PART 3: REFORMED THEONOMIC ROOTS THROUGH CHURCH HISTORY, ALSO IN SOUTH AFRICA
by Slabbert Le Cornu
“Abstract: Although the extreme form of Theonomism has only affected a small number of Reformed members in South Africa, it seems that Theonomist Postmillennialism has a greater underlying influence in the Reformed Churches in South Africa. General churchgoers in the Reformed Churches of South Africa generally confuse the Regulatory Principle (sic) with Theonomism and are uninformed about precisely what Theonomism is. Furthermore, signs of Theonomism as it developed in the USA are also visible in South Africa. Yet, there is great ignorance about the exact effect that Theonomism has on Reformed congregations in South Africa, especially regarding the eschatological views held by individual congregations.”
“The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)
Introduction to all 4 parts
The first quote above is the ‘abstract’ summary of dr. Morne Diedericks’s article, Critical evaluation of Theonomist eschatology, that were published in the the GKSA’s theological journal, In die Skriflig.
The second quote is from Proverbs 18:17, and is the goal of this and future articles.
There will be four parts in this response on ‘Critical evaluation of Theonomist eschatology’ article (abbreviation from now on: CETE).
Part 1: The unscholarly uninformed method of CETE and the two crucial main questions in this debate that are also of big importance for the reformed community in SA
Part 2: What does Theonomic Postmillennialism teach themselves using the sources CETE mentions in its ‘references’?
Part 3: Reformed Theonomic roots through history, also in South Africa.
Part 4: A Plea for biblical scholarship and brotherly relations among reformed brothers in our Kingdom callings here in Africa for now and the future
We deal with part THREE now, please read part 1 & 2 First to understand the context of part 3:
PART 3: Reformed Theonomic roots through church history, also in South Africa
The last CETE accusation (nr. 6) against theonomic postmillennialism (accusations 1-5 was answered in part 2, see also the introduction – part 1 – to this four part articles series, here) to answer is: that – according to CETE – Theonomy’s unique contribution to reformed socio-political ethics, namely the abiding validity of the judicial laws and penalties for today, are ‘new’ and not in line with the ‘traditional view of the church’
We will see from historical sources, that the essence, of course not the detail (times and contexts differ), but the essence of theonomy, i.e. a call for a return to the wisdom of the Mosaic case/judicial laws and penalties for our socio-political times, is no 20th century or american reconstructionist ‘new’ idea, but has been there as part and parcel of reformed theology, confessions and ethics among many theologians and churches of the Reformation. Of course one can disagree on the specifics and precisely what (and how) laws and penalties are still binding and/or applicable, but the essence of theonomy is rooted in biblical reformed theology, ethics and history.
Modern day social-political antinomianism
What is actually ‘new’ in our day, is not the historical theonomic thought, but as can be seen in CETE’s critique, that more and more who say they are ‘confessional reformed’, are very hostile towards the usefulness and application of Moses’ civil laws ‘in their general equity’, also for today.
It could also be because of a lot of ignorance of the history of Mosaic law as understood by reformed theologians and jurist in the past, and that could thankfully be fixed, if there is a humble return in studying original sources from the past, yes, ad fontes needed!
Therefore, what is ‘modern and new’, is that many reformed brothers of our day, are not only throwing out the filthy waters of the misuse of BC article 36/WCF chapter 23 theocratic-theonomic ‘church and state’ thought and practice in the past, but they are throwing out the magisterial Reformers biblical foundation that all of life, including socio-politics, must bow before King Christ and serve Him in all areas of life and thought, therefore also in the laws of a country or nation. As one theologian quoted below, said (PY De Jong):
“We refuse to compartmentalize our lives by limiting our worship of and obedience to God to some small part. In his word, given in both Old and New Testaments, God demands that we recognize the sweeping scope of his claims upon our lives. Our relationship to God and self, to fellow man and the created order is regulated by his revealed will.”
Unfortunately many of these reformed brothers of us will plead for God’s law for personal, family and church life, and we wholeheartedly agree with that, but then they want to stop there. They then also say in society and ‘the world’, God’s Ten Commandments as given through Moses, and applied and explained by other moral and civil laws, must not be the final and highest rule or be standard for our societies, magistrates and leaders.
They have become socio-political ‘antinomianists’, contra to the confessional reformed churches and theologians through history, which pleaded for the Word of the God, the gospel and biblical law, to be the standard for all of live: personal, family, church and the whole of society, each area of life and thought.
Many have also become (very) anti-Belgic Confession article 36 and anti-Westminster Confession article 23, anti-theocratic (and not only anti-theonomists), i.e. they don’t like the idea that not only the church, but that both church and the civil government are called to bow before King Jesus Christ (Psalm 2; Rom. 13; 1 Tim. 2) and should fulfill their callings, each in their own areas (‘sovereignty in each area/sphere’) according to God’s Word, both tables of the law.
As proven already in part 1 and 2, it is much easier (but lazy bad scholarship) to give a twisted and/or misrepresented view of Reformed Theonomic socio-political ethics, and then claim it is ‘new’ or not in line with the ‘traditional view of the church’.
I will do the same as in part 2, first give the essence of CETE’s accusation with one quote, and then answer it all with giving extensive quotes from the following sources (not necessarily in that order), about the judicial laws and penalties, and also a related issue that are seen as ‘new and theonomic’, and that is, that the magistrate must apply both tables of the law in their area or domain:
– Dutch Reformed theologians and jurists
– Belgic Confession article 25 explanations
– English reformed theologians, also on WCF 19.4 (general equity of the ‘judicial laws’)
– South African Reformed jurists and theologians on the law as standard for society/civil government
In part 4 I will conclude with my own thoughts on ‘theonomic postmillennialism’, and some thoughts for the future.
CETE ACCUSATION 6: Theonomic Postmillenialism’s view of the judicial laws are not in line with the ‘traditional view of the Church’ (p. 2)
“What distinguishes Theonomism from the traditional view of the Church, is that Theonomism holds to the continuity of the judicial law, as given to Old Testament Israel, except for the judicial laws that were brought to fulfilment in the New Testament (McVicar 2015:5). Theonomists acknowledge that the ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and therefore no longer apply today. Theonomism is thus characterized by its specific view of the Old Testament judicial laws and the validity of the judicial laws today (Bahnsen 2002:207–214).” (p. 2)
Now, let’s look at this, is the modern Theonomists ‘new’ and has the (reformed) traditional church, i.e. theologians never said that the judicial laws (and penalties) are still binding or not applicable at all?
BUT, before we dive into history, what does Theonomy actually teach, let us hear from their best reformed exponent, from his own words (book), dr. Greg L. Bahnsen (1991: 9-16), and ask yourself as the reader, is this at all ‘new’ or so-called ‘extreme’ = dangerous for the biblical reformed faith and church?:
A Brief Synopsis of Theonomy
“Any conception of the role of civil government that claims to be distinctively “Christian” must be explicitly justified by the teaching of God’s revealed word. Anything else reflects what the unbelieving world in rebellion against God may imagine on its own. If we are to be Christ’s disciples, even in the political realm, it is prerequisite that we abide in His liberating word (John 8:31). In every walk of life, a criterion of our love for Christ or lack thereof is whether we keep the Lord’s words (John 14:23-24) rather than founding our beliefs upon the ruinous sands of other opinions (Matt. 7:24-27).
