From the early 4th century, when Christianity was declared a legal religion and properties were returned to Christians and persecution of Christians was forbidden, the Christian church gradually become intertwined with the empire. Gradually, paganism was marginalized and then eventually made illegal. Emperors in the 4th century and following intervened directly in the life and assemblies of the church. The emperor convened the Council of Nicea in 325. In 380 the empire sided with Nicene orthodoxy and declared its opponents to be heretics. In the East and in the West Christianity gradually became the de facto state religion. As with developments in worship, the 4th century was decisive for future patterns in the way that the church would relate to the broader culture. The church enjoyed more than 1,400 years of favored status. In the 16th and 17th centuries, during the Reformation and post-Reformation periods, the debate between Rome and Protestants was not whether there is a true church that should be enforced by the state but which one it should be. Protestant resistance theorists asserted both a distinction between the church and the state and treated the emperor as if he were a new King David and, e.g., France as if it were a new Israel. The Scots Presbyterians did arguably the same thing in their national covenants.
In the West, the privilege enjoyed by the visible church began to be dislodged by the various Enlightenment movements that would come to dominate the academy and cultural elites for roughly the next 250 years. Still, as a practical matter, Christians continued to experience favored status until, in historical terms, very recently. In the West it has only been since World War II and practically since the 1960s that the Christians have really noticed any profound change. In the 1960s, in the USA, school-sponsored prayers were declared unconstitutional. In the 1970s and 80s the so-called “Blue Laws” began to be overturned (they still exist in some places), marking the beginning of the end of the state-sponsored recognition of Sunday as the Christian Lord’s Day or Sabbath. Remember that though the American constitution forbids any federal church state-sponsored churches continued to exist well into the 19th century.
One result of this long heritage of entanglement between church and state is that many Christians still default to what has been called the Constantinian model. They want the state to act like the church, when it suits them. One sees this on the Christian right and on the Christian left. A Republican Presidential candidate is proposing a new federal agency to promote Judeo-Christian values. He has also argued that in view of the future judgment, Christians should support his vision of a social-welfare safety net. The Christian right wants the state to enforce personal morality more aggressively (e.g., the Moral Majority). The Christian left wants the state to act redemptively in a corporate capacity. The state-Messianism of the Christian left manifests itself in the grounds given by the Christian left for their policy that the USA should receive and resettle large numbers of Syrian refugees.
Repeatedly advocates of the policy of Syrian resettlement in the USA invoke the Old Testament laws protecting the sojourner. E.g., Deuteronomy 10:19 “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (ESV). They invoke some of the 613 commandments, which Jews and Christians confess that God gave to Israel, and apply them directly to the USA without so much as a “by your leave.” Every theocrat, theonomist, and Christian Reconstructionist says amen to this use of Scripture. One suspects, however, that the Christian leftist would not be pleased to see the state enforcing Biblical religion at the point of the sword. It would awkward to to admit thousands of Syrian refugees only to prosecute the Muslims majority for denying Biblical religion. We may be sure that the Christian leftist would be quite opposed to the state-enforcement of Mosaic sexual practice. They want an enlightened, selective theocracy.
There is an alternative. Even as they sought to reform the state church in England and Scotland, the Westminster Divines confessed a very important and truly helpful distinction in the way that Christians understand the Mosaic law after the cross:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.
4. 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.
5. The moral law doth forever 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. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.
The law that God gave to Adam in creation, the covenant of works, was re-stated to Israel in the Ten Commandments. That law we recognize as an expression of God’s universal moral will. It was also frequently called by Christians “the natural law” (lex naturalis or lex naturae). They distinguished between two tables of the law, the first table referring to man’s duty to God and the second to man’s duty to man. The divines confessed two other distinctions. They distinguished between the Israelite ceremonial laws concerning strictly religious (cultic) matters (e.g., washing, purification, sacrifices etc) and the civil laws. Those were fulfilled by Christ. The civil or judicial laws, they confessed, “expired” with the Israelite state. All that is left is the “general equity” of them, which we see reflected in Paul’s instruction to Christians to submit to the pagan magistrate Nero (Rom 13). Nowhere in the New Testament does one find even the slightest whisper of a hint that the apostles sought state sanction or much less imposition of Christianity upon the Roman empire. Indeed, after the apostles, the Epistle to Diognetus (ch. 5), Irenaeus, Justin, and Tertullian did not ask for state-sanction of Christianity. They only asked to be left alone.
Nevertheless, under the influence of the Constantinian settlement, virtually everyone in the Christian East and West was theocratic in their understanding of the law thus they sought to enforce the first table by the use of the sword. After the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, however, Christians began to raise questions about the theocratic approach, the state-enforcement of the first table. In the American experiment, citizens agreed not to have a state-enforced religion (at least at the federal level) but they did so in within the broader Constantinian context. We are still learning how to work out the consequences of distinguishing church and state, of learning how to look at the state as a secular institution, i.e., as an institution that has no role in enforcing a favored religion.
One consequence of a secular state (as characterized above; please note that I did not write “secularist“) is that just as it is improper for theocrats on the Christian right to seek to use the levers of civil authority to impose their vision of the future (eschatology) so too it is improper for theocrats on the Christian left to use the power of the state to impose their vision of the future upon society. Both of them are, in my opinion, different versions of the Anabaptist desire for an earthly golden age, which the Swiss Reformed Churches rejected in the Second Helvetic Confession (ch. 11) in 1566:
We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth.
Rather than ping-ponging between the theocracies of the the Christian Left and Right, we should recognize that we live as Calvin wrote, in a “twofold kingdom” (duplex regimen). Surely we understand what that means differently from the way he did but it is a good and helpful distinction. It means that we have duties to both the civil magistrate and to the church. As members of the civil polity, which is best understood as a covenant of works, we ought to advocate policies that are for the welfare of all citizens. Those policies are are best grounded in natural revelation, accessible to all who will use their senses and rational faculties. As members of the spiritual polity (represented by the visible church), which is a covenant of grace, Christians have a duty to show love and grace to those the civil magistrate admits to the protections of the republic. The United States is not a new incarnation of national Israel nor is it the church. It is a civil polity. As such it does things that the church cannot and should not do (e.g., bear the sword). The church is the Israel of God, in Christ. The church does what the state cannot do, namely show grace to the undeserving and to administer the keys of the eternal, spiritual kingdom.
It is not easy to know how to relate our duties to both realms simultaneously and faithful Christians will disagree but we have liberty to do so. One may think that it is good civil policy to admit Syrian refugees and another may think it foolish to admit thousands of refugees. Now we are having the sort of discussion we should: the proper application of wisdom and natural law to civil policy rather than a debate about who is or is not a faithful Christian using the machinery of the state to enforce their eschatology upon citizens who may or may not agree with them.
Also, just wanted to add that I finished reading RRC this week and wanted to thank you for your work.
Thank you Gus. I’m glad it’s useful.
A breath of fresh air! The historical perspective is so very helpful for our current national discussion. Thank you, Scott.
