Sub-Christian Nationalism? (Part 13)

The theocratic impulse is truly ancient. All the pagan nations of the Ancient Near East had state religions. The Israelites, Egyptians, and Canaanites all had state religions, as did the Greeks and the Romans. The latter were particularly vicious in enforcing the state religion, revealing that the real Roman religion was never actually adherence to the pantheon or even to Caesar as a god, but conformity. The thing the pagan Romans hated most about the Christians was their refusal to conform outwardly to the Roman cultus (state religion) and culture by saying the required words (e.g., Caesar is Lord), by denouncing Jesus, and by sealing the confession with a ritual offering or sacrifice. For their refusal to conform to the prevailing Greco-Roman cultus and culture, Tacitus called the Christians “haters of humanity.”1

Obviously, the Romans were offended by the Christian adherence to a Jewish rabbi who had been crucified. This disgusted them. Anyone who had been crucified was, in their view, only worthy of scorn. They thought that the idea of a god becoming man was ludicrous. Some of the critics mocked the reliability of Scripture (in ways not too different from how the higher critics would attack Scripture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), but when they (e.g., Pliny the Younger) examined the Christians, they found them to be good citizens, obedient to Roman laws (except the law of religious conformity), and no threat to the empire. Justin Martyr (c. AD 150) promised the Romans that the Christians obeyed the secular Roman laws better than the Romans themselves. He invited the Romans to investigate the Christians and told the Romans to punish any Christian guilty of breaking the secular laws. In fact, he said, leave the lawbreaker to us and we will punish him more severely than you will.2 One wonders what sort of discipline Justin had in mind.

In his speech, or treatise, to the pagan Roman official Diognetus (c. AD 150), an anonymous Christian apologist wrote, “For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom.”3 The Christians were not like the Jews, who spoke an “unusual dialect” and practiced an “eccentric life-style.”4 They lived cheek by jowl “in both Greek and barbarian cities,” and followed “the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life.”5 What distinguished them was the “unusual character of their lives.” They shared everything but not their wives.6 They participated “in everything as citizens” but endured “everything as foreigners.” They were “aliens” in their own countries because every country was their “fatherland,” and “every fatherland is foreign.”7 They were punished for their faith but not for breaking the secular Roman laws.8 They were slandered and abused for no reason. They lived “on earth but their citizenship is in heaven.”9 The Christians obeyed “the established laws,” and “in their private lives they transcend” the secular Roman laws.10 The Romans hate them but their hatred is unreasonable.11 This is what the ill-informed call “radical” two kingdoms theology. The writer to Diognetus just called it Christianity.

Justin Martyr, the writer to Diognetus, and others, were asking the Empire to be allowed to distinguish between the sacred and the secular. According to Bernard Lewis, the Christians invented the idea of a secular state:

Secularism in the modern political meaning—the idea that religion and political authority, church and state are different, and can or should be separated—is, in a profound sense, Christian. Its origins may be traced in the teaching of Christ, confirmed by the experience of the first Christians; its later development was shaped and, in a sense, imposed by the subsequent history of Christendom. The persecutions endured by the early church made it clear that a separation between the two was possible; the persecutions inflicted by later churches persuaded many Christians that such a separation was necessary.

The older religions of mankind were all related to—were in a sense a part of—authority, whether of the tribe, the city, or the king. The cult provided a visible symbol of group identity and loyalty; the faith provided sanction for the ruler and his laws. Something of this pre-Christian function of religion survives, or reappears, in Christendom, where from time to time priests exercised temporal power, and kings claimed divine right even over the church. But these were aberrations from Christian norms, seen and reciprocally denounced as such by royal and clerical spokesmen. The authoritative Christian text on these matters is the famous passage in Matthew 22:21, in which Christ is quoted as saying, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Commentators have differed as to the precise meaning and intention of this phrase, but for most of Christian history it has been understood as authorizing the separate coexistence of two authorities, the one charged with matters of religion, the other with what we would nowadays call politics.

