Heidelcast 15: Belgic Confession 36 on the Civil Magistrate and the Advance of the Gospel

An HB Classic

What is the role of the civil magistrate in advancing the ministry of the church? The HC had mail from Jason about Belgic Confession Art 36 on the civil magistrate. At first reading it seems to teach that the magistrate needs to do more than simply see to civil peace and justice. It seems to say that the magistrate should eliminate heresy and advance the Reformed faith. In fact, the original version of article 36 included this language: “And their office is, not only to have regard unto, and watch for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred ministry; and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship that the kingdom of anti-Christ may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted.” Since the late 19th century, however, there has been considerable discontent with this language. Abraham Kuyper’s aversion to it was so strong he declared that he would rather not be considered Reformed if being Reformed required him to affirm it. Darryl Hart discussed this at this episode of the Heidelcast from December of 2009:

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  1. Christianity has a terrible history when it comes to having society help with Church discipline. Luther’s suggestions on what society to do with unbelieving Jews, Christian Geneva and their burning people at the stake, and the Puritan persecution of the Quakers give 3 immediate examples of such troubled times.

    I am beginning to think that we should treat the confessions like some more liberal pastors regard the inerrancy of the Bible. That is as we should allow for fewer and smaller differences when the confessions speak of the Godhead and salvation than we do for when the confessions speak about our earthly relationships. There are two reasons for this. First, it is possible that the writers of the confessions were more influenced by their times and culture when writing about earthly relationships than they were when writing about the Godhead and salvation. Second, conformity to questions of earthly relationship is not as needed as it is about the Godhead and salvation. This might be a crude way to express the idea that not every part of the confessions should carry equal weight.

    • Curt,

      Most confessionalists would agree with you that Constantinianism was a mistake which took too long for the church to perceive.

      On your second point I could not disagree more! I hope that you’ll reconsider. The history of the Reformed churches shows that when they began to do as you suggest they declined precipitously. Please read D. G. Hart’s Lost Soul and my Recovering the Reformed Confession. The problem in the modern period has hardly been that we’ve taken the confessions too seriously!

      I’ve beens struggling with how to reply to your posts since I’m a little taken aback. On reflection I think I detect a noticeable lack of familiarity with the judgments of the Reformed churches, e.g., Belgic Confession, art 36, when it says,

      And on this matter we denounce the Anabaptists, other anarchists, and in general all those who want to reject the authorities and civil officers and to subvert justice by introducing common ownership of goods and corrupting the moral order that God has established among human beings.

      The confessions are the considered interpretations of Scripture on the most essential matters publicly adopted and binding upon the churches. It’ true that the confessions are products of their times but it’s also true that we still confess them. After all, it’s not as if we have never revised them. The American Presbyterians revised the standards and the CRC revised Belgic art 36.

      I’ve argued in RRC that we ought to confess the faith again in a new document but we must first learn the original documents, their intent, their implications and then we ought to confess the faith again in our time.

      As to each section of the confession carrying equal weight well, we have recognized in the Dutch Reformed tradition that Pauline authorship of Hebrews or that Chronicles are no longer commonly called “Paralipomenon” are not truly confessional matters. I’m all about a hierarchy of values, that’s why I wrote RRC. I hope you’ll take a look.

      • Dr Clark,
        I very much appreciate your attention and respectful replies especially in the light of a strong disagreement. Thank you.

        And I fully agree with your point that we must confess the faith again after fully learning the confessions of the past.

        I think both of our suggestions might get somewhat of a similar response though my suggestion would spark this response more than yours. The similar response to both of our suggestions would come from those who would suffer from a one-and-many panic. They would be afraid that if we stray too far that we would lose a vital connection to the past. There is a valid point here but not one that should lead us to panic.

        But the crux of my suggestion has a greater validity. That the writers of the confessions are more likely to be influenced by cultural concerns when writing about human relationships than when writing about the Godhead and salvation.

        I also agree that the people of our time do not fully know and appreciate what has been written in the past. We can thank narcissism for that. At the same time, we have to appreciate a reciprocal form here. That the past writers of the confessions could learn a thing or two from those in the 20th and 21st century as well. Think about what they could have learned from Bonhoeffer, Abernathy, and King. I firmly believe that they could have also learned from Helen Keller, Eugene Debbs, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky. I don’t believe in exalting one time period over the other.

