Greetings once again to my blog readers. I have not yet blogged on the issue of theonomy, so I thought I would go ahead and do so. This will be a three-part series, and I welcome interaction in the comments section. Feel free to invite other brothers and sisters to interact in this discussion as well. I hope and pray that this will be a fruitful discussion.
Does God intend for the state to enforce His civil laws found in the Mosaic Covenant today? This is the question of theonomy. We are defining theonomy as the view (found in small numbers in Reformed circles) that God will hold the civil magistrate accountable to enforce His civil law, and in fact desires or intends for them to.
Part 1 of our series here will simply be quotes from the great Reformer, John Calvin, with short commentary by me. I recognize, of course, that Calvin was not infallible, but of course I think what he says should not be dismissed flippantly.
Part 2 will be some of my own thoughts on the theonomic thesis. I have much respect for our brothers who are theonomists, but I remain unconvinced of it. In part 2 I will tell you why.
Part 3 will be my answers to common theonomic arguments, with some brief final thoughts to sum up this series.
So . . . get yourself some popcorn and a drink, and cuddle up with your loved one, and come enjoy part 1. I will place Calvin's thoughts in italics, and then my commentary will be in regular print below them. The quotes come from his Institutes, Book IV, chapter 20, sections 14, 15, and 16, in order.
Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for our teacher on the theonomy issue, that great Reformer, that non-theonomist himself, John Calvin!!!
Let us hear what Calvin has to say:
"This I would rather have passed in silence, were I not aware that many dangerous errors are here committed. For there are some who deny that any commonwealth is rightly framed which neglects the law of Moses, and is ruled by the common law of nations. How perilous and seditious these views are, let others see: for me it is enough to demonstrate that they are stupid and false."
Well, here the great Reformer makes no bones about it. He says that theonomy can lead to dangerous ideas, that the view itself can be dangerous. He then declares that it is a view which is "stupid and false." Calvin certainly had a way with his pen, didn't he? Although I would give more respect to our theonomic brethren than that, I find it interesting, nonetheless, that he thought it can be dangerous. Let's hear from him again:
" . . . And as that exercise in ceremonies properly pertained to the doctrine of piety, inasmuch as it kept the Jewish Church in the worship and religion of God, yet was still distinguishable from piety itself, so the judicial form, though it looked only to the best method of preserving that charity which is enjoined by the eternal law of God, was still something distinct from the precept of love itself. Therefore, as ceremonies might be abrogated without at all interfering with piety, so also, when these judicial arrangements are removed, the duties and precepts of charity can still remain perpetual."
Here Calvin argues that Israel's holiness demonstrated itself in its ceremonies, but yet their holiness was not intrinsically tied to the ceremonial laws; likewise, he argues that the judicial or civil laws were not necessarily tied to holiness. These laws helped keep Israel in the religion and worship of God, but were not so vitally necessary to do so. Moreover, for those reasons, even as the ceremonial laws can be abrogated and not interfere with true holiness, so can the civil/judicial laws be abrogated and not interfere with true holiness.
Finally, Calvin says:
" . . . The allegation, that insult is offered to the law of God enacted by Moses, where it is abrogated and other new laws are preferred to it, is most absurd. Others are not preferred when they are more approved, not absolutely, but from regard to time and place, and the condition of the people, or when those things are abrogated which were never enacted for us. The Lord did not deliver it by the hand of Moses to be promulgated in all countries, and to be everywhere enforced; but having taken the Jewish nation under his special care, patronage, and guardianship, he was pleased to be specially its legislator, and as became a wise legislator, he had special regard to it in enacting laws."
Here the great Reformer is very clear, and I think has a good message for our theonomic brethren. Many theonomists accuse us of moral relativism if we do not embrace the theonomic ethic. In fact, I have heard them tout, "God is not a moral relativist." This kind of talk is extremely unhelpful. No one is saying that God is a moral relativist. Calvin is clearly saying that, just because we speak of a new law in the New Covenant, and just because we may argue that the law of Moses was only for Israel, does not make us moral relativists. In fact, he is clear that these laws were not for us, and that it was not God's intention that it be enforced in all countries, but only for Israel. I will give my thoughts on this specific point in part 2.
Until next time, may our Lord strengthen our understanding according to His Word.