|THEONOMY: WHAT IT IS; WHAT IT IS NOT
By Pastor T. Mark Duncan
March 29, 2000
- AN APPEAL TO ALL CHRISTIANS WHO LOVE THE BIBLE
There has been much discussion in the Evangelical and Reformed Christian community and within the fellowship of local Churches in recent years concerning the doctrinal issue popularly known as "theonomy." Sadly, much of the discussion about theonomy has been in some cases distorted and in other cases, slanderous. Dealing with theological issues among professing Christians in this way is hardly helpful, and, unfortunately, dangerously divisive. Whatever side a believer takes in any issue, Christian charity demands that he accurately portray the issue in question, lest he be guilty of erecting a straw man in order to tear him down. Charity also demands that we think the best of our brethren until the facts clearly prove otherwise. As Christians, we dare not judge the heart while we understand that we have a duty to judge words and actions (John 7:24). As a "theonomist" I am constantly amazed that many Christians, some of whom are otherwise theologically sound, are given to fits of irrational anger when someone dares make the claim that the principles of justice found in Old Testament Israel, should be applied by the Civil Magistrate today. Even if there is difference on this issue, it is my hope that the opponent of theonomy would see that the theonomist is at least attempting to be faithful to the whole counsel of God in seeking to apply the entire word of God to every area of life. Many Christians treat Theonomists as if they are the worst kind of enemy. God wrote these laws to which Theonomists seek to be faithful, Theonomists did not make them up.
- DEFINITION AND FOUNDATION OF THEONOMY
When discussing any theological issue, it is critical that the appropriate terms be carefully defined. The word "theonomy" simply means "God's Law." It is a compound of two Greek words; "theos", meaning God; and "nomos", meaning law. As the term is popularly employed today, "theonomy" pertains to the question of whether or not the Civil Statutes God gave to Old Testament Israel should be applied by the Civil Magistrate of all times and all places.
It is remarkable that "theonomy" is so detested today. This is hardly the biblical attitude toward God's law. Christians ought echo with David as he writes in the 119th psalm: "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (vs. 97). In Psalm 119:174, David writes: "I long for Your salvation, O Lord,
And Your law is my delight." In fact, the Bible connects the law of God with the salvation of the soul. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David writes in Ps. 19:7 "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." (So much for the law vs. grace false dichotomy). Literally hundreds of similar verses in the Old Testament could be cited to support the contention that God's law is good and should be the delight of all believers. The New Testament reaffirms the beauty and goodness of God's law. In Romans 7:12, Paul writes: "Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good." James, too, is concerned that believers follow God's law: "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25). Indeed, Christians agree (hopefully) that God's revealed will is that His people not sin (I John 2:1), yet sin is defined in terms of God's law. The Bible unequivocally declares: "Sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4). Thus, Jesus defines love for Him in this objective way: "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). What did Jesus teach? He taught the whole Old Testament.
Some have suggested that New Covenant faith nullifies the Old Testament law. This is not so. Paul unequivocally declares: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law." Far from abrogating the law, faith in Christ actually establishes the continuing validity of the law as God's rule for believers!
The foundational principle of Theonomy is the fact that God's law is not arbitrary. Biblical Law flows out of the unchanging nature of God. A law given by God cannot be unjust or unwise any more than our perfect God can be unjust or unwise.
We give God praise that His nature is unchangeable (Mal. 3:6). Because of this truth, we can count on God never changing the way of salvation. All Christians, therefore, take comfort in the immutability of God. God will not change His mind about saving us. But if God is indeed immutable with regard to His promises of salvation, then why should Christians believe that His standards of justice change? The fact is, Scripture teaches that God's standards of justice do not change (Ps. 89:34; Ps. 111:7,8; Isa. 51:4-8). If God's nature does not change, then neither do His standards of right and wrong. Man has no right to determine truth, justice, right and wrong or what constitutes sin. Indeed, this is the nature of Satan's temptation and Adam's first sin. "You shall be as God, knowing (determining) good and evil" (Gen. 3:5).
III. THEONOMY DOES NOT TEACH SALVATION BY LAW KEEPING
- At times, opponents of theonomy make the unsubstantiated and uncharitable claim that the theonomic position teaches salvation by law keeping. Nothing can be further from the truth. I challenge any opponent of theonomy to find any theonomist who advocates salvation by works of the law. Indeed, Theonomists in the strongest of terms affirm the biblical truth that by the works of the law no flesh will be justified (Rom. 3:20). Theonomists strongly affirm that God grants salvation solely by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8-10). Salvation by grace is NOT inconsistent with the theonomic position and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong on this point.
