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Two Powers: Caesar’s and Christ’s

22 October, 2009

IMG_1294Stuart Robinson argued that God, the Father, covenanted with God, the Son, before the foundation of the world to elect, save, and establish a people or kingdom for himself. This kingdom as it manifested itself in history was an unique kingdom. It was totally distinct from all other temporal powers, but in Robinson’s time, many ministers and statesmen were confusing the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of Christ. If the rulers (ministers) and the ruled (covenant members) confused the kingdom of Caesar with Christ or vice versa, then the civil power swallowed the ecclesiastical power and the distinctive spirituality of the Church as ministerial was jeopardized.

In contrast, the distinctiveness of the civil power as magisterial was also confused. As a result of the confusion of the two powers, Robinson said that the Church’s testimony was diminished,

Touching the distinction between the power ecclesiastical and the civil power,–which latter is ordained by God also,–the points of contrast are so numerous and so fundamental that nothing but the confusion of mind arising from the oppression of Caesar, and Antichrist backed by the power of Caesar, could ever have caused the obscurity and inconsistency of the Church’s testimony in modern times. For they have nothing in common except that both powers are of divine authority, both concern the race of mankind, and both were instituted for the glory of God as a final end. In respect to all else–their origin, nature and immediate end, and in their mode of exercising the power,–they differ fundamentally (COG, p. 65).

Although both powers were ordained by God and have their authority in him alone, Robinson noted five fundamental differences between them (COG, p. 65-66):

1. The civil power derived its power from God, the author of nature, whereas the ecclesiastical power derived its authority from the mediator, Jesus Christ.

2. The civil power relied on the light of nature (general revelation), whereas the ecclesiastical power received its direction from the revealed Bible (special revelation).

3. The two had different scopes and aims. Caesar’s kingdom was seen and temporal, and Christ’s was unseen and spiritual.

Religious is a term not predictable of the acts of the State; Political is a term not predictable of the acts of the Church. The things pertaining to the kingdom of Christ are things concerning which Caesar can rightfully have no cognizance, except indirectly and incidentally as these things palpably affect the temporal and civil concerns of men (COG, p. 66).

4. The symbol of the State was a sword that signified the use of force (magisterial), “a terror to evil-doers.” The symbol of the Church was the keys, which signified its ministerial role.

5.  The civil power might be exercised by one person (a judge, magistrate, or a governor), whereas the ecclesiastical power was a joint power only. There was no room for an absolute ruler in the Church, who could make decisions unilaterally.

If we want the Church to have true and deep spirituality in our own day, Robinson’s thoughts on the two powers take us in the right direction and provide an alternative to those who advocate a closer union of the two.

Joshua

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