In this, the practice of Christianity was in marked contrast with both its precursors and its competitors. In imperial Rome Caesar was God, reasserting a doctrine that goes back to the god-kings of remote antiquity. Among the Jews, for whose beliefs Josephus coined the term “theocracy,” God was Caesar. For the Muslims, too, God was the supreme sovereign, and the caliph was his vice-gerent, “his shadow on earth.” Only in Christendom did God and Caesar coexist in the state, albeit with considerable development, variety, and sometimes conflict in the relations between them.12

Christianity was legalized under Constantine (AD 313), but it did not become the state religion of the Empire until AD 380 under Theodosius I. The fourth century marked a sea change. The Apostles did not ask the Roman government to institute Christianity as the state religion. Implicitly, as Lewis notes, they asked for a secular state.

Still, after 1,500 years of Christendom it is a hard habit to break, and it is to that habit that the mostly-Baptist authors of the Statement want to return. In article XIV, they call for not only the imposition of the second table of the Ten Commandments (i.e., commandments 5–10) to be enforced by the magistrate—which should be uncontroversial—but they want the American civil government to enforce the first table too. Here the Statement seems incoherent with itself since it, again, somewhat inconsistently provides two options regarding the first table of the moral law under article XI, which I discussed previously.

Under this article they affirm that “applying the core moral principle of each of the ten commandments” is “general equity.” There is no question whether the law has a general equity. It does. That general equity, according to a range of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers, is what is known about civil justice from nature. They called it natural law.

John Calvin, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon et al. equated the Ten Commandments to the natural law. As to general equity, Franciscus Junius (1545–1602) wrote,

Moreover, the law of Moses is an example of the natural law, most suitably expressing the common notions of nature endowed by natural law. For the principles and conclusions of the natural law, that is, those common notions of nature, are perfectly expressed in the law of Moses. These common notions not only exist in the corrupted nature of man, but also existed in the pure and original nature.13

The Scottish Reformed theologian, Robert Rollock (c. 1555–1599) explained,

But yet they will insist further, and say, Is not this one of the judicial laws that was given to the Jews—then what have we to do with it? I answer, these laws, seeing the Jews, and their commonwealth, and laws politic, are abrogate, in so far as they concerned that people, we have nothing ado with them—they are abolished; but for as much as they are grounded upon nature, and natural law, we have ado with them. As for this law, it is natural. Ye know, that natural men, ethnics, who had never the law of the Jews, they executed the murderer.14

The Swiss Reformed theologian, Amandus Polanus (1561–1610) echoed the Reformed consensus:

Freedom from the laws of Moses, is that by which Christians are loosed from the ceremonial and Judicial laws of Moses, namely, so far forth as they only pertain to the civil government under Moses. 1. Cor. 9. 1. 19. 2. Cor. 3. 17. Heb. 9. 10.

For such laws which belong to the law of nature, and by which all nations are bound, are not abrogated.15

William Perkins (1558–1602) elaborates, and thus gives us necessary background for understanding what the Westminster divines intended when they wrote, “the general equity thereof.”

Judicials of common equity are such as are made according to the law or instinct of nature common to all men and these in respect of their substance bind the consciences not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles for they were not given to the Jews as they were Jews, that is, a people received into the covenant above all other nations, brought from Egypt to the Land of Canaan, of whom the Messiah according to the flesh was to come; but they were given to them as they were mortal men subject to the order and laws of nature as other nations are. Again, judicial laws so far as they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature are moral and therefore binding in conscience as the moral law.16

Finally, a passage from Johannes Wollebius (1589–1629) will help us:

I. As the ceremonial law was concerned with God, the political was concerned with the neighbor.

II. In those matters on which it is in harmony with the moral law and with ordinary justice, it is binding upon us.

III. In those matters which were peculiar to that law and were prescribed for the promised land or the situation of the Jewish state, it has not more force for us than the laws of foreign commonwealths.17

James Ussher, Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, Johannes Piscator, James Dickson, Herman Witsius, and Thomas Boston all took the same position: general equity is code for natural law. The Theonomists and Reconstructionists, however, have typically ignored the Reformed approach to natural law and general equity, and arbitrarily redefined general equity to mean whatever they say it means. This is very postmodern, but it is not accurate; nor is it the historic Reformed definition.

