Theonomy: the Church ruling in the World!
The question of Church/State relationships continues to run while some groupings have aspirations of Christian predominance in a secular world.
This is the third article in the ‘Drilling Down’ series and, for those who may have the inclination to read it but have little time to do so, there is good news: it will be considerable shorter than the first two. (These looked at the principal Covenants and the Westminster Confession of Faith.)
Caveat: However the brevity comes at the price of having to employ sweeping generalisations which will unavoidably embrace the inevitable exceptions within.
The principal thrust of this article is the premise that the Christian church – whether seen as the (spiritual) body of Christ made up of Christian believers or the ‘visible’ church of organised Christianity – has no mandate from God to dominate the world in which we live: whether in terms of the systems of government, social behaviour or the laws of the land. However, some elements of present-day Christianity would seem to feel they have a God-ordained responsibility so to do 1.
So the focus herein is on the application of theonomic principles as they pertain ‘into the world’. (The next article in the series will look (d.v.) at the biblical principles surrounding Theonomy, and the latter’s relevance for and influence within the church.)
Although in some cases originating at the opposite ends the Calvinist/Charismatic spectrum, the systems of Christian Reconstructionism (CR) and Kingdom Now/Dominion theology have at least two aspects in common: they are both post-Millennial (i.e. believing that the Millennium period is at the end of the present church age and prior to Jesus’ return). They also anticipate a victorious end-time church-age wherein God’s laws are adopted by or forced upon the prevailing socio-political systems prior to Christ’s second advent.
Just as Islam aims to recreate a Caliphate2 (with a supreme religious leader) operating over and within the Umma (worldwide community of Islam), and imposing Sharia law on fellow Muslims and unbelievers alike, CR posits the need to ‘take dominion’ over the secular societal, legislative and political mechanisms which govern daily life. Like Islam, CR would aim to establish a theonomic system which would apply and enforce the laws of Allah/God respectively3.
In the Christian context CR relies on an extremely close church/state relationship (akin to Calvin’s ‘City of God’ in 16th century Geneva) whereby the latter is subservient to and an organ for the former in matters of morals, religious observance, etc.
The Way of Christ
However an examination of Christ’s life and teaching shows no evidence of Jesus calling his disciples to operate in this way (cf Matt 10:14; Matt 26:52; John 6:15), or of his calling for any close association between God’s kingdom and the political system(s) of the day (Matt 22:21; John 18:36). The erstwhile zealots amongst his group of followers were taught to understand regeneration as pertaining to the individual at a spiritual level (John 3:5), rather than reform of the prevailing Roman or Jewish authority structures. One of the strengths of the faith Jesus taught was in its meekness.
The faith he taught valued free will over compulsion – because that's how love works. Compelling people to follow any religion or political ideology stands over and against the way Jesus practiced his faith. (note 4). Endeavouring to employ secular government(s) to oblige citizens to conform to God’s standards is not the way of the Gospel. This is the fundamental mistake of the brave but misguided 17th-century Scottish Covenanters. There is a difference between letting Christian beliefs inform political choices and employing politics to enforce behavioural compliance.
In our contemporary age, as it was then, disciples of Jesus are called to be ‘salt and light’ wherever they find themselves to be (the political domain included5), but essentially the Great Commission is not about coercing secular systems of government to adopt, apply or enforce God’s righteous standards. Christians are called to be salt and light; not religous police.
1. The separations of church and state in France (at the time of the French Revolution) and in Turkey (following the 1st World War: see note 2 below) were undertaken in order to remove the influence of religion on secular politics. Conversally, in the USA the distinction and division was made by the founding fathers to protect the Christian church from interference by the state.
2. The (Sunni) Islamic Caliphate was abolished in 1924 by Ataturk’s secular Turkish government following the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of the Second World War.The Muslim Brotherhood was established in 1928 as a reaction to the loss of the Caliphate, and its restoration was the ambition which drove Osama Bin Laden.
3. A Theocracy is a system whereby order is applied by the direct rule of God. Israel was a theocracy until the appointment of King Saul. The nation was then operated on theonomic principles; with God’s laws channelled via a human interface.
4. "The puritanical discipline advocated by John Knox and Andrew Melville ensured that the doing of fun things was curtailed and punishable by the church. Keen to be in control of the people and society in their charge, and rule with a firm hand, the ministers and their chosen church elders held great sway through Kirk Sessions. This was the local church court. This position of power allowed them to take decisions on all matters including pertaining to the style of dress, drunkenness, excesses, lewd behaviour and fornication. The most common cases heard at the Kirk Sessions involved fornication or adultery. If caught, it was an especially degrading experience since the offender/s had to stand at the church door dressed only in sackcloth, barefoot and bareheaded, as the congregation filed past them into the Kirk. Then they had to sit on the cutty stool [a low three-legged stool; an earlier version of the naughty step] every Sunday, perhaps for six months, to repent their actions. Fines and whippings occurred, and women could be ducked or banished". Read on...
In the small rural parish of Kirkhill (a few miles from where this article is being written) we read: “Even the great Simon Lord Lovat of the ’45 (Battle of Culloden 1745) had to satisfy Church discipline on the cutty stool, beneath one of his own Clansmen who he had presented to the charge [as the local minister]. Delinquents were summoned before the Session and condemned. They might make profession nof repentance on the spot and then one appearance on the stool, clad in sackcloth, during the time of the sermon, was often sufficient to absolve them. In aggravated cases, especially of relapse, this was continued Sunday after Sunday till the unfortunate did show signs of repentance. [The Romance of a Royal Burgh; Dingwall’s Story of a Thousand Years].
[The parish of Kirkhill in the Scottish Highlands, was formerly called Wardlaw, because the garrison of Lord Lovat was accustomed to keep watch or ward on the law or hill - Ed.]
5. The question of whether or not Christians should become involved in secular politics is an ongoing issue, but it is not the matter which is being considered here. See left margin for links to articles on this subject.
1. The next (fourth) article in the ‘Drilling Down’ series will (d.v.) examine the subject of ‘God’s laws’ – throughout the whole of Scripture - as they pertain to disciples of Christ (i.e. the theology of Theonomy and how it outworks in the church). The concluding topics will look at the problem of legalism in the church(es) including the matter of Sunday/Sabbath observance which was, in 2009, the initial ‘prompt’ to this six-part series.
2. It had been the intention to offer the response facility attaching to this article to both site members and site visitors (non-members) however, at the time of writing (12/14) much site admin time is being wasted by having to respond to (one or two) anonymous respondents who (a) give the appearance of being fixated on one or two issues (b) clutter up discussion threads to the detriment of others who would wish for a reasoned debate (c) seem to think they have a role in dictating site policy. Accordingly the response facility for this article is restricted to site members: non-site members are invited to respond but will be required to send any submissions by e-mail. Hopefully this will avoid the unhelpful distractions of hobby horses, nit-picking, red herrings and bunny trails.