Wolfhart Pannenberg on Two Kingdoms vs Barmen Declaration
Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg

If anything is distinctively Lutheran, is it the Two Kingdoms political theology. It's not only Lutheran, but strongly advocated by many Reformed theologians today, especially in a town named, Escondido. Two Kingdoms origination is attributed to Martin Luther, and all of the magisterial Reformers affirmed a form of the Two Kingdoms. In the most general definition, it means that the Church and State are two separate entities, and in its extremely dualistic forms, a person is a Dual Citizen of these Two Kingdoms in a paradoxical way such that neither Kingdom intersects the other in anyway.

In World War II, Nazi propoganda invades the Evangelical Church, and many believe that the Two Kingdoms ideology allowed this to happen because the Church stood silent as this advance happened. Whether the Two Kingdoms may be blamed is a contentious debate, but history shows that a better political theology was necessary to prevent history from repeating itself.

Karl Barth provided this solution in the Barmen Declaration, which he wrote in response to the Nazi infiltration into the German Protestant Church during World War II. This statement of faith was used by the German Confession Church to protest the Nazi invasion.

The Barmen Declaration is like Two Kingdoms in that it has two realms of State and Church, but the difference is that Jesus has Lordship over both realms. The Lordship of Jesus Christ applies directly to the Church in a special and distinctive way, but it also includes a general Lordship over the State and all Creation.

Wolfhart Pannenberg is my favorite Lutheran theologian, and a theologian of hope, like the great Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann. Jesus: God and Man is Pannenberg's Christology, and possibly his most famous book. In the following long quotation, Pannenberg compares and contrast the Two Kingdoms with the Barmen Declaration. As a Lutheran, yet also he is a theologian that has much in common with Karl Barth, the following discussion is a midway between the Two Kingdoms and the Barmen Declaration rather than a choosing of side. However, in my opinion, despite the good things he says about the Two Kingdoms, I only read an affirmation of the Barmen Declaration in this assessment, and that Barmen is the superior ideology.

In one final thought, the last I've heard is that Wolfhart Pannenberg is not in the best health, so please say a prayer for his well being.

The question whether the Lordship of Christ over Christians is restricted to the preaching and life of the church or whether it goes beyond this to include the formation of social life belongs to the most controversial contemporary dogmatic themes. In this discussion it is agreed that the royal Lordship of Christ extends in fact to the whole of creation and so the whole sphere of political events that must serve it against its knowledge and will. The question is whether on the basis of the confession of faith in Christ's royal Lordship, political life can be directly structured. In particular, Karl Barth and his friends answer this question affirmatively.

On the other hand, in the tradition of the Lutheran doctrine of the two Kingdoms, it is emphasized that the political sphere is the place for merely worldly-political considerations in the context of the divine will to preservation and that every argumentation on the basis of the Lordship of Christ for concrete political tasks  signifies a legalizing of the gospel. In the context of Christology, this dispute cannot be discussed in all its aspects. We must restrict ourselves to what is directly relevant to the understanding of the royal Lordship of Christ.

On the basis of our conclusions about the eschatological character of the Kingship of Jesus Christ, we must first agree with the Lutheran theologians as they bring this character, as well as the hiddenness of the Lordship of Christ in the present world, to the fore. The hiddenness of the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not fully expressed in that only Christendom, and not yet the whole world, perceives Jesus as the Lord over all creation.

In addition it means that the church itself in all its aspects is only a provisional form of the Kingdom of Christ. Further, it means that life under the Lordship of Christ in this world repeatedly leads Christians to a participation in the cross of Jesus. however, to interpret the Lordship of Christ in the life of Christians primarily on the basis of Jesus' cross would mean to abbreviate the primitive Christian understanding of discipleship. Participation in the cross of Jesus, where it actually happens, is always only the consequence of the Christian's mission, just as the cross of Jesus must be seen not as the content as Jesus' mission but as the consequence of his being sent to preach the imminent Kingdom of God.

Jesus' obedience as Son expressed itself first of all in dedication to his divine mission of announcing the Kingdom of God. The community of Jesus Christ now shares in this mission by proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God as the Lordship of Jesus Christ who now exercises Lordship over the whole creation in hidden superiority (in heaven). It is the task of Christian preaching to call the whole world into the obedience of sonship to the Father and his coming Kingdom. This task is not merely restricted to certain definite spheres of life, certainly not to the sphere of private behavior. Such a restriction would simply express, in a rather revealing way, the split between public and private life that has become characteristic for bourgeois society.

It is the unquestionable right of those theologians who champion the political consequences of the confession of faith in the royal Lordship of Christ that they oppose with Barmen II the conception "as if there were spheres of our life in which we belonged not to Jesus Christ but to other lords, spheres in which we do not require justification and sanctification through him." Hope in the Kingdom of God is related to the political common life of men in a special way from the perspective of its origin, namely, as the promise of an ultimate political and legal order of human society under the Lordship of Yahweh. By contrast, the church is only the provisional community of those who wait for the coming Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth as realization of true community, of the true totality of political life. Therefore, as the advance division of the coming society, the church will call the attention of present society to the future promised to it.

