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a Biblical Worldview Ministry
Updated: 5 hours 28 min ago
John MacArthur recently preached a sermon entitled “We Will Not Bow.” It is in reference to the fear and despair affecting Christians in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decisions on homosexuals and marriage. Really, it is about social decline in general over the past decades. From the title, you might expect a call to stand bravely and perhaps even to fight. Instead, the worldview of premillennial defeat and pessimism in history takes over. More importantly, a type of schizophrenia about the application of Christian ethics in history besets important parts of the analysis. If we are consistent with our ethics, however, we would learn from this situation primarily that we have no one to blame but ourselves, and we will make changes accordingly.
The old Christian America for which our forefathers braved raging seas and tyrants, and resisted unto blood, MacArthur tells us, is now dead and gone. Worse, it was only ever an anomaly to begin with. As he puts it, America has experienced “a very rare reprieve from this normal kind of conflict that most of the world has always known.” By “normal” he means a world in which Christianity is a persecuted minority.
Practical atheism, rejection of the truth, moral relativism has always prevailed in Satan’s kingdom. But here in America we’ve been protected from that in its full fierceness. No more. And by the way, religious liberty isn’t promised to Christians, is it? Freedom isn’t promised to Christians. Persecution is. Persecution is. I think we’re going to feel it.
The reason MacArthur sees such persecution as the norm for all of history is a consequent belief of the premillennial worldview: since the millennial reign of Christ lies totally in the future, Christ is therefore not reigning in any significant way in this world now. Instead, the world is left to Satan right now:
The Bible says Satan holds the whole world in his hands. . . . Satan rules the world.
MacArthur concludes with the familiar “pilgrim” theme that has beset even many Reformed folk as of late: “We’re just passing through, aren’t we? We’re just passing through.”
I don’t highlight these things in order to distract from what good MacArthur does say. I totally agree that the society of the enemy and the society of God’s people are completely antithetical to each other in their doctrines, beliefs, ethics, intents, and purposes. He’s totally right about that. And he’s totally right to exalt God’s original purposes for the family, and totally right that the unbelievers’ push for homosexual marriages is ultimately about the destruction of the family, the destruction of God’s order, and the destruction of God and His anointed (could that be done). He is absolutely right about these things. And because of these things are true, unbelievers will attempt to persecute us whenever given the opportunity.
Is it . . . Satan?
It is here that a couple corrections must be made. First, Satan does not hold this world in his hands, and he does not rule the world. I won’t spend much time here, other than to point out that Christ Himself said that He has all power in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18–20), and that we are to execute the Great Commission in light of that fact. Whatever power Satan ever truly had was lost when Christ triumphed over him at the cross. It was for this reason that Christ said the “ruler of this world” was to be “cast out” “now” (John 12:31)—that is, “now” at His present time in the first century, at His first coming. That judgment and casting out was an accomplished fact back then, and Christ regained total dominion over the world. This is why He said what He said in Matthew 28:18.
With regard to the strife and war which Satan is said to wage with God, it must be understood with this qualification, that Satan cannot possibly do anything against the will and consent of God. . . . Satan is under the power of God, and is so ruled by his authority, that he must yield obedience to it. . . . [A]s God holds him bound and fettered by the curb of his power, he executes those things only for which permission has been given him, and thus, however unwilling, obeys his Creator, being forced, whenever he is required, to do Him service. . . . God thus turning the unclean spirits hither and thither at his pleasure, employs them in exercising believers by warring against them, assailing them with wiles, urging them with solicitations, pressing close upon them, disturbing, alarming, and occasionally wounding, but never conquering or oppressing them. (Institutes 1.14.17–18.)
And I rightly concluded:
Satan and his minions are so fully under God’s thumb that even the slightest pretense to power and dominion on their part is a joke. They will go where God wills and nowhere else. They will do what God wills and nothing more or less. They cannot pull off the kind of “control” that so many Christians fear, and so we ought to stop speaking of them as if they do.
For this reason, and I will say this only in passing, I do not believe that premillennial dispensationalists can truly bear the labels of Calvinist or Reformed. Aside from other issues of baptism or ecclesiology which could be debated, the assumption of Satan’s current sovereignty in this world alone conflicts with the basic presupposition of Christ’s current sovereignty with underlies Calvinism or Reformed theology. Thus, this position is not Reformed.
Secondly, and perhaps even more troubling as I said, is the ethical confusion that often results when Christians do not have a positive view of Christian social ethics and a clear understanding of the mandate for us to construct our society according to God’s Law in light of the great antithesis between God’s people and the waning kingdom of darkness. What so often has occurred is that Christians blur the antithesis and hand over their God-given liberties, sovereignties, and even their children to compromised nonsense.
This problem of intellectual schizophrenia is clear in MacArthur’s sermon. As we said, MacArthur is right to uphold the doctrine of the family. What he says here is commendable:
Families provide a small, sovereign unit that acts as a small barrier against the corruption that seeks to dominate.
And he’s right about the goal of the unbelievers:
Shatter the family, destroy the family and the small sovereign barrier is disintegrated. And by the way, the goal in all of this—you need to be reading to see this—the goal in all of this is not homosexual, same-sex marriage. The goal is the total elimination of all marriage, which then means you don’t possess any privacy.
And he’s totally right about the consequences of this arrangement for the children:
You don’t have that small, sovereign unit, and your children are not yours. They’re public children and they belong to the education system; and they belong to the country; and they belong to the village—but not to you.
It was this passage that bothered me so much, and for this reason: MacArthur is a proponent of public schools. While his brief article on the subject contains good caveats and nuggets of wisdom, and gives preference to Christian schooling, his final position leaves open public schools as an option for the Christian.
But any Christian who understands the origin, nature, purpose, economics, doctrine of “in loco parentis,” and practices of public schooling knows that the answer to the public school question is not only “no,” but “now way, no how.” MacArthur implicitly acknowledges this when he uses the phrase “public children.” He sees the ascendancy of homosexual marriage rightly as the ascendancy of the State intruding into the family. Homosexual marriage is nothing less than the pagan State exercising dominion. This, too, is what public schooling has always been, and is now. There is a direct, even if not well-perceived, logical connection between public education and homosexual marriage. It is only a matter of the degree to which the pagan State has expressed its dominion at the expense of the family. Give it an inch, and in a few decades it owns a thousand miles.
But MacArthur does not see the logic. So, on the one hand you have a man lamenting the fact that the march of unbelieving society leads directly to a society in which your children “belong to the education system” and “not to you”; but on the other hand says it’s acceptable for Christians to hand over their children to an unbelieving education system, run by unbelievers with unbelieving textbooks, thirty hours a week for thirteen years during their formative years.
This is an intellectual and spiritual disconnect we should all see, and upon which we should all act. Yet MacArthur holds both of these views simultaneously. He compromises on education, teaches his congregation that it is acceptable to compromise in this way, and then stands up to say, “We will not bow”?
Too late, bro. You already did.
You did in eschatology, you did in civil government, you did in social ethics.
What we really ought to take away from the antitheses between Christian ethics and pagan culture which MacArthur rightly lists is the basic understanding that there is no neutrality in any area of life. We also ought to learn (after seeing it played out only about a thousand times before our eyes) that the unbelieving world almost always acts consistently with this principle, and that Christians rarely do. This is to say that leftists are more faithful to their faith than are Christians.
MacArthur rightly concludes his sermon on several resounding notes of coming judgment. But here his eschatology takes over again. Instead of expecting what has happened so often in human history—God’s judgment on nations in history—he sees the many judgment passages of Scripture mainly with a view toward only final judgment. Thus, the Christian’s duty today is only to be warning these apostates that they will spend eternity in hell if they persist, and has nothing to do with planning for our children’s or nation’s future in terms of God’s law and sanctions in history, now. In other words, MacArthur’s view by default gives over the entire realm of history to the creep of unbelieving forces, because it redirects the Christians’ focus to other-worldly matters only.
What we need instead are people—leaders—who preach both. We need leaders who of course preach the Gospel in all its implications, but who also preach the rest of the Great Commission, that all nations are to bow before Christ now, and to obey His commandments. We should not rest in our duty to shape law, government, and social ethics to conform to His word, let alone retreat from that duty. We ought to be warning neighbor and nation alike not only about personal judgment at the end time, but national judgment now for national sins.
Christian, whatever good may be sifted from among the sands of sermons like this one from MacArthur, we simply must not capitulate in our stand to see the dominion of Christ spread to every area of life. We must confidently say with MacArthur, “We will not bow,” but we must also go where he does not, and say also, “We will not stop until the whole world bows before Christ.”
The following story shows a tremendous, and unfortunately not too uncommon, injustice in our legal systems today. It is an injustice that results from a failure to implement a basic principle of biblical law. Furthermore, it is an injustice that is allowed to prevail with the government in general, including police departments in general, police officers individually, courts, judges, and prosecutors. Today we will focus mainly on prosecution (accusers). It is a widespread injustice we must remedy.
The Introduction posted yesterday is, as I said, only a beginning of groundwork needed to understanding how awry law and government, including police and courts, have grown in the country. Perhaps it can even be seen as a springboard into the needed discussion. If so, it is one which includes necessary historical and religious background in order to chart the back to liberty.
It is easy to condemn how badly courts—especially those tyrannical ecclesiastical courts—used to be. We can read with head-shaking the endless marginalia for which courts accused, imprisoned, flogged, and fined individuals incessantly. But the shaking-of-the-head does not usually ascend to outrage when looking back centuries. It’s so out of touch for us today.
Except it really is not. The truth is, we have largely been overwhelmed by the same matters today: by the same types of legal systems and in many cases to the same degrees. The only exception is that today they are purely secular rather than both secular and ecclesiastical. Many people, especially conservative Christians, do not see it for many reasons which we will discuss at a later time. For now, I would like to introduce you to one recent legal story that ought to wake us all up.
The Case of Mark Weiner
You need to read this report on the freeing of Mark Weiner in its entirety. The authoress gives you the nutshell:
This story is bizarre, but it’s not all that unusual: Prosecutors can prosecute even the weakest, most clearly flawed cases relentlessly, and innocent people can end up in jail.
But this doesn’t get to the half of it. Because prosecutors (and apparently the court, too) were bent on prosecution (rather than justice) as their goal, this particular innocent man sat in jail for two and a half years.
And that’s not the half of it. Two and a half unnecessary and totally unjust years in jail entails, as you can imagine, the loss of nearly everything. The piece concludes:
Mark Weiner has lost more than two years with his young son and with his wife, he’s lost his job, he’s lost his family home, and he’s lost every penny he ever had in savings or retirement accounts.
But again, even this is not all of it. The piece draws the following conclusion:
If anyone suggests that the fact that Mark Weiner was released this week means “the system works,” I fear that I will have to punch him in the neck. Because at every single turn, the system that should have worked to consider proof of Weiner’s innocence failed him.
Just from these few indications we could draw several conclusions. But you have to hear what lies behind this conclusion of how “the system should have worked.” To do that, I’ll have to rehearse the basics of the case. At the risk of making this article too lengthy, here’s the article’s summary:
The story began on a December night in 2012. Weiner, then a 52-year-old man who managed a local Food Lion and attended night classes at a local community college, stopped and picked up 20-year-old Chelsea Steiniger, who was walking from a convenience store to her mother’s house. Steiniger’s boyfriend, Michael Mills, had just informed her that she could not sleep at his apartment, which did not permit guests after a certain hour, so she was angrily headed to stay with her mother. It was cold, it was dark, it was late. Weiner saw her and offered to drive her to her mother’s house, picking her up directly across from the local police station.
Mark Weiner’s version of events: He drove Steiniger to her mom’s house and went home.
Most of the rest of the trial narrative unfolds through the sequence of texts Steiniger sent her boyfriend as they drove to her mom’s place.
At 12:10 a.m., Steiniger texted her boyfriend that “some dud[e]” was giving her a ride. At 12:18 a.m., she texted, “he tried to get in my pants.” At 12:21 a.m., she texted, “just pulled up he wont let me out of the car.”
At 12:23 a.m., the texts allegedly start coming from Weiner instead of Steiniger, the first one reading: “[S]he doesn’t have her phone.” And at 12:27: “Shes so sexy when shes passed out.” At 12:28: “She was a fighter ill give her that much.” At 12:36: “Ill let her wake before i let you talk to her.”
When a panicking Mills texted back at 12:38 a.m., “w[h]ere are you taking her,” Weiner allegedly responded: “[S]hes in my house she said she was cold so IMMa warm her up.”
Steiniger testified that Weiner, while driving past the mother’s house, managed to knock her out at about 12:22 a.m. with a chemical-soaked cloth that worked in 15 seconds, at which point he began sending the taunting texts to Mills. Including a text using the word IMMa—not the most common expression for white, 52-year-old Food Lion managers.
That’s right: Over the course of four minutes, Weiner allegedly incapacitated Steiniger, took control of her phone, and texted her boyfriend, all while driving to a rural property late at night.
Steiniger claimed she awoke on the floor of an abandoned building she had never seen before, and when Weiner left her unattended, she grabbed her phone and jumped off a second-floor balcony, hid in the woods, then made her way on foot to her mother’s house two miles away. She never called 911.
But her boyfriend, Mills, had already called 911 to report the abduction. When the Emergency Communications Center called Steiniger at 1:07 a.m. and left a message, then called again at 1:08, she checked her voicemail and quickly shut off the phone. She would later testify that her battery was dead at this time, but records would show she retrieved the voicemail and then switched the phone off.
When the police were unable to reach Steiniger by phone, they went to her mother’s home. Steiniger answered the door, clothes intact and unsoiled after she supposedly jumped from a second-floor balcony and walked two miles in the cold.
On Dec. 14, 2012, Mark Weiner was arrested. He had been incarcerated in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail ever since.
It’s clear to me that more than one set of facts here should have rendered Steiniger’s testimony incredible from the outset. The contradictions regarding the cell phone usage and battery are enough to establish that alone. The prosecution should already have had red flags.
But it gets much worse. There was further exonerating evidence:
Records later showed that Steiniger’s phone accessed two cellphone towers near her mother’s house dozens of times that night, but never once pinged a tower near the abandoned house. . . .
As part of her prosecution strategy, Weiner’s trial lawyer later said, Lunsford “sought the advice of two respected detectives in the city and the county” to pinpoint where the alleged victim’s text messages had originated. Each cop concluded independently that the texts had been sent from near where Steiniger’s mother lived. Lunsford interviewed the first officer for the first time at the courthouse, just before he was scheduled to testify. He told the prosecutor he’d guess the calls came from Steiniger’s mother’s house, not the abandoned property.
Some prosecutors would call that sort of thing exculpatory information that must legally be turned over to the defense. Lunsford thanked the officer for stopping by and said she would no longer be needing his testimony after all. (This officer would later call the defense attorney and tell him what had transpired.) The second law enforcement officer offered up the same conclusion. He didn’t get to testify, either.
When defense counsel learned of the cellphone evidence and attempted to use one of the detectives as a defense witness, Lunsford had him disqualified as an expert, objecting to the fact that the defense attorney hadn’t subpoenaed the right witnesses to get the phone record evidence in. When the defense lawyer asked in chambers for a continuance so that he could call the correct witnesses, the motion was denied by trial court Judge Cheryl Higgins. Jurors would never hear what the phone tower records showed. Local lawyers and trial observers were shocked.
A law professor who reviewed the case commented: “Leaving aside the fact that a competent prosecutor is not learning the underlying facts of her case mid-trial, this was the kind of exculpatory evidence that would cause a fair prosecutor, honoring her obligation to seek and serve justice, to dismiss the charge. Instead, she successfully argued against their admissibility in court. In the wrongful conviction world, the nicest description we have for this phenomenon is ‘tunnel vision.’”
“Tunnel vision” is putting it mildly. This is having a freight train roaring through the funnel. This is a case of ramrodded injustice. The article makes clear that no evidence was presented in the case that linked Weiner in any way to the abandoned house or to the cell phone, and no chemical-soaked cloth, or even chemical itself, was shown. Frankly, I am shocked that the jury convicted. But the exclusion of exculpatory evidence must be considered as a major factor in this unjust verdict.
And it doesn’t stop there. The article continues [emphases mine]:
In the spring of 2014, Weiner’s new lawyers filed a motion to set aside the jury verdict. They alleged ineffective assistance by his original trial counsel. (Among other errors, the first lawyer had found a matchbook in which Steiniger had written her phone number in case a job opened up at Food Lion, but didn’t put it into evidence.)
They also noted that Steiniger’s then-husband, Howard Steiniger, who was incarcerated at the time of the alleged attack, had signed an affidavit saying that she had admitted to making this story up in an attempt to get back at a guy named Mike [the boyfriend she was texting, apparently]. Her admission, he said, was made while they talked on the phone, on a recorded prison call.
Records of the call were destroyed when lawyers attempted to obtain them. The new defense team also informed the court that even Mills, the boyfriend, suspected Steiniger was lying when he texted her: “why did u lie to me.”
Weiner’s lawyers also presented an affidavit from anesthesiologist John Janes, testifying that there is no chemical that can be put on a rag and placed on someone’s face that would cause that person to pass out within 15 seconds. [Yes folks, those chloroform hankies in the movies are fallacious. It does not work like that.]
All of this was denied. Then,
In another motion, filed in April of 2015, Weiner’s attorneys told the court that they now had testimony from three former friends of Steiniger who said she drank and smoked pot several times at the abandoned house in 2012, despite her claim at trial that she had never been to the home before the alleged abduction.
Yet, the prosecutor did not budge. Then,
At a June 3 hearing, Judge Cheryl Higgins did not dispute most of the new allegations. But she claimed she didn’t have the authority to throw out the verdict and said the new claims could be raised on appeal. On June 9 she sentenced Weiner to 20 years in prison, with 12 years suspended.
After that final hearing, at which Mark Weiner was sentenced to eight years in prison for giving a young woman a ride home, [prosecutor] Lunsford explained why none of the new evidence mattered: “I interviewed the victim twice, and I believed her.”
And perhaps that’s the problem right there: Facing a mountain of evidence that showed there was no way the alleged victim could be telling the truth, the prosecutor believed her, then believed her, and then believed her some more.
Weiner was only finally released from jail when Steinger was later arrested separately trying to sell cocaine to undercover cops. This, at last, was judged to be something which impeached her credibility.
And for this series of injustices, a man spent two and a half years in jail, and lost his home and all his savings with no apparent intention of it being restored.
The authoress is exactly right: just because Weiner was freed does not mean the system worked. It did not. It failed terribly and inflicted harsh injuries upon an innocent man because of a lying woman and a state agent who desired to produce guilt rather than justice.
But there is more. A huge part of the problem is the lack of biblical protections which could have prevented this whole affair, and many more like it.
The Biblical Remedy
Long story short, biblical law requires multiple witnesses, thorough investigation, and that false witnesses be the ones who get punished.
The Word is clear: “If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing. . . . The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his [or her] brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother” (Deut. 19:16–19).
