The First Amendment

WordPress is glad that the first amendment is in place for our country. So am I. However, I wonder how much of the first amendment is left at the moment. Certain things are now said to be guaranteed under our supposed first amendment rights. Things like pornography, for example, although child pornography is still prohibited. Other things, like protesting abortion on public property, is not allowed in many parts of the country. I’ve long since felt that the first amendment is becoming a wax nose. It means whatever the people in power say it means. Now, I’m not one for identity of church and state. However, neither do I believe that a Christian has to leave his Christianity behind when he enters the public square. Otherwise, he becomes something of a schizophrenic. The first amendment, which was originally supposed to protect the right of religious free speech, is now being used in exactly the opposite way that it was intended to be used. If people want to change the constitution, then they should change it. But let’s stop pretending that we are now interpreting it the right way. Someone will no doubt answer to me that I am so, so arrogant in having the audacity to think that there is a right way to interpret the first amendment. However, the answer to this is the answer of history. History happens outside of us, and therefore there is an objective component to this history that does not depend on our interpretation. As a good Van Tillian, I do not believe that there are such things as “brute facts.” However, there is such a thing as what really happened and what did not really happen. And what really happened was that religious freedom was intended to be the purport of the first amendment. Words do not mean anything if the first amendment is now being used to curtail the religious freedoms of Christians in the US. I make can anything words mean, if depends meaning my on interpretation own. Black is white and white is black.

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32 Comments

  1. JD Linton said,

    July 2, 2010 at 8:02 am

    No you are not being are not being arrogant. This is the debate which goes on within the Supreme Court regarding how to interpret the Constitiution. The libs like to say that the U.S. Constitution is a living, breathing document. Ironically, when a document starts to live and breath it dies. It simultaneously means everything and nothing. Rather, our Constituion is a covenant before God between the people, the States and the created Federal government. How do you read a covenant or a contract? You read it as the original parties meant it to be read with the original meaning, not as the created party wants it to be read.

    There is one proper way to look at the seperation of church and state and that is as two seperate authorities with equal power in the culture. Unfortunately, the church has been cowed or has given up its authority for the tax code. It is time for the church to start talking through its pulpits into the failing culture and kiss its 501c3 status good bye.

  2. Andrew Duggan said,

    July 2, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Perhaps those who take an oath of office in the USA, where they swear or affirm to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”, mean that in the spirit of containing the system of government as found in the constitution of the United States. Really — I think that the USA has learned its methods for ignoring its constitution at the feet of the Presbyterian Churches. So before Presbyterians chide the USA for ignoring its constitution, they should stop ignoring their own.

  3. Monty L. Collier said,

    July 2, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Freedom of speech is under attack.
    When was the last time you heard
    a sermon on the Priesthood of All Believers?

  4. Jeffrey Waddington said,

    July 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Lane

    Thank you for this post.

  5. Roy said,

    July 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Good point, Andrew. (I heard reverberations of North’s ‘Crossed Fingers’.)

    To respond to that point, the church must not remain silent. Instead, it must teach what actually happened in its own history.

    Simultaneously, it must teach how the people of the church acted in civil government history.

    This latter requires the church to teach about what it means to be U.S. citizen: both subject and ruler. Each carry significant responsibilities.

  6. Rhoda said,

    July 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    You’re interpretation is wrong. The first Amendment guarantees you the right to practice any religion or to practice no religion at all.
    If anything this country’s far right fringe has somehow come to believe that America is a “Christian Nation”, it is not, nor have the Framers ever said that. Insofar as your public square and protesting anti-choice beliefs on public property, the First guarantees the rights of all not just those that hold those beliefs.

  7. Monty L. Collier said,

    July 2, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Could some of the Van Tilians here grant me some feedback on one of my brief teachings?
    My email appears on the teaching. Here’s the link:

    Thanks.

  8. Vern Crisler said,

    July 2, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    In actuality, the First Amendment is a restriction on the Federal government. The States still had established religions long after the adoption of the federal Bill of Rights, and could still make laws regarding speech, religion, etc.

  9. TurretinFan said,

    July 3, 2010 at 7:17 am

    “You’re [sic] interpretation is wrong. The first Amendment guarantees you the right to practice any religion or to practice no religion at all.”

    Actually, what the First Amendment says is this:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    As Vern pointed out above, that’s a restriction on the Federal Government, specifically a limitation on Congress.

    “If anything this country’s far right fringe has somehow come to believe that America is a “Christian Nation”, it is not, nor have the Framers ever said that.”

    Do you consider John Jay a “framer”? He served as America’s first chief justice. He wrote:

    “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” (to John Murray, Jr. on October 12, 1816.)