And as those especially in the Reformed heritage confess, to the extent that our view of civil government (or any matter) does adhere faithfully to Scripture, that view stands above any and all challenges which stem from human wisdom and tradition (Rom. 3:4; 9:20; Col. 2:8).
Thus Christians who advocate what has come to be called the “theonomic” (or “reconstructionist”) viewpoint reject the social forces of secularism which too often shape our culture’s conception of a good society. The Christian’s political standards and agenda should not be set by unregenerate pundits who wish to quarantine religious values (and thus the influence of Jesus Christ, speaking in the Scripture) from the decision-making process of those who set public policy.
Theonomists equally repudiate the sacred/secular dichotomy of life, which is the effect of certain extra-scriptural, systematic conceptions of Biblical authority that have recently infected the Reformed community – conceptions which imply that present-day moral standards for our political order are not to be taken from what the written word of God directly and relevantly says about society and civil government. This sacred/secular stance is a theologically unwarranted and socially dangerous curtailing of the scope of the Bible’s truth and authority (Ps. 119:160; Isa. 40:8; 45:19; John 17:17; Deut. 4:2; Matt. 5:18-19).
We beseech men not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing and reconciling work of Jesus Christ so as to prove the good, acceptable and perfect will of God in their lives (2 Cor. 5:20-21; Rom. 12:1-2). We call on them to be delivered out of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son, who was raised from the dead in order to have preeminence in all things (Col. 1:13-18). We must “cast down reasonings and every high thing which is exalted against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) in whom “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited” (Col. 2:3).
Thus believers are exhorted to be holy in all manner of living (I Peter 1:15), and to do whatever they do for the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31). To do so will require adherence to the written word of God, since our faith does not stand in the wisdom of men but rather in the work and teaching of God’s Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:5, 13; c£ I Thes. 2: 13; Num. 15:39; Jer. 23:16). That teaching, infallibly recorded in “every scripture” of the Old and New Testaments, is able to equip us “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17) – thus even in public, community life.
For these reasons theonomists are committed to the transformation (reconstruction) of every area of life, including the institutions and affairs of the socio-political realm, according to the holy principles of God’s revealed word (theonomy).
It is toward this end that the human community must strive if it is to enjoy true justice and peace. Because space will not allow a full elaboration, with extensive qualifications and applications, of the theonomic position here, it may prove helpful to begin with a systematic overview and basic summary of the theonomic conception of the role of civil government in terms of Christ’s rule as King and of His inscripturated laws:
- The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are, in part and in whole, a verbal revelation from God through the words of men, being infallibly true regarding all that they teach on any subject.
- Since the Fall it has always been unlawful to use the law of God in hopes of establishing one’s own personal merit and justification, in contrast or complement to salvation by way of promise and faith; commitment to obedience is but the lifestyle of faith, a token of gratitude for God’s redeeming grace.
- The word of the Lord is the sole, supreme, and unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life; this word naturally includes God’s moral directives (law).
- Our obligation to keep the law of God cannot be judged by any extrascriptural standard, such as whether its specific requirements (when properly interpreted) are congenial to past traditions or modern feelings and practices.
- We should presume that Old Testament standing laws continue to be morally binding in the New Testament, unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation.
- In regard to the Old Testament law, the New Covenant surpasses the Old Covenant in glory, power, and finality (thus reinforcing former duties). The New Covenant also supersedes the Old Covenant shadows, thereby changing the application of sacrificial, purity, and “separation” principles, redefining the people of God, and altering the significance of the promised land.
- God’s revealed standing laws are a reflection of His immutable moral character and, as such, are absolute in the sense of being non-arbitrary, objective, universal, and established in advance of particular circumstances (thus applicable to general types of moral situations).
- Christian involvement in politics calls for recognition of God’s transcendent, absolute, revealed law as a standard by which to judge all social codes.
- Civil magistrates in all ages and places are obligated to conduct their offices as ministers of God, avenging divine wrath against criminals and giving an account on the Final Day of their service before the King of kings, their Creator and Judge.
- The general continuity which we presume with respect to the moral standards of the Old Testament applies just as legitimately to matters of socio-political ethics as it does to personal, family, or ecclesiastical ethics.
- The civil precepts of the Old Testament (standing ‘judicial” laws) are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals. Outside of those areas where God’s law prescribes their intervention and application of penal redress, civil rulers are not authorized to legislate or use coercion (e.g., the economic marketplace).
- The morally proper way for Christians to correct social evils which are not under the lawful jurisdiction of the state is by means of voluntary and charitable enterprises or the censures of the home, church, and marketplace – even as the appropriate method for changing the political order of civil law is not violent revolution, but dependence upon regeneration, re-education, and gradual legal reform.
Notice what these principles tell us about the theological and moral character of theonomic ethics. The foundational authority of scripture (#1) and the precious truth of salvation by grace alone (#2) provide the context within which every other theonomic thesis is developed and understood.
“Theonomic” ethics is committed to developing an overall Christian world-and-life-view (#3) according to the regulating principle of sola Scriptura (#4) and the hermeneutic of covenant theology (#5). The new and better covenant established by Christ does offer Biblical warrant for recognizing changes in covenantal administration (#6), but not changes in moral standards, lest the divinely revealed ethic be reduced to situationism or relativism -just one tribal perspective among many in the evolutionary history of ethics (#7).
Righteousness and justice, according to Biblical teaching, have a universal character, precluding any double-standard of morality. “Theonomic” ethics likewise rejects legal positivism and maintains that there is a “law above the (civil) law” to which appeal can be made against the tyranny of rulers and the anarchy of overzealous reformers alike (#9).
Since Jesus Christ is Lord over all (cf. #3), civil magistrates are His servants and owe obedience to His revealed standards for them (#9). There is no Biblically based justification (c£ #5) for exempting civil authorities from responsibility to the universal standards of justice (c£ #7) found in God’s Old Testament revelation (#10).
Therefore, in the absence of Biblically grounded argumentation which releases the civil magistrate from Old Testament social norms (c£ #5, #6), it follows from our previous premises that in the exercise of their offices rulers are morally responsible to obey the revealed standards of social justice in the Old Testament law (#11). This does not mean, however, that civil rulers have unlimited authority to intrude just anywhere into the affairs of men and societies (#11 #12); their legitimate sphere is restricted to what God’s word has, authorized them to do – thus calling for a limited role for civil government.
Finally, Christians are urged to use persuasive and “democratic” means of social reform – nothing like the strongarm tactics slanderously attributed to the theonomic program (#12).”