In short, there is a built-in check of accountability to prevent cases exactly like this from ever happening. And this law should be extended to the prosecutors (and in other cases, the police and the agencies, too). When they fail to “inquire diligently,” but instead harbor, protect, and represent the falsehood, then by the principle of representation, they become the “malicious witness” themselves. They should pay the price also.
The bottom line is this: there ought to be a solid principle of accountability for rogue, or even simply unsupported but persistent, accusers in society. This includes not only liars like Steiniger, but police, judges, and prosecutors who pervert justice on their own or others’ behalf.
In this particular case, a man was accused of kidnapping. Under biblical law, this is a capital crime. Anyone fabricating such a story and pressing charges, therefore, ought only to be allowed to do so under pain of the same punishment if their story is revealed to be a lie. In short, Steiniger would never have alleged this case, or if she did, she would be on her way to being sentenced to execution right now. Under the present system, the same principle would say that she should be tried, convicted, and then sentenced to the 20 years (12 commuted) to which Weiner would have been. The fact that she has subsequently been imprisoned on drug charges may seem like poetic justice, but it is irrelevant to this case. It is separate and should be considered so.
The government and prosecutors also ought to held accountable for such injustices at least to the extent they have imposed hardships and losses on Weiner and his family. Every dime he has lost and every cent of property he has lost, plus consideration for the value of his lost job and reputation, with interest, ought to be restored at the expense of the parties involved—not by the state via the taxpayers, but the prosecutor herself, as well as any others.
If prosecutors faced such checks, they would be much slower to “err on the side of prosecution,” as one lawyer recently told me is a norm. They would be much less likely to prosecute people with the full power and resources of the state, destroying innocent lives, for “just in case” scenarios. They would certainly not engage in prosecutorial crusades against evidence, tossing out and suppressing evidence, and facing no consequences. Under a biblical system, such an accuser could quickly find themselves being hit personally with expenses borne by a hapless defendant, and that could lead to a lifetime of heavily-garnished wages, to put it mildly, paying to restore a victim of the system like Weiner.
It is simply time that lawmakers and judges, especially Christians, begin to consider the biblical law for the punishment of malicious or false witnesses. For want of this simple principle of accountability, injustices permeate every area of our lives today. Peoples’ lives can be at the very least interrupted. Many are beset, and some ruined without remedy. Families are bereft, and in some cases literally torn apart by largely unaccountable agents of the state and its administrative arms. Accountability for the state as a protector of false witness is a key to restoring Christian liberty and civilization going forward. Without it, life, liberty, and property are at the mercy of the whims of such prosecutors, judges, and any falsehoods they can be tempted, for whatever reason, to harbor.
The following is an excerpt from my Intro to God’s Law and Government in America. There is serious, weighty, and detailed history of jurisprudence in here. It may not be easy for you to work through at first, but it is necessary groundwork for what lies ahead of us. Anyone interested in freedom in America, particularly religious freedom, and especially Restoring America, absolutely must read this material and come to grips with the issues and distinctions involved. It is absolutely crucial to the work we have to do in moving forward.
It is also, however, going to push several people into uncharted, and thus perhaps uncomfortable, intellectual territory. The distinctions in legal systems and court procedures, when their implications are understood, will challenge deeply-held views of social and criminal justice as well as policing. It will also, however, be enlightening and motivating in regard to certain aspects of our present tyranny, particularly that which exercises such power over families. Either way, if we are to regain the liberties once established by our Puritan forefathers, it will be inescapably necessary to tip some sacred cows and demolish some intellectual and cultural idols. The alternative is the very type of tyranny for which those forefathers fled England at the time, only in a purely secularized, refined, and highly potent version—a police-state system I am terming “The Modern Inquisition.”
A lawyer friend of mine proofread this intro a while back and said it was as important as Berman’s intro to Law and Revolution. That shocked me at the time, but she is right. I don’t say that to toot my own horn or at all to put myself on Berman’s level, but in regards to the importance of the material itself, it is absolutely correct. I will be publishing more on these topics in the near future, directing you to other important resources on it, and I will be speaking on these topics in both California and Iowa in October and November respectively.
As I said, this is difficult, but crucial material. This article is long, and at that it is only half of the whole Introduction. You need to read it all, just to get the groundwork to understand where we have come from, where we are at, and where we must go. Please take your time, read this carefully and as many times as necessary. The future of your, and your children’s, freedom depends on it.
Tyranny through the Courts
One of the enduring political trends that crossed both civil and ecclesiastical realms was that of jurisdictional and court powers. The New England ministers were the heirs of opponents of the ecclesiastical court system. These “bawdy courts,” as one early opponent called them, derived from the Roman Catholic inquisitorial tradition. They had especially tyrannized Protestants since the dawn of the Reformation, and had grown into a massive revenue machine for the high churchmen and the crony lawyers who had attached themselves to it.
It is difficult to overstate just how intrusive and tyrannical these courts were for the average person. The ecclesiastical courts had jurisdiction over nearly every area of life: marriages, wills, probate, tithes, inheritance of land, alimony, debt, trespasses, defamations, Sabbaths, church attendance, and more. They had the power to sequester property, impose fines, beatings, torture, imprisonment, maiming, and virtually every other punishment short of the death penalty and dismemberment. They also maintained control of licensing and fees in certain areas, for example, printing (censorship) and medical practice. These courts were not common law courts, but administrative “prerogative courts”—meaning they sat to enforce the prerogative of the bishops’ (or on the secular side, the king’s) whims and regulations. Thus they proceeded without a jury, and defendants could be charged upon rumors or gossip, as long as the officials in charge decided to press the case. Procedure, as we will see below, was just as arbitrary, including the fact that cases were conducted in Latin so that the common folk could not have participated in the system even if it favored them to do so.
The church courts in this way were thus constantly harassing individuals for minor issues. They interfered in commerce and credit. They imposed punishments for working on Saints’ Days or for missing church. In one case a parson was fined for acting as a midwife without a license. They mandated segregation of men and women during church services, and a man was fined for sitting in the same pew as his wife. Another was fined for wearing a dirty ruff. Critics pointed out that the Court of High Commission—the supreme ecclesiastical venue—punished laymen for criticizing clergymen “though the thing spoken be true,” incited women against their husbands, sent agents to break into houses, and proceeded arbitrarily with no predictable rules of law.
On top of the miserable annoyance and harassment, the system turned into outright theft and corruption. Bishops had their own police who had little scruple about invading people’s lives and hauling them before the courts for countless offenses. The officers, agents, canon lawyers, and bishops themselves profited highly from the system. Estimates determined that by 1641, there were between 10,000 and 22,000 such parasites connected with the church courts, sucking the public dry to the tune of 200,000 pounds per annum. This, in a day when a single British pound represented roughly a month’s wages for a typical day laborer. Soon it was both fact and public perception that the system was little more than one big revenue-generating machine. Several anecdotes reveal this acknowledgment and discontent. Some of these come from comments made openly in the court, such as one gentleman who condemned it saying, “The judge will find faults enough for money.”
To compound the tyranny, even those acquitted of any wrongdoing faced extortion in the form of court costs—to be paid under threat of excommunication. Examples of such costs ran from three-quarters to a full month’s wages in different cases—again, just to receive a certificate of acquittal! Over time, the fees were gradually raised. When protested, bishops responded that the hikes were necessary because the value of the pound had fallen and they needed the extra revenue to pay the judges and lawyers who worked for them! The hikes lasted decades and withstood attempts of Parliament to reduce them. In fact, when the House of Commons introduced a bill in 1621 merely to publish the table of rates in English—so the people could more widely understand what the courts were doing to them—the bill was squashed.
In 1640, an anonymous pamphlet entitled Englands Complaint to Jesus Christ against the Bishops Canons circulated the following assessment:
The best a surest tenure by which every freeborn subject holds the right and property of his goods is the law of the land. But let the subject be brought into one of their ecclesiastical courts … and be his cause ever so just … they will tear a man out of all his estate. . . . And to the end that the civil state may be subservient to the ecclesiastical church, these ecclesiastics have their oar in every boat, and their finger in every pie, where anything may be plucked from the subject…. None can be sure that his goods are his own, when all, and more than all, are taken from him at one censure, and that at the will and pleasure of the board, without any and against all law.
The following year, the famous John Milton popularized similar remarks:
Two leeches they have that still suck and suck the kingdom—their ceremonies and their courts…. For their courts, what a mass of money is drawn from the veins into the ulcers of the kingdom this way; their extortions, their open corruptions, the multitude of hungry and ravenous harpies that swarm about their offices, declare sufficiently…. Their trade being, by the same alchemy that the Pope uses, to extract heaps of gold and silver out of the drossy bullion of the people’s sins.
Needless to say, Puritans fiercely opposed the system and fought to be rid of it. A battle raged and endured throughout the Puritan era and was a chief reason Pilgrims and Puritans fled England. William Bradford, signatory of the Mayflower Compact and often governor of Plymouth (1620–1657), wrote the history of the colony in his time. He cited the corruption of the ecclesiastical system and the court system as the force behind the persecution of the pilgrims, and the cause of their emigration:
The one party of reformers endeavoured to establish the right worship of God and the discipline of Christ in the Church according to the simplicity of the gospel and without the mixture of men’s inventions, and to be ruled by the laws of God’s word dispensed by such officers as Pastors, Teachers, Elders, etc., according to the Scriptures.
The other party,—the episcopal,—under many pretences, endeavoured to maintain the episcopal dignity after the popish manner,—with all its courts, canons, and ceremonies; its livings, revenues, subordinate officers, and other means of upholding their anti-Christian greatness, and of enabling them with lordly and tyrannous power to persecute the poor servants of God. The fight was so bitter, that neither the honour of God, the persecution to which both parties were subjected, nor the mediation of Mr. Calvin and other worthies, could prevail with the episcopal party. They proceeded by all means to disturb the peace of this poor persecuted church of dissenters, even so far as to accuse (very unjustly and ungodly, yet prelate-like) some of its chief members with rebellion and high-treason against the Emperor, and other such crimes. . . .
When by the zeal of some godly preachers, and God’s blessing on their labours, many in the North of England and other parts become enlightened by the word of God and had their ignorance and sins discovered to them, and began by His grace to reform their lives and pay heed to their ways, the work of God was no sooner manifest in them than they were scorned by the profane multitude, and their ministers were compelled to subscribe or be silent, and the poor people were persecuted with apparators and pursuants and the commissary courts. Nevertheless, they bore it all for several years in patience, until by the increase of their troubles they began to see further into things by the light of the word of God. They realized not only that these base ceremonies were unlawful, but also that the tyrannous power of the prelates ought not to be submitted to, since it was contrary to the freedom of the gospel and would burden men’s consciences and thus profane the worship of God.
As [Nathaniel] Appleton [see the book] preached, over a century after the first arrivals in America, the colonists still highly suspected the tentacles of Roman Catholicism—in regard to church practice and doctrine, of course, but also in regard to jurisprudence. American liberty was exclusively a product of, and inseparably bound to, Protestantism, particularly Puritanism, in the New England mind. Thus, encroachments of nations founded on Roman Catholic models—France and Spain—were taken very seriously in North America indeed (thus King George’s War was not a difficult sell for the Massachusetts people). However, ideological and religious encroachments from within were just as great a danger, if not greater, than outside rivals. Knowing the history of the Anglican church and crown to impose these wicked and unbiblical court systems just as readily and harshly as Catholics did elsewhere, New England Puritans took this issue very seriously, and would fight to maintain as much control as possible over their provincial leaders—appointed by the crown or not.
This issue arises in Appleton’s sermon when he objects to the Assembly, on the grounds of “the divine law,” regarding “the laws that require men to purge themselves by their oaths.” Here he is referring to a class of legal procedures derived from the Roman tradition and which were central to the tyrannies of those court systems, and the issue here relates directly to the development of our Constitution’s Fifth Amendment—the protection against self-incrimination. The inquisitorial procedures to which Appleton alludes included “compurgation,” also called “wager of law,” and another famously used against Puritans and dissenters in England, “ex officio oaths.”
Purging the Oaths
Neither of these systems regarded an accused party as innocent until proven guilty as decided by a jury. Rather, defendants were considered guilty until they proved their innocence by swearing oaths. Under the system of compurgation, the accused could only “purge” himself of guilt of the charges by having a number of neighbors or kin, usually eleven or twelve, also swear that they believed the truth of the oath which he swore. The practice was officially abolished for criminal cases very early, in 1164, but persisted widely in civil courts for suits regarding debts, etc., and also in ecclesiastical courts, until the mid-seventeenth century. The practice devolved historically into swearing matches between conflicting parties. Eventually, a class of professional “compurgators,” known on the street as “oath helpers,” arose as witnesses for hire. They hung around the courts and by legend advertised themselves by tufts of straw in their shoes—the original “straw man.” Since there were no penalties for (or procedure for determining) false oaths, the system grew as corrupt as it was inefficient. Looking back on the system from 1769, the great commentator on English jurisprudence, William Blackstone, referred to it as the “scandalous prostitution of oaths.”
Appleton is quick to refute how some people defended this practice by appealing to biblical law (Ex. 22:10). Blackstone himself would, twenty-six years later, trace the practice to this biblical source. But Appleton’s point is to show this view mistaken, for the biblical law regarded a different principle, not compurgation. On their conclusion and criticism of the system, however, the minister and the later giant would agree that the procedure would, in Blackstone’s words, “reduce the defendant, in case he is in the wrong, to the dilemma of either confession or perjury.”
“Ex officio oaths” were based upon the same principles: assumed guilt until innocence was “proved” by swearing an oath to the contrary. The inequity was compounded by the fact that the oath was imposed before any charges were read and without knowledge of what questions would be asked—and any could be asked, whether relevant to the case or not. This, of course, lent itself to fine fishing expeditions in efforts to root out religious dissenters. Once under oath, the poor defendant was required to answer all questions, in writing, and without legal counsel.
This practice had a history even nearer to the Puritans’ cause because it had featured as a tool to prosecute religious dissenters in the English ecclesiastical Court of High Commission and the crown’s equivalent, the infamous Star Chamber. Bishop Whitgift had fiercely defended the institution because the Bishops by themselves did not have the power to torture, but the High Commission did. A person could be charged with any of numerable offenses against church or state. Once in court, they were forced to swear the oath and then be interrogated arbitrarily. If they refused this oath—in essence, if they wished to remain silent—it could be taken as evidence of their guilt, or they could be left in prison indefinitely.
Historically there had been many opponents of such oaths, but perhaps the most famous incident came in the case of the radical Puritan John Lilburne. “Freeborn John,” as he was called, was hauled into the Star Chamber for engaging in unlicensed printing. The Court of High Commission had full control and censorship over all publishing. Lilburne had violated its sensibilities by printing anti-Episcopal literature. Once arrested and in the Star Chamber, Lilburne refused the oath. He was sentenced with the enormous fine of 500 pounds, whipped, and dragged to the pillory. When he would not stop preaching from the pillory, he was gagged. Eventually, he was removed to a miserable solitary confinement in prison, shackled continuously hand and foot. He was only finally freed when Puritans gained control of Parliament in 1640 and demanded his release.
Lilburne was not alone. The ex officio oath had been used broadly to attack religious dissenters in general:
[T]he Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission used it to root out religious dissidents. Suspects would be brought to court and required to answer under oath what they really thought about the official Anglican religion. Those who refused to answer under oath were deemed guilty and punished. Since these courts were royal prerogative courts apart from common-law courts, there was no right to a jury trial. Lying to the court in such cases was not a viable option for persons with sincere religious convictions. An oath called upon God to witness the truth of what was said, and not to speak truly meant risking eternal damnation. The oath was a powerful inquisitorial device in the hands of the state and was regarded by its critics as the moral equivalent of torture.
The folly of these inquisitorial courts was widely known and condemned. Historian Christopher Hill notes the common acknowledgment that trials by oath are counterproductive because criminals would hardly mind swearing a false oath on top of their crime: “the oath was only valuable to conscientious offenders. . . . Real criminals would presumably not stick at a little perjury.” Meanwhile, witnesses as highly profiled as Thomas Cartwright, Francis Bacon, and Edward Coke had undergirded the common law right to remain silent. This gave Puritan opponents more than the ammunition they needed to condemn these Court methods. In the words of Cartwright, oaths were required “neither by the laws of God nor man.”
The abolition of such Courts was brief, however, during the Puritan ascendancy. When Charles II returned in 1660, the Courts were revived. Although the resurrected versions were not as powerful as before, they still existed. As long as ecclesiastical courts and episcopal, or Catholic, monarchs remained, the threat remained for the colonies.
Nevertheless, it never truly escalated beyond a threat. Neither compurgation nor ex officio oaths were practiced in the Colonies. What could account for Appleton singling out this issue in 1742? McManus and Helfman note that “English Puritans who had direct experience with the oath brought their hatred of it to New England.” When Governor Winthrop even carelessly used the phrase ex officio for a case of alleged sedition, though he said he meant it in an entirely different and innocuous manner, public outrage forced the clarification. The court’s decision four years later included an express prohibition on the use of ex officio oaths. A couple years later, Bradford’s history of Plymouth recalls, advice received from ministers regarding certain capital crimes shows the establishment held the message dear, too. Examples contain explicit denunciations of ex officio procedure as inapplicable, one warning “it is not safe, nor warranted by God’s word. . . .” It was not any impending measure, therefore, it would seem, any more than traditional suspicion still alive among the heirs of the Puritan fathers that led Appleton to remind the Assembly of his day against inquisitorial procedure—a feared and loathed icon of “popery.”
It is no wonder, then, that we find the exact same themes exercising the more famous of the colonial figures throughout their lives. The old threat had never died—either in the civil realm, or even totally in the ecclesiastical realm. Thus, an aging John Adams recalled in a letter to Jedidiah Morse:
Where is the man to be found at this day, when we see Methodistical bishops, bishops of the church of England, and bishops, archbishops, and Jesuits of the church of Rome, with indifference, who will believe that the apprehension of Episcopacy contributed fifty years ago, as much as any other cause, to arouse the attention, not only of the inquiring mind, but of the common people, and urge them to close thinking on the constitutional authority of parliament over the colonies? This, nevertheless, was a fact as certain as any in the history of North America. The objection was not merely to the office of a bishop, though even that was dreaded, but to the authority of parliament, on which it must be founded. The reasoning was this. . . [I]f parliament can erect dioceses and appoint bishops, they may introduce the whole hierarchy, establish tithes, forbid marriages and funerals, establish religions, forbid dissenters, make schism heresy, impose penalties extending to life and limb as well as to liberty and property.
This was certainly consistent with Adams’s early publications provoked by the Stamp Act. In his Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, he breathed fire against these systems:
Since the promulgation of Christianity, the two greatest systems of tyranny that have sprung from this original, are the canon and the feudal law. . . .
By the former of these, the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy that ever was conceived by the mind of man was framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandisement of their own order.
