The Abiding Validity of the Creational Law in Exhaustive Detail

A correspondent to the HB writes:

People can gloss over the term all they want, but secularism is still what it is, a rival religion and ethos to Christianity. The real divide between the FV and anti-FV crowd began with Van Til (maybe even Kyuper), which is to say it has more to do with epistemology than theology. The FV folks reject the idea that anything in this world can be “ethically neutral,” and see any attempt to leave Christ out of something as treason against his kingship. The anti-FV folks think otherwise.

I’ll treat these claims as implied questions because they give me an opportunity to address some significant questions.

For several decades the word “secular,” has been treated as a pejorative, as an equivalent to “unbelieving,” or “hostile to Christianity.” The word has become so notorious, in some circles anyway, that there have been episodes of conspiracy theorist-fundamentalist hysteria over the use of the Latin phrase, “novus ordo seculorum” (new order of the ages) which appears on the Great Seal of the United States and on the dollar bill.

There’s nothing inherently evil about the word “secular.” It’s simply Latin (saeculum) for the Greek word (αιων/aion) that Paul used repeated for “ages” as in Ephesians 2:7. It refers to an epoch of history. Paul’s usage is significant. As he used it “secular” doesn’t signify “opposed to Christ and his kingdom,” or even epistemologically “neutral.” It signifies “this age,” i.e., the place we occupy in redemptive history. It refers to the penultimate rather than the ultimate or final state.

We live in the penultimate age, the time in between the accomplishment of redemption by Christ and its consummation. This isn’t the final state (heaven or glory). The act of distinguishing between this age and the age to come has a pretty good pedigree (Matt 12:32; Eph 1:21).

The question is, given that we live in “this age,” and not in the “age to come,” (though, Christians participate in the age to come by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; Phil 3:20) how shall we live? Implied in the biblical doctrine of two ages is a distinction between the civil and spiritual kingdoms or spheres. Paul functioned in both but distinctly. A “secular” approach to civil government does not confuse the two kingdoms or spheres, it recognizes that the national covenant ended with the fulfillment and abrogation of the 613 Mosaic laws. After all, one searches the New Testament in vain for evidence that the apostles sought to establish a state church or a civil government on the basis of special revelation.

We know that the spiritual kingdom must be ordered according to special revelation (Scripture), but the question remains, on what basis shall we make civil decisions? Historically, the attempt to make them primarily on the basis of special revelation led to a mistaken renewal of the Mosaic civil state. Emerging from the Thirty-Years War (1618–48) the west began to look for alternatives. The American republic, established as a “new order for the ages,” provided an opportunity to establish a civil government on the basis of general or natural or creational revelation.

This last point is particularly important. I have often been impressed by the theonomic polemic against natural law. I am impressed by the (at least formal) similarity between the theonomic rejection of natural law and the Barthian rejection of natural or creational law. For folk who (presumably) reject Barth on so many other fronts, why would they effectively embrace his view of natural revelation? Why do so many of them embrace his view of the covenant of works? The Westminster Divines didn’t have problem affirming the existence of both natural law and the covenant of works.

In Westminster Confession of Faith 19.1 we confess:

God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it

This is the second time the confession mentions the covenant of works, by the way. If repetition means anything, it does suggest that this is a fundamental idea in the Reformed confession.

19.2 says:

This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.

We confess that “this law continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness….” What is the antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun? It’s the law that was given in creation. The creational law, the natural law, the covenant of works, continues to be in force in two tables.

God elaborated this law during the Israelite national covenant by giving civil and ceremonial laws which he abrogated in the death of Christ. He also gave civil law to Israel. What happened to them?

To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require (19.4)

The civil laws have “expired.” In the words of John Cleese, they’re “pushing up daisies.” They don’t oblige any non-canonical civil entity any more than the “general equity” of the civil laws may require. Whatever “general equity” means, it doesn’t mean “the abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive detail.” In fact the Decalogue and other biblical summaries of the natural law have usually been taken to be, in effect, the “general equity thereof.”

As I’ve argued before, the same quest to make “the covenant” (as the FV likes to say) “objective” is the same spirit that gave us the slogan “abiding validity….” It is a vain attempt to impose an ostensibly “objective” standard for Christian civil conduct in this age.

Though they were mostly Constantinians, i.e., they took for granted the right and necessity of the civil government to enforce the first table of the Decalogue, the Westminster Divines didn’t have any problem affirming the abiding validity of natural or creational law in exhaustive detail. WCF 19.5 says, in part:

The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God, the Creator, who gave it.

This is because the divines understood something that theonomists apparently do not: Natural or creational revelation is just that, revelation. How is revelation “neutral” or hostile to God? It isn’t. It’s God’s law. The apostrophe s signals possession and possession isn’t neutrality.

I suspect that the reason theonomic and Constantinian types react to natural/creational law the way Dracula reacts to mirrors, is because they realize that if Christians ever caught on to the idea of natural law, their cause would lose considerable plausibility. If Christians realized that civil life in this age is normed by creational law, God’s law revealed in creation, they would have no need of the quasi-Gnostic insights some claim to have into the “correct” application of Mosaic civil laws in our age.

Some have reacted to Constantinianism and to theonomy by denying the universal and abiding validity of the moral, creational, natural law for all persons, in all times, and in all places. This is also a mistake. We confess both the abiding validity of the moral law and the abrogation of the 613 commandments. To deny the abiding validity of the moral law as summarized in the Decalogue (recognizing that there are Israelite, typological elements in the Decalogue that no longer bind universally) and in the NT is antinomianism. The second commandment is still God’s law. The fourth commandment is still God’s law. The latter was expressly grounded in creation in Exodus 20:8, not in the Mosaic covenant. Yes, the Sabbath day has changed by virtue of the resurrection but the 1 day in 7 principle remains. According to Ephesians 6:1–3, the fifth commandment still applies but the the nature of the promise attached has been altered in light of redemptive history. There is no more land promise for a national people of God. The abiding validity of the substance of the law, however, is the general equity of which the divines spoke. This is why the orthodox, confessional position is neither theonomic nor antinomian. The tradition was Constantinian and most confessionalists since the 18th century have rejected Constantinianism. Nevertheless, the abiding validity of the creational, natural, moral law remains.

[This post first appeared in 2007 on the HB and has been revised]

71 comments

  1. Shoot ’em again Pa, he’s still movin’……Nope that did it, he’s done dead, that you see thar son, is just an involuntary twitch.