IV. THEONOMISTS LOVE, BELIEVE, AND ATTEMPT TO BE FAITHFUL TO THE ENTIRE BIBLE
Although I have already demonstrated that both testaments confirm the continuing validity of the law of God, I do understand that many contemporary Presbyterians have been influenced by a theological system known as dispensationalism.
Dispensational theology is ever changing and encompasses a wide assortment of views, but basic to dispensationalism is the thought that the Old Testament was for Israel and therefore no longer applies in the Church age, other than as historical information. This view relegates the Old Testament to, as one theologian put it, "God's Word Emeritus."
This view is, to put it mildly, full of serious errors.
Dispensationalism suggests that some (the Church) are saved by Christ while others (Israel) are saved by performing the works of the law. This is logically and theologically absurd. To suggest that a man, fallen in Adam, a sinner by nature and by choice, could save himself by law keeping is to posit that the work of Christ is not absolutely necessary. Since the Fall, salvation has always been by grace through faith. Old Testament saints were saved by faith in Christ, just as we are today (Gen. 15:6). In the Old Covenant, salvation was by believing in a Savior to come. In the New Covenant, salvation is by believing in a Savior who has come. Whether Old or New Covenants, salvation has always been through the cross of Christ.
The New Testament itself clearly teaches the continuing validity of the Old Testament Scriptures. The locus classicus of our precious doctrine of Sola Scriptura is found in II Tim. 3:16,17 "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God might be adequate, equipped for every good work." What Scriptures are being described by the apostle? The Old Testament of course! The New Testament had not yet been compiled and recognized by the Church as canonical. It is important also to recognize the scope of II Tim. 3:16,17. The purpose of Scripture is not only to show us how to be saved, but to equip us for every good work. Who would dare claim that the work of the civil magistrate is somehow exempt from this universal idea? The Bible instructs us how to act wisely in every human endeavor.
V. GOD'S LAW IS UNIVERSALLY BINDING. IT WAS NOT GIVEN ONLY TO ISRAEL.
It is often claimed that much of the Old Testament law was given to Israel only and is thus unique to Israel. The Bible does not teach this. The law is universally binding on all men, since all men are created by God and are obligated to obey God. All men will stand before the Judgment of God and will be judged on the basis of His law. The Bible is clear to teach that men outside the official theocracy of Israel knew the law that would later be written by Moses.
1. Law regarding sacrifice.
a. Abel (Gen. 4:4,5).
b. Noah (Gen. 8:20).
2. Clean and unclean animals (Gen. 7:2).
3. Tithes (Gen. 14:20).
4. Restitution. Jacob protests to Laban in Gen. 31:39. Laban did not follow the law that Moses would later write in Ex. 22:13).
5. The Sabbath (Gen. 2:2,3).
The Bible is also clear to teach that the nations surrounding Israel were obligated to keep God's law. One reason Israel was established was to make the nations jealous of their righteous laws and to show them the wisdom of God (Deut. 4:5-8).
God destroyed nations who rejected His law.
1. Sodom and Gommorrah were destroyed for their unmitigated perversion (Gen. 18:20).
2. God destroyed the Canaanites for their lawlessness (Lev. 18:24-27).
3. David calls upon the nations of the earth to "kiss the Son" or be destroyed (Ps. 2).
It is simply not true that the law of God was given uniquely to Israel.
VI. JESUS AND THE NEW TESTAMENT REAFFIRM THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW
Although it is often (erroneously) claimed that the coming of Jesus abolished the OT law, that is not the teaching of our Lord.
In Matt. 5:17-19 Jesus declares: "Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, on jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them shall be called great in the Kingdom of heaven."
Jesus, in His first advent, established His spiritual kingdom (Mt. 12:28) and in Matthew 5 teaches that the ethical requirements of His new kingdom will be the same as that of the Old. Jesus, thus, advocates the continuation of the OT law in detail and even calls blessing down on those who keep and teach the law. Jesus came to "fulfill" the law. That is, to bring it to its fullest application. Although many interpret "fulfill" as abolish, such an interpretation renders the passage absolute nonsense.
Time and time again in the gospels, Jesus defends His teaching by saying: "It is written... pointing His opponents back to the Old Testament. Jesus never remotely suggested that the Old Testament was about to become irrelevant to believers in His spiritual kingdom.
