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.]

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, November 03, 2008

Beyond Culture Wars: A Critique of Michael Horton's Wrong Doctrine

For since the insolence of the wicked is so great, and their iniquity so obstinate that it can scarcely be restrained by all the severity of the laws, what may we expect they would do, if they found themselves at liberty to perpetrate crimes with impunity, whose outrages even the arm of secular power cannot altogether prevent? 

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book IV.xx.1
[Click here to see Mike Horton's original article.]

[Please note that my views change over time and I no longer advocate co-belligerency with unbelievers or those who promote another gospel.  I allow my previous articles to stand as written to show the change in my thinking over time.  The truth of Scripture itself, however, never changes.  Psalm 119:89.   Charlie J. Ray.  March 22, 2015].

Though I greatly admire Dr. Michael Horton and his call for Christians to return to the confessional roots of the Protestant Reformation, I must strongly and vehemently disagree with his position regarding Christian involvement in the political affairs of this country. I must further state that I am neither a theonomist nor am I a reconstructionist. I do not believe that this country ever was nor will it ever be a "Christian" nation.

That being said, however, I would agree with Horton that civil religion and the Gospel must never be confused. God does not give blanket endorsement to any political party or social class of the American culture. We shall all be judged by God's moral law as it is stated in the ten commandments and in the other places in Holy Scripture where moral commands are made binding upon us by Christ, the apostles, and the prophets. Only the ceremonial laws and the judicial/civil laws of the ancient nation of Israel have passed away.

Where I strongly disagree with Horton is the idea that Christians in general cannot and should not try to "legislate" morality. Horton seems to think that legislating morality is a compromise of the doctrines of grace and the very Gospel itself. This could not be further from the truth. Even if we operate under the two kingdoms theology advocated by Horton, it would not follow that we cannot be co-belligerents with Roman Catholics, heterodox sects, or even Mormons on issues like abortion, gay rights and capital punishment. In fact, I would argue that Horton is guilty of the sin he is accusing the religious right of committing. Horton is advocating legislating morality. The problem is Horton's view of morality is heretical. Horton seems to think that Christians are morally bound to shut up and let the wicked rule the worldly kingdom, otherwise we risk confusing civil religion with the Gospel. But this is a non sequitur. Christians in every era have always believed that they should be about persuading the world that it is wrong on moral issues.

Where it is possible to change ungodly laws for laws which are more in line with natural law and with moral law, then Christians of all denominations should come together to make these changes. It does not follow that if I work with conservative Muslims, Mormons and Roman Catholics for more moral national laws that I must then compromise the Gospel or my witness in order to bring about a more general good for the nation. Co-belligerency on political/ethical/moral issues in the civic realm does not mean that I must then accept the doctrines of those with whom I am fighting to reform an unjust and immoral society. Thus, Horton's entire premise in this article is not only a red herring but is also a non sequitur. It does not follow.

I would also disagree with Horton when he says that, "Now one might argue that one's position on abortion must be consistent with his profession of faith, and I do believe that every Christian ought to seek the end of this worldwide holocaust, but abortion is not in the Apostle's Creed! It is not an article of Christian faith!" And this is precisely where Horton is absolutely and unequivocally WRONG. Abortion falls into the category of moral law; the moral law is NOT optional for the truly converted Christian. Abortion is not in the Apostles' Creed but it IS in the Decalogue! According to the Westminster Confession the purpose of God's law is to:

Chapter XIX Of the Law of God
V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.

VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin, and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man's doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.

VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.

I would further argue that Horton misses the point. While Christians are not under the law as a means of justification before God, they ARE obligated to live a Christian life as guided by the moral law. This is a fruit of true conversion, though not the basis for our justification before God. One would think that someone as educated as Horton would be able to avoid non sequiturs like suggesting that because "some" Christian leaders who live immoral lives in contradiction to their outwardly confessed convictions and theological positions somehow makes it wrong for all Christians to try to influence the morality which is legislated in this country. While it is true that the law of the land cannot force anyone to be converted or to have a change of heart, Calvin himself said that the civil laws of the nation restrain the wicked so that there is not total anarchy and so that society is not as wicked as it might be. Therefore, it is not only anti-Christian to oppose the legislation of Christian morality but it is also anti-Reformed! Both Luther and Calvin would have rejected our modern views on separation of church and state and would be appalled that Horton apparently takes the Anabaptist position where Christians should not be involved in politics.

