Christianity has a long and distinguished history of differentiating between the realm of God and the realm of creation. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world. And the Apostle Paul expands this idea in the book of Ephesians, writing about the spiritual realm as opposed to the physical.
In The City of God, Augustine took the occasion of the fall of Rome to the Visigoths to write a lengthy treatise on the differences between the City of Man and the City of God. Augustine was no fan of the former, and he uses the first dozen chapters of the book to criticize Roman culture, politics, and mores.
A thousand years later, Martin Luther said much the same thing his doctrine of two kingdoms. God rules the earthly kingdom — all secular and ecclesiastical authority — though the imperfect vehicle of humankind. The spiritual kingdom, on the other hand, is ruled exclusively by God’s gospel of grace.
The two realms idea of Augustine and Luther were adopted by political theorists from John Calvin:
There are two governments: the one religious, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bound to perform.
There is a twofold society, of which almost all men in the world are members, and from that twofold concernment they have to attain a twofold happiness; viz. That of this world and that of the other: and hence there arises these two following societies, viz. religious and civil.
In general, I’m an advocate of holism. That is, I tend to see the work of God as integrated with the work of human beings. Being a panentheist, I believe that God indwells all of creation, so I usually don’t draw hard lines between things human and things spiritual.
But that’s not really what Luther was up to, either. He was simply differentiating the ways that God works, and the imperfection that is inevitable when humans are the conduit of divine intentions. While it may have been a slight misreading of Luther, this concept is behind the Lockean and Jeffersonian idea of the separation of church and state.
See all the posts in this series here.