Overdue Response on the Church Militant

I was completely MIA during February on the Plucked Chicken. Please accept my apologies. Blogging must give way to other priorities. Five or maybe even ten other priorities, depending upon the way they’re counted.

Back in November, a comment was posted to which I have meant to respond ever since. Time passes quickly, but since I own the Plucked Chicken, I will bend space and time here and recall the original post to which Mary responded.

Let me begin by thanking Mary for the comment, and apologizing for my lateness (measured in the normal space-time continuum) of responding.

Firstly, perhaps I’ve heard the phrase before, but please define and give a little background for the phrase “the kingdom of the left.”

It’s defined more or less in the first paragraph as “the framework of secular and worldly laws and rulers that encompass life on earth.” “Our government” is a hopefully-acceptable shorthand for that, assuming we share the same government. There’s a fairly recent CPH book called The Anonymous God which contains a number of essays that touch on this topic. Veith’s God at Work defines the “two kingdom” doctrine. The gist is that God rules all things, both sacred (church) and secular (world). One He rules through the Gospel, and the other through the Law — particularly that law written upon the heart of man. They are the kingdoms of the “right” and of the “left,” respectively.

You also make some assumptions in the first sentence of the fourth paragraph that I’m not sure I agree with. And you then carry those assumptions into the rest of the paragraph to explain yourself. You say, “When we study the Ten Commandments, they teach us that the Kingdom of the Left — our government — exists as a gift from God, having certain responsibilities that represent His blessings upon us when they are fulfilled.” When I study the Ten Commandments, it is as a guide, rule and mirror for my own life. I think it’s in the worldly philosophers of perhaps the 17th and 18th centuries where we find the commandments used the way you are trying to use them.

I’m not very familiar with those philosophers. Do you mean people like Adam Smith? I’ve been meaning to read some of their work to see what I think about it.

Maybe I’m being too grammatically nit-picky here, but you say, firstly, that the commandments teach us that our government exists as a gift from God. Ok, I agree that government is a gift from God, but where do the commandments say this. I guess I can stretch my imagination to see that when the fourth commandment tells us that things will be well with us if we honor our fathers and mothers that maybe, perhaps, some could infer that therefor those parents (and therefor all authority) are a gift from God. I think Romans 13:1-4 says it better, especially the line, “for he is God’s minister to you for good.”

The implications I’m drawing from the Commandments — particularly the fourth — are fleshed out more in the Large Catechism than in the Small Catechism. Romans 13 contains a reflection of these implications, especially in the teaching that the government is “God’s minister.” In these observations, my intention is to applying the implications of the Commandments as a guide or a rule, more than as a mirror.

As the latter nine commandments are comprehended in the first commandment, the last six are similarly comprehended in the fourth. Since the fourth also shows God’s establishment of earthly authority (a.k.a. His kingdom of the Left), we can see how the last six commandments relate to the way He would have earthly government exercise that authority.

Further you also are saying, I think, that the commandments say that the government has certain responsibilities toward it’s citizenry and that God will work through the governments fulfillment of these responsibilities in order to bless people. Again, of course, everything works out best when God’s Law is followed, but can we say that the commandments are teaching us about governmental responsibilities? I think this is kind of turning them on edge or inside out or something.

It’s applying some of their implications as the divine intent for government, which is admittedly only a small aspect of their scope. In fact, I mainly mean the Second Table, because the First Table relates more to the Kingdom of the Right. For a broad application of what God commands, the Catechism (Large and Small) expresses the direct force.

I’m sorry, perhaps it is the late hour, but I really don’t understand your point about the Fifth Commandment. I get the first clause. I think I get the second, but again, I don’t think that commandment is primarily aimed at government.

You’re right. I don’t think its primary aim is government, either. Like the rest, it’s mainly about our individual responsibility toward God. Yet I think it has a secondary aim, and maybe more than that. It’s easy to grasp the words of these commandments, but God keeps teaching through them more and more as we consider their practice.

There are places in the Bible that more clearly give the responsibility to protect life to governments, are there not?

Probably. For some reason, though, I like to use the Catechism as a starting point for launching into these exercises.

