The Revision of Belgic Confession Article 36 on Church and State

Eugene Osterhaven called this “the most difficult and disputed” article in the confession.1 As will appear below, the desire to revise this article has existed in the Reformed churches in both the Netherlands and in the USA since the late 19th century and revision has come in fits and starts. Further, there is no little ambiguity about the status of the original article across the confessional Reformed world.

The Original Text Of Belgic Confession Art 36

What follows is an English translation revised according to the original French and Latin versions of the article made with reference to the French text as it appears in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, 3.432–33 and with the Latin text (adopted by the Synod of Dort, 1619) in Müller, Bekenntnisschriften der Reformierten Kirche, 248.

Article 36

Concerning The Magistrate

We believe that our good God,2 because of the depravity of mankind, has appointed kings, princes, and magistrates; willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose He has placed the sword in the hand of the magistate, for the punishment of evil doers and for the defense of them that do well.3

The two sections that follow are the most disputed and have been broken into paragraphs for clarity:

[For their office is not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the [civil] polity,4 but also to maintain the true sacred ministry;5 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.]6

They must therefore countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honored and worshipped by every one, as He commands in His Word.

Moreover, it is the bound duty of every one, of whatever state, quality, or condition he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to pay tribute, to show due honor and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers that God may rule and guide them in all their ways, and that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity.

Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order which God has established among men.

History of the Revision of Article 36

According to John Kromminga, questions first arose in the CRCNA over what is described in this article as the Constantinian language of the original article 36 did not arise immediately after the Afscheiding (separating) in 1834.7 The CRCNA separated from the RCA in 1857 and by 1879, in the church newspaper, De Wachter (The Watchman), questions were being raised about the applicability of the Constantinian language in article 36.8

Two decades later, in the 1890s Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) argued:

We oppose this [Constantinian language in article 36] out of complete conviction, prepared to bear the consequences of our convictions, even when we will be denounced and mocked on that account as unReformed.We would rather be considered not Reformed and insist that men ought not to kill heretics, than that we are left with the Reformed name as the prize for assisting in the shedding of the blood of heretics.

It is our conviction:

1) That the examples which are found in the Old Testament are of no force for us because the infallible indication of what was or was not heretical which was present at that time is now lacking.

2) That the Lord and the Apostles never called upon the help of the magistrate to kill with the sword the one who deviated from the truth. Even in connection with such horrible heretics as defiled the congregation in Corinth, Paul mentions nothing of this idea. And it cannot be concluded from any particular word in the New Testament, that in the days when particular revelation should cease, that the rooting out of heretics with the sword is the obligation of magistrates.

3) That our fathers have not developed this monstrous proposition out of principle, but have taken it over from Romish practice.

4) That the acceptance and carrying out of this principle almost always has returned upon the heads of non-heretics and not the truth but heresy has been honored by the magistrate.

5) That this proposition opposes the Spirit and the Christian faith.

6) That this proposition supposed that the magistrate is in a position to judge the difference between truth and heresy, an office of grace which, as appears from the history of eighteen centuries, is not granted by the Holy Spirit, but is withheld.

We do not at all hide the fact that we disagree with Calvin, our Confessions, and our Reformed theologians.

In the same period, in the USA, the same sorts of concerns were arising.9 In 1905 the Synod of the Gererformeerde Kerken Nederlands (the denomination that arose from the merger of the 1834 Afscheiding and the 1886 Doleantie, “the Sorrowing,” a separation from the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk led by Abraham Kuyper) took action to revise article 36. In 1906 “three classes and one congregation petitioned the Synod of the CRCNA for a revision of the article.10 Synod appointed a committee. That committee failed and a new committee was appointed in 1908 “to give a more accurate explanation of the disputed portion of Art. 36 in a note.”11

Synod, in 1910, added the following explanatory footnote:

This phrase, touching the office of the magistracy in its relation to the Church, proceeds rom the principle of the Established Church, which was first applied by Constantine and afterwards also in many Protestant countries. History, however, does not justify the principle of State domination over the Church, but rather a certain separation of Church and State. Moreover, it is also contrary to the New Dispensation that authority be vested in the State arbitrarily to reform the Church, and to deny the Church the right of independently conducting its own affairs as a distinct domain alongside the State. The New Testament does not subject the the Christian Church to the authority of the State that it should be controlled by political measures, but only to our Lord and King as an independent domain alongside and altogether independent of the State, that it may be governed and built up only by its office-bearers and with spiritual means. Practically all Reformed Churches have relinquished the idea of the Established Church as not in accordance with the New Testament, and advocate the autonomy of the Churches and personal liberty of conscience in the service of God.The Christian Reformed Church in America, being in full accord with this view, feels constrained to declare that it dos not conceive of the office of the magistracy in this sense, that it is in duty bound to exercise political authority also in the sphere of religion by establishing a State Church, maintaining and advancing the same as the only true Church, and to withstand, destroy, and exterminate by means of the sword all other Churches as embodying false religions; and also to declare that it does positively hold that, within its own secular sphere, the magistracy has a divine duty with reference to the first table of the Law as well as the second; and furthermore that both State and Church as institutions of God and Christ have mutual rights and duties appointed them from on high, and therefore have a very sacred reciprocal obligation to meet, through the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. They should not, however, encroach upon each other’s domains. The Church as well as the State has the right of sovereignty in its own sphere.12

In 1936 the (Calvin) Seminary faculty (the official seminary of the CRCNA) “expressed its dissatisfaction with the article as revised by the footnote….”13 Synod commissioned them to make a recommendation which they did. “Their advice was to drop the footnote formerly adopted and to exscind a portion of the disputed clause. The article should now read:

Their office is not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the civil state but also to protect the sacred ministry, that the Kingdom of Christ may be thus promoted.14

Synod followed this advice in 1938, prompting a protest in 1939 that was rejected,15 but dissatisfaction continued and Synod formed another committee in 1940 to re-write article 36. The proposed revision appeared in 1946 but was contested for several years.

Finally, in 1958, Synod declared the Constantinian language of the original article “unbiblical” (see below) and adopted a substantial revision of Article 36:

We believe that because of the depravity of the human race our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers. He wants the world to be governed by laws and policies so that human lawlessness may be restrained and that everything may be conducted in good order among human beings.For that purpose he has placed the sword in the hands of the government, to punish evil people and protect the good.

And being called in this manner to contribute to the advancement of a society that is pleasing to God, the civil rulers have the task, subject to God’s law, of removing every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship.

They should do this while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them, with the means belonging to them.

They should do it in order that the Word of God may have free course; the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress; and every anti-Christian power may be resisted.

The latest CRC revision, in 1985, moved the following paragraph to a footnote:

They should do it in order that the Word of God may have free course; the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress; and every anti-Christian power may be resisted.

The same CRC synod removed this paragraph:

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.

and placed it in a footnote.

The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) holds the Belgic Confession but, to date the churches, which were largely formed by congregations that had separated from the CRCNA, have not stipulated which form of the Belgic Confession they subscribe. The form of Article 36 on the URCNA website reads in part:

Their office is not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the civil state, but also to protect the sacred ministry,* that the kingdom of Christ may thus be promoted. They must therefore countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honored and worshipped by every one, as He commands in His Word.

The footnote says:

*In the original text this sentence read as follows: “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 antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted.” The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1910, recognizing the unbiblical teaching, contained in this sentence, concerning the freedom of religion and concerning the duty of the state to suppress false religion, saw fit to add an explanatory footnote. The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1938, agreeing with the Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1910 as to the unbiblical character of the teaching referred to, but recognizing a conflict between the objectionable clauses in the Article and its footnote, decided to eliminate the footnote and to make the change in the text of the Article which appears above, corresponding to the change adopted in 1905 by the General Synod of the “Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland.” (See Christian Reformed Church Acts of Synod, 1910, pp.9, 104-105; also Christian Reformed Church Acts of Synod, 1938, p. 17.). The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1958 approved the following substitute statement which has been referred to other Reformed Churches accepting the Belgic Confession as their creed for evaluation and reaction: “And being called in this manner to contribute to the advancement of a society that is pleasing to God, the civil rulers have the task, in subjection to the law of God, while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them and with the means belonging to them, to remove every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship, in order that the Word of God may have free course, the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress, and every anti-christian power may be resisted.”

Since the URCs were formed in 1996 no synod has adopted a version of the Confession or made a doctrinal deliverance on this matter and it is unclear what the status of the form of the Confession posted on the federation’s website has.16 The website is managed by a synodical committee but in the absence of a synodical decision or any explanation, it is unclear why the committee posted the 1958 version of article 36.17

Analysis and Remaining Questions

The first paragraph is essentially a paraphrase and elaboration of the New Testament teaching on the Christian view of the civil magistrate and, as such, are uncontroversial. Further, there does not appear to be controversy over the section on the Christian’s duty to live in quiet subjection to the civil, prayerful magistrate.

On the one hand the Lutherans and Reformed postulated a distinction in the way God administers his sovereign rule. On the other hand, the rise, in the mid-16th century, of religious resistance to civil authority, reflected in the pseudonymous, Vindiciae contra tyrannos and Theodore Beza’s De iure magistratuum created intellectual tensions that have yet to be fully resolved. In Protestant resistance theory, the magistrate was conceived in essentially Mosaic-theocratic terms. These texts addressed the magistrate as if he were a biblical king of Israel and is if France were Israel.

Of course no post-canonical state is Israel and no post-canonical ruler is a king like David. The Westminster Divines recognized this truth in chapter 19 and two centuries later, a version of Protestant resistance theory would be appropriated by American colonists as part of the justification for the American rebellion against the British crown. That rebellion would be codified in the American constitution and fully post-Constantinian experiment in church-state relations began.

Thus, it is not surprising that the trajectory of all the revisions proposed and enacted since the late 19th century has been to remove the Constantinian language from the Article 36 while retaining that language that can be clearly and easily proved from the New Testament (e.g., Romans 13).

Thus, beyond the church historical question of the status of the various CRC synodical actions revising the Confession, some substantial biblical-exegetical and theological questions remain unresolved. Is there any New Testament warrant for saying, as was said in 1910, that the magistrate has duties relative to the first table of the Decalogue? If so, from where would make such an argument and what would those duties be? The New Testament is apparently silent about the role of the Roman Caesars in enforcing the first table.

Do we imagine that the apostles believed that Claudius or Nero should enforce the first table? It was common for the Roman emperors to declare themselves and their successors as “gods” but it is unimaginable that anyone should expect a first-century, pre-Constantinian pagan emperor to enforce Christian orthodoxy.

Second, it is an open question whether the New Testament imagines that the Christian Church should have any political privilege over other other religions. For example, following Kuyper’s lead we might wonder whether the Churches should retain this language, “also to protect the sacred ministry, that the kingdom of Christ may thus be promoted.” The first question is whether “protect” is the best translation of the original text.

Second, however, should we confess that Christian ministry deserves special consideration from the civil authorities? Certainly the civil authorities should protect all citizens and preserve religious freedom. Those things are constitutionally protected in the USA.

A third question is how to read the last clause. Is the advancement of the kingdom through the church’s ministry or through civil protection? The former seems grammatically and theologically preferable but the second interpretation has been advanced by some, e.g., Henry Beets, who accepted the “separation of State and Church” but argued that it does not mean “as some seem to take it, the separation of State and Religion” (italics original). Beets defends his view of the Confession by invoking George Washington’s farewell address (1796) on the necessity of religion for morality. Beets argues, “It is because of these considerations that we maintain what our Confession declares concerning magistrates.” He interpreted “countenance” to mean “approve and aid openly” the preaching of the Word.18

More recently J. van Bruggen has argued the Constantinian case, that Synod Utrecht (1905) was wrong to attempt to read the Confession “according to the intention of the authors.”19 He says “[t]his is wrong! We must read it in light of Holy Scripture.”)

First, in response, first, it’s not clear why we cannot do both. It is hard to see how van Bruggen’s proposed hermeneutic could avoid hopeless subjectivism. Surely a historical reading of a document must first begin with authorial intent. We call this the historical or literal sense of the text.

