As a few of our readers may know, in some small pockets of Reformed Christianity there is strong opposition to making distinctions in the way Christ reigns over the world. Some say we must not distinguish between Christ’s general rule over all and his saving rule over his church. (FYI, if you’ve not heard of this issue, it’s probably not something you need to dig into.) I have to admit that I’m not sure why there is such strong opposition to this distinction, since Protestant and Reformed theologians have made distinctions – based on Scripture – in this area for quite some time. If one doesn’t agree with this teaching, that’s OK; but if one calls this teaching un-Reformed or heretical, that’s simply not acceptable. In case you’re wondering, here’s how Richard Muller describes the historic Protestant view of Christ’s kingdom (I’ve edited it for length):
Regnum Christi: the rule or kingdom of Christ. The Protestant scholastics recognize several distinctions that can be made with regard to the exercise of Christ’s rule. The Lutherans tend to argue a threefold-kingdom: 1) the regnum potentai, or kingdom of power, according to which Christ, as divine Word and Second Person of the Trinity, rules the entire creation providential and is Lord of all without distinction; 2) the regnum gratiae, or kingdom of grace, in which Christ governs, blesses, and defends his church on earth; and 3) the regnum gloriae, or the kingdom of glory, in which Christ governs the church triumphant, when he will subdue his enemies and bring the whole church into her triumphal reign. These divisions do not indicate several reigns but merely distinctions in the manner and exercise of Christ’s rule.
The Reformed scholastics express essentially the same distinctions in a twofold division of the kingdom into 1) the regnum essentiale (the essential rule, or universal/natural rule) and 2) the regnum personale (the personal rule or economic, soteriological rule). The former set of terms (essential rule) corresponds to the Lutheran definition of the kingdom of power, and the latter set of terms (personal rule) corresponds to the Lutheran definitions of the kingdom of grace and kingdom of glory. The kingdom of grace and kingdom of glory belong to Christ as the Mediator of salvation, and are thus both personal and economic.
Muller goes on to note that though Lutheran and Reformed theology differ on some aspects of Christology (related to the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper), the Reformed and Lutherans agree on the eternal duration of the reign of Christ and the “cessation of certain modes of administration.”
The Protestant theologians that made these distinctions in the past also gave us some excellent resources on justification by faith alone and on Christian ethics – living the Christian life in light of God’s law. Based on these things, again, I’m not sure why some are so opposed to this teaching. It honors Christ as sovereign king over all and goes hand in hand with how live for him in this world.
As Herman Bavinck said, “To distinguish is to learn.”
For the entire article, see pages 259-261 of Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1985).