As diversity continues its work of assassinating American common ground, it’s no surprise that American churches are struggling with the issue of race & nation as it pertains to their faith. Christianity is, of course, a universal religion rather than a tribal one. Christ died for the sins of the whole world, and so it is the Church’s nature to transcend nations. At the same time, it is not the Church’s nature to dissolve or eliminate race, for nations persist into eternal life. In the Church, Babel was undone at Pentecost, yet in the world, God’s creation of the nations is a gift to be well-regarded by everyone, including Christians.
Amidst our struggles with this duality, it’s unsurprising that some of us will struggle poorly. Thus, I’ve seen this lukewarm take show up quite a bit lately:
Christians, those who share your faith are more your brothers and sisters than those who share your blood, your nationality, your culture, your job, your race, your hobbies, your socioeconomic status, and everything else.
— Hans Fiene ? (@HansFiene) May 28, 2020
I have more in common with an African Christian than a white, American unbeliever. That African Christian is my brother. He is “my people.” https://t.co/5FTqzAaysg
— That Lutheran Guy ? ??? (@MetzUAC1530) September 6, 2022
So what are we to make of this contention? Is it helpful? Is it even accurate? Well, the latter question has two opposite answers depending on which of the Two Kingdoms we’re talking about.
To sum up Lutheran Two Kingdoms theology briefly, God has instituted the Church (the right-hand Kingdom) for the sake of delivering the Gospel to the world. We preach the Word, we administer the Sacraments, we forgive & retain sins, and thereby make disciples of all nations. In contrast, God has instituted civil government (the left-hand Kingdom) for the sake of establishing a just peace in a fallen world. Government punishes wrongdoers and commends rightdoers to restrain sin and promote outwardly good behavior. Both Kingdoms are instituted by God’s authority, but He has delegated different authorities and responsibilities to each.
Those differences very munch influence our relationship with foreigners in each Kingdom. In the right-hand Kingdom, I do indeed have more in common with the foreign Christian than the native unbeliever. There is simply nothing to compare to Christ, who we will have in common for all eternity. What else can I even say beyond affirming that blessed reality?
In the left-hand Kingdom, it is exactly the opposite. I am bound to my true countrymen (the posterity for whom the Constitution was written) by blood, heritage, tradition, custom, and our common stake in past & future alike. Christians’ faith shapes all these things, yes, but it does so over time by means of each generation of Christians caring for their nation. In the left-hand Kingdom, the influence which Christ has had on my people is enfleshed in what I have in common even with non-Christian Americans.
Now, the Christian foreigner may possess an analogous heritage depending on the history of his own people, but it is still a distinct heritage which has been shaped in very different ways. And if he hails from outside the West, he will not possess even an analogous heritage.
That should suffice to address the issue of accuracy–it’s truth depends entirely on the context. Now, we must consider whether the “more in common” contention is helpful. And by that, we ought to mean, “does it help us to love our neighbors according to the Two Kingdoms’ different responsibilities?” That consideration is precisely where the contention gets dicey.
When a course of action dwells clearly within one kingdom, there’s no real problem. For example, when a faithful Lutheran from a foreign land arrives at your church Sunday, you do what the Church ought to do: forgive his sins, preach to him, commune him, have fellowship with him, etc. Where matters are already clear, the saying is effectively useless because no one needs any reminder about common ground.
But the saying goes from useless to confusing when the delineation between the Two Kingdoms isn’t crystal clear. The unfortunate reality is that American Lutherans tend to view the Two Kingdoms in terms of the modern political doctrine of Separation of Church and State. They think that the Two Kingdoms have some kind of airtight separation, but this is not the case. The civil government isn’t any more religiously neutral than the Church is. How to distinguish wrongdoers from rightdoers and what a just peace entails are not questions on which the Church remains silent.
At the same time, Christian congregations are not neutral with respect to the left-hand kingdom either. They are not managed by men of no nation–imaginary people whose families never taught them love and whose tribes never taught them polity. As they go about the Church’s business, they will manage the day-to-day responsibilities according to the customs of their people insofar as those customs fall within Christian freedom. In other words, adiaphora will look different from place to place because congregations are not a random sample of humans. So long as faithful men and women live in both Kingdoms, the two will always remain distinct but never separated.
When Lutherans fail to recognize this interconnectedness, they get intellectually sloppy. Whenever a conflict arises in which the Two Kingdoms are in tension, their reaction is simply to pick their favorite Kingdom and ignore the other. After all, isn’t the Church the more important of the two? But importance is the wrong question to ask because it seeks license to disregard one of the Kingdoms established by God Himself. Christ has not given us permission to do anything of the sort.
Immigration–the issue on which the “more in common” contention is offered–is also an issue where this disregard is rampant. For example, when faced with an invasion by pagan foreigners, the right-hand Kingdom should have two primary concerns: 1) How to persevere in the faith when surrounded by hostiles and 2) How to love our enemies by proclaiming the Gospel to them. The left-hand Kingdom has different concerns: How to halt the invasion and remove the invaders to protect those God has given into our care. There is a tension between those two sets of responsibilities–between a responsibility to love and a responsibility to hate.
It is a challenge to navigate them both of these at the same time, and this is resolved only in the specific vocations each Christian has been given. In other words, the pastor and the soldier will take very different approaches to the invaders. Unfortunately, the sloppy Christian won’t bother thinking about vocation. They will simply “resolve” the tension by refusing to protect their nation from invasion. After all, if thousands of foreigners are looking to overwhelm your community, just think what a wonderful evangelism opportunity it is!
Well, it is an evangelism opportunity; they’re not wrong about that. What they’re wrong about is forgetting that it means their neighbors being robbed and daughters being raped–a much less wonderful opportunity. By disregarding the left-hand Kingdom, they choose to love their enemies by hating their friends and family. They make themselves traitors and enemies to God’s civil government–a much clearer violation of Romans 13 than what they typically complain about.
This same logic still applies when facing an invasion by Christian foreigners. The Church’s responsibility is somewhat different in this case: 1) Consider how to deal with any heterodoxies they bring with them and 2) Consider how to best welcome and serve the brothers and sisters with whom we are truly united. Civil government’s responsibilities, however, remain the same: Repel the invasion for the sake of your people. Once again, there is a tension at work. Once again, the Christian must accept both sets of responsibilities and navigate them according to his vocations.
The contention that you have more in common with a foreign Christian than a native unbeliever does not help us navigate those responsibilities. On the contrary, it makes it even more difficult because of the way it conflates the Two Kingdoms when the distinction really matters. Where we most need clear and holistic thinking, it muddies the water further and encourages Christians to redouble the abandonment of their callings in the left-hand Kingdom. It relieves the tension between the Kingdoms, but only at the cost of utterly failing to love our neighbors.
If you cannot bear this tension, then perhaps you should consider that it’s better not to put the Two Kingdoms into conflict in the first place by disregarding national borders. If you believe that your brethren overseas need your ministrations or recognize that the pagans there need the Gospel, perhaps you should consider going to them rather than lazily insisting that the world come to you at your neighbors’ expense.
America is in the midst of the largest mass migration in human history, and it will produce the same chaos and bloodshed that migration has always produced throughout history–just on a larger scale. Every vocation God has given us in the left-hand Kingdom should be directed at loving our neighbors by reversing this invasion as much as possible and managing the inevitable fallout where it’s not possible.
Mass immigration is a poison in the left-hand kingdom. The right-hand Kingdom’s immunity should not induce her to deliberately spread it in the left.