    “Insofar as your public square and protesting anti-choice beliefs on public property, the First guarantees the rights of all not just those that hold those beliefs.”

    Again, the First Amendment is properly viewed not as a guarantee of rights, but a restriction on Federal power.

  10. Evan said,

    July 3, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I’m really liking the basic thrust of this post- that all, regardless of religious affiliation, have the right to speak freely and not be curtailed by law. Christians obviously have a history of speaking out because the majority of our citizens have been either church members or heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian principles. I agree with Rhoda only in the sense that one is free to speak even if they hold no religion and we are all free to express our views in the public sphere however I think Vern has the intent of the amendment right- restricting the interference of the government in the affairs of the Church. It was, after all, the English who first colonized America and they certainly had a checkered history of governmental interference. I think of the Act of Uniformity for example.

    JD’s comment is a little problematic for me because it seems to suggest an aggressive political agenda which, as we see in the liberal churches, only serves to distract from the central emphasis of Scripture- the relationship of God to man and how we come out of darkness into light through the penal substitution of Christ Jesus. Of course, I could be reading more into what he said than he actually meant. It seems to me that when the text addresses politics directly, so should the minister. Certainly he ought to remember the different historical context of the NT writers and not associate Christianity directly with an American approach to governance. We know that the kingdoms of this earth will pass away so our central concern should always be the Church and the eternal kingdom of God that can thrive in any political setting.

  11. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 4, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Sorry Vern and TurrentinFan, but the First Amendment does apply at the State level today, courtesy of the Supreme Court.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

    “Originally, the First Amendment only applied to the Congress. However, in the 20th century, the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies the First Amendment to each state, including any local government.”

    This is why in our lifetime we see ridiculous rules and regulations passed again and again at the State and Local level courtesy of “First Amendment rights.” And when conservative State and Local legislatures want to pass laws to strictly ban, say, pornography in library, those laws are declared “unconstitutional”, again, courtesy of First Amendment rights.

    In short there are two principle mentalities for judges when they approach the Constitution and the Amendments. “Broad Construction” and “Strict Construction.” Strict Constructionists believe that the Constitution and the Amendments should be interpreted literally, and then apply in the best way we can that literal interpretation to our situation. Broad Constructionists, however, believes that it isn’t the literal words that are “American” but the “Spirit behind these words” that the interpreters should seek to identify, and then rule and apply on, that are important. Now, exactly what that “Spirit” behind the Constitution is is up to debate, but these people would believe a pure literal interpretation is impractical (and foolish) and the value to these documents are their “American Spirit.”

    I, personally, find the whole interpretation of Constitution to be similar to the wars Conservatives and Liberals are fighting over in Biblical interpretation. Typically Conservatives would fight for a strict literal exegesis while liberals would fight for interpreting the Biblical truths “behind these words”

    Throughout the US history many major decisions are made depending on what mood the Supreme Court is in, Broad Construction or Strict Construction. The biggest effect (some would say abuse) to the Broad Construction interpretation is the use of “Commerce Clause” to greatly increase Federal power over against State power.

  12. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 4, 2010 at 10:06 am

    “Again, the First Amendment is properly viewed not as a guarantee of rights, but a restriction on Federal power.”

    Interesting take, when, in my opinion, rights and restriction of power goes hand-in-hand. The framers have a basic understanding between Government Power and Personal Rights – you give up one to gain the other. You can have no Government Power and all Personal Rights, but that leads to Anarchy. You can have all Government Power and no Personal Rights which leads to dictatorship. The framers correctly recognize that Government Power are derived from Personal Rights, i.e., the people willingly give up some rights for the sake of greater good and peace in society. Now the trick is how to balance between the two and find the right balance.

    The First Amendment, by restricting (originally) Congressional power, gains the result of making sure the people’s rights are guaranteed to be unaffected by future power hungry politicians (which of course whether or not that worked is up to debate.)

  13. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 4, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Evan,

    While I agree the USA should not be a “Christian Country” in the sense that we start making laws banning all other non-Christian religion to be illegal, persecute non-Christians, make discriminating laws against non-Christians, etc. etc.

    However, as Christians seek to act as light and salt in the world (and in the society we reside in), it is inevitable for Christians values to become bedrock for the country. Francis Shaffer has many good writings on this and I will not reinvent the wheel (including how the USA is slowly losing its Christian identity – in which he meant its foundation of Christian values.)

    The worst thing Church and its members can do is agree with the agenda that check your religious beliefs at the door of public arenas and keep your faith private.

