Two ways of understanding church and state separation

Some thoughts emerging from the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT “Directions 2012” Conference. As baptists we all affirm the “separation of church and state”, but do we all mean the same thing by it?

The two kingdoms model

Some, following Luther and Calvin, understand the separation of church and state in terms of the “two kingdoms” model. According to this model God rules the whole world, but rules in two ways. God rules the earthly kingdom through secular government by means of law (or the sword) and rules the heavenly kingdom through the gospel (or the cross). This leads to an apolitical understanding of the church, an irreligious understanding of the state, and ethical dualism amongst Christians who move in and out of the two kingdoms in their everyday lives. Separation here means Christians must learn to discern where grace is relevant and where it is not.

The one kingdom model

Some, following Simons and others, understand the separation of church and state in terms of the “one kingdom” model. According to this model God rules the whole world, through the resurrected Lord, and calls Christians to witness to this fact in one way and one way only: through the way of the cross. This leads to a counter-political understanding of church, a counter-religious understanding of the state, and ethical monism amongst Christians irrespective of their state-church movements. Separation here means the church must distance itself from the graceless ethics of the state.

Given the baptist movement emerged out of anabaptist influenced puritanism and has been influence by both Menno Simons and John Calvin in the course of its history, this makes things rather interesting.

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