Second, the Confession must be compared with Scripture and, if found wanting, must be revised. He also claims that the article does not assume the right of the government to put heretics to death. This claim is historically untenable. There were Reformed folk who opposed civil enforcement of religious orthodoxy but such opposition was not the majority view and there is no evidence that De Bres or most of the rest of the Reformed world in the period doubted Constantinianism.

Third, van Bruggen argues that the disputed words really only mean only that the civil government is to prevent public idolatry and he claims that the magistrate should thus enforce both tables.20 He seems to be distinguishing punishing heretics and preventing idolatry. Historically this is a distinction without meaning. One wonders to which Dutch (since Kuyper’s 1901–05 service as Prime Minister) or American government van Bruggen would trust to decide what constitutes idolatry and to prevent it? How does a civil government prevent something without punishing its practice? E.g., civil authorities prevent infractions by punishing them. Certainly the reading that Beets gave to this article in 1929 and that van Bruggen offered more recently suggests that Constantinianism remains alive in the Dutch Reformed tradition.

A fourth question is suggested by Hyde’s analysis of this article. He writes “the Confession describes the church in articles 27–35 as a spiritual kingdom that exists in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. In article 36 the Reformers’ doctrine of the two kingdoms is clearly in the background.”21 He further notes, as this article has also observed, that the original texts of the Confession do not speak of God as “gracious” in appointing the civil magistrate.22 He points out that the earlier Latin translation used the expression “optimum maximum.23 This was the language used by Roman philosophers such as Cicero, in other words it suggests that the original understanding of this article and its doctrine viewed the civil sphere as more a sphere of natural law than a sphere of redemptive grace. Thus, Hyde concludes, “By using this language, the Belgic Confession grounds the civil government in God’s goodness, not his grace, in creation, not redemption”24

If Hyde is correct, then there was an inherent tension between the notion of two distinct kingdoms under God’s sovereign rule and the Constantinian assumptions on which some of the language of the original article rested. The modern history of the revision of the Confession seems to be an tacit recognition, if imperfect resolution, of that tension.


1. Eugene M. Osterhaven, Our Confession of Faith: A Study Manual on the Belgic Confession (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2nd printing, 1964), 190, cited in Daniel R. Hyde, With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession (Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship Inc., 2008), 478.

2. Schaff’s translation translates bon with “gracious” but this does not seem to be the best translation. The Latin text has benignum Deum, which might be translated “favorable” but not “gracious.” Further, since both French and Latin have distinct terms for “gracious” it seems best to use it “good” or perhaps “kind” here in English.

3. Schaff translates the second clause “for the praise of them that do well.” Other English translations have “for the protection….” This is closer both the French (maintenir) and the Latin (defendenis).

4. French, “sur la police.” Latin, “pro conservandea politia.” The reference here is clearly to the civil, not ecclesiastical, polity hence the editorial insertion.

5. The Latin has “verum etiam ut sacrum tueantur Ministerium….”

6. French, “maintenir.” Latin, “tuentur.” Schaff translates as “protect.” The 1976 CRC edition follows this. This is possible from either the French or the Latin but both could also be translated with “support.” The first assumption here is almost certainly that public funds would be used to support the ministry. In this period it was not a matter of whether the church would be publicly funded but which church (Protestant, i.e., Lutheran or Reformed or Roman) would be publicly funded. Remember that the Peace of Augsburg (1555) was only five years old when the Belgic Confession was first published. The second assumption, of course, is that the Constantinian system, as it had developed through the middle ages, was essentially correct, that the civil magistrate had a duty to uphold Christian orthodoxy and to punish heretics.

7. John Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Church: A Study in Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1949), 66. On the history of the CRC revisions see also Nicolaas H. Gootjes, The Belgic Confession: Its History and Sources (Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought) (Baker Academic, 2007), 185–87.

8. De Wachter, 12.2 (April 10, 1879), 2. Cited in Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Church, 67, n. 9. See also Jacob Van Bruggen, The Church Says Amen: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession, trans. Johanna VanderPlas (Neerlandia, AB and Pella, IA: Inheritance Publications, 2003), 217–18, which says, “The third part of this article has given rise to much contention. The seventeen words one finds in brackets have been the centre of many debates. At the General Synod of Middelburg (1896) eight members submitted an objection to these words. A decision on this objection was finally made at the Synod of Utrecht (1905). This Synod deleted these words.”

9. Kromminga, ibid, 67. n. 10.

10. Acts of Synod, 1908, Art. 93, p. 53 cited in Kromminga, ibid, 67, note 11.

11. Acts of Synod, 1908, Art. 20, p. 49 cited in Kromminga, ibid, 67, n. 14.

12. Acts of Synod, 1910, Supplement X, p. 104 cited in Kromminga, ibid, 68, n. 15.

13. Kromminga, ibid, 68.

14. Kromminga, ibid, 68.

15. Acts of Synod, 1939, p. 88 cited in Kromminga, ibid, 68, n.19.

16. An electronic search of the 1996 minutes of “First Synod of the United Reformed Churches in North America” does not show the phrases “Belgic Confession” or “Confession of Faith.” The expression “Belgic Confession” appears in the minutes between 1997 and 2010 but there is no reference to article 36.

17. On the history of the URCs see Cornelis P. Venema, “Integration, Disintegration, and Reintegration: A Preliminary History of the United Reformed Churches in North America,” in R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim ed., Aways Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey (Escondido: Westminster Seminary California, 2010), 224–50.

18. Hyde, With Heart and Mouth, 479.

19. van Bruggen, ibid, 218.

20. idem, ibid, 218–19.

21. Hyde, ibid, 480.

22. H. A. Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum in Ecclesiis Reformatis Publicatarum(Leipzig: Julius Klinkhardt, 1840), 387.

23. Henry Beets, The Reformed Confession Explained: A Popular Commentary and Textbook on the Netherland Or Belgic Confession of Faith (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1929), 270–71.

24. Hyde, ibid, 483.

UPDATE December 11, 2019

Since this article was first published, the United Reformed Churches in North America have adopted a revised version of the Belgic Confession, including a revised version of article 36. It reads:

We believe that
because of the depravity of the human race
our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers.
He wants the world to be governed by laws and policies
so that human lawlessness may be restrained
and that everything may be conducted in good order
among human beings.
For that purpose he has placed the sword
in the hands of the government,
to punish evil people
and protect the good.
And being called in this manner
to contribute to the advancement of a society
that is pleasing to God,
the civil rulers have the task,
subject to God’s law,
of removing every obstacle
to the preaching of the gospel
and to every aspect of divine worship.
They should do this
while completely refraining from every tendency
toward exercising absolute authority,
and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them,
with the means belonging to them.

They should do it in order that
the Word of God may have free course;
the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress;
and every anti-Christian power may be resisted.*
Moreover everyone,
regardless of status, condition, or rank,
must be subject to the government,
and pay taxes,
and hold its representatives in honor and respect,
and obey them in all things that are not in conflict
with God’s Word,
praying for them
that the Lord may be willing to lead them
in all their ways
and that we may live a peaceful and quiet life
in all piety and decency.
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 preceding three paragraphs are a substitution for the original paragraph below, which various Reformed Synods have judged to be unbiblical:
“And the government’s task is not limited to caring or and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word.”

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  1. Grammar is not grace and the last quote repeats itself, except for the conclusion.

  2. Dr. Scott,
    One of the key differences between us is that while we both reject Constantinian Christianity, I also reject Christian paternalism which is Christian dominance over a society in its weakest, but still significant, form.

  3. RSC,
    Brad got it.
    But hey, every once in awhile we all got to refresh our bona fides as members of a fallible church contra the ex protestants who have graduated to the infallible one and like to remind us of it.

  4. Dr Clark,
    One example are those who believe that the Christian interpretation of natural law, however correct it is, should be the basis of our laws. An example here can be whether same-sex marriage is right and therefore an equality issue.

    Others can include those who describe our current culture and society as being post-Christian.

    • So, by definition, any disagreement with you constitutes triumphalism?

      Curt, that’s just bizarre.

      An appeal to creation is an appeal to NATURE, to givens, to objective truth that neither you nor I instituted. How on earth is that an attempt to impose Christian dominance?

      Never mind. My blood pressure can’t take it.

      • Dr Clark,
        I believe the exact term I used was paternalism. I used that term because it has a larger difference in the degree of domination than triumphalism.

        With regards to natural law, again, there are disagreements between how we see it and how the non-Christian sees it. Remember that the non-Christian has rejected the witness of nature and will thus interpret differently. A while ago, I cited such a view of nature when I referred to a study of how homosexuality was observed in 1,500 species and it had a benefit in some of those instances.

        But is natural law the bottom line here. For if we insist on using our view of natural law to determine the civil laws, we are basically shutting out of the conversation all those who see natural law differently than ourselves. We are saying that only those who agree with us are in the position to determine civil laws. From the homosexual’s viewpoint, we are claiming a right in determining laws that we are denying him or her.

        In other words, if we approach lawmaking from a similar position that Howard Zinn wrote history, we would be looking at lawmaking from the position of those who were left out of the conversation because of an deficient view of natural law.

        In addition, I would ask that you would clarify how natural law becomes the standard for civil law in the first place. Because, Romans 1 does not just condemn same-sex marriage, it condemns all homosexual behavior. And, it seems to me, that it also condemns, as being against nature, the worship of idols because it is exchanging the clear testimony of nature about God for what is false. And we might want to make illegal the rest of the sins mentioned in Romans 1. But that is if we are consistent.

    • I can’t get into an extended fight either, but Curt do you believe that a law can be right or wrong? Or even if they can be right or wrong, are they merely meant to be a reflection of societal consensus?

      • RubeRad,
        Definitely to your question. But when we look at equality, are we going to look at from the perspective of the decision makers or the people affected. And we claim to be the only valid decision makers because of our grasp of natural law, are we acting as equals with those who are most affected by the laws we promote?

        My point here is that the context can help determine whether some laws are right or wrong. Within the context, including history, of our society, we need to take extra caution less we try to, even in a light way, dominate those outside our faith through laws.

    • Assuming you are OK with trying to “dominate” would-be-murders, where’s the line you draw that separates that from trying to “dominate” would-be-gay-marriers?

      If it’s a question of voluntary participation, nobody (I think) is trying to reinstate sodomy laws that would outlaw private homosexual activity, but if marriage is redefined, then my marriage is redefined, is it not? Shouldn’t I have a say in that?

      (Then again, if the proper line to draw is 1st vs 2nd table, maybe we should get back to outlawing/punishing the sin of homosexual intercourse)

      However, I think it must also be said that it is not just now that we are facing redefinition of marriage by gays; we have faced (and largely lost) a significant amount of redefinition of marriage by the high divorce rate of heterosexuals, and decline of monogamy and incline of shacking-up in general.

      • RubeRad,
        I would like to know why you think murder and same sex marriage are comparable.

        Next, I would like to know how your marriage has been affected by allowing same-sex marriage. I have friends who are in same-sex marriages and their marriage has neither affected nor redefined my marriage. Nor has my marriage been affected by the sexual sins of heterosexuals.

  5. I am able to compare murder and gay marriage; they are both sinful, and they both fall under the 2nd table of the law, there’s 2 comparisons right there.

    Rephrasing the question I asked you, I would like to know why you think murder and same sex marriage are not comparable.

    First off, my marriage has been strongly affected by the modern culture of divorce, infidelity, and promiscuity. My marriage is an easily-dissolvable contract of convenience, and it is at much greater risk than, say, marriages 60 years ago. But at least now it is an easily-dissolvable contract of convenience between one man and one woman. Pretty soon (I see no stopping the gay marriage train — frankly I’m surprised CA is so late to the orgy) it will be an easily-dissolvable contract of convenience between two arbitrary people.

    Anyways, I never claimed my marriage is affected I said it is redefined. Effects might not be immediate. When Harry and June got scandalously divorced in the 50’s, it may have had no immediate effect on Dick and Jane’s marriage next door, but from where I’m standing, the snowball has had profound repercussions.