  14. Vern Crisler said,

    July 4, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Hi Reformed Sinner,

    I know that our lawless Supreme Court has incorporated the federal Bill of Rights to the States, but this was an usurpation of power (primarily started in 1949, Hugo Black having ignored the history of the 14th amendment). A lawless decision does not become lawful simply through the passage of time. See Raul Berger’s *Government by Judiciary* for a thorough critique of the incorporation idea.

  15. Deb W said,

    July 4, 2010 at 11:26 am

    On Van Til’s statement: “There is no such thing as a ‘brute fact.'”

    Either that is a ‘brute fact’ which makes it necessarily false by its own assertion.

    Or the statement is a statement of interpretation that is informed by a particular worldview.

    The only real question then becomes: Is it a Christian worldview?
    I don’t see how it is, based on this:
    Romans 1:18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

    The framers of the consitution presupposed “brute facts” in that we the people are endowed with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happyness. The founding fathers believed in facts that are outside of ourselves, our perspectives, and worldview. I think the Bible does too.

    All of this to say that I think there is validity in classical apologetics — especially when dealing with a topic like this one.
    Would anyone else want to discuss or help me understand this better?

  16. Evan said,

    July 4, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Reformed Sinner, I agree 100% that individual Christians should not voluntarily, or under compulsion, relinquish their beliefs when they enter the public sphere. I hope what I wrote didn’t imply that. I did express concern for the minister in his public office and the Church as an institution making political statements that go beyond the pure words of Scripture which, I think we all can agree, are pretty general. The beauty of the Bible as it speaks of government is that it allows us to live as Christians under a monarchy or in a democratic state or elsewhere without direct conflict of principle.

    Deb W, the point of Van Til’s statement is to make the observation that, as human beings, we interpret. I say, ‘Ah, the sun is shining’ and I have the presupposition that it does so because of the sovereign rule of the Lord sustaining it. Someone else says, ‘Ah, the sun is shining’ and he believes it does so because of the big bang and natural process that requires no God. Same fact, different conclusion.

  17. July 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    ”On Van Til’s statement: ‘There is no such thing as a ‘brute fact.’
    Either that is a ‘brute fact’ which makes it necessarily false by its own assertion.
    Or the statement is a statement of interpretation that is informed by a particular worldview.

    Hi Deb,

    Briefly – a brute fact is one that is not interpreted by God. By the nature of the case, Christians do not believe in brute facts. CVT was not purporting an esoteric view among Christians when he coined the phrase. When one makes the assertion that “There is no such thing as a ‘brute fact’”, one does not by virtue of that assertion contradict the assertion even though such an assertion, as you noted, is informed by or consistent with a particular worldview.

    The framers of the consitution presupposed “brute facts” in that we the people are endowed with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happyness.

    It is one thing to know something and quite another to justify that which is known. For instance, all men know apart from special revelation that it is wrong to murder. However, the defense of an epistemic justification of that knowledge is another matter. The latter requires special revelation. Moreover, general revelation instructs all men everywhere that all sin deserves the maximum penalty, eternal separation from God. However, in a fallen world not all sins are to be judged by magistrates in such a manner as to cast all men immediately before the judge of all creation through the penalty of temporal death. In other words, although all sin deserves immediate damnation, God would not have magistrates put to death men for all sins so that they might receive their just recompense upon their transgression. Our epistemic justification for that principle is found in special revelation.

    What sins are to be judged by magistrates? What should those sanctions be? How are we to objectively justify those first two questions? Natural law is impotent with respect to answering such questions. We need God’s spoken word, Scripture, to effectively argue these matters with any absolute authority. Special revelation guides humanity with a general equity that can only be verbally justified by God’s authority through an appeal to God’s word, as opposed to making a more subjective appeal to book-X, chapter-Y, paragraph-Z of natural law. Even if general revelation told us which sins magistrates should punish and what those punishments should be, God’s general revelation could never contradict his special revelation. Therefore, if general revelation has not changed over time and God’s two forms of revelation have never contradicted themselves, then why discard the Old Testament case laws? In fact, why not rely on the more explicit form of law, which is contained in the only form of revelation to which we may appeal to verbally justify laws in general and ethical laws in particular? Again, knowledge of sin and the justification of sin (and appropriate penalties for sin in a fallen world) are entirely separate matters. In the final analyses, natural law cannot possibly undermine the uesfuleness of the civil case laws lest (a) natural law has changed over time or (b) God’s two forms of revelation contradicted each other under Moses. Yet if natural law hasn’t changed and God did not contradict himself with his two forms of revelation, then OT special revelation in this regard is applicable today, and at the very least natural law is not potent enough to refute the thesis of which I speak. Certainly Christians do not want to say “legislate any law as long as it’s not according to the general equity of the civil case laws…” But, it does seem to me that natural law proponents are agreeable to almost any law other than that which can be justified by an appeal to the equity of the civil case laws first given to God’s ancient people.

