Magisterial Minus the Magisterium

The Presbyterian and Reformed tradition grew out of what is called the magisterial Reformation: the part of the Reformation that accepted and even called upon the civil government (magistrates…”magisterium”) to promote church reform in doctrine and practice.  While maintaining the emphasis on biblical doctrine and practice, American Presbyterianism represents a marked break from the magisterial Reformation in terms of the role of the civil magistrate.  In particular, the American version of the Westminster Confession of Faith consigns both the magistrate and the church to operate in their separate spheres, crossing over only in exceptional cases (e.g. public order, humble petitions).

This central, although often overlooked, doctrine of American Presbyterianism lies at the heart of a book review by Dr. Darryl Hart.  In reviewing two books–one that baptizes the idea of a Christian empire, the other the American republic–Dr. Hart warns us not to baptize the regimes of those who are in authority over us.  There is only one kingdom of God, and they are not it.

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