Still Thinking On Theonomy

Crusaders from the Middle AgesI dealt with some initial thoughts on theonomy last week. I have refinements and more questions today.

Simply for reference (and fun), I found this site that has A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). This is not to indicate that I’m about to “prove” the silliness of theonomy or some such foolishness. In fact, I think I’m closer to agreeing with at least a semblance of theonomology (did I make that up just now?) after a bit more consideration.

Here’s what I find myself agreeing with:

God’s moral law, that which has been around all along in the hearts of men is not to be discarded in light of Christ’s New Covenant. The NC validates the Law in this respect. Christ didn’t teach a new law, rather spent plenty of his time (most of it) giving further explanation of what it means to obey as well as know what is really being commanded.

Now, having said all that, I cannot come to agreement on the penal system. This is difficult to argue because of the blanket either-or arguments that Bahnsen & co. present. It comes from my presupposition of how Christians interface with the pagan world, which I also perceive is analogous to some extent with Israel’s interface with the rest of mankind. Namely, only in a Bible-believing theocracy can the law of God be enforced in the manner in which the Torah describes. Only Israel could enforce, via the penal code of the Law, the Law on Only Israel. They could not hold outsiders to the Law. They could certainly proclaim the Law and call all men to repentance, faith and obedience, but they could not start waving the rod in disciplinary action. Furthermore, in the days of Israelite exile (or occupation as with the Romans), Israel couldn’t even execute discipline on her own people due to local rules.

The church of Christ is in the same position today and has been all along, with periodic exceptional circumstances (such as Puritan colonists). We are not a theocratic government/country. We are an embassy to a foreign government. In order to execute corporate discipline such as defined in the OT, we would need to extradite Christian offenders to Heaven (current country from which we hail) for said punishment. And we cannot, as ambassadors, demand that our government’s laws be copied by the government to whom we are ambassing (I made that word up too). 

Here is an ideal reference for Church Discipline as it is to occur today. I’m referring to the PCA Book of Church Order:

27-4. The power which Christ has given the Church is for building up, and not for destruction. It is to be exercised as under a dispensation of mercy and not of wrath. As in the preaching of the Word the wicked are doctrinally separated from the good, so by discipline the Church authoritatively separates between the holy and the profane. In this it acts the part of a tender mother, correcting her children for their good, that every one of them may be presented faultless in the day of the Lord Jesus. Discipline is systematic training under the authority of God’s Scripture. No communing or non-communing member of the Church should be allowed to stray from the Scripture’s discipline.

Boiling this down to what should amount to a reality check, I am still convinced that we can only compel our own household to adhere to God’s Moral Law and that only by the instituted discipline in the New Testament (I.E. what we recognize as Church Discipline today – teaching, exhortation, excommunication). No beatings or stonings, eye-for-eye or monetary restitution. We can’t do that because it is not given to us by the government that is hosting us. We’re not free from the law of the world in this sense. Though our freedom in Christ lifts us from the penalty of sin and also frees us from the compulsion of this world’s rule that we must break God’s Moral Law (sin), we are not “not of this world” as the bumper sticker goes. We’re in it and stuck with it ’til Christ returns. And He is going to engage the sword to punish lawbreakers.

Final argument: sin twists the Law to its own end. The unregenerate will not comply with the law in a manner that is positive. He hates God and God’s Law (see how it is written on his heart and how he strives to break it every moment of every day?). The godless is lawless in the sense that he denies the truth and authenticity of the moral law. Since this is so, demanding that he obey it, let me time-travel into the future where there is a reconstructed theocratic society as Postmil folk seem to expect will happen. That lawless man will benefit nothing from the penalty communicated to him because he denies the validity of the law he broke. He doesn’t recognize the authority therefore will not accept the punishment, whether you kill him, beat him, take his money or his left hand.