        What I do see in some confessionalists is the inability to adequately relate the Gospel to our times because they will only consult what was written by a select group of reformed theologians from the past. Of course people like me who desire to be contemporary must carefully watch that we do not distance ourselves from the Gospel.

        BTW, I found your citation insightful since my political beliefs are a combination of socialism and anarchism, though I hasten to say that I have not met a Reformed person who would recognize the versions of socialism and anarchism to which I adhere and find Biblical. But I would reply that we should look at the context of that citation to see if the writers enjoyed a position of wealth and/or civil power and if that position influenced their writings.

        One final note. Being an activist since 2005 has told me that many of my fellow activists long for the participation of theologically conservative Christians in protesting the immoral actions of our government, financial institutions, and corporations. They are more than delighted to find out that I am a Christian fundamentalist and they desire more theologically conservative Christians to join them and dialog with. Here I share a concern with them that tribalistic interests have been trumping the Bible in some American conservative Christians who support wealth and power.

        Again, thank you for your respectful and thought provoking responses especially in the light of strong disagreement.

        • Curt,

          My parents were Humphrey Democrats and I was that when I went to university. Via Plato, Augustine, and one of my profs I moved toward a sort of socialist neo-Platonism. Reading Calvin, however, and an early confrontation with theonomy actually began to cause me to reconsider my politics/economics even while I was in university. In theonomy I saw the same thing of which I had become suspicious in the Anabaptists, an over-realized eschatology. Calvin’s account of the relations between heaven and earth seemed much more biblical and realistic, i.e., it accounted for human experience.

          In sem (WSC) I read more and discovered that my earlier politics were the product of an over-realized eschatology combined with ressentiment (envy). I had institutionalized envy, a violation of the 10th commandment and attempted to make a virtue of it. I began to move toward a more libertarian politics.

          I’ve also been influenced by my reading of the NT and 2nd century (early patristic) approach to social issues: Christian’s said virtually nothing about the social ills of the day. There’s not a shred of evidence in the NT that the church as institution or as organism addressed the grave social and economic inequalities of the period. Their chief request of the authorities was to be left alone to live quietly, “in all godliness.”

          The closest thing to advocacy for social change that one might find in the NT is the fairly subtle suggestion in Philemon that perhaps Christians ought not to own other Christians but even then it’s not terribly overt. Scripture seems to assume that private property is a fundamental natural right. In Matt 28 our Lord speaks of the “ο κυρις του αμπελωνος (master or owner of the vineyard). without a hint of irony. The point of the parable is that the owner of the vineyard may do with it as he pleases. Without an owner/owned relation, without the assumption of private property, private ownership of the means of production, without employer/employee relations, the parable doesn’t work.

          The same is true throughout the OT. Abraham was a wealthy chief/king with vast property holdings and slaves. To be sure, I am reasonably confident that chattel slavery of the sort practiced in the US in the 18th and 19th centuries (and before in the colonies) is not the same sort of slavery condoned by Scripture but, nevertheless, slavery is clearly practiced and condoned in Scripture. As I said, I’m not a theonomist, I’m Reformed. We confess that the Mosaic covenant has expired and has been abrogated (WCF 19) but there is a “general equity” (i.e., natural law or “light of nature” that exists before Moses, under Moses, and after Moses.

          The community of property practiced by the apostolic church was a voluntary, private, temporary, ad hoc response to particular conditions. It was never intended to be instituted generally and certainly not by the state!

          The early patristic church took the same approach. Here I’m particularly influenced by the Epistle (or Treatise) to Diognetus (perhaps by Polycarp) c. 150 AD. He lays out as clearly as anyone in the period how Christians related to the broader culture (chapter 5). I’ve quoted it a few times on the HB. Here’s an intro. Here’s a section from chapter 5 that I find particularly instructive:

          For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life… For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. The live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted

          The writer to Diognetus understood a distinction that, for much of modern Reformed history, has been lost: the distinction between the visible church as the chief expression of the eschatological kingdom of God on the earth and civil society as a proximate, penultimate society. He harbors no illusions about human perfectibility nor is he a radical. He’s not in the streets demanding anything. He only prays that the magistrate will stop killing Christians long enough to realize that we are no threat to the existing order. He’s no anarchist because he understands the difference between the now and the not yet. Anarchism is premised on a conflation of the two in the civil sphere. That’s why the Reformed denounced the Anabaptist riots and their refusal to participate in civil life: both were grounded in an over-realized eschatology (as was their refusal to baptize infants).