  2. There is certainly no argument between the traditional reformational natural law approach of Calvin and the Reformers and a theonomic understanding of law. Trying to press theonomic thought into theocracy, or the federal vision, or even christian reconstruction is to fight an easier enemy of antinomianism than the theonomic thought traditionally held by Protestants that is directly in tune with a historic understanding of the natural law. A proper understanding of the natural law is really the most potent argument for theonomy, but since Calvin was not a Van Tillian this is often lost upon VTs lineage. It was Calvin, certainly a natural law thinker of the first order, that demanded the enforcement of the first table of the law, and that many of the laws of the old testament, laws that in your thought might be relegated to mere ceremony, were actually an expression of the moral law itself, as the form and content of the natural law. If the natural law is the expression of the Eternal Law, and the divine law is the expression in scripture of the natural law, then mere human law should be the expression of the divine laws of scripture to whatever extend those laws are moral in their scope. That’s Calvin, I dare say that was Bahnsen too. You can call it Creational if you want to but the idea that God has some other law for this time than he has for some other time, and that the differences are moral differences, and not ceremonial or catechal differences, implies that God’s moral nature is in a state of flux to the extent that what is moral at one time is immoral at another. It is not good theology, even in this penultimate age, whatever that means.

  3. RSC,

    I’m not a natural law proponent, nor am I a two-tabler, but I must say that the “Dracula’s reaction in the mirror” line was certainly worth a laugh!

  4. “I suspect that the reason theonomic and theocractic types react to natural/creational law the way Dracula reacts to mirrors, is because they realize that if Christians ever caught on to the idea of natural law, their cause would lose considerable plausibility.”

    I just say it’s all a particular function of unbelief. (But the Count wasn’t a believer I don’t think.)

    Some might say that’s too harsh. But Calvin said we all go to our deaths with an unbeliever inside. Theonomy of whatever stripe is just some folks’ way showing their unbelief; I know I have mine. The more we get comfortable with the fact that we are at once believers and unbelievers perhaps the better able we’d be to see some of this.

    Nice post…uhhhhgin.

  5. Zrim: “Theonomy of whatever stripe is just some folks’ way showing their unbelief; I know I have mine. The more we get comfortable with the fact that we are at once believers and unbelievers perhaps the better able we’d be to see some of this.”

    I have said a similar thing in private conversations with my Theonomic friend (who thinks I’ve got some kind of virus). I tell him that his theonomy is a function of his inability to let God be God in the world. He is a pastor, and I tell him that he should just focus on his church being “church.”

  6. Hang on, wait just a minute here… (This isn’t meant as a challenge, ‘cos I don’t know anywhere near enough about this whole area to mount one of *them*. It’s just blank incomprehension, expressed as best I can in words.)

    You said the Ten are a (revealed) summary of natural law. Including the one about having no other gods. Not forgetting the bit about Sabbath-keeping. There’s the ban on idolatry in there, too.

    And you also say that civil law is properly founded on natural law.

    So why *doesn’t* that mean that the government is well within its remit to enforce Christianity as the national religion?

  7. Philip,

    I should have been more precise. I don’t think that any civil entity after national Israel has any business attempting to enforce the first table. See D. G. Hart, A Secular Faith.

  8. Oh brother, another book to read. 😉 (Just so long as he’s easier to read than Greg Beale, okay?)

    Perhaps before our next round of elections. Of course, we still have Bishops in the Upper House and Prayers in the Lower over here, so we have something of a different situation…

  9. If the civil magistrate has no business enforcing the first table of the law then it should not enforce the second table of the law either. On what basis do you determine that the first table is binding and not the second table. You cannot read the covenanters or men like Bucer and Rutherford and not see that they believed that the entirety of the ten commandments, which is only a summary of the law, was binding on all nations.

  10. Stephen,

    I’ve always conceded that virtually all the Reformed were theocratic–not theonomic–prior to the 18th century. They were wrong about that just as they were wrong about the earth being at the center of the universe. It happens.

    I’m not making my argument based on historical claims. My argument rests on exegesis, theology, and an adaptation of the tradition.

  11. I went to a orthodox reformed school (k-12) and I am a charismatic. Just let me say this, does it matter what we are? Does it matter whether God directs voluntary choice of salvation, or if a person directs his own choice of salvation? Is the books of Acts, the birth of the Church about labels or just followers of Christ who turned the world upside down? I do not think the underground Churches in China care too much about whether or not they are Chinese Reformed Evangelical or Reformed and if people think they are elitist. I think they care more about the Local Church and seeing it thrive. People ask me all the time, what am I? I simply say that I am a follower of Christ, following Christ’s call to discipleship.

  12. About the Health and Wealth Gospel…I am sure that every missionary out there is praying for a wealthy person to give to their God given mission, and my orthodox reformed Christian School, received all of funding from wealthy reformed people. We would have planted more Christian Schools if we had more funding, or more wealthy reformed people. And it is pretty hard to preach the Gospel and train others, or even teach at a Christian School when you are lying in your bed with Cancer.

    I know a Church planter in South America who plants Churches, but Church material is not free, it costs money, about $5,000.00. Just think how many Churchs a six figure income member Church could build? Quite a few.

    Think about those things.

    • Andrew,

      I don’t think we’re understanding each other as to what the “health and wealth gospel” is. First, it’s not “the gospel.” The Gospel is that Christ was obedient, died, and was raised for all who believe. The so-called “health and wealth gospel,” which is really no gospel at all, is that God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy and we can be so if only we have enough faith or if we send $29.95 before midnight to some false prophet somewhere. That’s not good news. It turns the gospel on its head. The gospel is for sinners, not for those who have enough faith or who can “do” anything. The gospel is that Christ gave himself for the helpless. The gospel is not that he gave himself so we can help ourselves. The gospel has nothing to do with material wealth or physical health. Jesus was warned us very clearly about the spiritual danger of wealth! There’s very little encouragement in the gospels for us to become wealthy.

      No one doubts that, in worldly terms, it might be better to be healthy and wealthy. I would certainly like to be wealthier and I’m grateful for my health, but according to Scripture, the Kingdom of God is a mystery. It belongs to Jesus. He comes through the gospel, by which the Spirit creates faith. The Spirit makes dead sinners alive and he unites the same to Christ the king. They become citizens of his kingdom through faith in him. He gives faith to the wealthy and he gives faith to the sickly.

      Could the wealthy potentially do more for the kingdom? Sure! Do they? Well, sometimes but not often or always. The same is true for the healthy.

      Listen, as a minister in a small-ish church and in a medium-sized seminary I quite realize that God, in his providence, uses those who are wealthier than I to support the kingdom and to advance it but I also know that the Holy Spirit is not dependent upon wealth and health and I know that the gospel promises have nothing to do with the Pelagian, heretical, health and wealth theology that has corrupted modern evangelicalism.

