By Jay Rogers
Published May 2, 2008
DIETARY AND CEREMONIAL LAWS
My opponent insists that, according to the theonomic position, dietary and ceremonial laws are still binding. To the contrary, this is not the position of theonomy. Dietary and ceremonial laws are biding on no one under the New Covenant. I have spoken with most of the major theonomists. One may read their positions in their writings on the issue of dietary and ceremonial observances.
My opponent further insists that it is impossible to discern between the ceremonial laws and moral laws. To the contrary, this is a distinction made by the Westminster Confession and by Bible scholars throughout church history. God’s moral laws have been the standard for civil legislation in Christian civilization, while the dietary and ceremonial laws have been discarded as a standard for worship.
THE MORAL LAW IS BINDING ON ALL PEOPLE
The moral law is binding on all people in all times. Although the written Law of God was not given to the Gentiles, the moral law of God was revealed to them. The prophet Jonah preached to the Ninevites, who were not within Israel’s borders. The prophet brought them to repentance, to compliance with the moral law.
WHOSE MORALITY DO WE LEGISLATE?
Civil government and law is mandated by God. We can only legislate two types of law: God’s Law or man’s law. Theonomy deals with the application of God’s moral law to all forms of human government. The Law of God is drawn from the entire Bible, not just the Mosaic Law nor just the Old Covenant.
Arguably the two greatest theologians in church history, Augustine and Calvin, upheld the scriptural principle that it is the duty of the civil government to enforce the moral law of God. Augustine and Calvin appealed to the Old Covenant as a standard for civil law.
AUGUSTINE’S DEFENSE OF THEONOMY
But as to the argument of those men who are unwilling that their impious deeds should be checked by the enactment of righteous laws, when they say that the apostles never sought such measures from the kings of the earth, they do not consider the different character of that age, and that everything comes in its own season. For what emperor had as yet believed in Christ, so as to serve Him in the cause of piety by enacting laws against impiety, when as yet the declaration of the prophet was only in the course of its fulfillment, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and their rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed …”
Augustine goes on to argue that since the moral law of God has become known to Gentile kings, they are now bound to obey the moral law and legislate accordingly.
Seeing, then, that the kings of the earth were not yet serving the Lord in the time of the apostles, but were still imagining vain things against the Lord and against His Anointed, that all might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, it must be granted that at that time acts of impiety could not possibly be prevented by the laws, but were rather performed under their sanction….
While the church was being attacked by both the Jews and the Roman Emperors, it was impossible for Christians to influence civil legislation. However, once the rulers themselves became converted, they are bound to enforce the Law of God as it pertains to civil life. Augustine admonished civil rulers to uphold all of God’s Law.
For why, when free-will is given by God to man, should adulteries be punished by the laws, and sacrilege allowed? Is it a lighter matter that a soul should not keep faith with God, than that a woman should be faithless to her husband? Or if those faults which are committed not in contempt but in ignorance of religious truth are to be visited with lighter punishment, are they therefore to be neglected altogether?” (A Treatise Concerning the Correction Of The Donatist; Or Epistle CLXXXV, A Letter Of Augustine To Boniface.)
CALVIN’S DEFENSE OF THEONOMY
John Calvin too used a similar argument. Calvin did not shrink back from quoting from the Old Testament as an example of how kings should enforce legislation.
We have already shown that this office is specially assigned them by God, and indeed it is right that they exert themselves in asserting and defending the honor of him whose vicegerents they are, and by whose favor they rule…. In regard to the second table of the law, Jeremiah addresses rulers, “Thus says the Lord, Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood” (Jer. 22:3)…. We say, therefore, that they are the ordained guardians and vindicators of public innocence, modesty, honor, and tranquility, so that it should be their only study to provide for the common peace and safety. Of these things David declares that he will set an example when he shall have ascended the throne. “A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slanders his neighbor, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walks in a perfect way, he shall serve me” (Psalm 101:4-6). But as rulers cannot do this unless they protect the good against the injuries of the bad, and give aid and protection to the oppressed, they are armed with power to curb manifest evil-doers and criminals, by whose misconduct the public tranquility is disturbed or harassed.
JOHN KNOX ON THEONOMY
When John Knox, a student of John Calvin, defended Protestantism in the court of Mary Queen of Scots he did not shrink back from the binding nature of the Law of God. He even openly proclaimed, in these debates, that the death penalty should be carried out in accordance with the prescribed biblical sanctions. These debates demonstrate conclusively that Knox was a theonomist, in the sense that he believed in the continuing binding validity of Old Testament penal sanctions.
This we have not by profane writers only; but the Holy Spirit taught us this infallible truth, that where iniquity reigns in a commonwealth, and none is found boldly and openly to reprehend the same, that there shall sudden vengeance and destruction follow.
Knox then quotes from Ezekiel 22, and says that the moral Law of God is for every nation.
Advert, madam, for these are not the words of mortal man, but of the eternal God, and were not spoken against Jerusalem only, but against every realm and nation that so offends.
THEONOMY: THE TESTIMONY OF THE AGES
Theonomy is not new. It is not an idea that originated with Rushdoony, Bahnsen, or North. We see theonomy as a basic underlying assumption — especially in Augustinian, Calvinist and Puritan theology. Christians have historically appealed equally to the Law of the Old and New Covenant as a basis for civil law. It has been the historic position of the Christian church over the centuries. The theonomic view has receded in the past century, but it has been the consensus for most of Christian history.
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