Christianity Today has a forum in which three different Christian thinkers discuss whether or not a Christian should vote for a Mormon. I am happy to say that Lutherans are represented this time. The estimable Mollie Z. Hemingway applies the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms to the issue and does so in a particularly lucid way. In light of our discussion about the apocryphal “wise Turk” quotation (which she cites as “apocryphal”), she includes another pertinent quotation from Luther that appears to be better attested. (I’ll try to track down that source.) She deals with the nonsense that the president is some kind of national pastor and concludes:
Voters should remember that support for any political candidate is support for the exertion of authority in the earthly realm and not leadership in the spiritual realm.
Luther explained that every Christian is a citizen in two kingdoms—a spiritual realm and an earthly realm—but even non-believers are citizens of the earthly kingdom. In one, God’s Word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and sins are forgiven. God works through other means, such as natural laws, physical causes, and history, in the earthly realm.
Luther said that while reason cannot fathom the mind of God, it’s a tool given by God for managing civic affairs. “Christians are not needed for secular authority. Thus it is not necessary for the emperor to be a saint. It is not necessary for him to be a Christian to rule. It is sufficient for the emperor to possess reason,” he wrote.
In the spiritual realm, the gospel—the free forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus—prevails. By contrast, the earthly kingdom runs on compulsion, law, and force. That contrast between gracious forgiveness and law is the reason that, in Luther’s mind, Christians should not seek to put the church in charge of the temporal government or otherwise work through compulsion.
That’s not to say that the two realms must be or are in conflict. In fact, they should serve each other. The spiritual realm informs and supports the civil realm by preaching the gospel. Secular rulers serve the spiritual realm by preventing chaos.
It is entirely possible that in the next few months, the country will have its first Mormon President. No matter which man wins the office, it’s vitally important that Christians understand that his authority is limited to the secular realm and he should not be viewed as a spiritual leader.