- "There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy."
- Cornelius Van Til
- The issue . . . is between theonomy (God's Law) and autonomy (self law). Modern autonomous man is aided and abetted in his apostasy from God by the antinomianism of the church, which, by denying God's law, has, in theology, politics, education, industry, and all things else, surrendered the field to the law of the fallen and godless self, to autonomy.
- R.J. Rushdoony
- "'. . . that He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.'
For from Zion will go forth the Law
Even the Word of God from Jerusalem."
- Micah 4:2
In the Garden of Eden, man was given a choice: Theonomy or Autonomy.
Those who love life choose to serve God and His Law. They submit to His government and receive His blessings.
Those who hate God and His Law choose Autonomy -- self-government -- even if it means death. Here is how Milton painted the desire of Autonomous Man:
- Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign
secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
- John Milton, Paradise Lost, I, l 262
|Autonomous Man is "pro-choice,"
and chooses hell and death:
anything to be rid of God.
All they that hate Me love death
"Theonomy" comes from two Greek words,
The "Theonomy" (= "God's Law") school of ethics has raised the important question of how we determine God's will for our lives, and God's Prescription for our sick society. This school of thought is best represented by the Chalcedon foundation (R.J. Rushdoony,
President) and similar research groups.
Back in the first part of the 20th century, fundamentalists did not talk much about capital punishment or any other political issue, because they would have to refer to the Old Testament, and they all claimed to be "New Testament Christians." As a result of the influence of "Theonomy," the Old Testament is now quoted by fundamentalists
with much less embarrassment.
Two weeks after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, Newsweek magazine identified Chalcedon as the "think tank" for the Moral Majority and other components of the "Religious
Right" (Newsweek, Feb. 2, 1981.) These "Theonomists" were responsible for the Creationist movement, the Christian School movement, and the growing involvement of Conservative Christians in politics. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other Conservative Christians who became increasingly vocal
concerning the vital public issues of the day were influenced largely by the "Theonomists" or the "Christian Reconstruction" movement, as it is also known.
While most evangelical Christians assume that a given Old Testament law is no longer obligatory unless it is specifically repeated in the New Testament, the "Theonomists" have shown that this does an injustice to the unchangeable character of God and His Word. In such books as Theonomy in Christian Ethics by Greg L. Bahnsen and Institutes
of Biblical Law by R. J. Rushdoony, it has been conclusively demonstrated that we must assume that unless the Old Testament law in question has been specifically qualified by the New Testament, it remains in force. Bahnsen speaks of "the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail." Jesus did not come to abrogate the Old Testament; He came
to purify it and put its intentions into force (Matthew 5, esp. vv. 17-20) by empowering His People to obediently fulfill its promises. The difference between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant is not the Standard of Righteousness, but the Spiritual ability we have to
obey it (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:27; Jeremiah 31: 31-34 + Hebrews 8:8-13; Romans 8:3-5 + Ephesians 4:13).
It is obvious that some things have changed. There are no more temple sacrifices, no more Levitical priesthood (and there never will be again), and the New Testament explains why (e.g., the book of Hebrews). In some cases we don't even need the New Covenant to tell us that some Old Testament laws are no longer letter-applicable: the Old Testament itself told
us about the dramatic change of priesthood that was to occur with the coming of the Messiah; many laws would someday obligate no more. As Bahnsen puts it,
The Levitical priesthood, representing the Mosaic system of ceremonial redemption, could not bring perfection and so was intended to be superseded (Heb. 7:11f.,28) . . . . The former commandment with reference to ceremonial matters was set aside . . . in order that God's people might have a better hope, for the ceremony was imperfect and kept men at
a distance from God (Heb. 7:18f.). [S]uch a change in stipulation is also a confirmation of the Older Testamental law as implied in Psalm 110:1,4. (Theonomy, pp. 208-209).
Of course, in a sense, all of the Old Testament Laws are still binding upon us. For example, we are still responsible to bring before God the blood of a sacrificial lamb. But we also know that that Lamb is Christ (John 1:29). It makes sense, then, to expect, for example, that most of the Old Testament laws concerning the
shedding of blood find their satisfaction in Christ.
Here is a succinct definition of Theonomy, our operating presupposition:
God's will for our lives is found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, with the Old Testament Law and Prophets carrying in our day the full authority of God's written Word unless specifically qualified in the New Testament.
