The Two Kingdoms Doctrine

September 21, 2017

The City of God, print appearing in a translation of St. Augustine’s The City of God by Raoul de Presles, c1469-86.

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.

Contributed by 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.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty:  Consent of the Governed
2.  Challenges in the Early Puritan Colonies:  The Dilemma of Religious Laws & Religious Dissent 
3.  The First Experiments in Freedom of Belief and Religious Tolerance in America
4.  Roger Williams and His Quest for Religious Purity
5.  Roger Williams:  First Call for Separation of Church and State in America 
6.  William Penn and His “Holy Experiment” in Religious Tolerance
7.  Early Americans supported Religious Tolerance based on God as Judge of Conscience
8.  Early Americans opposed Religious Persecution as contrary to the Biblical Teachings of Christ.
9.  Early Americans argued Religious Coercion opposes Order of Nature
10.  Early Americans Believed Religious Coercion Opposes Reason
11.  Early Americans Supported Religious Tolerance within Civil Peace and Order
12.  Philosopher John Locke Defended Religious Tolerance
13.  The Religious Landscape of the Thirteen Colonies in the Early 1700s


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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