Liberty Under God IS THE CORRECT CHOICE BETWEEN Theonomy vs. Autonomy
"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.
"'. . . 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."
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: Better to 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.
Americans respected the Ten Commandments. Legislators legislated in terms of the Ten Commandments. Courts judged cases and enforced the Ten Commandments. American Law was based on the Bible.
The earliest statute books even had Bible references in the margin to prove that the laws were faithfully based on the Bible.
Sometimes theologians and legal scholars misread the Bible. Capital punishment is an example of this.
Industry, commerce, social harmony, charity, and education are impossible without Theonomy. More than a billion people on earth live in poverty and ignorance because their culture is rooted in magic and envy rather than true religion. By creating a Christian Theocracy, America's Founding Fathers laid the foundation for ordered liberty, economic prosperity, and peaceful, dependable social relations.
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. TheBiblical 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
8. Restitution or Restoration
9. Military Laws and Production
13. Quarantine Laws
14. Dietary Rules
20. Social Inheritance: Landmarks
VII. The Seventh Commandment
5. Family Law
6. Marriage and Monogamy
9. Sex and Crime
17. The Transvestite
VIII. The Eighth Commandment
3. Restitution and Forgiveness
4. Liability of the Bystander
5. Money and Measure
9. Landmarks and Land
10. The Virgin Birth and Property
12. Eminent Domain
13. Labor Laws
18. The Rights of Strangers, Widows, and Orphans
IX. The Ninth Commandment
8. False Witness
11. Slander Within Marriage
13. Slander as Theft
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
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. Deuteronomy 30:19
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 the morality of the group. This is "law." Some people say "you can't legislate morality." All law is legislated morality. The lawmaker says "Thou shalt not steal" because stealing is deemed to be immoral, or contrary to the accepted morality.
THEOCRACY: AN INESCAPABLE CONCEPT
The ultimate source of morality in a society is the "god" of that society. 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). This prospect is unacceptable to the Amerikan Theocracy of the 21st 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, bureaucrats, and SWAT Teams. 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.
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 Fruit. 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.
I claim to be a Theonomist, but maybe I'm not. Are you? I find myself in agreement with 99% of the words written by Greg Bahnsen in the column at left. Some Theonomists say that's not enough. In the right-hand column, I've added some additional support to Bahnsen's comments, and where I differ with Bahnsen, I'm candid about it.
Dr. Van Til taught us that "There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy" (Christian-Theistic Ethics, p. 134). Every ethical decision assumes some final authority or standard, and that will either be self-law ("autonomy") or God's law ("theonomy"). While unbelievers consider themselves the ultimate authority in determining moral right or wrong, believers acknowledge that God alone has that position and prerogative.
The opening sections of Bahnsen's article should not be controversial. So I've placed another summary of Theonomy by Bahnsen in this right-hand column. This is how Bahnsen summarizes the Theonomic thesis in his book No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics(another version of this summary is in the 2nd edition of Theonomy, and this summary has been published in numerous other works by Bahnsen):
The position which has come to be labeled "theonomy" today thus holds that the word of the Lord is the sole, supreme, and unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life. Our obligation to keep God's commands cannot be judged by any extrascriptural standard, such as whether its specific requirements (when properly interpreted) are congenial to past traditions or modern feelings and practices.
1. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are, in part and in whole, a verbal revelation from God through the words of men, being infallibly true regarding all that they teach on any subject.
When any of us come to Christ for salvation, it is with a sense of our sin and misery before God. Our very need of the Savior arises from a conviction of sin, brought home to our hearts by the Holy Spirit showing our guilt for violating God's commandments. As Paul wrote, "I had not known sin except through the law" (Rom. 7:7). The law defines what sin is (1 John 3:4). As such the law cannot be our personal vehicle for gaining favor with God. It rather aims at Christ as our only righteousness, tutoring us that justification must be by faith in Him (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:24).
So theonomy teaches that since the fall it has always been unlawful to use the law of God in hopes of establishing one's own personal merit and justification, in contrast or complement to salvation by way of promise and faith. As Paul said, it was "through the law" that he learned to "die to the law" as a way of self-salvation (Gal. 2:9). Commitment to obedience is but the lifestyle of faith, a token of gratitude for God's redeeming grace. "By grace you have been saved through faith... not of works.... We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God previously prepared that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).