It should be pointed out that the distinctive contribution of the Christian Reconstructionists is not their view of the State and the laws it should enforce. The Reconstructionist view of the State is in fact very traditional and conservative. Some liberals feign outrage at the Reconstructionists' suggestion that sodomy and adultery be punished by the State,
but in the last 1,000 years, it is the idea that these crimes should not be punished which is new.
What is really unique about the Reconstructionists is their rejection of the "pietistic" distinction between "sacred" things and "secular" things. Every area of our lives must be brought under the principles of the Word of God, according to the "Theonomists." They
are surely correct (Matthew 6:24; 12:30; I Kings 18:21; Joshua 24:15,19).
Thus Reconstructionists have rightly pointed out that the Bible is indeed a textbook of science, a textbook of politics, economics, education, the vocations, indeed, of every area of life. There is no issue, action, or
thought which is not governed by the Word of God.
The idea that some subjects can be governed by the autonomous word of man, unchecked by the Word of God, derives from the "neo-Platonism" of Greek and Roman traditions, which held that the material world was inferior to the non-material ("spiritual") realm.
The Bible teaches that every area of life is to be governed by Biblical principles.
This affects even our definition of Salvation itself. Modern evangelists often lead us to think that "salvation" is something that applies only to individuals, and then only to their soul, and then only in the after-life (although we might cultivate "warm-fuzzies" in this life ["down in your heart"]).
This is not the Biblical Gospel; it is Western, neo-platonic individualism. It is a gospel corrupted by the "Me-First" generation.
The Biblical Gospel is God-centered, not Me-centered; it concerns His Creation, His People, and considers them as a body. The Biblical Gospel is the "good news" that all nations on earth would be obedient to God's Law, that
justice would flow like a river, and the whole world would experience His blessings in every area of life (begin in Galatians 3:8 to trace the Biblical Gospel). Biblical Salvation turns back the Curse; it mends the torn fabric of life. The Biblical
word for Salvation can thus be translated "health," "victory," "prosperity," "wholeness," and "peace." It is very clearly concerned with this life on this earth. 
An example of the scholarship and application of the Bible which has been accomplished by the Reconstructionists (and the work has only begun) may be seen by looking at the Table of Contents of the massive and seminal work by R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law. Under the pattern of the Decalogue, Rushdoony surveys
all the case laws, prophetic utterances, and the commands of the Lord and His Apostles. Decades of study are evident in hundreds of footnotes to "secular" sources, to which Biblical Law is applied in detail (over 3000 Biblical citations). It can be seen that no area of life is not addressed by God's Law. Most evangelicals would never think to apply the
Bible's authoritative and concrete direction to such problems as these:
- III. The Third Commandment
- 2. Swearing and Revolution
- 3. The Oath and Society
- 5. The Oath and Authority
- IV. The Fourth Commandment
- 3. The Sabbath and Work
- 5. The Sabbath and Law
- Appendix: The Economics of Sabbath keeping -- by Gary North
- V. The Fifth Commandment
- 1. The Authority of the Family
- 3. The Economics of the Family
- 4. Education and the Family
- 5. The Family and Delinquency
- VI. The Sixth Commandment
- 2. The Death Penalty
- 5. Hybridization and Law
- 6. Abortion
- 8. Restitution or Restoration
- 9. Military Laws and Production
- 10. Taxation
- 13. Quarantine Laws
- 14. Dietary Rules
- 20. Social Inheritance: Landmarks
- VII. The Seventh Commandment
- 1. Marriage
- 5. Family Law
- 6. Marriage and Monogamy
- 7. Incest
- 9. Sex and Crime
- 11. Adultery
- 12. Divorce
- 14. Homosexuality
- 17. The Transvestite
- 18. Bestiality
- VIII. The Eighth Commandment
- 1. Dominion
- 2. Theft
- 3. Restitution and Forgiveness
- 4. Liability of the Bystander
- 5. Money and Measure
- 6. Usury
- 9. Landmarks and Land
- 10. The Virgin Birth and Property
- 11. Fraud
- 12. Eminent Domain
- 13. Labor Laws
- 15. Prison
- 18. The Rights of Strangers, Widows, and Orphans
- IX. The Ninth Commandment
- 5. Corroboration
- 6. Perjury
- 8. False Witness
- 11. Slander Within Marriage
- 13. Slander as Theft
- 16. Judges
- 17. The Responsibility of Judges and Rulers
- 18. The Court
- 19. The Procedure of the Court
- 20. The Judgment of the Court
- X. The Tenth Commandment
- 1. Covetousness
- 3. Special Privilege
- 5. The System
- XV. Notes on Law in Western Society
It is obvious that The Institutes of Biblical Law is no gushy, "pious" devotional reader. It is a pathbreaking, foundational Reconstruction of Law, Politics, Jurisprudence, and Social Morality. Every Christian Lawyer should read the book from cover to cover (849 pages). Every political scientist should do the same. It is not the last word,
but it is the first word in centuries attempting to rigorously apply Biblical laws to the problems of contemporary society from a Bible-believing perspective. Not the details of his application, but the inescapable conclusion that the Bible provides all the Law we need to apply to the facts of our lives -- this is the importance of Rushdoony's Institutes
and of the "Theonomic" movement in general.
Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists have completely challenged the prevailing "piety" of the Protestant and Evangelical churches. Destroying the "clergy-laity gap," and confronting ecclesiocrats with the real world, Rushdoony shows how every believer-priest must apply the Word of God to every area of his life. Since its publication (1973)
the Reconstructionists have continued to apply God's Word to contemporary problems in new areas and in new ways.
We may disagree with his applications and interpretations, but we must begin where Rushdoony begins: with the recognition that the Lord claims sovereignty over all the earth, and has given us His Law in written form in the Bible. Every Christian, in whatever capacity he exercises his gifts, must bring every thought captive to the lordship of Christ. Lawyers
are not excepted. Nor are judges, politicians, educators, scientists, and all others involved in "secular" matters. The Bible is not an out-dated document for the "religious," for "church-workers," and for the "ordained clergy" and other ecclesiastics.
God's Law governs all men.
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you,
that I have set before you
life and death
blessing and cursing
T H E R E F O R E C H O O S E L I F E
that both you and your children may live;
that you may love the LORD your God,
that you may obey His voice,
and that you may
cling to Him,
for He is your life and the length of your days.
LAW: AN INESCAPABLE CONCEPT
Law is an inescapable concept. Every individual has his or her own ideas of right and wrong conduct. When individuals associate they form a shared standard of social morality. Their group will reward (bless) conduct which conforms to that standard or penalize (curse) conduct which is contrary
to it. This is "law."
THEOCRACY: AN INESCAPABLE CONCEPT
Social morality -- law -- is the externalization of a society's religion. The source of a society's morality is the authority by which all rival moralities are evaluated and judged. This standard is the "god" of that society.
Any religion which claims
not to have a god is denying the existence of a personal god, and affirming an impersonal god. Any society which in its legal system denies or refuses to affirm the existence of any god is merely denying the existence of a transcendant personal god and covering up the existence of an immanent personal god, which is usually the State.
"The rule of god" is called "theocracy." Theocracy is an inescapable concept.
The question is not, "Should we live in a theocracy?" but rather, "Which theocracy will we live under?"
Micah prophesies the world-wide flourishing of Christian culture; a Christocracy based on the Torah, the direction-giving Law of the Bible. Obedience to the Law and the Prophets would return us to the Garden, with every worker sitting safely under his vine and fig tree (Micah 4:1-7).
prospect is unacceptable to the Amerikan Theocracy of the 20th century, whose god is Man as "truly" incarnated in military-industrial planners, financiers, scientists, and other academically-credentialed elites. These would-be gods (and the masses who empower them) prefer a pyramid-style welfare-warfare State in which they bureaucratically predestine
the lives of human cannon-fodder for their own profit. Personalism is replaced with mindless obedience to bureaucratic regulations rewarded by "personal peace and affluence."
SECULAR HUMANIST THEOCRACY
The Modern World is a world of law, lawyers, and legal systems; our lives are governed by myriad laws and we are kept in line by an army of lawyers and bureaucrats. Love, forgiveness, service, and personal responsibility are Christian concepts, hence foreign to the Modern Humanist
Theocracy. As the Secular State grows larger, literacy, safety, respect for others, discipline, competence, and love become scarce.
