural authority to a supernatural level, so that all Christian authority figures (fathers, kings & bishops) derive a special dignity by being formally (i.e., covenantally) recognized under Christ's headship.
Right now, there is a very good discussion being carried on about the nature of Christ's rule over the nations at De Regno Christi . All participants in the discussion confess that Jesus is ruler of the nations in some sense. However, they do not all agree about what this means for the ordering of civil society. For instance, there are some who argue that Christ rules over the Church redemptively (hereafter: social reign) while he rules over the nations only in a providential manner (hereafter: providential reign) in the same way that he ruled them prior to his ascension. In other words, Christ's ascension, exaltation, and assumption of his Mediatorial Office (Royal Priest after the Order of Melchizedek) has no significance for how kings should rule. Because Christ's reign is spiritual, he need not be recognized as the ultimate authority that guarantees temporal authority. I regard this school of thought as essentially seditious, working to undermine the authority of the Lord Jesus.
To its credit, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) has historically protested against the fact that the U.S. Constitution recognizes neither Jesus' Lordship nor Christianity as the principle of its authority. The Constitutions' authority is based, not on God, but on "We the People." For many years, the RPCNA required its members to abstain from voting or holding public office, but backed off from their hard line in the 1960's. Four of the participants at De Regno Christi appear to be members of this stalwart denomination of Christ's Church.
At this point of the discussion, I think that the proponents of the social reign of King Jesus are handling themselves well and offering good challenges to professors Darryl Hart and David VanDrunen who hold the providential reign view. However, I think there are some common presuppositions that both sides share which weaken the social reign position. One is the supposed distinction between the spheres of cult (religion) and culture, sacred and secular. The other is the idea that civil government is a post-fall institution that has no purpose other than to preserve order and security in a violent world. These are both bad ideas, which are rendered more pernicious by the fact that St. Augustine believed them.
I want to briefly address the cult-culture opposition in this post, and tackle the postlapsarian institution idea at another time when I write to criticize Thomas Paine's political literature.
It is impossible to sharply distinguish between the civil and spiritual for at least three reasons.
First, there is nothing that happens in either “sphere” that does not affect the other. As embodied beings, our spiritual religion is going to have a visible aspect with inescapably political ramifications. The Church of Jesus Christ is at least partly a cultic institution that must negotiate social and legal challenges. Engagement with political realities is inescapable for the Ekklesia.
Second, the realm of the family, the primary social unit, is overseen by both church and state. It requires agreement between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities about which matters properly belong to each and which should be left to fatherly prerogative. There is no sphere sovereignty because society’s institutions cannot be hermetically sealed off from one another. Libertarianism as a philosophy is really an unsophisticated approach to what is necessarily a difficult and complicated state of affairs. There must be extensive cooperation between the major social institutions that govern one and the same group of people.
Third, the proclamation of Christ’s lordship has concrete implications for government, though this fact is obscured by the apparent success of secular democratic government in the modern world. It has only been lately (the last three hundred years or so) that it has even been possible to imagine government by religiously neutral principles. This fantasy has been exploded by the on-going culture war that rages around us.
The Kingdom of God is already consummated in the glorified body of our Lord Christ and in the heavenly places. It is also present in a physical, visible, yet anticipatory way on earth. Why should Christians voluntarily restrain the progress of the kingdom at some arbitrary border that ivory tower theoreticians draw between sacred and secular?
It is the king’s duty to execute justice and judgment. It is the church’s duty to proclaim the word of reconciliation (the Gospel) and effect it sacramentally. I think this line of thought holds promise for properly distinguishing between the roles of church and state in the New Covenant order, which is the present administration of God's universal kingdom encompassing all human societies, including churches, families and nations.