2. Since the Fall it has always been unlawful to use the law of God in hopes of establishing one's own personal merit and justification, in contrast or complement to salvation by way of promise and faith; commitment to obedience is but the lifestyle of faith, a token of gratitude for God's redeeming grace.
In What is Faith? J. Gresham Machen urged that "a new and more powerful proclamation of that law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour.... A low view of laws always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail" (pp. 141-142).
Seems like every Christian should be a "Theonomist" at this point.
After coming to Christ in faith and repentance we all naturally ask how a Christian should live. A. A. Hodge answers: "While Christ fulfilled the law for us, the Holy Spirit fulfils the law in us, by sanctifying us into complete conformity to it" (The Confession of Faith, p. 251). Paul wrote in Romans 8:4-9 that unregenerate men are enemies of God who cannot submit to His law, but those who walk by the Holy Spirit subject themselves to that law. Paul himself endorses that we should "delight in the law after the inward man" (Rom. 7:22).
On a recent podcast, J.D. Hall criticized R.J. Rushdoony's slogan, “Justification is by grace through faith; sanctification is by law.” I'll take the bait: check this out. Rushdoony's slogan seems to be Hodge's as well.
The Christian confesses that Jesus is the Lord, thus looking to the directives of Jesus to guide his life. Jesus said "if you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Moreover, we will strive to teach others to observe whatever He has commanded us (Matt. 28:18-20). Such healthy and necessary moral standards are surely not burdensome to the believer who bows to Christ as the Lord (1 John 5:3).
3. The word of the Lord is the sole, supreme, and unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life; this word naturally includes God's moral directives (law).
As our Lord, moreover, Jesus teaches us that man is to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). We have no right to edit God's commandments for ourselves, deciding to follow those which agree with our preconceived ideas and rejecting the others. James teaches that we are not to become "judges of the law," but rather doers of that law (4:11-12); to break even one point of it is to be guilty of breaking it all (2:10). The whole law is our duty, except where the Lawgiver and Lord reveals otherwise. God forbids us to diminish His commands on our own authority (Deut. 4:2). "Every scripture" (even the Old Testament) is profitable, said Paul, for "instruction in righteousness" so that we would be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
4. Our obligation to keep the law of God cannot be judged by any extrascriptural standard, such as whether its specific requirements (when properly interpreted) are congenial to past traditions or modern feelings and practices.
Accordingly theonomy views God's laws directing moral behavior to be a reflection of His unchanging character; such laws are not arbitrary, but objectively, universally, and absolutely binding. It is God's law that "you are to be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16, citing Leviticus). The law may not be criticized or challenged by us. It is "holy, righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12). This moral law was revealed to Israel in oracles and ordinances, but even the Gentiles show the work of the law upon their hearts and know its ordinances from the natural order and inward conscience (Rom. 1:32; 2:14-15). Who, then, is under the authority of God's law? Paul answers "all the world" (Rom. 3:19).
From Bahnsen's summary:
Notice what these principles tell us about the theological and moral character of theonomic ethics. The foundational authority of scripture (#1) and the precious truth of salvation by grace alone (#2) provide the context within which every other theonomic thesis is developed and understood. "Theonomic" ethics is committed to developing an overall Christian world-and-life-view (#3) according to the regulating principle of sola Scriptura (#4) and the hermeneutic of covenant theology (#5). The new and better covenant established by Christ does offer Biblical warrant for recognizing changes in covenantal administration (#6), but not changes in moral standards, lest the divinely revealed ethic be reduced to situationism or relativism -- just one tribal perspective among many in the evolutionary history of ethics (#7).
Righteousness and justice, according to Biblical teaching, have a universal character, precluding any double-standard of morality.
Here's where the "controversy" might start. Some Christians (like Dispensationalists) view the Old Testament as irrelevant, unless repeated by the New Testament. I'll add the text of some of the verses cited by Bahnsen.
