Tag Archives: pharisees

The Long Dark Hour Of Testing

As we must be careful with orthodoxy, so must we be with orthopraxy.

Our words and actions must at all times be carefully applied. Carefully so as not to burden or make demands that harm the tender link of faith to the Christian. For faith, it is tender; and we face great gulfs of terror if we risk with our zeal the faith of even one.

There is a deep darkness awaiting our little selves. When we are alone, sometimes even feeling safe in our solitude, we are not safe. And the burdens that we encounter, even those of the well-meaning and conscientious wise, hoary-heads, are not all ours to bear. They are not always ours to know when to cast off or hide away until another time.

And there is another solitude, that of being carried in the sweeping course of the mass, which is no less dire. One may not realize the insidious, intangible pull of the current that injects more, sometimes less, than can be metabolized. Until far, far beyond the current horizon when a miniscule trip reveals a rent in the flesh more extravagant than all the flagrant insanity of a cult-of-blood.

The darkness is an hour of testing, and it is a lurking thing. It is not well with my soul when I am faced with the things of nightmares. The rising tide of loss and worldly misery may well strengthen my faith. The building-blocks of that same faith may well fail to weather the polish and buttressing of refinement when I am unsteady as often is the case.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!

Comments on the Collision

After five days of following the blogosphere’s Jason Stellman whirlwind, I just have a couple of comments to make.

I got in to work early on Monday, so had a chance to cruise around a couple of my regular favorites. At creedcodecult I had to do a double-take, I assume like many, at what appeared to be a very untimely April-Fools post or maybe an update on the FV-war. Of course, like many found, it was quickly clear that Stellman had in all seriousness communicated his changed convictions regarding Scripture and Faith.

My first reaction was a rather gut-wrenching sort of feeling. I think that, before I really understood the implications of the announcement (or maybe I actually grasped the real implications first), I simply grieved for a man I really don’t know.

Stellman is a semi-famous figure for a few reasons, though I can’t comment much on that. I’m 2k-ish, so I sort of get where he’s big there (I don’t get all the meanings and implications of 2k, so a lot of the details of his writing are beyond me). I’m fairly clear on the Federal Vision problem (as much as anybody can when it often seems there isn’t anything completely clear in the first place) and don’t agree with it, so I was supportive of his work to oppose Leithart’s position as a teacher and so on. But I’ve mostly followed Stellman’s blog because he seemed down-to-earth and, being new to the Reformed/Covenantal/Presbyterian world, I attached to whatever source was discussing the topics in language and imagery I could at least digest. Stellman has been that sort of good reading more often than not.

What does all that mean? It means I don’t have a great amount of attachment to the man himself. He is (was) himself a minister in the PCA, which is very significant. He was closely tied to WSCAL and some of the circles in which I found myself upon encountering my church and the PCA. So I think that, to a guy who’s only a year old in the Reformation, it weighs a lot when a highly regarded minister departs from his flock, his religious ties and ultimately two key threads that bind the faith that I understand to be Christianity.

I grieve for this man, because it appears he’s turned away. I don’t entirely understand his conflicts, but I think if he’s spent the last few months consulting the great and small in the faith for solutions and guidance, I bet he’s pretty squared with the facets involved. I don’t even think I can hazard a guess as to what secret key there is to unlock things for Stellman. Prayer, I guess.

What brings me to grieve the most is the miasma of darkness that has flowed from the blogosphere in only five days. The explosion wasn’t even a trickle. I swear it was like a dog-pile in a football cartoon. One after another just jumped on the man with the ball. And they somehow all succeeded in losing the man with the ball. I think Stellman just shot out of the mess like a greased pig. I wonder if, in all the horrid stabs, if anyone even touched the poor man’s heart with kindness or (Lord help us all) true help.

Sure, there were some real well-wishers and Lane Keister from Green Baggins was probably the most outspoken in compassion for Stellman. But overall, those who professed support and those who condemned very quickly turned upon each other in feral combat, often with little sense or sensibility. There was a flashmob of  slandering, pandering, stomping and biting with little care to Christian charity or even civility (there’s some 2k for you). Lost in the mix was a man who appears to have messed up somewhere, or has a huge chink in his theological framework, that everyone should clearly see needs help of some sort.

Pastors came out of the woodwork to use Stellman as a soapbox to condemn 2k or confessionalism. They analyzed and psychoanalyzed the Leithart trial and books and articles. They took opportunities to blast WSCAL theologians who have contributed immensely to my understanding of the Gospel and God’s revelation. And, to be fair, a couple from WSEAST too. The smear is broad and thick. The machine-gun staccato of “I could’ve told you so” and “That was so obvious years ago” echoed in the spaces between assaults.

