Christian Social Justice or Tyranny? Part Two
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Apr 14
Concern for social justice is part of the biblical teaching in regard to a full-orbed understanding of the gospel and the Christian's influence in the world through proclamation of that gospel. God is concerned for the salvation of souls, and indeed the plight of human beings in this life. For example, for one to affirm the gospel and the critical importance of eternal life, one must also understand and affirm that life is important to God, which means that God is concerned with human life and its sanctity here and now. An attack on a human being is an attack on the image of God in man (Gen. 9:6). Because of the nature of such an attack, God is concerned with social justice which means that we should be concerned as well.
Further, our concern and how to go about doing something about that concern is grounded in the objective truth of Scripture. We don't have the luxury of adopting our favorite philosopher and his/her ideas on the subject. We don’t have the privilege of formulating our brand of so-called natural law. Nor do we have the right to twist the Scriptures to meet our sub-cultural predisposition to a broadly conservative social agenda or expression of hatred toward that with which we are or groups with whom we are angry. In other words, under the New Covenant, we don’t have the right to hate homosexuals. We must say that homosexuality is sin and the homosexual must come to Christ or remain condemned. But we don't have the right to hate them simply because we were raised to do so. We don't have the right to be an Eric Rudolph and blow things or people up in our own declaration of justice. Nor do we have the right to in effect do the same through state power, even though it may be the law of the land. Doctors don't have the right before God to abort babies even though they have a legal right to do so in this land. Simply because one has the right does not make it right.
How critical it is then that we influence our culture with the gospel and the principles of justice that flow from it. For example, under the Old Covenant, God's law called for the death penalty in a number of areas. Children who struck or cursed either one of their parents, for example, were to be put to death (Ex. 21:15; 17). However, no such penalty exists under the New Covenant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the New Covenant is for the church, not a geo-political nation state. The Old Covenant with its civil law was for the nation of Israel. That Covenant is not in force in regard to other nations nor is it in force in regard to the church. We may glean principles for civil government from that covenant. But to transfer the Old Covenant wholesale to the United States government is to be unbiblical. It is to be unbiblical because that covenant does not apply to the United States, nor does that covenant even apply to the church.
To affirm the above does not mean that Christians do not affirm and adhere to God's law nor does that mean we do not affirm the rule of law. It means that the law has changed. For the Theonomist who objects to that point, we offer two brief arguments in support. First, do Christian parents put their children to death? If not, the point has been made, at lest in practice. We do not adhere to the law set forth in Ex. 21:15-17. However, so that others may know why we do not practice such, our practice is grounded in the New Covenant. Second, in Heb 7:12 we read, "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." If one wants to argue with Scripture, he has that prerogative in a practical sense, but he has no right before God to do such.
The point is that Christians live under a different covenant than ancient Israel and we have been commissioned to influence our culture through gospel proclamation and the proclamation of its attending principles. As the gospel permeates a culture, a culture will increasingly honor God. It is not in keeping with the gospel to legislate death for those who have not yet submitted to that gospel. It is in keeping with the gospel to pray and witness. "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence (Jn. 18:36)." Paul said, "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5)." Christian influence comes through spiritual means as we change the minds of people through prayer and gospel proclamation. Christian influence does not come through the sword, though many Christians have taught and done otherwise.
Men like R.J. Rushdoony teach that the details of the Old Covenant are to be used in bringing the socio-political order under the dominion of Christ. However, John Zens noted that such a use of the Old Covenant is contrary to the function the Lord Jesus Christ gave it. The apostolic preaching of the New Testament era demonstrates that the exhaustive details of the Old Covenant law belong to a past age and are designated by Paul as being among the weak and beggarly elements of the world (Gal. 4:9). How can we force non-Christians to live like Christians in a moral sense (i.e. observe the Sabbath for example)? Not only is it impossible for them to do such because they do not have the Spirit of God (and therefore we would be killing them off at breakneck speed), but to force them to live in such a way would only produce a nation of hypocrites who were content to obey the law and think of themselves as right with God. Do we really want to go back to forcing men to go to church by the power of the state? We must see men changed inwardly and not merely outwardly.