Thus, even their invocation of general equity is confused. That God is triune is not known from nature, but that murder is immoral is. How can the magistrate impose the Trinity on a people (per the first, second, and third commandments) since it cannot be known from nature? Yet, the Statement (at least in this article) asks the magistrate to impose the first table of the moral law.

Notes

  1. Tacitus, Annals, 15.44.
  2. Justin Martyr, First Apology, cap. 3.
  3. Ad Diognetum 5.1 in Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 541.
  4. Ad Diog. 5.2.
  5. Ad Dog. 5.4.
  6. Ad Diog. 5.7.
  7. Ad Diog. 5.5.
  8. Ad Diog. 5.12.
  9. Ad Diog. 5.9.
  10. Ad Diog. 5.10.
  11. Ad Diog. 5.17.
  12. Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and the Modernity in the Middle East (New York: Perennial, 2003), 96–97. Thanks to D. G. Hart for pointing us to this passage. See also D. G. Hart, A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006).
  13. Franciscus Junius, The Mosaic Polity, trans. Todd M. Rester, ed. Andrew M. McGinnis (Grand Rapids: CLP Academic 2015), 60.
  14. Robert Rollock, Lectures Upon The Passion, Resurrection, And Ascension Of Christ (Edinburgh: The Wodrow Society, 1616), 87–88.
  15. Amandus Polanus, Partitions of Divinity (London, 1590), 101–02.
  16. William Perkins, A Discourse on Cases of Conscience, in The Whole Works (London, 1631), 1.520.
  17. Johannes Wollebius, Compendium theologiae Christiane 14.6, in Reformed Dogmatics, trans. John W. Beardslee III (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 84.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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21 comments

  1. Thanks Dr Clark, I agree with your position. I don’t think the magistrate has permission to enforce the first table of the law. My question is about natural law more generally.

    Romans 1 seems to hold humanity accountable for idolatry (in some sense) through natural law. The sabbath is grounded in creation. So there seems to be some limited sense in which natural law reveals things relating to the first table of the law. But, obviously people don’t know God is triune through nature.

    To what degree should we think about natural law touching on sins summarized in the first table of the law?

    • Luke,

      See my reply to Sam Jer.

      Yes, Romans 1 and 2 clearly assume and appeal to natural law. I’ve argued for some sort of rest day on the basis of nature. As I wrote to Sam, it would be difficult to argue for the Christian Sabbath from nature but it is something for which Christians (if they will keep the Christian Sabbath) can argue and negotiate as a matter of civil law.

      The question isn’t whether the sins of the 1st table violate natural law. The question, rather, is what is the nature of the magistrate’s duties as a matter of nature. Does he have a natural obligation to enforce Christian orthodoxy? Did that pagan Nero have an obligation to enforce Christian orthodoxy or to punish religious crimes against the God of the Christians? Not according to Paul.

      I deal with this in a forthcoming episode (I think perhaps the next one) of the Heidelcast as part of the exposition of Romans.

  2. The question for me is, would, should a Christian magistrate allow absolute liberality on 1st table issues (however theoretical the question may be in our day)?
    – would it be wrong to have “blue laws”?
    – would it be wrong to intentionally have blue laws for sunday, in a culture where the common custom has friday or saturday as the day of rest?
    – would it be wrong to censor blasphemy, even if only in government documents?
    – would it be wrong to put limitations on public display of images of Christ?
    – would it be wrong to remove an old Jesus statue in your town?
    I am not asking if the state has a duty to do such things, but if it may.

    I also question the idea that the state has an absolute duty enforcing the second table. Of course it has a duty to enforce commandments 5-9, at least in the gravest violations, but how does one enforce the 10th commandment? Or mental violations of these commandments in general?
    Would a Christian magistrate be in sin for allowing divorce, if he just recently managed to muster enough support to outlaw a deviancy that is much more horrible?