By the way, here I the definition of “refugee” from the 1979 Law:
“Title II: Admission of Refugees= – Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to define “refugee” as any person who is: (1) outside his country of nationality (or in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which he last habitually resided), and who is unable or unwilling to return to such country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group; or ….”
By the way, the virile men flooding into other countries from Syria certainly do not have a fear of persecution if they return to their homeland. In fact, due to their participation in rebellion, they are disqualified from refugee status as per the 1979 Law quoted above.
“They only asked to be left alone.”
I don’t remember which volume it was, but Bavinck expounded upon this in Reformed Dogmatics. Leading from Paul’s instruction for Christians to live quiet lives, Bavinck says that Christians can best expect to live simple lives with quiet dignity. Perhaps it is time for believers to live as the Moral Minority and place their focus on protecting the church and the gospel,
Thank you, Dr. Clark, for such a great read today! I found this to be extremely beneficial in light of media’s loud noise.
One correction: blue laws were repealed, not overturned. To this day blue laws are held to be Constitutional.
Should the visible church help non-Christians in need? Scriptural proof?
In my view, the biblical evidence that the visible church ought to do is quite thin. I’m willing to be persuaded but the exegesis needs to be a little more careful and robust to be persuasive.
There is abundant evidence that Christians ought to do. That is a better use of the parable of the good Samaritan, so long as we know that it is Jesus who is the Savior and we are either the guy who passed by or the guy in the ditch. We ought to want to take care of the Samaritan because God rescued us when we were helpless.
In some ways we’re still adapting to the post-chuch-state situation. People appeal to the extensive poverty relief program in Geneva as a model but, again, that’s state-church. Still, the impulse is admirable. The Kuyperians had a good idea with with what they called “societies” (private agencies). Christians ought to be involved with them.
Am I misreading this or is the second element in the dichotomy wrongly written: another may not [sic] think it foolish to admit thousands of refugees when it seems clear that doing that helped facilitate the recent attacks in Paris.
“Another may think it foolish” sounds like the intended idea.
I have no problem when people quote the Bible for certain conduct, but some have to understand that statements in the Bible don’t always apply to our current status or time. Along with quotes from the Bible, try giving a general argument not based on the Bible (like rules concerning OT Israel) that appeals to others like dispensationalists : ).
Even I messed up my first paragraph. Darn!
Thank you Alberto.
Thank you for this needed corrective. Its gotten quite frequent to call someone a bad Christian for not adhering to another persons politics.
Dr. Clark, for what it’s worth, I see a lot of Christians my age (I’m Generation Y) support Leftist polity because it is the Christian thing to do. I even saw one church (post-denominational) call their congregation to call the Department of Justice in light of the recent riots in the States. I’m thankful for the post.
By the way, I too read Recovering the Reformed Confession (it took me two nights!). As somebody who attends an ECO church, I thank you. I consider myself Reformed the way you define it, but due to circumstances,I find myself to be an exile among exiles sometimes. Again, thank you.
Helpful article. Came at the rightful time as we are rethinking how to apply the two kingdoms doctrine in the African context.
Thank you Kennedy. Good to hear from you!
Thank you for your contribution to this discussion; I think I speak for most Christians when I say that the immigration issue has stretched us to endeavour to apply Biblical wisdom. I am not a Reconstructionist or a Scotish Covenanter, so I largely appreciate what you’ve articulated.
In this post, you criticized “the state-enforcement of the first table” because the state is “an institution that has no role in enforcing a favored religion.”
However, I wonder if the enforcement or lack thereof of the first table of the law is as cut and dry as many of the Kline-Horton-VanDrunen-Clark-2K persuasion make it. I’m inclined to believe that even as regards the civil law, there are times when the first table must be implemented and in fact neutrality is impossible on the matter.
For example, you mentioned “In the 1960s, in the USA, school-sponsored prayers were declared unconstitutional.” Should there be prayer to the one true God in schools? I guess you could retreat to a position on education that would get the government out of education entirely, but such is not essential to Reformed Theology. So, if there is a government school system, should there be prayer in the classroom, and Who should be prayed to?
Secondly, you mentioned “In the 1970s and 80s the so-called “Blue Laws” began to be overturned (they still exist in some places), marking the beginning of the end of the state-sponsored recognition of Sunday as the Christian Lord’s Day or Sabbath.” Of course, this pertains to the fourth commandment which is part of the first table of the law. Yet, without “state-sponsored recognition of Sunday as the Christian Lord’s Day or Sabbath”, on what basis would you argue that Parliament or Congress should not normatively sit on Sunday, or even that Sunday ought not be a school day – right from the start of school into collage education?
It seems to me that in an effort to correctly ensure that the government isn’t forcing religious practice (be it in the form of state punishment for apostasy or mandating church attendance), we run the risk of denying the creator.
So, if I’m understand your case, you’re in favor of Constantinianism or some sort of state-church.
1. You are quite mistaken to refer this to modern authors of whatever school. One cannot dismiss this case so easily. Diognetus was written no later than 150 AD. Ditto for Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Indeed, the NT was complete by c. 94 AD. I offered concrete historical evidence of a pre-Constantinian arrangement and you offer theological reasons why it cannot be.
Again, someone needs to show me even the slightest hint that the Apostles thought that the civil magistrate should enforce the first table. Here are some places where I’ve addressed this previously. Perhaps you could take a look at them:
There are many more attempts to explain this perspective under the category “twofold kingdom” (see the links at the end of the post). Which brings me to my next point. The category I’m invoking comes not from MGK or anyone else you listed. It comes from a Constantinian, John Calvin. His verbiage was, I’ve pointed out several times over the last few years was duplex regimen or “twofold kingdom.” What I’m trying to do is to apply it to a post-Constantinian circumstance.
Do you really want Barack Hussein Obama or Jerry Brown enforcing the 1st table? I certainly don’t. If not, then what are we discussing? Are we to say that only Christians may serve as magistrates? That’s certainly not the American experiment or theory (see the link above). Again, when the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 13, he described a morally repulsive brat, Nero, as God’s minister. He never made our obedience to that murderous little tyrant contingent upon his being a Christian. The same is true for Peter and for Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus.
2. As to “neutrality” I’m certainly not arguing that. In 2009 I distinguished between “common” and “neutral” and I’ve been distinguishing them consistently before and since. “Common” is a well-established category in Reformed theology as is the idea of the “secular.” The rejection of them is quite modern. Again, the question is whether we can appropriate these categories for a post-Constantinian age? I think we can and must. To be perfectly clear, there is nothing neutral in this world. Everything belongs to God. Everything is under his providential, sovereign rule. Everyone must give account to his moral law. There is a Christian world view but there is also Christian liberty. Further, to anticipate certain criticisms:
3. School prayer. Certainly children should be free to pray privately in public schools and I’ve advocated the civil liberty of American students to do just that. The question is whether a state-institution or state employees, school and teachers, may impose religious practice upon students. It’s reasonable to say no. Here I agree with Machen who said, “I think I am just about as strongly opposed to the reading of the Bible in state-controlled schools as any atheist could be.” See also here on school prayer. I don’t want either pagans or mainline liberals teaching children to pray. In some places the pagan teaching might well be a witch or some sort of sexual libertine who might be teaching them who-knows-what. That is hardly inviting. Now we’re back to the problem of having only Christian teachers. By whose confessional standard? Under what constitution?