The law revealed by Moses and subsequent Old Testament authors was given within a covenantal administration of God's grace which included not only moral instruction, but gloriously and mercifully "promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come" (Westminster Confession of Faith VII.5). God's revelation itself teaches us that New Covenant believers, who have the law powerfully written on their hearts (Jer. 31:31ff.; Heb. 8:8-12), no longer follow the foreshadows and administrative details of the old covenant. They are obsolete (Heb. 8:13), having been imposed only until the time when the Messiah would come (Heb. 9:10; Col. 2:17).
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
This passage is quoted by the writer to the Hebrews:
“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effecta new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 Not like the
covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord. 10 “For
this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write themon their hearts. And
I will be their God, And they shall be My people. 11 “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ Forall will know Me, Fromthe least to the greatest of them. 12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.”
When Jeremiah prophesied these words, he said God would write His TORAH on the hearts of Christians. Not just so that we would have them memorized, but that we would obey them. How do you think the Hebrews of Jeremiah's day understood this prophecy? Theonomic? How do you think the Hebrews of Jesus' day understood this letter quoting Jeremiah? A repudiation of Jeremiah's Theonomy, or a strengthening of it? Jeremiah's thought is also seen in the prophet Ezekiel:
19 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep Mine ordinances, and do them. And they shall be My people, and I will be their God.
27 And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments and do them.
The Prophets of the New Covenant were Theonomic.
6. In regard to the Old Testament law, the New Covenant surpasses the Old Covenant in glory, power, and finality (thus reinforcing former duties). The New Covenant also supersedes the Old Covenant shadows, thereby changing the application of sacrificial, purity, and "separation" principles, redefining the people of God, and altering the significance of the promised land.
Thus, for example, on the basis of God's own instruction, we no longer resort to animal sacrifices at the temple and a Levitical priest (Heb. 7-10); the cultic dietary laws have been set aside, for God has cleansed the unclean meats (representing the Gentiles) from which Israel was to be separate or holy (Acts 10).
Bahnsen says "no more animal sacrifices," but that doesn't comfort many anti-Theonomists. He says the dietary laws are out, but that's not good enough for them. Rushdoony and Bahnsen did not agree on the issue of the dietary laws. Some Theonomists still observe them. So some anti-theonomists accuse [all] Theonomists of being "judaizers." On a recent podcast, J.D. Hall accused Rushdoony of being a "Judaizer," and guilty of "the Galatian heresy." I wonder which is worse, being a "Judaizer" or calling down God's "Anathema" on a Godly Christian man like Rushdoony.
I personally think there is good reason to continue observing the dietary laws. Contrary to Bahnsen's claim, it is not inescapably correct to say that "clean" and "unclean" symbolize the difference between "Jew" and "Gentile," because the clean/unclean categories existed in Noah's day -- before there was "Jew" and "Gentile" -- and still exist (in some sense) in the Apostolic age (verses).
Was Rushdoony therefore not a "real" Theonomist because he disagreed with Bahnsen on the issue of the dietary laws? Or vice versa? No, because both believed that it was the Bible itself that must tell us what "Theonomy" really is, not theories of "natural law," and we'll have disagreements about what the Bible says, but we'll work through them like Bereans.
Unfortunately Theonomists disagree among themselves, and anti-Theonomists call Theonomists "dangerous," and there's not a lot of Scripture-searching, like the Bereans.
"Better safe than sorry," I say. It's obvious to me that after Christ shed His blood, shedding any other blood in an attempt to propitiate the wrath of God is a bad idea. Mixing wool and linen? Maybe there's something to that. If it's still a good idea to "Honor your father and mother" (Ephesians 6:1-3), maybe it's a good idea to ask some questions about the creatures that go along the bottom of the water cleaning up after other fish (if you catch my drift). God isn't arbitrary or stupid.
[Bahnsen continues below]
Theonomy teaches, then, that in regard to the Old Testament law, the New Covenant surpasses the Old Covenant in glory, power, and finality. The New Covenant also supersedes the Old Covenant shadows, thereby changing the application of sacrificial, purity, and "separation" principles, redefining the people of God (e.g., Matt. 21:43), and also altering the significance of the promised land (e.g., Rom. 4:13; 1 Peter 1:4).
Who could disagree with this?
What is crucial to notice here is that theonomic ethics comes to these conclusions on the basis of Biblical instruction. Men have no right to alter or spurn Old Testament laws on their own say-so, social traditions, or preconceived ideas about what is morally appropriate or inappropriate in the Mosaic law. They have no right to include more in the discontinuity between old and new covenants than can be warranted from divine revelation.