So I can’t say I feel his pain because (from my humble perspective) Stellman is seeing a nuclear bomb going off in his heart right now, with all the people he’s interacted with (probably over a long period of time) turning on him or on each other with vitriol and spite. When I slipped quickly and quietly away from the faith in which I was raised and chose witchcraft for my religion, there was a fairly significant series of associated pains. My family and friends were pretty shocked and saddened by my defection. But I wasn’t the kind of person Stellman is. I wasn’t a pastor, theologian, trusted and known individual. I was just a little me with no influence and little credibility to start with . This kind of insanity, probably immense beyond what he could have predicted, is more than a decent man should have to endure – enough to bring the weight of age crashing down on him.

Granted, God is God and He deals with us as He wills. Stellman had a high office and calling. His suffering and trials must rate significantly more intensity than lil’ ol’ me. Especially if he is wrong. To depart from the faith at any time is huge, and to leave ministry under such terms is the biggest deal. Maybe he is wrong. Maybe he hasn’t made everything clear. Maybe he’s not clear on everything and this is (at the root) a long, dark teatime of the soul rather than defection from the Kingdom. I, personally, am inclined to trust that God will not depart from the servant He called to Himself, but that’s me and my little (often foolish) perception.

I guess the flash was inevitable. I suppose this is a miserable mess that must happen and maybe it’ll stir up something wonderful in the end. But for the time being? I haven’t gained much esteem for many in the Reformed world through this. I have lost respect for a few that, up until this week, I have held in fairly high regard. A couple of pastor/theologians I’ve enjoyed studying are not very enjoyable any more because of the opportunistic salvos they’ve released. Were they just rash leaps, I’d probably forgive and forget, but true colors were revealed and that’s enough for me.

It leaves me with this. I will continue to pray for Mr. Stellman and his family, though I don’t know them and probably won’t. I will pray for my own pastor and our elders, as I perceive anew the intensity of their burden and efforts. And I will pray for me and my family too. Closest to my weak little heart is the memory of “changing my religion” and this all reminds me of the hurt it causes. I had a little tweak of fear to realize that I am too easily swayed by the winds of doctrine and words of men. It could happen to me. Just look at the progression I’ve made in the faith since 2004.

I wish I could give encouragement to Mr. Stellman. I wish I could tell not a few pastors and laymen to get back to their church and think about how Christian they’ve been this week. I’ll finish off here with just one observation: Most of the people in the comboxes out there might need to be put back in the cage or whatever their particular tradition calls it.


How To Get That Old Time Religion

Based on yesterday’s LONG post, here’s a shorter one.

Remember this part?

A few weeks ago, I put up a little bit about how painful it must have been to be one of the convicted Pharisees at Peters Big Sermon at Pentecost (I should rename the post “Cut To The Heart Thrice“). Think about this:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Those Pharisees were almost certainly thinking of what they had done to their families! When Peter said this (emphasis mine):

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

We know what happened:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Look again at Peter’s response:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Imagine their response to Peter. Here, I’ll help.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved

But think about this. If I’m right and the Pharisees were deeply grieved in their awareness of the vast curse they’d brought upon their families, how much more the impact on their souls when Peter gave them the absolution they so needed to hear. They changed radically because the seeds were already planted. Their lineage (think Abraham and how important that theme means) was saved! That is, if you understand the covenantal undergirding of this exchange between Peter and the Jews.


Think about this: We can best understand how Christ saved us by this very same covenantal perspective. How can He save us if there is no such thing as the covenant that Adam broke, Abraham received, Moses continued, Prophets and Judges and Kings and Priests maintained and returned to year after year? It’s The One Thing that best explains all this. God imputed Christ’s righteousness to His Children! He has died for us and our children – all those God has chosen for His Son.

Now how do we deny the same thing for our children? They’re God’s to do with as He pleases. According to the Bible and its covenants He pleases to have them brought to the sacraments of our church and to be a part of the covenant community.

How did Moses think about the prediction God gave him at the end of his days?

Then the Lord appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the Tent. And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’ And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.

Maybe he was a covenant type? I wonder what he thought about the demise of Israel?

