Curious about the Rhino Room? Read our introduction here.
Should nations impose the civil law of God in society?
Nicolas Alford (Pastor, Grace Baptist Church of Taylors, South Carolina)
What makes this an interesting question is the word *should*. The question is not whether it is ‘obligatory’ in the theonomic sense, but rather, *would it be best.* Would the best possible nation be the nation that imposed the civil law of God? The answer is still no. This requires care, as we ought not take a low view of what God did in Israel in that era of redemptive history. But it was for that time, and those people! We are no longer under the tutor of the Old Covenant. God is not currently dealing with a particular physical nation, nor is he using a nation’s laws to demonstrate his holy justice against sin. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. Indeed, the best possible nation will be the consummated kingdom, where there will be no need for judicial law– for God’s Moral Law will never again be transgressed.
[See 1689 LBCF 19:5, 1 Corinthians 9:8-10 of an example of how the essential *goodness* of the civil law is still applicable today- through general equity and moral use. I put this in brackets so it doesn’t effect my 150 word count limit]
Samuel Barber (Pastoral Assistant, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)
While God’s civil law revealed in the Old Testament has much to offer, by way of guiding principles for all nations, it is unnecessary to say that it ought to be imposed in its entirety in society. God gave these specific, culturally informed laws to regulate theocratic Israel as his special people in order to keep them distinct and preserve them from the surrounding nations, so that the promised Seed/Messiah (Gen. 3:15) could be born.
For example, the 1689 LBC states, “To [the people of Israel] also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use (see 1 Cor. 9:8-10)” (19.4). Nations, then, should apply moral principles from these laws, but they need not impose the civil laws of the Old Testament in society across the board.
Wayne Brandow (Pastor, Bible Baptist Church of Galway, New York)
How this is answered depends on how words are defined. For example, “the civil law of God” to a Muslim would entail sharia law. The civil laws found in the Mosaic legislation are multi-faceted. Some relate to the moral law of God, showing us how it is to be applied, others relate to the unique status of Israel as a nation, who was for a time set apart from other nations.
I find it interesting that Christ was not political with respect to the Romans. His kingdom was not of this world. In both the Middle Ages and the Puritan New England establishment, a society ordered by the laws of God was attempted and failed. The “city on a hill” of Matthew 5:14 was not an earthly kingdom, but believers, as lights in the world. The kingdom is the church.
Olamide Bode Falase (Bible Study Leader and Lecturer, Crystal Vine Church of Port Harcourt, Nigeria)
In a world that has become rather pluralistic in its philosophical, religious and political outlook, it is easy to shrink back from speaking highly about the civil law of God, let alone suggest that it should be considered for imposition by governments in society. However, I am of the opinion that nations have a divine obligation to impose the civil law of God on society.
Sadly, due to space constraint I would try to give as simple a reason for my position as possible. After the Lord revealed the ten commandments (the moral law) on Sinai, there was (logically) a need to “flesh out” these commandments at both the community and individual level. Theologians say that the ten commandments can be divided into two, man’s relationship with his creator and man’s relationship with his fellow-man. These two dimensions of man’s relationships involve dynamics that needed to be carefully defined so as to line up “perfectly” with the letter and the spirit of the moral law in the form of civil and the religious laws.
In a nutshell, these civil laws represented the best possible rules of engagement for human socio-political interaction within any given society.
Nicholas Kennicott (Pastor, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)
It’s helpful to think of the moral law (the 10 commandments) as foundational and applicable to all men at all times and places, whether it is believed and submit to or not. From the moral foundation, I understand the civil law of the Old Covenant to be case law, working out the implications of the moral law in the theocratic Kingdom of Israel. That being said, I believe every nation is responsible to make its own case law, therefore the civil law of the Old Covenant is not to be imposed on civil societies today. However, knowing that the moral law of God is etched on the hearts of every man, there will almost always be something of the 10 commandments visible in a nation’s governance even though men and women suppress the truth in unrighteousness (and look no further than most federal governments to see this play out).
Chris Marley (Pastor, Miller Valley Baptist Church of Miller Valley, Arizona)
Nope. Massive rewrites are necessary for two major reasons. Some of the judicial law is more severe than is necessary for our culture because the children of Israel were not functioning as an ordinary nation. They were an exemplary theocracy and therefore had severe requirements to set them apart. There are other laws that are seemingly overly lenient for our culture which results from the cultural context. What is too lenient for us was strikingly severe in the Ancient Near East. The 2nd LBC calls its usefulness “general equity,” and I wholeheartedly agree. It gives us concepts of what to address in law, but these things have to be qualified and assessed by Christian prudence and light of nature. Personally, I think Christians want Mosaic Judicial Law because they think it will make the world less bent, less broken, but we have to wait for glory.
Christopher Okogwu (Church Plant Coordinator in Abuja, Nigeria)
The historic reformed theological position on the civil and ceremonial law aspects of God’s law is such that we distinguish between the abrogation of the ceremonial law and the expiration of the civil law (in that it was specifically given to national Israel for its exercise) in Christ’s fulfillment of the law of God. However, we also keep in view the fact that, for example, core principles of justice and equity (as expressive of God’s attributes), which the civil law also sought to promote in societal governance, continue in the new covenant and are certainly applicable in/to civil government (cf. Romans 13 as an example of this).
There remains an abiding connection between the civil law of God and the civil magistrate of any given nation/society, not to be imposed in a theocratic sense, but rather as being God’s ordained instituted authority in society to reward or bring retribution in justly ruling over the people of a nation.
Douglas Van Dorn (Pastor, Reformed Baptist Church of Northern Colorado)
Following very old Christian tradition, Reformed Baptists divide the law into three parts: moral, civil, and ceremonial. Not to open a huge can of worms, but thanks to my pastor friend Tony Jackson, I have come to view civil and ceremonial law as “case law. That is, they are the moral law applied to a nation’s civil and religious contexts (a “nation” can include the church in a spiritual though not geographic context). Very roughly, we might think of civil law as specific applications of the Second Table (Commandments 5-10).
Because they are contextualized in each culture, no society can 1. escape civil law, 2. will have the same civil law. Civil laws should, in my opinion, be based in some kind of objective moral-law principle. When they aren’t, they are arbitrary and, perhaps, unjust. Because all people have the moral law written on their hearts, it is inevitable that civilizations can not completely avoid having “the civil law of God imposed” on society. But this imposition is really just the necessary outcome of living in God’s world. At the same time, culture has changed so dramatically in 3,000+ years that to impose antiquated OT civil laws would be, in many instances, a complete waste of time. The moral principles will remain, but the “case law” will often look different.