REFORMED QUOTES ON THE MOSAIC JUDICIAL LAWS AND PENALTIES
Now with that 12 theonomic thesis’s, let’s see what some reformed theologians, etc. said about God’s judicial laws and penalties. Yes, of course there has always been differences, some just deny any relevance and application of Mosaic judicial laws and penology, but many also made statements that are in essence ‘theonomic’, as represented by Bahnsen’s words above (remember: the question is not whether they were biblical correct or not, but whether there is also theonomic lines in the past, theologians that also pleaded application of judicial laws and penalties, like ‘modern’ theonomists do):
THE REFORMED CONFESSIONS
In Belgic Confession article 25 we confess about the law, the latter part:
“… In the meantime we still use the testimonies taken from the law and the prophets, both to confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel and to order (or ‘regulate’, French: regler, Latin: componamus) our life in all honour, according to God’s will and to His glory.” (see also BC art. 2-7, 24 and 36)
Let’s hear some dutch reformed theologians theonomic thoughts on it, i.e., that the judicial laws still apply, yes differently in our NT times … as the Theonomists also teach:
a) KLAAS SCHILDER (1890 – 1952)
“We are protesting against the Antinomians that attempt to leave the OT closed, they say: we have nothing to do with it. The OT may not stay closed, because we are taking evidence/witness from it. One may speak about the civil and ceremonial laws, provided it is done in New Testament light. That is, we should not apply all laws today. A certain national and societal form was given to Israel. With us it is a different form. But the underlying principle must be maintained. The prophets too, yes, the whole Old Testament must be maintained.” (1977: 83)
b) J. VAN BRUGGEN
“Also, Israel’s law for civil and moral life has certainly not lost its force. The Mosaic law has received far too little attention from the church. The theologians leave it because it is ‘law’ and the jurists pass it because it is written in the Bible. The revived interest among us in understanding the law is a good thing.” (1965: 125)
c) ADR POLMAN (1897 – 1993)
“The children of God are indeed delivered from the law as a letter that kills, because through Christ they have been redeemed from the curse of the law. But with this the law, which is holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12), has not lost its meaning as rule of gratitude. The towards God and the neighbour, as defined in the law of the ten commandments, remains the fulfillment of the law for the Christian (Rom. 13:10, Gal. 5:14). One can even rightly say that the civil and ceremonial parts of the Law have not lost their significance for the practical life of the Christian life. The Mosaic legislation enshrines principles for political and social life, which are valid for all times.” (1958: 115, 116)
d) FL BOS
“Also the spirit of the civil laws of Moses, as declared by Christ, is of abiding validity. The great commandment of love, upon which the whole law hangs (Matt. 22:40), retains eternal power (1 Cor. 13:13).
And although those Old Testament ordinances had to do with completely different situations and relationships, their concrete application of the commandment to love, especially also in matters of property and social relations, is still strongly preached against all kinds of neo-socialist aspirations (cf. Ex. 22:21-27; 23:1-22; Deut. 15:1-11, etc.)
In short, considering times and circumstances and the progress of God’s revelation, the entire Old Testament still contains an ongoing message to us, and the law and the prophets continue to help direct our faith toward the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. John 5:46; Luke 24:25-27; Acts 26:22,23, etc.), and also useful for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16,17).” (1957: 129)
e) PY DE JONG (1915-2005)
“In addition, the Old Testament retains its validity to regulate our life in all honorableness to the glory of God, according to his will. Usually in speaking of the Old Testament we distinguish the moral, the civil and the ceremonial laws. The law of the ten commandments, though containing certain ceremonial and civil aspects, retains its force in the church of all ages. This law is proper to man’s being. By grace we are enabled to follow its precepts again in cultivating a life of good works which shall be to the praise of God. The ceremonial laws which regulated Israel’s worship pointed forward to the atoning work of the Savior and were fulfilled by him. The civil laws were grounded in God’s announcement of himself as king of his covenant people. In these laws we find many matters which pertained peculiarly to the Jews. Yet the underlying principles are valid for all peoples and nations. On this basis they deserve respectful and repeated attention.
For the Christian all of life is religiously conditioned.
We refuse to compartmentalize our lives by limiting our worship of and obedience to God to some small part. In his word, given in both Old and New Testaments, God demands that we recognize the sweeping scope of his claims upon our lives. Our relationship to God and self, to fellow man and the created order is regulated by his revealed will. To ascertain him we must listen to his voice which speaks so eloquently of him as the God of the covenant. This conviction alone will provide a powerful antidote to prevalent secularization ot life. With the saints of the Old Testament we still sing (Psalm 119-slc),
“Thy Word is as a lamp unto my feet,
A light upon my pathway unto heaven;
I’ve sworn an oath, which gladly I repeat,
That I shall keep, as always I have striven,
Thy righteous judgments, holy and complete,
When unto me Thy helping grace is given.”
(1980: 195, 196)
f) JG FEENSTRA
“c. The civil law.
God is the King of Israel. Theocracy is in Israel. Therefore, God as the Lawgiver has also given laws for civil life. In those laws we find something specifically Israelite and something universally human. God had given a law that with the Jubilee all property would be returned to its original owner. In fact, only the lease years of a country were sold. So many years separated from the Jubilee, so many years were reckoned for the price of the land. Now the Jubilee in Christ has been fulfilled. But the general human idea is this, that we must be careful not to move field after field, and that we have the vocation to fight against poverty. And that universal humanity remains in effect.
Here the Christian jurist, above all, has the task of studying Israelite law, in order to find the enduring norms which God has given in that law, and to make them valid even for today’s life. Francis Junius has pointed to the rich significance of Israelite law. This study should be taken in hand.” (1950: 321)
“This part of the Report is the weakest part of the argument. It has been admitted that in Israel’s legislation there are principles for all times and peoples … Calvin wants to hold on to the basic idea of the law and then see it concretely applied in contemporary legislation. He doesn’t want to hear about an imitation. … The mosaic legislation does provide a model to follow. We will therefore also use art. 36 on this point should be read in the light of art. 25 of the same confession, where it plainly reads, That the truth and substance of the divine law abides, though the shadows have come to an end, to REGULATE OUR LIFE ALSO IN ALL HONESTRY, TO GOD’S HONOR, ACCORDING TO HIS WILL. … “If the Report recognizes that in Israel’s law there are principles for all times and peoples.”
If the law is thus for all time, it is also binding on all nations, yes on all people. Formally, it was given only to Israel. And that when Israel has its own people, freed from Egypt. At the same time, it got more laws, which were transient, but this was the immutable constitution. It was the law of the covenant, and every transgression was a breach of the covenant. But the intention was that Israel
would pass on these words of God to all nations. They were entrusted to them, not to them
to keep for himself alone, but to bless all nations with it.
The shape wears of course a strong Israelite stamp, such as, for example, the promise of a long life in the Promised Land in the fifth commandment, and also the repeated mention of ox and ass,
and so on. But it’s the content that counts, and that applies to everyone. There is no separate law for different nations. There is also no double standard for different classes. Princes and subjects, lords and servants, rich and poor are equal to one law of the Lord bound. Everyone without distinction has to submit to it. And the church of the Lord in our time has the same calling as Israel of old: this will of the Lord through to give, and to submit to the conscience of all.
In every sermon always the the voice of John the Baptist, who did not hesitate to say to the prince: It is you not permitted! Silence is infidelity! If the Church no longer bears her testimony, and
does not call for an unconditional bow to the eternal law of God, even in political and social life, then it may be anxiously asked, who will? Yes, then God Himself will do it, and He will destroy the disobedient church and the disobedient let the world experience through the language of facts that there is no future for those who do not turn to the law and the testimony. [p. 118]
FRANCISCUS JUNIUS & THEODORE BEZA
“This treatise (The Mosaic Polity), appearing in English for the first time, engages the perennial question of how the laws of Moses ought to be applied to contemporary political situations. Through clear distinctions and theses, and by drawing on diverse sources ranging from Greek and Roman law to medieval Christian theology, Junius develops a method of classifying and interpreting the Mosaic laws that honors both their particular Jewish context and their universal and perpetual significance. Junius’ Mosaic Polity also reveals the interdisciplinary nature of early modern theology, law, and politics, and the influence of Junius’ treatise and method is evident in such Reformed political luminaries as Johannes Althusius and Abraham Kuyper.”
