By Jay Rogers
Published May 2, 2008
Theonomy assumes the system of theology known as covenantalism.
Covenantalism and the Law of God are the obvious foundations of Christian social order. The ideas of covenantalism and theonomy stand in stark contrast to dispensationalism and antinomianism.
Covenant theology laid the groundwork for a political theory which holds that state and all society came into being as a contract on the basis of God’s eternal covenant. Hence, the moral law of God must be the foundation for a society’s laws and government.
My opponent is driven to divide the covenants and argue that the Old Covenant has passed away in its applicability to the faith of the New Covenant believer — therefore he neglects the question as to whether civil law is informed by God’s commandments of scripture. In my view, the civil application is the crux of the question: Is theonomy exegetically sound? Instead of addressing the focus of theonomy — the application of God’s Law to human government — he has spent all his space so far attacking covenantalism.
Be that as it may. Theonomy entails covenantalism. Opponents of theonomy may rail against the Old Covenant. They may claim that the Old Testament Law has passed away. However, dispensationalists ought to bring their pale arguments against the great stalwarts of the faith who have championed covenantalism. For their argument is not against Rushdoony, Bahnsen or North. Their argument is against Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, Knox, Owen, Hodge and a host of great Christian thinkers who understood the abiding authority of the Law of God in the life of the believer.
My opponent has tried to refute theonomy by trashing covenantalism. The dispensationalist view is that the Law has passed away. Yet Jesus said the Law will never pass away (Mat. 5:17,18). Furthermore, Paul quoted the Law of Moses as having abiding authority in the life of the New Covenant believer (1 Cor. 9:8,9).
My opponent speaks of my evasion of his arguments. The reader will see that in round two I addressed as many of his objections as space allowed. Yet if I were to defend against his every point, and only against his trashing of the Old Covenant, I would be evading the more specific question I am to defend.
I do not want to stray too far from the specific question of theonomy. However, I will here give an explanation of how covenantalism and theonomy are related. I will then briefly refute what I consider to be my opponent’s main objection: that the “new law of love” has nullified the Law of the Old Covenant.
“Covenantal” or “federal” theology maintains that God operates through covenants, or eternally binding legal agreements, with His people in all ages. The Old and New Covenants are God’s basis for governing the universe. There is no division between the Covenants. The New Covenant is built firmly on the foundation of the Old Covenant.
This presupposes that the Law has not been abolished: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).
God is not a dispensational, evolving, developing God; He is a God that never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Covenantalism stands in stark opposition to the notion of antinomianism. Covenantalism begins with the assumption that the believer is no longer condemned by the law but justified by faith. But unlike antinomianism, covenantalism answers the obvious question: “Once a man is saved, is he restored to a position of Law keeping or not?” The answer: “Yes! Although the Law can never help a man do this!”
“God sent his own Son in the likeness of flesh and condemned sin in the flesh that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:4).
The work of the cross of the New Covenant is the destruction of “sin in the flesh.” Once the propensity to sin is destroyed, sin is gone and the Law no longer condemns us. The Law is not primarily for the regenerated believer, but for the unbeliever to reveal his sin. However, this does not mean that the Covenant of the Law has passed away.
The Bible teaches us that the Law is eternally binding as the standard of sanctification for both the individual and society. The Reformers and the Puritans believed that the Church and the kingdom of God is subject to God’s laws. In turn, it is the Church’s mandate to advance the kingdom of God on earth. This includes legislating the moral law of God in the nations.
This concept is known as “theonomy” which means literally: “God’s Law.”
Theonomy is the belief that the moral laws of the Old Testament are still binding in the New Testament age. God’s Law is a standard for personal, family, ecclesiastical and civil righteousness. Civil governments are obligated to follow the moral laws outlined in the Bible. Moral laws, such as the Ten Commandments, are still the ethical standards for governing individuals and society.
Civil governments are obligated to follow God’s moral laws. If they are not, then Christians have no real standard by which to influence legislation. There is no other standard besides the moral law of God except democratic pluralism: What the majority thinks is right in their own eyes. Democratic pluralism has led us to our current sorry state of affairs.