    It’s like the old put down: “calling him stupid is an insult to stupid people”. Equating B to A doesn’t impact only B.

    Here’s a broader question though; given that X is wrong (and X falls in the category of ‘secular’), why do you take objection to any citizen in a free society advocating legal prohibition of X?

    • RubeRed,
      If all you are doing is looking for two sinful acts, I guess they are comparable. But then do you want to make all sin illegal? Do you want to make other religions illegal? And since not believing in Christ is sin, why not compare that with same sex marriage? It seems to me that there is another reason why you compared the two than just the fact that both are sins.

      Also, even without same-sex marriage, is the definition of your marriage threatened by other sin such as couples that live together or by no-fault divorce?

      The issue here is how much control do we Christians want to exercise over society? Noting that the more control we expect or attempt to achieve, a bigger stumbling block to people hearing the Gospel we create.

    • Do you want to make other religions illegal? And since not believing in Christ is sin…

      That’s 2nd table, which the civil magistrate doesn’t have authority or competence to handle justly.

      It seems to me that there is another reason why you compared the two than just the fact that both are sins.

      I’m trying to provoke you into answering my question, what is the line that you draw between murder and gay marriage? I’m sure there is one, I just want to know what you think it is.

      Also, even without same-sex marriage, is the definition of your marriage threatened by other sin such as couples that live together or by no-fault divorce?

      Yes, I already said that.

      • RubeRad,
        Your strict division between the state not having the right to enforce the 1st table but having the obligation of enforcing the second table is problematic. So, should the state prosecute those who commit adultery?

        Dr. Clark,
        The issue isn’t whether there are universal norms, it is which ones should be enforced and here I am talking about those from the 2nd table of the law.

  6. “Answer the question please: are there universal moral norms?”

    Please comrade, stop exhibiting such blatant examples of badthinkism. It is very confusioning to those of us who know that there is nothing quite like bowing down and kissing the behind of that sacred cow Toleration (Of Everything But Intolerance) for rejuvenating one’s sense of amorality.

    But all joking aside, if Curt ever answers the question and gets off moderation, the next query in the queue should be something like when – if ever – was homosexual “marriage” even an exception to the rule?

    Of course, like the Roe Wade decision, one might have to grub around in pagan pre-Hippocratic Oath history to come up with excuse to justify abortion today. (Just what was that pagan woman hating pre-Repuglican Greek quack thinking in condemning PC pessaries anyway? Off with his head.)

    Nevertheless credulity ever springs anew in the heart of disingenuous and guilty white progressive liberalism in which you know what is the root and sum of all evil.
    And reality is what we will/wish it to be.
    If only it were true, Alice.


    • Bob,
      Let me ask this, what have I written that has ever cause you or anyone else to even ask the question.

      Furthermore, my last response posted here to RubeRad assumed that there are moral absolutes. My response was what are you going to do with adultery? That is against an absolute moral value. Are you going to make adultery illegal for the same reason that you want to keep same-sex marriage and murder illegal? And then, which is more comparable, same-sex marriage and adultery or same-sex marriage and murder?

      Ruberad gave indications that he believes that the magistrate should enforce the whole 2nd table of the law. I simply said that was problematic.

      So, for those who need direct statements, of course I believe in moral absolutes whether they deal with personal morals or social morals. My logic has assumed moral absolutes as a starting point. I just don’t believe that you legislate the whole 2nd table of the law and do so in the name of moral absolutes. This was not Paul’s approach in I Cor 5.

      • Curt,

        You haven’t explained whence the source of absolutes.

        Are they universal (i.e., do all people everywhere, in all time, have access to them) or do they exist only in your head?

        What makes you think that Paul wrote 1Cor 5 to address civil, common life?

        • Dr. Clark,
          I thought we were working from the same source for moral absolutes. And I thought that we both recognized that the civil magistrate should enforce some but not all of those absolutes–2K theory. This means that there are more absolutes that can be broken outside of what the law should demand. And so the question is from our common source of moral absolutes, which ones fall under the jurisdiction of the magistrate and which ones do not? And what criteria do we use to make these judgments?

          My understanding of your position, and please correct whatever inaccuracies are there, is that the natural law is absolute and the magistrate is responsible for enforcing the whole natural law. I believe that we must add addition criteria to filter what from the natural law the magistrate is responsible to enforce and what the magistrate should let go. And I believe the use of that additional filter is the real difference we have.

          • Curt,

            I doubt that we are working from the same starting point or the same paradigm.

            I understand the natural law to be that law God instituted in creation. It is re-stated, in typological terms, in the Decalogue, but the substance of the law is present there in the two tables. I understand that to be substantially the same law that is described in Romans 1-2 to be universally known via natural revelation and accessible to all in the human conscience. Because of sin we suppress it but it nevertheless is known, knowable, and is summarized by our Lord in Matt 22:38-40 and repeated throughout the NT.

            Because that law is natural and moral and universal, because it is known naturally and evident via the conscience and sense experience, it reasonable to appeal to it in civil, common, cultural, and social questions. Because it is universal and natural and universally and naturally known, I am not imposing anything on anyone.

            If you have read any of the posts on natural law on the HB you would know that I have consistently rejected Constantinianism, i.e., the civil enforcement of the first table. I see no evidence in Scripture (e.g., Rom 13) or nature that the magistrate, the special case of national Israel excepted, is authorized to enforce the first table. He is, however, mutatis mutandis authorized to enforce the 2nd table (with the exception perhaps of the 10th commandment—the magistrate does not know the heart).

            Sexual behavior certainly comes under the purview of natural law. Polyamory, polygamy, bestiality, pederasty, adultery, homosexuality are all contrary to the natural law. So, yes, the magistrate is certainly authorized to regulate that behavior and has for centuries. Historically considered, it’s only been in the last two weeks that anyone thought that the magistrate had no business regulating sexual behavior. There certainly is such a thing as privacy, but privacy ends when nature/creation is transgressed. Consent and the will are not superior to nature. Just because two humans consent to do something or because we can deconstruct consent or re-define it to include animals and children does not make that proper consent.

            • Dr. Clark,
              We do have the same regard for the law of God. But as for the magistrates, I believe there should be an additional filter that determines what they should and should not enforce.

              In addition, I understand your rejection of Constantinianism. But such a rejection does not imply that you are not employing the same principle. You are only with a different set of values. As Luther exhorted his fellow Germans by saying any society that does not punish the Jews for their unbelief is complicit with their sin; so you are saying the same about the magistrates who do not punish adulterers and homosexuals for violating God’s moral absolutes. For that matter, should the magistrate also punish disobedient children or the arrogant or the rest of the sinners mentioned in Romans 1?

              I see no encouragement from the NT for legislating the moral values that you think should be legislated. Of course, that does not imply anything because of the historical context. Of course we could cite Paul’s attitude toward sexual mores of those outside the church (I Cor 5). He appeared to be concerned solely about the sexual conduct of believers. Again, there is no firm case for either of our positions here though I think the NT provides more support for my position than yours. So I would point you to history and the times when Christians sought too much control outside of Constantinianism.

              And, I would ask why preaching the Gospel is not sufficient for the sexual sins practiced by those in our society.

              • Curt,

                yes, the magistrate should punish rebellious teen-agers. We call it Juvenile Hall (or whatever it’s called now). Why is this odd? The magistrate has an interest in preventing delinquency and criminal behavior in teens.

                What do you mean by “different set of values”?

                What does Luther’s view of the Jews (a complicated question) have to do with anything?

                It is universally known in nature, as Paul says and as numerous pagan authors have written, that homosexual behavior is unnatural just as bestiality, pederasty etc. That’s not a “value.” That’s just objective reality. How it should be regulated and to what degree it should be punished is a matter of discretion and wisdom.

                The NT didn’t have to speak to what the civil magistrate should punish or regulate. There was a well established legal code that was in force at the time of the NT. Christians are taught to obey the magistrate and the civil law. It is not the purpose nor the intent of the NT to speak to civil government precisely because it’s a matter of natural law that is universally known in the conscience.

                The Gospel is not sufficient because civil law is not an administration of the gospel (the announcement of the good news) but an administration of the 2nd (civil) use of the creational/moral/natural law. In short, civil law is law, not grace. Here you agree with the Christian right and Constantinians and theocrats who fail to distinguish between law and gospel. Civil life is a covenant of works: do this and live, not a covenant of grace. The left always wants to make civil life a covenant of grace. Yes, there is mercy in civil life but mercy is not identical to grace. The secularist left, having given up on heaven has sought to use the magistrate to institute heaven on earth (via socialism). The visible church is the sphere and institution where we find grace, undeserved divine favor, in Christ, in the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the holy sacraments. In conflating the two you have committed the Anabaptist error.

                Ultimately, because you all (both the Christian left and right) have an over-realized eschatology, your positions ironically converge. You’re a leftist with an over-realized eschatology and confusion of law and gospel and the others do the same from the right but you’re all doing the same thing.

                • Dr Clark,
                  Let’s take juvenile hall. When should a kid be sent there? Should every rebellious act require the magistrate to lock a kid up? Or should a kid’s refusal to follow any parental command require arrest and lockup? Or should that punishment only be for certain offenses?

                  Second, your response to those who engage in sexual immorality is very similar to Luther’s response to the Jews who refused to believe. According to him, society had a moral responsibility to punish the Jews less they be complicit with the sin of unbelief. Isn’t your argument here the same only for a different offense? And where in the NT do Christians get to argue for the punishment of the sexually immoral? Rather, are we not commanded to live among them, not escape from them, in order to witness to them?

                  In addition, you are reading the enforcement of natural law into the duties of the magistrate and from that you can dictate whatever morals you want the magistrate to enforce on all. Again, this is what we find in the NT?

                  It seems that with your use of natural law, you have a confusion between the two kingdoms. For you, both Kingdoms are required to enforce every precept of what you assign to natural law. But was that the meaning of what Paul wrote in Romans 1 when he described unbelievers as rejecting nature’s testimony and then later going against nature via their sexual practices? By saying that they went against nature was he calling for their civil punishment?

                  I see no NT justification for your view of natural law and the duties of the magistrate. What I do see are people who seem too eager to see others be physically punished for behaviors they find offensive. And, again, I see no NT justification for that. For doesn’t Paul tell us after he has condemned homosexuality in Romans 1 that those who judge are without defense because they are just as guilty (also see Anti same-sex marriage rhetoric)? Romans 2:1 makes the content of Romans 1:18ff personal about all of us, not informational about others only. It doesn’t matter if we don’t share the exact same sexual sins; the issue is that everybody has traded their knowledge of God in for the worship of idols and we are all prone to the resulting sins. This is why we can’t judge such people.

                  And finally, I am not confusing the law and the Gospel. There are sins that the magistrates are responsible for curbing. But, outside of unbelief, there are also sins that the magistrate should not curb less the magistrate become a supplemental disciplinary arm of the Church. This is why I said that you are practicing the same principle of Constantinianism only with a different set of values. Your only distinction between your enforcement of natural law and Constantinianism is that you don’t believe that the authorities should punish unbelief. But you seem to believe that they should punish all resulting sins from unbelief.

                  In the NT, when believers continued with sexual immorality, the appropriate punishment was to excommunicate them from the Church so they could live among the heathen. But now, you are requiring that the magistrates to punish those same sins so that the appropriate place to send such sinners is the jail cell rather than among the heathen.

                  So if you want the magistrates to punish sexual sins rather than rely on preaching the Gospel to them, are you the one who is confusing the law and the Gospel?

                  • Curt,

                    The question not whether magistrates should punish youthful offenders but how and that is a matter of wisdom, custom, and discretion. I’m not a theonomist! I’m not calling for the reinstitution of the Mosaic punishments. I’m asking the magistrate to bear the sword, i.e., to execute justice. That’s his vocation.

                    You want to conflate two issues and two spheres. Luther was a Constantinian. I’m not. I’m not prosecuting unbelief. I’m advocating that the magistrate punish civil, not religious crimes. You’re imputing a view to me that I have not argued and that does not follow from my premises.