There’s a reasonable case to be made on Libertarian grounds, that the state should not be in the education business at all. It has done an increasingly miserable job of it since the mid-20th century. One need not be a Christian to see that public schools are failing almost universally (with the possible exception of charter schools, where the authority is located where it should be, with the parents). I don’t see how that constitutes a “retreat” since state-schools are hardly the norm historically. Where, are state-schools essential to Reformed theology? I should like to see an attempt to make that case. I think you’re pulling my leg here.
4. Did the state enforce the Christian or Jewish sabbaths in the 1st century? The 2nd? The 3rd? No. How can you make a 4th-century development, to which the NT Scriptures never speak, a norm? That’s an odd anachronism. You say that you are not a theonomist/reconstructionist but the only way to get to your position, it seems, is via theonomy or CR.
I think a natural-law (creational) argument can be made for a universally, state-sanctioned day of rest. Whether it would be Sunday is anyone’s guess but the Christians of the first three centuries served the Lord and recognized the Sunday as the Lord’s Day and the Christian Sabbath without state sanction or intervention and so, I suppose, would we if it comes to that. On the creational case for the Sabbath see Recovering the Reformed Confession (still available on Kindle for .99). We can argue for the Sabbath on the basis of creation (not Moses) just as we argue for heterosexual monogamy on the basis of creation.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to restrict your freedom here. You are welcome to make arguments from Scripture, from the Torah, to the magistrate about what he ought to do. Go for it but I don’t think that you’re free to say that is the only way such cases may be argued or that it is the norm for Christian practice because, clearly, historically, prior to Constantine, it was not.
5. Your final argument is sheer theocracy and contradicts Romans 13 on its face. I think I’ve already addressed it. You seem to know a priori what must be before you get to Romans 13 or anywhere else in the NT. Paul had plenty of opportunity to make the same argument and he did not. He treated pagan magistrates, who never recognized nor submitted to the true God, as God’s divinely-instituted ministers of God’s civil justice.
Hi Scott – thank you for reading my comment, and responding in quite some detail.
1. Some clarifications about my position and where I agree with you.
(a) I do believe in common grace, and that there is a secular (meaning non-ecclesial realm) – even Gillespie believed this; “ministers may not assume civil dignities and administrations, nor exercise secular power.”
(b) I don’t advocate an official state denomination, that be Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism or another denomination – as a Presbyterian, I don’t believe the government should relate to Kevin De Young’s PCA any differently than to John Piper’s Baptist church. I do believe that the government of a nation ought to recognize the Triune God Who is creator, but this does not require the normative execution of heretics or apostates or anything of the sort – I would contend that Hebrews 10:26-29 makes punishing these sins the normative responsibility of the church by excommunication. I am 2K!
(c) I completely agree with the position you outlined in “But Is It Biblical?” that we should “think of our cultural engagement, as part of our citizenship in Christ’s twofold kingdom … Doesn’t our engagement with such institutions come under the heading of creation rather than redemption?” And I agree that “The essential character of the Kingdom of God is eschatological but, in Acts thus far, its only earthly manifestation is Christ-centered and ecclesiastical in character.”
Now to respond …
I am aware that there are a variety of views within Reformed Christianity and an even greater variety of views within historic Christianity on these issues; and, this variety extends to the question of how Christians should interact when we are a real minority or even under persecution. In one of the articles linked to, you said, the goal of the early church was “Please stop murdering us. We are no existential threat to the prevailing civil order.” But, isn’t this itself to advocate a transformation of the civil order, for these rights are foundational in the common kingdom?
“Do you really want Barack Hussein Obama or Jerry Brown enforcing the 1st table? I certainly don’t.” No, but these progressives don’t enforce the second table as I want them to either. Same-sex adoption violates the fifth commandment (yet they have not abolished the legal category of parent), abortion violates the sixth commandment (yet they retain laws against other forms of murder), so-called same-sex marriage violates the seventh commandment (yes they’ve maintained laws requiring sexual consent), the current taxation system arguably violates the eighth commandment (yet there is still widespread ownership of private property), etc. If there is a component of the first table of the law that should be enforced, perhaps as with the second table, a degree of enforcement is superior to none at all.
While I agree that Nero was God’s minister, and therefore our obedience isn’t contingent upon the faith or lack thereof of the magistrate, in the same way that Nero ought have been impeached if under the U.S. Constitution for violating (to give merely three examples) “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”, that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” and that “cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted”, I believe it is legitimate to expect a magistrate to uphold a constitution that they might disagree with in places – e.g. many Democrats, who deep down want to repeal the second amendment – I don’t think they should be banned from seeking office, just violating the constitution. “Are we to say that only Christians may serve as magistrates?” I would argue, “by law, no”, because civil government belongs to common creation rather than salvific redemption, but I would still expect them to uphold laws that recognise God as creator. This has been the case in the Anglosphere – e.g. Australia had an atheistic Prime Minister by the name of Gillard yet their constitution still recognizes “Almighty God”.
On education. You asked, “Where, are state-schools essential to Reformed theology?” Likely my fault for being unclear, but as someone who attended a private Christian school, I certainly don’t believe that state-schools are essential to Reformed Theology. I believe the legitimacy and desirability of state-schools is an issue that the Reformed tradition permits disagreement on. I support enhancing school autonomy and choice, yet, in the reality we live in (politics is the science of reality!), there are state-schools. You said, “The question is whether a state-institution or state employees, school and teachers, may impose religious practice upon students. It’s reasonable to say no.” Here I would disagree with both yourself and Machen – I believe it would be wholly legitimate to mandate school prayer or simply requiring the students not to overtly blaspheme God in the classroom.
On the Sabbath. I agree with you that the Sabbath is grounded in creation; the Westminster tradition has continuously maintained this position. However, I don’t believe that it can be deduced from natural revelation which day this should be (for the day changed from Saturday to Sunday) or how frequent it should be. Why Sunday, instead of Monday? Why a seven day week rather than an eight day week? I believe that we must rely on special revelation to answer questions such as these. As the Westminster Confession says, it is “in His Word” where “He has particularly appointed one day in seven.”
In a similar way, where you asked “Did the state enforce the Christian … Sabbath in the 1st century?” I would answer “yes”. As Thomas Watson wrote, “SIX days shall you labor.” God would not have any live without working. True religion gives no warrant for idleness. It is a duty to labor six days, as well as keep holy rest on the seventh day.” The fourth commandment (and its origin in the created order) establishes the pattern for the seven day week. There would be utter chaos if the magistrate did not enforce the fourth commandment to some extent; “someone needs to show me even the slightest hint that the Apostles thought that the civil magistrate should enforce the first table” – and this is where I might begin. Even under pagan first century Roman rule, the common grace of God seems to have shone through enough for the rulers of Rome to inescapably enforce aspects of the first table of the law.
