But it’s Christ’s Left Hand, not Everybody’s and Nobody’s!

We need to beware of picturing the area governed by God’s Left Hand as simply those wide tracts of space where the world ‘does its own thing’ as the Church looks unconcernedly on.

I never lightly disagree with any of the positions articulated so eloquently by my dear late father in God, Kurt Marquart, a man endowed with a laser sharp mind and the prince of systematic theologians in his generation. But I recall an uncomfortable conversation in which the celebrated Fort Wayne dogmatician and I disagreed about the status of the so-called ‘Two Kingdoms doctrine’ (Zwei-Reiche-Lehre), which Kurt (for example, in his dogmatics locus on the Church) treated as an untouchable component of the Lutheran dogmatic edifice, while I was and am more inclined to think of it as consisting in imagery that Luther freely used from time to time as he was considering issues under the umbrella of Church and State or Church and Society. As far as I can see, our binding dogma in this area is found in the Augsburg Confession XVI and XXVIII rather than in the Reformer’s private writings.

Around forty-five years ago, while a doctoral student in Germany racing to gain fluency in Luther’s language, I devoured and digested a weighty symposium of essays on the Zwei Reiche Lehre published under the title Reich Gottes und Welt (The Kingdom of God and the World). The essays in question featured widely differing interpretations of this facet of Luther’s teaching and brought sharply to my attention the stunning fact that the ‘doctrine’ that some consider a done deal did not see the light of day until precisely a hundred years ago. Classical Lutheranism had pondered Church and State and Church and Society under the framework, inherited and developed from the middle ages, of the Three Estates instituted by God, namely, the ‘domestic’ estate (built on man-woman marriage anchored in households whence comes the ‘economy’), the ‘political’ estate made up at that time mainly of hereditary rulers, and the ‘ecclesiastical estate’ or office of ministry given to exercise spiritual fatherhood over the household of God. Far from superannuated, the Three Estates framework needs sensitive interpretation and application for our contemporary situation.

The sudden collapse of the ‘Christian’ German monarchies at the end of 1918, followed by the unforeseen prompt disestablishment of the Roman Catholic and ‘mainline’ Protestant churches with the emergence of the Weimar Republic, seemed to call for a different model within which to rethink the perennial issues involved in the Church’s being a pilgrim community distinct from but very much involved in the institutions and life of this passing world. Accordingly, from the early 1920s a rash of publications appeared on Luther’s two kingdoms imagery and the Zwei-Reiche-Lehre familiar to us sprang to life in the minds of the learned guild of Luther scholars.

Luther is apt to frustrate his students as he avoids terminological exactitude and plays games with specialist vocabulary, sometimes giving well known words a special twist of his own. So, as he dealt with the topic under discussion here, he sometimes pictured God as exercising His authority over ‘Two Kingdoms’ (Reiche), while on other occasions setting forth His rule over this one world through the operation of ‘Two Governments’ (Regimente). When speaking of Reiche/Kingdoms Luther mainly had in the background of his thinking the still unfinished conflict between God and the devil, while his use of Regimente/Governments stood in the service of explaining how God has established two distinct authority systems to preserve His work in creation and redemption against the devil. A grave misunderstanding of the Zwei-Reiche-Lehre is to think of God’s taking different governing approaches to two contiguous territories on the analogy of the geographically adjacent kingdoms of Belgium and the Netherlands. I recall once driving out of a seminary parking lot to behold the fatuous sign ‘You are now entering the mission field’—as though the Church and her institutions are not the devil’s playground, with repentance being constantly needed as much within as outside their physical premises!

One of the most informative essays in the Reich Gottes und Welt volume supplied the intriguing argument, which I blithely dismissed in the folly of youth, that Luther’s testimony on the Left Hand Government of God should rightly be understood as having a Christological basis (christologische Begründung). Aha! In His public ministry Jesus steps forth and behaves as King, not timidly presenting His credentials to people before whom He stands in terror, but calmly, even meekly speaking and acting as One on the same level as God. His royal bearing even in the state of humiliation invites comparison with the demeanor of Aragorn before he was crowned king of Gondor. Hence those who witnessed His words and deeds were ‘alarmed’ or even ‘struck with panic’ rather than merely ‘astonished’ at Him (see Mk. 1:22, and check out the meaning of ekplēssō there). By His own account, in His resurrection He has been invested with ‘all authority’ in heaven and earth (Mt. 28:18), while the seer of Revelation makes no bones about describing Him as ‘Ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Rev. 1:5), a truth that all bearers of civil authority discount at their peril. Since there is no square inch of this earth where the ascended Lord is not sovereign, all that Christians do and undergo in the realm where we picture God as ruling through His Left Hand takes place under the kingship of Jesus.