                    I’m not talking about “morals” but about behavior. Marriage is a public contract. It’s not purely private. That’s why we have divorce courts and property settlements. The turn to no-fault divorce etc had civil, public consequences. We now pay taxes to support children who would have been supported by a father had we not adopted no-fault divorce. Those are civil, public matters not merely matters private morality.

                    Curt, you don’t seem to have a clue about the law/gospel distinction. You’ve never once given any evidence that you understand the distinction.

                    What the church does is one thing, what the state does is another. These are two spheres. Just because the church handles an offense one way doesn’t mean that the state can’t handle the same offense differently. We live in two spheres simultaneously.

                    You’re only illustrating your confusion of the two.

                    • Dr. Clark,
                      I am going to reply to the first part of this note only. I understand that you are neither a theonomist nor a Constantinian. That isn’t the question. The question is whether us Christians can still be guilty of overreaching by insisting that magistrate enforce every precept we see in natural law?

                      For a short while, I have classified what I see as attempted Christian overreach into 3 categories: theonomy, contantinianism, and Christian Paternalism. They different by virtue of their place on the continuum of attempted control and the question becomes are all 3 groups guilty of overreach?

        • Dr Clark,
          Though we already hashed out the question of absolutes, I wanted to ask this about equality. Isn’t the best way to decide whether we are treating another group of people as equals is to ask whether it would be right for them to treat us in the same way that we are treating them in how we want laws to be written?

    • Are you going to make adultery illegal for the same reason that you want to keep same-sex marriage and murder illegal?

      Yes, that sounds great. Adultery should be illegal; it’s a (difficult) question of what the penalty should be. I would love to get back to a societal situation where adultery is generally shameful (i.e. recognized as tragic and immoral), and conducted only in secret. And the same for homosexuality. But just because the cat has escaped on the former, does that mean we should just hold the door open for the latter out to?

      I’m not shooting for purity here; purity was a goal of the holy nation of Israel and the laws God gave it, and sanctification is a goal of the church. For society as a whole, I’d settle for decency.

      • RubeRad,
        Go ahead and make that happen. And while you are at it, tell those who have a different religion, if one at all, than yours how what you are doing honors freedom of religion.

        • Curt,

          What are you talking about? Be reasonable. Who’s advocating religious tests? We’re talking about marriage/sexual behavior. Those are civil matters.

          You do understand the basic biological differences between heterosexual and homosexual behavior, right? This is a yes or no question. Remember, this is a family blog.

          Heterosexuals have done tremendous damage to the creational institution of marriage but, at least, from a creational and biological perspective, what heterosexual sinners do sexually is at least in accord with nature, if corrupted by divorce and adultery or fornication. What homosexuals do sexually is even natural. So, though both heterosexual adultery/fornication/sexual sin and homosexual acts are both sin, they are sins on different orders.

          • Dr. Clark,
            Those civil matters are somewhat based on religious beliefs. In addition, I said the opposite. I didn’t say you were looking to punish religious beliefs but you were looking to punish sexual behaviors in the same way using the same mindset that Luther used in seeking the punishment of unbelief.

            BTW, I saw a reference to prohibition and how that didn’t work. Do you really think calling for the magistrates to enforce sexual prohibition has a better chance at working than the prohibition against alcoholism?

            Finally, I certainly understand the difference between heterosexual and homosexual behaviors. I also understand how people can think differently from me. And I am not going to call for the magistrates to punish them for that. In the end, you want Christians to have a dominant role in society because they have the superior understanding of natural law. And the more domination you seek, the more resistance to the gospel will be displayed.

            • Curt,

              One reason why it is frustrating to talk with you is that you consistently resort to mischaracterizing my arguments.

              I’m NOT arguing that magistrates should punish thoughts. Nothing I’ve said can be fairly construed even to suggest that. I’ve ONLY written about regulating BEHAVIOR.

              Where I come from, sex (as a verb) is a behavior. Marriage is a behavior. So, you’ve conflated apples and oranges.

              You haven’t shown how regulating sexual behavior is logically equivalent to regulating worship.

              I am not calling for Christians to be dominant in society unless asking the magistrate to follow nature ipso facto puts Christians in charge somehow, but given the voluminous pre-Christian/non-Christian literature on natural law, that seems like a huge leap. This is the second time you’ve asserted it and it’s no more convincing now than then.

              • Dr Clark,
                Then you know how I feel. Your comments about my eschatology when eschatology is not necessarily involved or your comments about me confusing law gospel are, IMO, a mischaracterization of what I said.

                I understand that you aren’t calling for the magistrates to punish thoughts, though if they were detectable, would some Christians call for that is a legitimate question.

                And I never equated the actual punishment of sexual behavior with the punishment of worship. But you are calling for the punishment of sexual behavior for the same reasons that others called for the punishment of worship. You are employing the same logic but on different practices.

                Again, a Christian doesn’t have to be a theonomist or a Constantinian to try to overreach in trying to control society. You are neither but I believe that, through your call for the punishment of every transgression of natural law, you are overreaching.

                • Curt,

                  I say that your position reveals an over-realized eschatology because it doesn’t account for our present “in-between” state – it wants to confuse the common with the sacred. Such confusion is a clear indicator of an over-realized eschatology, of the assumption that more of heaven is present now than really is. I also see it in your refusal to distinguish between the proper spheres of law/works and grace. The common/civil sphere is not a place for “unmerited favor.” Church is where that is found. You haven’t addressed that.

                  You keep alleging that I want Christianity to dominate society but you’ve not shown how that is the case in fact or in logic. Assertion is not an argument.

                  Once more, when pagan, pre-Christian Romans regulated these behaviors, were they guilty of “over-reaching” and making Christianity to “dominate” society?

                  • Dr. Clark,
                    Can’t you understand that people can make statements about the way they think things should be without reference to eschatology. And your analysis rests on the correctness of your own eschatology anyway.

                    Regardless of our eschatology, we are going to be debating the line between the common and the sacred. I am simply going by what I see in the NT. And what I see is that there should be a tolerance for sins against certain moral absolutes that we cannot afford to have in the church. And then once we try to erase some of that tolerance, not only are we confusing the common and the sacred, we create a stumbling blocks to those to whom we would preach the Gospel.

                    With just cause, people have looked at those times in history where the Church has overstepped its bounds. And those times make it tougher to preach the Gospel today. And I am not just referring to Theonomy and Constantinianism, I am referring to what I call Christian paternalism which is less severe than the other two but still overreaches significantly. And those who overreach not only feel justified in what they do, they feel it is their sworn duty.

                    With what you want for recognized for natural law, the Christian view of natural law, regardless of how correct it is, gives some the rational to dominate others in society who both sinfully and honestly see natural law saying something else. And because your view is correct, your side gets to call the shots without concern for what anyone else says. That is dominance. It doesn’t have to be theonomy or constantitianism to be dominance. By justifying laws based on the Christian view of natural law, you think that you are not dominating when you try to get it enforced. But if you actually listened to the different views of what is natural law, you will find disagreement. It matters not that their views are corrupted by sin. It is their view and pretending that they, being unredeemed persons, recognize what you see as natural law blinds you from your attempts to dominate. But it doesn’t blind them.

                    In addition, I see no NT argument for claiming that the magistrates are obligated to enforce all natural law. None. Instead, what I do see is that we are in a state that combines the states of the Jews who wandered through the wilderness waiting to enter the Promised Land with those Jews who were exiled. We are called to live among the heathen rather live in a society that is partially purified by the enforcement of all natural law.

                    If we are going to share society with unbelievers as equals, we can’t afford to dominate. When we try, we are practicing an ethnocracy and we start building stumbling blocks for those who would heard the Gospel without bitterness toward us before.

                    Listen, where we rub each other the wrong way is in the models of thought we use to analyze reality. We both have to remember that our models are fallible and may not explain everybody’s line of thought. For once we think our models do provide such information, we stop listening and start dictating. And, again, dictation is an effort to dominate.

  7. Curt, what do you mean to imply by your last statement, that preaching the gospel is sufficient for the sexual sins practiced by those in our society? Do you mean my sheriff should preach the gospel to my daughter’s assailant instead of applying the law and locking him up, or perhaps leave him alone and hope he comes to church?

    • Zrim,
      Again, what is it that you are comparing? Why do people who want to make same-sex marriage and even all homosexual behavior illegal overstate their case with the comparisons they make? How is same-sex marriage or any homosexual relation more similar to assault than to heterosexual marriage or any heterosexual relation?

      And what is the NT response to those who do not want to repent of sexual immorality?

  8. Rube, not to aid Curt’s law-gospel confusion, but I do wonder about a close tie between societal decency and political legislation. Isn’t possible to have decency without something being outlawed? Wasn’t the close tie what lurked behind Prohibition? Contrariwise, isn’t possible to have all sorts of upright laws but a corrupt society?

    Fornication sticks in my craw, but I’m not so sure outlawing it is the answer. Can laws really make society grow up?

    • Zrim,

      Isn’t there some value to a society expressing its disapproval of a behavior? Are we better off after no-fault divorce and Roe v Wade? Yes, we’re “liberated” but to what socio-cultural end? I’m not speaking about punishments but only prohibitions.

      There are some behaviors that a society, through the magistrate, can regulate. Prohibition was a failure, obviously, and it’s far from obvious that the magistrate has the right to prohibit or even a natural interest in prohibiting the sale of alcohol or tobacco (or Big Gulps) but marriage and sex are not booze and big gulps.

  9. This two-level threading is getting confusing…

    There are sins that the magistrates are responsible for curbing. But, outside of unbelief, there are also sins that the magistrate should not curb less the magistrate become a supplemental disciplinary arm of the Church.

    You keep insisting on this distinction, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but I’ve never seen an argument for why gay marriage falls outside the magistrate’s job, rather than within.

    Go ahead and make that happen. And while you are at it, tell those who have a different religion, if one at all, than yours how what you are doing honors freedom of religion.

    I never said it would be easy, but hey, if a bill appears, I will do my part to make it happen by voting for it. Just like I did with CA prop 8. And I have no problem explaining to people of any religion; I’d guesstimate that 90% of people that self-identify as “religious” would be on my side anyways (vs. posers who claim rather “I’m not ‘religious’, but I’m very ‘spiritual'”)

    New(ish) question for you; was it right/wrong/acceptable/oppressive/etc to have anti-homosexual laws in the past? How about laws that prohibited fornication, or made divorce extremely difficult?

    • RubeRad,
      Let me beat around the bush here. All of those laws that prohibited homosexuality and tried to punish adultery in society WERE WRONG.

      There is no NT justification for it. We are not commanded to clean up Dodge City with a six-shooter full of laws banning certain forms of sex; we are commanded to both preach the Gospel and live among the heathen. This is the NT example we have been given by Jesus and the Apostles.

  10. Curt, my point isn’t to compare sex and violence. It’s about the difference between creation and redemption and how each is normed (the former by law, the latter by gospel). What you seemed to suggest was that the gospel takes care of that which falls under law. I understand and agree that the gospel should be preached liberally to all without exception. But the gospel doesn’t apply to provisional problems. If a merchant rips me off I don’t preach the gospel to him, I take him to court.

    • Zrim,
      Again, it is the comparisons being made. Society must respond to murder as it must respond to theft. But must society respond in the same way and with the same urgency to sexual sins such as adultery or homosexuality? And if not, why do you constantly compare homosexuality with those acts that require an immediate and punitive response?

  11. Scott, yes, there is value to society disapproving illicit behavior. My point is to wonder about the emphasis for doing so through politics and legislation. These certainly have a role to play in society, but I wonder about the assumption that they make society. Families and communities make society. Laws simply reflect what’s going on at that vital level. You can pass whatever laws you want, but if the soul of society is at odds with the letter of the law then it’s all a fairly mechanical and disjointed project. Should homosexuality enjoy the legal sanction of marriage? No. But if society approves of homosexuality at the vital level then what do laws disapproving it really do, other than signal how a minority view has merely managed to gain political power over the majority?