      See Michael S. Horton, ed. The Agony of Deceit

  13. Dear Dr. Clark,
    I have a few formatting issues with this post, for example your quote of WFC 19.4 should be cited just because while is clear – from the formatting – that it is a quote it wasn’t very clear to me about where the quote came from.
    Second, your second to last paragraph is missing at least three words:

    “This is because the divines understood something that theonomists apparently do not: Natural or creational revelation is just that, revelation! If the creational law summarized in the Decalogue and in Matthew 22:37-40 and in many other places in Scripture (, the ceremonial aspects removed in the fulfillment of the Old Covenant).”

    I could guess you meant to put start your parenthesis with the words “the civil aspects,” but I’m not you and so you could have meant to put something different.

    Lastly I do have a “what do you mean” question about your point on the FV being on a “… quest to make “the covenant” (as the FV likes to say) “objective” is the same spirit that gave us the slogan “abiding validity….”

    What do you – or more properly the FV – mean by making the covenant of grace “objective”? I’ve read most if not all your online materials on the FV and I don’t recall this point, as stated, being as fleshed out so I don’t understand what you are saying.

    Thanks.

    • Thanks. I’ve made corrections.

      By “objective” what the FV types mean is “ex opere operato” (by the working it is worked) even if the FV wizards can’t spell it (Yes, I’ve seen at least one of them misspell it in print). “Objective” is their code for, “Whenever the sacrament of baptism is administered the baptized are necessarily united to Christ, conditionally, temporarily.” By making continuance in “the covenant” conditioned upon cooperation with grace and by sanctity they are attempting to get baptized persons to be good. This is nothing less than rationalism and moralism. The same spirit that gives us the abiding validity of the civil law also gives us (final) justification through sanctification.

  14. Dr. Clark,

    You said, the Westminster Divines didn’t have any problem affirming the abiding validity of natural or creational law in exhaustive detail.

    I agree. I maintain that natural law does not –indeed cannot- contradict revealed law. I hold that the eternally binding moral law is summarized (summarily comprehended) in the Decalogue (WLC 98), and that the confessional understanding of the validity/binding nature of the Decalogue (as expounded in the WLC).

    Later, you stated: “I suspect that the reason theonomic and Constantinian types react to natural/creational law the way Dracula reacts to mirrors, is because they realize that if Christians ever caught on to the idea of natural law, their cause would lose considerable plausibility.

    I view myself as theonomic, but I do not react to natural law in the way Dracula reacts to mirrors. I affirm it as above. I abhor, however, any false understanding of natural law that places it at odds with revealed law. I frankly find this Dracula caricature of theonomic believers to be somewhat cute but unhelpful and inaccurate, and the attribution of motive that follows to be far less than helpful, and completely false.

    The Divines were (in your words) “Constantinian” or theonomic. You made a comparison to their alleged belief in geocentrism as a way of pointing out that certain beliefs that were commonly held at the time were not true, equating geocentrism by inference with a “Constantinian”/theonomic understanding of the law and the magistrate. Geocentrism is not addressed in the confession, however. Six-day creationism and the application (the requirement, no less) of the general equity of the civil law is.

    I have just one more point. You said that “we confess” that the civil laws were “abrogated.” Your words:

    We confess both the abiding validity of the moral law and the abrogation of the 613 commandments

    You might confess this, Dr. Clark, but neither I nor the WCF confess this. The ceremonial law is abrogated; the civil law expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

    The ceremonial law obligates no one (abrogated). The civil law obligates people where the general equity my require. There is a huge difference between the confessional “abrogation” of the ceremonial law, and the confessional “expiration” of the civil law where the general equity does not apply. This confusion in terms is telling, and it is very significant in this discussion.

    Thank you for your time. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    • Justin,

      The Westminster Divines were Constantinian but not theonomic. They are not the same thing. I was trying to address both with the same point. The Divines, like the rest of the 16th and 17th century world, assumed the righteousness of the Constantinian establishment, that the state should establish a church and punish heretics. This isn’t theonomy. The Reformers explicitly denied, as did the Westminster Divines, the very heart of theonomy: the abiding validity of the Mosaic civil law. Theonomy is rejected in the word “expired.” All the magisterial Protestants affirmed the threefold distinction of the law, inherited from Thomas, and explicitly denied the ongoing validity of the Mosaic civil law—any further than the general equity required. General equity, in the 16th and 17th century was not understood the way it has been re-defined by theonomy.

      General equity certainly did not = “abiding validity of the civil law in exhaustive detail.” General equity meant, in the 16th and 17th centuries (and before) “insofar as Israelite civil government manifested the same general pattern of laws found in nature.” That’s general equity. It’s legal code for “natural law.” When our theologians appealed to Israel in light of general equity they were not obligating us to the civil code in the 613 commandments but to natural law reflected in that code.

      Ergo, theonomyis a non-starter.

      The real debate is between Constantinianism and the rejection of the same, i.e., that the state has no right to establish a church and has no authority to punish heretics. On this I stand with Abraham Kuyper on the revision of Belgic 36. Take a look at those articles and take a listen to the Heidelcast on this.

      As Kuyper said, there is not a shred of evidence in the NT that suggests that the Apostles expected Caesar (e.g., Claudius, Nero, or Domitian!) either to establish a church or punish heretics since, were they to do so, they should have committed suicide since they were pagans.

      Then the discussion comes to eschatology, “but they expected the conversion of the world after that establishment etc.” That’s speculative at best and special pleading.

    • Dr Clark,
      I have learned more from the back-and-forth in this discussion that I could by writing more myself. The strengths, weaknesses, and common point of both “sides” (for lack of a better term) of this discussion are becoming apparent to me. Often I learn the most by just putting my hand over my mouth.

      I apologize for taking almost a day to respond to you, and appreciate the time you spent answering my comment. I appreciate your time! I’d like to prod a bit, if I may, to see if I understand what you’re saying, and for clarification where I don’t.

      I understand the term “Constantinian” to mean that the state establishes a church and punishes heretics. I am not sure that the divines meant that the state establishes a church; I don’t equate protecting true religion and punishing heretics with establishing the church. The WCF paragraph that the American churches felt the need to modify in reaction to the political developments of the American Revolution speaks to this. The WCF in section 23 speaks nothing of the establishment of the church, only the enabling and protecting of true religion. The blood of thousands of Covenanters bears testimony to the 16th and 17th century’s opposition to the state’s establishment of a church.

      You said that theonomy is rejected in the word expired, and a non-starter. You also said, that theonomy seeks “abiding validity of the civil law in exhaustive detail.” Can you give me a source for this quote? The nearest I can find is a Bahnsen quote, but it says something quite different- “abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail.”. Unless I am mistaken, or your quote comes from somewhere else, I believe you added the word “civil” to the quote. This is significant, and completely changes the meaning of the statement.