I really appreciate your previous response – it is quite an ordeal to rightly apply the duplex regimen to this post-Constantinian age and circumstance. Especially when so many areas of secular agreement with unbelievers can no longer be taken for granted. I look forward to reading your future contributions to these important discussions.
I think we’re at an impasse.
There’s no evidence whatever that the NT authors (or the 2nd-century) Christians expected the magistrate to enforce the 1st table or to establish Christianity as the state religion. There’s no evidence that they wanted the magistrate to establish any religion. Nowhere did the NT authors ask the magistrate to establish a religion, let alone Christianity.
When the early church asked the magistrate to stop persecuting them (including martyring them) they did so on the basis of nature an reason, not on the basis of special revelation or grace and salvation.
The constitutional documents, which American magistrates pledge to uphold, are grounded entirely in natural revelation: “nature and nature’s God” and empirically “self-evident” principles revealed in creation. There’s no appeal to special revelation.
The argument from the Sabbath is strange. One cannot appeal from Israel, of course, since that was God’s national people. Of course they were supposed to enforce the Sabbath. We know with reasonable certainty that the magistrates in the NT and in the 2nd & 3rd centuries did not enforce the Sabbath. Christians, who were enslaved by pagans, met for worship before work and after. Sunday did not become a public holiday/day of rest, until the 4th century. Nowhere the Christians ask the magistrate, prior to Constantine, to enforce the Sabbath.
You haven’t given any actual evidence that the NT requires or expects the magistrate to enforce Christianity as the state religion, have you?
I know as a WSC Professor you are very busy, so thank you once again for taking time to interact with me.
1. The Sabbath.
// … the magistrates in the NT and in the 2nd & 3rd centuries did not enforce the Sabbath. Christians, who were enslaved by pagans, met for worship before work and after. Sunday did not become a public holiday/day of rest, until the 4th century. Nowhere the Christians ask the magistrate, prior to Constantine, to enforce the Sabbath.//
Respectfully, I perceive that you are (a) confusing the descriptive with the prescriptive and (b) neglecting the historical circumstances. Presumably, as a Sabbatarian, you would agree that meeting under persecution before and after work for worship isn’t ideal. The church in these early centuries were aiming to withstand persecution – they weren’t trying to apply the duplex regimen to an immigration debate or commenting on a whole host of issues you and I properly write about either.
I do not believe that you can make the inferences you have from the silence of the early church. We cannot sound like those who (unlike us) read the book of Acts where the frontier of God’s people expanded to Gentile peoples to conclude that the organic growth of the church isn’t normative. We cannot read that the goal for the first century church was “Please stop murdering us” and conclude that the silence of the church on other matters means they aren’t the duty of the magistrate.
Constantine officialised the seven day week in AD 321 – it was most chaotic before that, with some holding to the eight day week others a seven day week and the eight day week eventually fading out even before Constantine. In the United States, the Presidential election is by law to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. I cannot fathom the chaos if such a law was implemented where the people disagreed on the weekly calendar.
As you rightly pointed out, “a proper Christian worldview, however, entails sound doctrine (as we learned from Cornelius Van Til, who before he ever defended the faith laid out a comprehensive summary of the orthodox faith).” Three of our rules for interpreting the ten commandments (quotations from Turretin) are (a) internalization, that the law extends to the “internal motions of the mind”, (b) positivization, that “in affirmative precepts, negative, and in negative, affirmative are contained”, and (c) synecdoche, that “in all the precepts synecdoche is to be acknowledged.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Here, we see (a) internalization “in his heart”, (b) positivization, that in forbidding sexual immorality Jesus commands sexual chastity, (c) synecdoche, that the part signified the whole – adultery signified sexual immorality, just as in the fifth commandment honor of parents means honor for all superiors (WLC 123-132). I mention this because by synecdoche God certainly dictates a seven day week in the fourth commandment.
The fourth commandment reads “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Merely recognizing a seven day week is an enforcement of the fourth commandment, which on makes sense in recognition of God’s week of work in creation which established the pattern for our own seven day week.
2. Persecution and Human Life
//When the early church asked the magistrate to stop persecuting them (including martyring them) they did so on the basis of nature and reason, not on the basis of special revelation or grace and salvation.
The constitutional documents, which American magistrates pledge to uphold, are grounded entirely in natural revelation: “nature and nature’s God” and empirically “self-evident” principles revealed in creation. There’s no appeal to special revelation.//
I somewhat agree, even ideologically, especially that special grace and salvation are not the basis for why persecuting Christians should be illegal – common grace and creation are. Yet, yourself and David VanDrunen have done a phenomenal job in stressing the indispensability of God’s covenant with Noah for the common kingdom.
We can ascertain from Genesis 9 that murder is to be punished by death in the common kingdom. Verses 3-6, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
The basis for a “magistrate to stop persecuting them (including martyring them)” is that “God made man in His own image”, not a possibly vague “nature and nature’s God”, but the one true God. Apart from the Biblical doctrine that God made man in his own image, neither the differentiation between man and animal that “every moving thing that lives shall be food for you” but not vice versa, nor that “for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it” but not vice versa, would be of any coherence.
In 2015, a New York court considered whether or not chimps are legal persons. Apart from our doctrine that God created man and not animals in His image, what basis do we have for treating humans and animals any differently in a court of law?
3. Sundry First Table Comments
//There’s no evidence whatever that the NT authors (or the 2nd-century) Christians expected the magistrate to enforce the 1st table or to establish Christianity as the state religion. There’s no evidence that they wanted the magistrate to establish any religion. Nowhere did the NT authors ask the magistrate to establish a religion, let alone Christianity.
You haven’t given any actual evidence that the NT requires or expects the magistrate to enforce Christianity as the state religion, have you?//
As I said earlier, when the aim is to end persecution in your country, you might be more silent about other issues you’d otherwise like to speak about. Even today, Christians in Iran or North Korea are rightly vocal in a very different way to Christians in New Zealand or South Korea. Did the prophet Daniel ask that he not be forced to disobey God, or did He call on the King to institute something similar to the first amendment? Yet, you have defended on first amendment on numerous occasions; e.g. “The first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says: … Then, of course, there is the Article 6.3 of the Constitution.”
I do not advocate enforcing Christianity as the state religion is the same way that Reconstructionists and others I disagree with your criticisms of do. Yet, often, either deliberately or on borrowed capital, the magistrate will need to rely on the first table of the law (even to outlaw murder) – and sometimes they will even need to enforce it (such as to provide the stability of a common seven day week).
Thank you once again for interacting with me; I can only imagine how busy you are – please only respond if you actually have the time to do so!
“Merely recognizing a seven day week is an enforcement of the fourth commandment…”
I’m sorry, but this sentence requires too bizarre of a definition of “enforcement” to be taken seriously.
I said, “Merely recognizing a seven day week is an enforcement of the fourth commandment…”
You responded, “I’m sorry, but this sentence requires too bizarre of a definition of “enforcement” to be taken seriously.”
Not at all.
“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. .. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.”
The six day week is part of the fourth commandment. The same creative pattern that established the day or rest established the seven day week itself.