    • Sam,

      What is a Christian magistrate? Is it is a magistrate who is a Christian or one who seeks to impose the faith on others by force? If the latter, where does the New Testament teach this? Where does the Old Testament, as understood in light of and interpreted by the New, teach this?

      There are many magistrates in the USA right now, who profess the Christian faith, and I would be most disappointed if they attempted to impose the Christian church by use of force or to establish a state-church. The 1st commandment forbids idolatry. How will a magistrate forbid idolatry and on what basis? Daniel served in a pagan state and he did not work to prevent idolatry. He sought not to practice it himself. When the state seeks to compel thought or speech it has become a tyranny, which is a great evil and to be resisted. Then the magistrate has cross a boundary and should be resisted by lower/lesser magistrates.

      The blue laws, in the USA, were always dubious to a certain degree. They were a vestige of Christendom, which the USA had finally repudiated by 1833 (with the disestablishment of the last state-church). In principle, the USA had formally rejected the state-church in 1789.

      The question is whether there is an argument from nature for a rest day. I think there is. The Sabbath was creational before it was Mosaic. I don’t think the Sunday/Christian Sabbath can be proved from nature but I think the American labor unions are not likely to give it up. The US Supreme Court has ruled, including recently, that Christians, even US postal workers, have a right to keep the Christian Sabbath. This will continue to be a matter for political/cultural negotiation among the various interest groups (of which Sabbath-keeping Christians are one). It would do a lot more, than the courts can do, for the Christian Sabbath were Christians actually to keep it.

      SCOTUS: Employers May Not Prohibit Sabbath Observance, But Do American Christians Care?

      Though crimes, e.g., blasphemy laws are problematic. The test for these things is whether a case can be made from nature. If we legislate that people may not commit blasphemy against Yahweh/Jesus/the Trinity will it also be a crime to abuse the name of the Islamic prophet or to abuse the Arabic word for God? What about other significant religious words and figures? The blasphemy laws were rooted in Christendom. Were there any blasphemy laws against the God of Scripture before AD 380? Did any of the Christians ask for them? Do we need to State to punish blasphemers or do we follow Paul and wait for the final judgment? When Paul enumerates the duties of the magistrate in Rom 13 does he list anything from the 1st table? No.

      Re: images. Does the state have a natural interest in this question? No.

      Why not leave the matter of idols/statues in the hands of private property owners? Why make it a matter of coercion? Again, on what biblical basis (as given above) would Christians seek to use the state to compel religious conformity?

      No, the state cannot enforce the 10th commandment, which is essentially (as far as the state is concerned) a thought crime.

      I would be thrilled if the state could perform basic functions like arresting and prosecuting murderers etc, hospitalizing the crazed/mentally ill, and the like. Right now, in man places, the American civil governments seem unable/unwilling to perform even the most basic functions.

      As to divorce, the state has a natural interest in coherent natural families. The same is true re same-sex marriage. Homosexual behavior is contrary to nature as is pederasty and the like. I’ve argued at length for secular restrictions on such things on the basis of natural law:

      What Can We Do With Natural Law?

      Rational Responses To Attacks From Advocates Of Homosexual Marriage

      Natural Law, the Two Kingdoms, and Homosexual Marriage

      Resources On Natural Law

    • Okay, several thoughts.

      But first, to clarify, when I said “Christian Magistrate”, I meant a Magistrate predominantly led by Christians, not one that seeks to tie the sword to the kingdoms keychain. In general I don’t agree with any form of establishmentarianism. Also, I intentionally didnt bring up the first commandment because it has the same problem in state enforcement as the 10th.

      – You seem to be laser-focused on the situation in the US. Would it be wrong for place-name-istan to order certain buisnesses to be closed on sundays?
      – About idols and statues, sometimes the owner is the state, or even more commonly, the lesser magistrate. Would European cities with idols on some city-owned public space be in sin, if by some miracle there would be a Christian (and iconoclast) majority in the local government, and said majority removed said idol?
      – Regarding blasphemy, let me ask an even “softer” version. Could a Christian magistrate (say governor of some US state) try to get his atheist spokesman to stop casually blaspheming in press conferences, and replace him if he refuses?
      – I did not say divorce should be legal. But would a Christian in government be in sin for not pressing an anti-divorce bill, if he is in office at a time when a vote on allowing incest or pedophilia has hopes of passing?
      – Finally, why should the government solely legistlate natutal law? Are natural parks natural law? The nitty gritty of zoning laws? of fire safety?

