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5. THEONOMIC ETHICS

The fifth point of theology which characterizes the movement known as Christian Reconstruction is theonomy. In our day, theonomy is ridiculed, caricatured, and despised. Incredibly, some of the most vicious attacks of theonomy come from within what is broadly known as the Reformed camp.

"Theonomy" simply means God's law. Logically the only alternative to God's law is humanism. One will either follow the law of God as a blueprint for the three main human institutions, (church, family, and state), or he will follow a humanistic set of values. It is no coincidence that the 20th century has witnessed the breakdown of these three institutions as dispensational ideas have driven the Church (and therefore civilization) further and further away from Biblical law.

The question before us is this: Did Jesus in His establishment of the New Covenant abrogate Old Covenant law? Did He dispense with God's law in favor of some sort of natural law as espoused by modem dispensationalist theologian Norman Geisler?17

 

17See Micheal Gilstrap's article, "Teflon Theology" in the newsletter Dispensationalism in Transition, Vol. 1, No. 4, April, 1988. Published by the Institute for Christian Economics, P.O. Box 8000, Tyler, TX. 75711.

 

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In the Lord's prayer, Jesus Christ taught His disciples principles of prayer. Practically every Christian knows and prays the Lord's prayer. I often wonder how many really pay attention to what they are praying. One of the petitions that a Christian brings to God's throne of grace is that God's will be done in earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). What is God's will? God's will is not some mystical natural law fallen man is supposed to attempt to deduce from creation. God's will is His law revealed in Scripture! Check this out by studying the 119th psalm. God wants His people to work for His perfect will to be done on earth. This will benefit everyone since God is perfect grace, love, and justice. God's law is a reflection of His perfect attributes.

It astounds me that some professing Christians would rather be under the bloody, oppressive hand of man rather than under the loving hand of our God whose mercy is great. Norman Geisler, professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, has actually stated it this way, "'Lets get back to our Christian Heritage. God Forbid!' In a taped lecture entitled, 'Christian Reconstructionism: A Biblical Critique,' Geisler said not only that he would not want to go back to America's Christian heritage, but that he would not have biblical law over him as the standard of society."18

Another interesting aspect about this debate is the observation that very few Christians (excluding radical dispensationalists) deny the validity of the Ten Commandments. Yet the Ten Commandments comprise the summary of God's law. The case laws of the Pentateuch are simply the practical applications of the summary. Logically, if the Ten Commandments are still binding then the explanatory case laws of the Ten Commandments must still be binding. An examination of the gospels of Matthew and John show that our Lord Jesus Christ taught the continued application of the Old Testament law. God loves His people too much to force them to wander in ethical darkness and uncertainty. He has given His children the light of His law by which to walk.

When tempted by the devil during his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, Matthew 4:4 records that Jesus quoted Deut. 8:3 to rebuke Satan. Jesus said: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." If Jesus was about to institute a dispensational change from God's law to some sort of natural law, these are very peculiar words for Him to speak.

 

18ibid. Taken from "Christian Reconstructionism: A Biblical Critique" by Norman Geisler. Available from Quest tapes, P.O. Box 38100, Dallas, TX 75238.

 

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In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus left no doubt about the relationship between His ministry and the law of God. He tells His people not to even think that He came to do away with the law (Matt. 5:17). In verse 18, our Lord teaches that the smallest detail of the law will remain in effect until heaven and earth pass away. Jesus warns in vs. 19 that anyone who annuls the least of the commandments and teaches others to do so will be least in the Kingdom. His words read, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."19

In John 14:15,21 and 23 Jesus defines love in terms of obedience to God's law. According to our Lord, the mark of a true disciple is obedience to His law. There is absolutely no evidence that Jesus is referring to anything but the Mosaic law. The New Testament had not yet been written! There is nothing to suggest that Jesus measures man's love for Him according to some subjective natural law. "If ye love me, keep my commandments."

Jesus taught the continuing validity of not only the Ten Commandments in general, but He also taught the penal sanctions of the case laws to be valid as well. Antinomians pretend to be horrified at the theonomic position which calls for the death penalty for incorrigible delinquents. The theonomic position is often caricatured as calling for the execution of young children. Deut. 21:18-21 adds much needed light to this perfectly just law. The child in question is old enough to be a drunken profligate. He is taken by his own parents to the political elders of the city where he is tried. If found guilty by the civil magistrates he is put to death by the civil magistrates.20 Theonomic opponents believe this to be the "soft underbelly" of the Biblical law view yet Jesus upholds this law in Matthew 15:4, saying," For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death." In context, Jesus is condemning the Pharisees for transgressing God's law for the sake of their traditions. Jesus Christ, by His own words, upholds the very point on which many criticize the theonomic ethic!

 

19For an excellent and exhaustive exegesis of this passage see Greg Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics, (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., [1977] 1984).

20Cf. Bahnsen and Gentry, House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology, (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 78.

 

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This is the same Jesus who taught that His yoke is easy and His burden light. God's law is meant to be a blessing not a burden. What the antinomian must recognize is that when he condemns theonomists for being unjust, he is actually accusing God of being unjust. Biblical law advocates did not dream up these penal sanctions, they come from the Supreme Sovereign of the Universe, the God of perfect justice!

Certainly there is much work to be done to determine exactly how to apply Biblical law to a modem world. There is some disagreement even among those of us who identify with the Reconstuctionist position. The principle which binds us, however, is that we all believe the whole Bible, Old and New Testament, must be the source of ethics for the human institutions which God has ordained for man's good. This is the system of ethics which is derived from the lips of our Lord.

As the three major human institutions continue to decay under the oppression of natural law, the wisdom of reinstituting Biblical law in every area of life becomes more and more apparent (and necessary). God is completely just and holy. His law is therefore just. To believe that God's law is somehow too harsh for our "enlightened" age is to deny the teachings of Christ as well as to question the justice of an Almighty and immutable God!

 

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