By the latter, Adams added, “the common people were held together in herds and clans in a state of servile dependence on their lords, bound, even by the tenure of their lands, to follow them, whenever they commanded, to their wars, and in a state of total ignorance of every thing divine and human, excepting the use of arms and the culture of their lands.” But neither of these was as wicked as when they combined together. Adams continues:
But another event still more calamitous to human liberty, was a wicked confederacy between the two systems of tyranny above described. It seems to have been even stipulated between them, that the temporal grandees should contribute every thing in their power to maintain the ascendency of the priesthood, and that the spiritual grandees in their turn, should employ their ascendency over the consciences of the people, in impressing on their minds a blind, implicit obedience to civil magistracy.
It was only when “God in his benign providence raised up the champions who began and conducted the Reformation” that these powers began to be challenged and overcome. And since America had been established by the heirs of these champions, and had by the Appleton’s time (Adams’s boyhood) come to exemplify the best fruits of that Reformation, the reader can certainly understand why the particular issue of “popery” in regard to courts and jurisdictions was so central to the fears of our ministers and civic leaders.
Vice Admiralty Courts
After the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War), King George had moved to pay off his national war debts by increasing taxation in the colonies. The Stamp Act was part of this, and was mentioned by Adams at the end of his Dissertation as evidence that the crown intended to reduce the colonies to feudal slavery. What is usually less discussed is the prior Sugar Act, or American Revenue Act, which was the first to explicitly state that its purpose was not merely to regulate trade but to raise revenue. Toward this end, the Act established a vice admiralty court in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the purpose of cracking down on alleged smugglers evading customs. The vice-admiralty courts were modeled upon the same Roman Civil system: they allowed no right to jury trial and they presumed guilt.
Vice-admiralty courts had been used frequently throughout the British Empire since the beginning of the Puritan era though not without resentment, for example, in Massachusetts as early as the 1690s. In general, merchant classes approved of their efficiency for particular types of cases, but common law courts historically reserved the right to prohibit individual cases in admiralty. This led to a centuries-long struggle between the two courts within the British system, especially as trade increased and the crown gradually attempted to expend the admiralty jurisdictions. But when the crown began to use them as tools of usurpation of the colonists’ rights, the backlash followed.
The American Act [Sugar Act] of 1764 put a wholly new coloration on this phase of the vice admiralty’s business, and marks the beginning of serious colonial opposition to the British system of administration and customs control. The Act not only was the first measure designed primarily to raise revenue rather than to regulate commerce, but it clarified the jurisdictional situation by making clear that violations of it and of all the Acts of Trade could be prosecuted in the vice admiralty courts.
The issue of our legal system arises in the second of our three sermons as well. James Dana speaks as if he has just read Adams’s sentiments regarding the combination of the ecclesiastical and civil systems:
Whether civil or religious usurpation hath been greatest is difficult to say. Tyrannical rulers have generally favored the views of tyrannical ecclesiastics, in return for the services these have rendered them. Together they have deluged the earth in blood. A better reason cannot probably be given for the late establishment of popery by a British parliament, while the protestant religion, founded in principles of liberty, is barely tolerated.
Speaking this in 1779, Dana was probably not referring to the earlier Sugar Act, but more likely to the more recent Quebec Act (1774). After the Boston Tea Party, Parliament had passed four punitive Acts which came to be known as the “Intolerable Acts” in the colonies. These blockaded the port of Boston, overtook the government of Massachusetts (in theory), required the quartering of British soldiers in people’s homes, and removed certain court trials to England (making defense difficult if not impossible for many colonists). The admiralty issue just described compounded the colonists’ anger with these Acts. But the Quebec Act added even further objectionable measures.
With the Quebec Act (or British North American Act), the crown took the additional step of resurrecting the ecclesiastical courts issue as well. The Act was bad enough in that it enlarged the Province of Quebec at the expense of lands already chartered to the U.S. colonies. On top of this, however, was the establishment of state-enforced tithing for the Roman Catholic Church, the reallowance of Jesuit missionaries, and most importantly for our purposes, the reintroduction of French civil law courts—a classic instance of that old Roman civil system which the Puritans had come to North America to avoid.
This reestablishment of both ecclesiastical and civil law courts Dana condemned as the legacy that had already deluged the earth in blood. And we can understand that he certainly expressed the sentiments of most of the colonists. It was feared that this Act foreshadowed what George III would not hesitate to do in the American colonies as well. Indeed, only a couple years later, this grievance was enshrined in Jefferson’s list in the Declaration of Independence:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies. . . .
The “free System of English Laws” was common law in which jury trials and presumption of innocence ruled. “Arbitrary government” refers to what our preachers called “popery”—the old Roman systems. The “neighbouring Province” refers of course to Quebec, and the fear that this was a model and platform from which to impose the same in the American colonies is clear.
The legal system issue arises finally in our third sermon as well. Samuel Langdon finds that popery had invaded the substance of the law itself. Speaking of the Mosaic judicial laws, “by the far the greater part” of which “were founded on the plain immutable principles of reason, justice, and social virtue, such as are always necessary for civil society,” he comes to the law against murder. He comments:
In particular, murder stands foremost among capital crimes, and is defined with such precision, and so clearly distinguished from all cases of accidental and undesigned killing, that the innocent were in no danger of punishment, and the guilty could not escape. And if we still pay regard to this divine law, which is evidently founded on reason and justice, the modern distinction of manslaughter must be rejected as a popish invention, contrived and added in times when superstition reigned and claimed a power above all laws.
While this may sound a bit backwards to us today—why, after all, would distinguishing “manslaughter” from murder be associated with popish “superstition”?—it actually had a fairly long history directly related to the clash between the Puritan desire for biblical law (which Dana presses) and the same old foe of the Roman-style ecclesiastical-civil law complex.
Note that this objection arises for Langdon in the midst of a discussion of biblical law. Mosaic judicial law distinguishes between accidental killings (in which the party remains innocent of murder), and at-fault killings which may occur in various forms. At-fault homicides—whether through malice or negligence—were treated essentially the same.
In the civil law tradition, however, two major differences had been introduced—one tied to the law itself, the other tied to the privilege obtained by the ecclesiastical courts. First, a distinction was introduced between non-accidental homicides that had been premeditated and those that had not. For example, a person who “laid in wait” for his victim, planned his attack, then pounced on him in surprise and killed him will have committed premeditated murder. This would be treated and punished in sharp contrast with a case where two guys got into a fist-fight and one hit the other and killed him.
Under biblical law, these two cases could both be considered murder. Whether you planned the killing or not, it could be regarded as murder without distinction. The only distinction maintained in biblical law was if a killing was purely accidental. This view was held by most of the Puritans that opposed the ecclesiastical-royal court complex in England. This was true from the first flight to America all the way up until, obviously because of Langdon’s objection, the U.S. constitutional ratification era. There was, however, serious interaction, debate, and jurisdictional struggle within that long historical window, 1620—1789.
Second, the Roman tradition carried with it a curiosity purportedly based on Old Testament ceremonial law which had been appropriated originally to protect the Pope’s clergy from prosecution in civil courts. This tradition was called “benefit of clergy.” Over time, in regard to cases of non-premeditated homicide, it came to be applied to greater numbers of people: first, the nobility, then all literate people. As literacy was proved by reading Psalm 51, people began to memorize Scripture for the occasion. Thus the benefit eventually was transferred to all who declared “benefit of clergy.” The central idea of this “benefit” was to have you case removed from a secular court into a church court where the death penalty could not be imposed and penalties could be less harsh. The “benefit” in alleged “manslaughter” cases was the same, and obviously allowed a guilty party to escape the death penalty. “Manslaughter” cases were punished in such instances by a mere branding on the hand.
Puritans, however, saw the obvious injustice in the system—of letting off murderers with a minimal penalty, and creating a class of hypocrites claiming “benefit of clergy.” It was a nothing less than the Roman church being allowed a path to negate God’s law.
The practice was not only opposed in England, but was carried into direct institution in the American colonies. Though the New England colonies had originally founded themselves largely upon the law of Moses, the gradual efforts of the crown to establish control led to new charters and new legal systems by the 1690s. This included the “popish” systems and legal distinctions. Thus, Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchison argued to a grand jury in 1765:
I don’t know a nation in the world that makes that distinction between murder and manslaughter which the English do. It was not made in this country before the charter 1691 for our forefathers founded their laws upon the law of Moses which makes no such distinction.
Hutchinson was an ardent royalist and supporter of the royal prerogative over colonial courts and law. As such, he was advancing this argument as a criticism of the previous Puritan administrations. Maintaining the English legal distinctions for him meant manifesting the “benignity of English law.”
Other cases show, however, how this “benignity” actually opened the door to broader abuses. In Connecticut, for example, one Daniel Gard killed a man in a fist-fight. The court indicted him for murder, but the jury moved to apply the English legal distinctions for manslaughter. The judges were powerless to overturn this, but not to impose penalties to the highest degree still available. As a result, Gard was sentenced to “symbolic hanging” in which he stood roped in the gallows for an hour. He was then removed and whipped with 39 lashes, then incarcerated until he could pay the costs of his prosecution and commitment.
In colonies more dominated by the Episcopal Church, the “popish” court remedies and benefit of clergy were applied in a wider variety of cases and for a longer period of time. Virginia, for example, formally codified the principle in 1732. Branding of the hand was practiced at least until the late 1790s for “clergyable” felonies, including manslaughter, bigamy, maiming, and grand larceny. Other instances existed, too, but were phased out more quickly. The branding, however, was always subject to addition penalty: “Justices frequently added a whipping or time in the pillory to branding.”
Opponents of the system knew from English history that the loophole for leniency inherent in the system meant that criminals would naturally abuse it. One historian notes just that:
The means was now available to laymen who could read to save themselves from the gallows by having their cases moved to ecclesiastical courts. But the door was also open to wholesale abuse of the system, particularly in view of the fact that common law courts developed in practice the doctrine that all felonies (except treason) were clergyable for the first offense. The possibility that heinous criminals in significant numbers could go virtually unpunished and be free to break the law again prodded Parliament to remove from benefit of clergy serious crimes such as murder, rape, arson, burglary, robbery, horse-stealing, and so on.
The fact that the plea had been open for such extreme felonies when under high church influences certainly would have alarmed opponents, even if colonial practice had not gone that far. In Puritan minds—always suspicious of the powers of such courts—that last sentenced would always have ended, “. . . yet.”
Opposition would cling to the view that Mosaic Law maintained the distinctions God desired, and that even in the toughest of cases these could prevail to protect the innocent and convict the guilty. An interesting illustration of this lies in the case of Mercy Brown of Wallingford, Connecticut. Mercy killed her adult son, but the question was raised as to her sanity before the act. She was known to have been “craz’d” and “distracted”—meaning insane. This was the first case in American history of an insanity plea. How the case proceeded, however, in the interesting part.
The jury convicted her of murder, but forestalled sentencing due to the uncertainty of her mental condition. They appealed to the General Court and others in the colony for advice in this difficult circumstance. A well-known royalist minister, Gershom Bulkeley, argued that colonial law (close to biblical law) must be overruled by English law allowing for broader distinctions. Even the modern reviewer comments that “scripture provided little instruction.” He nevertheless also relates what may well have been the deciding factor in ultimately withholding the death penalty. “Among the files of the General Court is preserved a petition submitted by the prisoner’s husband advancing an altogether different argument on her behalf.” That petition appealed not to the English distinctions, but to Mosaic Law:
According to the law of God and the kingdom no person is guilty of murder unless malice premeditated be proved or legally implied…. I humbly Pray therefore that as the laws of God, the laws and statutes of this kingdom, have provided an asylum or place of Refuge for the manslayer who slays not through guile, but God delivers into his or her hand, that so by the wisdom and mercy of this Court such methods may be used in the business before you….
The reviewer, who had already largely dismissed scripture, nevertheless comments on this plea: “The argument is distinctly biblical, advancing for the court’s consideration the texts from Exodus and Numbers dealing with sudden, inexplicable (save to God) but accidental killings. . . .” Considering that this unique type of plea came during the General Court’s period of advice-taking, the reviewer would have us acknowledge its likely influence:
It is not unreasonable to suggest that the Assistants might have found this argument altogether more persuasive than Bulkeley’s assertion that they could not sentence her to death owing to their mishandling of trial procedures or lack of jurisdiction over the felony in the first place. The chief virtue in Samuel Brown’s petition was its assumption that the resolution of the case was yet findable in scripture and, hence, in conformity with the colony’s code of laws.
And this consideration brings us to the most important point upheld within each of these three sermons—and many more like them. That is, the adequacy and application of Mosaic Law for modern societies.
 Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England, 2nd Ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1967), 303, 306.
 Cf. Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 306–313.
 The frilly-laced collar characteristic of the eras of Elizabeth and James I. For all these points see Hill, Society and Puritanism, 310.
 Hill, Society and Puritanism, 350.
 Hill, Society and Puritanism, 329.
 Hill, Society and Puritanism, 323.
 Hill, Society and Puritanism, 308.
 Quoted in Hill, Society and Puritanism, 298.
 Quoted in Hill, Society and Puritanism, 298–299.
 Officers of the ecclesiastical courts.
 Harold Paget, ed. Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608–1650 (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1909), 3–4, 6–7. Cf. Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England, 2nd Ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1967), 322.
 See p. XXX below.
 The “straw man” connection is made by Boston University Law Professor and blogger Ian Pilarczyk, “What Is A ‘Straw Man’?” November 16, 2011, http://iancpilarczyk.com/what-is-a-straw-man-and-what-is-the-connection-to-the-rise-of-the-jury-trial/ (accessed January 21, 2015).
 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press,  1979), 4:362.
 Blackstone, 3:342.
 See pp. XXX below.
 Blackstone, 3:342.
 Leonard W. Levy, Origins of the Fifth Amendment: The Right Against Self-Incrimination (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee,  1999), 129.
 Durham Dunlop, The Church Under the Tudors (London: W. Kent and Co., 1881), 222, 247. Cf. Edward Peters, Inquisition (New York: The Free Press, 1988), 140–141.
 Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England, 2nd Ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1967), 407.
 Edgar J. McManus and Tara Helfman, Liberty and Union: A Constitutional History of the United States, Volume 1 (New York: Routlege, 2014), 21.
 Hill, Society and Puritanism, 384–385.
 Hill, Society and Puritanism, 401.
 Wilbur R. Miller, The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia, 5 vols. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2012), 5:2002.
 Edgar J. McManus and Tara Helfman, Liberty and Union, 21.
 Edgar J. McManus and Tara Helfman, Liberty and Union, 21–22.
 Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 3, Ser. 4 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1856), 390, 396.
 Adams to J. Morse, December 2, 1815, in The Works of John Adams, 10 vols., ed. by Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856), 10:185. Adams repeats the sentiments in later letters to Hezekiah Niles, Feb. 13, 1818, and William Tudor, July 9, 1818, in Ibid., 286, 288, 327.
 Adams, The Works of John Adams, 3:448.
 Adams, 3:450.
 Adams, 3:450.
 Adams, 3:451.
 L. Kivin Wroth, “The Massachusetts Vice Admiralty Court and the Federal Admiralty Jurisdiction,” The American Journal of Legal History, 6/3 (Jul. 1962): 258.
 L. Kivin Wroth, “The Massachusetts Vice Admiralty Court and the Federal Admiralty Jurisdiction,” The American Journal of Legal History, 6/4 (Oct. 1962): 356.
 See pp. XXX below.
 See p. XXX below.
 Quoted in David H. Wrinn, “Manslaughter and Mosaicism in Early Connecticut,” Valparaiso University Law Review 21/2 (Winter 1987): 304.
 Quoted in Wrinn, 304.
 Wrinn, 309.
 Linda Rowe, “The Benefit of Clergy Plea,” http://research.history.org/Historical_Research/Research_Themes/ThemeReligion/Clergy.cfm (accessed January 28, 2015).
 Rowe, “The Benefit of Clergy Plea,” http://research.history.org/Historical_Research/Research_Themes/ThemeReligion/Clergy.cfm (accessed January 28, 2015).
 See Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, Vol. 3 (Hartford: Case, Lockwood, and Brainard, Published for the Society, 1895), 229–232.
 Wrinn, 314.
 Wrinn, 314.
 Quoted in Wrinn, 314. I have modernized the spelling and conventions in this quotation.
 Wrinn, 314.
 Wrinn, 314–315.
OneNewsNow.com, a news arm of the American Family Association, published a post-Obergefell article puffing the need to send Christian children into public schools. They got Baptist megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress to blurb it for them. Big venue, big topic, big issue, big name, high stakes—and it comes complete with a reader poll: “What educational environment is best for the children of Christians?”
The piece lures readers with the title, “Christians in public schools—time to exit?” But it is quickly clear that this AFA outlet’s answer is “no.” The piece was clearly designed to confirm the twentieth-century status-quo of public schooling: Christians are just fine here, just educate your children in Bible well at home on the side, and send those little apostles into the public schools as missionaries!
That is Jeffress’s pitch: “… I think if we do our job, frankly, in equipping our children in the truth of God’s Word, they can truly go to a public school as a missionary and not become [a] mission field [themselves].”
In fact, to call for pulling Christian children out would be “to abdicate and give over the public schools to Satan completely,” he says.
The good news is that the readers ain’t buyin’ it. Go to the poll for yourself and see the results. It’s not even close: as of 8:45am Thursday morning (7-16-2015), a whopping 86 percent believe Christian children need either homeschooling or private schooling. A paltry 7 percent say public school is best, and the remainder is “unsure.”
This is how badly the mainstream conservative Christian leadership is behind the grass roots activists (who else is actually reading and reacting to such an article and poll without outside prodding?). Among these concerned Christians who read and know and care, only a tiny handful still thinks public schooling is preferable. And the comments bear this out. You can take your own scroll down the lengthy list, but here’s a representative sample. “DcH” notes the fallacy of children being missionaries:
I do not agree… what kindergartener or for that matter first to sixth or higher are competent to recognize the manipulation of adults–think about how many Christian adults have been sucked into the manipulation.
Several people echoed this sentiment, some of them calling out Dr. Jeffress by name. Then, “Alex in Wonderland” went nuclear. The beginning of his long comment reads:
You’ve got to be kidding me. I almost didn’t click on the headline because of an assumption (given all that has gone on lately) that people would now be rallied and convinced behind a “it’s time to exit” strategy. How much proof do people need[?] That’s why I’m convinced there is a delusion going on in Christendom, and that those that realize the delusion will be determined to go against the flow for the sake of their children. And not be like Lot’s wife by looking back. There is no redeeming value. All destruction.
Dozens of comments repeat such points. Yet here the leadership stands preaching the old humanist, socialist, compromised way and now, holding a finger to the wind.
And look where the leaders themselves go when they need confirmation for their humanist, statist compromise: the mainstream conservative pulpit. In this case, it was Dr. Jeffress, but it could be any one of thousands of such pulpits across the land. They have for decades refused to preach God’s law and apply biblical law to social issues, and as a result have grown entrenched with, and dependent upon, the state for areas of life the Bible prescribes to the church or the family. And when things finally go sour, instead of repenting and returning to the Bible alone, the leadership defends the compromise.