“… With respect to the judicial laws, Junius argues that there is an immutable part and a mutable part—an enduring universal obligation and a temporal particular obligation. This distinction is developed at length (Theses 12–30), and the discussion of the mutable part of the laws takes him into an analysis of how immutable principles are accommodated to mutable circumstances….”
“Whereas Calvin has occasional forays into these topics, Beza treated the Mosaic law and political matters extensively, sometimes in entire treatises. He too preserves the traditional three-part division of the Mosaic law, although his Lex Dei Moralis, Ceremonialis, et Politica (1577) does not so much explain as collate the Mosaic laws into the ethical (or moral), ceremonial, and judicial categories for ease of reference. Regarding the application of the political laws of Moses, Beza makes two basicpoints: “the political shows what the use of the ethical is in the common society of human beings and arms magistrates against transgressors,” and “the magistrate is the guardian of both tables of the commandments, considered with respect to human society.” Similarly, Junius assumes that the magistrate is responsible for guarding both tables of the Decalogue and for “assisting his society in aspiring to the gate of eternal salvation,” and Junius also sees the Mosaic political (or judicial) laws as a “servant” of the moral law and existing on account of it.” (2015)
JOHANNES POLYANDER (1568-1646)
“Theorem 49 (on the law): The Civil Law is the laws which determined the duties of the Authorities and subjects of the Israeli Civil State in fixed civil statutes, and ratified them with corporal punishment against the rebels, according to the standard of the two tables of the Decalogue, and especially from the second table.
Theorem 50: Its main utility was that through careful observance of the commandments of the moral and the ceremonial law, righteousness associated with godliness would prevail, among the Jews in particular.
Theorem 51: The things that belong to the common law in these laws now also oblige all kinds of Authorities and subjects; but the things of these laws, which belonged in particular to Jewish law, perished along with the ordinance of Moses.” (1625/1964)
JOHANNES PISCATOR, German Reformed theologian (1546–1625)
“In his book, Disputations of the Judicial Laws of Moses, he has the following chapters, that confirms his view that the judicial laws and penalties, all seen in the light of the NT fulfillment in Christ, are still applicable in NT times, rightly understood, here are some headings:
“3. Against Twenty-Two Objections.
- The judicial law was for Israel only.
- The judicial law requires revision of itself.
- The judicial law no longer binds unless it is repeated in the New Testament.
- Paul’s teaching in Romans 13
- Must we become Jews first?
- Jewish legislation ended with Christ’s Advent.
- The Gospel does not affect civil governments.
- Caesar has the authority to make new laws
- The judicial law existed only to distinguish Israel until the Blessed Seed should come.
- The entirety of the law was abrogated after John the Baptist.
- Christians are free from the yoke of the entire law.
- Galatians establishes the abrogation of both the judicial and the ceremonial laws.
- Whatever laws may be are from God”
In the introduction to the book we read:
“His clear and firm stance on God’s justice as revealed in the judicial laws of Moses influenced giants of Reformed theology for nearly two centuries afterward. As the reader will learn, Piscator’s views were held by several key figures, helped shape the Puritan movements and governments in both England and America, and influenced the formation of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is time that this nearly-forgotten theologian, and his doctrine of the law, be resurrected and given a rightful consideration among the hall of fame of Reformers. To that end, we present Piscator’s work on the judicial laws of Moses most often cited often by subsequent writers: the Appendix to his commentary on Exodus. Originally titled “Observations on Chapters 21, 22, 23, namely, an explanation of controversial questions about the abrogation of the judicial laws of Moses,” it is here published as a stand-alone book: Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses.”
ANTONIUS MATTHAEUS II (1601-1654)
“The pervasiveness of Calvinism and Calvinist morality on criminal law in the early modern Dutch Republic, is shown through an analysis of the work of Antonius Matthaeus II, De criminibus (On crimes) of 1644. In Matthaeus’s restatement of criminal law, certain inherent ambiguities of Calvinism become manifest. Matthaeus’s Calvinist conviction becomes particularly evident in contested issues of criminal law. At these places, in discussion with Civil and Canon lawyers, but particularly also with other Reformed theologians and legal scholars, Matthaeus developed his own stance, on how to interpret and explain Roman criminal law and local customary criminal laws in light of the orthodox—Calvinist—religion.
Matthaeus’s consequent Calvinism can help to explain certain ‘modern’ opinions, such as his rejection of torture as a mean to achieve confessions. Due to the absolute primacy of divine will and law in De criminibus, the role of natural, practical reason remains quite limited. Indeed, although Matthaeus distinguished between moral and enduring laws with direct bearing on criminal law and religious prescripts without such direct consequence for the law, he failed to give any clear reason or criterion for such distinction.
For criminal law, the enduring moral laws were to be found mainly in the Decalogue and the Mosaic Laws that explicated those commandments. According to Matthaeus, these enduring moral laws of the Decalogue corresponded with natural law.” (Oosterhuis, 2020)
“In the passage quoted above, Matthaeus argued that the rule that simple theft should be punished with a fine—and not a capital penalty—was not only juridical (judicialis), but partly moral (moralis). Here, Matthaeus employed terminology principally in use by theologians and moralists, both Catholic and Protestant. These theologians distinguished between three types of biblical laws: (i) moral laws (lex moralis), the enduring moral teachings of the Decalogue and the New Testament; (ii) juridical, forensic or civil laws (lex juridicales, ius forensi), the rules and procedures by which ancient Israelites and apostolic Christians governed their religious and civil communities; and (iii) ceremonial laws (lex ceremonialis), the Mosaic laws that governed the religious life of the ancient Israelites.
Certain Protestant theologians argued that only the definition of crimes was part of the moral and enduring law, but that the punishment of those crimes was part of the juridical or civil law, and thus at the discretion of magistrates. As proponents of this view, Matthaeus listed some prominent first and second generation Reformers—French, Italian, German and English: Calvin, Vermigli, Melanchton, Chemnitius and Perkins.
Matthaeus argued, however, that also the punishment of crimes was part of the moral law, at least partly, admittedly in the sense that magistrates were limited in their discretion insofar that they should not impose a capital penalty for theft. Indeed, several Protestant theologians defended that the kinds of punishment of the crimes in the Mosaic Laws pertaining to the Decalogue were also of a moral and enduring nature, not just the definition of the crimes. Of the Reformed theologians listed by Matthaeus to support his opinion, Vermigli and Musculus, had a quite nuanced opinion. The more strict opinion that simple theft should never be punished capitally was held by a number of Calvinist Divinity professors at Leiden—Franciscus Junius (1545–1602), Lambertus Daneau (1535–1590) and André Rivet (1572–1651)—, Strasbourg—Johannes Piscator (1546–1625)—and Franeker—Guilelmus Amesius (or William Ames, 1576–1633).” (Oosterhuis, 2020: 75, 76)
Matthaeus’s own words:
“All Mosaic Laws, on the evidence of Duarenus and Contius, which pertain to the teaching of the Decalogue have their foundation in natural equity and bind Christians today. This law does not exclusively belong to the courts, but in part to morals: since our Saviour in different places confirms laws of this nature (for example John 8:3; I Corinthians 10:8; Matthew 15:3–4; Matthew 26:52; Job 12:8 juncto Deuteronomy 15:11; Matthew 5:8 et seqq.), it follows that they are not abolished and cannot be abolished by the decree of any human being, since every magistrate ought to be the servant and executor of the divine will (Romans 13:1–4).” (Oosterhuis, 2020: 75)
“This law [i.e. on the capital punishment for adultery] does not belong exclusively to the courts nor was it written for the Jews alone, but is in accordance with natural reason and it has reference to the observation of the seventh commandment and it must be regarded as of a mixed nature, in part belonging to the courts and in part moral. Laws of that kind bind us even today, as I said in the preceding book in the Title on Theft.” (Oosterhuis, 2020: 78)
“Just as the civil magistracy is obligated to restrain and punish public blasphemy and perjury, it is also obligated to restrain and punish individuals in its own judicial district, for public false teachings, improper worship services and heretical acts. And this God orders in the second commandment, where he says, “Whoever dishonors God’s name, shall not remain unpunished” [editor’s note: it is really the third commandment, paraphrased]. Everyone is obligated, in keeping with his station and office, to avoid and to deter blasphemy.