          There’s a sketch. A blog is obviously no place to do more than that I but I hope it helps.

          • Dr. Clark
            Thank you for sharing part of your personal story. I understand where you are coming from and I hope my part in this dialog is not interfering with your purposes for your blog. If so, let me know.

            I really like most of the post for the Heidelquotes today. The part I liked the most says

            “They live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign.”

            In an age where many of our fellow conservative Christians have approached faith in Christ as consumers and whose eschatology moves them to try to live in a safe & secure bubble until the rapture, this quote speaks powerfully:

            “They live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign.”

            I agree that there was little in the NT about social justice and social action but there is a context to that. I would disagree with regards to the OT. Here I would cite the prophets as well as a message by a former professor of mine whom I miss, Ray Dillard. He has an audio message called “Who Are The Prophets” that seems to say that the there was an expressed concern about social justice in the OT (he starts to mention social justice at around the 48 minute mark).

            To share part of my personal history, I will leave a link to a post on my blog here:


            What I want to draw people’s attention to the most is not activism as much as the necessity of preaching a Gospel of repentance to all, including those with wealth and power and those in authority. I am afraid that if we only preach a Gospel of repentance to the individual citizen, we are showing a kind of preference that is unbiblical, especially as James saw it. I believe activism is part of preaching that Gospel but I understand if others don’t follow as long as they agree that we all must preach a Gospel of repentance to all. It has nothing to do with eschatology or utopian vision; it has to do with one kind of concern for the oppressed and another kind of concern for the oppressor.

            Finally, I am pretty confident in my current direction but I always want a dialog with fellow Christians who disagree. The one thing I think we should all avoid is what Martin Luther King warned about during the Vietnam war when he said:

            “The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”

            If we play madlib with the above quote, we find that King can easily speaks to all of us here.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    I enjoyed this and found it helpful. I’m interested to know how you would respond to the following argument:

    The civil magistrate’s jurisdiction is natural law.
    Natural law includes both tables.
    Therefore, the civil magistrate’s jurisdiction is both tables.


    • Hi David,

      The problem is with the middle premise. The magistrate’s jurisdiction does not include both tables. That was the great problem with the Constantinian settlement. It assumed your middle premise and it took the church more than a millennium to see the error. That’s why I’m an American as a matter of principle as well as location. The magistrate’s office, as Paul sketches for us, is to execute civil justice but there’s no hint that Paul expected Caesar to sort out who is or is not orthodox or which religion (or irreligion) is correct. Arguably the 4th commandment is under his purview as a matter of natural order. Creatures are not perpetual motion machines. The only civil magistrate ever entrusted with the execution of both tables was Moses (and his successors) and that covenant expired at and was abrogated by the death of Christ.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I’m confused somewhat by your answer here. In your article Calvin as the lex naturalis you identified the primary distinction between Thomas and Calvin was that Calvin “defined natural law primarily in terms of the Decalogue and Thomas did not”. Are you saying that when speaking in the civil realm “natural law” means something different than the ecclesiastical realm?

      It would seem to me that David is right that one either has to deny the first premise that the magistrate’s sphere is that of natural law, or redefine what natural law means in terms of the civil sphere. To me that is why it seems that the classical two kingdom theology of people like Turretin and Rutherford led them to believe that the first table was within the authority of the magistrate. Precisely because the first table was natural and addressed men as men, not as members of the Church and as such fell within the domain of the authority given by Christ as the Eternal Son ruling in his Kingdom of Power rather than Christ as Mediator over the church ruling in His Kingdom of Grace.

      Am I misunderstanding something?

  3. Dr Clark

    Can you clarify? You say that the problem is with the middle premise. But isn’t it true that natural law includes both tables (since it equals the moral law)? I think what you mean to say is that the problem is with the first premise, that is, that the magistrate’s jurisdiction is not natural law per se (as my first premise has it), but rather a subset of natural law (i.e., the second table). Isn’t that correct?

    • The law is a charter of a kingdom but there are two kingdoms or two spheres or realms of administration of divine sovereignty. Yes, the 1st table is known, in broad terms, in nature, in the conscience but that doesn’t imply that therefore the civil magistrate has an interest in enforcing it. His sphere is, as Calvin wrote, the outward and temporal not the inward and the spiritual. The magistrate is obligated to natural law but only to his portion of it, as it were.