At what point do you learn from your mistakes? At what point do you repent?
American Vision has been preaching biblical worldview for every area of life, and the need for total commitment to this worldview for decades. We have been preaching the need for homeschooling and for Christians to exit public schools en masse now for going on forty years. The good news is, there is still time, if you act now.
When I wrote Restoring America One County at a Time, the first topic I addressed was education. It was clear to me then, as it is now, that the first step Christians must take is to accept full responsibility, and control, of education for their children. And since this is one area of life in which we still do have such freedom, it makes no sense not to do so. The only question is whether we’re willing to make some personal sacrifice to do so.
The alternative is not just taking a risk with our children. It is placing our children, their future, their faith, and what is left of the sacred blessings of liberty into the hands of many people who hate all these things. Dr. Jeffress fears we are abdicating the public schools to Satan. The truth is, they were his from their inception. It is not the schools that will be abdicated to Satan, but the children of Christians who send them in.
It is very heartening to see such powerful opposition from grass roots like this. I hope that it grows and grows. It is time for all Christians to make this change, and if the leadership keeps preaching compromise, it’s time to change them, too.
This notice is by no means limited to the two named in the title, but is for all who have misappropriated the biblical theme of “exile” in order to describe the status of the Christian church in this age. The denial of God’s Law for social ethics entails the denial of it in total, including for personal ethics. It’s only a matter of time, then, before it becomes of question of how far we sell out in denying it. And now we have a case in point:
A PCA—not, as you might hope to be the case, a PCUSA, but a PCA—church has posted a blog that is not only favorable to the recent SCOTUS opinion on Obergefell, but lauds the half of its congregation that broke out their rainbow colors, calls the pro-traditional marriage half weaker brethren (per Romans 14), and asserts that the two can worship together because such moral issues become “relativized” in our union with Christ.
But the part that stands out most to me is the theological justification given for these abominations. Here’s what the blog argues:
Secondly, we should remember that it’s possible hold views about what the Bible teaches without necessarily advocating for the government to hold those views. If we lived in a theocracy, when the government strayed outside of what the Bible commends and condemns then there would be a need, if not a moral mandate to remind the government of it’s [sic] foundational commitment to God’s word. But, our government operates as a pluralistic democracy. And like God’s people who were exiled to Assyria, Babylon, and Persia in the 8th–6th centuries [B.C.], to expect our government to reflect our religious principles could be short-sighted. As Christians in Portland, we don’t live in Jerusalem but in Babylon.
There you have it: radical two kingdoms and “exile” theology directly applied. This is the mistaken view that the church’s place in this world is like that of the ancient Israelites when under God’s judgement in Babylon. The problem is that the more you cede to the State, and the more it takes, the more you will be forced to rationalize ethics in general in order to keep butts in the pew.
Such rationalizing and pandering to unbelief has been apparent for decades in the use of the term “theocracy” as a scarecrow. These exile theologians have already been doing this for years. What they never tell anyone is that this unfortunate talk legitimizes the unbelieving world’s use of it. It is, of course, a tradeoff. The conservatives who speak leftist in turn get a seat at the leftist tables for the meantime. They get social respectability. For a while. Then the progressives, as progressives do, progress a bit further. One day, the compromised conservative will be forced to admit what bed they’ve been waking up in for so long, and why. The “we hate theocracy too!” crowd is now becoming the “we love ‘rainbows’ too!” crowd.
I have previously spent quite some time dealing with this “exile” error, particularly when Westminster Seminary professor Carl Trueman asserted it in his article “A Church for Exiles.” Likewise, in regard to Michael Horton’s treatment of the Great Commission, which somehow inverted even that uncompromising and universal charge into a theology of the church’s exile. The relevant section of that critique, “Are Christians Pilgrims in Exile?,” is worth the reader revisiting.
In the essay on Trueman’s view, I noted the true nature of this error, and the challenge it poses for faithfulness:
When Christians begin allowing cultural shifts and historical circumstances to define their faith and their interpretation of the Word, it is a weakness analogous to apostasy, only a step removed.
The challenge to us today is that the theology of exile is as powerful as the illusions of defeat. That is one reason why cultural irrelevance seems so relevant.
What these men have done is to lay the intellectual foundations for apostasy. And what we see here in this Portland PCA post, founded squarely upon the “exile” theology of the exile theologians like Trueman and Horton, building on those foundations. What we see is that very apostasy—only now it is not a step away. Now the ethical-judicial view of Christian life is not only removed from the Great Commission. Now not only is the Law removed from applicability to civil government or the world outside the church in general. Now it is being pushed to the back of the bus inside the Church as well. Now, those who uphold this view are called weaker brethren and the pro-homosexual crowd is being asked to tolerate them.
You know what this is called? This is not called “exile.” This is called having your lampstand removed.
And I predict that if anything serious comes of this, it will be that at most this particular church will not be allowed to remain in the PCA. We won’t see any admission of the theological foundations of this error, but only a sanction for building upon them.
If this church is allowed to remain PCA, it will be an indication of that denomination’s haste to catch up to their progressive counterparts in the PCUSA. But I suspect some pressure will be put on them either to post a “clarification,” or eventually to leave the denomination (or some version of a church split).
Whatever happens, this move still shows the logical fruit of the “exile” theology upon which it is built. Denying God’s Law in social ethics logically entails denying it in personal ethics as well. There goes the neighborhood. And there goes the family, too. And then you will see allegedly conservative churches speaking of “relativizing” Christian ethics in our union with Christ.
I repeat my conclusion to the Trueman piece:
If, however, we dare to follow a Winthrop or a Warfield, or even a Calvin or a Knox, and champion worldwide influence, social change, and victory in it, then let us look past the mere circumstances that bend the knees and wills of lesser men, and stand fast. For we are no longer strangers, pilgrims, or exiles. We have come to mount Zion. We are here. The law shall flow from Zion and all nations shall come to it. It may not look like it right now, but by all accounts that is what the eye of faith is for: believing the promise of the One who calls things that are not as though they were.
Choose ye this day: the eyes of faith, or the blind and their ditch. Choose ye this day: the promises of the God who brought us out of exile, or the theologians who work so hard to keep us in it.
Here is my sermon on Acts 2 preached the Sunday after Obergefell and with partial reference to that national abomination. The passage and message, however, deal with the broader subject of God forming and preserving His church through the midst of national judgment.
In the sermon I reference another sermon I preached a while back on 1 Samuel 22. That sermon is recorded in print in my commentary on 1 Samuel, and is also available online, as are all the sermons in that book.
As we contemplate the various reasons morality has declined in American culture, it is sometimes helpful to review past, and all-but-forgotten, battles over morality in the public square. In such cases, we can see just how poorly the poor arguments did the last time, and feel ashamed at why some of our guys keep using them today.
In the case of public morals, the perennial fallacies of American Christians are lessons drilled in their heads by their leftist public school masters and then repeated by rote: “You can’t legislate morality,” and, “You can’t impose God’s law on unbelievers.”
While we could certainly go back to when they first started tampering with marriage laws, divorce laws, custody laws, sodomy laws, etc., the following comments deal with pornography battles in the 1970s. These are nothing more than excerpts from Gary North’s article, “Pornography, Community, and the Function of the Law,” from The Journal of Christian Reconstruction 2/2 (Winter 1975), pages 55–63.
A couple notes: First, while he rightly targets “libertarians” in this article, the criticism applies just as strongly to liberals, neocons, conservatives, and especially the vast number of evangelical Christians who repeat the argument against legislating morality—each in their own way.
Second, these excerpts are a great antidote to those same misguided Christians who think that honoring God’s law in society, or Theonomy, constitutes “legalism” or “Judaizing.” Nonsense. We are not talking about justification here; we are talking about standards of social life for man, family, and the state itself.
And again, Christians, this was published in 1975.
by Gary North
Given the limits imposed on society by the existence of imperfect human beings, social utopias of total perfection or total permissiveness (sometimes asserted to be one in the same) are an invitation to disaster. . . .
Opponents of the censorship of obscene literature generally rely heavily on the censor’s problem of defining deviant literature in a way consistent with the requirements of legislation. This is certainly a legitimate criticism if the goal is to rewrite the statute books in terms of greater legal precision. But when the critic concludes that because of changing standards no censorship at all can be legitimate, then he has gone far beyond the point of no return. . . .
The libertarian cop-out is simply to avoid the inescapable difficulties involved in the framing of applicable, yet imperfect law to the shifting affairs of life; it is a cop-out because it denies the validity of the idea of legal sanctions altogether, a utopian prospect at best, and a highly dangerous one in a period of social unrest. Yet it is not uncommon to see those opposed to all forms of censorship citing the First Amendment as proof of their position, as if the restrictions on Congress were ever intended to apply, a priori, to state and local governments, and as if the framers of the Constitution were not exclusively concerned with political speech and publication. Congress passed at least twenty separate laws against pornography between 1842 and 1956. A fifty-nation treaty also was signed to outlaw the sale of certain forms of literature. It seems ridiculous to argue that a conservative Protestant electorate and its representatives would have voted for so libertarian a document in 1789, but that is what we are asked to believe. Congress left many religious and censorship issues to local governments, to be decided in terms of local standards and needs; therefore, it is inappropriate to announce the end of local responsibility in censoring salacious, offensive literature.
What is the social function of law? Obviously, it is not to save mankind. The libertarian shibboleth, “laws cannot make men moral; you cannot legislate morality,” is a silly half-truth. . . .
Are we to conclude that laws are to be totally neutral, abstracted from any system of morality? That dream died in the Terror of the French Revolution. All law is legislated morality; each law will infringe on somebody. Law cannot regenerate men; it can, however, restrain them. Furthermore, law can help restrain the state itself. Law is one of the most important instruments in establishing the limits of conformity on a community, and therefore it is necessary in any system of social order. It should be clear that no piece of legislation can long survive in the face of overwhelming public opinion. To one degree or another, law always rests on public opinion. But in those often wide zones of public confusion or indifference, law can be used as a means of upgrading community standards. Is this not what the legal reforms of the last five centuries have been aimed at? Is this not the function of political leadership within a free society? Yet opinion in both right-wing and left-wing camps cannot seem to grasp the implications of this. “You can’t legislate morality” is the battle cry both of Southern Senators when civil rights legislation comes up for a vote and of Northern Senators when a Southern colleague gives his annual speech against smut. The fact remains that it is quite possible to legislate external conformity to laws that are, by definition, based on distinct value systems. If this were not possible, then civil society would be impossible. . . .
Those members of western civilization who have an interest in preserving their freedoms and their external wealth—without which nine out of ten would perish today—also have an interest in protecting the family from erosion. The voluminous studies by J. D. Unwin, now unfortunately forgotten by most scholars, followed through on Freud’s suggestion in Civilization and Its Discontents that social energy might be connected with personal self-restraint sexually. Not wanting to believe his own results, Unwin informs us, he came, step by step, to his forthright conclusion: “The whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it has been absolutely monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs.” Anthropologists no doubt would quibble with the all-encompassing nature of his statement, but the data in comparative anthropology that he produced are impressive enough to act as a warning against allowing the monogamous family to be undercut by anything as dumb as pornography. The risk is simply too great. . . .
The final factor to consider is the judgment of God. Lewdness and sexual rebellion not only contain built-in punishments like cultural stagnation, but they also risk the direct intervention of a holy God. Since God does not appear in the secular versions of natural law, and since He does not visibly restrain the automatic processes of the free market, many (most) analysts of the pornography problem have been lured into a false sense of security. Since God is silent, He must be unconcerned. And when God is no longer silent, men will do their best to clog their ears, or at least blame something else for the noise. Yet the biblical fact remains that God does bring external judgments on rebellious societies (Deut. 8; 28). Therefore, part of the defense function of society’s civil government is to reduce the flourishing of sexual practices that invite the judgment of God. God does not require perfection from men in order that their societies might prosper (since Christ has met His standards of perfect righteousness), but men should see to it that some legislation and law enforcement resources are expended in reducing the level of publicly advertised, profit-oriented immorality. Christians may not have the votes to get national legislation on the books, but local pressures may be feasible. In some regions, other issues may be more pressing, but in a Christian commonwealth, anti-pornographic legislation would unquestionably be on the books and enforced.
I’ve been asked by a number of people to respond to an article by Erica Williams Simon titled “There are 6 Scriptures about homosexuality in the Bible. Here’s what they really say.” Here’s her introduction:
“I’m the daughter of two ministers and still spend every Sunday in church, so I grew up studying the Bible pretty closely. But in all my years, I’ve never heard the scriptures about homosexuality explained this way. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this guy [Matthew Vines], and I can tell you that, like me, he loves his faith very much. So who better to study and challenge it? What he found just might be a game changer.”
Vines is the author of God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. There’s nothing new about any of Vines’ arguments. They’ve been answered numerous times in any number of articles and books. The only people who would see any of his arguments as “a game changer” have not studied the subject.
What I don’t cover in this article in response to Vines’ comments can be found in these books, many of which have been available long before Vines published his book on the subject:
- Homosexuality: A Biblical View (1978).
- The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (2001).
- The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality (2002).
- Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (2002).
- Making Gay OK: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything (2014).
- What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (2015)
Christopher Yuan writes that Vines’ God and the Gay Christian “begins with an emotional appeal from Matthew 7:18, ‘A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.'” I found the use of Matthew 7:18 ironic given the nature of same-sex relationships: a consistent homosexual relationship can’t bear any fruit. Barren/fruitless trees are cursed (Matt. 21:18-22) and cut down (Luke 13:7-9). The first command given to Adam and Eve is “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).
The first line of argument for Vines is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there is not a single verse in the Bible that says a negative thing about same-sex sexuality. Would homosexuals have a case? Not at all because the standard for sexual relationships is established in Genesis (1:27-28; 2:24) and confirmed by Jesus (Matt. 19:4) and Paul (1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31). A restroom sign that says “men” does not need to say “no women.” A speed limit sign that reads “55” does not need to say “Not 60.”
Moreover, anatomy also precludes any rational validation of same-sex marriage. That’s why Paul can argue that same-sex relationships are “against nature” (Rom. 1:26).
Pro-same-sex advocates argue that Jesus never condemned same-sex sexuality. Of course, He didn’t have to since the creation account defines the proper sexual and marital relationship. People like Vines claim that Jesus affirmed same-sex sexuality by not condemning it. If this is true, then why didn’t He speak out on the subject by condemning the anti-same-sex view that was prevalent in His day? He didn’t, because He couldn’t since He had to uphold the law of God which condemns same-sex sexuality by logical deduction and statute (Matt. 5:17-20).
Even though Genesis and Jesus are clear on the subject, and there are verses that oppose same-sex sexuality, it’s necessary to deal with them.
In the minds of most clear thinking Bible students, Genesis 18–19 (also Judges 19:22–26) is quite clear in its condemnation of homosexuality. Two male visitors (actually “angels” who act as God’s “messengers”: Gen. 18:22; 19:1) “came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.”
Lot invites the two men “to spend the night” at his “house” (19:2). The angels want to “spend the night in the square” (19:3). Lot “urged them strongly” not to stay in the square but to enter “his house” (19:3). Before they all went to sleep, “the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter” (19:5). Without any desire to meet the strangers, the men of Sodom demand that Lot “bring them out to [them] that [they] might have [sexual] relations with them” (19:5). The word translated “relations” is the Hebrew word yadha (“to know”). The word yadha appears nearly fifty times in the book of Genesis and in at least seven instances it means sexual relations.(1)
When Lot offers his daughters as substitutes for the Sodomites’ request, he uses yadha (19:8). If the word yadha means “to get acquainted with” in 19:5, then it means “to get acquainted with” in 19:8.
John Boswell, assistant professor of history at Yale University, has written the most highly regarded defense of homosexuality: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. It purports to be a scholarly work. In design, it is. His arguments, however, at crucial points, are flawed. Vines’ arguments are no different from Boswell’s 1980 work on the subject. Like I said, these are old arguments.
Homosexual Objection 1
Boswell writes: “The sexual overtones to the story are minor, if present, and that the original moral impact of the passage had to do with hospitality. Briefly put, . . . Lot was violating the custom of Sodom (where he was himself not a citizen but only a ‘sojourner’) by entertaining unknown guests within the city walls at night without obtaining the permission of the elders of the city.”(2)
Biblical Response 1
First, by this time Lot was no longer a “sojourner,” although the crowd accused him of being one (Gen. 19:9). The text states that Lot “came in as an alien” (19:9), but by this time he had his own house (19:2) and may even have been a ruler since he met the angels while he “was sitting in the gate of Sodom” (19:1). The gates of the city is where the rulers met to hold court (Deut. 16:18). Since Lot met the angels at the gates of the city, the elders were no doubt present. Lot operated according to custom. Lot showed hospitality to the strangers by feeding them and offering them his home for lodging (19:1–3). He even washed their feet which was symbolic of hospitality (cf. John 12:3; 13:5).
Second, if the men of Sodom were only asking to “get acquainted” with the two men, was this not an act of hospitality? Obviously Lot did not consider their advances to be hospitable: “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly” (19:7). It’s obvious that the men of the city had some evil thing in mind.
Third, the severity of punishment for a lack of hospitality seems extreme. Greg L. Bahnsen writes: “It calls for a strange mentality to see (1) how a simple desire of the townsmen to get acquainted would be a breach of hospitality, (2) how it could be deemed seriously wicked (especially in light of the city customs, which Lot certainly understood), and (3) why it would be so vile as to warrant dramatic divine punishment.”(3)
Homosexual Objection 2
Boswell: “Sodom is used as a symbol of evil in dozens of places, but not a single instance is the sin of the Sodomites specified as homosexuality.”(4)
Biblical Response 2
First, in listing Sodom’s sins of “arrogance,” “abundant food,” and “careless ease,” and a refusal “to help the poor and needy,” homosexuality was the outgrowth of spiritual decadence. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.
In a sense, homosexuality is the cultural culmination of rebellion against God. It represents the ‘burning out’ of man and his culture. Paul described accompanying aspects of a culture that reaches this stage in [Romans 1] verses 29–31. The vices enumerated by Paul accompanying the open practice of homosexuality and characterize a society in which homosexuality is practiced and tolerated. Therefore, homosexuality that is publicly accepted is symptomatic of a society under judgment, inwardly corrupted to the point of impending collapse. Paul the apostle regarded it as the most overt evidence of that degeneracy to which God in His wrath gave over the nations.(5)
Second, Boswell quotes Ezekiel 16:28–49, but he fails to include verse 50: “Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me.” The word “abominations” is the same word used in Leviticus 18:22 to describe explicit homosexual behavior. Notice too that “abominations” is listed last. Homosexuality is the culmination of evil, a point that Paul makes in Romans 1: “God have them over” (vv. 24, 26)
Homosexual Objection 3
Boswell: [Sodom] “was destroyed because the men of Sodom had tried to rape the angels.”(6) Matthew Vines puts forth a similar argument: “For centuries, this story was interpreted as God’s judgment on same-sex relations, but the only form of same-sex behavior described is a threatened gang rape.”
