There is much blasphemy running around the world these days, and while there is no outright persecution in the United States, at least, there certainly is a writhing sense of loathing seething under the surface. They malign us as bigots who are responsible for all the woes of society that their progressive humanism has cured and that promoting the standard of God’s Word, we are trying to “roll back the clock” and are “on the wrong side of history.” And because of this tension and conflict, many unbelievers have come to view God unfavorably.
Is there a problem with that? Not necessarily, no. The unbeliever walks in darkness and the standard of God’s law is the light. As it is written, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
So when we shine the light of God’s Word on the world, we should expect them to experience a certain amount of discomfort. We should expect a certain unpleasant response from them. This is all normal and a part of what Jesus told us to expect when he said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)
Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people seem to draw the line. Because there is more to be said. Consider this passage from Romans 2:17-24
…if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Here Paul brings light to the fact that hypocrisy has a damaging affect on one’s witness for God and actually causes the world to blaspheme on our account. What a terrible thing! We would never be guilty of this in our day and age, would we?
Except I think that we are in the realm of politics. It’s too easy to take pot shots at the Mainstream Christian Right, but I would even include the Theonomist in this charge. In fact, I think the Theonomist is most directly in focus here – not that Paul was speaking about politics, mind you. The Theonomist certainly boasts in the Law (not in the salvific sense… please don’t misunderstand…)
So what is my charge? It is this: That in our quest to uphold the Law of God and use it as God’s standard for our lives and to commend it as God’s standard for others lives, to the degree that we use politics and government as our means to achieve those ends, we have transgressed God’s law by committing violence against people without just cause. In doing so, we have caused people to blaspheme God. Whether you’re a theonomist or one of the looser versions of the Christian right, if you support the State, you are guilty of trying to use violence to force people into the mold of God’s law.
This is not to say that God’s law is not the right mold! This is the trap of the Theonomist. You start denouncing them like this and they say, “if not God’s law, then who’s?” God’s Law of course! But that really isn’t the point. It’s a red herring at best. Our contention is not that the Law of God is wrong, it is that the Law of God is what defines the role of civil justice. And on this we agree with the Theonomist that governments are not free to violate God’s law. No individual, group, government agent our government agency has that authority. Further, civil magistrates are not the king themselves, they are servants of King Jesus. Thus the scope of their authority is defined by his Law.
Here is where we critically diverge from the Theonomist. The Theonomist would have the full scope of God’s law, moral and judicial, enforced by the civil magistrate. We reject this, not to reject God’s law, but becasue of different exegetical conclusions from our study of the Law itself. Here we find a critical misunderstanding of the purpose of the law itself in light of redemptive-historical and covenental typology has led the Theonomist to expand the role of the civil magistrate beyond the bounds that King Jesus has defined in God’s Law defines. And it is entirely my point that the Theonomists error leads him to violate God’s Law itself, causing the Gentiles to blaspheme God.
Those are fighting words, so before I show my work, I have to back off a bit. I have no intent to sow any sort of dischord or disharmony in the church. In fact, I think it wise to consider you Theonomists as allies right now, because your understanding of God’s Law is so close to correct that we agree on the vast majority of it and are certainly in agreement that the modern, humanistic, progressive state is an abomination and an idol that should be opposed and torn down. So I think we need to be united more than divided. Yet, in light of the recent debate in which I would have laid this charge directly before McDurmon’s feet, I think that Thenomists need to be shown the error of their ways. I fully believe they have no ill will in this. I believe they are sincere in their fear of the Lord and respect for his Word and his Law. However, I think they are sincerely mistaken and I think this has put them on the wrong side of God’s law – ironically.
So, in brief, what leads me to this interpretation of God’s Law? I start with Genesis 9:6.
Genesis 9:6 established the principle that violence is punishable by violence. It leaves no room for any other just use for violence by virtue of the fact that you should expect a violent response every time you use violence other than to punish the use of violence. The use of equal force to punish the unprovoked use of force leaves no logical room for the initiation of force without justly deserving retaliation. Genesis 9:6 speaks only specifically about the crime of murder, but we can also see in the Mosaic law where this is fleshed out further through case law in Exodus 21. Thus, the civil magistrate’s jurisdiction of authority us over those sins which bring harm to victims.
Now the Theonomist thinks he has me beat because I have quoted from Exodus. That’s God’s Law, isn’t it? I must rely on God’s Law so therefore he has won. Well no. I rely on God’s Law, just not the theonomist’s interpretation of God’s Law. His error lies in incomplete exegesis of the passages in question, and a failure to ground his hermeneutics in the proper redemptive-historical and covenental context.
The Theonomist is confused by the fact that there are other portions of the law of Moses that appear to be in the domain of the civil magistrate by virtue of their civil penalties, but this is an exegetical error. It is important to observe three things.
- These two bodies of law (judical and moral were given in a completely different section of the law from one another.
- The language that is used in their commandment is drastically different from each other.
- Whereas in the Exodus 21 Civil/Judical case law there is an identifiable civil victim, this is not the case in any of the laws in Leviticus.
So there is a clear, exegetical distinction between the laws given in Exodus 21 and those given in Leviticus and other places. We can use this as a pattern, in fact, for determining what is civil and what is moral. Civil laws deal with the fact that there is a human, civil victim who has been harmed by some violence, fraud or gross negligence. Moral laws deal with sins involving only the person himself or another willing participant and is not, therefore, civil crime, but moral impurity.