    If you’re interested in this matter more, I might commend these musings to you: http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/search/label/Theonomy

    All of this to say that I think there is validity in classical apologetics — especially when dealing with a topic like this one.

    The conclusions drawn by “classical apologetics” have been shown over and over again to be logically fallacious – see Hume, Kant, Russell and contemporary philosophers. For a better understanding of CVT, please allow me to commend these to you:

    http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/search/label/TAG

    BR,

    Ron

  18. TurretinFan said,

    July 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Reformed Sinner:

    “Sorry Vern and TurrentinFan, but the First Amendment does apply at the State level today, courtesy of the Supreme Court. ”

    More precisely, the Fourteenth Amendment applies the limitations on the Federal government found in the First Amendment to state and local governments. Whether that is the right or wrong interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, I will note that I did not hear much hue and cry about the Supreme Court’s decision last week to similarly find that the 2nd Amendment applies to state and local governments (i.e. the 14th amendment applies the 2nd Amendment to state and local governments).

    The 14th Amendment is against “states rights,” but the winners of the war imposed it and the Supreme Court has broadly applied it.

    – TurretinFan

  19. Vern Crisler said,

    July 4, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    I did warn conservatives about the decision (at the American Spectator site). Conservatives should not cheer the use of fraudulent means to obtain a good result.

  20. Vern Crisler said,

    July 4, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    BTW, you really do need to read Berger’s book. He was a liberal democrat and he argued beyond doubt that the 14th amendment did not apply in mass to the States. It was a restricted incorporation. Anything beyond that is usurpation. I think the judges know very well that they have no real authority for their incorporationist decisions, but they are antinomians at heart, and will not voluntarily give up usurped power.

  21. Deb W said,

    July 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Hi Ron, Just a few thoughts…
    My understanding would be that “Murder is Wrong” is a brute fact. It is available knowledge, as you say to all men everywhere through general revelation. (and I would say that general revelation is an epistemological justification.)

    What we should do with and about that knowledge would then be, as you say, a matter of judgement and interpretation. At this point, the ideal solution would be informed by special revelation, by the Word. (Therefore, in application of this, I would always seek to elect only godly men as magistrates when given that opportunity.)

    Perhaps both of these statements are true:
    If something is right, it is because God says that is.
    AND
    When God says that a thing is right, it is actually, really is right (= a brute fact).

    Thank you!!

  22. Zrim said,

    July 5, 2010 at 11:11 am

    But, Deb, what happens when the pagan has political policies with which you agree and the godly man doesn’t? Now how do you vote?

    And if one really believes that general revelation is available knowledge to all men everywhere why do you suggest that special revelation needs to supplement it at some point? Is general revelation sufficient to norm general tasks or isn’t it?

  23. July 5, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Deb,

    I think you might be working under a definition of “brute fact” that is foreign to me.

    My understanding would be that “Murder is Wrong” is a brute fact.

    I would suggest “Murder is Wrong” is not a brute fact at all. First of all, philosophically speaking murder as a fact is not observed; it’s not a fact at all. Rather, to predicate murder is an attempt to provide a rational and moral interpretation of particulars that can be observed. Yet brute particulars defy such absolute, rational interpretation. For instance, what might be observed are discrete facts, such as a gun being held at one’s head, a trigger pulled, a loud noise and a man falling to the ground. (Even that is an oversimplification that does not intend to get into abstraction, “ultimate matter” and “being”.) For our purposes though, to adhere to brute facts and call a sequence of alleged brute particulars “murder” is to overlay an interpretation upon otherwise random particulars. In other words, if the sequence of facts is indeed “brute” – then to define it as “murder” (or “kindness”) is arbitrary and subjective. Please appreciate that to assert that Jones murdered Smith is to presuppose that facts may be rationally grouped under rational categories, and that laws of conduct and physics are indeed rational – yet none of those presuppositions comport with a philosophy of “brute” facts. That is why I say you’re working under a philosophy of fact that is foreign to me. Please appreciate that given brute (un-interpreted) facts there can be no objective correspondence between particulars. Brute facts are simply unrelated particulars that defy any relationship to other (unrelated) particulars. It’s not a Christian concept; it’s secular. Would-be autonomous man, who is finite, becomes the first interpreter of such alleged facts, which is why all unbelieving worldviews reduce to arbitrariness and ultimately to skepticism. Brute facts have no absolute interpretation and are not subject to absolute laws. That also means there is no true purpose for such facts. Accordingly, it is the unbelieving worldview that tries to apply subjective laws to lawless facts, not the Christian worldview. There is no doctrine of divine providence in a world of brute facts. Such a philosophy stands in stark contrast to a Reformed Christian worldview that acknowledges all facts as divinely decreed and providentially upheld.