Biblical Response 3
The rape argument assumes without biblical proof that consensual same-sex relationships are not prohibited. If the men hadn’t wanted to rape the visitors, consensual sexual relationships would have been OK. Boswell and Vines are begging the question by assuming what must be proved. It’s possible that Lot knew that visitors often came to Sodom to engage in homosexual relations. Sodom was known for its decadence, similar to parts of San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, and Tel Aviv. This is why Lot is so insistent that the angels stay with him. The square was considered a “pick-up” point for visitors to the city. James White notes, “There was no violence on the part of the crowd until Lot identified their desires for these men as wicked.” This is why Jude writes that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them . . . indulged in gross immorality” (v. 7; also 2 Pet. 2:6-7, 10).
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22). The verse is rather clear in its portrayal of homosexual activity without using the word “homosexual.” The Greek word homo means “same.”(7) The word “homosexual” was coined from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: “A male shall not lie sexually with a male, someone of the same sex (homo + sexuality), as a male would normally lie with a female.”
Even pro-homosexual writers admit this verse depicts same-sex (homosexual) activity, but they deny that same-sex activity is condemned by God. Contrary to their opinions, a same-sex relationship is described in the Bible as “an abomination.”
“Abomination, a term of strong disapproval in Hebrew (to’evah), is used five times in this chapter [Leviticus] (vv. 22, 26, 27, 29, 30) and in 20:13. It is more common in Deuteronomy (17 times), in Proverbs (21 times), and in Ezekiel (43 times). Other writers use it less often. It comes from a root meaning ‘to hate’ or ‘abhor.’ An abomination is literally something detestable and hated by God (e.g., Prov. 6:16; 11:1).”
“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they surely shall be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them” (Lev. 20:13). This verse repeats the prohibition of Leviticus 18:22. There is a penalty of death attached to the prohibition. The death penalty puts the behavior in a category different from ceremonial uncleanness found elsewhere in the chapter and the larger legal code.
Homosexual Objection 5
“The Hebrew word ‘toevah,’ here translated ‘abomination,’ does not usually signify something intrinsically evil, like rape or theft (discussed elsewhere in Leviticus), but something which is ritually unclean for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation, both of which are prohibited in these same chapters.”(8)
Biblical Response 5
Certain ceremonial violations were considered “abominations,” but none of them was punished with death. “The breach of the ceremonial law results in separation from the cultic [religious] activity for a stated period. Breaking the moral law results in death or expulsion from the camp. Thus there is a qualitative difference between eating pork (Lev. 11:7) or shaving (Lev. 9:27) and cursing one’s parents (Lev. 20:9; [Mark 7:6–13]), adultery (Lev. 20:10), incest (Lev. 20:11–13) and homosexual practice.”(9)
Homosexual Objection 6
The homosexuality condemned in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 has to do with the “prohibition of idolatrous sexuality,” not with homosexuality per se.(10)
Biblical Response 6
This is an argument from silence. Even Boswell is not consistent with his claim: “Although both chapters also contain prohibitions (e.g., against incest and adultery) which might seem to stem from moral absolutes, their function in the context of Leviticus 18 and 20 seems to be as symbols of Jewish distinctiveness.”(11) When he finds moral absolutes within the context of the prohibition against homosexuality, Boswell must abandon his original premise of the “prohibition of idolatrous sexuality” only.
Homosexual Objection 7
What is being prohibited in these passages is homosexual lust, not homosexual love.
Biblical Response 7
This, too, is an argument from silence. One would first have to prove that homosexuality was legitimate. Sexual lust is condemned for everyone (Matt. 5:28), so why single out homosexual lust as a separate category?
Homosexual Objection 8
Boswell argues that Romans 1:26–27 only appears to condemn homosexuality. He claims that Paul was criticizing sexual activity that is against a person’s nature. In Greek society, homosexuality and bisexuality were regarded as “natural” for some people. Paul was criticizing heterosexuals who were engaged in homosexual activities against their nature.(12)
Biblical Response 8
Of course, Boswell is begging the question. He assumes what he must prove, that homosexuality is “natural.” The Bible defines “natural” sexual relationships in Genesis 2:18–25. Jesus confirms this in Matthew 19:4–6: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? ‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’”
Paul affirms what the Old Testament teaches about what’s sexually natural (Eph. 5:25–33; cf. 1 Cor. 7:2–3, 10–16; 1 Tim. 3:2, 12). Homosexual behavior is unnatural in terms of the sexual “equipment” used, self-inhibiting (no progeny except by artificial means), unsanitary, and disease causing (AIDS). Then there’s the further problem of determining what else might be “natural.” Pedophilia? Rape? Incest?
Much more could be said on this topic. The articles and books listed above can flesh out any argument being raised today on attempts to justify same-sex sexuality based on the Bible.
- Genesis 4:1, 17, 25; 19:5, 8; 24:16; 38:26; Numbers 31:17, 18, 35; Judges 11:39; 19:22, 25; 1 Samuel 1:19.
- John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 93–94.
- Greg L. Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 33.
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 94.
- Bahnsen, Homosexuality, 59.
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 93.
- The Latin homo means “man.” In the Latin Vulgate, John 19:15 reads Ecce Homo, “Behold, the Man.” The original Greek is Ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος (Idou ho anthrōpos).
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 100.
- John N. Oswalt, “The Old Testament and Homosexuality,” What You Should Know About Homosexuality, ed. Charles W. Keysor (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 54–60. Quoted in Fowler and House, Civilization in Crisis, 129.
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 100.
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 100–101.
- “It cannot be inferred from this that Paul considered mere homoerotic attraction or practice morally reprehensible, since the passage strongly implies that he was not discussing persons who were by inclination gay and since he carefully observed, in regard to both the women and the men, that they changed or abandoned the ‘natural use’ to engage in homosexual activities.” (Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 112–113).
You’ll find this Declaration of Independence to be modeled almost exactly upon the original, only in plain speech. And despite being modeled upon the original, you’ll find that the original facts, ideas, and grievances almost all fit directly to our own time with startling accuracy. What of the original conclusions, then? You decide.
Declaration of Independence
July 4, 2015
Sometimes you just gotta do what you just gotta do: get rid of the current government you’re under, and form a new one. It’s our natural and God-given right to do so. When we exercise it, however, we should at least have the common courtesy to tell everyone else why. So here goes:
It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out 1) that God created all men equal and with some rights that can’t be taken away by anyone. These include the rights to live, to be free, and to do what they want with their own lives; 2) That to protect these rights, we form governments that have the consent of the people that have to live under them; and 3) That whenever any government quits protecting these rights, the people have further the right to get rid of that government and form a new one that will protect their rights and their happiness.
Now, it’s not smart just to go changing governments for every little thing, especially when the one you already have has been around for so long. People usually put up with as much nonsense as we can before we go through the trouble of uprooting everything and starting over. But when the government keeps obviously abusing and taking away our rights, and following an obvious agenda that looks like it will lead to a dictatorship, we not only have the right, but the duty, to get rid of that government and form one that will actually secure our rights into the future.
We have suffered like this long enough. It is now necessary to change our government. The establishment has done nothing but repeatedly violate our rights and take away our freedoms, and it’s obviously on its way to a tyranny over the states and people. Just consider some of the things we have had to put up with under this government:
- It won’t pass laws that we need or want, or threatens to veto them when we do.
- When the states do sign laws we need and want, the federal Courts, or Congress, strike them down. Sometimes the Court ties them up and suspends them, and sometimes when we do want to Supreme Court to rule, if refuses to hear the case.
- It confiscates large tracts of land under Federal jurisdiction and then rules them with unelected Federal bureaucracies, trampling and ignoring local laws, governments, and our right to be represented in the process.
- It plays games with schedules and holds secret, closed-door meetings so that our representatives are either out of town, or locked out of important decisions and votes.
- When it appears that someone will actually stand up to the tyranny, that person is locked out, intimidated, or marginalized in the media in order to ignore or silence all opposition.
- It leaves the people and the states vulnerable to tyranny and even to mobs because their representatives are ridiculed and left powerless.
- It has obstructed justice by refusing to make his judges and officials play by the same rules as everyone else.
- It only appoints judges that agree with it and which it can control.
- It grows the size and power of government with all kinds of new unelected bureaucrats, and sends out armed agents to harass people with all kinds of rules and regulations, and to collect taxes, fines, and fees until we have nothing left.
- It maintains a standing army among us during peacetime without any declaration of war from Congress.
- It has militarized both federal and local police and has made them unaccountable to local people and a threat to local freedoms.
- It has even combined the President’s powers with those of Congress to override the Constitution and our state and local laws:
- For maintaining huge military bases among us and forcing us to pay for them
- For shielding government agents—including police, SWAT, courts, and federal agents—from punishment for offenses and even murders they should commit on the people
- For interfering with our trade and markets throughout the world
- For imposing all kinds of taxes, fines, and fees on us without our consent
- For denying the right to trial by jury in many cases
- For hauling us off to distant prisons on false charges
- For abolishing common law and establishing arbitrary government throughout the courts
- For overriding state Constitutions, striking down our most important laws, and manipulating our state and local governments
- For replacing the role of state and local legislatures with federal laws and bureaucrats
- It ignores the people when they need government, and leaves us at the mercy of its armed agents and bureaucrats
- It takes everything it wants, and destroys anything that stands in its way, including people
- It even lets foreign soldiers train on our soil for war against us, and would not hesitate to employ them in its destruction of our liberties, and it is already preparing for cruelties more fitting the ages of barbarism than of anything you could call civilization
- It employs our own troops against us. Our own sons and daughters are prepared and conditioned to be our executioners, and to give their lives in doing so if necessary.
- It has instigated riots among us, and has created class warfare that leads to violence against man, woman, and child alike, as well as the destruction of property
We have endured these oppressions for decades, and all along the way have tried patiently to use the system itself in order to fix the problems, but things have only gotten worse. It’s time we acknowledge that any government that acts this way is not fit to be the government of a free people.
It’s not for lack of trying that we arrive at this decision. We have repeatedly complained about the legislature and its failures. We have told the story of our founding fathers and our rights over and over. We have begged the officials to find justice and love in their hearts, and we have pleaded with them as brothers to stop these invasions which can only either end in tyranny or force us to act. They apparently don’t care about justice or brotherhood. And since this can only mean they prefer injustice and tyranny, we’ll have to accept the fact that they are our enemies, even if they would otherwise be our friends.
In light of all this, we can only appeal to the true Supreme Judge of the world to set things right. As representatives of a new system, we declare that we have the right to be free and independent states, and that we are so as a matter of fact. We absolve ourselves totally of all ties to the former government that has become a tyranny; it is now to us like it never even existed. As a new free government, we have the same rights as any other government: declare war, make peace, make alliances, open for commerce, and do anything any other state or nation can rightly, under God, do. And for this newly declared independence and liberty, we solely trust God Himself for our protection, and we pledge to support each other with our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.
Wednesday’s article on the premillennialists’ defeatism in regard to Obergefell rankled a few feathers. There were even a couple guys in one Facebook group who agreed they’d like to punch me for writing it. But there is no escaping the truth of it.
The hatefulness may seem out-of-place to some, but it is really not that shocking to those of us who understand what Gary North long ago called the pietist-humanist alliance. This phenomenon results from an unspoken pact between the pessimillennialists and the secular humanists which works like this: premillennialists believe there can be no social transformation before Christ comes back physically, and that any attempted is a waste of time. This means that premillennialists implicitly, if not explicitly, believe that secular humanist bureaucrats ought to dominate culture and government, and that they ought to increase their dominion as time goes on. The Christian’s role in this scenario is not to challenge their humanist taskmasters (although we can enjoy the leeks and fishes while they’re available). In this alliance, the pietists are functionally allied with the secular humanists in history because they refuse to get involved, and even if they do, they do so only expecting failure on their own part. Thus the pietists who comprise the vast majority of evangelical and conservative Christians keep biblical law out of government, and stifle and condemn those who try. The pietists run interference, and the humanists follow the pietists’ blocking scheme for the easy touchdowns. (Admittedly, this sports analogy assumes there are actually some of these pietist Christians on the field. Most are actually on the sidelines or not even in uniform.)
North related how the message of Christian Reconstruction actually provokes resentment on the part of those fiercely wedded to their desire that the ship actually sink:
They resent anyone who would make their humanist taskmasters angry. What frightens some of the dispensational critics is their fear of persecution. David Allen Lewis warns in his book, Prophecy 2000, that “as the secular, humanistic, demonically-dominated world system becomes more and more aware that the Dominionists and Reconstructionists are a real political threat, they will sponsor more and more concerted efforts to destroy the Evangelical church. Unnecessary persecution could be stirred Up.” In short, because politics is supposedly humanistic by nature, any attempt by Christians to speak to political issues as people – or worse, as a people – who possess an explicitly biblical agenda will invite “unnecessary persecution.”
This quotations comes from the chapter, “The Pietist-Humanist Alliance,” in the book by North and DeMar, Christian Reconstruction: What It Is and What It Isn’t. This is available for free online and the whole book is well worth the read, especially as an introduction to CR. It serves well also to bust several of the enduring myths about our views.
The “alliance” is, of course, not an actual organization, but an unspoken functional pact which liberals are all too willing to exploit. The pietist-premillennialists can get angry all they want, but they can never escape the fact that they are intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, functionally, dogmatically, financially, culturally, ecclesiastically, and educationally invested in cultural defeat. Anyone who would dare show the folly of such an endeavor risks provoking any or all of the whole wrath of the whole man from all of these perspectives. The fact that some now fondly entertain thoughts of physical violence in defense of their views is proof of this point.
The investment in cultural defeat, however, means it is an inescapable fact that Obergefell belongs not only to the secular humanist legacy, but to the pietist and premillennialist legacy as well. Like the homosexual mirage itself, the pietist-humanist alliance is a marriage made in hell. The Justices have now pronounced them man and wife. Pietists, you may now kiss your bride.
I leave you with North’s conclusion:
The humanists want Christians to stay out of politics as Christians. The pietists agree. The humanists deny that there are valid biblical blueprints that apply to this world. The pietists agree. The humanists argue that Old Testament laws, if applied today, would produce tyranny. The pietists agree. The humanists say that the civil government should be run in terms of religiously neutral laws. The pietists agree. The humanists deny that the God of the Bible brings predictable sanctions in history against societies that do not obey His law. The pietists agree. The humanists deny that the preaching of the gospel will ever fundamentally change the way the world operates. The pietists agree. The humanists say that Christians should sit in the back of cultural bus. The pietists agree. This is why both sides hate the message of Christian Reconstruction.
This morning I read some hard-but-true words from my friend Chris Ortiz. He posted on Facebook:
The average opponent to the removal of monuments featuring the Ten Commandments cannot actually tell you what those commandments are, if you were to ask them. I tested many people in this several years ago when this happened in Alabama with Justice Moore. People said, “Let’s see… um.. thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal… um… love thy neighbor,” and I said, “Love thy neighbor is not listed in the Ten Commandments.”
They say, “Oh, it isn’t?” I say, “No, that’s in the New Testament. Love thy neighbor is a partial summary of the Ten Commandments, but it’s not actually listed there. Please continue.”
They say… “Um… don’t commit adultery, don’t steal…” I say, “You already mentioned stealing.” They finally say, “Oh hell, I don’t know them all but they shouldn’t remove it!
I heartily agree with his conclusion:
The greater sin is not the removal of those commandments from a courthouse. If you profess to believe those commandments, the greater sin is the removal of those commandments from your heart and mind.
It’s hard to beat the liberals when we make it so easy for them to make us look silly. As I’ve written before, I don’t care what monuments and slogans we write on the outside; as long as the inside of the courthouse and the law books are not filled with the Commandments, it is bearing God’s name in vain.
I remember after the debate on Mosaic civil law, one of my dear friends who later spoke to me said, “You’re talking about the judicial case laws? I would be happy if we could just got back to the Ten Commandments!” Putting aside all the theological issues about the relationship between the moral and judicial aspects of Mosaic law for the moment, the sentiment is commendable and wise. Ortiz above shows how deep the problem really is: Christians and conservatives themselves have little idea what is in the Commandments on which they claim their civilization is built.
While we could find all kinds of reasons for this—public schooling, laziness, lack of catechizing, the sons of the Anabaptists, and the failure of pulpits to preach the law—the basic starting-point here needs to be self-recognition of the basic failure to know the basic core of God’s Law ourselves, personally.
As Christian individuals, first, we need to return to the high esteem which the Bible has for God’s Law, and make that central to our lives:
I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. . . .
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way (Psalm 119:44–48; 97–104).
Before someone objects that this is all Old Testament, they may wish to see how Jesus looked at it. Jesus thought just as highly of the law, and saw the Commandments not just as great and wonderful, but as necessary to and inseparable from the Christian life:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (14:21–24).
He repeats the lesson:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you (15:9–14).
The author of this Gospel reiterates Jesus’ direct teaching in his later Epistle:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2–3).
Wow! When was the last time you heard such a sermon from our grace-dripping, two-kingdoms, modern pulpits? This IS the love of God: that we keep His commandments!
While Paul does teach that we are no longer “under the law” and are freed from the curse of the law, he nevertheless also adds that the Law is “holy and righteous, and good” (Rom. 7:12). He follows, “I agree with the law, that it is good” (7:16), and “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (7:18). The problem, therefore, is not with the law, but with our breaking of it: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (7:14). “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). The Christian has a different mindset, however: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9). Considering what he has just said about the law, what should this difference of mindset tell you about the Christian’s orientation to the law?
The very distinctive (in this regard) of the New Covenant is not that the law is done away with—quite the contrary! The distinction is that the law—the same law—is written on our hearts and we should know it (Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8:7–13; 10:15–18).
This is the stratospheric esteem in which the Bible upholds God’s Law. And most Christians can’t even recite more than a couple of them.
Question: in light of these teachings of the New Testament and of Jesus Himself, how can you call yourself a Christian if you don’t have the Ten Commandments written upon your heart? How can you say you “love Jesus” if His commandments are not first and forefront in your life? How can we claim to be Spirit-filled without also having clear knowledge of, and longing for, His laws?
The church—by which I mean everyone in it from her pastors and leaders all the way down to the lowliest members—needs to repent of our ignorance of God’s standards of living for us, and of our negligence in pursuing them. We need to embrace God’s Law once again.
Then maybe, just maybe, if we begin to right our own ship in regard to loving God’s Standard, we’ll have a leg to stand on when it comes to Restoring America.
Every once in a while you get someone who just comes out and says it. When such a someone is on the opposite side of a theological disagreement, and when what they say perfectly exhibits exactly what you’ve been criticizing them for, it makes for a moment of thankfulness. I accept any and all such admissions. In fact, not only am I thankful, but joyful.
That joy, however, is short-lived when the subject is eschatology and the admission is one of historical defeatism. This is exactly what has happened in the wake of the SCOTUS opinion on homosexual marriage. A website of premillennialists has just come out and said what American Vision has been pointing out for a long time: premillennialism logically entails cultural surrender, and when cultural defeats happen, premillennialists secretly love it—“we’re one step closer!” Except now, it’s no secret (as if it ever was!).