      • Sam,

        I’m focused on the USA because (1) that’s where I am; (2) there is an active and influential Christian Nationalism/theocratic movement. Christians are reacting to the Covid regime etc and actually moving to places such as Moscow, ID to try to form a Christian city/state/nation.

        Christians are free to close their businesses when they will. I would be happier to see Christians voluntarily closing their businesses as in the case of Chick-Fil-A in the USA. They’ve had a significant cultural affect simply by closing their business on the Lord’s Day. It’s a great witness and a wonderful blessing to the employees.

        Should the state impose the closing of businesses on the Sunday? On what basis would a magistrate do that? Let’s say a majority voted to do this, should a majority legislate Sunday closing on the minority? What about Orthodox Jews or Muslims, who don’t observe the Sunday Sabbath? Is there are natural argument for a Sunday closing law? In the USA Sabbatarian Christians are a minority among Christians and a tiny fraction of Americans. Why would American Christians be anxious to use the force of civil government to impose their practice on the rest of their fellow citizens? My impression is that where this happens in Israel it provokes considerable resentment.

        As to statues/idols, again, what’s the natural basis for such legislation? Maybe magistrates shouldn’t put up religious icons? Several European nations have nominal state churches so I suppose they can do as they will but in polity where there is no established church (as in the USA) then I think the magistrate shouldn’t attempt to impose a religion.

        An executive of the state has a right to hire/fire whom he will. If a press secretary blasphemes, in the conduct of his job, and thereby fails to represent his boss or the state well, he’s subject to being fired. This isn’t legislation or the magistrate imposing religion on the people.

        I think legislatures and members of the executive branch have a duty to do all they can to preserve the family. The state has a natural duty to preserve the coherent, natural family. Paul doesn’t accuse Nero of sin, though Nero (and Claudius before him) were definitely guilty of gross sins. The magistrates will have to answer to God for their refusal to perform their basic, natural duty (e.g., preserve life and the natural family). When they fail this way it is sin against the natural, moral law of God.

        The state has to legislate on some basis. Nature is a universally known basis for civil life and law. On what other basis should a post-canonical magistrate legislate?

        For more on natural law see the resources and the bibliography.

    • It is interesting you bring up Daniel, as Nebuchadnezar did impose Jehovah-worship that one time. Not sure myself what, if anything, that passage says for post-canonical states.

      Regarding natural law: is that the only basis on which laws may be made? I am not asking if it would be good or right to do otherwise in the context of California in the 2020s, but if every other basis is inherently illegitimate, even in a radically diffrent context.
      For example: let’s say some town has a huge statue of Jesus in (the publically owned) town square. And by God’s choice, the populace of that town have recently become Reformed. A campaign starts to remove the statue. Would the local magistrate be wrong to assent to that demand, just because the tiny heathen minority can’t be convinced by natural law?

      Regarding Israel it has blue laws. This is why it is so hard to keep the Lord’s Day here. Sunday begins the work week. In the army it is almost impossible to work around that (someone must plant a sabbatarian church here!)

      My main question has really been the same on all these answers:
      Is your’e opposition to any and all legistlation based on exclusively Christian ideals:
      – because magistrates may not do so according to God’s command, or
      – because the government shouldn’t do so, even if there isn’t something necessarily immoral about it in every instance at every time?

      • Sam,

        Yes, Daniel existed in a theocratic world. All the ANE states were theocratic but Daniel did not himself seek the imposition of the Jewish religion upon Babylon.