    Now what might be confusing is that unbelievers who would profess “brute facts” cannot live that way. They operate according to the God they know – the God who they know upholds all things according to his power.

    It is available knowledge, as you say to all men everywhere through general revelation. (and I would say that general revelation is an epistemological justification.)

    As I stated before, there is a difference between knowing X and being able to justify one’s knowledge of X. For instance, all men everywhere know that it is wrong to kill innocent men. How can that knowledge be justified without an appeal to Scripture? I’m not saying that the one who doesn’t have the Scriptures is not justified in his knowledge, for indeed he is. His justification for his true belief that the taking of innocent life is wrong is due to God’s witness to him, for which man is culpable by nature. Notwithstanding, what is the man’s justification for what he knows by nature through conscience? What might he appeal to in order to justify what he indeed knows and is morally required to uphold?

    Blessings,

    Ron

  24. Deb W said,

    July 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Excellent, Ron!! Thank you. That cleared it up considerably in my scrambled thoughts :)
    I agree that I misunderstood what a ‘brute fact’ actually is.

    With regard to your follow-up question:
    “what is the man’s justification for what he knows by nature through conscience? What might he appeal to in order to justify what he indeed knows and is morally required to uphold?”

    I probably need to think more on this, but here a “guestimate” :)
    If he is under the effectual call of election leading toward regeneration and salvation, then he would have to appeal to God’s grace. Perhaps even most generic theists would make a claim toward that end – common grace.
    However, by and large, the unregenerate would probably try to jump thru many hoops in attempt to justify it, such as my ethics philosophy professor always did. He turned everything back to his favorite philosopher, Kant. I was able to point to the fact that even Kant’s strongest arguments (ie, the categorical imperative: do unto others as you would have them do unto you) are borrowed from Christian ethics in scripture.
    Those are my initial thoughts.

    Zrim,
    General revelation cannot save. It merely convicts and leaves mankind without excuse (see Romans 1)
    Apart from Special Revelation, mankind would be left condemned, knowing that they have sinned against their Creator.
    The gospel, salvation and God’s expressed will for His people come only through the Word of God.

  25. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 5, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Anybody have knowledge on how the European “Christian Political Parties” work? They seem to be everywhere in every nation, no doubt a product of the long Christendom history. Just curious on how they define themselves, their identity, and how they work in the political arena there. In many cases they are broad denominational (and even Protestants and Catholics work together in one party like in Holland.)

  26. July 5, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Hi Deb,

    Moving on from brute facts… I’ve given the rest of your post a bit of thought (even began a response) but I am not sure what might be the best way to proceed on this matter of knowledge and its justification. Given what you wrote I am left, I think, to take this subject in a few different directions because I’m not yet sure where you might be coming from. So, rather than get off on a rabbit trail that you might not find very useful, I’ll just lurk the thread to see if something takes a bit more form.

    Best wishes,

    Ron

  27. John Arnst said,

    July 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    As far as the Christian parties in Europe many of them come out of a Constantinian tradition but in a different context than Conservative Christianity in the United States. Protestants were often the working class, poorer people while Aristocracy was often Anglican, Roman Catholic or at least committed to the ideals of the Old Order. So in Europe conservative Protestantism actually took what we would call a turn to the political left. Their visions of Christian Societies and application of Old Testament Law as well as the Sermon on the Mount meant things like labour laws, welfare, universal health care, restricting capitalism. I know Conservative Bible believing Evangelicals in the UK who were happy to vote for Tony Blair and loathed Reagan and Bush.

    I would assert both sides are wrong. The whole Christian America discussion is based off of a false assumption. What is a so-called Christian Nation? Where do we get the idea from the Bible that there can be such a thing? OT Israel was a Theocracy, not a theocracy. We can’t have that again…well we do, it’s the church. We don’t have the power to declare things Holy…only God can do that. If the nation is Christian…it’s holy. If you mean something else by Christian……well, what exactly do you mean? A cultural underlay? Okay, but does that somehow Sacralize the nation? Where do you get this from the New Testament? The Old Testament has to be interpreted in light of the New. Is there a single Scripture in the New Testament that indicates we are to try and build Christian Nations, reform culture….anything like that? I would say no. In fact I would say there are numerous verses which indicate this was not some Paul or anyone in the New Testament was even remotely concerned with.