      Theonomists maintain , as far as I have read, the validity of the moral law as expressed in the Decalogue, and as expounded in the civil law, which is not to be applied in exhaustive detail, other than what the general equity may require. Non-theonomic arguments seem to me to focus on “expired” (and conflate it with “abrogate,” as you have done in this piece), and completely ignore “require.” Where the moral law can be upheld by the application of the civil law, the civil law is required. Now I should ask a few questions about your understanding of “general equity,” because I am quite confused about what you’ve said, and this discussion seems to hinge on that at any rate.

      Dr. Clark said: General equity meant, in the 16th and 17th centuries (and before) “insofar as Israelite civil government manifested the same general pattern of laws found in nature.” That’s general equity. It’s legal code for “natural law.”

      Can you give me a source for that quote? I would like to read more on that statement in context. I do not see any warrant at all to see “general equity” as “code” for natural law. Can you expound on this? I see no evidence that leads me to believe that “general equity” is a code word of sorts. The words of the Westminster Confession were chose with great care and a great amount of deliberateness. If the Divines meant “natural law” here, they would have used those words. Instead, I believe a plain reading of the words means simply that where the principles behind the civil law may be applied, we are required to apply it.

      Dr. Clark said: The real debate is between Constantinianism and the rejection of the same, i.e., that the state has no right to establish a church and has no authority to punish heretics. On this I stand with Abraham Kuyper on the revision of Belgic 36. Take a look at those articles and take a listen to the Heidelcast on this.

      I spoke to my understanding of your usage of “Constantinian” above as it applies to the Divines and Worthies. On this section of yours I quoted, I stand with Romans 13. Can you tell me, Dr. Clark, what the definition of “evil” is in its Romans 13 use? I will listen to that Heidelcast on this, but this line of reasoning should be quite simple. P1- The magistrate is given the sword to punish evil (if he chooses not to do so, that will be to his loss during judgment). P2- heresy is evil. Therefore, the civil magistrate who is to govern according to God’s Word is to punish evil. I understand your Nero argument. Nero was an unbeliever, and therefor did not –could not- hope to govern in a Christ-honoring manner. Christian nations are not to imitate the heathen nations. Perhaps heathens govern according to natural law –the light they have through nature. For a Christian magistrate to govern by the same standard as a heathen is silly. The examples of Roman law in this thread are an example. Certainly we should not advocate doing governing as the heathen do, but this seems to be the explicit teaching of R2K.

      In the end, I find that theonomists (at least the ones I read) do not hold the view of the civil law that you’ve put forth here. I also find that the ones I read do not deny natural law, nor do they run from it like a vampire from a mirror (though I am sure some probably do just this). Through this thread (and elsewhere), however, I have seen a distinct tendency of “R2K” advocates to run from the words “civil law” in such a manner, though the Confessions clearly teach that there are circumstances where we are required to apply it. This is very troubling to me.

      As I see it, to be confessional, one must admit that there are situations where Israelite civil law is required to be applied by the magistrate. One must also admit that there are times where applying that expired law is not appropriate. One must neither pretend that we are actually living in the physical state of OT Israel, but we cannot run to an natural law as it is seen by unbelievers (who have their understanding of it severely darkened, to roughly echo Rutherford) for everything in our law as the heathen do. We have revelation; let’s use it.

    • Justin,

      Yes, I modified Bahnsen’s statement, hence the [editorial] brackets. That’s what he meant. He did not advocate the reinstitution of the ceremonial law so the only law really in view, beside the moral—about which there was no debate—was the civil.

      I thought someone might make that argument, making heresy the minor premise. The great problem is that Paul did not. The Constantinian church did and you can’t read the latter back into the former. Yes, heresy is an evil but it is not a civil evil but an ecclesiastical evil. Hence my argument from Scripture that our Lord himself and the Apostles only addressed heresy in ecclesiastical terms, not civil terms.

      How can your view be “confessional” when WCF 19.4 says “expired”?

      To Expire:
      1 my contract has expired: run out, become invalid, become void, lapse; end, finish, stop, come to an end, terminate.
      2 the spot where he expired: die, pass away/on, breathe one’s last; informal kick the bucket, bite the dust, croak, buy it, buy the farm; dated depart this life.

      The Mosaic law is done (except for the general equity thereof, for which we do not need a three-volume talmudic exposition. The Reformed churches, even under the influence of Constantinianism, explicitly rejected the notion that the magistrate must enforce the Mosaic civil laws.

      I think I answer the rest in my other replies.

      Here’s another thing for theonomists to consider:

      How will you repeat the Constantinian civil error without repeating the correlate ecclesiastical error, that of bringing back the Mosaic priesthood? If you can ignore the Reformation’s view of the Mosaic civil law why can’t you reject the Reformation’s view of the Mosaic priesthood? In fact there is strong evidence that theonomists are indeed bringing back the Mosaic priesthood.

      Look at the history of the Federal Vision movement. Whence every single one of the leading Federal Visionists? Theonomy. They are twins separated at birth.

    • Here is the Rutherford quote I was (very roughly) paraphrasing:

      From Rutherford’s Free Disputation:

      CHAP. I.

      Of Conscience and its nature.

      “Of this intellectual Treasure-house, we are to know these. 1. That in the inner Cabinet, the natural habit of Moral principles lodgeth, the Register of the common notions left in us by nature, the Ancient Records and Chronicles which were in Adam’s time,the Law of Nature of two volumes, one of the first Table, that there is a God, that he createth and governeth all things, that there is but one God, infinitely good, more just rewarding the Evil and the good; and of the second Table, as to love our Parents, obey Superiors, to hurt no man, the acts of humanity; All these are written in the soul, in deep letters, yet the Ink is dim and old, and therefore this light is like the Moon swimming through watery clouds, often under a shadow, and yet still in the firmament.”

      FWIW.

      We should not hold to dim and old ink when we have bright and new ink in revelation.

    • Justin,

      On your rationale, the Apostles erred or else your view rests on assumptions they did not share. I don’t see how your view can avoid such a conclusion.

    • Dr Clark,

      1) Could you please explain why you changed the phrase by adding the word “civil” when that wasnt the focus of Bahnsen’s chapter in his book?
      The focus of the chapter was the on exegesis of Matt 5:17-19, and not on the applications to the civil law.

      2) You said: “How will you repeat the Constantinian civil error without repeating the correlate ecclesiastical error, that of bringing back the Mosaic priesthood?” and “In fact there is strong evidence that theonomists are indeed bringing back the Mosaic priesthood.”

      -Could you explain how punishing heretics (for instance) is instituting a state church?
      -Could you explain how theonomy’s purpose is to bring back the Mosaic priesthood?

      THanks.

    • Christopher,

      I’m surprised that you ask. After all, you elsewhere wrote:

      “I too have had similar interactions with Dr Clark in which his normal MO is constant misrepresentation and mis-characterizations.”