Presbyterians have historically been "whole bible" Christians. We should continue to be such. Each successive period of redemptive history builds upon the previous period. Previous mandates by our holy God are not replaced. God adds information to redemptive history as a fine builder continues to add rooms to a beautiful home. One of the fundamental hermeneutic principles held by Reformed Theologians, is that previous revelation remains binding unless changed or modified by later revelation. Where does the New Testament teach that God has modified any law other than the Ceremonial Code? God has given us an entire book (Hebrews) to show Christians why we no longer practice the bloody rituals of the Old Covenant ceremonies since Christ has come, but any search in the New Testament for teaching that abrogates the Civil law is a vain and fruitless search.
As a matter of fact, both Jesus and the rest of the New Testament reaffirm the Civil case laws of Israel.
1. Matt. 15:4/Ex. 21:17 Jesus reaffirms the death penalty for delinquent children.
2. Mark 10:19/Deut. 24:14,15 Do not defraud.
3. Matt. 19:19/Lev. 19:18 Love your neighbor. (In context of specific acts of love).
4. Mark 6:18/Lev. 18:16 "It is not lawful to have your brother's wife.'
5. Luke 19:1-10/Ex. 22:1 Restitution.
6. Heb. 10:28/Deut. 19:15 Testimony of 2 witnesses. (Note present tense).
VII. THE APPLICATION OF GOD'S LAW TO CIVIL JUSTICE
In order to more fully comprehend the issue at hand, it is important to understand the historical divisions of God's law. To aid our understanding, God's law has been divided into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial. This division is found in our Westminster Confession, chapter 19. The moral law is summarized in the 10 commandments and are, without question, applicable to the believer today (see WCF 19:2,5,6,7).
The ceremonial law was designed to be applied only in the shadows of the Old Covenant, since those bloody ceremonies served as sign posts pointing to the One whose blood would take away sin. The bloody rituals of the Old Covenant have been replaced by bloodless signs of baptism and the Lord's Supper in the New Covenant. The bloody signs of the Old Covenant pointed to a savior to come. The bloodless signs of the New Covenant point back to the savior who has come. It would not be accurate, however, to say that these ceremonial laws are abolished. They still teach us the principle that God requires a substitutionary blood sacrifice in order to forgive sins. For example, if you are traveling from Monroe to Jackson on I-20, the signs informing you of the number of miles to Jackson are very helpful. Once you arrive in Jackson, however, you no longer need those signs. They have served their purpose. They still apply to those traveling to Jackson and they still serve to remind you of where you were and the distance you have traveled.
The third category of the law is the judicial category and this is where the bulk of the controversy lies. The question is as follows: Are the judicial and penal sanctions in the law of Moses applicable to the Civil Magistrate today? The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 19:4 states: "To them (Israel) also as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws which expired together with the state of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
Although this statement from our Confession seems hopelessly confusing, a bit of careful thinking should clear the fog. First, it CANNOT mean that it is God's intent for the judicial law not to be applied at all. This would mean that the State is not under God in any way and implies that the Bible has nothing to say at all about penal justice. This is absolutely unconscionable and I cannot understand how any Christian could advocate such a monstrous position.
Besides, this interpretation of 19:4 is radically inconsistent with the Westminster Standards in other places. In the original version of the WCF, chapter 23, pertaining to the Civil Magistrate, one of the duties outlined by the Westminster Divines for the Civil Magistrate was that he is responsible to see that "all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed."
Although this provision was deleted in the late 1700's in the American version of the WCF, it is interesting to note that WLC question 108 (citing Deut. 7:5) was left intact. "The duties required in the Second Commandment are...disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and according to one's place and calling, removing it and all monuments of idolatry."
There is an interesting historical vignette helpful to our discussion on the relationship between the Westminster Confession and Theonomy. According to the book, Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly, p. 211, discussing the debate on Chapter 20, Of Christian Liberty and the Liberty of Conscience, the wording originally passed by the Assembly was "under the gospel consists, especially in freedom from the guilt and power of sin...from the ceremonial and judicial law..." The phrase: "freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law was moved to a point later in the section. For the purpose of our discussion, however, the important point is that any mention of being free from the judicial law was excised altogether and never appeared in the WCF. (Thanks to Bill Anderson for this information). This means, that as a result of the debate at the Assembly, the Divines determined that the Christian was not free from the claims of the judicial law!
There is also a "theonomic flavor" in Larger Catechism, question 191, which asks: "What do we pray for in the second petition?