    All nations are part of the common grace order…they are not holy and cannot be made holy. They’re part of the restraint apparatus God has instituted. Is Natural Revelation based Natural Law sufficient?….absolutely not…but with Providence…absolutely yes. God can raise or lower the hand of restraint as He wills. What we pray for is a matrix in which the gospel can work.

    We don’t need an Integrationist view of Culture. The Bible was given to the people of God…to apply it to Common Grace nations and Common Grace culture is to profane it. We bring them the Kingdom…the City of Man cannot be transformed into the City of God.

    The whole Theonomy/Autonomy question is a false dilemma. It stems from Van Til’s quest for the comprehensive system…an abuse of Sola Scriptura. T David Gordon has written on this. There is no perfect political system…Moses is not the pattern it was typology. There’s no perfect economic system……we live in a fallen world. We need to live as Christians. It doesn’t matter if we live in Plutocratic America, Totalitarian China, Tsarist Russia, or the Sacralist Holy Roman Empire. It doesn’t affect the gospel.

    As far as the first ammendment……we should cherish it. Not because it’s Christian, but because it shows there is still some restraint….The Beastial power all governments seek has not been fully unleashed here. If that means sinners can continue acting like sinners…that’s fine. As long as I can keep witnessing to them.

    Great discussion. I’m enjoying it.

    Protoprotestant

  28. July 6, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    The whole Theonomy/Autonomy question is a false dilemma.

    John,

    I would imagine you would insert a third option to God’s law (theonomy) and man’s law (autonomy). Let me guess… “natural law”? :) If that is your other option, then you’ve missed a major point I’m afraid, as did the one who defended the natural law option at the conferance held at Greenville Seminary in March, 2000. Natural law is God’s law. Accordingly, any appeal to it would be theonomic in nature. There is no natural law that is not God’s. With that in mind, if God’s general revelation has not changed over time and never has contradicted his special revelation, which I’m sure is the case, then any contemporary appeal to the OT case laws cannot be at odds with natural law. Therefore, at the very least, you should not find it strange for men to desire to see, with God’s blessing, laws legislated that mirror the general equity of the civil case laws. In other words, if all we have is natural law to go by, then there can be no objection to theonomic laws and for men to desire God to bring them to pass through lawful means.

    At this juncture anti-theonomic Christians often start pointing to what they believe to be absurd OT case laws, which is when I usually ask how did the cross make God’s OT wisdom somehow now absurd. It’s been my experience that those who mock the current application of certain OT laws do so without being able to distinguish how they might have found those same laws most wise under Moses. Accordingly, I have always been left to conclude that their problem was with the intrinsic value of the law and not with the time of implementation.

    What also seems to be overlooked is that general revelation was never intended to inform mankind of the transgressions that are to fall under the jurisdiction of magistrates. The role of general revelation has always been complimentary to that of Scripture’s revelation (even before the fall), in that general revelation is “general” – for it convicts mankind of sin that violates the moral law; whereas special revelation, as contained in Scripture, informs us of the sins that are punishable and to what degree.

    “All nations are part of the common grace order…they are not holy and cannot be made holy. They’re part of the restraint apparatus God has instituted. Is Natural Revelation based Natural Law sufficient?….absolutely not…but with Providence…absolutely yes. God can raise or lower the hand of restraint as He wills. What we pray for is a matrix in which the gospel can work.

    That too was an un-argued assertion made at the 2000 conference. The simple response should have been: That God governs by providence has nothing to do with what men ought to desire to see come to pass in God’s providence. To pit providence against theonomy is like pitting providence against the Great Commission. Both the fulfillment of the wisdom of God’s equity under Moses’ laws and the fulfillment of the Great Commission are things Christians should desire that God bring to pass in his good providence.

    Blessings,

    Ron

  29. John A. said,

    July 6, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Ron,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’m going to interact with some of the things you wrote….
    My paragraphs start with >>>>

    John,
    I would imagine you would insert a third option to God’s law (theonomy) and man’s law (autonomy). Let me guess… “natural law”? :) If that is your other option, then you’ve missed a major point I’m afraid, as did the one who defended the natural law option at the conferance held at Greenville Seminary in March, 2000. Natural law is God’s law. Accordingly, any appeal to it would be theonomic in nature. There is no natural law that is not God’s.

    >>>>That would be a bit of an oversimplification. No one for a moment asserts that Natural Law isn’t from God. Rather it is Theonomy which totally misses the Covenant Nature of the Mosaic Law. It was given to the nation of Israel, not to the nations around them. It was on one level a typological anticipation of the coming Messiah. More could be said…but I’ll stop there for now.