      In that case, am I not condemned before I ever answer? Nevertheless, despite your harsh assessment, in the spirit of turning the other cheek, I’ll answer.

      I think I’ve answered your most of your questions in my responses to the others.

      On number 2, I concede that it is theoretically possible for the magistrate to punish heretics without their being a state-church de iure but there would be a state-church de facto. The magistrate would have to punish heretics on the basis of some interpretation of Scripture and that interpretation would align him with one or more churches or church traditions.

      The FV is sacerdotal. The matrix of the FV is theonomy. Ergo…

      That the FV is sacerdotal is held by the RPCGA, I think so it cannot be dismissed as some “R2K” judgment.

  15. That all sounds good, but the moral, creational law included recognition of God the Creator (Romans 1:18-21). Our society rejects the notion that we are created at all. Rather, the idea behind same-sex “marriage,” government-funded “sex change surgery,” same-sex couples’ adoption, “changed” boys in the girls’ rest room, etc. is that we create ourselves. On what basis do we argue about such matters as these in the saeculum? Isn’t it true that sooner or later every moral position implies a theology and, behind that, a faith?

  16. The Reformed world loves the notion of being under God and his authority . . . much like the scribes did . . . but it can’t bear the thought that Jesus is now the supreme revelation of God’s law-authority who has come to complete and fulfill the Law’s moral typology in Himself (Rom 3:21-22, 10:4) and provide Himself as the indwelling imperative of righteousness within His Body (Rom 7:1-6, 8:1-4, Gal 2:20).

    Instead, the Reformed world would have the Son bowing to the pedagogue of the illegitimate son (Gal 4:30).

    The lawless are not those who fail to obey the 10 words carved in letters on stone . But those unbelieving ones who are outside of Christ, devoid of His Spirit, and cut off from the grace of God.

    • John,

      So, the Reformed confession of Scripture is Pharisaical? We deny categorically that anyone is justified by law-keeping. How is that Pharisaical?

      What is the “royal law” to which James refers?

      When Jesus was said, “love the Lord your God with all your faculties and your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” was he being a pharisee too?

      Where does Reformed theology deny that Jesus fulfilled the law?

  17. “After all, one searches the New Testament in vain for
    evidence that the apostles sought to establish a state church or a
    civil government on the basis of special revelation.” So, where
    ought the law to come from that is to be enforced by magistrates?
    John Lofton Recovering Republican

    • John,

      We must get it where God gave it: creation. The Apostle Paul assumes that every person knows certain fixed moral truths from nature (sense perception) and from the conscience. That law is God’s law. This was Paul’s unstated assumption in Romans 13 when he called that pagan magistrate Caesar “God’s minister.” None of the Caesars were consulting the civil code found in the 613 commandments but they were still God’s ministers. They are charged with executing justice. That is why Paul says that Caesar does not bear the sword in vain. Paul assumes that he knows what justice is. How? God’s moral law revealed in nature and in the human conscience. It’s a universally known and universally binding moral standard.

      Here are some resources on this:

      http://heidelblog.net/category/natural-law

    • So, to know what to sentence a guilty murder or thief to a magistrate should look at “nature and in the human conscience?” There’s nothing written anywhere that a magistrate should consult to decree a punishment?

      John Lofton
      Recovering Republican

    • Your reply is of no help in the real world to a magistrate who must apply some sort of specific law and specific sentence to a convicted murderer or convicted thief.

      John Lofton
      Recovering Republican

    • John,

      Your reply is evasive. Every lawyer must know legal theory before he practices law.

      Check the statutes, there’s plenty of common law (general equity) and plenty of state and federal case law to meet most any exigency.

      You’ve set a standard that the Apostle Paul did not.

      He called Caesar a “minister of God” without making his use of the office conditional upon use of Scripture in his deliberations.

      Do you disagree with Paul?

  18. Man`s heart is decietful . Relying on natural law without the foundation of the Scriptures will bring chaos and destruction to a society
    . Natural law was used as a reason to legalize abortion.

    And I agree with Lofton..how does society decide how to punish a rapist? Community service?

    • Ron,

      Once more, how did Caesar know to exercise capital punishment? The Romans exercised capital punishment for centuries without the benefit of holy Scripture. Pagan rulers for centuries exercised capital punishment without the benefit of special revelation. How did they know how to do it?

      The human heart is deceitful – more than that it is desperately wicked. Nevertheless, that truth did not keep the apostle Paul from teaching clearly in Romans 1 and 2 that everyone everywhere knows the moral law.

      Is Romans 1 and 2 theory or fact?

      19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
      20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

      …14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
      15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

      On the pagan knowledge of the natural law and execution of capital punishment:

      As far back as the Ancient Laws of China, the death penalty has been established as a punishment for crimes. In the 18th Century BC, the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon codified the death penalty for twenty five different crimes, although murder was not one of them. The first death sentence historically recorded occurred in 16th Century BC Egypt where the wrongdoer, a member of nobility, was accused of magic, and ordered to take his own life. During this period non-nobility was usually killed with an ax.
      In the 14th Century BC, the Hittite Code also prescribed the death penalty. The 7th Century BC Draconian Code of Athens made death the penalty for every crime committed. In the 5th Century BC, the Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets codified the death penalty. Again, the death penalty was different for nobility, freemen and slaves and was punishment for crimes such as the publication of libels and insulting songs, the cutting or grazing of crops planted by a farmer, the burning [of] a house or a stack of corn near a house, cheating by a patron of his client, perjury, making disturbances at night in the city, willful murder of a freeman or a parent, or theft by a slave. Death was often cruel and included crucifixion, drowning at sea, burial alive, beating to death, and impalement (often used by Nero). The Romans had a curious punishment for parricides (murder of a parent): the condemned was submersed in water in a sack, which also contained a dog, a rooster, a viper and an ape.[1] The most notorious death execution in BC was about 399 BC when the Greek philosopher Socrates was required to drink poison for heresy and corruption of youth.[2]

      Here is more on Roman law and the Justinian Code that has roots in a code that dates to 450 BC.

      Here’s Cicero on the law c. 450BC.

  19. Where in Romans 1/2 does it say “everyone everywhere knows the moral law?”

    John Lofton
    Recovering Republican

  20. As for those Caesars who, supposedly, knew the moral law because they used the sword to kill people (a strange theory), Judy E. Gaughan has written an entire book about how in the Roman Republican, in the criminal law, there was no crime of murder! The book is “Murder Was Not A Crime: Homicide And Power In The Roman Republic” (U. of Texas Press, 2010).

    John Lofton
    Recovering Republican

    • John,

      It’s not a “strange theory” for anyone who knows the Western tradition. It was Calvin’s theory and he learned it in law school. He was well versed in the Justinian Code and Cicero et al.