If you think the point of this commandment is that a week is supposed to have seven days, if you think that publishing a calendar with seven-day weeks is sufficient to “enforce” it, then I really don’t know what to say.
The seven day week itslef is PART of the fourth commandment, not all of it.
Your most recent comment in no way reflects my position.
Then I don’t see how it makes any sense for you to say “Merely recognizing a seven day week is an enforcement of the fourth commandment.” If that’s not the whole commandment–if it’s not the important part of the commandment–then how is it enforcing it?
Very helpful post. In my context growing up I have seen a lot more of the religious right. I appreciate the critique of both left and right, and the application to be able to disagree about a course of action motivated by wisdom and mercy rather than lobbing out of context bible verses is golden.
How do you guys decide whether or not an action done by a nation is either right or wrong? Where do you go? Natural Law? God has two standards?
We’ve been round this pole a few dozen times so just a brief reply so readers aren’t confused.
1. You guys = All confessional Protestants until about 1930.
2. God has one moral law expressed in two places: Scripture and nature. You may not believe in natural law but the Reformed faith does as is easily demonstrated. Way back in 2008 I posted this introduction:
Natural Law And the Reformed Confessions
Here are some resources on natural law.
I learned about natural law from John Calvin. Here’s the essay.
In his Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, Caspar Olevianus, one of the authors/editors of our catechism wrote,
In De substantia 2.5 he wrote,
Until Barth, whom the theonomists/Reconstructionists oddly follow on this point, this was standard Reformed teaching. Read Rom 1-2. It’s right there in God’s inerrant Word.
I can’t go along with the persuasion that the 1st Table of The Law isn’t enforcible by
the Civil Magistrate,
I think a natural-law (creational) argument can be made for a state-sanctioned
enforcement of the 1st Table as well as the 2nd Table, as can be seen from Job’s
comment made under Natural Law in the 31st Chapter of the Book of Job.
Job states in vs’ 9 through 11 that had he been enticed to commit Adultery that it is
an Iniquity heinous enough to be punished by the Judges or Magistrate, confirming
a 2nd Table enforcement likewise he goes goes on to state that had his heart been
enticed to worship the Celestial bodies (sun & moon) ie: commit Idolatry, that that would
have likewise been punishable by the Judges or Civil Magistrate, thus stating under the
natural-law (creational) administration that it is was right & proper for the Civil
Magistrate to enforce the 1st Table of the Law, vs’ 26 through 28, Job a Prophet of High
standing incidentally also seems fully aware of Adam’s transgression with a reference
to it in vs 33, of which Adam Clarke says is “a most evident allusion to the fall”.
I believe this one reference is enough to confirm that the 1st Table is enforcible by the
Magistrate, even more so after the Law was given externally on Tablets of Stone.
In the New Testament the Law or Ten Commandments seem to have been materially
Republished pedagogically, albeit with a fuller clearer revelation as to the Tri-une
Nature of the Godhead, change of Sabbath Day to Lord’s Day etc.., and their obligation
remains upon all persons, positions & institutions.
Incidentally isn’t it the traditional view of the Baptists to deny the Magistrates obligation to
enforce the 1st Table of the Law!
A dubious inference from Job is a very thin basis indeed for your conclusion, especially given the way the NT speaks and doesn’t speak. The NT says nothing of the civil enforcement of 1st table and explicitly teaches Christians how they ought to relate to the civil magistrate.
Dubious inference? it is a clear statement, you couldn’t get it any clearer, it is so clear that
it does not even rely on good & necessary consequence! a direct reference to the Magistrate
having authority to punish 1st Table offences under natural (creational) law post Flood &
The NT doesn’t say anything of infant baptism or female participation in the Lord’s Supper
but we accept them from good & necessary consequence, it says that the Magistrate is a fear
or terror rather unto them that do evil Rom. 13 this was enough for the 17th Century Scots
Presbyterians to make a case for 1st Table enforcement, also…
Just the other day I came across a Samuel Rutherford article in the back of a Still Waters
photocopy of his Divine Right of Church Gov.. taken from his A Free Disputation against
Pretended Liberty of Conscience he states that Isaiah 49:23, 66:10 & Rev 21:26 the
Magistrate is fore-prophecied to be a nurse-father to the Church under the NT.
He is to keep and guard both tables of the law, to see that Pastors do their duty and to minister
to the Church by his governmental power, (as scripture says when the fountain shall be opened
in David’s house [i.e. under the New Testament] he shall thrust through the false Prophet that
speaks lies in the name of the lord [Zech.13:1-6]).
Above you mention that “there is nothing neutral in this world,” Dr. Clark. You helpfully then furnish a couple of links illuminating the concepts of “common” and “neutral” in Reformed thought. I want to study those. Before I forget, though, how about a blast from the past? Decades ago, Eerdmans published “The Reformed Journal,” a gem of a magazine. Here is Calvin Seminary professor Henry Stob writing on the subject of Christian organizations in March, 1964: “I hold, furthermore, that labor unions and political parties ‘can be neutral.’ This does not mean that any ‘man’ can be neutral. Every man is either in Christ or out of Him and is, deep down, operating either in the service of the City of God or of the City of the World. But these two sorts of men ‘must co-operate’ in this world, and I hold that they ‘can’ do this, and sometimes ‘should’ do this, in neutral, i.e., non-ideologically structured, organizations that are established to achieve goals ‘common’ to Christians and non-Christians.” Fifty years later, I personally think such “neutral” groups are becoming scarcer!
With all due respect–I see much of the debate as the application of “the general equity” of biblical case law in the call to be generous to the sojourner and refugee; and the application of the general rule that the public is to be protected and evil discouraged by the government in the call for restrictive admission. After all, Europe’s experience with Islamic immigration has not been positive, with the overwhelming number of rapes in Scandinavia being committed by Muslim immigrants, the riots in the Banlieux of France, and fearless intimidation of critics of Islam.
And now for a hypothetical question, from one who thinks himself at least a little sympathetic to the view that historical circumstance and prescriptive commands may differ. What if, instead of martyring Peter and Paul, Nero ended up hearing Paul’s defense and converting to Christ? Apart from turning from his rather debauched ways, what would such a Nero’s duties have been?
One might take issue with several statements in this post:
I think this misses the nuance of the magisterial argument. Certainly as one who trumpets forth the merits of confessional (as do I since I learned it from you!), it would be more fitting if you interacted with these statements than simply dismiss them or lump them in with modern Americanism which is garbed in broad evangelicalism and fundamentalism, not orthodoxy.
The national covenants of Presbyterianism would have been looked on as an advancement or distinct development from that of ancient Israel precisely because the nation was never identified as the church. However, a nation has the right and duty (even by the standard of natural law) to recognize God, the Lordship of Christ and to live by His rule and standard. See the 1st and 2nd Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland for the details.
Should not this very fact make us examine why establishmentarianism was rejected? Our forefathers based their arguments on scripture, whereas we based our arguments on pragmatism and the spirit of the day. It is no advancement to now, standing on the errors of the past, to look back and baptize the philosophy with scripture.