Who could disagree with this?
Theonomy thus teaches that we should presume that Old Testament laws continue to be morally binding in the New Testament unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation. Theonomy's methodology stands squarely against that of dispensational theology which maintains that all of the Old Testament commandments should be deemed -- in advance of exegesis -- to be abrogated, unless they are repeated in the New Testament.
On this issue the words of our Lord are definitive and clear in Matthew 5:17-19. Jesus declared that he did not come not abrogate the Old Testament Law and Prophets, but to give them their full measure. John Murray wrote that Jesus' "fulfillment" of the law "refers to the function of validating and confirming the law and the prophets" (Principles of Conduct, p. 150). With respect to the Old Testament's moral standards, Jesus went on to insist that until the end of the physical cosmos, not the slightest stroke of the law will pass away. "Therefore whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." Jesus confirmed the validity of the law, even down to its least commandment, and censures anyone who dares
to teach otherwise (without authorization from the Lawgiver Himself). New Testament Christians must operate on the presumption of continuity with the Old Testament moral code.
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to πληρῶσαι. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be γένηται.
There's a lot of heated debate about the meaning of those two Greek words. What do they mean? You don't have to know Greek to figure it out. What Jesus is saying is that He came to create conditions in which the follower of Christ is committed to obeying the law and the prophets, and teaching others to obey them as well. Some anti-theonomists claim that Jesus "fulfilled" God's Law for us, therefore we don't have to keep it (compare Hodge above). Sounds like the Pharisees, who said it was enough to keep their own man-made traditions instead of God's Law. The next verse makes clear what the Greek words mean:
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
"Doing" and "teaching" are not things Jesus came to destroy or to abrogate. He came to fulfill the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, of making a people for Himself that would be heartfelt Theonomists.
I've heard J.D. Hall on more than one video describe Bahnsen's exposition of Matthew 5:17-19 in Theonomy in Christian Ethics as taking up "half the book." If you have your copy of the book, place one finger at page 39, where Bahnsen begins his exposition of Matthew 5:17-19, and another finger at page 86, where he finishes looking at that passage. Hold all those pages between your thumb and index finger. Does it look like "half the book?" Maybe it seems like "half the book" to anti-theonomists because Bahnsen put lotsa Greek stuff in that chapter. And they probably didn't read the other "half" either.
Many people think that Theonomists are "Pharisees" and "legalists." But Jesus says His disciples are more righteous than those who use God's Word for their own selfish purposes:
20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven
The religious leaders of Jesus' day were "hypocrites," as Jesus repeatedly said. Outwardly they postured as Theonomists, but they were actually committed to evading God's Law, not putting it into practice. The legalistic religious leaders were the enemies of God and the enemies of Theonomy:
5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”
6 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men —the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”
9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making
the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
In what sense is Jesus a "political" figure? Isn't that breaching wall of separation between religion and politics? Jesus is a political figure because he is the Christ, the Messiah, the King of kings. By His Word,
He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; Micah 4:3
His Word "rebukes" kings now. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Dictators only wish that this rebuking did not begin until after His Second Coming.
Here is more from Bahnsen's summary. His article on the left continues below.
We should presume that Old Testament standing laws[note26] continue to be morally binding in the New Testament, unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation.[note27]
26. Standing law" is used here for policy directives applicable over time to classes of individuals (e.g., do not kill; children, obey your parents; merchants, have equal measures; magistrates, execute rapists), in contrast to particular directions for an individual (e.g., the order for Samuel to anoint David at a particular time and place) or positive commands for distinct incidents (e.g., God's order for Israel to exterminate certain Canaanite tribes at a certain point in history).
27. By contrast, it is characteristic of dispensational theology to hold that Old Covenant commandments should be a priori deemed as abrogated - unless repeated in the New Testament (e.g., Charles Ryrie, "The End of the Law," Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 124 , pp. 239-242).
God's revealed standing laws are a reflection of His immutable moral character and, as such, are absolute in the sense of being non-arbitrary, objective, universal, and established in advance of particular circumstances (thus applicable to general types of moral situations).