      Here are the the 12 Tables. Table VII says:

      LAW XIII.

      If anyone knowingly and maliciously kills a freeman, he shall be guilty of a capital crime. If he kills him by accident, without malice and unintentionally, let him substitute a ram to be sacrificed publicly by way of expiation for the homicide of the deceased, and for the purpose of appeasing the children of the latter.

      LAW XIV.

      Anyone who annoys another by means of magic incantations or diabolical arts, and renders him inactive, or ill; or who prepares or administers poison to him, is guilty of a capital crime,[1] and shall be punished with death.

      LAW XV.

      Anyone who kills an ascendant, shall have his head wrapped in a cloth, and after having been sewed up in a sack, shall be thrown into the water.[2]

      [1] “Paricida esto.” A mistake in the derivation of this word has resulted in much confusion. Paricidium was at first employed to denote felonious homicide, and was therefore synonymous with murder. The root is par, and not pater. The term afterwards obtained a much broader signification than it had originally, and was applied indiscriminately to the killing of relatives. It was sometimes even used to designate treason, or generally, any capital crime.—ED.

      [2] The scope of this law—that took its name from a culeus, or leathernsack— was vastly enlarged by the Lex Pompeia de Paricidiis, which virtually made every blood-relative, or person connected by affinity with the culprit, subject to its penalty. A dog, a viper, a cock, and an ape, were sewed up with him in the sack. The ancient writers have not assigned any reason for the selection of these singular companions that shared the fate of the murderer. If no body of water was at hand, the sack and its contents were exposed to wild beasts.—ED.

  21. Legalized abortion in America was argued by the “right to
    privacy” clause. Any law no matter how epistemologically pristine
    can be twisted and perverted when applied disproportionately to
    mitigating factors. Wrong interpretations of law come from
    willfulness of the heart, even corporate or national willfulness
    (changing mores). It doesn’t mean the former interpretation lacked
    adequate persuasive power or moral sanction. Nor does it mean
    another basis for the same law would have prevented the
    declension.

  22. Your quotes from all those pagans who executed people disproves your notion that ““everyone everywhere knows the moral law” because most of those execution were NOT “moral,” not in accord with God’s Law as to what constitutes a capital crime. Your list is a list of people who simply did what was right in their own eyes. That is NOT obeying God’s moral law.

    What’s strange is to believe, as you seem to, that for a person to kill somebody for what they think is a capital crime proves the person doing the killing “knows the moral law.”

    John Lofton
    Recovering Republican

    • John,

      You ask what the standard is, I give you the standard.

      You ask me whether pagans know the standard, and I give you evidence that pagans know the standard.

      Now, you change the standard by attempting to define natural law and the universal natural knowledge of the law out of existence. In so doing you place yourself at odds not only the clear teaching of the Apostle Paul in Rom 1-2 and out of accord with the entire history of western church.

      I think my work is done here.

  23. Dr. Clark,

    It might be nice if you included the links to parts 1-3 at the bottom of your post, for those who: 1) haven’t read them; 2) are too lazy to search for them.
    Thanks for the post.

  24. Hello Dr. Clark,

    There are things in your article that are helpful, and things that I have questions about.

    Five years ago I began researching the Second Reformation Divines on the judicial laws, mainly beginning with Gillespie and tracing out his source quotations. This led me to translate Piscator’s Appendix on Exodus 21-23, as well as tracing out citations of Piscator’s Appendix in Rutherford, Cheynelle, Thomas Edwards, Thomas Shepherd, Gillespie, etc.

    Their footnotes (especially Thomas Edwards) led me to Bullinger, Cartwright, Beza, and a host of other Reformed Divines.

    This further led me to begin translating Beza’s De Haereticis (still a work in progress).

    All of these men do, as you correct cite, argue for the creational/natural/moral law in exhaustive detail. None of them argue for the 613 laws in exhaustive detail.

    That said, theonomy is, in fact, a generally undefined term. If I understand you correctly, you seem to be arguing against modern American versions of the thought on the Law of God, ala Bahnsen and Rushdoony. Am I correct in my reading?

    As a follow up question, how can one be Reformed on the moral law, believing that it is for all men, at all times, in every spiritual condition, in all aspects of created life, and not be Establishmentarian? If the moral law applies to the magistrate’s function, how could one reject intolerance toward false religions civilly?

    Curious,

    Adam B.

    • Adam,

      This is interesting. Have you published/posted or will you publish/post your translation(s)?

      Why do you say that “theonomy” is an undefined term? Bahnsen defined it quite clearly and his definition has been widely accepted. The only ambiguity really is the somewhat older and broader use of the term by Tillich and Van Til where theonomy simply stood for God’s law generally vs. human autonomy. In that, second, broader sense, of course, all Christians are “theonomists.” Since 1977, however, the word has generally been used in the narrow sense of the “the abiding validity of the [civil] law in exhaustive detail.”

      In that sense theonomy is a novelty and contrary to the Westminster Confession 19.4.

      That is why I distinguish between the older theonomy and Constantinianism. The latter refers to the civil enforcement of the 1st table of the Decalogue and the state establishment of the church.

      One can be orthodox and deny Constantinianism in the same way one can be orthodox and deny geocentrism. On this see Recovering the Reformed Confession (also on Kindle).

      The civil enforcement of Christianity and the civil punishment of heretics, the civil enforcement of the 1st table is not essential to being Reformed. It’s removal has not essentially changed Reformed Christianity. Our theology is unchanged by it’s omission. It was accidental not essential to our theology, piety, and practice. The same cannot be said, however, for the modern revisions to worship. I do sincerely wish that our Constantinians and theonomists had spent their energies on preserving Reformed worship rather than in the futile pursuit of re-establishment. While they were busy tilting at windmills we went from Psalms, to hymns, to “Shine,Jesus Shine.”

    • Dr. Clark,

      Thank you for explaining what you mean by theonomy!

      I have yet to publish Piscator (except self-publishing). If you are interested, I’d be delighted to send you a PDF copy of the translation.

      I would take exception to the notion that the civil enforcement of Christianity is optional to being Reformed. Since such notions were referred to as “atheistic” by Calvin, Beza and Turretin (not to mention large tomes by the Puritans on this topic), I can hardly imagine a Reformed theology without the Decalogue in any aspect of human existence. Nor could our theological ancestors.

      Reformed theology has, in fact, drastically changed with the adoption of atheistic political notions, and the degeneration of Presbyterianism seems to be Exhibit A. With the removal of the Second Commandment’s prohibition of tolerating false religions, guess what has appeared again and again? False religions.

      Thank you for your stand in regard to false worship! Since this is an aspect of the Decalogue, it is, however, the concern of all men in every calling, including the civil sphere. That is integral to Reformed thought, and the Reformed Confessions speak with one voice on this.

