The Left and the Right

No, this will not be about political parties (or batting stances) but rather about one of Martin Luther’s teachings which can be particularly helpful for Christians navigating their way through the journey of life.  The concept is called ‘Two Kingdoms’ and represents a way of thinking about God’s world that simultaneously separates and integrates the secular and the sacred.

Luther’s concept is that God, the sovereign ruler over all that is, presently administers it in two different ways:  The Kingdom of the Left Hand is his created but fallen world in which all people exist, and the Kingdom of the Right Hand is the Kingdom of God established by the incarnation of Jesus Christ and which will ultimately become the only kingdom on His return.  That is, the left is the kingdom of all ordinary human affairs and God rules it through human authorities.  This is why St. Paul taught: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God ….” (Romans 13: 1-7)  In this left-hand kingdom, evil must be restrained by rules and “the sword” (i.e., physical force).  In the right-hand kingdom of the saved in Christ, all souls are completely responsive to God’s will and there is no need for laws or enforcement.  In short, the left is the kingdom of Law and sinners, and the right the kingdom of Gospel and the sanctified.

The point is that Christians are presently citizens of both of these kingdoms, and our call is to serve God faithfully in each.  Since sovereign God desires safety, justice, and well-being for all citizens of the left-hand kingdom (Matthew 5:45), Christians are called to perform their civic responsibilities even when that is in the service of an ungodly government.  Thus Jesus commanded:  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s …” (Mark 12:17) even though Caesar was a tyrant who set himself up as a deity.

As faithful citizens of the left-hand kingdom, a Christian is called to perform his/her civic duty for the good of all, even when this does not specifically promote the Gospel: he may vote for the more qualified candidate rather than the incompetent who shares his faith, to serve in the military even if the foe includes Christians, to pay taxes whose use she may not approve, and to enforce the laws even-handedly rather than favoring fellow believers.  In other words, the faithful Christian is to be an exemplary citizen in the left-hand kingdom, even though that society is not committed to God. Sovereign God sometimes uses ungodly rulers to accomplish His purposes for humanity – and they ultimately are subject to His judgement alone.

Christians living faithfully in the Two Kingdoms do not force their understandings and practices on the society they live in, but they also do not “check their faith at the door.”  Because we are saved in Christ we are always conscious that we are true citizens of God’s right-hand kingdom where His example of grace and love prevails.  Jesus’ full command was “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.  Thus the Christian police officer, for example, will use physical force when it is necessary to perform his civic duty safely and responsibly, but always in the compassion of God’s love for the sinner.  And the Christian citizen may sometimes be called upon to make painful decisions to oppose his government, as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who was hanged for his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

The principle of the Two Kingdoms also has application outside the sphere of civic responsibility.   For example, the Christian researcher recognizes that her charge in the left-hand kingdom is to explore and report God’s creation as she observes it, not as her personal faith might interpret it.  The Christian manager applies the employment laws that are on the books, not those that his religious beliefs might prefer.  The Christian student learns the material taught, recognizing that it may not reflect scriptural truths.  Christians live and work joyfully and faithfully within the tentative and imperfect realities of the left-hand kingdom while holding fast to the timeless truths of God’s revelation – we fully embrace God’s work for us “in the world” even while we know that our destiny is not “of this world.”  (John 17:14-19)

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