        It would help if you would do some reading in/on natural law. I understand that it is unfamiliar but it’s an ancient tradition. The Apostle Paul wrote in the context of a pre-Christian culture as we live in a post-Christian culture. He was entirely unashamed about his appeal to natural revelation and natural law because he knew that the world was made to be known, even by pagans, and all human beings were made to know it. He prosecuted humanity on the basis of the universal knowledge of natural law. We are all without excuse because what can be known about God is “clear” according to Paul. he grounded his condemnation of homosexuality in natural law precisely because it’s universally known.

        Can a majority impose their religion on a community? Yes. Should they? No.

        Should a secular state have religious displays on publicly funded property? No.

        Do Israeli blue laws impose Judaism, to a significant degree, on the Christian and Muslim minority in Israel? Yes.

        All attempts to establish legislation based on special revelation are inherently theocratic. It is a backward step in redemptive history. Again, where do any of the apostles do this? They don’t. Ever. Where did any the early post-apostolic Christians make such arguments? They didn’t. Why not? They weren’t Judaizers, i.e., going backward in redemptive history by attempting to set up a modified Mosaic/theocratic state.

        I’ve lived in a country with a state-church. It’s done nothing for the well being of the church.

    • So to clarify, you beleive that any and all 1st table legistlation, however small, is a Mosaic old-covenant tging that would be wrong to introduce to post-canonical times?
      In other words, a Chtistian magistrate ought to simply rule justly on second table standards, protect the innocents, uphold the family, and be a good example to his people on first-table standards, without ever doing any legistlation or budgeting one way or another?

      By the way, I am not so sure many people would agree with your “no religious displays on public property” in countries where museums are public property, or where a historic Romanist monument is idolatrous…

      • Sam,

        1. As I’ve said, I think there’s a natural argument for a rest day. The fourth commandment is classified with the first table in Heidelberg 93.

        2. We haven’t yet defined what makes a “Christian magistrate.” I know Christians who are or who have been magistrates. There seem to have been Christians who served in the Roman government when Paul wrote to the Roman congregation c. AD 55. Those Christians did not seek to impose Christianity on the rest of the population. Apart from a rest day (or days), any imposition of the 1st table on a populace is, to some degree or other, an imposition of the Christian religion on a populace.

        3. Yes, the civil magistrate is concerned with the 2nd table (with the exception of the 10th).

        4. As to religious displays on public property, that’s a different question. What’s at issue is publicly funded/maintained religious displays. Do I as a Christian want to pay taxes to support a Hindu display? No I don’t. I shouldn’t ask my Hindu neighbors to fund a Christian display on public property. Further, as a confessional Reformed Christian, I have no interest in violations of the 2nd commandment. My people have long been iconoclasts.

        That said, I don’t think that Christians should be excluded from the public square but they also must be prepared, in a pluralist society, to share that public square with other faiths (including atheists and agnostics). Christians are taxpayers and should be able to access public spaces like any other group.

    • Is your opposition to 1st table imposition:
      a. contending that the government ought not to do it, or
      b. contending that the government may not not to do it by divine appointment, and therefore, ought not to do it.

      by a Christian magistrate I mean nothing more than a magistrate who is a Christian.

      • Sam,

        1) Yes, I see no warrant in the Word of God, under the New Testament (or the OT understood in light of and via the NT) to support theocracy or the state imposition of the 1st table of the moral law (with the caveat that the Sabbath principle is natural, creational principle even if the Christian Sabbath is known from special revelation).

        2) I’m questioning your use of the expression “Christian magistrate” the same way I have the expression “Christian plumber.” Yes, there are Christians who serve as magistrates and plumbers but does the Christian plumber, by virtue of his faith, do plumb any differently than a pagan? The laws of fluid dynamics & plumbing are the same for pagan and Christian alike. The Christian has a different explanation than the pagan for the significance of plumbing and why the laws are as they are but he and the pagan must both adhere to them or fail. To be sure, the work of the magistrate bears on more people and might (or might not!) be more significant. A plumber is probably more responsive and more helpful than the magistrate most of the time but like the plumber, the magistrate must adhere to the laws of government or fail. E.g., one need not be a Christian to predict the failure of the “Defund the police movement” or to realize the disastrous consequences of an open borders policy. These are matters of universal sense perception and knowledge common to pagans and Christians. Yet the phrase “Christian magistrate” might be a way to leverage the discussion by implying that the Christian has insight into the practice of government that the pagan lacks. To be sure, both the Christian plumber and politician do have resources to which the pagan refuses to avail himself. Special revelation (and particularly the wisdom literature) may be most valuable to the Christian as they inform his plumbing and policy making. The Augustinian plumber or politician expects people to disregard his instructions and to break things. Neither will be surprised by sin but most of the wisdom they need is common to Christian and pagan alike. The plumber needs to know his physics and the Christian needs to know Aristotle’s Politics and, in America, Locke, Madison, Jefferson, et al.