  12. Luther was absolutely wrong in his attitude towards the Jews. And Luther also said that the 10 Commandments as given *by* Moses was Juden Sachsenspiegel (Jewish “civil code”). In other words, the 1st and 2nd tables of the Law do not necessarily have the same ranking of gravity and relevance or applicability in terms of 1st (political) use of the Law outside of the *context* of OT. In so far as the 2nd (theological) use of the Law is concerned, the *preaching* of the 10 Commandments strikes at *Original* Sin at every instance. In so far as the 10 Commandments is applied in the civil realm, the State is limited in its eschatological limits to the boundaries of *civil* righteousness only. Thus, a same sex couple whilst guilty of Original and Actual Sins re the 2nd use of the Law can stay faithful to one another and raise a loving family. Thus, for Luther, whilst the 2nd use of the Law is immutable; the 1st use of the Law changes according to the context-specific concrete conditions and dynamics of society. The distinction between the 1st and 2nd uses of the Law is in itself grounded in the distinction between Law and Gospel. The 2nd use of the Law claims our whole “being” (hence bondage) whereas the 1st use of the Law only claims our “works.”

    Here’s a sermon by Luther on How Christians should regard Moses …

    Thus Christians who are not theonomists and Kuyperians or even Constantinians will always disagree amongst themselves on the 1st use of the Law.

    • Jason,
      Thank you for what you shared. I do want to ask you this, is it necessary to even talk about a Law-Gospel distinction when addressing the first use of the Law since the first use is not necessarily there to lead someone to faith?

  13. Curt, the comparisons are to make a point about how creation is normed (by law). I understand and agree that sex and violence are different phenomena and should be handled differently. But the point is that to the extent that we are discussing civil society, both are normed by creational principles. And so if you agree that theft should be normed by natural or creational principles then why not sex? Both are grounded in creation, not redemption. If we’re talking about civil society then why are you bringing up the gospel?

    You may recall Pat Robertson vying for death rower Karla Faye Tucker’s life just because she converted (I know, more violence comparison, but stick with me). That’s law-gospel confusion. Her soul may have been redeemed but what she did in her body still had to be punished. A pastor who understands the difference won’t be making up special, get-out-of-jail free cards for those who convert. He’ll minister to her soul all the way to the chair.

    • Zrim,
      To address your last point first, Robertson was just engaging moral relativism because of group identity. Pat does say the darndest things at times.

      But for your first point, why must the whole 2nd table of the law be necessary for a civil society? This is a pertinent question when we consider that we have people in society who believe in neither table.

      See, I am not saying that civil law should be devoid of all 2nd table commandments. But since we already know that the last commandment cannot be part of a law that keeps society civil, why must all of the others be included. And should civil law address every transgression of honoring one’s parents especially have a person is an adult? The same goes for adultery. Why must we include adultery as part of the civil law? Do you know how full the jail cells are already? I don’t see the NT justification for you view here. What I see in the NT is the recognition that outside of the Church is a sinful society. And so I see the position supported by most here as an attempt to purge that society rather address how to live in such a society.

  14. Dear Curt,

    You asked if “it is necessary to even talk about a Law-Gospel distinction when addressing the first use of the Law since the first use is not necessarily there to lead someone to faith?”

    Yes, I think it would be helpful since the Law-Gospel distinction ought to give a us new perspective or worldview or vision of the *proper* use of the 1st use of the Law – which is to promote the well-being of the human race in the old creation/ left-hand kingdom. The details on how the 1st use of the Law is to be applied is of course a matter of the discretion of the church as she finds herself in a particular context.

    Our Lord did say that we are “wise as serpents” – not in the sense of Islam with its lying under oath, double-speak, etc. but to be shrewd in our relationship with contemporary society, especially given that the US is becoming less Christian. Here in Malaysia, Christians resent Muslim discrimination and persecution and so we would tend to oscillate between finding common ground and speaking out against injustice. I would personally opine that homosexuality is a strong issue for many Christians, the church should also recognise the relative or penultimate good that comes from offering a stable institution for same-sex couples and the effort to reduce promiscuous life-style and the concomitant destructive results. There is common ground to be had with liberals and humanists over-against religious and ideological extremism, particularly in relation to Islam. Having a secular and plural society is in the interests of all. We know how Islam is very deceptive and cunning and would want to piggy-back on the status of Christianity or by filling in its vacuum in the West. Blasphemy law is a good example.

    • Jason,
      This is my concern about what I think of is the overuse of the Law-Gospel charge. The conflict between the two only occurs when we are discussing our justification before God. That is the only place they conflict. Other than that, we can talk about what promotes the well-being of society and the human race but when we do so, we need to use a variety of sources. For if we use the Sciptures, we should fear that we will run out of wicked people to evangelize unless we are willing to participate in prison ministries.

      Also, with regards to Muslims, we have no grounds for preaching to Muslims unless we are willing to honestly address the travesties visited on Palestinian Muslims in the name of the Judeo-Christian heritage. That is not to say that there are not Muslim injustices practiced on Christians in other parts of the world. But unless we address what is happening in the Occupied Territories with objectivity and using moral absolutes, we will be rightly seen as being interested in our own welfare only. And, btw, Muslims are not the only ones persecuted by the Occupation, so are others including Christians. As one Palestinian Christian told me, she has been actually threaten far more times by Jewish settlers than by Hamas.

      For unless we are willing to say what is just from outside of our own group and tribe, all we are yearning for is for our team to beat the other team. And, my own personal experience with Muslims prevents me from making the generalizations about them that you do. But then again, we are speaking from different sets of experiences.

      • Curt,

        The self-righteousness of the American left is a little galling. The “Palestinians” are pawns of the Islamic middle-eastern powers (who are abusing them in order to weaken Israel) every bit as much as they are victims of Israeli and American policies. The “Palestinian Crisis” is mostly artificial and fueled by intense anti-semitisim on the part of the Islamic powers in the region. Like Jason, I support Israel on geo-political, rather than religious, grounds. I do think we should pay more attention to the suffering of Palestinian Christians but the notion that we cannot preach the law and the gospel to Muslims or to any other group until we’ve satisfied some arbitrary moral standard makes no sense to me.

        I should also like to see/hear your explanation of just what the distinction between law and gospel is.

        Your attempt to sequester it solely to justification suggests that you do not sympathize with the historic Protestant use of the distinction, which was broader than justification.

        • Dr. Clark,
          Will address the Middle East issue now and the law-gospel distinction later.

          There is much blame to go around for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It starts with centuries of anti-Semitism practiced by a Christian Western Civilization. Modern Zionism, which started in the 1800s, was a last resort of European Jews who, even without the Holocaust, became hopeless with regards to feeling at home in the various European countries. So began their venture to an old homeland that was already inhabited. Thus, and this is quite correct, Modern Zionism is both a legitimate effort to find a safe by establishing a homeland and a European invasion of Palestine. The religously conservative indigenous Jews of Palestine tended to reject this Zionism until it was after Holocaust.

          Though when it began, Modern Zionism was not the near monolith that it was today, there were elements, from settlers to founders, who believed that their possession of the land meant the expulsion of the Arabs. And sometimes, these sentiments were hidden. For example, the founder of Political Zionism, in contrast to public statements, wrote in his diary about the expulsion of the Arabs.

          With the beginnings being far more diversified than now, to lay the bulk of the blame at the feet of the Arabs seems disjointed with Modern Zionism’s history. In addition, Muslims are not the only Muslim Palestinians are not the only victims of current Zionism. Christian Palestinians as well as Bedouins are threatened and expelled from their properties.

          My belief is that many Americans give blanket support to Israel in its Zionistic pursuits is partially due to one of identity. With Modern Zionism starting as a European venture, many side with those who are most like them. But such is tribalism

          Every side that has practice violence and oppression against civilians deserve blame for the current state of affairs and thus that blame is both widespread and pervasive.

          The Principle of Universality is the moral that should be used to judge all parties for it roundly condemns all sides.

  15. Curt, yeah, but he was also confusing law and gospel. I get your point about 1 Cor 5, but what you’re not following is that it doesn’t negate the fact that civil society is still normed by natural law and not the supernatural gospel.

    2kers point theos to 1 Cor 5 all the time to say that while the gospel norms the church, both tables structure her sanctification and that the discipline of the church far outweighs any purging of society. I’m not sure how you think those here are about the latter.

    • Zrim,
      But again, whose concept of natural law. Using the Scriptures to help determine and confirm what is natural law, we feel very competent in proclaiming our understanding of it as being absolute. Others differ. If we insist on our defintion, however correct, while dismissing theirs, regardless of how dirivative it is, we are seeking a superio position in society.

      And in fact, there is nothing in Romans 1, or the rest of the Bible, that mandates every precept of natural must be enforced by the magistrate. If we wish to imply that the magistrate is to punish all evil, we are volunteering for jail. If we wish to say that only visible acts be punished, we have backing from the scriptures and thus put an unnecessary stumbling block for those to whom we would preach the Gospel.

      My fear is that some of us, with valid concerns, feel compelled to institute a back-door domination over society. This can be a form of what I call Christian Paternalism. It is paternalism because we are seeking a superior status over others but for “their own good.” And it is Christian because we are using our understanding of the Bible to provide the grounds and guidance.

      I see no justification in the NT for this paternalism. We should note that God does punish the wicked and our job is to warn them but to do so as peers and equals. Are there evil acts that must be restrained by the magistrates? Certainly. But our disagreement here is in deciding which criteria to use. The 2nd table of the law? Natural law? Other criteria? What we are debating here are two things. First, should we reduce the criteria to one or two sources–such as the 2nd table and/or natural law only? Second, must the magistrates enforce every precept of whatever source we choose?

      I see the logical arguments being made for enforcing all of the 2nd table or all natural law, but I don’t see that being justified in the NT.

      Finally, lest I forget a question you raise, I still don’t see why we are talking about confusing law and Gospel when dicsussing what civil law should be. It seems to me that the confusing of law and Gospel only occurs in one context. That context concerns our justification before God.

  16. Let me beat around the bush here. All of those laws that prohibited homosexuality and tried to punish adultery in society WERE WRONG.

    There is no NT justification for it. We are not commanded to clean up Dodge City with a six-shooter full of laws banning certain forms of sex; we are commanded to both preach the Gospel and live among the heathen. This is the NT example we have been given by Jesus and the Apostles.

    Huh? What does Paul say in 1 Cor. 5:1? Does he appeal to even the heathen and their standards in order to shame the Christian congregation to discipline one of their own?

    Could that be because of what Paul says in Rom. 2:14 & 15? That the law is written on the conscience of all men?

    Even further, building on the previous, what does Paul say in Rom. 13 about the magistrate rewarding/enforcing the good? Where does the good come from when manifestly the magistrate was not Christian in either Rome or Palestine at the time? Could it be the natural law written on the conscience?

    (Likewise that time or space does not permit spelling out in detail how laws against adultery or juvenile delinquence are implemented is no real argument per se against the principle.)

    FTM just exactly where do John the Baptist, Christ or Paul ever make resignation from their office and vocation by the tax collectors, soldiers and magistrates they address, synonymous with repentance?

    Yet if freedom of religion is the supposed NT desideratum, as good Christian citizens – never mind heathen – does that mean we are obligated to give the Hindu practice of suttee or satanic voodoo human sacrifice a green light? Because we are not supposed to dictate or dominate? Please.

    We can’t see the forest for the trees. The choices supposedly available are either (unrealistic and pietistic) anabaptism or authoritarian constantinianism, all the while natural law and two kingdom paradigm is pretty much ignored.


    • Bob,
      When you go to around verse 12 & 13 of I Cor 5, he said that his concern is not with the behavior of those outside the church. He said that God will judge them. As for the believer, however, such a person is to be expelled from the Church.

      As for Romans 13, you are going to say that the Magistrate is to punish every transgression from the 2nd table of the law. THat is said by those who are convinced by their righteousness. Such people want to see those who don’t measure up to be punished. But the problem for such people is Romans 2:1. It follows Paul’s comments on God giving up unbelievers to degrading passions and corrupt minds. In Romans 2:1, Paul says that those who judge others condemn themselves for they practice the acts that they condemn others for doing. That means that what Paul wrote about in Romans 1 is personal about us rather than informational about others.