Second, is not demonstrative of the spirit of the modern Reformed church that our arguments about church-state relations is as diverse as the fragmented state of the ecclesiological landscape? Whence the strength, the unity, the solidarity in a unified, confessional position?
This might be true of Americans and other Western Christians but it can hardly be said of the Reformers and the Reformed orthodox. Americans tend to look at church-state relations through the lens of politics whereas the Reformers looked at it through the lens of piety (see Frederick III’s introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism). Statists of all kinds propose a polytheistic Godhead (though nameless and faceless as in the ‘God we trust’) whereas the Reformers worshipped the Triune God and, in particular, in the name of Jesus Christ, Lord of all.
Furthermore, one might contend whether there is such a thing as ‘Constantianism.’ It must be established that such a thing exists (What are its tenets, if any? Did Constantine clearly hold to these and propagate them? Have other magistrates who involved themselves in matters of faith followed these principles? Did they claim to be imitating him? Did the church, at any time, advocate such a thing?) and, if it did, it must be determined if it was adopted wholesale by church and state in the time of Reformation. Second, whatever errors Constantine (the man) had, these are not sufficient grounds for the establishment of a doctrine (modern two kingdom theology) or the replacement of another (Reformed establishmentarianism) i.e. by pretended or even mere association. Third, the teaching of the Reformers concerning the role of the magistrate in the establishment of the magistrate as witnessed in the confessions & church orders of the time, as well as their personal writings clearly demonstrates that they were not baldly relying on one magistrate’s example (poor or otherwise). Fourth, it does not appear that Constantine was acting out of clear instruction from the church itself or a proper understanding of scripture’s teaching but in a time, according to Reformation values, when the church was in decay (Also contra to the time in which the Reformed church was in its ascendancy).
The establishment of true religion requires the worship of the Triune God and the expulsion of all idolaters. Troublesome as that may be to the flesh, God is no respecter of persons.
With all due respect, you cannot take away with one hand what you give with the other. Dr. Van Drunen does the same thing but ultimately cannot account for the two kingdom worldview of the Reformers by way of consistent application. How can the perspective of the divines be ‘an alternative’ when they clearly advocated (in the original text) public religion and public acknowledgment of their God?
The natural law arguments (though they are rightly advocated) cut both ways. First, natural law itself is a reflection of all Ten Commandments. The Heidelberg Catechism acknowledges that these are distinguished in two tables but not separated. You cannot appeal to one set of laws over against the others when the same rules function (in essence) in both church and state. Even if one were to deny that the state has any responsibility to the first one could only do so (consistently) by affirming that they have no duty to the second.
Second, it appears that such an argument does not take into account how the magisterial Reformers used natural law in their arguments for pretty much everything. Far from being the standard of public discourse, natural law played a supporting role in establishing biblical truth.
The relationship between scripture and natural law is analogous to the relationship between scripture and tradition. The former is normative and primary, the latter is secondary.
This much is shown to be true through the examples of pagan kings who regularly, in encountering the God of Israel, recognize and confess His greatness along with a The natural man understands, after all, that the Creator is worthy of worship and, as such, it is the duty of all men to grant Him that. As magistrates they understood that no one forbade them but rather they were obligated to require it through the power given to them by God.
Thomas M’Crie (Statement), Symington (Messiah the Prince) and others have laid out the exegetical evidence from the NT in detail. Consider Calvin’s Commentary on Deuteronomy 13:5-6 “Nor was it causelessly that Paul, when he enjoins prayers to be made for kings and other worldly rulers, added the reason that under them “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Timothy 2:2.) Christ, indeed as He is meek, would also, I confess, have us to be imitators of His gentleness, but that does not prevent pious magistrates from providing for the tranquillity and safety of the Church by their defense of godliness; since to neglect this part of their duty, would be the greatest perfidy and cruelty. And assuredly nothing can be more base than, when we see wretched souls drawn away to eternal destruction by reason of the impunity conceded to impious, wicked, and perverse impostors, to count the salvation of those souls for nothing.”
I ask with respect: have you read and interacted with their views? It would be helpful for those against and for the main motion to see that there is a sincere and healthy acknowledgment of the source material.
But that aside, why would Reformed Christians seek to establish an ethic from the New Testament alone? The Old Testament is our canon and the foundation of the New Testament church. We cannot advocate such an approach without floundering in other areas of biblical theology and ethics (sacraments, ecclesiology etc.).
Were their statements prescriptive or descriptive? Wisdom and common sense teach us that, under an antichristian and persecutory government, this might be the best we can hope for. Certainly Israel had concluded as much in the exile and yet God, in His wisdom, appointed the earthly magistrate for so much more!
The consequences are grave. It could be easily demonstrated that America is (directly or indirectly) responsible for the exponential growth of cults, sects, heresies and all manner of ecclesiastical mischief which has resulted in the near death of the Reformed church throughout the world. Far from not influencing the affairs of Christ’s church, the voluntarist notion of church and state has created a monstrous hybrid of henotheism and state religion, which has resulted in the very things you are complaining about in this post.
I realize that this is not your point, but it is important to note that the Reformers did not see it as their duty to ‘impose their vision of the future.’ Rather they saw that it was their duty to build up the church of God and have, as much as providence would afford them, a godly influence on the magistrate of their time.
Yet, as others have noted, the public square is not a vacuum, devoid of presupposition. Something will fill the void and it will be ungodly and deadly to say the least without some explicit Christian witness and influence.
Do you then disagree with this statement of the Helvetic, and on what grounds do you distinguish your affirmation of the former quotation with this, the latter?
If “civil polity” is “best understood as a covenant of works” than we best not build society at all lest we come under greater condemnation of our Creator. That is, having already violated the terms of the covenant, we only add to our guilt every time we try to do something under its influence.
The Ten Commandments represent the covenant of works only in the eyes of the unbeliever’s unbelief (see Perkins – Brakel and Witsius do not hold to the Ten Commandments as being the covenant of works but being ‘law’). These condemn him because he does not believe on the Mediator and, consequently, he is without hope and God in the world. But the believer looks upon the Ten Commandments as the foundation of a good society (albeit corrupt one). Those unbelievers who do so likewise are being informed by natural law. Thus these commandments function as the standard of godly living as well as civic duty. Though no man can keep them perfectly, this does not excuse us from our duties to both tables.
The welfare of all citizens is the salvation of all but since we do not have the ability to enact that, we must seek for the welfare of all citizens in light of the greater foundationalism of the first table (though not necessarily contra the second). Certainly idolatry is not in the best interest of all people as everywhere the scriptures make abundantly clear.
Good to hear from you. Your comment may win the prize for the longest comment in the history of the HB!
1. The Americans have revised the confessions, including Belgic 36. I agree with Kuyper on this as do most American Reformed folk. The American Presbyterians revised the Westminster in the 18th century, so most of these have been settled questions for a long time.
2. Maybe I can shorten the discussion by saying this: if you want to argue for an established Reformed church, go for it. I don’t think it’s biblical nor does it fit with the understanding of church-state relations in the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, i.e., the pre-Constantinian church. Yes, there was such a thing (a Constantinian settlement; Christendom). That’s why the American arrangement was so remarkable. It was an attempt to establish a state without the radicalism of the French Revolution&mdas;I agree with Kuyper and van Prinsterer about the legacy of the French Revolution. Christendom was a gradual development and no, I don’t think we’re going back but don’t let me stop you from advocating it.