The Law itself is holy and good; but it cannot make anyone, Jew or Gentile, holy or spiritual. As long as a man is carnal, the Law spells death. It is only through grace that we fulfill the Law. Furthermore, no system of law can ever sanctify a society. However, when society’s laws are based on God’s Law, they can serve to teach an entire civilization about the character of God and lead some to salvation. The moral law of God also serves as the standard of sanctification. The Law has an important use under the New Covenant.
Theonomists are not alone in affirming the continuity of the two covenants. Theonomy entails covenantalism. However, theonomy is much more specific than the Reformed consensus that the Old Covenant Law is still binding on the life of the individual believer. Theonomy is the application of the Law of God — both the New Covenant and Old Covenant Law — to human government.
Therefore I will forego any further argument defending covenantalism and foray into the question at hand — Is theonomy exegetically sound? This question must by definition refer specifically to the basis of human government. Is it God, or man, who established all government?
Theonomy is an affirmation and obedience to God’s Law. Theonomy will ensure the blessings of God towards a people who are obedient to Him. Theonomy is the modern day application of Deuteronomy 28 and 29 to all of society. A people whose ethical foundations are the Law of God are promised the blessings of God. Theonomy is the Lordship of Jesus Christ applied to government.
When theonomists speak of government, we mean all human government — individual, family, church and civil. Most Christian will readily agree that the Lordship of Jesus Christ speaks to the individual, family and church spheres of government. Here there is little controversy with theonomy. The main point of contention is with the idea that biblical law is the blueprint for civil government.
From the New Testament alone we see clearly that God established civil government. Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 refers God’s people to pray for and obey those civil rulers which are God’s ministers.
Scripture is clear on this fact: all human government — civil, ecclesiastical and familial — originated with God. God established law and all human government. Law is the will of the sovereign for his subjects. Law represents the god of a particular society. Whose law you have, He is your god. So if the civil magistrate makes our laws, then he is our god. As Christians we cannot believe that. We must instead look to the one true Lord God to define those governing ordinances which will rule our lives.
For centuries, God’s Law has functioned wherever God’s people have been, whether in Israel or in Christendom. This is a new and modern idea that have in Christian nations: that the state can be the author of law.
We can have only two kinds of law: theonomy (God’s Law) or autonomy (self-law.) Autonomy leads to anarchy and this is what we are getting increasingly in our western style “free societies.” Theonomy leads to peace, prosperity and God’s blessings on a nation.
God’s Law is eternal and unchanging. The theonomic view is to always affirm that the Law of God is the standard for reforming civil law whenever the laws of man and the Law of God are in conflict. We look to all of scripture — from Genesis to Revelation — to give us God’s standard. For example, abortion will always be illegal in the sight of God, no matter what the courts or civil government will rule. Abortion will always be murder.
We must accept this premise: law and civil government originate with God and not man. We must affirm that God’s Law is the unchanging standard for all of civil legislation.
THE MAIN OBJECTION: A “NEW” COMMANDMENT?
My opponent bases most of his argument in round two on the claim that Jesus instituted a new law of love. Therefore, he argues, the Old Law has passed. Yet in Matthew 22:35-41, Jesus is quoting the law of Moses.
“Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all This is the first and great commandment.”
Jesus is here quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Jesus is here quoting Leviticus 19:18.
Jesus clearly affirms the abiding validity of the Law when He says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This “new law of love” is not a new law at all, but a law the Hebrew people had since the time of Moses. Jesus gave this greatest commandment, not in the time of His incarnation as a man on earth, but when He gave the Law of God to the Hebrews in the time of Moses.
“And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it” (2 John 1:5-6).
John writes that love is not a new commandment, but one which was from the beginning. The question is: “The beginning of what?”
My opponent claims that the “beginning” was when Jesus instituted this new law of love. Yet Jesus is quoting the Law of God given by Moses. John writes that love is defined by walking after the commandments of God. These commandments are not only the two commandments of love quoted by Jesus, but all the commandments in all of God’s Word.
|ROUND||Jay Rogers||Brad Finkbeiner|
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