      Of course, it is possible that a thirst for seeing others punished is not the reason why you can’t distinguish the evil that the Magistrates are to control from personal moral failures that they have no business controlling. Those who overuse all-or-nothing thinking have legitimate problems in making distinctions. And we all suffer from that in different areas of our lives especially those who believe in the moral absolutes that God has given in the Bible. We have a difficult time knowing when to turn certain switches on and off.

      Finally, if you read what Jefferson, and possibly Madison, said about how the Viriginia set of laws respected freedom of religion, you will realize that they wanted to make everybody, regardless of their religion, feel at home.

      Think about it, you want Christians to have a dominant role in society and you are eager to see others, who don’t measure up to your standards, punished. What does that say? It that just doesn’t apply to you, it is a trap that lies in wait for all believers.

  17. Curt,

    I agree with you entirely. At the risk of sounding arrogant, what I meant by the importance of the Law-Gospel distinction as the basis for the distinction between the 1st and 2nd uses of the Law is that justification gives us an entire new and fresh understanding of vocation. Justification opens up a new horizon and vista for the Christian on how he/she sees and relates to the world (vocation).

    This is because the Law-Gospel distinction sets the Law in its proper use. That is, the Law is to be used not as a means of spiritual pursuit but for the sake of the neighbour. It’s use is penultimate (for this world), not ultimate (the next world). Thus, the Law in its 2nd use can only kill and accuse and the Law in its 1st use is for the temporal good of society (“the human was not made for Sabbath but the Sabbath for the human”). Of course, I’m advocating a distinctively Lutheran position here – but at very least, our the distinction between the 1st and 2nd uses of the Law ought to be there – in that both have their distinct roles and should not be confused.

    I’m glad that Christians disagree on these issues, including on the issue of Israel and Palestine. We are not robots brainwashed into a certain rigid worldview like Muslims. The danger then is precisely to fall into either *extremes.* There’ll always be disagreements on the (actual) application of the 1st use of the Law amongst Christians. Having said this, I believe strongly that one of the callings of the Church in this day and age in upholding the proper use of the Law should be to speak up against all forms of extremism (political and religious and even economic and social).

    And which is why I agree with you also that Christian extremism regarding Israel (as seen in Fundamentalism, right-wing evangelicalism, Dispensationalism and so on) can be stumbling-block to the evangelisation of Muslims. (I myself support the State of Israel but not on religious grounds – historical and secular, and call for a two-state solution on moral grounds).

  18. Curtis,
    If you could follow the argument and respond to it rather than just pushing your agenda, it would be one thing. But you won’t/can’t.

    For the record as before, are there universal moral standards and what is their source or if you prefer, how does the civil magistrate in Rom. 13 know what the good is – particularly ala the anabaptist take, that they cannot be a Christian?

    And nyet, we is not holding our breaths waiting for a cogent and to the point answer.


    • Bob,
      I have already answered this question. And yet, while avoiding the issues I raise, you want to make it look like I haven’t provide a clear answer. At the same time, you wish to mix a little insult with repetition. So as I think of the fruit of the Spirit, I am wondering if abiding in doctrine is equivalent to walking by the Spirit.

  19. Curt, I haven’t been saying that “every precept of natural must be enforced by the magistrate.” In fact, it sounds like you may have missed my point to RSC above that I seriously wonder about the implications that politics and legislation are the hinge and cornerstone of society, which is to say, among other things, it may well be that the magistrate allows homosexuality the sanction of marriage. All that means is that the magistrate is getting natural law wrong. It happens. The real concern should be what is happening at the level where society is born and nurtured, not at the level that it is merely reflected politically.

    What I’ve been saying is that civil society (which is much more expansive than politics and legislation) is normed by natural law or general revelation or creational norms, etc. I do appreciate your concern about latent dominionism, but I think you’ve got your target wrong here. The point being made by this side of the table is that there are creational norms that are inherent to all civil society, including that which happens at the level of politics and legislation. By saying so isn’t the same as “seeking a superior status over others, proclaiming our understanding of it as being absolute,” etc. I wonder when you admit that “there are certainly evil acts that must be restrained by the magistrates” why whatever it is you have in mind here isn’t just as vulnerable to your accusations of trying to unduly lord it over others. Maybe you’re saying the evil act of stealing from others should be restrained by the magistrate, so why isn’t that an example of latent Christian dominionism, etc.?

    You also say, “I still don’t see why we are talking about confusing law and Gospel when discussing what civil law should be. It seems to me that the confusing of law and Gospel only occurs in one context. That context concerns our justification before God.”
    That is but one context, the soteriological. But the LGD is a principle, in which case it has application to various categories, e.g. sacramental and doxological. It also has application to the ecclesiastical, which by its very nature implies something about the non-ecclesiastical (i.e. the sacred and the secular, the church and the world, this age and the age to come). The gospel norms the former, the law the latter. That is the whole point here. It’s got nothing to do with lording things over others. Until you grasp that, you haven’t grasped this entire conversation.

  20. Come on, Curt. Don’t be ridiculous/get so self righteous. Where have you clarified where the magistrate gets his sense of the good and why the natural law paradigm is wrong rather than merely asserting you have done so?

    From where we sit we see a lot of talk about the NT, but nothing about the implications of Rom. 13 nor any kind of rebuttal of the example of John the Baptist, Christ or Paul when dealing with tax collectors, soldiers or magistrates all the while you continue to assert pietism as being biblical and cop to “I’ve been insulted”.

    You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but on our part once again we have not been too impressed with the subjective anabaptist dialectic/assertions.

    It beats the plugs for socialism, but then again, the anabaptists were socialist, oh never mind . . .

    • Bob,
      You have an accusatory way of writing to me. That is what I am pointing out. We are not here to participate in a debating contest to see which is the best team. We are here to try to hash out some differences. And making subtle accusations is not the best way to hash out differences.

      In addition, all I have said is that there should be additional filters added to what we see in natural law before determining what should be law. And this is due, in part, to the fact that we participate with nonChristians in determining what laws should be. And when we appeal to natural law, just as when we appeal to the witness that nature provides regarding what can be know about God, we are appealing to different standards. Thus, insisting on our understanding of natural law over theirs is to place ourselves at a more privileged place in society over them. It is a way to dominate over rather than work with. And, despite Paul’s descriptions of homosexuality, I see no encouragement from the NT to do that. Of course, there is a limited context in the NT where that could have been done back then. But despite that, the whole tenor of the NT points us in the direction of protecting and serving rather than taking dominion. And we must realize that the NT recognizes the sinfulness that can exist in society.

      Finally, I have not read anabaptist writings concerning all of this. But if you are going to take this superior than thou attitude toward the anabaptists, then there are other issues besides who is technically correct. Btw, there are several kinds of socialists and the ones I read tend to be atheists. So you might be dealing with arguments besides what the anabaptists brought up.

      In addition, we eventually have to answer the Left’s charge against the Church. That charge says that the Church acts as just another institution of indoctrination for the maintenance of the status quo. And to the degree to which that is true, is the degree where we might be serving mammon rather than God unawares. That includes all of us. It is worth considering.

      • Curt,

        Here’s an Example of your over-realized eschatology. The atheist left, to which you seem to be intellectually indebted, and the Anabaptist ideas by which you have been apparently unwittingly influenced, share in common a kind of utopianism.

        It was against certain Anabaptist groups that the Second Helvetic Confession denounced the idea of an earthly glory age and the atheist left, which I read decades ago, also looks forward to a kind of utopian glory age on the earth.

        Defenders of the status quo? Well, yes and no. It’s true that the Reformed have always advocated for order in society, as distinct from anarchists such as the Occupy groups and long before them the Anabaptists who overran Münster in the 1530s. But there are important ways in which Reformed social theory of various kinds has been considered radical. That was certainly the case in the 16th and 17th centuries as the reforms advocated the theory of resistance against tyrants. In the English Civil War the Presbyterians were perhaps the most radical of the groups represented at the Westminster assembly. There were Presbyterians involved in the American Revolution as well. With the advent of secularism, it is true that the Reformed have not often allied themselves with the Marxists or other revolutionaries but that resistance to revolution is well grounded in nature and in Scripture, Which is hardly a contract for revolutionaries. On this see 1 Peter.

        • Dr Clark,
          Nobody whom I consistently read is looking for utopia. In fact, all of them deny its existence. But they are looking for improvement. That is not to say that there aren’t people on the left who are looking for utopia. It just doesn’t include anyone I read regularly. At what point does looking for improvement become looking for utopia?

          Thank you for addressing the question regarding the Church being an institution of indoctrination. I am not as concerned about the Reformers then as I am about those who follow in the Reformed tradition today. I don’t expect to see the majority of people in my domination, the OPC, be at an Occupy Wall Street protest or encampment. But as my conversation with two Christian counterprotesters went on May Day, there are shared areas of concern that the Left and Right can have over the current Liberal administration. And I was wondering if those in the Reformed Churches would finally publicly speak against wealth and power, in their own distinct and noticeable ways.

          • Curt,

            If national Israel was a temporary state, as Reformed theology says it is, then on what basis would Reformed ministers, following the biblical pattern “speak against wealth and power”? Why are “wealth and power” evil? Who says? Where? Why isn’t this an example of rationalism and ungodly radicalism?

            • Dr Clark,
              Are wealth and power inherantly evil? No. But when we look at history to see how people achieved and then used wealth and power, almost without exception, people achieved wealth and power by exploitation and/or oppression. And that is what we must challenge from both parts of God’s two kingdoms.

              • Our Lord did warn of the dangers of wealth but there is no commandment against accumulating wealth but there is an explicit commandment against coveting. A good number of some of more important and pious figures in Scripture were quite wealthy (and some quite poor!).

                FWIW, it was reflecting on the 10th commandment and its implications that drove me away from the political/social left as it is motivated by envy—”Those people have too much!”

                • Dr. Clark,
                  I don’t call wanting the necessities for life envy. That is espeically true when the means to earn those necessities are made more difficult by the greed of those who have more than enough already. In fact, if you want a partial listing of what the Left is opposing, you can read The Declaraion of the Occupation Of New York City.

                  As for accumulating wealth, again the issue is how it is done. And the question is will the Reformed Churches challenge those who have relied on exploitation to accumulate that wealth?

  21. “In addition, all I have said is that there should be additional filters added to what we see in natural law before determining what should be law. And this is due, in part, to the fact that we participate with nonChristians in determining what laws should be. And when we appeal to natural law, just as when we appeal to the witness that nature provides regarding what can be know about God, we are appealing to different standards. Thus, insisting on our understanding of natural law over theirs is to place ourselves at a more privileged place in society over them.”

    I agree with Curt with here. I’m afraid Christians cannot claim a privileged epistemological access or even moral precedence when it comes to the 1st use of the Law. This is where reason, instead of being whore (to quote Luther), is at its glorious. We can only distinguish ourselves from non-Christians on the basis of the Gospel alone (sola fide) which is given expression in proclamation of the Word and Sacraments (sola Scriptura).

  22. I believe that despite strongly held views by individual Christians, the Church should be pesky to both the political/ ideological left and right (“a plague on both your houses”). Both sides have their polar extremes. And somewhere in between both sides have their relevant and good points. But extreme positions adopted by Christians should be the exception rather than the norm. I think this is the main reason (i.e. “desperate times call for desperate measures”) why there is much diversity in the way Christians have responded to exigencies of the time.

    As Dr Clark points out, there were Presbyterians who had their theory of resistance (e.g. Rutherford’s Lex Rex) and as did Lutheran Orthodoxy (in the Magdeburg confession) whereas Anglicanism produced the Non-Jurors (passive resistance). Christians have therefore responded multi-dimensionally according to their various understanding of the concrete situation or context that they were in/ confronted with.

