James Madison wrote about the uniqueness of the American government and its inspiration from the Reformation in a letter to Rev. Schaeffer, Dec. 3, 1821, saying:

It illustrates the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations. The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.[1]

This weekend is the celebration of the Reformation in Christian Churches around the world. The Reformation rediscovered the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a unique proclamation of Freedom, Life, and Salvation offered to sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. In order to clearly proclaim the freedom and eternal life that uniquely comes from Christ as a gift, Luther rediscovered the biblical idea that God is at work in the world in two distinct ways to preserve it and ultimately to save it. His teaching is called “Two-Kingdoms,” though it is no dualism. It is merely the idea that God’s work in the world needs to be differentiated according to His distinction. Jesus himself reminds us to “give to God what is God’s and to give to Caesar, what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). And, even then, it is to be noted that the realm of Caesar is created and directed by God according to His Law, written into the consciences of people and to be exercised in love by fulfilling one’s God-given vocations in the world for the sake of its preservation. Luther reminds us in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment (the one that talks about Honoring Father and Mother) that in order to carry out that kind of preserving work faithfully, 

Governments must establish courts of law, punish criminals (with death if need be), wage war against invaders, sanction the legality of contracts, encourage marriage, regulate commerce, and support education; they may use such lawful means that these ends require. Governors are to perform their duties faithfully, avoid tyranny, insure the usefulness of their regime to land and people, suppress rebellion, preserve the peace, and protect the poor.[2]

As the Western world differentiated the two freedoms, honored the two realms of public authority, and defined the extent to which they ruled over the hearts, the minds, and the bodies of people, the notion of “Caesar and his Subjects” was transformed into the reality of “The Citizens and their Elected Officials.” The Bill of Rights, as well as the rights of citizens to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness as people created in the image of God are ideals rooted in the Reformation. Living them out in ways that glorified God and served one’s neighbor became foundational principles for temporal liberty in the American experiment. And, at the same time, it was to be clearly noted that as precious as these constitutional liberties were, they were not to be confused with the eternal liberties that were unique to Christ and dispensed by His Church.

Earthly liberty stems from God’s preserving work in the world, exercised through family, government, work, and enterprise, even in a world hell-bent on its own demise. Eternal Freedom, however, comes only through God’s restoration of it through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ alone. That differentiation brought out the best of both for a time. On this Reformation weekend, let’s rekindle our commitment to be faithful to the God who both preserves and redeems this world in His ways. And let’s us remind ourselves of the blessings which come from following Him in all things, now and forever.

 [1] http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/10/Letter_from_James_Madison_to_FL_Schaeffer_1.html

[2] Large Catechism, Fourth Commandment, 167-169 (BS, 603; BC, 388; CT, 628, 629)