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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Theonomy And the Moral Law

This post will not be long or drawn out. It won't be documented well either. However, I wish to express in brief one of my primary objections to theonomy/reconstruction. It seems to me that the civil laws of the theocracy of Israel, as it is described in the Old Testament, are not identical with the moral law itself. The major flaw of theonomy is in making the logical leap from "moral" implications of civil/criminal laws in the Old Covenant to the idea that codified law in the Old Covenant are the same thing as the "moral law."

The two concepts are not identical. For one thing, there is a distinction between particular laws applying to specific crimes/circumstances and general laws that are meant to cover categories of sins that are forbidden by their very nature in the moral law of God that flows from God's very essence as a holy God. The case law of Leviticus would differ in detail and degree from the summary of the moral law as given in the decalogue or ten commandments.

The moral law is revealed from God through many prophets and apostles from Genesis to Revelation, while the civil and ceremonial laws of Israel are only given through Moses. The first moral law revealed to man is, "Thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." In other words, the moral law forbids man from participating in evil. What is more, the moral law is communicated to man in creation. Adam and Eve are created in the image and likeness of God and the moral law is written into their hearts. Though this image has been corrupted, it is not totally gone. All men know by their conscience that they have sinned precisely because God has revealed it to them in creation of the things visible and by way of the image of God within them. We can in fact find the law and the gospel in every book of the Bible from cover to cover.

Moreover, it is pointless to return to a time of theocratic rule when there is no one like Moses left to run the nations of today. The prophet like Moses was and is Jesus Christ; He, too, is no longer with us in body but has ascended into heaven. As John Calvin put it, nations have a liberty of conscience to form civil and criminal laws in accordance with the moral law but they are no longer obliged to render the same punishments of the Old Covenant civil sanctions. Even the Westminster Standards and other Reformed confessions and catechisms acknowledge that the civil laws of the biblical nation of Israel passed away with that nation.

Also, theonomy tends to use doublespeak. When theonomists say they believe in justification by faith alone, they compromise this doctrine by issuing the proclamation that we are obligated to see the criminal code of ancient Israel as equal to the moral law and therefore binding upon us. This becomes a form of judaizing and legalism every bit as problematic as the Roman Catholic denial of justification by faith and faith alone.

Of course we recognize the third use of the moral law as a guide to Christian living and the process of sanctification. But that is different from using external codes to force unbelievers to conform to outward forms of law that can never justify us before God. Admittedly, all Christians accept that civil laws of society must be moral to one degree or another. But this is different from establishing Christianity, albeit an ecumenical Christianity, as the national religion and forbidding other sects and religions from public practice. This flies in the very face of a pluralistic and democratic society where the freedom of religion is the very bedrock of our constitution and bill of rights.

Theonomy is divisive in another way, also. When theonomists label everyone who dares to disagree with them as "antinomian" it commits the fallacy of overgeneralization. Not everyone who is opposed to theonomy/reconstruction would advocate antinomianism or lawlessness as permissible under a Reformed understanding of justification by faith and faith alone. Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers would deny that justification by faith and faith alone leads to antinomianism, since all of the reformers also held a high view of the doctrine of sanctification.

While theonomy may not be heretical on the primary level like Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, it is heretical/divisive/schismatic on the secondary level in that it has caused severe internal dissension and dispute to the point of fracturing Christian churches, denominations, and evangelical fellowship. May we be ever vigilant against heresies that arise within as well as without the church.

In Christ,

Charlie

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