Let’s Presuppose A Few Things


Part 3. The first two in this line of thoughts on covenants, community and our relationships are here: Anti-Covenant and Individualism  and I Might Just Need To Be A We

At first, this may appear to be more of a formal apology for Covenant Theology, but bear with me. Also, I’m quite sure this has all been said before, so I can’t claim any originality here. That’s safer anyway since any time we deny the last 2,000 years of church history, we’re claiming that our current religion is the only one that is Christian throughout all history. Scary thought, eh? And what I’m about to discuss reaches back just a bit farther than Tertullian or Irenaeus or even Pentecost. Maybe a few thousand years past that. This is long, but I hope it has good returns. And I hope I’ve portrayed this accurately and understandably.

This doctrine of covenants is not pure theology. It’s not a tight, air-less doctrine that we can take or leave and not be deeply affected by the ramifications of the choice. It is hugely important. Once the barrier of modern presupposition is torn down, the other conflicts will start to resolve themselves fairly easily. That’s my own experience, at least.

Let me make the claim about this presupposition thing. There’s all sorts of discussion about presuppositional hermeneutics and theology. And it is absolutely correct to presuppose there are presuppositions required in the study of the Word. Which presupposition, or assumption if you will, is correct is vital, of course. And here’s the basic premise: The Bible is not speaking in the context of the 21st Century, modernity, the Reformation or even back in the days of Augustine. The Bible’s context is the Biblical eras. Get that and you’re on your way to 1st base.

Next, the Bible itself is filled with assumptions. Do you know the importance of Boaz heading out to the city gate when he’s checking on the status of Ruth’s availability? The Bible doesn’t add a footnote or aside comment to plumb the depths of this significant event. It assumes the reader knows what’s going on. The history and cultural importance of what’s going on at the city gate amongst the elders of the community is far more than what some consider just a civil affairs court setting.  Lot’s story was another one with that gate thing going on. But let’s put all that in the back of our minds. We’ve got to go deeper to make better sense of this.

The Bible assumes Covenant Theology. Really. No joke. It assumes the stuff I’ve been writing about in the last few days. We’ve heard all the debate over baptism, the Lord’s Table and Israel’s future so many times. There are conflicts that are so persistent they’ve lasted hundreds of years. I think they’re more heated today than ever. And it’s because, primarily, we have lost the sense of community and covenantal relationships that are assumed in the Bible.

Look at this language:

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.

When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

And then look at this list: And Your Children and Household

Everybody wonders or fights over these sorts of passages. The Covenant guys extrapolate a connection to things like baptism of infants and the Baptist guys extrapolate the non-existence of infants. All sorts of ideas come up to try to explain this. Sometimes, I wonder if some of the Covenant guys are just as disrespectful of the text as the Baptists when trying to explain their position through use of household and your children. Does the Bible explain what is meant by these sorts of terms? No, not any more than with the gate-court thing in Ruth or Genesis.

Here’s why it’s confusing in the New Testament: When these terms are used, they’re repetition of Old Testament Language. And no, that’s not to “bring” the Old Testament way of thinking back to these Jews of the first century. It was to remind them of the significance of events past that correlate to current events. In all that was changing around in the New Covenant, there was going to be some conflict. Pharisaical law, gentile inclusion, realized forgiveness and justification, missionary trips, diaspora – all these things were new and scary and confusing. People needed to, get this, hear that everything hadn’t just stopped or fundamentally altered!

Peter and his fellow apostles were using this language because the Jews understood it. This means that we cannot presuppose our own 21st century opinion, which is grounded not in the Scriptures but in modern, pagan, non-covenantal thinking. We must look at this language as the Jews did. That’s why we don’t get an explanation in the Bible about what gate-courts, households and your children mean. And that’s why we don’t get a greater development of what the Table and Baptism mean right out of the text. It’s in there, absolutely, but in a, wait for it… presupposition.

I’ll say it again. This is all so hard because we aren’t looking in the right place. The Bible started out its narrative in the context of covenants – relational, promise-keeping, life-sharing, trust-bearing covenants. We are the ones who have changed over the millennia, not the Bible and not at the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ whose birthday celebration we are fast approaching. We have lost the perspective the Jews had.

I’m not calling for a return to Judaism or tossing our technology so we can wear robes to tear each time we’re cut to the heart. I’m not interested in raking dust for a few measly rows of fava beans and wheat sheaves. I like my Pollo Loco too much and I’d much rather have easy access to the last 2,000 years of theology right here on my infernal machines. I’m calling for us to look at Scripture in the historical, cultural frame in which it’s set. No helicopters in Revelation. No civil affairs court for the young moabitess. No ditching of infants until they’re old enough to say they believe.