3. Consequently, I’m arguing for the civil enforcement of the 2nd table. After the “state thereof” (Israel) expired there are no more national people’s of God. The second table is God’s universal common law. The 1st table is God’s universal law too but no longer should it be enforced by the magistrate.
4. As I’ve conceded many times, until the 18th century most every in our tradition favored a state church. I think I said that in the post. I agree with Kuyper. They were wrong. It was a mistake. Ergo, I’m entirely unmoved by appeals to the tradition. Calvin Bullinger, et al wrong on that point. Of course I agree with the Second Helvetic about the maintenance of peace and the protection of the ministry of the church. That’s a natural civil function. It is the duty of the magistrate (per Rom 13) to punish civil law breakers and those who violate the natural law of God. It’s on this basis that I’ve argued extensively e.g., for the civil prohibition of homosexual marriage. I affirm Belgic 36 as revised. I think we settled this at our last Synod.
5. I’m not impressed with the second half of Symington’s book. The 1st half, on the spirituality of the church was terrific but the second half was written as if there were no New Testament. The Prince-King of Psalm 2 isn’t Barack Obama. It’s Christ.
6. Now, Dan, you know better than to suggest that I’m trying to form an ethic solely from the NT. All of the Bible is God’s holy Word and it’s all relevant but you and I know that it’s all relevant in different ways, as I illustrated in the post. The judicial laws have expired except for the “general equity thereof.” The ceremonial laws have been fulfilled. The typological revelation is just that. So, we apply it mutatis mutandis. My point in re the NT is that, with the expiration of the Israelite theocracy, we see no evidence in the NT that the apostles sought the establishment of a state church. In that case silence is deafening.
7. The civil polity is a covenant of works in the same way my job is a covenant of works or an exam is a covenant of works: perform or else. That seems to be self-evident. The state is not essentially a gracious creature. The imagery of the sword in Romans 13 is not an image of undeserved favor to sinners but of legal righteousness in the civil realm. That seems self-evident to me.
I thought I might pass this along concerning the refugee issue. Robert Dreher points something out from one SBC pastor that works with refugees:
They have already been vetted by multiple U.S. agencies in refugee camps overseas in a variety of ways before they ever enter the United States. No visitor to the United States is more scrutinized than a refugee from a conflict zone. This process can take anywhere from over 6 months to a couple of years. If a terrorist wanted to enter the United States, going through the refugee resettlement process is absolutely the hardest way to do it. If we cannot trust the process by which the United States Government vets refugees fleeing violence and persecution, then we cannot trust any form of our border security or immigration or visa processes.
I’ve read and seen that argument but vetted according to what? The “state” from which the Syrians are fleeing is non-existent. There are no databases against which to check names.
“Vetting” only exists in the context of a stable, rational government. That doesn’t exist in Syria. Further, ISIS has declared its intent to subvert the process by embedding terrorists.
As to why would ISIS do something as inefficient as embed a terrorist into a group for months when they can enter illegally more efficiently, the answer is in the nature of the threat. It’s not rational. It’s intended to create fear. It’s intended to make the ordinary (e.g., eating at a cafe) potentially dangerous. Why blow up museums? Why destroy ancient artifacts? Why slaughter Christians who pose no threat to anyone? Yet, this is what ISIS has done. That’s why it’s called “terrorism.” These folks have been talking the long view since the early 19th century. They’re not in a huge hurry. Efficiency is the wrong category by which to evaluate them.
Good to hear from you. Your comment may win the prize for the longest comment in the history of the HB!”
With no animosity intended, please call me Daniel.
“1. The Americans have revised the confessions, including Belgic 36. I agree with Kuyper on this as do most American Reformed folk. The American Presbyterians revised the Westminster in the 18th century, so most of these have been settled questions for a long time.”
Certainly but that doesn’t settle anything. As I am sure you know, there are many Reformed communions that have not updated the language of the confessions on this point, even as some communions have not finished their updating either (see WLC, Q&A 191).
“2. Maybe I can shorten the discussion by saying this: if you want to argue for an established Reformed church, go for it. I don’t think it’s biblical nor does it fit with the understanding of church-state relations in the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, i.e., the pre-Constantinian church. Yes, there was such a thing (a Constantinian settlement; Christendom). That’s why the American arrangement was so remarkable. It was an attempt to establish a state without the radicalism of the French Revolution&mdas;I agree with Kuyper and van Prinsterer about the legacy of the French Revolution. Christendom was a gradual development and no, I don’t think we’re going back but don’t let me stop you from advocating it.”
It won’t go forward until Reformed churches are agreed on this matter. My opinion carries very little weight. With sadness though, one notes that we did, at one time, spoke univocally.
The ‘American arrangement’ was radical but not truly radical. If it had been the latter, there would be no confession of God whatsover. The Constitution is a compromise document insofar as it speaks of God without specifying which God: a nameless, faceless deity enjoyed by Reformed, Mormon, Deist and Unitarian alike. But if God is the God of Scripture, then men are responsible to worship Him aright and call on His name. The Constitution then grossly violates the first commandment.
“3. Consequently, I’m arguing for the civil enforcement of the 2nd table. After the “state thereof” (Israel) expired there are no more national people’s of God. The second table is God’s universal common law. The 1st table is God’s universal law too but no longer should it be enforced by the magistrate.”
And I am saying that you can’t separate the tables, ever. Our classical Reformed theologians say that natural law is both tables, not one. Let no man separate what God has joined together.
The existence of Israel as a unique and distinct nation has nothing to do with the recognition of the law of God unless we are talking about the penalties applied towards the civil law or the ceremonial law in and of itself. Which of our Reformed forefathers would have argued differently? That “general equity” was not meant to discount the public acknowledgment of religion is clear by the Confession’s advocacy of public religion in other places. To remove the latter is to change the meaning of “general equity” as a received term or theological shorthand.
“4. As I’ve conceded many times, until the 18th century most every in our tradition favored a state church. I think I said that in the post. I agree with Kuyper. They were wrong. It was a mistake. Ergo, I’m entirely unmoved by appeals to the tradition. Calvin Bullinger, et al wrong on that point. Of course I agree with the Second Helvetic about the maintenance of peace and the protection of the ministry of the church. That’s a natural civil function. It is the duty of the magistrate (per Rom 13) to punish civil law breakers and those who violate the natural law of God. It’s on this basis that I’ve argued extensively e.g., for the civil prohibition ofhomosexual marriage. I affirm Belgic 36 as revised. I think we settled this at our last Synod.”
What teaching (law) from natural law would or should convince the magistrate that the very public matter of religion is ‘off the table’? Why did the king of Nineveh lead his people in prayer and fasting? Why did Nebuchadnezzar require the public recognition of Israel’s God? Darius? If it is a matter of further revelation (i.e. the NT) how can we convince the magistrate that they ought to base the constitution and its enforcement upon a religious text when we advocate for the separation of church and state?