    With that in mind, if God’s general revelation has not changed over time and never has contradicted his special revelation, which I’m sure is the case, then any contemporary appeal to the OT case laws cannot be at odds with natural law. Therefore, at the very least, you should not find it strange for men to desire to see, with God’s blessing, laws legislated that mirror the general equity of the civil case laws. In other words, if all we have is natural law to go by, then there can be no objection to theonomic laws and for men to desire God to bring them to pass through lawful means.

    >>>>Again this is to misunderstand the nature of the Law. If Edom were to suddenly declare…”We too are in Covenant with Jehovah we will take the laws of Moses and apply them in our land…”

    >>>>What would that look like? Well, they would either have to build a temple and erect a priesthood etc… which would be blatant sin. In fact the Lord rejects the worship of the pagan.

    >>>>Or they could merge with Israel….but then they would cease to be Edom…they would be Israel.

    >>>>The Law Covenant is a unity. You can’t slice and dice and take out civil codes and yet leave behind what is commonly called ceremonial. I reject the 3-fold Westminster construct, it’s an interpolation. But I’ll assume it for the sake of argument. The law in anticipation of Christ shows in the ceremonial laws a typology of redemption…Christ as Saviour. The penal codes show Christ as Judge. To take one and leave the other utterly destroys the picture. To argue the 3-fold division is really a 2-fold of Moral/Civil and ceremonial doesn’t solve the problem.

    >>>>Even the Decalogue in so far as the first table was not binding on the other nations….not in the sense of Covenant Law. All men everywhere ought to worship the Lord God alone and in the right way….but when you read the prophets condemning the nations…what is the standard? It’s not the Mosaic law. They’re not being condemned for failing to keep Sabbath, offer sacrifice, obey the dietary laws. What are they condemned for?…..murder, theft, fornication etc….things every society more or less has acknowledged as wrong since the dawn of time….more or less according to Providence.

    >>>>When the Jews were in exile in Babylon were they to try and change Babylon into a Mosaic Theocracy? No, they were to live in the city and pray for its peace.

    >>>>Where in the New Testament do we have any indication at all that the goal was to convert Rome into a Mosaic Theocracy?

    >>>>The only Theocracy today is the church..

    >>>>It’s not a question of Old Testament case laws being at odds with natural law……OT case laws are covenantal….and have nothing to do with non-covenantal nations.

    >>>>You’re assuming we need a philosophical-theological Super-structure to govern the world. We don’t. It’s a question driven by Kuyperian and/or Postmillenial assumptions. If those are wrong, much of Theonomy’s emphasis becomes moot. I think North said something to that end.

    At this juncture anti-theonomic Christians often start pointing to what they believe to be absurd OT case laws, which is when I usually ask how did the cross make God’s OT wisdom somehow now absurd. It’s been my experience that those who mock the current application of certain OT laws do so without being able to distinguish how they might have found those same laws most wise under Moses. Accordingly, I have always been left to conclude that their problem was with the intrinsic value of the law and not with the time of implementation.

    >>>>Yes, I know this argument well. Actually I would say that taking Covenant laws and applying them to non-covenantal, non-holy nations is actually profaning the Law. It destroys the picture of Christ presented to us in Moses…and actually this ends up making a mockery of it. Somehow we think if we can get unbelievers to act like Christians, it will be glorifying to God? Jeroboam tried something along those lines. Since he didn’t have the covenantal seat, he tried to create his own. Admittedly his motives were certainly corrupt, but the very attempt was an offense to God.

    >>>>I’m more baffled by the constant concern with transforming nations. Is this our home? We’re pilgrims here. Only the eschaton will bring about the Triumphalism you’re looking for.

    >>>>It is actually Theonomy which has a problem with the intrinsic value of the law…you’re profaning it. In addition, one of the core points of the book of Hebrews is that we are no longer under Levi and Aaron…under Moses. That Law was weak, it was mere shadow and type…..not just the ceremonial….the entire law covenant which encapsulates the entire Westminster 3-fold construct. We under the order of Melchisedec and by trying to bring back Moses it is akin to the Dispensationalists wanting to rebuild the Temple. It is tantamount to suggesting the Messiah hasn’t come. It is failing to recognize ALL the promises are affirmed and confirmed in Him. It’s wanting to go back to the weak and beggarly elements. When the NT takes Moses alone and contrasts him with Christ….the language is quite strong. It was an administration of death. Now, we understand there is also a unity with the Old Covenant period…but where’s the tie…Moses? No. Abraham. The book of Galatians in many ways directly contradicts the Theonomic thesis.

    >>>>So to come at the magistrate in the NT with Mosaic case laws in hand indicates a grave misunderstanding of the nature of the Law….and certainly the nature of the Kingdom….the Theocracy of the NT.