THE MYTH OF ANARCHISM
Many in our day would denounce government coercion in the name of individual liberty. These "anarchists" would eliminate the State, but not "archists," for each one of these "anarchists" seeks to be as god, the governor of his own world. The chaos and terror many
imagine when they hear the world "anarchy" is really the dictatorship of thousands of little "archists," each seeking the "rule of god" in their own little theocracy.
Biblical Law is a Blueprint for the Reconstruction of a Personalist Christian Culture. God's Law is a comprehensive rival law-system which the Prophets declare will replace all human Empires. God's Law is the total antithesis of man-centered legality. God's Law and His Prophets present a concept of social order quite
opposite that of the Amerikan Humanist Theocracy.
GOD'S LAW vs. MAN'S LAW
Totalitarianism and "anarchy" are both an assault on the Kingdom and Reign of God. Biblical Law is a blueprint for peaceful patriarchy; the triumph of secular, man-centered law has resulted in the bloodiest century in human history.
COMPETING CONCEPTS OF LAW
The Amerikan Theocracy and its prophets (TV, cinema, "news magazines," etc.) have convinced its citizens that "law" is
(1) a code of vengeance
(2) put into effect only by institutions (the rest of us must not "take 'the law' into our own hands"), or else
(3) a primitive priestly system of ceremonial blood-letting, ritual cleansings, and repetitive liturgies.
Citizens of Christ's Kingdom, cleansed by the blood of Christ (the True High Priest) shed in His execution (the final blood-ritual), hear God's prophets, and know that God's Law is Love: If I obey God's Law with respect to my neighbor -- his life, his liberty, his property -- then I truly love my neighbor.
God's Law is Universal and Non-Institutional: The Bible does not provide a "civil code" for any political/economic system. The social effect of universal, spontaneous and habitual Law-keeping in the lives of generations of families is Decentralized Christian Culture, flourishing as each generation of families is discipled to bear more Spiritual
The Source of law and social order is the Spirit, not armed guards. The Standard of a Godly social order is Biblical Law, not parliaments, bureaucrats, and university professors.
The Goal of a Godly social
order is the Kingdom of God and His glory, not that of the "fatherland." We are motivated to pursue such a civilization by faith (not the sight of flags, monuments, and parades), which works through love (not military might).
*CHRISTIANS AS PROPHETS, PRIESTS, AND KINGS
Political scientists, sociologists, lawyers, and legislators are all concerned about the maintenance of "social order." They look for "The Rule of Law" in a society, and worry that theirs might "disintegrate into anarchy and chaos."
Citizens of Christ's Kingdom (Philippians 3:20) do not worry about what they should do to maintain "law and order." They simply obey God's Law in their own lives. The Spirit uses acts of obedience -- little ones; sacrificial ones -- to build the Kingdom of God.
Those who are afraid
that the Law and the Prophets written before Christ can neither guide Christians nor be relevant to our impersonal, crumbling culture, are comforted by Jesus' Word in Matthew 5:17-20. There is an alternative to Humanist Theocracy. The Spirit makes people love the Law of God; God's Law is no longer a threat to people who have covenanted to turn from
idols and serve the Lord.
From Moses to Malachi, God sets forth an unchanging standard of justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). The Law itself, and the Prophets who explicated it, declared that the ceremonial laws of liturgy and ritual bloodshed were not to be confused with righteousness as
set forth in its personal and social precepts, which form God's blueprint for justice, peace, and harmony.
The essence of God's Law is not a cold impersonal list of "Thou shalt not"'s, and certainly not the typological priestly ritual of the shedding of blood following a violation. The
"weightier matters" of the Law are justice, mercy, and faith. That mercy and faith are two-thirds of the Law's weightier matters should not surprise us. Biblical Law was authored by the Spirit and the Fruit of obedience is the "Fruit of the Spirit": love, joy, peace, longsuffering,
gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; all of which are commanded by the Law of God.
God's Law ("Theo-nomy") is neither "primitive" nor inadequate for our "complex" civilization. Every area of life is effectively addressed by the Comprehensive Law-Word of God.
When faithfully taught and obeyed, observance of the Law of God mends the torn fabric of life. Bringing our lives under the total jurisdiction of Christ is the key to social renewal, not reforming the lives of others through the impersonal violence of statist bureaucratic regulation.
Vine & Fig Tree is Grounded in Theonomy