Part of the answer reads: "...the Church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ be purely dispensed... Thus, the Civil Magistrate has a role in protecting the true Church and keeping her pure. Reformed Presbyterians opposed to theonomy, must, in order to maintain integrity, take exceptions to these provisions in our Standards.
Secondly, if the judicial laws no longer apply in any way, how could any civil magistrate do his duty according to Romans 13? Romans 13:4 teaches us that it is the duty of the Civil Magistrate to be an avenger of God's wrath on the one who practices evil. How is a Civil Magistrate to carry out this duty without an absolute standard of what is good and evil? Without biblical judicial law, it is up to the magistrate himself to determine what is good or evil. The magistrate or legislative body must then arbitrarily determine the punishment for criminal behavior. Thus, King James I of England applied the death penalty for pickpocketing. An abandonment of theonomy leads to arbitrariness, tyranny and uneven punishment. Although Old Testament law has an unjustified reputation of being harsh, a theonomic ethic actually serves to protect citizens against tyrants run amuck. Thirdly, Christians must remember who wrote the judicial laws. They come from the mind of a perfectly good and just God.
God is perfectly fair. An abandonment of theonomy implies that man is wiser than God. It implies that God does not know what He is doing when it comes to civil law. Does any Christian really believe that better and more just laws can come from the minds of sinful, finite, fallen men? How absurd!! Christians who detest theonomy must understand that they are arguing against God.
Theonomists did not write those civil laws, God wrote each one of them. Theonomists believe the laws of God are wiser than men and at least are attempting to believe them and apply them.
The Westminster Divines employed the terms "general equity" because they understood that the Bible was written to apply to all cultures in all times. The case laws provide man with principles of justice that can be applied to all nations in all epochs. For example, Deuteronomy 22:8 requires a parapet to be built around the roof of a home. The theonomic position does NOT maintain that all houses today must have a guard rail constructed on the roof. We look for the general equity of the law. What is God teaching us in this statute? The general equity is a principle of safety. There are many modern applications, such as a requirement to build a fence around a swimming pool, lest a child wander in and drown. If someone owned a house with a flat roof and he entertained guests on the roof, the general equity would be, in that case, a literal application of the law.
To those who deny that the principles of the Old Testament civil code apply today, there is a question that must be answered. With what do you plan to replace God's law? Are the Republicans and Democrats more competent than the Almighty to draft just and righteous laws? Is fallen man better equipped than God to write laws which restrain crime and more efficiently govern people?
VIII. THE BITTER CONSEQUENCES OF A NATION WHO HAS REJECTED THEONOMY
It is precisely because the Church of Jesus Christ has abandoned theonomy that we are in the mess we are in. Violent crime is rampant. Theft is common. Abortion and pornography plague our land. The homosexual agenda threatens our children. If our nation were under biblical law, these plagues would be driven far underground. For example, a Theonomic Ethic would not end homosexuality, but sodomites would think twice about accosting strangers in public restrooms and they would not be permitted to march in parades in order to gain sympathy for their practice of perversion. A Theonomic Ethic would not end pornography, but the eyes of the righteous would no longer be tempted every time they walk into a convenience store.
The American penal system is a dangerous joke.
Prisons are often either hell holes or country clubs. In any case,
prisons are graduate schools where criminals learn to be better and more efficient criminals. There is little justice in our penal code. Crimes are punished radically different depending on the State, the judge, and the circumstance. Billions of our tax dollars are wasted on the prison system. In Old Testament Israel, there were no prisons. Punishment for criminal activity was confined to corporal punishment, capital punishment and restitution. According to biblical law, the victim had rights.
In biblical law, the victim is compensated for his loss. It must be remembered, however, that biblical law also protects the criminal from excessive punishment. Without theonomy, Christians have no answers to the rising tide of crime that plagues our land. An abandonment of theonomy leaves the Christian with no answer to the question of how to punish crime. As long as the Church of Jesus Christ continues to ignore the full law of God, our land will be plagued by unrestrained crime. Christians are quick to parrot the slogan: "The Bible has the answers to all the problems of life." I agree it does, but only under theonomy does the Bible have the answer to the problem of how to justly punish criminals. This is why it is critically important that Christians once again regain a theonomic understanding of civil government that brought so much wonderful spiritual capital to our nation in colonial days when the principles of the Bible were the law of the land. (I dare anyone to compare the crime rates of modern America with that of Puritan New England). Jesus said, "you will know them by their fruits."