Horton is so wrong on this position that it makes him look foolish to say the least. It is more than obvious to me that Horton's commitment to liberal politics has caused him to try to influence Christians away from the Christian Right and more in the direction of the civil religion of the liberal left. A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for the civil religion of theological liberalism where sin is openly institutionalized, approved, and endorsed--all in the name of God. While I would not say that God is on the side of the Republicans, I can without a doubt say that God is on the side of the unborn! I can without a doubt say that God hates homosexuality and the homosexual! I can say this because God hates the reprobate wicked and all the unsaved elect who have yet to be converted.

Horton is also inconsistent with Reformed theology when he says that AIDS is not part of God's judgment against homosexuals. Horton does not want to offend homosexuals with any idea of God's wrath against them or their sin. While I might agree that AIDS is not directed only against homosexuals, I disagree that it is not part of God's judgment against sin. All diseases in this current world are a result of God's judgment against mankind because of Adam and Eve's rebellion. Furthermore, AIDS is a judgment against those who practice sexual immorality whether they be heterosexual or homosexual. Sexually transmitted diseases are a punishment for the violation of God's moral law. And those who contract the disease as a result of drug abuse are likewise suffering judgment for their sins. As for those who get the disease by no fault of their own, they suffer God's judgment because of the sins of others. To suppose that sin does not affect others, our neighbors and our relatives is not only naive, it is ignorant. Horton seems to imply a deistic approach where God is not providentially or sovereignly in control and stuff just happens.

As a further indictment of Horton's theology, I would have to say that his concerns about how we persuade the homosexual to conversion is misguided. How will we persuade dead men to repent unless God first raises them from the dead? How does trying to influence public policy confuse the moral law? Whether we preach the law in church or whether we try to change public laws which go against the moral law, we are still preaching the law, without which there can be no Gospel! The law and the Gospel go hand in hand and without the law there can be no conviction or revelation of sin. If society approves, institutionalizes, and endorses sin it makes the job of preaching the gospel even harder because no there is no public shame for sins otherwise universally seen as sinful! By observing the secularization of the European countries we can see the results of secularization and a rejection of moral law. Horton is utilizing wishful thinking if he thinks withdrawing from the cultural war is somehow an advantage to preaching the Gospel! And Horton seems to ignore the doctrine of total depravity. Moral persuasion cannot work with homosexuals. So why is he worried that changing the criminal and civic laws will offend them? They are wicked and unsaved. So what if the moral law offends them? Is it right to give in to sin just because sinners protest? Of course not! This is the silliest argument I have ever seen Horton make. If that be the case, we should give up preaching the Gospel because the Gospel offends as well as the law offends. Without the law there is no understanding of sin. Both the law and the Gospel offends the lost sinner. This has absolutely nothing to do with making the laws of our nation more in line with the "general equity" understanding espoused by Calvin himself!

I am wondering as well how Horton can say that abortion is not a heresy? Horton says in his conclusion, " Being pro-choice I believe is morally wrong, but it is not heretical." To the contrary, the Apostle Paul clearly says that sound doctrine is necessary for true Christianity to exist and more to the point, Paul says this in the context of morality! Therefore, to promote institutionalized immorality IS a heresy since Paul says:

1 Timothy 1:8-11 (ESV)
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

It seems to me that Horton's real concern here is not civil religion or the compromise of the Gospel with political agendas. Rather, Horton is trying to sneak in his own politically liberal views couched in the hidden language of Reformed theology, which really is not Reformed at all! Horton is guilty of trying to influence Christians away from fighting the culture war and to surrender to an evil and wicked generation. But Paul and the original apostles turned the world upside down for the cause of Christ. Christianity did not compartmentalize its theology but sought to reform the whole world according to the law of God. While political change alone cannot save even one soul, it can and does lay the groundwork for the preaching of the Gospel by making God's moral law the general understanding of right and wrong in the culture. Where the culture has no understanding at all of God's law, then we wind up with secular atheism and dead churches like the situation we observe in Europe. The Gospel has for all practical purposes died out in Europe. Surrendering morality to the wicked here in the United States is to surrender the Gospel as well. We must never move beyond the culture wars. Rather we must fight to win the culture wars and then to preach the doctrines of grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to confront both pelagianism and civil religion. What Horton is promoting will lead to an ineffective church and a morally depraved national culture which in turn makes preaching the cross even more difficult than it already is. Even so, we should never forget that God is the only one who can elect, regenerate, justify and convert a lost sinner.