Christian martyrs do the same thing. We deny the punishment of this world’s laws when they are ungodly. Paul, James, Peter and all the others got the sword of this world and counted it as no punishment. Their torture and deaths were invalid from a worldly perspective. Similarly, a Wiccan will take the punishment that a Christian deals and count himself a martyr for his faith – death for his beliefs. Look, here is an equation:

God’s code is written (hard code) on the hearts of all men.

All men have hearts that are twisted, dead in sin.

God’s code has been twisted in the twisted hearts of men.

The unbeliever will use the essence of the Law, taking all the commitment, submission, integrity and glory of a righteous, obedient life in Christ and point it at himself. He will not accept punishment for disobeying the Law because it is not his law and he did not convict himself of breaking the law. It is alien and cannot compel. Only the Word of God, with the power Spirit of God will change the lawless man to view and accept the code as it was originally written. Which then changes the equation above.

God’s code is written (hard code) on the hearts of all men.

Some men have hearts that are twisted, dead in sin renewed, dead to sin.

God’s code has been twisted in the twisted  validated in the renewed hearts of  those men.

Okay, so in closing this session on theonomy, I think I have said that Christians are morally obligated to uphold the Moral Law. I have not said Christians are to uphold all the particular details provided to Israel in further episodes of lawgiving (I.E. the 10 Commandments in their root form is all I’m discussing at this point). I have said that the world of unbelievers is not to be compelled by Christians to adhere to the law. I have not said Christians cannot teach the law or encourage obedience. I have said that we cannot punish in accordance with the OT penal code. I have not said we cannot punish Christian lawbreakers at all, only that we may punish via prescribed church discipline.

I hope this brings me closer to a fair view of the Law and kinder approach to theonomy. I’ll continue study as I’m working my way through Bahnen’s books.

Here is another Theonomy reference I discovered
And here is one on Church Discipline from Reformed.org.

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10 responses to “Still Thinking On Theonomy

  • RubeRad

    Only Israel could enforce, via the penal code of the Law, the Law on Only Israel. They could not hold outsiders to the Law.

    Haven’t read this all yet, but a quick hit from Deut 20:15-16

    Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance,…

    This right here, I believe refutes the Theonomologist canard, “is there one law that God made just for Israel, and then you step over the border, and God’s law is different”? I use Deut 20:15-16 to answer that question in the affirmative.

    Also of course there is 1 Cor 5:9-13; note especially that the back half of v13 is a citation of the phrase that is used repeatedly in the OT for the death penalty. Obviously (to me anyways), this is a N.T. recasting of O.T. penology with the Church’s Sword of Excommunication. I wrote about this here…

  • Pooka

    Right, Rube. This is what I’m aiming at. Had to stop writing, saving up for one more post which, I hope, will come round circle to some decent conclusions.

  • RubeRad

    No communing or non-communing member of the Church should be allowed to stray from the Scripture’s discipline.

    Read: “No adult or child member of the Church…” Do you think they mean to imply here that non-members (i.e. “visitors”, however regular they may visit, as long as they have not submitted themselves to the care of elders) should be allowed to stray from discipline? Or to put a different spin on it, “regrettably, elders have no authority to apply discipline to any but actual members of the Church?”

  • Pooka

    Darnit. I knew I could’ve held onto that discussion a bit longer. But that would drive off the tracks in pursuit of rabbits.

    Bottom line: the church must do everything within her power to convince or convict anyone within her walls that submission to biblical authority is required.

    Read: The church, IMO, has the authority to compel by whatever (legal and scriptural) means possible to adhere to God’s commands. That is, until the recipient puts himself outside the realm of God’s commands by either exiting the church (voluntary departure or excommunication).

    The church must always teach and exhort, even non-members to submit. In the case of non-members, that is the limit of church authority. I think that the authority does extend to enable “putting the offender out” in the literal sense if the non-member is obstructing or disrupting church order.

    The last ref in the post, from Reformed.org, discusses this in detail that I’m fairly certain is where I’m at. It requires more study, being important and complex as it appears to me.