Christian involvement in politics calls for recognition of God's transcendent, absolute, revealed law as a standard by which to judge all social codes.
Civil magistrates in all ages and places are obligated to conduct their offices as ministers of God, avenging divine wrath against criminals and giving an account on the Final Day of their service before the King of kings, their Creator and Judge.
The general continuity which we presume with respect to the moral standards of the Old Testament applies just as legitimately to matters of socio-political ethics as it does to personal, family, or ecclesiastical ethics.
The civil precepts of the Old Testament (standing 'judicial" laws) are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals. Outside of those areas where God's law prescribes their intervention and application of penal redress, civil rulers are not authorized to legislate or use coercion (e.g., the economic marketplace).
The morally proper way for Christians to correct social evils which are not under the lawful jurisdiction of the state is by means of voluntary and charitable enterprises or the censures of the home, church, and marketplace - even as the appropriate method for changing the political order of civil law is not violent revolution, but dependence upon regeneration, re-education, and gradual legal reform.
"Theonomic" ethics likewise rejects legal positivism and maintains that there is a "law above the (civil) law" to which appeal can be made against the tyranny of rulers and the anarchy of overzealous reformers alike (#9). Since Jesus Christ is Lord over all (cf. #3), civil magistrates are His servants and owe obedience to His revealed standards for them (#9). There is no Biblically based justification (cf. #5) for exempting civil authorities from responsibility to the universal standards of justice (cf. #7) found in God's Old Testament revelation (#10). Therefore, in the absence of Biblically grounded argumentation which releases the civil magistrate from Old Testament social norms (cf. #5, #6), it follows from our previous premises that in the exercise of their offices rulers are morally responsible to obey the
revealed standards of social justice in the Old Testament law (#11). This does not mean, however, that civil rulers have unlimited authority to intrude just anywhere into the affairs of men and societies (# 11 #12); their legitimate sphere is restricted to what God's word has authorized them to do -- thus calling for a limited role for civil government. Finally, Christians are urged to use persuasive and "democratic" means of social reform - nothing like the strong-arm tactics slanderously attributed to the theonomic program (#12).[note28]
28. For example, the main thrust of a widely read article on theonomic ethics by Rodney Clapp in Christianity Today, vol. 31, no. 3 (Feb. 20, 1987), was captured in its title: "Democracy as Heresy." He recklessly accuses theonomists of seeking "the abolition of democracy" (p. 17), when surely Clapp is aware that the word 'democracy' is susceptible to an incredibly wide range of definitions and connotations (e.g., from an institution of direct rule by every citizen without mediating representatives to a governmental procedure where representatives are voted in and out of office by the people, to the simple concepts of majority vote or social equality, etc.). Theonomists are opposed to some of those ideas, but surely not to what is commonly understood
by the word: namely, democratic procedures for choosing representatives to rule. Indeed, in reply to Mr. Clapp's inflammatory rhetoric, Dr. Gary North very appropriately pointed out as a historian the irony that it was precisely our Puritan (and theonomic) forefathers who fought for and established this kind of "democracy" in the Western world!
That general continuity which we presume with respect to the moral standards of the Old Testament applies to political ethics. John Murray called it a fatal error "if it is thought that the Christian revelation, the Bible, does not come to the civil authority with a demand for obedience to its direction and precept as stringent and inescapable as it does to the individual, to the family, and to the church"
Bahnsen says entities calling themselves "the State" or "the government" or "the civil magistrate" are obligated to follow God's Commandments in the Scriptures (including commandments in "The Law and the Prophets"). I agree. I also believe entities calling themselves "La Cosa Nostra" ("Our Thing"), "Yakuza," "Solntsevskaya Bratva" ("Russian Mafia"), "Sinaloa Cartel," or any of dozens of other similar criminal entities, are also morally obligated to follow God's Commandments in the Old Testament.
In addition to being the Head of the church, Christ has been made King over all other earthly kings (1 Tim. 6:15), the "ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5); to Him by right they owe allegiance and obedience. He has been invested with all authority in heaven as well as on earth (Matt. 28:18), and it is to be our prayer that God's will be done on earth just as perfectly as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Jehovah has established His Son as King upon His holy hill, and thus the kings and judges of the earth are now required to submit reverently to Him and serve the Lord (Ps. 2:6-12).