    Luther understood the 2 tables of the Law in a dialectical fashion in the same way as the two uses of the Law corresponding also to the two righteousness and two kingdoms. The separation of Church and State would violate the 1st-4th (Reformed)/ 1st-3rd (Lutheran) commandments; the State breaks the 5th (Lutheran)/ 6th (Reformed) commandment by implementation of capital punishment; the State breaks the 7th/ 8th commandment with taxation and military draft. And according to Luther even the commandments not to covet the neighbour’s wife and property “make sense” only in the context-specific situation of OT Israel. Of course, even the commandment to obey and honour the parents is qualified by the greater importance of the 1st & 2nd commandments (or 1st for Lutherans).

    And Luther had this to say about legalism in preaching in relation to the commandment on the Sabbath which is ultimately about resting by way of faith alone in the Word of God. Thus it is that the legalistic preacher is even a bigger Sabbath breaker in confusing Law and Gospel with deleterious effect on the congregation’s spirituality and perhaps salvation. This is since we learn from Jesus Himself that external obedience to Law is never enough. This is why faith alone “fulfills” the Law. And hence, this is why the church is to preach equally against lust (moral sin) as well greed (social sin).

    • Jason,
      Loyalty to any group has the potential of making that group a master that competes for our loyalties to God. The more attached we are to a group, the more we must be willing to stand outside that group and become a critic as well. This can even apply to the different theological schools of thought within Christianity.

      Haven’t read Luther in depth for a while though I have his Bondage Of The Will amongst my books that I keep in my top collection. I find his argument of either all of man is lost or only the least significant part of man is lost to be the most powerful argument for the sovereignty of God over the free will of man. And I agree with his point on the Sabbath.

      But with all of the Reformed heros, we must be free to criticize the faults. And all of them have serious faults just as we are all vulnerable to.

      Finally, the real test of resistance isn’t found when we feel oppressed ourselves–such as being ordered to break God’s law. The real test of resitance is found when stand with others who are oppressed or neglected. This is a point that is not addressed enough in VanDrunen’s book, Living In God’s Two Kingdoms.

  23. Dear Curt,

    We seem to be kindred spirits. Although I recognise, appreciate and respect fully (and am even encouraged continually by) the strong views on the other side.

    As you rightly put, utopian vision is dangerous and a form of fanaticism whether left or right. As Christians, we are to walk by faith, not sight. So, contrary to Kuyperians, we perceive the lordship of Jesus in the old creation by faith, not sight. He rules the left-hand kingdom differently than the right-hand kingdom. Thus progress is conceived differently between the two kingdoms. The proclamation of the Gospel in Word and Sacraments mark the progress of the kingdom of God in its eschatological totality whereas progress here and now is measured in terms of here and there … step-by-step.

    • Jason,
      I agree, we are kindred spirits.

      BTW, while most Americans understandably associate socialism with authoritarian rule, there are socialists who reject this association as even being socialism. To these socialists, socialism is first about extending democracy to not just the running of the government but to businesses as well. Or, we could cite Eugene Debs when he said that socialism is about making resources that are needed by all to be owned and democratically run by all.

      To extend democracy is certainly not a guarantee to success. But there is an advantage to extending democracy and creating a more participatory democracy in the public sector. That advantage is that power is dispersed rather than consolidated. This can minimize, rather than maximize, the harm that sinful desires can accomplish.

      While the Reformers cited the need for elite-centered gov’t to be the sinfulness of the people, there seems to be little awareness of the harm that consolidating power can come even, or especially, when the “righteous” are in power. For even the worst leaders in history have always camoflaged their atrocities with good intentions and ideals. For example, WWII Germans were told that the Nazi invasions of Eastern Europe was a fight for freedom and the elimination plutocracy. During WWII, the Japanese people were told that their empire was fighting to cleanse East Asia from Western corruption and exploitation of the region. Their accusations were all too often more correct than not.

      What history has told us that whatever the label, consolidated wealth and power leads to a greater ability to carry out sin-driven atrocities.

      • I don’t know how old everyone here is but I read Abbie Hoffman before I read Jesus. I was on the fringes of “community radio” in its very early days in my hometown. What was supposed to be a “democratic” enterprise, like a 1000 communes before, turned into a petty tyranny. Anyone who remembers the democratic coop businesses of the late 60s and early 70s can testify to the same phenomenon. See Forest Gump.

        Even the Greeks understood that radical democracy is as tyrannical as plutocracy/aristocracy. The French Revolution turned into a blood bath for a reason. Mob rule is just as terrifying as the tyranny of one.

        That’s why we have a republican form of government—checks and balances.

        What I want is to be left alone; especially by those visionaries with grand plans for my life.

        When it comes to civil life, in the words of Clint Eastwood, “Get off my lawn.”

  24. Curt,

    And just when is the Left going to answer God’s charges against it?
    Oh, that’s right. The Left doesn’t believe in God and therefore doesn’t have to answer.
    Uh, huh.

    That’s why your assertions and accusations – yes, that is what they are – don’t gain too much ground here. Which shouldn’t be any cause for wonder or amazement. The bigger issue is subsumed in essentially being patronized and propagandized by the talking points from Occupy, Democracy Now and the Huffington Post.

    IOW this is not a touchy feely evangelical site. Dissent is allowed, if not even expected – that’s life and the P&R churches are hardly that healthy. But when you have generally misconstrued my remarks in your replies, much more can’t even correctly articulate the position espoused in the original post and ensuing discussion, how can you reasonably assume your criticisms should be taken seriously?

    FTM what you – or if you prefer, the socialists – don’t understand is one, we don’t have a free market per se so a lot of the inequities are really the fruit of our fascist “crony capitalist” system or govt. by collusion with corporations and cartels if not bureaucratic regulation. As opposed to out right govt. ownership of the means of production i.e communism. But either way both fascism and communism are socialist.

    Further as mentioned previously, the eighth commandment assumes the lawfulness of private property. End of story. Any kind of communitarian sharing of goods that is not voluntary is unlawful, never mind that enforced by the state. Capitalism on the other hand, while it can be abused, is not ipso facto right out of the starting gate contrary to the law of God. Yet another distinction I don’t see you acknowledging, whatever the atheist Left.

    Same goes for freedom of religion. Jefferson and Madison notwithstanding, FoR doesn’t include honor killings, genital mutilation, suttee, thugism or voodoo. Or does it?
    Neither do we seem to be able to distinguish between sin and crime or degrees of sin and crime and consequently the red herring of a level continuum between juvenile delinquency, fornication, adultery, (incest), homosexual marriage and murder is seen as a defeater to any kind of argument for civil moral absolutes.

    Now you may have backed off that in your latest, but it is hard to tell since your responses seem to be largely ad hoc and you yourself admit you are not really that up on anabaptist history.

    IOW if you really want give and take, just maybe you’ve come to the right place.

    On the other hand, if we can’t stand the heat, we stays out of the kitchen.

    Thank you.

    • Bob,
      Didn’t OT laws allow honor killings? And weren’t leaders like Joshua told to wipe out whole populations, including the children? And do you want to go through the history of Christianity to see how many people were murdered, even by people like the Puritans?

      It was Romans 2:1 says, those who judge are without defense because they practice what they judge others for doing. You go through history and you will find failings with followers of each religion. Nobody is in the position to claim superiority. Even now, while you have Jewish Settlers and individual Muslims who either abuse or even murder others, we, in the civilized Christian West do our violence through proxies who wear uniforms with flags on them.

      And no, I have not misconstrued your remarks. Your remarks are on this site where anybody can read them. Your tone is forever antongistic and assumes a superior tone. It is unfortunate that you cannot discuss differences as an equal.

      Finally, you do know and understand the stereotypical image of “socialism” which follows an elite-centered gov’t model. What you seem to lack is an understanding of a bottom up socialism, which is practiced by some individual businesses in this country and out. So if you want to talk about socialism, please let me know which form you want to discuss. The same goes for Capitalism. There are differents of both.

      And, since when is it Christian to embrace what you call heat, which is nothing more than antogonism.

  25. Curtis,

    In your latest you tell me you haven’t misconstrued my remarks after you open by asking about OT honor killings and God’s command to Joshua to wipe out the Caananites (No mention conveniently that that was because their cup of iniquity had become full. God can and did hold the heathen to some kind of standard of accountability.)
    As in what’s the connection with the current examples from Islam or Hindu re. freedom of religion from my comments?

    Isn’t the whole point of the original post on the revision of the Belgic Confession regarding the civil magistrate the rejection of the constantinianism of the original Reformed document? The civil magistrate no longer upholds the true religion per se as in the OT?
    Or are you trying to say something like the OT God was unjust?

    You want to come on here as an equal, but you can’t/don’t acknowledge the implications or history of your position, you can’t give us the reformed take, – if not that you misconstrue it by dragging in OT examples – all religions are equal etc. Need one say more?

    Yeah, I know. That’s antagonistic, unloving, hateful etc.
    But your position is not confused and contradictory?

    You’re welcome to your opinion.
    Have a nice Labor Day.

    • Bob,
      If you want to pigeonhole everything, you have every right to and you can expect to make mistakes. Just as every religion has its questionable time periods and practices, so does every school within each religion. What does that tell us? Not to judge. Those who insist on judging either deny their own weaknesses or don’t care.

      In addition, you want to sit here and talk as a superior down to other movements within Christianity, you have the right to. But the Bible warns us not to. Whether it is from the parable of the 2 men praying or Paul’s statements on judging or Peter’s statements to put away malice, or what other passages there are in the NT, if you want to make yourself as the judge of all of them, you are free to do so. Is it right for any Christian to do that?

      There are 3 different parts of the same continuum where Christians seek to exercise too much control over society. Theonomy and Constantinianism are two such places. The third, what I call Christian Peternalism but the concept is the issue rather than the name, is where Christian who are neither theonomists nor Constantinian who still seek a dominant role over the rest of society. They might be employing the 2nd table and/or natural law as their basis, they feel, because of their theological correctness, that they have the right to insist on their laws over society regardless of what others say and they claim that they are exercising this control for the benefit of others or all of society.

      The issue of Christian Paternalism has been a crux of disagtreement between myself and some others here. And this is especially an issue when nonbelievers can point with horror to those times where Christians, exercising too much control, abused and oppressed others.

      Of course, this is besides the issue of the attitude that some Chritians exhibit when promoting this kind of control. When such Christians act as if they have everything to teach and nothing to learn from those in other groups, they provide stumbling blocks to those listening to the Gospel (see The Christian Attitude That Speaks Louder Than Words).

      Do Calvin, Luther, the Westminster Divines and other Reformers have much to teach us today? Certainly. But would all of these reformers have much to learn from Gandhi, King, Abernathy, Bonhoeffer, Helen Keller, and others from the 20th and 21st centuries? Definitely. Those who ignore the past share in the same fault that those who glorify the past. That is they put their favorite time period on too high a pedastal and thus, in a different way, return the wrong person in Jesus’s parable of the two men praying.

      Though the past can certainly provide warnings, it isn’t there so we can pigeonhole everybody with whom we disagree.

  26. “While the Reformers cited the need for elite-centered gov’t to be the sinfulness of the people, there seems to be little awareness of the harm that consolidating power can come even, or especially, when the “righteous” are in power.”

    Dear Curt,

    Yes, I find it rather intriguing that oft-times some Reformed folks are a tad inconsistent when it comes to the doctrine of total depravity (re politics and sex in marriage to name just two). I mean where do we find the righteous power, ever even in the OT? Unless, we are talking about righteousness apart from the Law, that is, which comes by faith alone. But the human kind of righteousness – as you say, we Christians have our own faults too – no different from the non-Christians (although I’d support so-called Christendom anytime but then again the liberal democracy associated with much of Christendom today is secular and Christendom isn’t really even Christian. Furthermore, there is much common cause to be with non-Christian societies – for betterment and improvement of the global society – isn’t this what serving the neighbour is all about too?).

    Agree with you – politics is always messy, full of contradictions, full of grey areas – I mean isn’t this a result of sin (Original Sin)?

