Reformed Kingdom Ethics




Last week, I mentioned the historic Reformed distinction between the two kingdoms – God’s kingdom of power and his kingdom of grace/glory (LINK).  Along with this kingdom distinction, Reformed theology has taught what we might call a kingdom ethic.  Or, to ask a catechism question, what do we pray for when we pray, “Thy kingdom come?”  Here are several answers based on WLC Q/A 191 and HC Q/A 123.

1) We pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed (WLC 191).  We pray that the devil’s work may be vanquished, and every force which revolts against God and his Word would be overcome (HC 123).  We pray for justice in the world (Amos 5:14-15, 24) and we promote justice and peace (Prov. 21:3; Mic. 6:8; Matt. 5:9).

2) We pray that Christ’s church would grow; we pray that the gospel would be “propagated throughout the world” and that sinners would be given new life (WLC 191, HC 123).  Kingdom ethics have an emphasis on missions; we are to not only support mission work, but also let our own light shine before others in good works so God receives glory (Matt. 5:16).  This means we even seek the salvation of those around us: “The kingdom of grace increases in a man’s own heart when he labors to be instrumental to set up this kingdom in others” (Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, 78).

3) We pray that Christ’s church would be strong in the Lord and in his Word.  We pray that the church would be “furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances” and “purged from corruption” (WLC 191).  We desire that God would “preserve the ministry which he has instituted” (Zacharius Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 636).

4) We pray that Christ would rule in our hearts more and more: “[Lord,] rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you” (HC 123).  Wilhelmus a Brakel said that some duties of God’s people in the kingdom of grace are a) to be a good Christian example to others, b) to love others – believers and unbelievers alike (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, III.520).  Thomas Vincent, Thomas Watson, and Zacharias Ursinus also talk about piety, holiness, and sanctification as part of the 2nd petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we’re asking God to give us more faith in Christ, more love for him and our neighbor, more holiness in life, and more hope for the glory to come.

In summary, Reformed kingdom ethics are not ethics of withdrawal, indifference, or passivity.  Instead, they are mission minded.  They are focused on the purity of the church.  And Reformed kingdom ethics have to do with sanctification: growing more like Christ and loving/helping people around us.  This is an ethic that makes me concerned about evangelism, committed to serving in Christ’s church, and compassionate toward my neighbor.  Luther put it well in his “Large Catechism” on the 2nd petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

“We pray that His name may so be praised through God’s holy Word and a Christian life that we who have accepted it may abide and daily grow in it [His Word], and that it may gain approval and acceptance among other people.”

shane lems