    What also seems to be overlooked is that general revelation was never intended to inform mankind of the transgressions that are to fall under the jurisdiction of magistrates. The role of general revelation has always been complimentary to that of Scripture’s revelation (even before the fall), in that general revelation is “general” – for it convicts mankind of sin that violates the moral law; whereas special revelation, as contained in Scripture, informs us of the sins that are punishable and to what degree.

    >>>>Hmmm… I thought you have to be born again to see the kingdom of God. I thought the natural man was in a state of enmity against God. General revelation has always been to hold man accountable and to provide a matrix of restraint and delay for the gospel to work. But you want the non-covenantal Magistrate to somehow take a portion of the Mosaic law and apply it to unregenerate people..?

    >>>>Since law is covenantal….obeying it and keeping is an act of worship. How can the unregenerate worship God? They hate him. In fact the sacrifices and prayers (worship) of the wicked is an abomination to Him. It would almost take a Pelagian view of man to think we can force men to worship God rightly in their hearts. At best this creates a veneer in society where everyone is Christian and yet almost no one is….consequently we then have to get them unsaved to get them saved. Constantinianism is a destroyer of the Biblical doctrine of the church and kingdom.

    >>>>Also this sets up a direct contradiction to the Great Commission. How can we make disciples when we’re killing them for disobeying God’s law?

    “All nations are part of the common grace order…they are not holy and cannot be made holy. They’re part of the restraint apparatus God has instituted. Is Natural Revelation based Natural Law sufficient?….absolutely not…but with Providence…absolutely yes. God can raise or lower the hand of restraint as He wills. What we pray for is a matrix in which the gospel can work.”

    That too was an un-argued assertion made at the 2000 conference. The simple response should have been: That God governs by providence has nothing to do with what men ought to desire to see come to pass in God’s providence.

    >>>>We’re told what to desire. We are to pray that we may lead quiet lives so we can work with our hands and be Christians. We are to pray for the peace of the City whether it be Babylon or Rome.

    To pit providence against theonomy is like pitting providence against the Great Commission. Both the fulfillment of the wisdom of God’s equity under Moses’ laws and the fulfillment of the Great Commission are things Christians should desire that God bring to pass in his good providence.

    >>>>No, what you desire is to transform the City of Man into the City of God. What happens is the City of God is deceived by the power the Beastial city offers…and the imagery very clearly portrayed to us in the Apocalypse is what comes about. This has been the story of Church history both pre- and post- Reformation.

    >>>>Sadly in the United States we’ve erected a Christo-Americanism and as this false facade began to crumble a couple of generations ago…Christians panicked and they’ve bought into a lot of arguments which are very appealing to the flesh….appealing to a lot of what I would call…down home inclinations…deep feelings about America and its place in the world. But the theology of Theonomic Reconstruction is built on a few basic assumptions. Like Dispensationalism it is a house of cards… and in the end steers the church in a fatal direction…into the wrong kingdom.

    Sorry,

    John
    http://www.proto-protestantism.blogspot.com

  30. John A. said,

    July 7, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Hello, I tried to post a response last night but it hasn’t appeared…….have I been banned? Or did it not go through?

    John A.

  31. July 7, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    John, I have little time these days for interacting with those who don’t distinguish assertions from arguments.

    So long.

    RD

  32. John A. said,

    July 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Sorry I upset you. I understand about being busy…getting involved in an active thread can get pretty intense.

    Actually we’re both using arguments and assertions. I make assertions like I think Theonomy appeals to people’s flesh and cultural anxiety. I knew you wouldn’t agree, but maybe someone else will see the connection I’m making.

    But I also am giving arguments like the Covenantal Nature of Law, Theonomy’s misunderstanding of what Theocracy is…the relationship between Old and New. I’m asking questions…like what’s driving you to ask some of your questions?

    All of us are mixing arguments and assertions. You did it in your piece as well. You seemed to indicate people who have a problem with Theonomy are mocking God’s law…. I assume you mean we’re letting our American values make judgments concerning the Bible? Something to that end? But then I made it clear in my answer, that’s not the case all. You made an assertion which no doubt is sometimes valid. There are people like that. But you can’t accuse me of reasoning in that manner.

    It’s a discussion board. We’re skimming issues and interacting. We could write books hundreds of pages long off some of the sentence fragments were positing here. That’s not the purpose of the exercise. We’re challenging, encouraging, and provoking…in a good way. Iron sharpens iron.

    I just wanted to throw some ideas that I thought might challenge people to think a little. There’s obviously people on this site who want to think about and apply the Word of God to His glory.

    And you answered me …thank you. And then I answered you, and apparently you’re done now. That’s fine. Maybe we can interact again some time.

    Cheers,

    John


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