Pilgram Marpeck: Bridging Two Kingdoms

1528 was a busy year for Pilgram Marpeck. He was married to Anna, he was baptized as an adult and accepted into the leadership of Anabaptist circles. His former liege, Archduke Ferdinand, heard about his full conversion to Anabaptism, and sought to arrest him. Pilgram and Anna decided to leave the area under Ferdinand, and so decided to move to Strasbourg.

Strasbourg had just become a Lutheran city, choosing as their preacher Martin Bucer, a former Dominican and now a strong advocate of the Reformation. However, Strasbourg was known as a city that was open to discussion and a variety of Christian thinking, so Marpeck and many other Anabaptists found their way to the city after being persecuted in other nearby cities.

Marpeck was one of the few immigrants of means, able to purchase a house and to provide for some of the other Anabaptist refugees. He also held a regular Anabaptist meeting in his house. He was welcomed by the Anabaptist community, to such a degree that Bucer later said he was seen as a “god” among them.

By 1530, after working in a variety of towns, Marpeck was hired by Strasbourg to work for the city. By this time, the city was actively persecuting Anabaptists, arresting whole churches and banishing them. Marpeck himself had not been given any official notice, nevertheless, his position as a civil engineer with the city must have been at best precarious. Certainly his Anabaptist fellows must have questioned his loyalty to his church when he was working for their persecutor, and having taken a vow of loyalty to the city.

However, Marpeck was actually furious at the Lutheran preachers and officials of the city, and many other German provinces. Their acts of persecution in the name of Christ was directly against Scripture, and Marpeck wrote a pamphlet in opposition to this action with the tame title of, An Expose of the Babylon Whore, written about the Lutheran persecution of other Christian beliefs.

In this work, Marpeck explains his approach to two kingdom theology. This is a theology that was outlined first by Martin Luther in his work On Secular Authority in 1523.

Luther explains that Jesus declared that his kingdom is not the kingdom of this world in John 19. Luther understands this to mean that Jesus is separating the state, or secular government, from the church or “spiritual government.”

“God has ordained the two governments, the spiritual [government] which fashions true Christians and just persons through the Holy Spirit under Christ, and the secular government which holds the Unchristian and wicked in check and forces them to keep the peace outwardly and be still, like it or not.” (On Secular Authority , 4.)

Thus, the church is granted the care of souls, bringing them into the kingdom of God, while the state is given to control the wicked, in Luther’s idea, those not Christian, so to create an orderly society, made up of both Christians and non-Christians.

Each of these governments have different work to do, and they have different methods. As Marpeck expounds on in his Explanation of the Testaments:

“They should be allowed to remain in their proper service of God to fulfill it according to God’s will through the fear of God…. Saint Paul distinguishes this wisdom of the worldly magistrates from the wisdom of Christ when he says: ‘It is not the wisdom of the rulers of this world.’ I Cor. 2. It is thus clear that the worldly rulers have a special wisdom for their service.” (Outline, p. 262)

Thus, there is a “wisdom” and a method that the state acts with. The method of the church is that of mercy and of creating peace. The method of the state is to harm the evildoer, and to defend the state with force. Luther says that the church is not to be involved in such activities:

“Christ did not bear the Sword [in person], or institute it in his kingdom: he is king over Christians and rules by his Holy Spirit alone, without any laws.” On Secular Authority 4.

At this point, Luther and Marpeck separate, as do Lutherans and Anabaptists (those who hold to two kingdom theology). Luther claims that Christians, in a time of need, can use force or violence, and even might be required to use it:

“The Sword and power, as a special service rendered to God, are more suited to Christians than to anyone else in the world, and so you should value the Sword and power as much as the married state, or cultivating the soil, or any other trade instituted by God. Just as a man can serve God in the married state, in farming or manual labor, for the benefit of his neighbor, and indeed must do so if his neighbor’s need demands it, so too he can serve God by the [exercise of] power, and he ought to do it, when his neighbor needs it.” (On Secular Authority 4.)

Marpeck, however, taking the command of Jesus to “love your enemies” more universally for Christians, divides the state and the church more completely:

Christ does not distribute earthly inheritance or imperium. His own, whether they are treated justly or not, requite and repay with patience and love. All external things including life and limb are subjected to external authority. But no one may coerce or compel true faith in Christ, for it is concerned not with temporal but eternal life. (Expose)

The Lutherans of Marpeck’s time felt that it was their duty to force Anabaptists to be exiled or even killed for their beliefs, because they were not holding to the “true faith in Christ.” They would do this through the avenue of the secular governments, the preachers of the gospel would just point the way as to who should be excluded or punished because of their weak understanding of the “gospel.”

Marpeck says that the church or the follower of Christ has no place in participating in violence.
The secular authoriites can, in good conscience, punish the wicked. But the true follower of the gospel may never participate in persecution or punishment, for to do so would oppose the very gospel the believer trusts in.

“The kingdom of Christ is not of this world. For this reason no true Christian may administer cities and protect countries, nor people as an earthly lord. Nor may he use force, for that is the function of earthly and temporal rulers but never of true Christians…” (Outline, p. 263)

Marpeck does not see the two kingdoms as being completely separate. The true Christian might very well work for the State, as Marpeck himself did, but he may never, under any misguided notion participate in the methods of the State, that of force, coercion, persecution or punishment.

Whoever does not preach Christ but rather preaches the opposite is against Christ. (Expose)

Thus does Marpeck claim that Luther’s support of the Christian wielding the sword to be in opposition to the true gospel of Christ. For this reason, although Marpeck did make an oath of loyalty to the city, he did not take the parts of the oath that spoke of defending the city, for he saw those portions to be in opposition to the gospel of Christ.

By the end of 1531, before the publication of the Expose, Marpeck was publically confronted by Strasbourg’s preacher, Martin Bucer. After a public debate, Marpeck was declared by the magistrates to be a “clandestine preacher” or one who undermines the faith of the city. Pilgram and Anna left Strasbourg in January 1532, never to return.

Works Used:

Dyck, Cornelius J., Spiritual Life in Anabaptism: Classic Devotional Resources. Herald Press, 1995.

Klaassen, Walter, Anabaptism in Outline. Herald Press, 1981.

Klaassen, Walter and Klassen, William, Marpeck: A life of dissent and conformity. Studies in Anabaptist History, no. 44. Herald Press, 2008.

Luther, Martin, On Secular Authority. http://home.roadrunner.com/~rickgardiner/texts/secauth.html

Marpeck, Pilgram, Expose of the Babylon Whore. The Anabaptist Network. http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/250

Comment (1)

  1. SteveK (Post author)

    Here’s an article by Scot McKnight about Bonhoeffer’s struggle with two kingdom theology:

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