  4. Dr Clark,

    To clarify, I agree that the magistrate is the guardian only of the second table. I was just interested in knowing what, in your view, is the flaw in theocratic reasoning (which is what I tried to capture in the syllogism).

  5. Hi Gregory,

    The article on Calvin and Natural Law was historical theology. I wasn’t advocating a particular view of natural law there. Here, in this instance, I’m saying that that aspect for which the magistrate is responsible, is the second table.

    The older use of the 2K (Turretin et al) simply assumed the Constantinian settlement. Since the 18th century most American and European Reformed folk have not made that assumption. Prior to Constantine one does not see Christians advocating that Caesar should enforce the first table but they certainly believed in natural law.

    It does not follow that if natural law, then Constantinian.

    • Dr. Clark,

      Thanks for clarifying there. I greatly appreciate the way that you, Dr. VanDrunen and others have reinvigorated the 2K categories of the Reformed Scholastics.

      My primary point here is that I don’t really think it’s fair to say that Turretin and them “simply assumed the Constantinian” settlement. Turretin specifically argues that his 2K theology necessitates a reading against what is now called Theonomy and what he considered an anabaptist civil polity (cf. Institutes XI.xxix.14; XVIII.xxxiv.2-3, 8-9). As such I think he would vigorously oppose the notion that he merely “assumed” that the magistrate should enforce the first table on account of his political/ecclesiastical realities in the same way you would if someone said you “assumed the American settlement”.

      This of course doesn’t make him right. However as a matter of doing history, I do think it is important that we first accurately understand and present the arguments of the historical authors, and then deal with if they’re correct (which I know you agree with).

      I totally understand that given that most objections to 2K theology seem to come from either neo-kuyperians or theonomists that the majority of arguments are being made against them. However I personally think it would be helpful to also interact with the older 2K in regards to how they argue that their 2K framework necessarily leads to an enforcement of the first table.

      The only interaction that I’ve really read is along the lines of they “assumed the Constantinian settlement”. Even Dr. Vandrunen in his “Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms” seems to primarily argue that the the Reformed Scholasitcs were merely unaware of their inconsistency. If there are sources I’m missing please do direct me to them.

      • Gregory,

        You claim to offer a historical reading of Turretin but as soon as you begin you invoke the optative mood “would.” That’s not historical. That’s speculative. The reason I said “assume” is that the only real challenges to the Constantinian assumption that the magistrate must enforce the 1st table is because it was assumed. As you note, the only alternatives were the medieval/Roman two-swords doctrine and the Anabaptist denial of civil life (and alternately and quest for heaven on earth), neither of which were viable for the Reformed.

        In Turretin’s time we were still about a century away from even being able to think about a post-Constantinian approach to church and state or the first table. Asking 16th- and 17th-century folk not to assume Constantinianism is like asking medievals not to assume geocentrism. When there aren’t any real alternatives and everyone around one assumes the same thing, it’s virtually impossible to think otherwise. We don’t ask Calvin to solve or speak to problems that didn’t exist during his life or to problems of which he wasn’t aware because it’s unhistorical to do so. We have the same problem here.

        So, we have two problems: historical and theological. Historically, 200 years this side of the American experiment, it’s easier for us to see what was virtually impossible to see in the middle of the 17th century. Theologically, our case has to stand or fall on its own merits. We can invoke the greats (e.g., Calvin, Turretin, et al) as examples of where, as I suggested in the podcast in agreement with Beets, there is a tension between what they theorized and how they applied the theory.

  6. I haven’t heard the audio, but because of the discussion, I would recommend reading (assuming you all haven’t read it) Paul Helm’s blog “Natural Law, revealed law and ‘gay marriage'” from Feb. 15. It made me stop and think (actually, I haven’t stopped thinking about it) whether all that is part of “natural law” should be enforced, and other things as well.

    • Alberto,
      Here is one of my problems with Paul Helm’s post on natural law and gay marriage. In it, he says,

      “There is at the present time in the UK a perfectly understandable prudential argument against ‘gay marriage’, namely that to legislate that churches may be permitted not to conduct such marriages will inevitably lead to pressure on the courts, and ultimately on the European Court of Human Rights, to require all Christian churches (and others) to conduct ‘gay marriages’ for those who request them. ”

      Frankly, I think the opposite is more likely to happen. With being seen as persecuting gays, and to an extent, they are, eventually the courts will side with gays against the persecution. At this point, it may be too difficult for the courts to distinguish real persecution from preaching a Gospel of repentance.