  • Pooka

    The next installment is Wednesday and I hope I haven’t miffed it. It’s kinda more critical than this one. And I hope I got my historical analysis right. I suspect Leithart of being sneaky so I may have manipulated his work to my own ends. Maybe.

  • Pooka

    I have a gripe about which I must gripe. Bahnsen includes something rather offensive in the book. In chapter 10, he is speaking of the continuation of penal system portion of the Law and brings the reader to encounter the story of the woman caught in adultery. Right off the bat, Bahnsen brings up the likelihood that this story is not authentic and not a part of Scripture, citing the alphabet soup of textual critics and source texts in support of his statement. John 8:1-11 sure seems to be in a lot of Bibles today.

    Here’s my beef with this. A layman (should he pick up Theonomy) who trusts the Word of God to be inerrant and faithful, suddenly discovers a reputable author effectively denying the veracity of Scripture. He has a few options. One is to experience doubt as to the trustworthiness of God’s Word. Another is to discard the author of Theonomy as an untrustworthy teacher. Lastly he could, I suppose, continue on with his study of Theonomy, ignoring the issue.

    Here’s my continuing sense. It’s a trap. In reading this book, I’m surrounded by a continuous barrage of Either-Or statements. Not be a logician, I am really happy to see such equations because they’re pretty simple to figure out. Unfortunately, this flood of E-O is very troubling. Because of the sheer mass of the arguments, I’m becoming more suspicious. I think theonomy is looking more like a neither, but that’s Wednesday’s post.

    The Textual Criticism Fail just compounded it. And then, I have to add insult to injury – a few dozen didactic pages of philosophical material with ZERO citations. No problem except the whole PREVIOUS part of the book had plenty of citation. And then the skip over what I’m coming to believe is very important – 1800 years of church history which includes a lot of really remarkable forays into what looks like theonomically themed societies. I’d think this part of history might be of great value to the argument.

    Now, I’m only working this from my little muggy brain so maybe I’m seeing ghosts and silliness, not reading critically enough. I humbly submit to correction via beatings or reasoning.

    • Pooka

      It’s SO VERY difficult to see into this dust storm that has been stirred up. The cloud consists of assertions that are out of place, assumptions about nations outside Israel, blanket norming of God’s specific intervention in time-space and a lot more. It’s killing me. All this seriously looks like a dance around the unavoidable in order to make his presupposition work. I’m not attacking him here, I’m attacking his presupposition.

      Bahnsen can’t seem to see past his need for God to be uber-sovereign over all things down to the gnat’s butt. The thing is that Bahnsen’s theonomy does not have to work in order for God to be uber-sovereign over all things down to the gnat’s butt. Yes, the nations are accountable to God’s Law. No, they are not accountable to us, nor are they able to follow the law written on their hearts, much less the law written in Holy Scripture.

      Try talking a drunk or druggie out of their addiction. It ain’t gonna work. Like Pastor says, you can shoot at the guy across the street and you are likely to hit him. A random bus passing by and blocking your shot is not grounds for saying it’s normal for the guy’s life to be saved in this manner. Same thing with civil government vs. the Law. Yeah, they may respond to a guilt-pang or a sudden shift a la God that straightens things out from time to time, but that’s not the same as a theonomic proof!

  • RubeRad

    Bifurcation, a.k.a. false dichotomy.

    I hate to soften your growing dislike for Theonomy, but I had heard for a long time that the woman caught in adultery is not authentically scripture. Also the “long ending of Mark” (the weird stuff about the snakes), and the hotly disputed Johannine Comma. Check footnotes in any non-KJV bible, and expect to hear more about these issues at the next H&S!

  • Pooka

    I’m not so worried about the textual criticism, since I’ve come to conclusions about that. I think it was inappropriate for him to include such questionable material. Dislike doesn’t hinge on the textual criticism bit.

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