What led to religious tolerance in early America? The Two Kingdoms Doctrine

September 21, 2017

Reformers in Europe Recognize Two Kingdoms–Civil and Spiritual

Before and during the 1500s in Europe, countries were ruled by church states, and men had little religious freedom.  Religious tolerance did not widely exist.  The church and the civil state were combined and worked together to rule over the people and to regulate people’s religious beliefs and practices.  People were forced to conform to the official state church of their country and monarch or else suffer persecution and punishments.

The idea of freedom of conscience—freedom of belief and conviction—was advanced by the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s and existed in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s.  During the Reformation, reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin called for religious reform in the church but, in doing so, touched on political matters.  They broached ideas of freedom of conscience, and thus tolerance, and greater distinction between church and civil state.  In the spirit of Augustine of Hippo who wrote about two cities, earthly and heavenly, in his The City of God (c426); Luther and Calvin recognized two kingdoms by which God rules—civil and spiritual—that concern the life of man.  The civil kingdom is the earthly, temporal realm of man and concerns man’s physical life and relationship to others.  Man under God has some authority in this kingdom.  The spiritual kingdom is the heavenly, eternal realm and concerns man’s beliefs and relationship with God.  God alone has authority in this kingdom.  To the reformers, these two kingdoms have distinct jurisdictions.

Houston Baptist University Professor of Government Dr. John Tyler speaks on the Two Kingdoms Doctrine at HBU-AHEF Teacher Workshop, “The History and Foundation of Religious Freedom in America”

In his 1520 Appeal to the Ruling Class of German Nationality as to the Amelioration of the State of Christendom and 1523 Secular Authority:  To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, Luther of Germany says that…

To be sure, freedom of conscience was not embraced by everyone and was very restricted in actual practice in Europe at this time, manifesting in only partial, contested, temporary ways.  Yet the Bible-based ideas of Luther and Calvin in favor of freedom of belief were asserted by later European and American political thinkers who impacted American thought and settlement in the 1600s and 1700s.

From AHEF, Dr. John Tyler, and Angela E. Kamrath.


More source info:  Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Activity:  Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 4, Part 2 of 2, Activity 3:  History and Current Events:  Religious Regulation and Persecution, p. 161.  MS-HS.

History and Current Events:  Religious Regulation and Persecution…

To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

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Published by: The Founding

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