Theonomist Kevin Craig maintains that "the character of civil government should be explicitly Christian, and non-Christians should act like Christians, even if they don't think like Christians." Two questions are raised here: why and how? Why should non-
Christians act like Christians: to seal them in their self-righteous deception so they might go to Hell? Further, how can non-Christians act like Christians when they are not under the dominion of grace (Romans 6-7)? Moreover, how does forcing Christians to act like Christians even if they don't think like Christians square with our mandate to engage in a warfare that casts down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and brings every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5)? Isn't our job to get people to think like Christians and not merely act like Christians?
We're not saying that we should to do away with law in the land. Nor are we saying we want to do away with the biblical basis of law or New Testament Christian influence in government. On the contrary, we must have Christian influence in government even as the Framers did particularly as it relates to issues of life, liberty, property, and the Golden Rule to anchor actions in civil society. But, a vast difference exists between law that protects us from one another and legislation that seeks to put to death those who don't adhere to the ceremonial law of Old Covenant, Theocratic Israel. For example, James Jordan draws a picture of his view of a Christian nation when he says, "I suggest that in a Christian society...the death penalty is still appropriate for he crime of worshipping another god on the Lord's Day." Does that statement sound Christian to you? Does that statement square with the biblical notion of God-granted and unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
Walter Williams commented, "If social justice has any operational meaning at all, it means that there is a system of governance where the purpose of laws is to prevent one person from violating another person's right to acquire, keep and dispose of property in any manner so long as he doesn't violate another's simultaneously held rights. In other words, laws should be written to prevent force and fraud. Laws that force one person to serve the purposes of another are immoral. This value, expressed as unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in our Declaration of Independence, guided the Framers in the writing of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Today, our government has become increasingly destructive of the ends it was created to serve. Americans have become increasingly hostile and alien to the liberties envisioned by the Framers. We have disregarded the inscription that graces the wall at the U.S. Department of Justice warning, 'Where the law ends tyranny begins.'" As far as I know, Williams is not a Christian. Yet, he grasps the biblical ground upon which our forefathers declared independence and framed the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Why is it that our Christian brothers of the theonomic persuasion cannot do the same? Obviously, it's a misunderstanding and misapplication of the Old Covenant.
In our quest for liberty from a biblical perspective, we must maintain the Christian spirit of love and grace as set forth by the Lord Jesus Himself. Does this spirit ring in the words of David Chilton when he says, that "an excellent addition to the Christian school curriculum would be a class on the use of firearms...in a world of sin, we will never have peace so long as the only ones who have the artillery are the bad guys...It would be a powerful restraint on the wrath of the ungodly if even the youngsters in every Covenant home were widely known to be skilled in the use of weapons, willing and able to blow the belt buckles off any prospective marauder." While we affirm the right to bear arms and defend one's home and family, somehow the spirit of Christ did not come through in those comments related to "[blowing] the belt buckles" off of individuals. There is a difference between self-defense and sadistic machismo. Too many are guilty of exalting the secular at the expense of the spiritual.
Bewilderingly, Christian historian K.S. Latourette stated, "However incompatible the spirit of Jesus and armed force may be...as a matter of plain history the latter has often made it possible for the former to survive. It was the temporal sword that made Christianity a world religion...Where Christianity failed to gain or retain the backing of state power, it achieved neither a wide nor a permanent hold." What? Can we affirm something that is incompatible with the spirit of Jesus? Is this not tyranny of the worst kind though labeled Christian? As Zens noted, a Christianity that needs the sword to maintain its permanence is not really Christianity. A Christianity that promises peace only when the good guys have the artillery is not really Christianity either.
Again, God judges nations that are oppressive to the widows and the fatherless; nations that propagate man's inhumanity to man; and nations that engage in tyranny and plunder. Remember, God's word, "the perfect law of liberty (Jas. 1:25)" says, "pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (Jas. 1:27)." May the gospel of Jesus Christ reign in our land with its attendant blessings of morality, peace, joy, and social justice, as opposed to the social injustice and anti-gospel spirit of any form of tyranny, including that of Christian theonomy.
[Scroll down for part one]