The doctrine of the two governments, two kingdoms theology, has prevailed in Lutheran circles. The Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM) and their Telly Award-Wining segment, “The Intersection of Church and State” has gained recognition specifically in regards to this doctrine. In recent years an intentional revisiting of the subject has taken place for Lutherans, and even non-Lutherans.
The premise for the Church and State dimension is quite simple, what does a Christian under God and that same Christian (as a citizen) under a nation or ruler do? Christians interact seamlessly, sometimes obliviously, under the two. These two are the intermingled Kingdom of the Right (Spiritual) and the Kingdom of the Left (Temporal).
The LHM segment is a helpful puzzle piece to addressing the larger issue of Christians not recognizing that the kingdoms overlap, similar to a venn diagram. Still, pervasive confusion prevails, like the belief that God only has dominion in the Spiritual Kingdom. Or, that the Temporal Kingdom of “the left” is Law oriented while the Spiritual Kingdom of “the right” is Gospel oriented. These fallacies compel a clarification that God is over BOTH kingdoms and that his application of Law and Gospel are to be proclaimed in BOTH realms as well. Christians go between the two governments, but with different duties. In the Spiritual Kingdom Christians receive righteousness and eternal life–the such that Christ himself fulfills and proclaims from the Sermon on the Mount. In the Temporal Kingdom Christians fulfill their vocations of work and marriage, all that pertains to earthly life–as laid out in the Table of Duties of Luther’s Small Catechism. Likewise, in the Spiritual Kingdom sins are either retained or forgiven, and consequently in the Temporal Kingdom there are always consequences for actions both (temporal) rewards and punishments.
Martin Luther (the Reformation Reformer), who developed the crossover and distinction between the two kingdoms/governments, himself muddies the water. In one of his last statements about the two governments he remarks that they are are like one cake (American Edition of Luther’s Works 13:195-96). That is, Luther ultimately concluded that the distinctions between the spiritual and temporal were too interconnected, so intertwined, that it is impossible for the Christian to distinctively say one action over another belongs to either the spiritual or temporal kingdom alone.
As Christians we act by the redemption we live in, under the cross and resurrection of Christ, and through the regeneration and the fruits of faith we possess and share with our neighbor, the world. In short, we live as good citizens while never sacrificing our lives under Christ–even if that means sacrificing our freedoms.