May God convert the nation and bring it to repentance before His judgment falls!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Calvin on the Civil Government:

I. Having already stated that man is the subject of two kinds of government, and having sufficiently discussed that which is situated in the soul, or the inner man, and relates to eternal life, we are, in this chapter, to say something of the other kind, which relates to civil justice, and the regulation of the external conduct. For, though the nature of this argument seems to have no connection with the spiritual doctrine of faith which I have undertaken to discuss, the sequel will show that I have sufficient reason for connecting them together, and, indeed, that necessity obliges me to it; especially since, on the one hand, infatuated and barbarous men madly endeavour to subvert this ordinance established by God; and, on the other hand, the flatterers of princes, extolling their power beyond all just bounds, hesitate not to oppose it to the authority of God himself. Unless both these errors be resisted, the purity of the faith will be destroyed. Besides, it is of no small importance for us to know what benevolent provision God has made for mankind in this instance, that we may be stimulated by a greater degree of pious zeal to testify our gratitude.....


II. Yet this distinction does not lead us to consider the whole system of civil government as a polluted thing which has nothing to do with Christian men. Some fanatics, who are pleased with nothing but liberty, or rather licentiousness without any restraint, do indeed boast and shout, "Since we are dead with Christ to the elements of this world, and, being translated into the kingdom of God, sit among the celestials, it is a degradation to us, and far beneath our dignity, to be occupied with those secular and impure cares which relate to things altogether uninteresting to a Christian man." Of what use, they ask, are laws without judgments and tribunals? But what have judgments to do with a Christian man? And if it be unlawful to kill, of what use are laws and judgments to us? But as we have just suggested that this kind of government is distinct from that spiritual and internal reign of Christ, so it ought to be known that they are in no respect at variance with each other. For that spiritual reign, even now upon earth, commences within us some preludes of the heavenly kingdom, and in this mortal and transitory life affords us some prelibations of immortal and incorruptible blessedness; but this civil government is designed, as long as we live in this world, to cherish and support the external worship of God, to preserve the pure doctrine of religion, to defend the constitution of the Church, to regulate our lives in a manner requisite for the society of men, to form our manners to civil justice, to promote our concord with each other, and to establish general peace and tranquillity; all which I confess to be superfluous, if the kingdom of God, as it now exists in us, extinguishes the present strife. But if it is the will of God, that while we are aspiring towards our true country, that we be pilgrims on the earth, and if such aids are necessary to our pilgrimage, they who take them from man deprive him of his human nature. They plead that there should be so much perfection in the Church of God, that its order would suffice to supply the place of all laws; but they foolishly imagine a perfection which can never be found in any community of men. For since the insolence of the wicked is so great, and their iniquity so obstinate that it can scarcely be restrained by all the severity of the laws, what may we expect they would do, if they found themselves at liberty to perpetrate crimes with impunity, whose outrages even the arm of secular power cannot altogether prevent?

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV.xx.1


Anonymous said...

p.s. I neglected to laud your excellent commentary on this surrenderist aspect of Horton's "theology". Great stuff!

Charlie J. Ray said...

I wouldn't dismiss so quickly everything Horton says. He rightly calls the church back to a focus on justification by faith alone and to the Reformed confessions. The problem is that he is inconsistent with traditional Reformed theology at many points.

Also, the White Horse Inn never gets into an details. They just sit around generalizing about how bad things are and never nail down anything except perhaps the objective nature of justification.

Anonymous said...

Summary of His Teaching - Christians should not be the salt of the earth
The main purpose of his book, Beyond Culture Wars seems to be ignore this verse
Matthew 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men." Our country is in a major mess today, primary because Christians have failed to be the salt of the earth, as R.J. Rushdonny explained when he wrote about the failure of the American Baptist Culture. Horton basically says that we need to do a better job being a Christian, keep Christianity within the four walls of the church, and do nothing to influence our culture, no political websites for Christians. Dr. Michael S. Horton does not believe that Christians should be involved in political campaigns.