And on the strength of this commandment, princes and magistrates have the power and duty to abolish improper worship services, and in their place, to establish true teaching and correct worship services. This commandment also instructs them to deter public false teaching, and to punish the obstinate. Leviticus 24[:16] speaks to this: “Whoever blasphemes God is to be killed.” [I]f we hold God’s honor in high respect, we must in all seriousness take preventive measures, so that blasphemy and damaging errors are not carried far and wide”
“[A] judge or magistrate ought particularly to be a Christian and a spiritually-minded man. So God himself deigned to call them by his own name Elohim, because they should be most like God as high priests of righteousness, equity and firmness.”
“I had several goals in publishing this collection of John Calvin’s sermons on Deuteronomy. The first was to provide primary source evidence to answer the question: “Was Calvin a theonomist?” These sermons reveal clearly that the answer is yes. … This pamphlet reprints North’s preface to John Calvin, The Covenant Enforced. North argues from Calvin’s writings that Calvin believed that the Mosaic law should form the foundation for Christian socio-political reflection. Calvin further held that the curses and blessings of the covenant, enunciated by God in Leviticus 26 and reiterated by Moses in Deuteronomy 28, are still in force today.”
For a excellent explanation of Calvin’s ‘anti-theonomic’ words in the Institutes, IV.20.14, see this article:
“Calvin’s understanding of the continuing authority and applicability of the Mosaic judicials to modern civil governments is warmly debated in Reformed circles. Theonomists maintain that their commitment to apply God’s law to all areas of life, including civil magistrates, is the judicial extension of Calvin’s theology. Citing natural or common law as a sufficient basis for civil ethics, others strongly reject the theonomic appeal to Calvin.
It is also suggested that even though Calvin and theonomists reach many of the same formal conclusions on Christian political ethics and penology, Calvin’s rationale for utilizing the Mosaic judicials is markedly contrary to that of theonomists, thus rendering any appeal to him illegitimate. These and similar criticisms, while helpful in clarifying many issues, do not overturn the theonomic conviction that the theology and ethic of the great Geneva reformer provide Reformed precedent for the continuing authority and application of the Mosaic judicials to modern civil governments.
It is suggested that the reason for the widely divergent assessment of Calvin’s political ethic is due to his “divided judicial legacy.” While his sermons and commentaries are basically theonomic, in that they seek to apply the Old Testament case laws and penalties to modern civil governments, Institutes, with its teaching on natural law, is clearly anti-theonomic. North states that some of Calvin’s comments concerning natural law in the Institutes have “left the door open to generations of Calvinists who could, in good conscience, call themselves Calvinists and still accept a wide range of political and economic humanism.”
Such a concession is unnecessary. As this paper will demonstrate, one weakness of current Calvin scholarship, though not of North’s research, is the failure of analysts to deal adequately with Calvin’s copious commentaries and sermons. There is no fundamental difference, however, between these and his Institutes. If Calvin’s comments on natural law are interpreted in the light of his overall theology, his use of natural law terminology does not represent a departure from his constant commitment to Sola Scriptura in the realm of political ethics.”
“Clearly, therefore, Calvin’s comments to the King of France in 4:20:14 are specifically directed against the Anabaptists. His primary purpose, the intent that must govern all other interpretations, was to expose the anti-Christian practices of the Muensterites and to separate the French Protestants from them. The radicals were the ones who denied that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses. Revolution, not evangelization and education, was the Anabaptist answer to sin in a society. Moreover, the Muenster Anabaptists were guilty of failing to distinguish in God’s law that which remains perpetually binding and that which does not. They were guilty of seeking to establish a Jewish theocracy.
Of course, according to Calvin, this is impossible and illegitimate. Those aspects of the ceremonial and judicial laws that applied only to Israel have passed away. “We must bear in mind that common division of the whole law of God published by Moses into moral, ceremonial, and judicial. And we must consider each of these parts, that we may understand what there is in them that pertains to us, and what does not.”
JD van der Vyver (Calvinist jurist) on Calvin’s view of the law
“Calvin deduced some natural law norms from the other Mosaic laws (i.e. not directly or not only from the Ten Commandments – slc). He says, there must be a distinction in the laws of Moses, those Mosaic laws that have eternal value, and those that were only for the Jews.” (1982: 56)
“Calvin had a nuanced view of the Mosaic civil and judicial laws. His guiding principle was general equity – looking for the kernel that is universally applicable since it is written on the hearts of men. The entire Law of God as summarized in the Decalogue remains in force for magistrates today, both the first and the second table. However, the penalties attached to infractions of the second table can vary according to times and circumstances. The important thing is that such infractions are punished. When it comes to the first table, because God’s honour is at stake, Calvin maintained that the most severe penalties were appropriate.”
LJ DU PLESSIS ON CALVIN’S THEORY OF THE STATE
“The Ten Commandments namely, also has a political aspect as formulation of the general legal principles, the application or positivization of which by the state is partly determined by varying national and country circumstances. Yes, in the Mosaic legislation itself a distinction must be made between the enduring principles and the then positivization of it according to the circumstances of Judaism at that time. The enduring legal principles of the Decalogue were briefly specified by Calvin as follows. The first table requires that also the authority will serve God according to his Word and, after official capture of the public worship service, will protect it from revolutionary violation, in the extreme cases even with the death penalty, further that everything that can promote superstition, from the public worship is served, blasphemy is punished and the oath is used to settle disputes and at least one day out of seven is made available for public participation in the public worship service associated with the service of mercy. ” [1941:124]
LM DU PLESSIS ON CALVIN’S CALL TO KINGS TO SERVE THE KING
“While Calvin defends his case before the king (as judge) from the Holy Scriptures (and even with the help of the statements of the church fathers), he is also bold enough to tell the king from the Scriptures, unashamedly, what exactly is expected from him: the king should grant the rightful protection to matters concerning the inviolability of God’s glory and the kingdom of Christ, because the prince is, after all, a servant of God. A prince commits robbery if does not rule accordingly.” [1977: 99, 110]
HENRICH BULLINGER (1504-1575)
“I know that many have wished that you had not defended this principle; but many also thank you, and among others our church. Urbanus Regius has long ago proved, in a work of his own, and all the ministers of Luneberg agree with him, that heretics, when they are blasphemers, ought to be punished. There are also many other pious men who think the same, and consider that such offenders ought not only to be silenced, but to be put to death. Do not repent therefore of what you have done: the Lord will uphold your righteous efforts. I know that your disposition is not cruel, and that you will favour no barbarity. Who knows not, that a boundary must be set to things of this kind? But how it could be possible to spare such a man as Servetus, that serpent of all heresies, that most obdurate of men, I see not.”