      Blessings,

      Adam

    • Adam,

      Yes, please send the translations. Thank you,

      Questions;

      So you reject the 1st Amendment?

      Kuyper’s principled rejection of Constantinianism?

      Nero should have put the Judaizers to death?

      Where did Paul call for establishment or civil punishment of heretics? Was he an atheist? Was Kuyper? Mr Murray, who noted that Paul called for spiritual, not civil, punishment of sin?

      What about the entire church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries? Were they atheistic or was it atheistic of them to neglect this essential doctrine?

      How exactly does its omission change our doctrines of scripture, God, man, Christ, salvation, church, and eschatology?

      I’ve shown how changing our worship has affected our theology, piety, and practice. The same sort of consequence cannot be shown to follow from the rejection of Constantinianism.

    • Dr. Clark is excellent at asking rhetorical questions. I
      see him quote here, however, NO Scripture that refutes Adam’s
      assertion. John Lofton Recovering Republican

    • John,

      These are questions that no theonomist anonymous or Constantinian has never answered. Here is scriptural proof:

      “tell it to the church” (Matt 18)

      1 Corinthians 5:9-11
      I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

      The ONLY ecclesiastical corporal punishment is the case of Anaias & Sapphira and no one has that sort of power now.

    • And who here has advocated “ecclesiastical corporal punishment?”

      John Lofton
      Recovering Republican

    • No one.

      I was typing on my phone. I’m trying to say that is the closest one can come to finding anything like a Mosaic or even Constantinian episode in the NT. It was clearly a unique episode, however, and not intended as a paradigmatic event—as I keep reminding my Pentecostal friends. They want all the gifts: of the apostles but they never seem to want the gift of putting to death Ananias and Sapphira.

    • Dr. Clark:

      “Yes, please send the translations. Thank you,”

      Will do, brother. You are welcome!

      “Questions;

      So you reject the 1st Amendment?”

      The portions of the First Amendment contrary to the First Table of the Law, yes. The entire 1st Amendment has some other notably excellent points.

      “Kuyper’s principled rejection of Constantinianism?”

      Yes, because Neo-Calvinism is an insult to the Reformed faith on various points, this being one of them. If I am not mistaken, the Neo-Calvinists had the gall to accuse Calvin as an accessory to murder. Generally, theologians after the Enlightenment and particularly German Rationalism have been very confused by atheistic influences on their political thought. That is not to say that Kuyper was an atheist, but merely that he reflected the spirit of his age, as we all tend to do to one extent or another.

      “Nero should have put the Judaizers to death?”

      Piscator argues that magistrates are responsible to the light that they have; those who are outside of God’s covenant [not baptized, and not instructed in Scripture] are responsible only to the light of nature, not to the specifics of Scripture, of which they have no knowledge. I believe that this is a fair statement. If Nero had been instructed in the controversy, then, yes, the ringleaders should have been punished civilly, just as the pious kings of Judah sough for the glory of God in the First Table by the suppression of the soul-murderers of their day.

      “Where did Paul call for establishment or civil punishment of heretics?”

      This proceeds on the notion that Paul opposed Moses (or that the New Covenant is opposed to the moral law in the times of the Old Covenant). That notion is contrary to the Reformed Confessions. The New Covenant reinforces all of the moral duties of the Old Covenant, and the grace of the gospel (“Paul”) sweetly complies with the uses of the law throughout Scripture.

      However, Paul gives a general term for the magistrate’s duty: to punish “evil,” and heretics and blasphemers do much evil. He takes for granted that the moral law defines what evil is.

      “Was he an atheist?”

      You seem to have confused your own personal views with those of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions prior to the Enlightenment (or, perhaps you concede that your view does not accord with the Confessions prior to the Enlightenment).

      “Was Kuyper?”

      See above.

      “Mr Murray, who noted that Paul called for spiritual, not civil, punishment of sin?”

      If by the assertion of spiritual punishments he means to say that this is mutually exclusive of civil punishment, then, yes, that is an atheistic thought. That is why the Anabaptists (civil atheists) argued against civil punishments by Christian magistrates, as did the Socinians. That does not make Dr. Murray and atheist in whole, but in part; just as we are all imperfectly sanctified, and influenced by impiety to one extent or another. The appeal to authorities does not invalidate or validate this or any other point.

      “What about the entire church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries? Were they atheistic or was it atheistic of them to neglect this essential doctrine?”

      That assumes that they did not believe this; a point I would disagree with. The early church (as a rule) did not complain about civil punishments for blasphemy or atheism, but asserted that they were not atheists, and that the Romans were. Constantine’s way was paved by the teaching of the early church: namely, that the moral law applies to all men everywhere, in all ages, in every walk of life.

      “How exactly does its omission change our doctrines of scripture, God, man, Christ, salvation, church, and eschatology?”

      Scripture: it makes Scripture no rule for magistrates, and therefore opposes its authority; it also makes Scripture two books with two moral laws. It posits a form of civil dispensationalism (in its worst sense).

      God: God has moral requirements for Jews that he cares nothing for among Gentiles. If God’s moral law reflects His unchangeable nature, and it once required civil enforcement, but no longer requires civil enforcement, then God’s unchangeable nature has changed.

      Man: the Remonstrants’ doctrine of freewill made the Belgic Confession’s 36th Article odious to them, arguing as modern “Reformed” people do that church and state are conflated and that heretics were murdered by the Reformed. This is because, following the Enlightenment, man’s freedom is essential, while God’s glory in civil society is neglected. In other words, we have become civil Arminians. Also, man is hereby freed from the moral law in civil life, meaning that the image of God (ordered by the moral law) does not apply to man in political life.

      Salvation: I see no necessary change here, but an accidental one, in which (if consistently held) civil Arminianism spills over into other areas, or civil atheism frees men from the law’s demands in other areas. This, again, does not mean men will be consistent, and I thank God that civil atheists are not personal atheists in every instance. It is blessed inconsistency.

      Church: Toleration of false religions has been given Confessional status, with disastrous consequences. This is not necessary in itself, but has historically been the case among American Presbyterians, for example.

      Escatology: the WLC’s treatment of the Second Petition becomes contra-Christian with the post-Enlightenment view.

      “I’ve shown how changing our worship has affected our theology, piety, and practice. The same sort of consequence cannot be shown to follow from the rejection of Constantinianism.”

      I agree with you regarding the changes of worship. The second sentence is a mere assertion, which accords with basic assumptions you hold, and none of the Reformed would have granted, except after the Enlightenment, when humanity was deified, and the Church was sadly influenced by that thought pattern.