      We have a choice here. The choice is to challenge the perception that homosexuality is acceptable before God through preaching the Gospel alone or trying to use the civil law to enforce church law With the conservative Church maintaining a significant silence regarding the immorality of those with wealth and power and those in authority, using the law to curb homosexuality will easily make the Church look insincere and not credible.

    • Take a listen.

      Read Helm’s article. It was provocative. His last paragraph, however, I think can be answered. He wrote:

      Even if we hold that the contours of the natural law are provided by special revelation. Jesus teaches that divorce is a concession due to the hardness of hearts. (So Matt. 19) So is divorce a concession as regards the natural law too? And polygamy was a concession under the OT? It is not even mentioned in the NT. May it be a concession still? The incentives offered by Christians to society at large while living in the second kingdom may be various, not only appeals to the natural law, but also reliance on the vestiges of the days when the Christian in our society was more widespread. All that is true. But our question remains, what are the boundaries of the natural law, and how do we know this nowadays?

      He does not account for Jesus words, “It was not so in the beginning.” I take that as an appeal to the creational, natural pattern and intent. We might say that heterosexual polygamy is not unnatural in the broad sense because it is heterosexual and potentially (although not necessarily) procreative—this, by the way, is the answer to those who argue that if menopausal heterosexuals may marry then homosexuals may marry. That is a non-sequitur. Homosexuals are never even potentially procreative. Even those who should be menopausal or at a post-procreative age have the potential for procreation. More narrowly, however, polygamy is not the natural norm or intention. It expands the creational pattern. Jesus appeals to the creational pattern as way of restoring it. Further, Jesus was not speaking to all divorce but to the concession allowed for the way divorce was practiced under Moses. There are natural grounds for divorce, which Jesus himself sanctioned. He mentions adultery.

      This is why I don’t have difficulty saying that the Mosaic covenant, the old covenant, did not fit the creational pattern in other ways. The state was called upon to enforce the first table, to enforce religious orthodoxy. This made the Mosaic covenant extraordinary and temporary. It was typological not only of Christ but also of heaven, an aspect that is sometimes ignored. Other civil magistrates are not authorized to decide and enforce religious worship and orthodoxy.

      As the definition and nature of marriage, however, is grounded in marriage and is perceptible to all, regenerate and unregenerate alike, and is common to believers and non-believers, it is properly within the purview of the magistrate. He should restrict it to heterosexuals for the same reason he should restrict it from polygamists, pedophiles and bestialists. All are contrary to nature, to the creational intent.

  7. Calvin had to deal with the unbiblical notion that the civil magistrate is only keeper of the second table from two sources:

    Michael Servetus and
    Sebastian Castellio

    The case of Servetus spawned a long-drawn-out controversy with Castellio’s hodgepodge of citations from patristic and Reformed sources, and Theodore Beza’s response in De Haereticis. Castellio was doctrinally “Reformed,” and not in the Anabaptist camp.

    Turretin is well after this series of events, and explicitly deals with it in Institutes, II, under the topic of the civil magistrate’s power circa sacra.

    Also, Turretin was contemporaneous with the beginning of the Enlightenment, and its emphasis on a merely private religion, as advocated by men like John Locke (see his Letters Concerning Toleration (London: Printed for Awnsham Churchill, at the Black Swan at Amen-Corner, 1689 – 1692).

    Moreover, that Constantinianism was foisted on an ignorant or unwilling church for over 1,200 years seems highly naive and plainly mistaken. The exegetical arguments made in favor of the magistrate as keeper of both tables are overwhelming. One has to have mistaken assumptions about the requirements of the moral law to conclude that it leaves man civilly free to follow false gods, commit false worship, blaspheme and break the holy rest of God. Man has no right to heresy, blasphemy or sabbath breaking.

    Moreover, the Apostle Paul identifies the civil magistrate’s role as that of a worship-leader and minister of God. If the first table is excluded by such language, I’m not sure how the second table could find its way in there.

    Modern Reformed theologians are simply more influenced by the Enlightenment, German Rationalism (and its respectable cousin, Biblical Theology), than they are by Confessional Reformed Orthodoxy on these points.

    • Adam,
      The most important source for knowing whether the civil magistrate is an enforcer of even on even one table is the Bible. And though we had theonomy in the Old Testament, there was a context for that. That context was the identity of God’s people at that time. With the identity changing from ancestry and ritual to faith, the change we see in the responsibilities of the civil magistrate is in what the people of God experienced. BTW, it matters not what the reformers say if it is not firmly stated in the scriptures.