Furthermore, it would be helpful to see modern two kingdom advocates to argue for their position while interacting with the exegetical and theological views of the reformers. Perhaps you could point to some examples. Otherwise it is difficult to see how the former is superior to the latter.
“5. I’m not impressed with the second half of Symington’s book. The 1st half, on the spirituality of the church was terrific but the second half was written as if there were no New Testament. The Prince-King of Psalm 2 isn’t Barack Obama. It’s Christ.”
I say, without any attempt at condescension, that I am glad you have read Symington but I can’t see how your summary is a faithful reading of the text. Of course Christ is the Prince-King: how else could one anticipate acknowledgment of God without also acknowledging His Son? To make oneself out to be the “Prince-King” would be to outright deny establishmentarianism.
“There are some who evade the force of this passage [Psalm 2; cf. Psalm 47:9 “shields of the earth”] by alleging that it is only in their private character that they are here addressed. But this is contrary alike to the whole scope and design of the psalm, and to the concurrent testimony of the most judicious commentators. Indeed we have only to consider in what capacity it was that the opposition spoken of was offered to the Son by civil rulers. It was in their public character, undoubtedly, that Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired against the holy child Jesus; and we are only acting on the plain principles of fair interpretation, when we conclude that it is in their public and official character also that civil rulers are here commanded to do homage to the Redeemer;—that kings and judges are required as such to serve the Lord with fear, and to kiss the Son lest he be angry.” William Symington, “Messiah the Prince” page 196
Barack Obama will never be the Prince-King anymore than he will be God but he is, in some way, like God (Psalm 82:1). It is the responsibility of Obama to serve the Lord with fear and kiss the Son as magistrate and to support the body of the Son as much as he can without interfering in her government and rule as church (as per the classical two kingdoms doctrine).
“6. Now, Dan, you know better than to suggest that I’m trying to form an ethic solely from the NT. All of the Bible is God’s holy Word and it’s all relevant but you and I know that it’s all relevant in different ways, as I illustrated in the post. The judicial laws have expired except for the “general equity thereof.” The ceremonial laws have been fulfilled. The typological revelation is just that. So, we apply it mutatis mutandis. My point in re the NT is that, with the expiration of the Israelite theocracy, we see no evidence in the NT that the apostles sought the establishment of a state church. In that case silence is deafening.”
Admittedly that was poorly worded but my point still stands. Reformed theology is informed by all of scripture, even those portions that have been fulfilled and done away with by Christ (hence ‘general equity’). It admits of a hermeneutical error to seal off one portion of our theology to the NT when most if not all of the rest is taught from both Testaments. This problem is exacerbated when we see that this hermeneutic contradicts the hermeneutic as applied by our forefathers.
Christ as Lord was a sufficient confession (even a dangerous one at that). We do see, however, guarded statements in the NT (e.g. the man of sin, number of man) as could have been mistaken as revolutionary (in the worst sense).
Providentially the church was prevented from such by way of her immediate need to bring the gospel into the world (yet acknowledging the worldwide authority of the Messiah in the great commission). As the centuries turned and as the church enjoyed greater favour with men, she was allowed to apply the truths of Christ to the civil realm (though not without, at times, compromise to her own integrity).
In her received maturity, the Reformed churches confessed a healthy church-state relationship under many conditions: favored, unfavoured and persecuted thus demonstrating the necessity of this confession regardless of the consequences. Past and present generations have abandoned this consensus but not without significant hurt to our unity and confessional identity (as I detailed in my initial reply).
7. The civil polity is a covenant of works in the same way my job is a covenant of works or an exam is a covenant of works: perform or else. That seems to be self-evident. The state is not essentially a gracious creature. The imagery of the sword in Romans 13 is not an image of undeserved favor to sinners but of legal righteousness in the civil realm. That seems self-evident to me.
The covenant of works is in effect by way of application but not by the state. How
can they administer a covenant that man has effectively broken? Only God has a right to apply the sanctions since all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
I think it is more accurate to speak of the state as a gracious institution under the administration of God for the purposes of justice in a fallen world. But this does not discount the administration of mercy by the state either (Proverbs 20:28).
1. Daniel, I’m not a member of any other ecclesiastical communion but the United Reformed Churches. Synod Visalia (2014) specifically refused to accede to an overture asking it to clarify the URC understanding of Belgic 36. Art. 76 says,
The current draft of the Belgic from the committee does not restore the older, theocratic language to which Kuyper et al objected so strenuously.
2. The rest of the argument, it seems to me, is really about the uniqueness of Israel. There was only one national people of God. That state expired. There are no others. There can be no others. No other state is authorized by God to establish a church nor to enforce Christian orthodoxy. I guess that we disagree fundamentally about that, which is fine with me. I doubt that the Reformed churches will ever come to a consensus about this. I doubt very much that most of us Americans will ever agree with a theocratic state nor with the mediatorial kingship of Christ over the nation-state.
I wish we would spend our energies on reforming more strictly ecclesiastical matters, e.g., worship. There I hope we might find agreement among the churches.
But you (rightly) have an interest in promoting your convictions amongst the various Reformed communions. Otherwise, why else would you write Recovering the Reformed Confession? Besides, (what appears to me to be the) Synod’s ambivalent decision doesn’t forbid anyone from hold to the magisterial position.
Interestingly this very reply of yours highlights a serious problem in modern, Reformed communions: a desire to maintain our own version of confessional and practical orthodoxy all the while pecking away (from afar) on those who don’t agree with us. At the same time, we are forbidden (or at least discouraged) from seeking to understand why that is and what can be done to bring about the restoration of our former unity in the truth. The Christian magistrate is uniquely positioned to bring about that unity but of course repentance is needed from us first as to our aberrant sectarianism.
You wrote: “I wish we would spend our energies on reforming more strictly ecclesiastical matters, e.g., worship. There I hope we might find agreement among the churches.”
I do agree that our worship needs serious reformation. But the magistrate is an ecclesiastical matter as even the revised form of the Belgic acknowledges some confessional form to the Reformed idea of it. Yet for those of us who take the old(er) position on this matter, we see no reason to not return to the old paths, even as you have been encouraging us to do on so many matters. Ironically, the only consensus ever reached amongst our churches was some version of the establishmentarian one.
You wrote: “The rest of the argument, it seems to me, is really about the uniqueness of Israel. There was only one national people of God. That state expired. There are no others. There can be no others. No other state is authorized by God to establish a church nor to enforce Christian orthodoxy. I guess that we disagree fundamentally about that, which is fine with me. I doubt that the Reformed churches will ever come to a consensus about this. I doubt very much that most of us Americans will ever agree with a theocratic state nor with the mediatorial kingship of Christ over the nation-state.”
Sorry, but this ignores my arguments as well as the highly nuanced ones of the tradition.
In any case, you are probably right about Americans (as you would be if you said the same about us Canadians). It appears that, if history is any guide, we won’t soon have a choice about what we believe. Hopefully, should the Lord tarry, those who are yet living will have something better to build on than what this generation (and previous generations) left them.