We need to beware of picturing the area governed by God’s Left Hand as simply those wide tracts of space where the world ‘does its own thing’ as the Church looks unconcernedly on. Quietism began as a mystical aberration promoted by Madame de Guyon in seventeenth-century French Roman Catholicism while an extended use of this term can refer to an attitude that leaves the world and its ways to their own devices while the pious hunker down in their bomb shelters hoping that the evils being perpetrated in the wider society pass them by. God preserve us from such Quietist caricatures of the Two Kingdoms Doctrine as we have witnessed from most church leaders and many pastors here in Canada over the past several years where, as the covid situation went into top gear, Revelation 13 was stunningly fulfilled before our eyes, while so many who bought into the masks and experimental injections hysteria stubbornly refused to acknowledge the true nature of what was going on. If history does not repeat itself, it surely rhymes, but most in the True North failed to hear the eerie echoes of 1930s Germany.

Yes, the Left Hand governance of God takes place under the kingship of Christ, and all that happens in this realm is not, as Marxists past and present suppose, unmitigatedly evil in such a way that the only remedy is to be found in the Utopia that allegedly lies on the other side of the Revolution. Despite the Fall, Providence kindly sees to it that divine goodness is still manifest in the lives of sinners. Back in early 2022 the Freedom or Truckers’ Convoy displayed a multiracial Canada that, however imperfectly, acknowledges the natural law so eloquently attested by C. S. Lewis in his Abolition of Man, a Canada with a healthy sense of what all is entailed in human life in community. Many participants in that extended peaceful demonstration held in sub-zero Ottawa were heavily engaged in philanthropic activities for the benefit of the city’s otherwise neglected homeless and abandoned. Yet our Prime Minister, who famously declined to meet with blue collar workers staging a peaceful protest, finds time to appear on drag queen shows and displays his contempt for due constitutional process by having the two leaders of the Freedom Convoy put on trial for the offense of ‘insurrection’.

Wednesday 20 September 2023 seemed in some ways a repeat of those heady days of February 2022 as hundreds of thousands of concerned Canadians gathered in many places across this huge land to protest the brutal imposition of gender ideology in the country’s public school system, once again giving evidence of healthy sentiments and behavior in the midst of this undeniably fallen world. These peaceful protests had barely begun before the Prime Minister dubbed the whole exercise a manifestation of hate by those guilty of ‘homo-, bi- and transphobia’. Alas, given governmental control of most of our broadcast media and governmental subsidies to our tame ‘legacy’ print media, the large scale and great measure of public sympathy for both these popular movements has sedulously been kept from the eyes of the people. The Deep State has omnipresent, mighty tentacles bent on suppressing free thought and expression. The ‘long march through the institutions’ perpetrated since Trudeau Senior’s revolutionary constitution of 1982 has had the effect that most bearers of authority and holders of influential positions (supremely in the educational system) will enforce the tenets of Cultural Marxism to the bitter end, callously dismissing the concerns of blue collar Truckers and working parents determined to withstand the depredations of gender ideology.

Both the Freedom Convoy and the One Million March 4 Children demonstrate the existence of a healthful Canada open to human flourishing that wondrously continues to exist beneath the tyranny imposed by an increasingly totalitarian State, and they invite comparison with the Solidarity movement that emerged in Poland in the 1970s and 1980s. But it seems little action has been or is being taken to keep up the momentum of these hopeful events, and Canadian conservatism painfully lacks both leadership and articulate advocacy and expression. Polish Solidarity had the advantage of being built on a bedrock of widespread religious involvement and Christian profession, whereas church leadership and parish clergy in Canada have voiced hardly any sympathy with the popular movements of 2022 and 2023, with most of them functioning as willing echo chambers of government policy and attitudes. The March 4 Children was in fact the brainchild of a Muslim businessman in Ottawa and while it quickly attracted widespread Christian support, this came almost entirely from the laity with scant support coming from those with Reverend before their names and collars around their necks.The bitter example of your Northern neighbor should act as further encouragement and incitement to Lutheran Christians in the United States to be prepared to make big sacrifices in order to maintain and even increase the number of Christian secondary classical schools, and to found and support the sort of Classical College being envisaged and prepared for in Casper, WY. While education is partly but not wholly a matter discharged under God’s Left Hand, we should bear in mind that this Left Hand carries the wounds of the Crucified Jesus Who can never be indifferent to what is placed in the minds of young people made in God’s image and redeemed by and incorporated into Christ to bear this image out into the world. Handing on the Faith to future generations cannot adequately be done in Quietist enclaves populated mainly by the elderly, but must be carried out publicly by those unashamed to profess the kingship of Christ over this and the future world. The time to adjust popular misunderstandings of the so-called Zwei-Reiche-Lehre is long overdue.

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Rev. Dr. John Stephenson

Rev. Dr. John Stephenson taught for over thirty years as professor of theology at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines.

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