      We could debate that all you want but the burning question I have is this, why do you, as a Christian, want all nonChristians to be punished for sins that, only Christians were disciplined for in the New Testament? For if one is excommunicated from the church, is that person also to be banished from society?

      On a side note, do you approve of the burning of Servetus at the stake?

    • Curt,

      I think that most classical 2K people would want to answer your question as to why would we want the civil magistrate to punish first table commands similarly to Johannes Althusius:

      “For a sound worship and fear of God in the commonwealth is the cause, origin, and foundation of private and public happiness. On the other hand, the contempt of God, and the neglect of divine worship, are the cause of all evil and misfortune”

      We would want the civil magistrate to protect the nation from evil and misfortune and promote both private and public happiness. The duty of the magistrate is to protect those outward things, and violators of the first table are threatening them just as much as violators of the second. We would argue that such is known through natural law, which is why Turretin quotes from pagan classical sources like Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero showing that they believed that matters of religion were matters significant to the safety of the society.

      Hence we would argue that it is true of all nations and peoples that, “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

      Is that helpful in at least understanding where more classical 2K people would be coming from?

      • Greg,
        First, thank you for your answer. Second, aren’t we all violators of both tables of the law? So punishment do you want the gov’t to give you? Third, I asked for the Scriptural basis. Where is it?

    • Curt,

      You asked, “aren’t we all violators of both tables of the law? So punishment do you want the gov’t to give you?”.

      As Dr. Clark has explained the Reformed have, with Calvin, noted that the sphere of authority of the civil magistrate is outward and temporal not the inward and the spiritual. Inward sins like lust, greed and others are not visible and as such not within the domain of the authority of the civil magistrate. On the other hand outward sins quite often are punished by the civil magistrate. Try stealing a car and see if the civil magistrate is willing to punish you. All I’m arguing is that we would be better off *as a society* if the civil magistrate were to protect us by punishing those outward violations of the moral law of God.

      As to the particular punishments, I think that there is plenty of room for debate on the equity of different violations, as there seems to have always been a diversity of opinions on the matter within the tradition.

      You further said, “I asked for the Scriptural basis. Where is it?”.

      As confessionally reformed Christians we all confess that the judicial laws of the Mosaic Covenant, “expired together with the State of that people” (WCF. 19.4). However as Dr. Clark has again pointed out, we also confess that there is still abiding a “general equity” which is still obliging to us. What does that mean?

      Historically the Reformed have divided the Mosaic laws into two types, positive and natural. Turretin is worth quoting at length here:

      ” Now this law of God is divided in general into natural and positive. As the right of God is twofold (one natural, founded in the perfectly just and holy nature of God; the other positive, depending on the will of God alone in which he also shows his own liberty), so there is a positive law of God built on the free and positive right of God (with respect to which things are then good because God commands them). Hence God was free either not to give such a law or to institute otherwise (such as the law relating to food and the symbolic law given to Adam [Gen. 2:16-17] and the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, in which there was no moral goodness or evil per se, but only from the command of God). There is another (natural) founded on the natural right of God, with regard to which things are not called just because they are commanded, but are commanded because they were just and good antecedently to the command of God (being founded on the very holiness and wisdom of God)” (Institutes XI.i.4)

      Which category do we place the the judicial laws of the Mosaic Covenant? Well, it is a mixed bag. We confess that there are some laws/aspects of the laws that are of “particular equity” and some of “general equity”.

      Particular equity means that they positive commands given to the Jews, inasmuch as it regarded them as a distinct state dedicated to God, possessing the land of Canaan and awaiting the Messiah. Or said another way, they were given to the Jews as a theocratic/typological nation awaiting the coming of the Messiah. A definite example of this would be the law that the brother should raise up seed to his brother. With the coming of the Messiah that political body expired and as such the laws given to them as that political body expired with them.

