Civil Government: God’s Other Kingdom. By Daniel M. Deutschlander. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 2001. 215 pages. Paper, $16.50.
Daniel M. Deutschlander is a Lutheran pastor and retired professor of history, German, and religion at Martin Luther College. His book, Civil Government: God’s Other Kingdom, defends a distinctly Lutheran view of the role of civil government.
The book is divided into three sections. The first addresses the Biblical evidence. The second addresses the history of Church-State relations. And the third gives an overview of current problems in those relations.
In the first section, Deutschlander does an able job reviewing the Biblical evidence showing God’s positive evaluation of civil government. He begins with Genesis, and continues on through the Patriarchal and Theocratic periods, arguing that God always appointed the civil government to use the sword to punish evildoers.
This divine approval continues in the NT, culminating in Paul’s discussion in Rom 13:1-7. The Apostle taught that all civil governments are appointed by God, are His ministers to commend the good, terrorize evil, and carry out punishment on evildoers up to and including the death penalty (p. 41).
According to Deutschlander, the Biblical evidence shows that civil government is part of God’s providential ordering of the world. God uses it to restrain the outward behavior of sinful man, while using the Church to preach the Word in order to renew the inner man. These two kingdoms are very different. The State uses force, while the Church uses words. The State employs reason and natural law, while the Church appeals to revelation. The State belongs to this world, while the Church belongs to heaven. The two kingdoms are different, but both are ruled over by Christ, even if that reality is not always acknowledged by the rulers themselves (p. 51-53).
Deutschlander argues that, according to several Biblical examples (from Daniel to Cornelius), it has always been appropriate for the people of God to be involved in public service, even under pagan governments. This is because being a ruler is a good vocation, so long as it is not abused.
Deutschlander believes that being a soldier is compatible with Christian love, because there is a distinction between acting in one’s own interest, and acting in the interests of another. Christian soldiers fight as expressions of love for their neighbors, protecting them from harm. But as private citizens, these same Christians should willingly suffer when persecuted for the faith, without fighting back.
Still, any vocation can be abused. Deutschlander cautions that a particular war or military order may be unjust, forcing Christians to become conscientious objectors.
The second section summarizes the history of Church- State relations in Europe, but from a unique perspective. For Deutschlander, much of Christian political thought can be understood as a departure from the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
For Lutherans, there was a clear distinction between Church and State. That was not the case for Calvinists or Catholics. Deutschlander sees the Calvinists and Roman Catholics as sharing the belief that governments should be explicitly religious, and therefore confusing the two kingdoms of God. This was evident in the Crusades (pp. 126-28). It was also evident in John Calvin’s attempt to make Geneva the city of God on earth (p. 144). And the reason for this is because both denied the doctrine of justification. For example, Deutschlander says:
Calvinists do not see the doctrine of justification as central. In point of fact, the Calvinists deny that Christ died for the sins of the whole world. They deny that the Holy Spirit works faith solely through the gospel in Word and sacraments. (p. 145).
This led to a spiritual problem for the Calvinists:
So the Calvinists denied that Christ died for all and that God earnestly desires the salvation of all through faith in the gospel message. That presented the individual Calvinist with a big problem: If God does not desire the salvation of all, how can I be sure that he desires my salvation and that Christ died for me? In trying to solve that problem and answer that question, the Calvinists’ chief concern switched from proclaiming the gospel and trusting it. Instead, they turned their attention to finding a way to prove by their lives that they were among those chosen for salvation, not those chosen for damnation! (p. 146).
This spiritual dilemma then became a political dilemma. In order to prove to themselves that they were elect, the Calvinists were led to establish a “Christian Commonwealth” which would enable the Calvinists to live in such a way as to see the fruit of their elect status:
Their goal would be to prove that they were the chosen of God by advancing the glory of God. They would advance his glory by the kind of lives they led and by the kind of society they established. That is exactly how the denial of justification ends up in a confusion of the roles of the church and state! (pp. 146-47).
This led to the Calvinists using the State to enforce doctrine, thereby mixing the two kingdoms.
Catholics had the same basic approach. Consequently, Calvinists and Catholics were involved in a series of conflicts over control of the State, such as in the Thirty Years War in Germany, the battle between the Calvinist Huguenots and the Catholic kings in France, and between the Calvinists and Catholics in England and Scotland.
The Lutherans had a completely different understanding of the role of the State. However, they “got caught in the crossfire” between these warring parties (p. 149).
Deutschlander’s book is very well written, and presents a perspective that is not often seen in political discussions among Christians. I found it very profitable, and it challenged my own presuppositions about politics. I would highly recommend it.
Shawn C. Lazar
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society