Of course, the proclamation of the royal Lordship of Christ in the sphere of political life can get its content neither through Biblicistic argumentation nor through Christological conclusions by analogy. It must penetrate theologically to the core of the given social situation. This can be done only in the context of the announcement of God's Kingdom, which will bring the fulfillment of justice among men. The Lordship of Christ can lead Christian proclamation in the political sphere only in its orientation towards the coming Kingdom of God the Father.

Above all, however, the question of political consequences of the Lordship of Christ cannot lead to the political establishment of the Kingdom of Christ in the form of a Christian state--in the exclusive sense that this state should be the only Christian one. Such theocratic or Christocratic programs ignore the provisional character of all Christian structuring of life in view of the eschatological future of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ, and thus imply a virtually anti-Christian element. In the common life of men to the end of this world there will always be tendencies and circumstances that more or less mark that abstract bringing of the political order into the free obedience of sonship. To the extend that the order of states still requires force because of the willfulness of its members, it cannot become a pure representation of free obedience to God's Lordship.

However, if one remains conscious of the provisionalness of all Christian structuring of life and thus also of political life, the decisive consideration becomes the more or less of the nearness of our political order to the Kingdom of God, which will be at the same time and as such the kingdom of fulfilled humanity. Thus, even Luther recognized a ministry of the Christian as official in a society oriented to the Lordship of Christ. As in the private sphere of life, so also in social common life and its concrete structuring, effects of Christian thought, anticipations of the coming Lordship of God, are possible.

In the sense of such a provisionalness that always is to be superseded, the idea of a Christianly determined society, Christian parties (in the plural), and Christian states would be defensible. It is not necessarily reprehensible that political organizaitons orient themselves to Christian motives and make such orientation in principle the foundation of their program--if they are not simply adding thereby an ideological decoration to interests of a completely different sort. If political activity is concerned with the appropriate mastery of the given social situation, at least the creaturely anticipatory view for what is really necessary and possible depends on the mental capacity on the basis of which one makes one's judgments.

Christian, through their knowledge of the eschatological Lordship of God and Jesus Christ, as well as of the differentiation between the present and the future to which it is referred,  could offer a greater impartiality of view for what is really necessary and possible. To be sure, in this as well as in other things it also correct to say that Christians often fail to demonstrate such impartiality. Where programs or orders structured on the basis of Christian motives are held to be solely true or unchangeable because of their Christian motivation, that ignorance of the provisional character of a Christian structuring of life would be at work which has given talk about Christian states or parties a justifiably bad reputation.

Because in the light of the eschaton all Christian structuring of life in both the public and private spheres remains provisional and therefore ambiguous, the church must continue to exist as an independant institution alongside the state, even if the latter or the society that bears it were wholly determined by the Christian spirit. The separate existence of the church remains necessary in order to open up access for men beyond the provisionalness of present life to the ultimacy of the coming Kingdom of God and therefore is also conscious of its own provisional character will by its mere existence be a reminder of the transitoriness of the political order in whose sphere it lives. The separate existence of the church can be useful to society by freeing it for constantly new possibilities of political formation that transcend its present form of existence.

The provisionalness of all present Christian structuring of life, following from the eschatological essence of Christ's Lordship, contributes its share to the hiddenness of the Lordship of Christ in this world. But this hiddenness of the form of the glory of Christ's Kingdom until the eschaton does not justify Christians' limiting themselves to their private sphere of an inner-churchly province. Because they wait for the Kingdom of the Father on earth, they cannot divorce themselves from the problems of political life. Even the hiddenness of the Kingdom of God under the cross will be experienced only by those who participate in Jesus' mission of proclamation of the Kingdom of God on this earth.

The eschatological character of Christ's Kingdom in its unity with the Kingdom of God has proved decisive for its relation to the church, as well as for the political structuring of a Christianly determined society. It is no less significant for understanding the cosmic aspect of Christ's Lordship, as will be shown in the next two sections.

The rediscovery since the turn of the century of the eschatological character of Jesus' own message as well as of the message of primitive Christianity makes it possible today to bring to bear, even in dogmatics, the fundamental eschatological element of the faith in the Lordship of Christ in new radically, in contrast to its neglect since the early church.

Accordingly, the orthodox Protestant doctrine of the three forms of the Kingdom of Christ as regnum potentiaeregnum gratiae, and regnum gloriae must be critically revised. There the breadth of eschatological reference was cut short as it became a special theme alongside and following others. Regnum potentiae and regnum gratiae are not to be understood as independent entities subsequently followed by a regnum gloriae. We have already seen that regnum gratiae is not an independent providence of lordship, perhaps identifiable with the institutional church, alongside the coming Kingdom of Christ.

The proclamation of the church, alongside the coming Kingdom of God, which as such-as coming and therefore through faith and hope-is already present in love. The kingdom of power is likewise to be seen wholly at one with the coming kingdom of glory. The kingdom of power is nothing else than the hidden ordering of all things towards the coming Kingdom of God and so toward the preacher of this Kingdom, Jesus of Nazareth. We must now turn our attention especially to this side of the Lordship of Christ.

Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man, pg 375-378



Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.