      General equity however refer to those laws/aspects of the laws that were given to them not as a particular theocratic/typological nation, but as they were men, and hence were a part of the natural/moral law. William Perkins describes this “common”, or general equity like this:

      “Judicials of common equity are such as are made according to the law or instinct of nature common to all men; and these in respect of their substance, bind the consciences not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles, for they were not given to the Jews as they were Jews, that is a people received into the covenant above all other nations, brought from Egypt into the land of Canaan, of whom the Messiah according to the flesh was to come; but they were given to them as they were mortal men subject to the order and laws of nature as all other nations are. Again, judicial laws so far forth as they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature are moral; and therefore binding in conscience as the moral law.”(William Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience in Works [1608], pp 513)

      How can we tell the difference? Well, there is somewhat of a diversity of opinions on this, but Perkins offers several tests:

      “First, if wise men not only among the Jews, but also in other nations have by natural reason and conscience judged the same to be equal, just, and necessary and withall have justified their judgment by enacting laws for their common wealths, the same in substance as with sundrie of the judicial laws given to the Jews” (ibid)

      “Secondly a judicial has common equity if it serve directly to explain and confirm any of the ten precepts of the Decalogue or if it serve directly to maintain and uphold any of the three estates, of the family, the common-wealth, the Church. And whether this be so or not it will appear if we do but consider the matter of the law and the reasons or considerations upon which the Lord was moved to give the same unto the Jews” (ibid)

      This is why Turretin quotes Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero showing that they believed that matters of religion were matters significant to the safety of the society. He is using the first of Perkins’ tests showing that since the guarding of the first table was known and enforced amongst the pagans one could know that it was a matter of general equity and not particular equity.

      Is that more helpful?

      • Greg,
        It really doesn’t help. The law is both and is meant to convict us of sin. If you want to enforce the ten commandments, for example, you have to find ways to enforce it when people covet or when they lust.

        What you have told me is that because this law is the secret to a happy & good life, Christians have the right to force a law, they can’t keep on everybody else. You put us in the role of dominating others when Christ has called us to serve others like he did while he lived on earth. We have the Spirit and the works of the Spirit not by the law but by hearing with faith (Galations 3). So the law is not going to bring that happiness.

        In addition, the giving of the law to the nation of Israel had a redemptive-historical context. The law was given to them as a preparation for entering the land flowing with milk and honey, the this side of Heaven restoration of the Garden where God dwelt with His people. The law was not given as a preparation for wandering through the wilderness

        The Church does not have its own land (Heb 13:14) where God dwells with His people. Rather, the Church has been given a purpose-driven wandering through the wilderness of the world to preach the Gospel and make disciples. The people of God are not in one location but dispersed throughout the world to bring people into the Church. And, again, they are in the world not to dominate, but to serve. Jesus will dominate when He comes again. Until then, we are commanded to imitate Him in his first coming. Those who want some kind of theonomy want to imitate His second coming.

        What you have told me is that because your intentions are so noble and good, your cause gives you and others the right to lord it over the heathen by forcing a law they don’t want and we can’t obey. But there are no Biblical grounds for this. If you cite the nation of Israel, note not only how well they did in keeping the law, also note the different context they had from us because of the redemptive-historical nature of God dwelling in the land with His people. And there is no New Testament precedent that supports your cause.

        You are appealing to the traditions of men to enforce Biblical law. But you don’t have any adequate Biblical precedent to do this.

    • Curt,

      I’m sorry that you don’t find my confessional arguments helpful. I assumed since you were posting on the Heidelblog that you were Reformed, and as such confessed that the confessions contained the system of doctrine taught by the word, but perhaps I was mistaken.

      I think you have fundamentally misunderstood the distinction between the civil kingdom and the ecclesiastical kingdom.

      All Reformed people would confess with you that unlike under the dispensation of the law that the Church today does not have its own land, nor is it composed of a single nation. It is universal and catholic, spreading out over the entire world so that people of every tribe, tongue, and nation will confess that Jesus is Lord. Further, whatever nation we are a part of, we will always be sojourners from the heavenly country.

      We also agree that the Church is not to dominate or go on some form of crusade to “bring people into the Kingdom”. The only sword it is to take up is the sword of the Spirit, which is weiled by ordained ministers authoritatively proclaiming the gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. No action of a civil magistrate can effectively cause people to enter into the kingdom of glory.

      However that kingdom is not the kingdom that we’re talking about. The state does not have it’s origin in redemption, but in creation. It is not the kingdom which Christ rules over as Mediator, but the kingdom which he rules over as the Eternal Son, being coessential with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is the kingdom of which the Psalmist speaks when he says, “The LORD hath prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom ruleth over all” (Psa. 103:19). It is God’s kingdom of power that is preserving and upholding the world ensuring that there is a theater for the progress of the gospel.