MARTIN BUCER (1491-1551)
“Since no one can describe an approach more equitable and wholesome to the commonwealth than that which God describes in His law, it is certainly the duty of all kings and princes who recognize that God has put them over his people that they follow most studiously His own method of punishing evildoers. For inasmuch as we have been freed from the teaching of Moses through Christ the Lord, so that it is no longer necessary for us to observe the civil decrees of the law of Moses, namely in terms of the way and circumstances In which they are described, nevertheless, insofar as the substance and proper end of these commandments are concerned, and especially those which enjoin the discipline that is necessary for the whole commonwealth, whoever does not reckon that such commandments are to be conscientiously observed is certainly not attributing to God either supreme wisdom or a righteous care for our salvation.” (1954: 378)
WILHELMUS A’BRAKEL (1635-1711)
“It is the duty of civil government to uphold not only the second table of the law, but also the first. It must see to it that God is honored. It may not tolerate any idolatry, worship of images, or any false religion within her jurisdiction, but must rather eradicate these. It must prevent the vain use of God’s Name practiced by cursing, swearing, and blasphemy. It must prevent the desecration of the Sabbath, punish violators of this commandment, and see to it that the gospel is proclaimed everywhere within its jurisdiction. It must see to it that the church, as the darling of the Lord Jesus, is protected and preserved; and that neither internal dissension nor any external oppression disturb or destroy the church, but that instead she be safely preserved in the use of the privileges and liberties which her King Jesus has given her.”
“The fact that church and state in the ZAR were so close to each other had no small effect on the judiciary. The Protestant church affiliation of all judicial officials, for example, was an important qualifying factor. Judges were to be people who were “practiced with the laws of Moses alone, but who tested and examined daily the law and the Gospel of Moses with costly attention.” As for legislation, the people wanted the law “that God and our Creator gave to Moses to serve as the basis of all laws. … In the verdict one could notice in most cases that the magistrate was well acquainted with the civil laws given to the Jewish people through the intervention of Moses, and that the magistrate was of opinion, that he was not far from the would be way if he did not rule in accordance with the laws. ”
“Because each separate district got its own magistrate and the learned legal men were very scarce at first, magistrates were appointed people with a very common sense, even though they rarely sat on the school benches. In the court session it was then nor the law book that was always consulted, not a search for precedents, but only the common sense was ready to give guidance. In the verdict one could notice in most cases that the magistrate was well acquainted with the civil laws that were given to the Jewish people through Moses, and that the magistrate was of the opinion that he would not be far off the road if he ruled in accordance with the laws. ”
“Question 21: What do we mean by the civil laws of God given to Israel? Answer: Those statutes, commandments, and ordinances, which pertain to Israel as a special nation in the land of Canaan, according to which they should conduct themselves in their homely and public life, in both peace and war.
Queston 22: Are we still bound by those laws under the New Testament? Answer: In so far as they concerned Israel as a special nation, they never imposed any direct obligation upon other nations; but in so far as they have a general moral character, they are certainly for all peoples, therefore also — and especially for us Christians — the very best laws and precepts of justice and equity.
Consequently, Christian nations should behave accordingly, and their statesmen and lawyers should take care that their laws do not conflict with it, although in many respects the proverb mutatis mutandis (other circumstances require different laws) must also be observed here, but inasmuch as they have general moral features, they are equivalent to the Ten Commandments, they are, as it were, a further explanation and application of them; they thus contain the declaration of God’s eternal will.
And woe to a nation and people that sin against this, especially when it is done by a Christian nation, which has been informed by the word of God!”
“Note further that although the Book of Proverbs is so world-wide in content, the common name “God” is not used here, but “LORD”, specifically the Covenant Name. The wisdom meant here, therefore, relies entirely on the Revelation as contained in the Holy Scriptures When, therefore the Law of the Lord is not explicitly mentioned here, yet it is clear that the fear of the Lord is closely related to the Revelation of God; i.e. the wisdom rests on the Law and the Prophets. Even more. The words righteousness and justice and righteousness, which are spoken of throughout Scripture, more or less agree with what is meant by wisdom here. It is therefore clear that wisdom in the Old Testament is distinct from all other natural wisdom, and that its purpose is the realization of the will of the Lord in life.”
“With the claim that a commandment, (which) was given in the Old Testament, was abolished, we must be careful. For such a conclusive assertion, good reasons must be given. And if that is missing, our claim will have to be further qualified or given up altogether. In general, in connection with the civil and ceremonial laws given by the Lord to Israel, we must establish that a distinction must be made between the particular Israelite form in which the legislation came into being and the generally applicable essence or core on which it is based... As for the tithe, we think that the specifically Israelite form has passed away; but with it the great principle contained in it is not given up.”
“Imagine that it was said to Moses: You must not interfere with politics, and to Isaiah, leave politics alone, and to Amos and Ezechiel or to reprimand Paul or Peter to not speak about slave or free, kings and subjects, men and women, parents and children, taxes and many other things!” (Du Plessis, 1917: 21)
“Important in this regard is also the following conclusion to which Prof. LJ du Plessis comes: ‘Now it is hardly necessary to point out that although Calvin accepts many of the provisions (namely of the Decalogue-Dep.) as universally valid, he nevertheless does not consider them as applicable as such in all states. On the contrary, if God Himself moderates His strict commandment requirement to make it feasible by political means, then He Himself shows the way for positivization of the abiding aequitas core of His commandment, i.e., that what certain social circumstances require will be taken into account.
The Mosaic law do provide a model to follow. But the appropriate way is to adapt the commandment to local circumstances and to educate the company concerned to a higher legal conviction, where he can not yet bear the severity of the commandment. Especially the nature and degree of punishment (for certain crimes will depend on circumstances, provided that what God forbids is only also opposed by state roads in proportion to the seriousness and multiplicity of the crime. ”(The State Theory of Jean Calvin, p. 60.) (Cf. also from the same work, p. 58: “Thus heresy must not be punished, but revolutionary violation of the right with regard to religion.”)
“It may still be mentioned here that the first and second Helvetic Confessions, the English Confession of 1553, the Scottish Confession of 1560 and the Westminster Confession of 1647 in this matter, agrees with Belgic Confession article 36.”
Thus, in the Old Testament there are also laws that are specific to the existence of the people of Israel. It contains provisions over the division of the land, over the sabbath year. about slaves, law codes and similar matters. When the national existence of Israel with the coming of Christ were not the bed anymore in which the stream of God’s redemptive work flow anymore, so did those laws lose their binding character for the people of God. In Christ, the position that the Israelite king had in God’s rule over the people of Israel, were fulfilled. The kingdom of God becomes universal in nature since the day of Pentecost. The people of God live spread in many nations and countries. Israel’s civil laws therefore does not count in the same way for the believers in the New Covenant. … Still it is about concrete applications in one-time personal and historical situations. Therefore, such concrete prescriptions do not apply to exactly same way for all people of other times. The lasting will of God must in obedience to the guidance of the Spirit in new circumstances are “concretized” anew. The Bible itself show us this way.