    • Regarding your second paragraph, I said nothing else. Perhaps a poor choice of words on my side. Feel free to read all my uses of the phrase as “a Christian (who happens to be a) magistrate”.

      Regarding the firat paragraph, I feel we haven’t quite gotten to where I am trying to get yet.

      One can:
      I. Say that there is scriptural warrant to Forbid 1st table legistlation
      II. Say there may be no scriptural warrant to require or forbid 1st table legistlation, but there is good warrant to oppose such legistlation without saying God explicitly forbids it.
      III. Neutrality.
      IV. Say there may be no scriptural warrant to require or forbid 1st table legistlation, but there is good warrant to support some such legistlation without saying God explicitly commands it.
      V. Say God requires 1st table legistlation.

      It is clear to me you reject views III-V. I reject view V and lean against view IV myself. But it isn’t clear if you take view I or II. If you take view 1, you need to establish how the scriptures teach that such legistlation is wrong. This is the root of what I have been trying to ask this whole time

      • Sam,

        No, I cannot say that there is Scriptural warrant to forbid the enforcement of the 1st table just as I cannot say that there is Scriptural warrant to forbid the state from enforcing the judicial laws and the religious laws of the Torah. It’s a bad question that assumes a way of reading Scripture that is, as I’ve just illustrated, highly problematic. You’re assuming that if it’s not explicitly forbidden then we may do it. To be sure, outside of worship, we do have Christian liberty. We do have liberty to cross a street or not or to drink alcohol or not but do we have liberty to seek to reconstruct a version of the Jewish theocracy and cultus? I think not.

        The book of Acts (10) explicitly tells us that the religious laws, in this case the food laws, of the Torah have been abrogated. The greater point is that the Gentiles are now to be regarded as clean, i.e., eligible for the mission of the church. We’re not about wiping them out, as we had been under Moses. By inference the church concluded that the judicial laws always “expired with the state of that people” (to use the language of WCF 19). That is why attempts to reestablish the religious laws (e.g., by the Ebionites) were rejected by the orthodox as Judaizing.

        I oppose the establishment of the church or the enforcement of the 1st table (theocracy) by the state because it is a backward/retrograde movement in redemptive history. The Jewish state-church expired with the death of Christ. This was widely acknowledged by Christian theologians, even those who didn’t see that they were part of a system that was doing just that. The medieval church not only effectively rebuilt the Mosaic cultus (worship) after a fashion (e.g., eucharistic sacrifice), it also re-built, mutatis mutandis, the Davidic theocracy.

        We see this tension in Beza’s On the Right of Magristrates. He agrees with me about the expiration of the Jewish cult and state and even about what later came to be called the “spirituality of the church,” but then goes on to speak about the King of France as though he were David. It was inconsistent but he wrote about the abrogation of the theocracy and the OT cultus as he did because he was a Christian and he knew the progress of redemptive history.

        Finally, not only does theocracy ignore the progress of revelation and redemption (and the way the NT interprets the Old) and the history of the early church (where we see no evidence whatever of call to theocracy) but the schemes above ignore a major feature of my argument: nature and natural revelation. why is that?

      • Can you reply to my question re nature and natural revelation? Are you skeptical about the natural knowledge of God, natural revelation generally, and natural law?