I have made this point repeatedly in the past, notably here and here, and every time I do, someone retorts that it’s unfair to say premillennialism entails cultural defeatism and the happy embrace of it. Well, don’t take my word for it. Let the premillennialist leaders say it for themselves. Cripplegate.com author and Baptist pastor Clint Arthur renders the following assessment after the pitiful SCOTUS opinion:
It isn’t easy for Christians to identify a silver lining to Friday’s ruling that is worth celebration; unless you’re a premillennialist.
Whereas postmillennialism believes that Christ will return to earth when the gospel has triumphed over unbelief and conquered the globe, premillennialists aren’t holding their breath. Premills teach that the world will slide from bad to worse until it is so irrecoverably bad that only Jesus can fix it. That will be his cue to return and establish a rule of peace, righteousness, and sanity in the courts.
So, it is on days like this that I read with relish passages that others may dismiss as pessimistic. I prefer to see regress in society as a welcome sign that the Bible is accurate, and that Jesus is coming soon.
He then quotes a few Bible passages in defense of cultural decline and historical defeat: 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 3, and Matthew 24. While it is not difficult, with just a little study and simple questions, to learn that the passages all pertain to the first century audience to whom they were originally written, and were in view of the last days of the Old Covenant age. Applying them universally and for all ages is, therefore, a mistake.
That aside, witness how gleefully—“with relish” “a welcome sign”!—our premil author accepts his lumps: almost with rhetorical flourish!
I can see why people would accuse me of cynicism. But, just like Michael Burry, the guy who made $100 million by shorting the sub-prime mortgage bubble moments before it burst, I’m just betting on the inevitable. Friday’s ruling is yet another harbinger of what the Bible predicts will happen. The world will slide into a miry cesspool that no human can restore. And then Jesus will return to make all things new. Every SCOTUS faux pas is a step closer to that great day.
For what it’s worth, at least now you can see I am not putting words in anyone’s mouths. And you can see that it’s not just the fringe, the uneducated, the aberrations, or the crazies out there who drive this narrative. The embrace of, and near-celebration of cultural defeat is explicit on the lips and in the hearts of standard, conservative, Bible-believing, Christian premillennial leaders.
This means that my previous criticisms, based on logical entailment, of their views not only stand, but are well-warranted. Thus, instead of searching for silver linings in monuments of cultural decline, generations of premillennialists deserve a large dose of the blame for it.
I can only repeat what I wrote before:
The discouraging fact is that this eschatology permeates the Christian Right and dominates the outlook of many Christian political activists. What does it say about their political activism? It says one thing: it says they are in this thing for the express purpose of losing it. Their eschatological outlook can mean nothing else.
It means the Christian Right enters the political game expecting to lose. They expect to lose the pro-life cause. They expect to lose the marriage fight. They expect to lose all our freedoms and biblical values in society. They expect to lose private property and free enterprise. They expect to lose the second amendment. They expect to lose the tenth amendment. They expect to lose the first amendment.
All of the shocking headlines on FOX that reveal gradual realizations of such things are not meant to be motivational in regard to actually doing something about them. They are only confirmatory of their eschatological expectations.
Even if they do not articulate these expectations, and would probably deny them when confronted, the eschatology dictates them. The logic is inescapable, and as far as these people truly believe in “worse and worse” history and rapture escapism, the psychological effects will be inescapable, too.
Among the many detrimental effects, one of the most important is the lack of any viable and principled plan to win. If winning is not on the table, then there will be no vision of what victory looks like, and certainly no strategy or tactics to achieve it. There will also be no willingness to sacrifice for such a plan. There is only waiting and praising our losses until Jesus comes back. This is bad news.
The good news is that premillennial defeatism is demonstrably wrong. Anyone who studies the simple use of Psalm 110:1 by the New Testament writers will be forced to conclude Jesus is currently enthroned, has all power in heaven and in earth, and that He shall not leave that heavenly throne until all His enemies are under His feet. This means that He will not return until that work is completed, and when He returns, there will be no more enemies.
This means that Christian defeatism is at odds with biblical eschatology. It means bad eschatology is one of those enemies—an intellectual one, but an enemy nonetheless. But this means that a huge part of the work to be done is to make a footstool out of bad eschatology. Dispensational defeatism must itself be defeated in time and in history.
Until this is done on a substantial scale, the Christian Right will not only continue to be the irrelevant and unproductive loser that it has been for a generation, it is actually a detriment and a drag to the progress of the kingdom.
Yes, eschatology matters. If you’re not in it to win it, then why are you there? Be biblically optimistic and have a plan, or get out of the way. You’re blocking up the doorway for people who do.
My article on the Confederate battle flag stimulated much discussion. Among the limited but strident opposition, with few exceptions, was exhibited much of the sentimentalism and illogical non-sequitur already refuted in the article. For the few exceptions, perhaps, if time and chance allow, I will offer my responses at some later date. I wish only to address, in a way, one point here: an analogy drawn to flying the American flag.
The basic argument of the former article is that the founding of the Confederacy is inseparable from racist, chattel slavery and all the abominations attendant thereunto. All other arguments about the war and the degenerate radicalism and corruption of the North notwithstanding, this baggage alone—which no effort yet has been able to shed—is enough to dump the allegiance to that flag.
The obvious retort, then, is, “Then what about the American flag?” True: greater atrocities than Southern slavery (and including Southern slavery), and far more in quantity, have been perpetrated under the auspices of that symbol and its Constitution—abortion being the foremost example of our generation. My argument about the Confederate flag certainly did not, and was not meant to, preclude such an observation.
The clearest refutation of any such suspicion will come if only the accuser take the time to peruse Restoring America One County at a Time. But a few pages here and there will be enough to inform the reader to my highly critical views of America’s sins and how those sins they are derived from mistakes made at the framing of the Constitution.
What I did not include in my reviews of late-nineteenth-century Nationalism (with which too many Christians and conservatives have been successfully trained to replace true patriotism) is the doleful history of the so-called pledge of allegiance. This Socialist artifact is blindly recited and defended by Christians and conservatives today in some kind of collectivist coma complete with mental images of George Washington praying and Madison holding aloft the Constitution amidst the sound of angel choirs, and—glory! The fireworks go off, and, “Play ball!”
The participant is rarely taught that not a single founding father, nor a single one of their immediate descendants, ever heard of anything like a pledge of allegiance. With few exceptions (Adams), they probably would not have condoned it either.
This pledge was written by an openly Socialist leader of the Socialist movement for the means and ends of Socialism, in hopes of producing more Socialists through America’s Socialist school system. It was nothing short of a means of unifying the national mind for the purposes of collectivization—the destruction of individualism and of individual rights and liberties.
The pledge was the product of a public-private partnership (i.e. Socialism) with the school system. The owner of Youth’s Companion magazine made his fortunes using American flags in public schools as incentives to sell magazine subscriptions. In a brief four year marketing campaign, the magazine had reached 26,000 schools. When sales began to plateau, owner Daniel Ford eyed the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus “discovering” America as a new marketing angle. To this end he hired a well-known Socialist activist and liberal Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy.
Francis was younger brother to the more famous (at the time) Edward Bellamy, whose 1887 novel Looking Backward, 2000–1887 had led to the formation of “Nationalist Clubs” (read: Socialist Clubs) across the country. The novel openly promoted a Socialist utopia in which America is transformed into a “national-cöoperative”: wages and contracts are abolished and “all alike were in the service of the nation working for the common fund, which all equally shared.”(1) The historian of the Social Gospel who relates this information notes that this socialized economy was envisioned to include socialized health care, and the abolition of capitalism and of private profits.
Edward was among the leaders who advanced these ideas as Christian virtues and duties. He was among the founding editors of the first and most prominent publication of the Society of Christian Socialists, The Dawn, in 1889. A few years later, he would join the more overtly-titled The American Fabian. The same aforementioned historian referred to Edward’s famous novel as “a powerful tract presenting the concept of a socialized totalitarian state . . . with a religious halo.”(2)
Francis was just as committed to the cause, and was, in fact, later booted from his pulpit for preaching Socialism. He had been not only a member but a founding member of the Society, and had helped draft its mission statement:
To awaken members of Christian churches to the fact that the teachings of Jesus Christ lead directly to some specific form or forms of Socialism. . . .
It was this radical Freemason who was hired in 1891 to sell magazines in public schools leveraging the landing of Columbus. This he did eagerly, seeing the opportunity as a means of advancing his collectivist agenda as well—which the schools were already designed to entrench anyway. The resulting plan was to use a national Columbus Day in which public schools would herd children around flag poles in a nationalistic salute to the flag. This unprecedented ceremony was to be the central focus of the day, and for the occasion Francis penned the original pledge of allegiance.
Students were required to salute the flag with arms extended and palms flat in imitation of the ancient Roman fascists. This gesture was adopted nationwide until it was recognized that the same salute was utilized by Hitler. At that point the salute was exchanged for the hand-over-heart gesture of Nationalism.
Reviewing his 1892 creation, Bellamy stated that he carefully selected the words, including that which in my view is the most unacceptable of all, “indivisible.” Bellamy stated that this word was specifically chosen because the Civil War was fought to prove that this nation can never be divided and must always stand as one Nation.
Despite his views on the Civil War and his progressive economic views, Bellamy was a racist who opposed immigration and universal suffrage for that reason. He opined that “every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth.” His sentiments on race, which were actually representative of a large portion of pseudo-religious Nationalist Yankees, can hardly be distinguished from those of the most hardened Southern slaver:
Where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another every alien immigrant of inferior race may bring corruption to the stock. There are races more or less akin to our own whom we may admit freely and get nothing but advantage by the infusion of their wholesome blood. But there are other races, which we cannot assimilate without lowering our racial standard, which we should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes.
Hardly “liberty and justice for all,” that.
And we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that the original pledge did NOT contain the phrase “under God” or any other reference to religion. That phrase was added in 1954 during the Eisenhower administration as a nationalistic reaction to the threat of godless Communism. Ironic, isn’t it, that the minister did not think to add God to his pledge of allegiance, and that such a phrase made its way in only as an expedient urged by a politician?
And honestly, I think it is a joke to argue over the phrase “under God” in this pledge when the founding document of the nation from day one purposefully excluded such a phrase for the oath of public office. Give me back religious test oaths for office holders and I’ll take seriously any conversation about civic religious recitations once again.
Should we pledge allegiance to the flag?
As I prepared to write about pledging allegiance to the flag, I came across a brief piece by R. C. Sproul, Jr., which basically says everything I would say, only in a more concise form. I consent and agree with the following arguments Sproul makes, especially beginning with the first “But”:
Because I wish to answer some likely objections before answering this question, you will likely guess my answer. When the Bible calls us to “pray for the peace of Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:7) I believe that means we are called to pray for the peace of our nation. When the Bible calls us to pray for our leaders (I Timothy 2: 1-4) I believe we are called to pray for our leaders. When the Bible calls us to give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7) I believe we are called to give honor to whom honor is due in our nation. I would add in turn that I believe the providence of God has blessed this nation like no other nation in history. I love what our founding fathers stood for. I love my country, and aspire to be faithful to it. But I do not believe Christians should pledge allegiance to the flag of these United States.
My first concern, as it ought to be with any oath or vow, is with the truth in the oath or vow. I am quite concerned that what the pledge affirms is just not true. First, while I am grateful that our founders designed this country to be ruled by the Constitution, to be ruled by law, this country is not now a Republic. That rule which is supposed to be the law of the land, the Constitution, is routinely and perpetually ignored by both major parties. In like manner the pledge claims we are a nation under God when I fear we are a nation in deepest rebellion against God. We are under Him in reality, but we think ourselves above Him.
Indivisible may be the most troubling word in the whole of the pledge. I have no desire to see the nation divided. We are not expressing here, however, a wish that it will not be divided but a conviction that it cannot be divided. This is, in essence, a claim that the union is immortal, a claim to deity. This nation is most assuredly not indivisible.
The last phrase, I would argue, is also not true. There we claim that ours is a nation where there is liberty and justice for all. Is that true? Are we free to work in the field of our choice, without a license from the state? Are we at liberty to build a shed in our back yard, without getting a permit from the state? Are we free to not purchase health insurance for our employees? Are we free to keep the fruits of our labor?
My second concern, however, ties together the last and the first phrases. Does the flag stand for, represent those founding virtues, or does it now represent a nation where every year over a million of our tiniest citizens are not just denied liberty and justice, but life itself? Does not that flag represent both a state which is pledged to protect the “right” to murder the unborn, and does it not represent the citizens of that nation who avail themselves of that right over 3000 times each day?
I love my country. But I cannot pretend that my country is something that it no longer is. I love my country, but I fear the judgment of God. I love my country, but I weep for it. I love my country, and what it once was. But I am ashamed of what it has become. The truth of the matter, however, is that were we what we once were, were we what I hope and labor that we will be again, I still could not in good conscience pledge my allegiance. Because I look for that city whose builder and maker is God. I love my country, but because I, by His grace, have been made a part of that royal priesthood, my commitment is to that holy nation (I Peter 2:9). I love my country, but my allegiance, my loyalty is to Jesus Christ.
In agreement with all of this, as well as in view of its sordid history, let me just say bluntly that I don’t believe in pledging allegiance to the flag, and I don’t practice it. And while I do not make it a point of contention when among groups that do so, I do always stand silently with arms at my sides. No one has ever noticed or said anything to me, but if they did, I would calmly explain to them my biblical stand against Socialism, collectivism, resistance to tyrants, and the need for a more thoroughly biblical allegiance in society and the King of kings.
So while I am opposed to a state flying the Confederate flag, I am also opposed to pledging allegiance to the current one as well. And I should be so candid as to say that I think the state should be out of the flag business altogether. Focusing on symbols is a good way to collectivize the minds of people and overlook a variety of national sins—when those sins are the very things upon which we should be focused to begin with.
When God through Moses constituted the Israelite nation, he said that the very thing that would commend the nation to international glory was her laws (Deut. 4:5–8). That is, the glory of a nation will be found in its ethics, not its symbols. When that nation forgot God’s Law, and yet gloried in their temple, God permanently destroyed the temple (AD 70) in judgment according to that Law. Ethics over symbol any day. It is high time that Christians in this country focus on the ethics and laws rather than the symbols.
That is my allegiance, and the allegiance of The American Vision: to restore America to her biblical foundations.
- Quoted in Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 174.
- Hopkins, 173.
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As a radically conservative defender of liberty and states’ rights, I say that there is no good biblical, historical, or strategic reason to defend a state’s flying of the Confederate battle flag today. It is rather a sign of utter hypocrisy, sentimentalism, and misguided zeal. Every Christian of every stripe ought to be calling for the removal of that profound distraction in SC—and every other state-sponsored location—in the name of Christian integrity and the advance of true Christian values and culture.
I am quite cognizant of the appeal of “heritage not hate,” and I feel the power of it. It is too easy for liberals to exploit the crises and emotions related to them, and it is too easy to forget what was good about Southern values and to focus only on the bad.
In view of those much-lost and trampled values, I almost sympathize with the rhetoric of those who recognize that that flag is the Confederate battle flag (and not the national flag), and who therefore recognize that as long as the state flies that flag, it is essentially saying the war is not over, but we’re only experiencing the longest cease-fire in history. Almost.
But as long as the voters keep electing politicians to keep up that flag under such pretenses and for such reasons of “heritage” as states’ rights, honor, and freedom, they are engaging in what amounts to the biggest act of hypocrisy in history as well.
For starters, South Carolina takes in more Federal subsidies in comparison to taxes paid than any other state. Many studies confirm this status or something very close. According to one study, SC receives 5.38 times as much money as it pays in. That is, for every dollar paid out of the state, the heirs of those who fired on Ft. Sumter receive more than five dollars from the Federal owner/operators of Ft. Sumter. In this shining example of self-sufficiency, rugged individualism, and independence from those d**n Yankees, Federal subsidies make up almost a full third of state revenue.
When the same law makers who demand that flag remain up also start demanding that the state of South Carolina cut out the Yankee third of their budget—every single Federal handout—I will take their appeals to that battle flag seriously. Until then, take down that flag. You’re an embarrassment to everyone who has truly honorable aspirations for states’ rights, localism, fiscal integrity, true patriotism, and freedom.
Yes, Slavery was a cause
This states’ rights and cession, “on stand-by for war” issue is totally aside from the fact that the Confederacy’s heritage—yes, its heritage—can never be separated from institutionalized racism and oppression. Yes, I know that only a small percentage of Southerners owned slaves. Yes, I know that most of the men fighting were fighting for God and country, land and freedom, and had no direct concern for the institution of slavery. Yes, I have a copy of Dwyer’s textbook on America’s “uncivil war” and I know the chapters on “Southern Slavery As It Was.” I have read several of the defenders of the South. Yes, I know Lincoln was a tyrant and a racist himself, and I love DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln among others. Yes, I know that the vast majority of people in both North and South—even the abolitionists—were racists who believed blacks were systematically, genetically, and in most cases irreparably inferior to whites. And yes, I know that the liberals’ agenda is filled with fifty shades of hatred of their own. I get all that. I understand even the facts that the liberal media won’t broach and doesn’t want you to know.
Yet no matter how many facts we leverage to counter the systematic attacks—right or wrong—on the Confederacy, we will never get past the fact that as a civil government, the Confederacy instituted a wicked and godless form of racist, chattel slavery, and that the leaders and founders of said government enshrined this unforgivable sin into their founding laws and argued for it in their most foundational speeches and debates. This outstanding sin is perfectly separable from what was good about Southern culture and value, but it is permanently inseparable from that government and its flags. This is especially true of its battle flag under which it fought and shed human blood in order to continue that institution.
The Confederate Constitution enshrined the unbiblical and unspeakably wicked practice of owning slaves—and not just slaves in general, but specifically “Negro slaves”—as property, and it forbade any law to the contrary going forward: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
Worse yet, the Confederacy was imperialistic in this particular evil, decreeing that “The Confederate States may acquire new territory,” and that “In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government. . . .” This overturns any narrative that the South just wanted to be left alone. Nonsense. It looked west with pretensions as imperialistic as anyone else, and it constitutionally reserved itself the right to expand its wicked institution as it went.
For those who need further proof, Gary North’s “Appendix D” in his Commentary on 1 Timothy relates the official secession declarations from several states showing that the official stated cause was in fact the protection of their institution of slavery. SC went even further, with one of its key voices, Lawrence Keitt, arguing explicitly that the cause was not tariffs, and separately that “African slavery is the corner-stone of the industrial, social, and political fabric of the South.” Let that sink in: “corner-stone.”
These official and institutional foundations of the Southern Confederacy, for whatever other good may have existed in it, render any appeal to its heritage absolutely indefensible. And for this reason, I unhesitatingly say, “Tear down that flag.” Christians have much to do in society and much ground to make up, and we don’t need the baggage of the greatest of the sins of our fathers hindering us as we endeavor to do it.