IX. OBJECTIONS TO THEONOMY
A. Israel was typological.
This is certainly true. Israel was topological. But Israel was not typological only. Everything in the Old Testament is typological. It does not follow that types do not have real and continuing application. For example, the institution of marriage is typological: it points to the relationship of Christ and His Church. It does not follow, however, that the Bible's laws concerning marriage are no longer applicable. Civil laws, which are the rendering of justice, are not typological only. Justice never changes, since God is "infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His justice" (See WSC #4).
B. The Gospel fulfills the whole law (Luke 24:25-27).
Yes, Jesus does fulfill the entire Old Testament. All the Old Testament points to Jesus. But it must be understood that to "fulfill" cannot mean to "abrogate." If fulfill means to abrogate, then there would be no basis for any ethical requirements for Christians. This argument can easily be reduced to absurdity.
C. God's law does change (Gen. 17:13).
It is the covenant that is everlasting, not the sign. Circumcision, the bloody sign, was one of those laws designed to be temporary. On this side of the cross the bloody sign of the everlasting covenant has been replaced by the bloodless sign of baptism.
D. Government is an institution of nature, to be governed by human reason.
Oh, yeah? Where does the Bible teach this? According to Rom. 13, it is the duty of the Civil Magistrate to be a servant of God and suppress evil. Civil government is not an institution of nature, it is ordained of God.
Human reason is totally inadequate as a standard to govern the State. Human reason is fallen, it has not escaped the devastating effects of sin. Fallen man suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18); fallen man is given over to a debased mind (Rom. 1:28; fallen man's understanding has been darkened (Eph. 4:18).
E. General revelation is sufficient for human government.
In addition to the point made above concerning fallen man's suppression of natural revelation, another question must be raised. Where are the details of natural revelation written down? How does the observation of the stars in the sky or a beautiful mountain stream tell the Civil Magistrate how to punish a thief justly?
F. Theonomy does not protect the religious freedom and liberty of conscience of non-Christians under a Christian civil government.
First, it must be noted that everyone places some limits on the free expression of pluralistic religion. I do not believe anyone would support the sacrifice of children to the devil and justify it by quoting the First Amendment of the Constitution. (By the way, the first amendment was never designed to protect all religions as religion is defined today. It was meant to protect all denominations of Orthodox Christianity). Once again, the question is: who sets the standard of tolerance of religious difference in a civil society? Does man arbitrarily determine the level of tolerance, or should the Bible set the standard?
In the Old Testament, unbelief was not a crime. God commanded his people to be kind to strangers (Lev. 19:33,34), and they were not punished for unwillingness to undergo circumcision (Ex. 12:43-49). This demonstrates there was a certain level of religious freedom in Israel. Certainly, these aliens and strangers were religious people who practiced their religion. Whereas, aliens may have a certain liberty to privately practice their religion, they would not be able to have the rights of full citizens. Unbelievers would not be able to hold political office or vote in a theonomic society. This is not as bizarre as it sounds. Many state constitutions once had religious tests for office holders. (This was the legacy of the theonomic worldview in Colonial America).
It is true that Deuteronomy 13 describes the punishment of apostates.
Biblical law prescribes the death penalty for a false prophet, arising from the people of God, who entices the people toward idolatry (13:1-5). Vv. 6-11 prescribes the death penalty for people in the covenant community who entice others in the covenant community to serve idols. We may conclude, in a theonomic society, unbelief would not be a crime, but it would be a crime for someone bound to God by covenant, intentionally to undermine the Church. It is not the Civil Magistrate's duty to punish sin. It is his duty to punish crime (unlawful actions).
G. In order to be consistent, Theonomists must put Sabbath breakers to death.
Numbers 15:32-36 describes an event which took place in the wilderness. A man was put to death, ostensibly for nothing more than gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Several points should be made here. This is a record, not of a case law, but of an actual event. Historical events are not necessarily normative for today. The previous context may help us interpret this passage. In vv. 30 and 31, there is a statement about presumptuous sin. Some theologians believe the man was put to death for presumption, defying God to His face. Others believe that the gathering of sticks was related to some sort of idol worship (strange fire). It is interesting to note that the other passage that links Sabbath breaking with a death penalty also is connected with building a fire. I believe this fire to be connected somehow with idolatry, for certainly in cold weather the kindling of a fire would be an act of mercy and necessity. (I agree that more work has to be done on the application of this law. My lack of understanding of how to apply every law does not make theonomy wrong).
Here is a point that non-Theonomists must reckon with. People often recoil at the suggestion of the death penalty for Sabbath breaking. Antinomians often wag their crooked fingers at Theonomists and call them harsh and unloving. Theonomists did not write this law! This law, however it was meant to be applied, was given by our Almighty and most merciful God!