      Also, I would like to say that I agree with your assessment that some have pursued “civil reformation” without looking to our primary areas of responsibility and influence: our personal lives, our families, and our churches. They have truly engaged themselves in a quixotic task, and you are right to challenge them in that.

      Yet, just as the 1st and 2nd century saints paved the way for Constantine, so we too must instruct all nations in everything Christ has commanded, so that (just as we pray, “Thy kingdom come”), so we may see it fulfilled as the WLC states.

      Blessings on you, brother!

    • Adam, Disestablishmentarianism (first time I’ve ever
      written that word) is of the essence of the American constitution.
      To reject that is to reject the American Republic. So, you look
      forward to the revision of the Constitution? Piscator erred.
      Remember, this is the cat who also rejected in the imputation of
      Christ’s active obedience. In this case he was guilty of special
      pleading. One cannot say both “must enforce the first table” and
      “liable to the light of nature.” If pagan Nero must enforce the
      first table, he must enforce the first table, except that Paul said
      no such thing. Piscator was forced to that line of argumentation because
      of his Constantinianism. Solution? Abandon Constantinianism.
      Anabaptist? It was they, not the Reformed, who first talked about a
      glorious reign of saints on the earth, which Bullinger (Second
      Helvetic) and Calvin both rejected. I heartily affirm all that the
      Belgic Confession says about the Anabaptists and about the
      magistrate (as revised successively since the 19th century). The
      magistrate should protect the church. His natural duty is to
      protect all his citizens. The 2nd and 3rd century church “paved the
      way”? That’s a bit of whig history isn’t it? They didn’t know
      anything about a Constantinian settlement. They didn’t call for it.
      They didn’t expect it. They only asked to be left alone and they
      made that argument from nature and logic. Your post illustrates one
      of the great problems of the Constantinian view. It is inconsistent
      with what you know a priori, so before you
      ever get to the NT you know that the civil magistrate ought to enforce the
      first table despite any evidence to the
      contrary. Reformed folk have got to learn to let national Israel be
      what it was intended to be: a temporary, colorful, legal, sermon
      illustration pointing to Christ. Nothing about “general equity”
      requires the magistrate to punish heretics. It only seemed so to
      our forefathers because they naturally (after 1000 years!) assumed
      Constantinianism. Does anyone really think that the US federal
      government is ever going to enforce the 1st table? Do you really
      want Barrack Hussein Obama or the FBI enforcing the 1st table?
      Really? Constantine is dead. Most all the Reformed/Presbyterian
      churches have adopted a revised, non-Constantinian versions of the
      confessions. This really all comes down to eschatology. The only
      way the Constantinian position makes any sense (setting aside, for
      the moment, all the exegetical and historical arguments) is in view
      of the postmillennial view of the future. So, we can keep going
      round this tree forever.

  25. Valid civil authority not based on the righteousness of a particular ruler or the justness of his execution of law, but on God’s decree:

    Institutes, Book 4 (Civil Government)-

    “I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power, and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant: and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand” (Jeremiah 27:5-8.) Therefore “bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live” (5:12). We see how great obedience the Lord was pleased to demand for this dire and ferocious tyrant, for no other reason than just that he held the kingdom. In other words, the divine decree had placed him on the throne of the kingdom, and admitted him to regal majesty, which could not be lawfully violated. If we constantly keep before our eyes and minds the fact, that even the most iniquitous kings are appointed by the same decree which establishes all regal authority, we will never entertain the seditious thought, that a king is to be treated according to his deserts, and that we are not bound to act the part of good subjects to him who does not in his turn act the part of a king to us.

  26. “Once more, how did Caesar know to exercise capital punishment?”

    You said…..

    “How did Caesar know what to do with the sword?”

    Caesar followed his corrupt heart and murdered his opponents. He followed natural law that has been tainted by the fall.
    .

    • Ron,

      Here’s what God’s Word says:

      Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

      So, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, each one of the pagans and none of them particularly nice guys were all instituted by God. Full stop.

      Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.

      Paul doesn’t say, “whoever resists righteous authorities.” When Paul wrote these words Nero was in power. He was a boy. He was effeminate and worse. Paul clearly wants us to think that, even with Nero’s gross character flaws, Nero still had the ability to be a terror to bad conduct. How? Nero knew how to distinguish good and bad conduct. Since he wasn’t reading the Torah and yet, according to Paul, Nero knew how to distinguish good and bad. He was capable of enforcing civil righteousness.

      On this basis God’s Word says,

      Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you rwill receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

      Nero was, according to Paul, an avenger, God’s minister, carrying out God’s judgment on civil evildoers.

      That’s God’s Word. Any theory (e.g., theonomy) that seeks to discount this clear teaching by God’s Word does not deserve our support.

      Guido de Bres, who wrote our Belgic Confession, was so committed to this understanding of Romans 13 that he rejected an offer by the French to attack the city and deliver him from the authorities. Instead, he voluntarily submitted to unjust capital punishment. His crime? Preaching the gospel. I’m not sure that I would do what he did but his example is instructive.

    • Do you believe those who tried and executed Charles I were acting Biblical in doing that, Dr. Clark?

      John Lofton
      Recovering Republican

    • I think that’s a difficult question. There’s a case to be made for a constitutionalist/resistance theory that goes back to the middle ages and was picked up again in the 16th and 17th century by the Protestants and applied to the French Wars of Religion, among other circumstances.

      It’s hard for me to imagine that the Apostle Paul would have supported a revolution against Nero. Jesus certainly didn’t support a revolution against Rome/Pilate. Calvin’s theory of lesser magistrates seems defensible. I think the American Revolution, as distinct from the French, can be justified thus. I am attracted to Althusius‘ theory of spheres, which, mutatis mutandis, still works.

  27. Are Christians to turn in other Christians when the authorities deem Christianity to be subversive ?

    Was Moses wrong when he protected innocent life by taking the life of the task master?

    Is a Christian not to violate private property rights by jumping a fence and saving a drowning child in the neighbors pool?

    Where does the civil magistrate go to find answers to these questions?

    Natural law?

    • Ron,

      This is the last post I can do today. I’ve been answering questions since this morning.

      Are Christians to turn in other Christians when the authorities deem Christianity to be subversive ?

      Not necessarily. I suppose Christians might disagree. Pliny the Younger had to torture deaconesses to get information on the Christians in 114 AD.

      Was Moses wrong when he protected innocent life by taking the life of the task master?

      Christians have disagreed on this. Calvin thought that Moses was acting in capacity as the divinely appointed leader of the Israelites. I think this is correct. There is a strong case for self defense to be made from natural law.

      Is a Christian not to violate private property rights by jumping a fence and saving a drowning child in the neighbors pool?

      Yes. One could know that from nature.

      Where does the civil magistrate go to find answers to these questions? Natural law?

      Haven’t I answered this question at length? Check the previous answers.

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