I say these things, loud and clear, as one of the most radically outspoken voices in our time in favor of states’ rights, radical decentralization, non-interventionism, radically free markets, private property, anti-taxes, anti-war, anti-tariffs, pro-life, pro-family, pro-militia, pro-gun, pro-nullification, pro-jury nullification, anti-administrative law, anti-Marxism—all backed up from a biblical perspective. As the Apostle Paul could boast against his Pharisee critics because he was a Pharisee and a Hebrew of Hebrews, and could outdo them all, so will I compare myself to anyone on those good things for which the South stood and for which many Southern partisans today continue to stand. And where I don’t measure up, biblically speaking, I’ll strongly reevaluate my position in order to get there. And yet I say “Tear down that flag, immediately.” This should not even be a question.
Abandon the Distraction, Fight for Reformation Where it Matters
There is not a single thing among all of the biblical principles and laws for which the best of the South once stood that can be brought back, regained, or advanced by protecting a monument to the Confederate battle flag. Not one thing. In fact, as long as your fight focuses upon that flag and upon the (partial) heritage which you invest in that symbol, it is actually a powerful distraction from the real work you need to do.
Since it’s indisputable that that battle flag is officially, governmentally, and foundationally tied to the unbiblical practice of Southern slavery, why would you fight for that rather than focus your energies, monies, and attention on the actual areas of life you hold dear. Maybe these great values have some tie to that battle flag, but to the extent they do, they are equally tied to the evil at its foundation. Why not shuck the evil and hold on only to the good? This would lead you to a renewed, refocused fight for biblical values, while simultaneously disarming your liberal critics of that for which they rightly condemn your heritage.
The truth be told, whatever “tie” there may be between that battle flag and the biblical values we wish to recall is purely an emotional tie. There is no good reason for defending it when there are sounder, more profitable ways to advance those values in society without the baggage. To continue to do so out of mere “Southern pride” is to think with your emotions and sentiments rather than biblical reason. That is, you are thinking like the very liberals you claim to despise; and let me suggest that not only is this unbecoming and dishonorable, but the liberals are far more experienced and more successful at it than you, and on these terms, they will beat you in due time.
The only reason anyone who continue to uphold that symbol once they acknowledge these facts can only be that they endorse the racism. There are indeed some who do, unfortunately. And for that, again, the liberals will beat you—only this time, they will be right to do so. Just do us a favor: if racial inequality is the real reason you defend the state flying that battle flag, just have the courtesy to say that up front. It will save us all a lot of time.
So it really is a no-brainer. If your fight to regain civilization from liberalism and godlessness continues to focus on that battle flag, the liberals will beat you. If you wish even to have a hope of seeing the values you hold dear exalted in our nation and states once again, we must separate our biblical ideals from all idols which hinder us from attaining them. That battle flag is one of those idols. We must separate ourselves from it. Only then will you be able to start afresh formulating programs based on biblical reasoning that will lead to true reform in the areas that matter—education, welfare, local government, free markets, the legal systems, executive power, and defense. Tear down the flag. Let it go. It will be the most freeing thing you could do for yourself. Then, start tearing down those subsidies and taxations as well. Wow! Imagine if South Carolina politics as so strong in this area as it is in support of that battle flag.
Don’t anchor yourself to a symbol that is inseparable from the greatest wickedness of its era. Anchor yourself to King Jesus who alone can rid our era of its own great evils.
Imagine the following scenario: At church this Sunday, while reviewing the list of announcements and upcoming events for your church, your pastor adds, “Oh, and don’t forget: on Sundays we have our regular target practice. Make sure to bring your guns. Make sure to bring your pieces to church.”
Absurd, right? Not so. It used to be the American way. For example, a 1631 law in Virginia required citizens to own firearms, to engage in practice with them, and to do so publicly on holy days. It demanded that the people “bring their pieces to the church.” Somewhere along the line we have lost this mindset. Today the ideas of church and arms are assumed to be at odds, as if loving your neighbor has nothing to do with the preservation and defense of life and property.
But the idea of Christian society and an armed, skilled populace actually have deep historical roots. Alfred the Great codified the laws of England in the 9th Century, often resorting to biblical law in order to do so (where he departed from biblical law, the integrity of his famous law code is quite poor). Alfred applied the Deuteronomic laws of kings that forbad a standing army (Deut. 17), and as a result developed a national defense based on militia:
By the Saxon laws, every freeman of an age capable of bearing arms, and not incapacitated by any bodily infirmity, was in case of a foreign invasion, internal insurrection, or other emergency, obliged to join the army.…(1)
This required and encouraged an armed citizenry:
Every landholder was obliged to keep armor and weapons according to his rank and possessions; these he might neither sell, lend, nor pledge, nor even alienate from his heirs. In order to instruct them in the use of arms, they had their stated times for performing their military exercise; and once in a year, usually in the spring, there was a general review of arms, throughout each county.(2)
Imagine! Imagine the government poking its nose in every year not to register and license weapons for possible future confiscation, but to ensure that each house indeed possessed weapons. Imagine that instead of imposing fees for licensing schemes, the government levied fines for not owning a firearm. This was the case in Massachusetts in 1644. The state required that “every freeman or other inhabitant of this colony provide for himself and each under him able bear arms a sufficient musket and other serviceable piece” as well as “two pounds of powder and ten pounds of bullets.”(3) Those who neglected this duty could receive fines up to ten shillings (for laborers, roughly a day’s wages).
In 1623, Virginia statute forbade anyone to travel unless they were “well armed,” and required that all men working in fields likewise be armed.(4) 1631 laws repeated the same requirements and added to them: all able men should bear arms and engage in practice with their arms. The law specifically required “All men that are fitting to bear arms,” and to “bring their pieces to the church upon pain of every offence.”(5) (Equally shocking to most modern evangelicals is the fine for not obeying these laws: landowners who did not so arm their laborers and workers were required “to pay 2 lbs. of tobacco,” and this fine in tobacco was “to be disposed by the church-wardens, who shall levy it by distress.…”(6)
Imagine that: the government desiring, commanding that every able citizen own weapons and be skilled in using them! And to do so on “holy days” and at Church.(7) (It’s even more unbelievable that the government assumed all men were going to church every Sunday. Perhaps we could increase their numbers if we could reinstate target practice fellowship.)
The legacy of arms and freedom as Christian virtues continued into American Revolution. The Lutheran pastor John Peter Muhlenberg is perhaps the most famous of the “fighting parsons.” He answered George Washington’s personal call to raise troops using his own pulpit and Ecclesiastes 3 to do so. Other ministers of the gospel were well known to preach with loaded guns in the pulpit with them. Pennsylvania preacher John Elder provides a great example: “Commissioned a captain by the Pennsylvania government, he led a company of rangers and was accustomed to preach with his loaded musket across the pulpit.”(8) Likewise, Rev. Thomas Allen, a later collaborator in writing the Massachusetts State Constitution, himself fired the first shot at the Battle of Bennington. In the context of the War for Independence, ministers saw guns as tools of liberty and defense against tyranny.
In a later context, some ministers saw the continued usefulness of firearms. A former cowboy and confederate soldier turned Methodist circuit rider, Rev. Andrew Jackson Potter, preached among tough neighborhoods in the old West. He would regularly walk up, lay his two colt revolvers across the pulpit, and begin to preach. He retained order and security, and encouraged an atmosphere of respect. In this scenario, arms served less as tools of national liberty and more as tools of preservation of life and individual liberty and property.
This same scenario goes on today, by the way. As recently as 2009, pastors in the Detroit area have begun to arms themselves in the pulpit and while on church property. Rises in Detroit crime in general as well as attacks in church buildings in particular have awakened the attention of many Christians. While it is illegal in most states to carry guns on church property, Michigan allows it for the pastor and those he approves. [Author’s note: even since the original publication of this article, many states have revised their concealed carry laws to allow for church carry. Consult your state’s laws for details.]
Christians should be aware that the use of force in preservation of life is a biblical doctrine (Ex. 22:2–3; Prov. 24:10–12; Est. 8–9; Neh. 4; cp. John 15:13–14). Likewise, those who possessed weapons in Scripture are often said to be well skilled in the use of them (Judg. 20:15–16; 1 Chron. 12:1–2, 21–22). We can only surmise that 1) God gave them talent in this regard, and that 2) they engaged in target practice regularly. Further, under biblical law, to be disarmed was to be enslaved and led to a disruption of the economic order due to government regulations and monopolies (1 Sam 13:19–22). But the mere presence of a couple weapons had psychological effects that put criminals to flight (1 Sam 13). (See my sermons on these chapters in my Commentary on 1 Samuel, or here online for free.) There is a reason why Scripture tells these stories: they illustrate the defense of life, liberty, and property in the midst of a fallen world (and fallen governments).
The American Second Amendment did not spring into existence from nowhere. It had a long pedigree. The Christian society emerging from the old laws of Alfred continued to include the ideal of an armed populace as a means of securing human liberties. The Founders, many of them lawyers, had studied that legal tradition and would have read William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769). The first part of the first volume elaborates on the subject of our “principal absolute rights… of personal security, personal liberty, and private property [i.e. life, liberty, and property].” It then covers five means of securing and protecting these rights “inviolate”:
The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute I W. & M. st.2. c.2. and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.(9)
Within that same legal tradition, and more than a generation earlier, the English philosopher John Locke voiced the sanctity of life, liberty, and property as well as our duty even to use force to preserve it:
Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself… so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.
Locke elaborated these views within the context of belief in God’s ultimate sovereignty, ownership, and law-order over all of creation:
being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure…(10)
Thomas Jefferson clearly took his phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” from Locke, likely via Blackstone. It is no irony that Jefferson kept a portrait of Locke on his parlor wall. Both hated tyranny, and saw freedom as requiring the defense of person and property via use of force if necessary. Both derived this from the Christian legal tradition they inherited.
Today, so many Christians are brainwashed or affected by progressive propaganda that we have an uneasy feeling even broaching the subject of guns. Constant liberalism in the media and years of government-school indoctrination have eroded the foundations of liberty in this nation. Ironically, Christians think themselves conservative when they back everything the military does. Conservatives think that to oppose the military is to be a leftist. They have no idea that 1) the tradition of imperialistic war grows out of leftist, not conservative, ideology, and 2) the Bible forbids nations to have standing armies or stockpile offensive weapons. The Bible calls for national defense through an armed populace and militia upon necessity. A standing army is an affront to God. But for some reason, alleged conservative politicians easily persuade Christian voters that the next military maneuver is of necessity an expression of conservative values, and the Christians cheer. In reality, it is an anti-Christian position to have all arms in possession of the state and the populace dependent (let alone cheering) on the state for protection and defense.
We are further brainwashed into thinking (and feeling) that guns are somehow dirty and evil, and that Christians should have nothing to do with them. In this view, we have departed from the Scriptures, Christian legal history, as well as America’s Christian history.
As a remedy for the situation, we should both learn and exercise our gun rights. This article provides merely a beginning of the necessary education. We need much more. Every Christian should read and understand the laws of their particular state. Good places to start are www.handgunlaw.us and opencarry.org (the former site includes coverage of concealed carry laws and much more; the latter deals mainly with open carry). Not only should you know about laws pertaining directly to carrying, but also to those pertaining to the use of deadly force. These vary per state, and Christians should be aware.
In addition to knowledge, we should also begin to exercise our inviolable rights. Every able Christian should own a firearm, and each should seek instruction and training in how to use them. This includes handguns, shotguns, and rifles, each of which has a particular strength in self- and home-defense. Elders and pastors should teach on the topic and its history, and should help aid church members in obtaining fitting pieces and proper training in legal settings.
One great expression of both education and practice appears in the Appleseed Project. These training camps are steeped in American history and wish to advance the forgotten legacy of the American rifleman. Using focused and professional training events across the country, this project teaches and hones shooting skills toward the goal of making you accurate at 500 yards.
In addition to that great project, I recommend taking classes in handgun defense and general home defense. These are offered by gun shops and firing ranges around the country. Make use of them.
In states that oppress the inviolable right to bear arms, the best we can do is to organize politically and locally to change the laws. [Even here, things are changing.] This is not easy, of course, but Christian society demands it as a measure to stop the tyranny of governments and the advance of individual crime. To allow unjust gun laws and prohibitions to continue unchallenged is to fail in loving your neighbor and to vote in favor of servitude. This, of course, demands its own article, but deserves at least mentioning here.
Christians need to understand and act upon these biblical ideals. While this article hardly provides the last word on the subject, we ignore the lessons of the Bible and history to the peril of our freedoms and lives. Evil ever advances upon our families, churches, and states. Evil seeks positions of power, such as government, and from there seeks to eliminate the avenues of power that threaten it (an armed populace). Thus tyrannical government seeks gun control laws. Wise Christians see past the propaganda and stand for freedom. Those who remain silent are by their silence complicit in the tyranny and the crimes in which it results.
With relentless expression of our rights through education, publication, exercising the right, and challenging unjust laws, Christians can at least create a society hungrier for freedom. At best we may roll back the various infringements upon those freedoms. If we change the laws well enough, we may indeed once again hear pastor say, “Oh, and don’t forget: on Sundays we have our regular target practice. Make sure to bring your pieces to church.”
- Francis Grose, Military Antiquities Respecting a History of the British Army, from the Conquest to the Present Time, 2 vol. (London: Egerton and Kearsley, 1801), 1:1.
- Francis Grose, Military Antiquities, 1:2.
- William Brigham, ed., The Compact with the Charter and Laws of the Colony of New Plymouth (Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1836), 31.
- William Hening, The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in 1619, (New York, 1823), 173–174, http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol01-07.htm (accessed April 22, 2010); I have modernized the English taken from this work.
- William Hening, The Statutes at Large, 174, http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol01-07.htm (accessed April 22, 2010).
- William Hening, The Statutes at Large, 174, http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol01-07.htm (accessed April 22, 2010).
- William Hening, The Statutes at Large, 174–175, http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol01-07.htm (accessed April 22, 2010).
- Louis B. Wright, “The Westward Advance of the Atlantic Frontier,” The Huntingdon Library Quarterly 11/3 (May 1948): 271
- William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vol., 1:139.
- Two Treatises on Civil Government, Book II, Chapter II, Sec. 6. , http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/locke/loc-202.htm (accessed April 22, 2010).
This weekend, Al Mohler entered the argument over “redeeming culture” by . . . drumroll . . . blaming both World Wars on postmillennialism. I would like to offer a brief response to the more muddled points in order to clarify the historical record, and note the real problems behind such horrors.
On his June 20, 2015 edition of “Ask Anything,” Mohler answered the question of “redeeming culture” with this:
Here’s the bottom line from the biblical perspective, and a part of this is linguistic. I don’t think there’s any New Testament justification for our attempt to redeem the culture. That’s a bit messianistic; and what I mean by that is, the Scripture doesn’t tell us that the culture is going to be redeemed. It tells us that there’s going to be a new heaven and a new earth, and it also tells us that Christians are to be actively engaged in the culture, and there’s no doubt about that. Not only do you have Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, you’ve got Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew telling us the greatest commandment and the one that is second to it: the greatest commandment being thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. And then Jesus said the second one is like to it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. And that certainly has to mean that we have to be engaged in the culture of our neighbor, and that means we are to be salt and light, and that means the culture ought to be different because Christians are in the culture. But we don’t really have a biblical warrant for believing we’re going to be able to redeem any culture.
Then Mohler turned a corner into historical analysis, and that’s when things got out of hand:
One of the most dangerous moments in church history in terms of the church in Europe was the period in late nineteenth century when European Christians believed that’s exactly what they were being successful in doing: they were redeeming the culture. And that’s when you had the emergence of a very strong strain of what was called “postmillennialism,” in which, eschatologically, they actually believed they were realizing the kingdom—most especially in a kingdom like Germany (Wilhemine Germany) at the end of the nineteenth century. And yet that gave birth to the militaristic horror of what became Germany in not only the first World War but the second World War.
There is only a morsel of truth in this. The Wilhelmine regimes (just like many of the equally misguided progressive, “Christian America” proponents of late nineteenth century America as well) did have a view somewhat similar to what Mohler describes, but this is only half the story, and not the half that really matters.
First, strong postmillennialism did not “emerge” in the late nineteenth century. It emerged much earlier and it drove the Puritans who founded America in the 1600s as well as many of the missionary efforts that reached the whole world over subsequent decades. This postmillennial view actually manifests quite clearly in the Westminster Larger Catechism Question (and Answer) 191. That was 1647 in Puritan London—not 1880s Prussia. I would recommend that Mohler, and everyone, read Ian Murray, The Puritan Hope, to get the rest of the story.
True, Wilhelm et al may have remained “postmillennial” in outlook, but they had long since denuded the rest of the biblical message. The same thing happened in the U.S. post-1830s, when New England Puritans had gone largely Unitarian or otherwise secularist, and yet retained the postmillennial vision. It was a thoroughly secularized postmillennialism, and thus, it was not postmillennialism at all because it doesn’t envision any return of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Mohler also commits the Hal Lindsey fallacy against postmillennialism documented in Biblical Logic (pp. 209–210): that of assuming postmillennialism means that we bring in the kingdom by our own ability. Of this seemingly perennial fallacy, I wrote:
While some—perhaps many—liberal “Social Gospel” Christians believed this way, it hardly characterizes the position historically, and certainly does not form a necessary tenet of postmillennialism. As orthodox holders of the doctrine would argue, God triumphs in history by the power of His Holy Spirit—not human efforts. Orthodox postmillennialists no more believe in bringing about the Kingdom by their own works than they believe in salvation by their own works.
Not only did secularized millennialism overtake the nineteenth century, the rhetoric of dominion and the kingdom of God was still being employed by the Left as late as LBJ and the so-called “Great Society” as I have documented elsewhere. To his credit, Mohler notes that leftists misuse the concept of redeeming culture. But his total dismissal of the concept and his blaming of the World Wars on postmillennialism is not only historically inaccurate, it is profoundly abridged as a historical and theological record.
Thus, second, we should place the blame for that era and its resulting catastrophes where it really belongs: a failure in Christian social ethics. I have documented the real issues (actually instituted by Wilhelm’s predecessor, Otto von Bismarck) in Restoring America One County at a Time (see pp. 49–51, or here). Suffice it to say that the real issue was not postmillennialism, but the deceitful attempt by many civil leaders to install Socialism while posing as the avowed enemies of Socialism. And how did they accomplish such a social coup? Bismarck passed it under the nose of oblivious Christians by calling his program “practical Christianity.”
And how was Socialism passed off as “practical Christianity”? Ironically, it was by following the same undefined program of the great commandments Mohler outlines above as the reason to be engaged in politics: love your neighbor. As I note in God versus Socialism, even one of the historians among the “social Gospel” types openly admitted there was an ethical contradiction in their program based on this very concept: “This was nowhere more obvious than in the question of the use of force. Could the law of love become operative through socialism without imposing its will upon a minority [really a majority] that clung to private ownership?” (God versus Socialism, 221). Based on such considerations, the same historian concluded of that social-gospel generation: “From this discussion it is only too apparent that these leaders were very much the children of their age, drawing their ideology from the intellectual environment and rarely pausing to examine it or to follow basic assumptions to their logical conclusions.”