Side comment: Refusing baptism of our kids is telling them that they are no different from the other kids across the block (the ones who have Wiccan parents right over there). We’re destroying their identity in a Christian family! No sacraments = no sense of being in the family of God.

A few weeks ago, I put up a little bit about how painful it must have been to be one of the convicted Pharisees at Peters Big Sermon at Pentecost (I should rename the post “Cut To The Heart Thrice“). Think about this:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Those Pharisees were almost certainly thinking of what they had done to their families! When Peter said this (emphasis mine):

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

We know what happened:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Now look again at Peter’s response:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

That’s reaching all the way back to things like:

They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.

The OT said this in Deuteronomy 12:

Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

Here’s what changed when Christ fulfilled the Law, died in our place and rose again: I’ll grossly paraphrase this:

Be careful to believe this good news I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

Nowhere is the concept of covenants, community and our relationships altered in the New Testament. It’s ratified by simply not changing the language.

End of story? We have to look at the Bible and realize that our presuppositions that make us unwilling to include our children in sacraments, unwilling to include them in worship are modern insertions to the Scriptures. Also, equally important are the concepts of family solidarity, congregation solidarity, discipline, submission, faithfulness and loyalty to our heads, elders and rulers. These things are assumed to be normal in the Scripture even more than they are overtly commanded. Dropping the concept of covenantal theology kills more than just National Israel’s future and sprinkling babies. It can kill our faith, folks – by confusing the message and hiding the promises God has made to us (and our children).

Cut To The Heart – Twice

I was just reading Sunday while waiting in a line. I had a little tract sized NIV John, courtesy of our Elder from church. When Jesus was dealing with the Pharisees (for instance, in John 8) I wanted to sympathize with them a little. I don’t know if this is a correct view, but maybe the way the badguys have been portrayed is not entirely complete:

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

It struck me while taking in these verses anew: what were the Pharisees thinking at this point? I can’t help but wonder if some of them were cut deeply by Christ’s words. But many of them at the time did not give in, rather they must have, with great anguish, turned away from the dialogue. Probably wrenched themselves almost physically from the choice before them to return to their murderous shcemes of false teaching and hypocrisy.

And we could guess that some of these were doubly wounded at Peter’s sermon in Acts. Enough that they could not bear it (“cut to the heart”) and repented. It brings new depth to the thought that they were “cut to the heart” doesn’t it? I can relate to this in my own face-down with the Gospel message and perspective on my own denial or slander of Christ before He dragged me into the light.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

I keep thinking about how that must’ve been for them, those who turned away and those who finally repented. It must have been a peculiar agony for both.

But one thing is most poignant. Those who turned ’round and believed at Peter’s proclamation must, more than many, many after them, have seen an immensity in their belief, in the realization of Christ’s work and assumption of His throne.

Surely it was a significant contribution to the great power with which the Gospel spread in the first churches. Those thousands who were made disciples could probably witness to the intensity of the change in the priests who repented. Much like Paul?

That’s reason to Glorify God. May the same sort of thing happen to the faithless preachers in lots of churches today. May they be cut to the quick with these words of Christ and see their error.

Your thoughts? Don’t assume that I’m condemning or criticizing Jesus’ position or that the majority of the Pharisees in this discussion weren’t precisely and only as Jesus generally described them. Consider yourself in this position, knowing the truth and yet the conviction of it, the power of Christ’s message, is still clouded over with the overwhelming voice of the crowds.

I think about the year 1992 when I turned away from the faith in which I was raised, knowing the truth and yet unable to believe it. I can connect my memory of those days of rather violent struggle with the Word and the Truth right to what I think some of these Pharisees might have been experiencing. There is the potential for some serious depth here, in the text. Something that helps us understand the fog of war that overcomes the chances for someone to finally bite into the real truth.

I think it speaks to God’s perfect timing. His perfect Holy Spirit who is able to flip the switch from seeing the world through world-eyes to seeing the world through His eyes. Is this yet another way to see our doctrine of depravity – that our sinfulness is so thorough that we can be slashed, mortally even, by the truth of Scripture and know we are sinners, know we need Christ, but without the help of Him, the One we need, we can still be trapped, in despair or anger.

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:23-24

Slightly More and Less Specific Discussion Regarding The Law Including Puritans This Time

Puritan FolksTo continue on my lines of thought (when have I ever had just one at a time?), I have a bit on the awesome Puritan question.