“This does not mean that the very concrete precepts and commandments of the Bible would no longer have meaning for us. No, they retain their meaning to us, not in the sense that we have to literally execute them as they stand there, but in the sense that they put us on a authoritative way shows how God wanted His will in certain situations had to be done. They leave us the many finer shades of doing the will of God as it is in the complex, sinful life must take place.
If we carefully study the different concrete commandments and commands of the Bible, we will notice that they always point to the abiding will of God which also applies to us and that they even in their concrete form want to show us what we should take into account keep in our obedience to the will of God in our own situation.
Therefore, we should keep reading the whole Bible and not too soon think that we can only skip the law passages of the Old Testament, or that we are not interested in specific assignments assigned to specific people are not given in the Bible. The Holy Spirit can use those passages to convince us today of what God wants for we are in our own situations.” (1975: 20-23)
“The mosaic legislation and enforcement of justice is so good that it could serve as a model for all states of law. That’s what Daniel Arnold said yesterday at the Colloque Biblique Francophone. Daniel Arnold, teacher of ethics and dogmatics at the Institut Biblique Emmaüs in Saint-Légier (Switzerland), continued his series of lectures on “Ethical Education of the Old and New Testaments”. … All earthly judges must realize that as vicars they judge for God and therefore cannot judge arbitrarily. The Old Testament knows only two kinds of punishment, according to Arnold: the death penalty for serious crimes and the satisfaction in the form of money or property. Imprisonment is absent from the mosaic penal system, as well as physical mutilation as it does occur in Islamic law.”
Christian thinking about humanitarian intervention can easily be combined with the practice as experienced and shaped by Minister Van Middelkoop of Defense. The mosaic martial laws and the Pauline definition of government are important sources of inspiration for him. … It says there (Rom. 13), “For she is God’s servant for your good.” “According to Paulus, the government acts well if it protects its citizens well,” says the minister. “If that doesn’t happen, you can pat the government on the fingers. In the latter case, also with military means.” Effortlessly, Van Middelkoop switches back to the Old Testament when he refers to the mosaic martial laws of Deuteronomy 20. “There is an incredible amount of wisdom in that.” Wars must be waged as disciplined as possible, the minister concludes. He also referred to it in a parliamentary debate on cluster bombs, which often cause many civilian casualties. “In the siege of a city, the fruit trees must be spared, because after the siege, life must be allowed to resume.”
WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH, CHAPTER 19:3,4
“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. 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.”
GEORGE GILLESPIE (1613-1648)
“It will be asked, “But how does it appear that these or any other judicial laws of Moses do at all appertain to us, as rules to guide us in like cases?” I shall wish him who scruples this, to read Piscator’s appendix to his observations upon the 21-23 chapters of Exodus, where he excellently disputes this question, whether the Christian Magistrate is bound to observe the judicial laws of Moses, as well as the Jewish Magistrate was.”
“Christ’s words (Matt. 5:17), “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill,” are comprehensive of the judicial law, it being a part of the Law of Moses. Now he could not fulfill the judicial law, except either by his practice, or by teaching others still to observe it; not by his own practice, for he would not condemn the adulteress (Joh. 8:11), nor divide the inheritance (Luke 12:13-14). Therefore, it must be by his doctrine for our observing it.
If Christ in his sermon (Matt. 5), would teach that the moral law belongs to us Christians, in so much as he vindicates it from the false glosses of the scribes and Pharisees; then he meant to hold forth the judicial law concerning moral trespasses as belonging unto us also; for he vindicates and interprets the judicial law, as well as the moral (Matt. 5:38), An eye for an eye, etc.” (1846)
“I know some divines hold that the judicial law of Moses, so far as concerneth the punishments of sins against the moral law, idolatry, blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking, adultery, theft, etc., ought to be a rule to the Christian magistrate; and, for my part, I wish more respect were had to it, and that it were more consulted with.” (1985: 3)
SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (1600 – 1661)
“It is clear the question must be thus stated, for all the laws of the Old Testament (which we hold in their Moral equity to be perpetual) that are touching blasphemies, heresies, solicitation to worship false Gods and the breach of which the Godly Magistrate was to punish, command or forbid only such things as may be proved by two or three witnesses, and which husband and wife are not to conceal, and from which all Israel must abstain for fear of the like punishment. … The express law of God, and of nature written in the hearts of all, proveth that the seducer should die, Deut. 13. If a prophet or a Dreamer arise, and say, let us go after other gods, he shall be put to death. That is no temporary law obliging the Jews only. … Our adversaries are obliged to give us precept, promise or godly practice why a moral sin forbidden and severely punished in the Old Testament, should yet remain a moral sin in the New Testament, and yet not be punishable by men or churches” (1649)
JOHN OWEN (1616 – 1683)
“Although the institutions and examples of the Old Testament, of the duty of magistrates in the things and about the worship of God, are not, in their whole latitude and extent, to be drawn into rules that should be obligatory to all magistrates now, under the administration of the gospel,–and that because the magistrate then was “custos, vindex, et administrator legis judicialis, et politiae Mosaicae,” from which, as most think, we are freed;– yet, doubtless, there is something moral in those institutions, which, being unclothed of their Judaical form, is still binding to all in the like kind, as to some analogy and proportion.
“Subduct from those administrations what was proper to, and lies upon the account of, the church and nation of the Jews, and what remains upon the general notion of a church and nation must be everlastingly binding.”
“And this amounts thus far, at least, that judges, rulers, and magistrates, which are promised under the New Testament to be given in mercy, and to be of singular usefulness, as the judges were under the Old, are to take care that the gospel church may, in its concernment as such, be supported and promoted, and the truth propagated wherewith they are intrusted; as the others took care that it might be well with the Judaical church as such. And on these, and such like principles as these are, may you safely bottom yourselves in that undertaking wherein you seek for direction from God this day.”
“Church history teaches us that not only after Calvary but even after the destruction of the nation of ancient Israel in 70 A.D., the “general equity” of the judicial laws continued in the Christian Church as the new Israel of God! And not only at the nominal christianization of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century A.D., but even subsequently under Christian Emperors like Justinian, civil codes were established which in large measure reflected the “moral duties” or the “general equity” of the judicial laws of Israel.
Later, even after the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire, the first civil laws of all modern Western nations were largely modelled on Biblically-judicial principles, as a result of the widespread corpus christianum idea of the later middle ages (cf. Charlemagne and the Carolingian revival). This is reflected also in Wycliffe and his Lollards. Later still, after the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, John Calvin encouraged the imposition of the Biblical punishments for witchcraft and adultery and incest in Geneva.
So too other early Reformed theologians such as (Calvin’s friends) Bucer and de Chandieu and Bullinger; Knox’s Scots Confession (arts. 14f), De Bres’ Belgic Confession (art. 25), Olevianus’ & Ursinus’ Heidelberg Catechism (91-115); and Thomas Cartwright and Philip Stubbs and Henry Barrow and William Perkins and John Wollebius and William Ames are all good examples of the many consistent Protestants who regarded the “moral substance” of the judicial laws of Israel as still binding in the world today.”
