From the Mailbag; “Secular Government”

Dear Pastor,

I’m constantly being told that the idea that Christ expects civil (governments), to obey his law is to return to types and shadows (the Old Testament), which is no longer applicable or humane or relevant. (1) To them there is always a dichotomy (false) between Christ and the state which they view as mutually exclusive realms (2a) since they insist Christians are not under the law.(2b) The magistrate of Romans 13 is simply Caesar to whom we pay our taxes for certain benefits.(3) This would be Road repair national defense and so on.(3) To them once anyone try’s to assign any kind of theological basis for the state they see this as sacrilege and worshiping the state.(4) Somehow they expect the state to be under mans dominion and the church under Christ’s dominion.(5) Lot of hand washing going on that doesn’t seem right. Could you speak to that?

Noa in Hawaii

Hello Noa,

Thanks for the observation. We have covered this type of things many times before on Iron Ink but we will give it a spin again since this is such a common error in most Churches.

1.a) The whole premise behind the idea that we have nothing to do with God’s law is based on the unproven and un-provable idea of radical discontinuity between earlier revelation and later revelation. Most solid hermeneutical principles insist, to the contrary, that earlier revelation is retained unless it is specifically negated in later revelation. So, for example, the blood sacrificial system of the Old Testament is specifically repudiated in the New Testament because all it anticipated was fulfilled with the arrival of Christ as seen especially in the book of Hebrews and elsewhere as well. As such we do not sacrifice animals for atonement. As Christians we no longer engage with what are characterized as the “ceremonial laws.”

1.b) However, that discontinuity does not apply principally to God’s civil law as expressed in the Old Testament. Jesus Himself said that,

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

That the Lord Christ intended what we now call the civil law (judicial law) to be considered is seen in Matthew 23,

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Notice here that while Jesus does say that there are weightier matters of the law, those less weighty should still be practiced.

Theologian B. B. Warfield said of this passage in Matthew,

He (Jesus) means to say not merely that they (jots and tittles) should be accomplished, but that they shall be accomplished. The words are very emphatic. The “all,” standing in correlation with the “one” of the “one jot” and “one tittle,” declares that all the jots and all the tittles of the law shall be accomplished. Not one shall fail. The expression itself is equivalent to a declaration that a time shall come when in this detailed perfection, the law shall be observed.

This amounts to a promise that the day shall surely come for which we pray when, in accordance with Jesus’ instruction we ask, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth.”

Notice that Warfield expects a time to come in space and time history when God’s law, with all its jots and tittles, will be practiced on earth as it is in heaven. This is a proclamation that the Christian remains responsible to God’s case laws.

A good book, if you can get your hands on a copy, on how the Reformed Divines have handled the ongoing validity of God’s civil law is Martin Foulner’s little book, “Theonomy and the Westminster Confession.” Foulner piles quote upon quote demonstrating that the view, now found in even in putatively Reformed quarters, that the case laws of the Old Testament are no longer valid, was not a view shared by the Westminster Divines.

Next one needs to consider the Westminster Confession itself when it teaches,

IV. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws,
which expired together with the state of that people, not obligating
any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

Keep your eye on that last clause; “further than the general equity thereof my require.” The Westminsterian idea, as seen in Foulner’s book, was that while the husk of the civil law had passed, the principial kernel of the law remained. So, while we no longer are required to build fences around our roofs (Dt. 22:8-12) since that is a sundry judicial law that has expired with the state of Israel as evidenced in the fact that we no longer entertain on our rooftops as Ancient Israel did, we still are required to embrace the general equity of Dt. 22:8-12 by building fences around our pools. So, the jots and tittles live on through the idea of general equity. Anyone doubting that that is the historical Reformed position need only read Foulner’s book of quotes.

So, all those who insist that the idea “that Christ expects civil (governments), to obey his law is to return to types and shadows (the Old Testament), which is no longer applicable or humane or relevant,” are just in error and have need to repent of their anti-nomianism.