What happens if entities calling themselves "civil governments" take seriously the Law of God, submit to Christ the King and serve Him as Lord? What happens if "governments" repent of theft, murder and vengeance? I would say they would "go out of business." Nowhere in Scripture does God command human beings to conquer other people groups, or form "the State." By definition, "The State" violates God's Law by stealing, murdering, and taking vengeance. Most of the Bible is filled with criticisms of empires. Entire books are dedicated to
chronicling kings and judges. In spite of this, most Christians believe the Body of Christ should not be involved in politics -- that is, should not oppose the most concentrated, well-funded evil on the planet.
So theonomy teaches that civil rulers are morally obligated to enforce those laws of Christ, found throughout the Scriptures, which are addressed to magistrates (as well as to refrain from coercion in areas where God has not prescribed their intervention). As Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-10, magistrates -- even the secular rulers of Rome -- are obligated to conduct their offices as "ministers of God," avenging God's wrath (compare 13:4 with 12:19) against criminal evil-doers. They will give an account on the Final Day of their service before the King of kings, their Creator and Judge. Christian involvement in politics calls for recognition of God's transcendent, absolute, revealed law as a standard by
which to judge all social codes and political policies. The Scottish theologian, William Symington, well said:
"It is the duty of nations, as subjects of Christ, to take His law as their rule. They are apt to think enough that they take, as their standard of legislation and administration, human reason, natural conscience, public opinion or political expediency. None of these, however, nor indeed all of them together, can supply a sufficient guide in affairs of state" (Messiah the Prince, p. 234).
I believe a strict Theonomic application would not only shrink the size of government -- by cutting welfare, education, and other activities which are carried out more humanely, effectively and beneficially by families, charities, and churches -- but would abolish civil governments entirely.
God created human beings in a social form we would call "Patriarchy." When Noah got off the ark with his family, all human beings existed in a state of "Patriarchy." Abraham the Patriarch had perhaps thousands of people in his family as a result of evangelism, domestic apprenticeship, job-creation, charity, and home-church. Romans 13, a much-misunderstood passage, prohibits Christians from violently resisting demonic empires, but does not condone imperial conquest and plunder of the weak by the strong.
I agree that everyone -- civil magistrates, mafia hit-men, prostitutes -- are obligated to submit to Christ by obeying His inscriptured Word. I worry that many Theonomists envision little more than a "Theonomic Oligarchy" in which a small plurality of Theonomic activists elect a slate of "Theonomic candidates" to political office to execute the unrepentant demographic. This, I guess, would be an "amillennial Theonomy," whereas a more robust "Postmillennial Theonomy" would come closer to the Biblical vision of the knowledge of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea, resulting in widespread conversion, repentance, obedience, and cultural sanctification, rather than a more pessimillennial theocratic whack-a-mole. (I also consider myself a "Theocrat.")
The Apostle Paul affirmed that one of the uses of the Old Testament law which we know to be good is the restraint of criminal behavior (1 Tim. 1:8-10). Jesus endorsed the penal sanctions of the Old Testament law, condemning those who would make them void by their own human traditions (Matt. 15:3-4). Paul likewise upheld the penal standards of the Mosaic judicial law (Acts 25:11). The author of Hebrews leaves us no doubt about the inspired New Testament perspective on the Mosaic penalties, saying "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward" (2:2). God requires that judges not punish too harshly or too leniently, but assign a penalty proportionate to the crime (cf. "an eye for an eye..."). To uphold genuine
justice in their punishments, magistrates need the direction of God's law. In observing the law which God revealed to Israel, all nations should respond "what great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law?" (Deut. 4:8).
For the most orthodox of Theonomic reasons, I believe "capital punishment" -- a liturgical shedding of blood -- was a "ceremonial" law, and is therefore abolished. For all crimes. I don't consider "restitution" a "punishment." When one repents, one has a duty to undo the damage done by his sin. The duty stands even in the absence of socialism, fascism, or any other form of "the State." In any case, "capital punishment" -- the ultimate power -- was given to "Noah and his sons" (Genesis 9) and can be administered without an institution we call "the State." Christians
should voluntarily form dispute resolution organizations. As Christians gain social influence, even the unconverted will feign Theonomic obedience and come under the market institutions and social order of a global Christocracy.