    • I do beleive in natural revelation (of God, the law ext). What I was questioning is the assertion that it needs to be the Only basis for the magistrates laws, and that only on second table matters.
      I mean sometimes a descision has to be made but which one is made is not obvious from nature. Drive on the left or right? Which drugs are we going to allow? Which system of taxation are we going to use?
      Then is also the question of what to enforce and how much. Robbing the bank will obviously be a crime, but will usury be banned? Most modern economies would literally collapse if we got rid of usury overnight. Of course rape will not be allowed, but will every affair end in a jail sentence?

      Don’t take that as denying natural theology though. Paul uses it when speaking of haircoverings, and explicitly says it proves God’s existance and condemns sins against the 1st, 2nd, and 7th commandments (and maybe I missed some) in Romans 1. In questions of morality it is one of the biggest diffrences between Christian ethics and the arbitrary morality of the Judaism my neighbours practice.

      • Sam,

        Some cases (which side of the road) are prudential and others are known from nature. Did Nero need special revelation to do his job?

        Not according to Paul.

  3. I am cautious about the use of the term “Christian nationalism”. I grew up in and live in a very post-endarkenment part of the country, and see “CN” as something of a “scare word” used by the anti-Christian Left to demonize traditional believers.

    I am cautious about some aspects of CN (kinism, for instance), which seem to make CN a “white nationalism” as well. My family and the circle of believing brethren in which I move are not all “white”; I partially descend from people whose status as “white” was problematic to many until after WWII.

    But I can understand dissatisfaction with secularism. The retreat of Christians (and I mean confessing ones) from the public square has brought us the celebration of perversion and a growing political totalitarianism (itself the political artefact of Evolutionary Materialism). I pray that the Reformed Christian faith would ultimately be countenanced, maintained, and embraced by the civil magistrate. The first two terms are taken straight out of the Westminster Larger Catechism’s exposition of the petition “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. I also wonder how we can avoid some retreat from secularism if we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of life (part of all authority in Heaven and on Earth). While I seriously doubt we’ll ever see a prince of the Stuart house truly maintaining the Solemn League and Covenant, I can at least understand the Covenanter position. Does this make me CN?

    • Peter,

      If you’re asking for an established church, yes, that’s a form of Christian Nationalism.

      There’s no question that the classical Reformed churches were theocratic. The larger question is whether they were correct to be theocratic. I don’t think any argument for theocracy/CN can be sustained from the New Testament or the Old read as the NT writers did and read in light of the NT.

      As to how to roll back perversion etc: If more American Christians accepted nature as a category, they would have a place to stand from which to argue for restriction of perversion in public life. There are strong arguments from nature against gay marriage and most of the LGBTQ agenda.

      The desire for theocracy in America is revolutionary and reveals a confusion of nature and grace.

  4. “The desire for theocracy in America is revolutionary and reveals a confusion of nature and grace.”

    It may also reflect an incoherent exousiology, a theology about what the scriptures tell us about powers and principalities.

    a belated follow up to your post about three congregations that grew during covid, I was looking at things Wilson and Driscoll have contended with regard to the United States. Driscoll tweeted that globalism is a demonic counterfeit to God’s design, nationalism. I raise two questions in light of exousiological questions regarding powers and principalities in scripture:
    1) how can globalism be a demonic counterfeit to anti-globalist nationalism? Aren’t counterfeits supposed to be counterfeits of things that are not polar opposites? This seems like a basic failure of logic on Driscoll’s part
    2) can the prince of Persia from Daniel 10:13 be reconciled to God? Christian nationalists don’t seem to have formulated a theology of the powers and principalities and spiritual beings described in scriptural witnesses as a whole that seems to account for the angelic princes of nations. Some pastors and theologians would argue that the angelic princes of the nations cannot be regarded as reconciled to God through Christ on the basis of Psalm 82. Doesn’t Christian nationalism have to at least consider an exousiology in which powers and principalities, if they are of nations, “can” be redeemed and reconciled?

    I attempt to explain the questions and how they have sprung from reading Wilson and Driscoll a bit over at the following post I worked on over the holiday weekend.

    https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2023/11/can-prince-of-persia-be-reconciled-with.html

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