2a.) The problem is that since Christ is a sovereign who rules over all it is not possible to have mutually exclusive realms. Now, we might well agree that there are distinct realms but we abhor the idea that there are mutually exclusive realms. Further, all of our distinct realms with their distinct roles are interdependent since they are each and all under the Kingship of Christ. Thus while we would properly assert distinct realms as existing between Church and State we would say it is heresy to say that that those realms are mutually exclusive so that God’s special revelation can’t shape and command the state realm. When God’s law-Word says that the death penalty should be brought for the capital crimes it delineates the Magistrates of all countries are responsible to bring the death penalty for those capital crimes. The Magistrate belongs to God and in belonging to God he is responsible to do God’s revealed bidding. If he refuses he will one day be held accountable.

2b.) Being under law is an inescapable category. All Christians, in terms of their existence in the civil-social realm (since that is what we are talking about) are under one kind of law or another of one kind of God or another. If they are not under the politicus usus of God’s gracious law in the civil-social realm then they will be under the hobnailed harsh law of some other god in the civil-social realm. It is passing strange that Christians would desire to escape God’s law (which is a reflection of His glorious character) in the civil-social realm in order to embrace the law of some tin horned “man said loudly” deity. How far do we have to integrate downward into the void of humanist law that finds (as examples) Trannies reading to our kiddies in public libraries, or in using our ladies Restrooms before we decide swirling down the void drain is a drag?

3.) The “benefits” we get from Caesar are theologically decided upon. Their is no neutrality in even the benefits we receive from Caesar. As such Caesar and the benefits he gives are always theologically driven. Why does Caesar give the benefit of roads and abortions? Because of some theological commitments he owns.

4.) All states run upon a theological basis. There is no neutrality. So, if your friends will not have an expressly Christian theological basis for the state they will have an expressly non-Christian theological basis for the state. Theological basis’ for everything is an inescapable concept.

I’m not sure how a distinctly Christian theological basis for the state is sacrilege unless one presupposes that the state ought to be unholy in what it was set apart, by God, to do. I mean that is the meaning of “sacrilege.” Sacrilege is to make that which is profane, holy, or to make that which is holy, profane. So, in order for sacrilege to come into play your friends have to believe that the state is profane and should not be holy (since they clearly do not believe it is holy and is being made profane). Where in the scripture do they find the idea that the state is inherently profane? I’d like to see that case made.

4.) In terms of worshiping the state if it were to have a distinctly Christian theological basis, well, that’s just stupid. When one attends Church to worship is one worshiping the Church? Why would it have to be the case that if a state were to be based on distinctly Christian principals that therefore would by necessity mean that Christians were worshiping the state?

5.) If the state is under man’s dominion then their theological basis for the state is humanism. The state becomes “man said loudly” and so a god.

Further, your friends are trying to serve two gods, God and not God. Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one or you will cling to the other.”

Tell your friends to quit smoking crack.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

One thought on “From the Mailbag; “Secular Government””

  1. I am delighted that you have taken the time to unpack what apparently are commonly held ideas about the state and God’s law. I do plan to copy this to my Facebook page if that is ok with you. I am planning to invite my pastor friends to this site so they are able interact with you if they feel inclined to do so. I’m getting used to being told that these kinds of issues are counterproductive if not divisive because they have no impact on our salvation one way or the other. So many Christians associate reform theology with “getting involved with politics.” They will one on one hand agree that the “Church” is somehow become corrupted and lost its saltiness, which they tend to mean “because Christians don’t vote.” I find this strange because in fact Christians do vote its just that they tend to vote for candidates that view the Kingdom of God as something personal…”the Kingdom of God is within you” etc. Can I ask you to speak to the idea that the Kingdom of God is “not a political movement?” How are we to understand Paul who said “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit”? This seems to be the most common scripture I hear in response to the idea that Christians should work to see the Kingdom of God impact all of society. This in addition to quoting Christ who said “My kingdom is not of this world.” I should clarify that I was suggesting that when people try to discourage me from reading so called social reform in the New testament they are implying that I am looking to the state or to man made laws to cure society. I assure you they don’t smoke crack or anything similar. They just cannot fathom how changing law’s is supposed to change people. You “cannot legislate morality” after all!

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