So, is there such a thing as Christian politics or art? (a) The answer to this question obviously does not follow from the answers to #1-#7 above, as Horton seems to think it does. (b) In the most obvious meaning,

Read the rest of this article at: http://www.covenantnews.com/frame060420.htm

Anonymous said...

In Defense of Christianity - A Critical Critique of Michael Horton on Culture Wars
Horton, therefore, seeks to discourage Christian cultural activism, by linking it up with various evils, such as (1) identifying church and state, (2) denying God's sovereignty, (3) confusing culture with God's kingdom, (4) bad Christian art, etc., (5) binding Christian consciences beyond Scripture, (6) Christians adopting the sins of culture, (7) failure to acknowledge a shared culture. But a right kind of Christian activism entails none of these evils. These are a smokescreen, irrelevant to the conclusion Horton seeks to argue.

So, is there such a thing as Christian politics or art? (a) The answer to this question obviously does not follow from the answers to #1-#7 above, as Horton seems to think it does. (b) In the most obvious meaning, "Christian politics" simply refers to Christians making their political decisions on biblical principles. In that sense, there certainly is such a thing as Christian politics. Similarly, art and other cultural activities. (c) If Horton means to deny that we should apply biblical standards to public issues, then he certainly holds a very radical position. This does not follow from any of his previous argumentation, and there is no argument for it in the article. In my judgment this conclusion is directly contrary to 1 Cor. 10:31, "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Charlie J. Ray said...

In the future please do not post anonymously. If you do not have a blog profile or bio in Facebook or someplace, you might want to get one. One must be fully accountable for what one says on the internet, which is why I do not hide my identity.

Having said that, I want to make it equally clear that I totally reject the Manhattan Declaration precisely because it DOES confuse co-belligerency with the Gospel. I think Al Mohler or any other "Reformed" person who signed it is just revealing that they are more concerned with culture than Gospel. On that I agree fully with Mike Horton.

See: Manhattan Declaration

John MacArthur accurately points out on that link that:

Here are the main reasons I am not signing the Manhattan Declaration, even though a few men whom I love and respect have already affixed their names to it:

• Although I obviously agree with the document’s opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, and other key moral problems threatening our culture, the document falls far short of identifying the one true and ultimate remedy for all of humanity’s moral ills: the gospel. The gospel is barely mentioned in the Declaration. At one point the statement rightly acknowledges, “It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season”—and then adds an encouraging wish: “May God help us not to fail in that duty.” Yet the gospel itself is nowhere presented (much less explained) in the document or any of the accompanying literature. Indeed, that would be a practical impossibility because of the contradictory views held by the broad range of signatories regarding what the gospel teaches and what it means to be a Christian.

• This is precisely where the document fails most egregiously. It assumes from the start that all signatories are fellow Christians whose only differences have to do with the fact that they represent distinct “communities.” Points of disagreement are tacitly acknowledged but are described as “historic lines of ecclesial differences” rather than fundamental conflicts of doctrine and conviction with regard to the gospel and the question of which teachings are essential to authentic Christianity.

• Instead of acknowledging the true depth of our differences, the implicit assumption (from the start of the document until its final paragraph) is that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant Evangelicals and others all share a common faith in and a common commitment to the gospel’s essential claims. The document repeatedly employs expressions like “we [and] our fellow believers”; “As Christians, we . . .”; and “we claim the heritage of . . . Christians.” That seriously muddles the lines of demarcation between authentic biblical Christianity and various apostate traditions.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Rushdoony was a heretic. He confused the civil law with the moral law, denied general equity, and consequently promoted works righteousness through his neonomian legalism.

Rushdoony also failed to distinguish between co-belligerency and the Gospel, which is why we see people sign silly documents like The Manhattan Declaration. It's also why you see scores of theonomists and reconstructionists converting to either Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy.

No, civil law does not trump the Law/Gospel distinction. This is precisely why Federal Visionists, John Frame, Van Til, Greg Bahnsen and a host of others are or were essentially papists pretending to be Reformed.

Frame can't even get the Law/Gospel distinction right.

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