    Again, your point about the use of politics for self-legitimation (whether Christian or not) is demonic, unbelief. Politics then is not to be used to justify or promote “Christian” Law as a prelude or introduction to the Gospel – for then the 2nd use of the Law and Gospel would either be conceived in epochal (historical) or political terms thus making Christianity an ideology like Islam – a very human thing. Thus, instead of a theology of the cross where the kingdom of heaven is hidden in the form of opposite and thus accessible and discernible only by faith, we have, as usual, as theology of glory in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus that “My kingdom is not of this world.”

  27. Bob,

    There is no such thing as Christian Law, only Law (after all the 10 Commandments were simply the republication of natural law which is “written in the hearts” of all humans). As such cooperation rather than conflict should be desired approach by Christians as citizens of the old creation. Thus, Christians do not have any legitimacy to impose their own standards on non-Christians. Don’t you believe in “common grace”?

    But do Christians have a better understanding of natural law? The answer not quite. No. We Christians may think we are better at interpreting natural law since we have the infallible Scripture to teach us but the fact of the matter is there is not even “agreement or consensus amongst Christians on even moral issues such as divorce and remarriage since the early church. What about family planning and contraception? How about slavery? The 9th commandment seemed to legitimise women as chattel; and the 10th commandment speaks of servants property.

    A precise and clear-cut and literal-wooden application of natural law is also impossible. What about wages? “Minimum” wage? “Living” wage? Does natural law prefer or privilege employers over employees? Married couples over singles? Wouldn’t such a legalistic requirement finally require in itself technical expertise – legal, economic, political, bureaucratic(!) that Christians do not have a monopolistic claim on? Wouldn’t such approach to natural law finally lead to the kind of State that is usually associated with top-down, centralised planning socialism (which Hayek called as the road to serfdom)?

    Capitalism – it’s interesting because the late John Robbins had his own version, Mises had his and Rothbard (the American Mises) had another. Pornography would be illegal in one form but allowed to flourished in another (which could easily be justified or justifiable on a host of moral grounds). And does laissez faire capitalism exist in reality? Can it even exist in the first place? What about the Lauderdale Paradox? Here it is postulated that there is an inverse correlation between public wealth and private riches such that an increase in the latter often served to diminish the former. Paradox of thrift? Since economics is a study of human behaviour, life is full of paradoxes, isn’t it? Isn’t capitalism (and not just socialism) in practice inherently paradoxical, therefore? Isn’t collective self-interest (without restraint) collectively self-destructive (rather than promoting the common good, especially if the logic is pushed to its logical end? Or capitalism by its very nature is inimical to economic and social equality – so how does the free market promote the common good by itself without at the very least some cooperation or synergy with the State?

    Crony capitalism exist because total depravity. Or are we saying that if only there were authentic free markets, then crony capitalism would not exist. Are you saying that the market is free from total depravity? Isn’t self-interest tainted with and motivated by Original Sin? So can the free market be truly free as in totally unregulated? What about business licensing? What about the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)?

    On the genocide of the Canaanites by Joshua, are you saying that this is a universal principle, at least as a moral example of what happens to the heathen because their “cup of iniquity had become full”? Then why the Great Commission? Evangelism? What about Jonah and Nineveh? Joshua’s conflict with the Canaanites was not a pure religious mission – how could it be when the invasion was grounded in a specific promise made by Yahweh to the Israelites as a covenant people where religion, ethnicity, socio-cultural values, politics were all bound up together as codified in the Mosaic Law. How does it apply to Christians today? John 1 says that the law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. So what kind of religious or theological import do we as Christians derive from that example? Or isn’t it the case that clearly such a situation is no longer relevant not to mention applicable and thus teaching us about the limits to the divine commands? After all, it goes without asking that the Sabbath observance commandment (originally) pertained to Saturday, was it not? Can we separate this or isolate this commandment from the rest? Obviously not. So what we can do is to interpret – and interpret according to our very own situation.

    That being the case, how can we adopt the spirit and letter of the OT when as Christians we should be thinking and behaving like Christians? Thus there are limits and limitations to Constantinianism, Erastianism, and even any de divino form of civil magistracy and what form of Christianity as state religion or dominant force in society.

    Jesus Himself ate with prostitutes, publicans and other outcastes of society who were considered not only socially undesirable but morally degraded as well. Where is Jesus call for the prohibition of prostitution? For the imposition and promotion of Mosaic Law? What? Did Jesus advocated the stoning of the adulteress?

    Was the Sermon on the Mount a political/ ideological programme of some sort? Or was the 2nd use of the Gospel, i.e. the 1st use of the Law by the Christian as private (in contradistinction from public) citizens?

    Christians need to have “more faith” in the Word of God as He is Hidden in both the proclamation of the Gospel as well as in the other estates of life – state and society.

  28. (Warning more antagonism below)

    With apologies to Sam. Johnson, charges of ad hom are the last refuge of scoundrels who are antagonistic to Scripture, reason and history.

    IOW now thanks to the internet we can go back in time and see certain people attempt to float the proposition that the salient characteristic to the age old from time immemorial pre-political institution of marriage is stability. Sex or gender has nothing to do with it.

    Then there’s the evasion of 1 Cor.5:1 in which Paul bye the bye as it were, tells us that the heathen (horror of horrors) judge incest as beyond the pale in exhorting the Christian congregation to judge discipline/reprove the sin in their midst. And this in a city given over to pagan sexual idolatry and debauchery of all things; where to “corinthianize” was synonymous with the same.

    But if incest is verboten for the pagans, what of homosexual”marriage”? Could that be even worse?
    Nah, all sins are equal, ya can’t judge blah blah blah.
    Ya particularly can’t judge if you are a Christian because that would be pharaisaical even if heathens can and do all the time etc. etc.

    Meanwhile we are told to make a right judgement Jn. 7:24, judge according to Scripture Matt.7:2 if not Lk.12:57: ” Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?”

    A minor antagonism would be that dollars to doughnuts, the money behind Occupy Now (Geo. Soros?) is not all about promoting the kind of from the bottom up socialism you espouse.

    Oh yeah. Pigeonholing. See above on judgement. Or rightly dividing the word 2 Tim. 2:15.
    As per Rom. 1&2, yes, all sin is damnable, but some some sins are more egregious/heinous than others SC 83, LC 151, Ezek. 8:6,13,15

    Bad company can ruin one’s judgement. As in I can see you have been hanging out with Curt. But as above, we are not talking about Christian Law or the Sermon on the Mount. The discussion is about the natural law and what Scripture tells us about it vis a vis the magistrate.

    But Bub Ess has got to go now and practice up being a judgemental pharisee.


  29. Hello Bob,

    There is no such thing as Christian Law or even Christian ethics – in that there is nothing unique about the 10 Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. What is unique is that Jesus Christ alone is the embodiment of both. As it is, your approach to the relationship between the natural law and the magistrate is simply impracticable, unnecessary, undesirable and unwarranted (from Scripture itself). You brought up the issue of incest. History shows this practice is limited to royalty (Egypt, Thailand) which in turn is tied to a hyper-socio-economic view of marriage, i.e. exaggerated understanding of the “original” role or function of marriage in society as preserving social status and with it the concomitant privileges and property.

    What about bigamy? Did not God “tolerate” bigamy in the OT? What about underage marriage? Wasn’t marriage between an old man and teenager (pubescent) common in those days (in the OT society)? And isn’t both these practices considered as “unnatural” in the contemporary Judeo-Christian society?

    So we even society’s attitude changes is the sovereign Lord working simultaneously in both kingdoms towards the goal of consummation. The God-Man wields and exercises His power simultaneously at all times and in all place re both kingdoms. Even revivalists err in thinking that before the church can progress there must some change in society first or that the church must change first so that society can progress. Not true, both kingdoms are ruled with equal intensity simultaneously but in different ways. Only faith alone discern this. Maybe be this is why Our Lord asked the enigmatic question “whether He will find faith on earth when He returns”? (Luke 18:8).

    • Jason,

      No such thing as Christian ethics? That’s over the top. It’s contrary to 2,000 years of Christian teaching. It’s mot Reformation teaching.

      Slow your roll a bit.

  30. Dr Clark,

    As a Lutheran, I prefer to see the Sermon on the Mount as simply the amplification (and intensification) of the 10 Commandments as natural law. I mean there is nothing distinctively or specifically Christian or evangelical about the evangelical counsels as non-Christians can agree with most if not all of these – if and when the Sermon on the Mount function as Law, i.e. as a guide for Christians in this old creation. Non-Christians share virtually the same values of the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. Buddhism and Hinduism). This is why figures such as Gandhi can speak so effusively of Jesus in the context of the Sermon on the Mount.

    It’s only when the Christic sayings function as Gospel, i.e. they point to Jesus Christ alone as the embodiment of the truths of His own words that apply only to Christians since they alone fulfill the Sermon on the Mount by faith alone. Then faith contradicts non-Christian free-will and potentiality and morality.

  31. Yikes! I step away for one long weekend, and look what a mess you kids have made!

    I can’t even spend the time to read all of this, much less engage. So with one final potshot across the bow, I will bow out. (Sorry for stirring the pot RSC, how’s your blood pressure?)

    Curt: When you go to around verse 12 & 13 of I Cor 5, he said that his concern is not with the behavior of those outside the church.

    BUT, v1 he shames the church for being in the wrong, compared to the world, which got it right, when it comes to this egregious sexual sin.

  32. “BUT, v1 he shames the church for being in the wrong, compared to the world, which got it right, when it comes to this egregious sexual sin.”

    Dunno RR, but I think it’s called Christian Paternalism to even bring this up.

  33. I think this article is great. This is a very important topic that needs much more attention given to it. I have rarely heard this topic addressed in sermons. I have listen to a wide range of sermons on “Romans 13” from a variety of “reformed” denominations, and I have always disappointed. This article was very helpful and informative. I have a lot faith in Dr. Clark and know people that speak highly of him (He is far more knowledgeable then me on theology). I think you are awesome Dr. Clark. I appreciate much of the historical facts (even though it is a little embarrassing to hear this—pro-Constantinan) about our reformed heritage).

    That being said, I do not fully agree with you, especially in your comments.
    I do not believe the government (men) have a right to enforce the 1st table of the law through force. I also do not believe the government (men) have the right to enforce all of the 2nd table of the law. There are only portions of the 2nd table of the law that can be enforce through violent means (government).

    The government (men) may enforce (violent meansthat is not initiated) only the parts when men have initiated aggression against other men. This would involve theft, rape, murder, fraudulent contracts (which could possibly involve marriage depending on how it was entered into).
    I personally agree with most of what Rev. David Engelsma writes here: He seems to have a more consistent view; although, he fails when he doesn’t support the American Revolution.

    Only those who have actually committed aggression (coerced another person) should be brought to justice by the government (men). This would rule out parts of the 2nd table. For example, “do not covet” as Engelsma points out.

    I agree with some of the previous posters comments. The state (men) has no business in marriage (it actually only has recently in American history). The religious right went to the state to “protect” marriage. I personally believe it is the exact reason we have the state now forcing a different definitions on others. Use the state to force you values on other is not a good idea (there is lots of empirical evidence to support this fact). I personally think it is always immoral to use aggression on people acting peacefully. Besides that point, I do not think it worked out for the religious right.

    What two consenting people do is their business (and God’s). We can witness to them; however, we should never use politics to force our values on them. I am not willing to throw my neighbor in prison for committing peaceful acts that cause me no harm, and I am also not willing to vote that rights to politicians.

    The only exception would be the fact that marriage is an actual contract (if entered into it as such), thus there still could justifiably be some justice administered by the government. It is a matter of contract law. The morality of it ought not to be confused with the legality. It is wrong morally; however, it ought not to be illegal. We should live peacefully with our neighbors as far as possible, and advocating politicians throw them in prison for (homosexual acts, pornography, drug use) is not consistent with this (unless they were trespassing when they did this). If they have actually not hurt your person or property, then I think we should act as non-interventionists and leave them be.

    A better strategy may actually be to pray for them and live your life as a role model. It wouldn’t hurt if pastor also gave better sermons on Romans 13.

    Dr. Clark I really enjoyed this article. I may even like your article about guarding the Lords table even more! Thanks for all your work.

    ps. I was wondering if you have ever heard of Leonard Verduin?

    In Christ,


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