Although Israel as a political body has expired -- and along with it its judicial law as a constitution -- the general equity of those judicial laws is still required (Westminster Confession XIX.4). Similarly, when a public library goes out of business (and your library card thus expires), the truth of what was written in its books is not abolished or changed. Political codes today ought to incorporate the moral requirements which were culturally illustrated in the God-given, judicial laws of Old Testament Israel. George Gillespie, widely regarded as the most authoritative theologian at the Westminster Assembly, wrote: "the will of God concerning civil justice and punishments is no where so fully and clearly revealed as in the judicial law of
Moses.... He who was punishable by death under the judicial law is punishable by death still" ("Wholesome Severity Reconciled...," 1645).
I agree with Rushdoony that the Westminster Confession at this point is corrupted by "natural law" thinking inherited from statist Greco-Roman philosophy. The Reformers and Puritans were not as consistently Biblical in their thinking about Biblical Law as Bahnsen and Rushdoony were centuries later. As someone ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which is confessionally tied to the Westminster Standards, Bahnsen was unable to break free from those standards where they were not consistently Biblical. More here: The Theonomy Debate
Those who do not favor taking God's law as the ultimate standard for civil morality and public justice will be forced to substitute some other criterion. The civil magistrate cannot function without some standard of good and evil. If that standard is not the revealed law of God, then in some form or expression it will have to be a law of men -- the standard of self-law or autonomy. Men must choose in their civil affairs to be governed by God's law (theonomy), to be ruled by tyrants, or acquiesce to increasing social degeneracy.
It may seem like "Theonomy" is all about politics. This should not be the case. The bulk of Bahnsen's lengthy treatise on Theonomy does not discuss politics, but only the basic concept of the abiding validity of the Old Testament generally. More specifically, the book deals with the basic objections to God's commanding us at all, which are often the "Law vs. Grace" or "Law vs. Gospel" objections. This is really the heart of most objections to Theonomy. That and executing adulterers.
Bahnsen's particular application of Theonomy to the State is not the Theonomic thesis itself, but only an "application of the thesis." Ditto for applications made by R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North. Indeed, the section which does address politics is called "Application of the Thesis to the State" (p. 315).
[T]hose who agree with the foundational conclusion of [Theonomy] -- that God's Law is binding today unless Scripture reveals otherwise -- may very well disagree among themselves over particular matters in interpreting what God's law demands at this or that point, or ... may disagree over how these demands should be followed today (p. 9).
Leaders of the "Christian Reconstruction" movement have had their disagreements on the application of the Theonomic thesis. Rushdoony and North disagreed to such an extent that they weren't even talking to each other! Bahnsen disagreed with Rushdoony on several issues, as we've noted. Based on the Theonomic thesis, I personally do not believe in "capital punishment" for any crime. That might surprise many opponents of Theonomy, who assume that "Theonomy" means nothing if not the execution of homosexuals and adulterers.
"Theonomy" means God has the right to command man. It does not mean "the State" does.
Kevin Craig first encountered "Christian Reconstructionism" around 1974. He was personally tutored by R.J Rushdoony, wrote a regular column for The Chalcedon Report, and as a Chalcedon Scholar substituted on occasion for Rushdoony when he was unable to fill the pulpit in the Westwood chapel where the Institutes of Biblical Law was delivered. KC was also tutored one-on-one by Bahnsen, who wanted to see if someone could be ordained in the OPC through an apprenticeship, rather than the modern seminary model. Gary North has published a few of his articles, including this one. North says KC is either in the "Who's Who" or the "Who's
Not" of Christian Reconstructionism. Kevin Craig founded Vine & Fig Tree (a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation) in 1979.
America was founded by Theonomists. The settlers who got off the Mayflower were Theonomists. Colonial legal codes (e.g., Massachusetts) were written by Puritan Theonomists (e.g., John Cotton). The entire common law tradition is Theonomic, going back to early English kings like Æthelbert and Alfred, who established their governments on the Ten Commandments.
Whatever human beings do -- form governments, run schools, manage businesses -- should be done according to God's Commandments, that is, Theonomically. This belief is what made America the most prosperous and most admired nation in history.