So having established a clear exegetical distinction between the civil and moral laws, we are left with a further question: Does the scope of the civil magistrate’s authority prescribed by God’s law include the enforcement of the moral laws as well as the civil laws? Here we diverge from the Theonomist. The theonomist, if he admits that there is such a distinction, relies on the fact that there were civil penalties in Israel for these things, and so therefore, in his mind, civil penalties must be God’s prescription.
Here is where his hermeneutical expands into contextual considerations. He has failed to set the law of Moses within its proper redemptive-historical and covenental context and has failed to consider typology.
Remember, the question is not whether God’s moral law is the right moral law, but whether there is authority for men to enforce the moral law with civil penalties. God does not command this prior to Moses. Instead, he commands that the use of violencce be restricted to the punishment of those who initiate violence, giving us the non-aggression principle. It was not until the Law of Moses that there were civil penalties prescribed for these moral sins. So we must ask, by what authority were the moral laws enforced by the civil magistrate in Israel? The answer is: by the same authority that commanded the conquest of Canaan and the utter destruction if Jericho. God himself was their king (1 Samuel 8:7). So tell me, Mr. Theonomist, are land conquests and city destruction just? If not, then by what standard to you make that judgment? If not, then how is the civil enforcement of the moral law just?
But surely that’s not convincing enough. So let’s point this out another way that makes this situation even clearer. The Theonomist loves to use the argument from silence that if the New Testament hasn’t repealed something then it’s still in force. So is there anything to break this silence? Certainly there is. Consider 1 Corinthians 5. Here we see one of the moral laws from Leviticus (incest) enforced in the very specific context of church discipline using the same language from Leviticus “purge the evil from among you.”
It’s important to note some things that Paul says here. He says in verse 9 and following:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who names the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality, or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.
Notice here that Paul does not say that God’s moral standard has change, nor that those who practice these evil deeds here are going to escape judgment. Instead, he is making a very clear point about the jurisdictional authority of God’s moral law. The scope and means of human enforcement of the moral law is the church discipline applied to the church.
We can connect these dots back to the Old Testament by way of covenant topology to see that Israel was a shadow of the church and God’s coming eternal kingdom. In Israel there was a historically unique blend of church and state that has never been divinely sanctioned before nor since and will not recur until Christ returns.
Now that the church has come and has been decoupled from the state, the scope and means of human enforcement of the moral law has been changed. What was once a matter of civil enforcement for the purpose of maintaining the purity of a covenant people living in the presence of the Shakinah glory, is now a matter of discipline for a people in whom the Spirit of God dwells individually and collectively.
This leaves the civil magistrate concerned only with those matters that are purely civil along the principle established in Genesis 9:6 and fleshed out in Exodus 21. That is to say: only those sins that cause harm to others. Those sins that have a civil victim. Those matters in which the life, liberty or property of someone is harmed through aggression, force, the threat of force, fraud, gross negligence, etc.
For a civil magistrate to do anything else is to step outside the jurisdictional authority given to him by King Jesus, to claim authority he does not have, and to violate God’s moral law by committing aggression against those who have done no harm to any victim thereby becoming the criminal.
Now I’m aware that there’s a logical issue going back to 1 Corinthians. My own brain alerts me to a potential weakness in my argument, or perhaps a chink I might use were I to debate against myself. Surely someone will say that God’s means of judging those outside is through the civil magistrate. They’ll rely on Romans 13 for this. I have been working on an exegesis of Romans 12 and 13 that will cripple this notion straight from that text, but suffice it to say this: that God does not consider the civil magistrate part of his kingdom. He uses him as he once used Assyria to judge Israel, and judges him for his sinful use of coercion in doing so, as he judged Assyria for conquering Israel, but he does not anywhere give moral blessing to him. The civil magistrate is certainly one of the tools in God’s hands that he often uses to accomplish his purposes of judgment. But we must consider carefully what the Christian might do if he found himself in the position of the civil magistrate, which is of particular relevance to our discussion of the prospect of shaping government. How ought the Christian rule as the magistrate while remianing in obedience 1 Corinthians 5:12-13? I believe he would NOT use his sword to judge those outside the church for violations of the moral law. He might use his position of authority as a platform to preach the gospel to them, certainly, but he would not use coercion. He would leave that judgment up to God who does not need the civil magistrate in order to give out just punishment to those who sin. They will get their due at the last judgment even if they escape any harm in this life. The Christian would not dare to ascend to God’s seat of judgment, but would instead leave the scope and methods of human enforcement of the moral law right where God has put it.
So when we consider Romans 2 in light of all of this, I think it should become clear that at least a certain percentage of the angst directed our way by the World has come from the fact that they feel attacked by us when we attempt to use government to direct the course of their lives. It doesn’t matter the specific issue. When governments, which are the embodiment of violence by nature, initiate force against people for any reason whatsover, they are committing criminal acts. When that is systematically directed toward whole groups of people based on some common chracteristic, they call that persecution. When we attempt to classify homosexuality as a civil crime, we are guilty of this kind of persecution, and cause people to blaspheme God because of us.
So. Should we outlaw homosexuality, or some other morally deviant behavior that does not do harm to civil victims? And cause people to blaspheme the name of God? I’ll have no part in it.