And the final clause of that sentence totally looses me. Is the antecedent to the pronoun it and its, the government?


And what is the greater responsibility in the fourth commandment of which you write?

Its greater responsibility is to preserve the order necessary for citizens to “enjoy long life.” That means if a particular citizen like Timothy McVeigh, decides to take the lives of his fellow citizens, the fourth commandment implies that the government can take his life in their defense.

Again, in the same paragraph, the Sixth Commandment is not addressed to government, but to individuals and tells us how we are to live our individual lives. Not how the government should make its laws. Yes, it would be nice if there were laws to support Biblical marital choices, but I really don’t think that the commandments address government. You’re phraseology on that one is somewhat more to my taste, however. I’d still rather it read, “The Sixth Commandment reveals that God wants lifelong marriage, obviously between one man and one woman.” And leave the government part out. Not that I disagree about the beneficence of Biblical civic laws,. I just don’t think the commandments address that.

I wouldn’t classify this as a civil law, because that would go too far. I think my point in this post was that God gives the government certain responsibilities for defending the order of civil society, and the cues for that ordering are built into the various commandments.

And so on with your discussion of the other commandments. Yes, I’ve had this discussion with you before, I think. I am perhaps ready to be convinced, but it just isn’t there for me yet. This really seems to me like dependence upon worldly philosophy to try to support a certain kind of government.

I wouldn’t make this argument with those who reject biblical authority in the public square, because to them it would be a weak argument. They need to become Christians, first. However, I think with other Christians we may confidently assert that God actually prefers not certain types of government, but that certain responsibilities be carried by government, in whatever for it may take. I prefer not to think of it as philosophy, but a rational application of what God has revealed, particularly as contained in the Small Catechism.

And don’t get me wrong. I in no wise mean to disparage the gifts God has given us through our system of government and constitution and property and capitalism and democracy and freedom and etc. But I’m not comfortable using the Ten Commandments this way. It’s a bit too much “implication” and “inference” and “seeming” for me.

You’re probably right that some other Bible passages would address these things more directly. I’d welcome further comments from you or anyone else suggesting which ones to use.

I have heard this same thing discussed slightly differently. Perhaps even at the Plucked Chicken? I think it is in the context of individual civic rights, which as you know is another of my “issues.” I think it goes like this. The commandments can show us God’s ideals with regard to human interaction and therefor, civil society. For instance, if we are not to kill, then, therefor, another must be able to assume a right to live. Again if we ought not steal, then those from whom we are not to steal must have a right to their property. Further,if we are not to commit adultery, this then, protects the right of married people to have a God pleasing marriage. And so on. I think I am finally comfortable with the use of the word “rights” in this sense. (But I’m still not convinced that this is how the founders used the term, however.)

Exactly. And good point about the Founders. They were not necessarily the sharpest of theologians, nor even Christians.

Sorry this got so long. You’ve been writing such “deep” things lately, my poor overly full “mom-brain” can’t keep up.

Thanks for trying. I write infrequently, so I try to make the most of it when I do.

And good grief, what’s with this crazy word verification thing. I had to keep going back to see which “captcha” I was on.

Have you noticed the new system using ReCaptcha? I think it’s neat.

4 thoughts on “Overdue Response on the Church Militant

  1. I don’t like captcha at all. But it is a necessary evil. However, the socialist European date format on these posts, well, I don’t think it’s necessarily evil, but, confound it man, it’s, well, it’s confounding. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more…

  2. Thank for this post. I think that this is the type of discussion which needs to go on in the ELS. I see some in our synod as being off base on this subject. I see right-wing politics lurking beneath the surface with the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms in jeopardy.

  3. Wow, thanks Jesse. I feel honored by such a detailed response.

    I haven’t read the large catechism lately. I’ll have to do that. But it still seems kind of twisting or stretching to use the commandments this way.

    But I do appreciate your clarification that this particular use of the law would be for believing Christians, not for general societal commentary.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my questions and diatribes.


  4. Maybe I should invert the sequence in the date display. My personal preference is something like YYYY-MM-DD, because it sorts so nicely.

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