      In that kingdom God has created men as social creatures which naturally come together and form federal or economic societies. In such societies there will naturally be superiors and inferiors. All inferiors are to honor the superiors of those federal societies as fathers, and hence civil magistrates are often termed fathers (Isa. 49:23) and the catechisms identify magistrates as within the fifth commandment (WLC 124). Being fathers of commonwealths God has made them ministers to their children for their good, and to that end he has given them the positive institution of the sword, that they might be a revenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil (Rom. 13:4). As such they are sent by God to punish evil, and praise that which is good (1Pet. 2:14).

      However how does one define “evil” that they are to punish, and “good” which they are to praise? Since he is a minister of creation and not redemption that “good” and “evil” is defined by the law of the kingdom of power which he is made minister over. That is the natural law which speaks to men as men, rather than men as ecclesiastical people. The natural law that we can see the work of on even the Gentiles hearts (Rom. 2:14), where by they know the righteous judgement of God that those who practice such things are worthy of death (Rom. 1:32).

      I’m not saying that the Church needs to be out trying to change or “redeem” society. Any actions which Christians take in regard to the state they should take as citizens of that state, and they should acknowledge that is is not “kingdom work” in any sense. This is why we confess in chapter 21 of the confession that, “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.” (WCF 21.4).

      I am however saying that when the civil magistrate asks, by way of advice, what is best for his kingdom that we tell him what the Scriptures say about kingdoms as kingdoms and men as men. I think for satisfaction of conscience we must say that “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34). We must say that sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God (WSC 14). We must say that if he wants his nation to prosper as a nation that, to quote Althusius again, “sound worship and fear of God in the commonwealth is the cause, origin, and foundation of private and public happiness”. And when he asks I want to remind him that God has given him the sword, made him an avenger of wrath, and given him the authority to punish evil and praise good for the protection of his children, and the preservation of the realm.

      Further, I might even (depending on my exegesis of the texts) want to advise him that within the time period of while Christ has been set upon his holy hill, and is sitting at the right hand of God ruling of his kingdom of grace as Mediator, that there is a command that kings, as kings, ought to kiss the Son, lest his anger be kindled and he destroy their kingdom (Psa. 2:6-12; 110:1-2). Since God has promised to execute his kingdom of power in such a way that those nations and kingdoms which will not serve His kingdom of grace (which is his Church) will perish (Isa. 60:12), and as such he should prefer to be a nursing father to the Church (Isa. 49:23) protecting the ability of the gospel to spread and prosper within his realm. But admittedly there is some dispute about these things 🙂

      Hopefully that is more helpful.

      • Greg,
        Will make one short comment now and write more later. Why don’t you think I am reformed? One doesn’t have to ask confessions may I to be reformed. Personally, I think we put way too much into the confessions and it is our shortcoming in not approaching them with a multi-tier system.

        What I would warn about is being more concerned with being reformed than being Biblical. And again, you have built your case around the traditions of men, not the Scriptures.

      • Greg,
        When I see a position like yours and how you initially defended it, my concern is this: are you spending more time exgeting the confessions than you are the Scriptures and is your understanding of the confessions driving your understanding of the scriptures or is your understanding of the Scriptures driving your understanding of the confessions? I fear that we can be such apologists for the confessions that, for us, the confessions are to the Scriptures what the Pope and priests are to Christ for those in the Roman Church.

        When I read your positions, I don’t see them in the Scriptures. We do not see your position either advocated by Jesus or the apostles. Once we talk about the gov’t punishing offenses against the first table of the law, we are looking thru a time tunnel into an ugly past. Luther called for punishment of sins against the first table when he called for society to punish the Jews for their unbelief. Geneva’s burning of people at the stake for heresy was horrendous and quite simply causes people to condemn Christianity to this day. The puritans persecuted the Quakers. But here is an example you might not have thought of. The crucifixion of Christ by the Romans was for blasphemy. The Jewish leaders handed Christ over on that pretense.

        When you have the gov’t enforcing the first table then regardless of how the Church is involved in the implementation, you have an attempt to dominate society in the name of Christ. And when you go to the Bible, the only place you can see that is in Israel as they were given chance after chance to dwell with God. And you defend this domination by listing your intention for society to be happy and righteous.

        The problem here is when you plug your solutions back into the Scriptures, they are not supported. The New Testament answer to violations of the first table is the preaching of the Gospel, not the heavy-handedness of any institution.

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