H. Theonomists believe in stoning young children.
I have yet to read any theonomist advocating the stoning of young children. Biblical law, however, does permit the application of the death penalty for incorrigible delinquents (Deut 21:18-21). This passage describes a situation where there is a chronically rebellious young man, disobedient to parents. He is a glutton and drunkard. This is hardly the description of a 1st grader. Also, it is the parents who prosecute the case to the elders of the city. The elders conduct an investigation and act accordingly.
I. Theonomists believe in armed overthrow of the U. S. government and the imposition of a "theocracy."
No theonomist believes this (that I know of). We believe that Reformation must precede Reconstruction. Theonomic law will not become the law of the land until the people want it that way.
J. Theonomists believe that he law of Moses should be imposed verbatim on federal, state, and local governments.
Theonomists do not believe this. We believe in the general equity of the civil law. Particular situations change, but the principles of justice do not. In the case laws, God has given us concrete principles of justice and expects us to have enough wisdom to apply those principles in modern situations.
H. Theonomists believe in "bedroom" police, who will be snooping on the sexual practices of everyone in order to have adulterers and homosexuals executed.
Although the theonomic ethic has the reputation of being harsh, theonomy actually protects the accused. No one could be executed except on the testimony of at least two witnesses (Deut. 17:6). In the case of adultery or homosexuality, it would be extremely difficult to obtain such witnesses. But, as has been mentioned, it would eliminate the public flaunting of immorality, protect our children from perverts, drive porn entirely underground (porn would be evidence of crime), as well as provide extra incentive for men, tempted to be unfaithful to their wives, to remain faithful.
I. What about the dietary laws and the mixed fabric laws?
There is ample New Testament evidence pointing to the temporary real application of the dietary regulations (Mark 7:18,19; Acts 10:9-16; Rom. 14:7). Likewise, the mixed fabric laws would fall under the same general category (Lev. 19:19). Before the coming of Christ, the nations surrounding Israel were "unclean." Israel was the only "clean" nation. The dietary and fabric laws were constant reminders of the fact that Israel was to be a light to the unclean gentiles and attract them to the light of God's law. Remember, Gentiles could become part of the covenant, but they had to become Jews, that is, "clean." In the New Covenant, all the nations belong to Christ (Rev. 11:15). All nations have been cleansed. The Great Commission commands us to go out and "mix."
Historic Presbyterianism has long held to a theonomic ethic. Theonomy is hardly a recent innovation. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Civil Magistrate has the duty to punish evil doers with the sword. As has already been pointed out, this is impossible to carry out in just fashion without a theonomic ethic.
The father of Presbyterianism, the great John Knox, held to the continued applicability of the judicial law. So did Calvin and Luther. Two of the giants of the Westminster Assembly who made major contributions to our Westminster Standards, George Gillespie and Samuel Rutherford, were among many of the Westminster Divines who held strongly to the continuing applicability of the judicial law. (Consult the booklet: Theonomy and the Westminster Confession, compiled by Martin Foulner; available in the St. Paul bookstore).
Scores of other great theologians of Church history could be added to this list. The burden of proof lies with Christians who, for whatever reason, do not believe the law of God to be applicable today. If the Civil Laws of Israel do not speak to civil justice today, then with what does one propose to replace God's law? Human reason? I submit that history clearly demonstrates the bloody tyranny of government superintended by human reason.
Yes, we are saved by grace through faith in Christ and we praise God for this precious doctrine of salvation by grace alone. But once saved, how do we then live? As saved people, how does God demand we behave? What kind of justice should a Christian civil magistrate seek to apply to the society around us? This wisdom is found only in God's holy and perfect law. Certainly, there is needed a great deal of exegetical work and prayer to determine the wisest way to apply God's laws to nations today. Indeed, some Theonomists disagree about the details of this application. But every God-fearing believer must agree that God's law must be applied. As Van Til stated: "The only possible alternative to theonomy is autonomy." Autonomy has left a bitter and cruel legacy on our world. I echo the words of King David in II Sam. 24:14 "Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hands of man." It is astonishing to me that Christians willfully choose to despise God's merciful statutes in favor of the changing whims of fallen man.
Allow me to end this paper by appealing for everyone in the body to exhibit the grace and love of Christ to brethren who may disagree on theological issues. Let us, with Bible in hand, seek to gently persuade others to a more biblical position. As Paul admonished the Colossians, I also admonish you: "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Col. 3:12,13).