Note: What follows is my synthesis and impression of the whole thing based on a lot of reading and thinking. That does not imply that I’m speaking authoritatively or even accurately. If I’ve boned it up in here, I’d like to know, especially since some of my impressions of this are probably not going to receive much happy-claps from theonomists or historians. I don’t think I’ve come up with anything original, just my own opinions and words on what’s probably been hashed over by better men than me. What I did conscientiously attempt to do is avoid the ad-hominem and straw-man thing that seems to be the theonomists’ biggest beef with their detractors.

So did the Puritan utopia work out?

Nope. Here’s why I think so, and I have some references to back this up.

Something that sort of fits, a session with Albert Mohler on his Thinking In Public podcast entitled Christianity and Worldview on the Geopolitical Stage: A Conversation with Walter Russell Mead
And another is Peter Leithart’s “Defending Constantine” to which I’ve referred a little before.
And the White Horse Inn gang on The New Covenant

I understand that these are all recent, but I see that often my studies sort of circle around each other and providence is most likely involved in the curious ways external source themes arise that apply to what I’m working on.

First, the utopia ended. There must be a reason. Some will say that it was a breakdown of the covenantal union of the people in the society. Some might say that they were repressed into failure. I think, based on my reading, that more likely the system, honorable and well-intended as it was, was doomed to fail. And had it not failed in the way that it did, we’d have a little sister version of the Roman Catholic Church in our backyard. I can’t back up this last statement much, but if you read the Leithart book, you just might see the hints therein. I suspect that, rather than lending credence to the idea of theonomy being good for society, the fallout lends itself to indications that it is not feasible. Notice that I didn’t claim theonomy is outright wrong as a system of government, just that it isn’t going to work.

As Christians, we are to be peacemakers.

John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Matthew 5:38-52 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”

God has demonstrated this policy even in the “horribly warmongering” Old Testament. He visited peace and mercy on many, many of His enemies and taught Israel the same thing. His directives for conquest and violence were not the only way our God dealt with His creation. Keep this thought in mind as I go along.

My thought here is that the colonial “theonomic” form of government failed because of doctrines, conflicts and plenty of other things that eroded the unity and integrity of the society. It proves (to me) the inability of a state of Christendom to sustain itself. If not internal strife and error, there is no question of the capitulation of leaders who had to maintain peace with their neighbors. I refer directly to the ideas discussed in the Mohler piece above. Christians of particular traditions have had to change their theological language, practice and priorities in order to coexist with the surrounding friendly, yet different groups. They have been dispersed by disease or war over and over again. Sometimes disease or war caused by their own systems.

I’d hazard a guess that, in fact, to militantly adhere to the idea of theonomic society is to promote conflict. The idea that God’s law should be the standard for a secular government implies a call for Christians to “bear arms” for their faith-society which results in Christians dying for their faith – sort of. I mean that martyrs in the Biblical sense won’t be made, rather something more similar to extremist “martyrs” today. I do not write this in order to stir up or provoke, it is frankly how I see it. If you take unregenerates, give them God’s Law, they at most become a legalistic system that unavoidably has a skewed understanding of the what-and-why of the whole thing. Compare to what happened in Oslo recently. Extrapolate to what other, non-Biblical cultures have developed for their systems of law and the philosophy of action that ensues (extremists are not all that extreme if you take the Biblical concept of total depravity).

Look, Christians are pictured as humble, suffering people who are at peace, as much as possible, with all and who submit to not only their elders but the states to which they belong. It should not be wrong to think that a Christian can fight to defend his land and people from danger – nobody has said he cannot do this. But for him to arm and fight against politics and philosophies? Are those not the battle of the church, whose weapon is the Word of God?

Romans 12:14-21 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In reading Leithart’s Constantine, it is apparent that in creating a society that is entirely under God’s law, both cult and culture – church and politics, war is going to erupt or compromise is going to be engaged. It is apparent that the theonomic ideology is flawed, not because God’s Law is abrogated or obsolete, rather because it was not codified as a government system with the pagan world in mind. In fact, the only way for God’s law to work might be if one loks to the millennium of dispensational theology wherein, after the tribulation, 1,000 years of the good-life is happening on Earth as a “restored” literal kingdom under Christ the King (which, of course, is not restored in any sense, since there hasn’t been a literal physical kingdom of Christ anywhere in temporal history).

Let me say it again. The failure of theonomy is not that God’s Law is wrong. It is actually the fact that God’s Law is prescribed in morals for all of God’s children. The penal system was for Israel. There is, however, a corresponding penal system for the Church which is known as church discipline which is carried out in the context of the church, never the state, nor from the church to the state.

Another recent discussion of the Law issue is this one from the White Horse Inn: “Why Can’t I Own Canadians?”

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.