The Rhino Room|God’s Civil Law

Rhino Room

Rhino Room

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.

Why I Love Politics – And Why I Won’t Preach Them From the Pulpit

Christian Living, Culture, Preaching, The Church

When it comes to politics and political systems (probably much to the chagrin of many of my friends and family), I have a lot of opinions. Assuredly, they may not be your opinions, and I don’t expect you to care as much about the rise to power and fall of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia/Yugoslavia in the late 90’s as I do (I wrote a paper on him in my Comparative Politics class in college). In 2000 as an undergraduate student at the University of New Mexico, my major was Political Science, particularly focused on international political ideology. I can assure you, the textbooks aren’t much more exciting than the subject matter sounds. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it – I wanted to know why societies function the way they do, what political leaders believe, and how they rise to power. I was interested in learning if there’s a significant difference between Communism, Marxism, and Fascism. And of course, I was very interested in what really goes on in the American political system and whether or not the United States is really a government by the people, for the people. In my mind, I was a future politician in the making: I loved politics and working with political campaigns, had a job with an Albuquerque law firm working on cases at the federal level, and was on the cusp of beginning a season of military service.

As I consider my past, I thank God that He had other plans for my life. I’m not sure a lot of parents feel warm and fuzzy when their child reports that their greatest ambition in life is to become a politician. I was that kid. But having a keen eye on the political process, studying the progression of policies and parties, and serving in the military at the launch of two different wars has a way of alerting a young man to the reality that ideological principles of governmental leaders really do have consequences that effect the everyday lives of real people. I may never meet the President, his staff, or any members of congress, but what they do each day has a significant impact on the future for me, my family, and the church I pastor.

I know most people won’t care about politics as much as I do, and I’m ok with that. Whether or not you know the United States is a constitutional republic and not a democracy isn’t really all that important (Did you know the founders of the United States feared democracy as much as a monarchy?). I don’t think Americans should have to pass some basic exam to prove their level of political knowledge before voting – such ideas fly in the face of the political ideology upon which the nation was founded. And yet, I do wish more Americans knew and cared about the issues that shape our nation at least to the point of being able to make informed decisions as to who they should vote for, even if they can’t or don’t want to have an engaging conversation on those issues.

As a Christian and a pastor, the politics of the country I am in take on another level of meaning that non-Christian people don’t generally pay much attention to. As the United States Government has evolved since its founding, more and more moral issues have become issues of policy on which the Church should express the truth. Additionally, policy decisions made in Washington D.C. have a significant impact on how each local church is able to function in its community. We are called to be culture shapers and makers, and we have to utilize the means at our disposal to do so. In a day when the moral repugnance of genocide via abortion, homosexual union, and euthanasia are front and center on the political stage, the Church has something to say because God has something to say. But how shall we say it?

I find it unfortunate that many pastors will preach politics from the pulpit, and in fact there is currently a movement afoot to get pastors to forego the preaching of their regularly scheduled sermon and instead encourage the people of God to support a political agenda in favor of specific political candidates. And while the move to do so might be well intentioned, it’s a pulpit crime (in the words of Dr. James White) worthy of rebuke. While the church has a duty to speak clearly with regards to moral issues like the sanctity of life and marriage, she does not have a biblical commission to promote individuals or parties for political office in the gathering of God’s people for worship.

Lord’s Day worship and the gathering of the Saints is just that – a reprieve from the cares and concerns of the world, and a time and a place for unity, peace, shared joy, and nourishment for the soul in the proper administration of the Word and Sacraments. A worship service is not a political rally nor a platform to promote the ideas of one political party over another, but rather a time and a place to focus our hearts and minds on being conformed more and more to Christ Jesus, our eternal Lord and Savior. I happen to believe that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to teach, reprove, correct, and train God’s people in righteousness that they may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Part of that equipping is developing a moral conscience in the people of God that informs their decision making. Christian people should know that abortion and euthanasia are murder and homosexual acts are an abomination to God. What Christian people don’t need is their pastor binding their conscience to a specific political candidate or party from the pulpit where the pronouncement is not to be “Thus sayeth your pastor,” but rather, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” God has not revealed in His Word the appropriate political voice for American Christians in the 21st Century to rally around, therefore any pronouncement of such from the pulpit is outside the bounds of the proper preaching of God’s Word.

I trust Christian people to make good choices when their conscience is formed by the Word of God. I know there are Christian people who are much more godly and holy than I, and yet express political views different than mine. While we are working from the same biblical foundation, so long as we are not saying yes to sin, we ought to lovingly submit to the reality that our Holy Spirit driven consciences will often drive us in somewhat different directions (and yes, somewhat is a modifier in this sentence, because in the grand scope, our underlying principles should bring about somewhat similar results). Yes, have good and passionate political debate – know the issues, seek to convince others of your position, and appeal to the Scriptures for your conclusions. But please don’t make the foolish statement that Jesus was either a Republican or a Democrat, that any political candidate is the greatest thing for America, or that we will be without hope if someone other than who we vote for wins a political office.

The Sovereign God of the universe has appointed the governing authorities of the world. Be in subjection to those who are appointed over you, for your good (Romans 13:1-7). Pray for our leaders, for it is pleasing to God (1 Timothy 2:1-3). And by all means, seek to live at peace with brothers and sisters in Christ and do not be at enmity over the political issues of the day. Issues will come and go, but we will dwell together as sons and daughters of God for all eternity. We may disagree and we may enjoy debating why, but we must remember that whoever is elected is God’s appointed authority, and not because others simply did not vote the way we told them they should. Remember, “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Trust in God’s sovereignty and His care for His people – after all, He’s on our side, so who can be against us (Romans 8)? Now that will preach!

(By: Nick Kennicott)