MEREDITH KLINE, A ‘EXTREME’ ANTI-THEONOMIST CONCEDES
“At the same time it must be said that Chalcedon (referring to RJ Rushdoony’s institution and theonomic thought as such) is not without roots in respectable ecclesiastical tradition. It is in fact a revival of certain teachings contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith – at least in the Confession’s original formulations. These particular elements in the Confession, long since rejected as manifestly unbiblical by the mass of those who stand in that confessional tradition (as well as by virtually all other students of the Scriptures), have been subjected to official revision. The revision, however, has left us with standards whose proper legal interpretation is perplexed by ambiguities, and the claim of Chalcedon is that it is the true champion of confessional orthodoxy. Ecclesiastical courts operating under the Westminster Confession of Faith are going to have their problems, therefore, if they should be of a mind to bring the Chalcedon aberration under their judicial scrutiny.” (1978: 173)
LAIRD HARRIS (non-theonomist)
“Theonomy was until recently a little-used word…. But the word is now being used to designate a new idea… that the governments of the world today should be guided in their judicial decisions by all the legislation of the Old Testament and, in particular, should assess the Old Testament penalties for an infraction of those laws, where civil or religious… The view is not really new; it is just new In our time. It was the usual view through the Middle Ages, was not thrown over by the Reformers and was espoused by the Scottish Covenanters who asked the Long Parliament to make Presbyterianism the religion of the three realms—England, Scotland and Ireland.” (1979: 1)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON (non-theonomist)
“… It would have satisfied those Divines (at the Westminister Assemby – slc), like Gillespie, who wished that more attention woulde be given to the Mosaic penology … Essentially, Bahnsen accepts the doctrinal orthodoxy of the original text [of the Confession = WCF 19]. Whether or not this is in conflict with the intention of the American Presbyterian emendation of the Confession, it is certainly in keeping with the traditional Scottish Reformed understanding of it.”
“It should be noted that in many instances the practical implications theonomy may not necessarily be a denial of the teaching of the Westminster Confession. The words of Chapter XIX, IV can be understood to include the view that Mosaic penalties may be applied by the Christian magistrate (of ‘general equity’ so dictates). We have already noted that such views were widespread among the Divines in relation to specific crimes. But this is simply to recognize that there may be common ground in practice between the Confession’s teaching and theonomy.”
“The strongest position a theonomist could adopt on the basis of the Confession would be that it did not a priori reject the application of the Mosaic judicial punishment for crimes considered seriatim. But theoretical theonomy as such is not the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith.”
“… the Confession’s teaching on the Mosaic judicials extends as far as to include certain applications of the Mosaic law consistent with those sought by theonomists … the penological implications of this view might be indistinguishable from the practical implications of theonomy … in several instance, therefore, in practical outworking and that of theonomy are one … (the confession position) is not necessarily identical with that of theonomy … (Rutherford’s) arguments are at some points strikingly similar to those of Bahsen.” (1990: 327-348)
BAHNSEN’S EXPLANATION OF WCF 19.4 (GENERAL EQUITY OF THE CIVIL LAWS)
“There can be no question, then, that the leading and most influential theologian at the Westminster Assembly (Gillespie -slc) maintained that the “general equity” of the Mosaic judicial laws continued to require civil officials in the New Testament era to enforce the penal sanctions of that law. According to George Gillespie, “the will of God concerning civil justice and punishments is no where so fully and clearly revealed as in the judicial law of Moses. This therefore must be the surest prop and stay to the conscience of the Christian Magistrate.” Gillespie openly stated that he had no hesitation in holding “that he who was punishable by death under the judicial law is punishable by death still; and he who was not punished by death then, is not to be punished by death now.” He saw the modern state as regulated in its civil code by the penal provisions of the law of Moses.”
“Question: Does the OPC have a position on theonomy, or done any “official” studies on the subject?
Answer: To the best of my knowledge, our General Assembly has never appointed a study committee on theonomy, which is how a matter would be dealt with by our entire denomination. Our official doctrinal positions are found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (which is subordinate to the Bible, of course, and which we believe is an accurate summary of its essential doctrines). The Orthodox Presbyterian Church would have an “official position” on theonomy if the Westminster Standards somehow required it or ruled it out of bounds.
The problem is that “theonomy” is a rather broad category, encompassing a range of views. A number of self-described theonomists disagree with each other on various points of doctrine. Thus, the relationship of theonomy to the Westminster Standards depends on what “brand” of theonomy is under discussion.
Some critics of theonomy argue that it contradicts the Westminster Standards’ on how the Law of God given to Moses is to be applied to day (Westminster Confession of Faith ch. 19). Some theonomists argue their views are in fact required by the Westminster Standards. All theonomists (to the best of my knowledge) would argue their views are at the very least allowable by the Westminster Standards.
As you can see, I’m unable to give a clear answer to your question because there is no one definition of the term “theonomy.” You will find a range of opinion in the OPC regarding theonomy, but no official position on the movement one way or the other.”
“Theological controversy can bring out the best and the worst in the Church. If handled correctly, it will sharpen our understanding of the message of the Scriptures and its application to our contemporary world. The Church can emerge from a period of theological discussion and debate with a much greater clarity on the issue at hand. However, if badly handled, contention over a point of doctrine can be destructive and harmful for the Church. It can lead to unnecessary division and ill-feeling between brothers and sisters in both blood families and the family of God. …
In view of this divergence of viewpoint among theonomists, the committee concluded that it was “not possible to make a blanket endorsement or denial of theonomy with respect to the confessions.” We believed the conclusions reached in the report to be in harmony with both Scripture and Confessions, yet we could not say this of all the various shades of theonomic opinion. …
Comparing Bahnsen’s views with the historic Reformed view it is clear that there is a basic agreement about the relationship between Church and State. “The debate does not center around whether or not the magistrate should apply God’s law, but to what extent God’s law applies in its detail.”
The committee believed it was both beyond their mandate and their ability to offer a definitive solution to a problem that has exercised the minds of able Reformed theologians and thinkers through the centuries. Instead they formulated statements regarding the Church, the State and God’s law which they could all agree with. The areas of agreement are as follows: …
Having looked at the theonomy issue in New Zealand, one of the first observations we could make is that there is nothing new under the sun. Long ago the writer of Ecclesiastes reminded us of this (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Through all the centuries of Church history and theological debate Christians have discussed the relationship between the Testaments, the respective roles of the Church and State, and the application of God’s law to society at large. In the 17th century in particular the English Puritans invested a great deal of time and energy unto discussions on God’s law. Our own study in New Zealand in the 20th century is but a small and humble contribution to the ongoing work of the Church in coming to understand God’s word and its application to the contemporary world.”
It is very clear from this few sources that theonomic ethics and thought are not ‘new’ and whether one agrees with it or not, that is part of the ‘tradition of the church’, i.e. the reformed churches of the reformed confessions and reformation heritage. Of course many of the theologians quoted above where not 20-21st century Theonomists (for obvious reasons!), but they were theonomic in basic views of the judicial laws and penalties.
Therefore the wisdom and wise words of RCNZ brothers should be careful thought and prayer for all debates between reformed believers, groups and churches, yes pro- and non- or anti- theonomic brothers, to watch that our zeal to whatever side of a issue, glorifies the Lord and serve His church. Let’s keep on learning from each other, also from reformed history on law and ethics, all in the light of Acts 17:11 and a lot of prayer to really listened, read, understand and differ if we need to, in love for God and His church.
In part IV I will end with some of own thoughts on theonomic postmillennialism, what I believe the unique semper reformanda contribution is of Theonomic ethics for our times, because of one of their very important foundational influences: “Van Tillian Apologetics”:
“There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy.” – Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Ethics, p. 134
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