So what, really, was the problem? The civil leaders employed the language and vision of postmillennial Christianity, yet filled the chest with pagan ethics—Socialism. The said “love” when they meant “welfare at gunpoint.”
This ought to be an easy recognition for learned men like Mohler. Yet they continue to make the same argument: calling for “love your neighbor” without definition and without any clear expectations of what that should look like in society from a biblical perspective. This is the other piece of the ethics puzzle: while the bellicose leaders trampled society under the foot of Marx in the name of Christ, the pulpits either called for withdrawal into private piety, or endorsed the anti-biblical system of social ethics in the name of loving your neighbor. At best, they preached only “love your neighbor” undefined and left the details up to the leaders. Mohler is continuing this strain today.
Whatever you call it, don’t call it “postmillennialism,” for it was rather an abandonment of it. Marx himself reported on the Hague conference in 1872: “One day the worker will have to seize political supremacy to establish the new organization of labor; he will have to overthrow the old policy which supports the old institutions if he wants to escape the fate of the early Christians who, neglecting and despising politics, never saw their kingdom on earth” (see God versus Socialism, 52). Sounds to me like a total replacement of Christian postmillennialism by the late nineteenth century socialists. That some leaders actually did this in the name of Christianity is not the issue—except to the extent that Christian pulpits let them do it largely unopposed. The failure here is not with postmillennialism. The failure here is with Christians abandoning biblical postmillennialism and the pulpit’s failure to preach biblical social ethics.
The reality is that it was the failure of the church to uphold postmillennialism and theonomic ethics that resulted in the horrors Mohler blames on them. Nazi Germany prospered in an environment where amillennialism ruled and radical two kingdoms theology led preachers to hide and cower in the face of intimidation by the State. And as I argued when documenting these inglorious pastors, Hitler was quite aware of this weakness in which their theology placed them, and he openly exploited it—silencing the pulpit. (See also Inglorious Kingdoms.)
Third, the real driving force behind Mohler’s view is his eschatology. Throughout his answer, Mohler frequently acknowledges that Christians must be engaged in culture, and that such engagement should result in “a difference.” Yet as quickly as he acknowledges this, he adds the caveat that we should not expect much to come from doing so. We should engage, therefore, with minimal-to-no-expectation of God’s victory. We should engage, therefore, for at best a fleeting success, only to lose it. We should engage culture, therefore, with a vision of cultural defeat. After all, in the end, all human cultures will “pass away.”
But this misses the real issue argued by postmillennialism. That is, the “culture” advanced by the Kingdom of God (by His power, of course), is not merely a “human culture,” but a godly, Spirit-produced culture. It is a kingdom that will “fill the whole earth,” and that by definition “shall never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:35, 44).
And this gets to one more (final) real issue here. This debate is always initiated and advanced by our critics without definitions and largely divorced from scriptural views of the spread of God’s kingdom in earth. Show me where such a critic has defined “culture.” I have not seen it. Henry Van Til got it right: culture is nothing more than religion externalized. It is not a “thing”; it is the social expression of the dominant values, beliefs, confession, economy, etc., of a given society. Thus, to the extent that we speak of the people of any given society being redeemed by God, we should automatically expect a parallel “redemption” of that culture—for as Mohler argues, a society should show a difference to the extent that there are Christians in it (assuming, again, the pulpit is doing its full duty). I agree.
Thus, the only problem here is the expectation of the Christians as to whether such a change will actually take place in history to any substantial extent. And that is nothing more than the question of eschatology. It is precisely here where Mohler’s doctrine of cultural engagement is mugged by Mohler’s doctrine of cultural decline. But this same relationship of cultural manifestation also means that to the extent Scripture speaks of the spread of the kingdom, to that same extent it simultaneously speaks of the redemption of culture (to use that clumsy phrase).
Thus, Isaiah 2:2–4:
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
It sure sounds to me like the advance of the Gospel ought to have profound social redemptive effect. And of course, verses like this could be multiplied (see Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14 for just a couple). In the end, Mohler can say there is “no biblical warrant” for speaking of redeeming culture, but the truth is that his own view of cultural engagement presupposes it. It’s just that his view of Christian social ethics and more especially his eschatological pessimism are not consistent with that presupposition.
In the end, however, it can easily be seen that Mohler’s claims about postmillennialism are historically inaccurate and that they are not representative of the position held by those in the long history of orthodox postmillennialism. Granted, there were some pseudo-Christians who used the language (just as there are secular doomsdayers who use the apolcalyptic language of premillennialism as well), but they had long since denuded their religion of biblical ethics and replaced it with various degrees of Marxist nonsense—and Marx himself openly proposed this. Once postmillennialism was out of the picture, leaders could easily run roughshod over the silent, irrelevant, and cowering pulpits—and that is the sad Christian legacy that sidelined itself and truly allowed the rise of Socialism, the Social Gospel, the welfare state, the warfare state, and yes, Hitler.
Pointing to a caricature of “postmillennialism,” therefore, does not help at all. It only serves to cover up the real, and tragic, failures of the church while certain leaders continue to perpetuate them today.
Yesterday we covered A. W. Pink’s views of God’s law, particularly that part of the Mosaic judicial code that we view as remaining binding for today. As we saw, Pink’s views agree with those of theonomists who declare that God’s standards of civil justice and punishment are eternal and should be on our books today. Today, I would like to draw your attention to Pink’s comments on the failure of the church to preach this part of the law as it should, and the consequences of that failure. Mainly, I want you to understand how forcefully Pink placed the blame exactly where it should be: the pulpit.
A couple comments from Pink in yesterday’s post reveal his views of the social consequences of preaching God’s judicial standards. We saw him write in one place:
If the principle of this statute—the infliction of corporal punishment on those convicted of crimes of violence—was universally and strictly enforced today, it would make this world a much safer place to live in.
And in another place, more dramatically:
Ere passing on let it be pointed out that this law of judicial retaliation ought to be upon our statute books today and impartially and firmly enforced by our magistrates. Nothing would so effectually check the rapidly rising tide of crimes of violence. But alas, so foolish and effeminate is the present generation that an increasing number are agitating for the abolition of capital punishment and the doing away with corporal punishment, and this in the face of the fact that in those countries where capital punishment is most loosely administered there is the highest percentage of murders, and that as corporal punishment is relaxed crimes of brutal violence are greatly increasing.
There is no question that we have departed from God’s standards for all of life and indeed for civil righteousness and justice. The more time passes, it seems, the further we depart from it—not only as a nation, but as the people of God who ought to be preaching these standards to the whole nation.
Placing the Blame Where it Belongs
Pink felt this same burden. He recognized that his view of civil government and Mosaic civil punishments—i.e., what we call Theonomy—may not be popular, even with his 1950 audience. In his first chapter on the law of retaliation, he wrote,
Of course we do not expect to carry all our readers with us, and we shall be rather surprised if we receive no letters condemning us for such “harshness.” But let us point out what we are firmly convinced are the causes of the moral laxity and the immoral sentimentality which now so widely prevails.
Pink did not hesitate to call out these “causes.” Then, as now, it was the pulpit:
We unhesitatingly blame the pulpit for the present sad state of affairs. The unfaithfulness of preachers is very largely responsible for the lawlessness which is now so rife throughout the whole of Christendom. During the last two or three generations thousands of pulpits have jettisoned the Divine Law, stating that it has no place in this dispensation of grace. And thus the most powerful of all restraints has been removed and license given to the lusts of the flesh.
A large part of this was due to liberalism, but a huge portion was among dispensationalists as well. And the ethic of dispensationalism had affected many others—premil and amil. As a result, a catastrophic chain reaction exploded throughout society. They quit preaching the law, and as a result, the humanist ethic took over. The results are plain to see:
Conscience has been comatose: the requirements of justice are stifled: maudlin concepts now prevail. As eternal punishment was repudiated-either tacitly or in many cases openly-ecclesiastical punishments were shelved. Churches refused to enforce sanctions, and winked at flagrant offences. The inevitable outcome has been the breakdown of discipline in the home and the creation of a “public opinion” which is mawkish and spineless. School-teachers are intimidated by foolish parents, so that the rising generation are more and more allowed to have their own way without fear of consequences. If some judge has the courage of his convictions and sentences a brute to the “cat” for maiming an old woman, there is an outcry raised against him. But enough. Most of our readers are painfully aware of all this without our enlarging any further: but few of them realize the causes which have led up to it—an unfaithful pulpit, the denial of eternal punishment, the misrepresentation of God’s character, the rejection of His Law, the failure of the churches to enforce a scriptural discipline, the breakdown of parental authority.
This chain reaction was, as surprisingly as it may strike its grace-lipped proponents, little more than a rehash of the error of the Pharisees. As such, it was the work of the devil leading purported men of God to overthrow God’s order in both church and state:
[A]s the Jewish leaders sought to ingratiate themselves with the people rather than to please God, they pandered to this evil lust. In this we may see the workings of the Devil; for in all ages his policy has been directed to the overthrowing of the Divine order. The great enemy of God and man has ever sought to move corrupt leaders, both civil and religious, so to temper things to the depraved inclinations and popular opinions of the people that true piety may be overthrown.
Pink spares no measure in criticizing such leaders harshly:
It is at this very point that the true ministers of God stand out in sharp contrast with the Devil’s hirelings. The latter are unregenerate men, with no fear of God in their hearts. “They are of the world, and the world heareth them” (1 John 4:5). They trim their sails to the winds of public opinion. They accommodate their preaching to the depraved taste of their hearers. Their utterances are regulated by a single motive: to please those who pay their salaries. But the servants of Christ shun not to declare all the counsel of God, no matter how distasteful and displeasing it may be to the natural man. They dare not corrupt the Truth and refuse to withhold any part of their God-given message. To glorify their Master and be faithful to the trust He has committed to them is their only concern. Consequently, they share, in their measure, the treatment which was meted Out to Him.
Indeed, preaching the whole counsel of God is unpopular. For this reason, preaching Theonomy is unpopular. But the longer the pulpit refuses this aspect of its prophetic office, the more it is capitulating unwittingly to the work of the devil, and the further the blessings of Reformation slip into the depths of a depraved culture. The true preacher of righteousness—the Divine Law and Divine order—will preach it all anyway, no matter how unpopular it may seem.
While there are plenty of preachers in Pink’s tradition today who claim to desire great reformation in the churches, their desire seems to end as soon as the society and law is mentioned. The law is relegated to only personal and ecclesial uses, if any at all. When challenged, lip service is given to the importance of the law. But when detailed applications are called for, every denial of “the judicial code” and condemnation of “political activism” that can be given is.
Yet Pink blames these truncated pulpits. He condemns them openly. He proclaims the “true ministers of God” as ones who preach the whole counsel of God. In the context we’ve seen, that whole counsel includes the judicial law and its civil punishments, and for want of it, we have the degeneration that we see.
So where are these preachers today? I refer you to our recent publication on the American pulpit 1760s, and the entire century leading up to the American Revolution. I refer you to the call to today’s pulpits to reclaim the same substance and boldness. It is time we renewed this call, and raised up our preachers again.
And now, also, I can refer you to Arthur Pink in the 1950s. Even if you don’t like the tone and unbending radicality of a Rushdoony, Bahnsen, North, or McDurmon—at least see the same fundamental message in Pink, and go from there. The conclusions at which you arrive will have you fighting should-to-shoulder with theonomists, and you’ll be looking back at several generations of our pulpits and statehouses alike with the sense of mission we have.
After reading selections from A. W. Pink’s The Sermon on the Mount, I have no problem identifying Pink as a theonomist. There will be some, no doubt who wish to demure from that assessment, as well as others who accuse me of stretching the truth on account of it. But let the record show that Pink’s work affirms the basic central tenets of Theonomy: that God’s law is the standard for human action in all areas of life, including those abiding standards for the civil magistrate revealed in the judicial law of Moses.
Christ “reestablishes” the law
The following passage from Chapter 7, “Christ and the Law—Continued,” makes clear that in fulfilling the Law, Christ was not only fulfilling it on our behalf, but confirming and reestablishing it as the standard for us to follow. Pink writes,
Our passage begins at 5:17, in which our Lord made known in no uncertain terms His attitude toward the Divine Law. False conceptions had been formed as to the real design of His mission, and those who were unfriendly toward Him sought to make the people believe that the Lord Jesus was a revolutionary, whose object was to overthrow the very foundations of Judaism. Therefore in His first formal public address Christ promptly gave the lie to these wicked aspersions and declared His complete accord with the Divine revelation at Sinai. Not only was there no antagonism between Himself and Moses, but He had come to earth with the express purpose of accomplishing all that had been demanded in the name of God. So far was it from being His design to repudiate the holy Law, He had become incarnate in order to work out that very righteousness it required, to make good what the Levitical institutions had foreshadowed, and to bring to pass the Messianic predictions of Israel’s seers.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). Well did Beza say upon this verse, “Christ came not to bring any new way of righteousness and salvation into the world, but to fulfil that in deed which was shadowed by the figures of the Law: by delivering men through grace from the curse of the Law; and moreover to teach the true use of obedience which the Law appointed, and to grave in our hearts the force of obedience.” On the dominant word “fulfil,’ Matthew Henry pertinently pointed out, “The Gospel is ‘The time of reformation’ (Heb. 9:10)—not the repeal of the Law, but the amendment of it [i.e. from its pharisaical corruptions, A.W.P.] and, consequently, its re-establishment.“
Just as we’ve seen with Charles Spurgeon (here and here), we now see Pink favorably quoting Theodore Beza and Matthew Henry in support of the idea that “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 includes within its definition the concept of “reestablishing” the Law as a standard of living, and that Spirit-led sanctification means being given both the learning and the power to obey that standard.
Understanding the Categories
But what parts of the law are “reestablished”? This is just speaking of the “moral” law, right? In Chapter 6, “Christ and the Law,” Pink argues that it is the whole of the Law, the categories simply being understood in different ways:
It is also to be observed that no further reference is made to the prophets throughout this Sermon (let those who have such a penchant for prophecy take due note!), and that from verse 18 onwards it is the Law which Christ treats of. Before proceeding farther we must next inquire, Exactly what did Christ here signify by “the law”? We answer, unhesitatingly, The whole Jewish Law, which was threefold: ceremonial, judicial, and moral. The ceremonial described rules and ordinances to be observed in the worship of God; the judicial described ordinances for the government of the Jewish commonwealth and the punishment of offenders: the former was for the Jews only; the latter primarily for them, yet concerned all people in all times so far as it tended to establish the moral Law. The moral Law is contained in the Ten Commandments. . . .
The ceremonial law has not been destroyed by Christ, but the substance now fills the place of its shadows. Nor has the judicial law been destroyed: though it has been abrogated unto us so far as it was peculiar to the Jews, yet, as it agrees with the requirements of civic justice and mercy, and as it serves to establish the precepts of the moral law, it is perpetual—herein we may see the blasphemous impiety of the popes of Rome, who in the canons have dared to dispense with some of the laws of consanguinity in Leviticus 18. While the moral law remains forever as a rule of obedience to every child of God, as we have shown so often in these pages. . . .
The argument here is two-fold: first, the “Law” includes the whole of the Law, even as it is divided into three categories. Secondly, even as we consider certain parts of those categories as pertaining to Israel only, nevertheless we do not dismiss them wholesale. Even the ceremonial law abides in the sense that Christ is the substance of them. In regard to the judicial law, only those that pertained specifically to Israel are to be regarded as abrogated. Those that pertain to justice in general are to be considered as God’s standards of civil righteousness and justice forever.
Readers will probably recognize this argument which has precedent with the Puritans going all the way back to William Perkins as well. We are to consider the Mosaic judicial law itself as being divided in two parts: that which serves Jewish ceremonial purposes, and that which serves moral purposes. Those many parts of the judicial code which pertain to certain land laws and Sabbaths, Jubilees, seed and family laws, priestly and temple rites, etc., pertained to Israel in particular, not the whole world. These are what Perkins and others referred to as those laws having only “particular” equity. These expired with Old Testament Israel—particularly, in my view, with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Those judicial laws, however, which explain, apply, and serve moral purposes—and this includes the punishment of crime—must be understood as applying to the world in general, as they explicate civil justice in general. Thus, these are said to have general equity, and they oblige modern states and governments today as much as they did Israel. These are God’s standards of civil justice and punishment for all times and all places.
Civil Law and Punishment
Pink’s exposition later gives a clear confirmation of this principle, namely in the Chapters dealing with retaliation. He writes,
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: . . .” (Matthew 5:28-42). Christ is not here pitting Himself against the Mosaic law, nor is He inculcating a superior spirituality. Instead He continues the same course as He had followed in the context, namely to define that righteousness demanded of His followers, which was more excellent than the one taught and practiced by the scribes and Pharisees; and this He does by exposing their error and expounding the spirituality of the moral law.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (v. 38). These words are found three times in the Pentateuch. They occur first in Exodus 21, a chapter which opens thus, “Now these are the judgments.” The word “judgments” signifies judicial laws. The statutes recorded therein were so many rules by which the magistrates were to proceed in the courts of Israel when trying a criminal. The execution of these statutes was not left to private individuals, so that each man was free to avenge his own wrongs, but they were placed in the hands of the public administrators of the law. This is further borne out by the third occurrence of our text in Deuteronomy 19, for there we read, “And the judges shall make diligent inquisition . . . and thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (vv. 18, 21).
Pink goes on to argue that this “eye for an eye” passage is an abiding standard for penal sanctions.
First, this Divinely prescribed rule was a just one: “And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour: as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again” (Lev. 24:19, 20). What is more equitable than an exact quid pro quo? Surely it is a most elementary and unchanging principle of sound jurisprudence that the punishment should be made to fit the crime—neither more nor less. . . . If it be objected that in this Christian era justice is far more tempered with mercy than was the case in Old Testament times, then we would remind the objector that “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7) is found in the New Testament. “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2) are the words of Christ Himself.
Since it is a just standard, it stands to reason that any other standard of punishment would be more or less than just, and thus, not just. Thus, some people’s concept of “mercy” is in actuality injustice. On the flip side of this, this law is true mercy in that it protects society from criminals, but does not allow more vengeance than is due. Pink continues:
Second, this Mosaic statute was a most merciful one. It is to be observed that in Exodus 21, both before and after the rule recorded in verses 23-25, legislation is given concerning the rights of “servants” or, as the word really means, “slaves.” If their masters, out of brutality or in a fit of rage, maimed them, then the magistrates were required to see to it that they in turn should be compelled to take a dose of their own medicine. Who can fail to see, then, that such a law placed a merciful restraint upon the passions of the owners and made for the safeguarding of the persons of their slaves. Moreover, this statute also curbed any judge who in righteous indignation at the cruel injury of a slave was inclined to punish his master too severely: he was not allowed to demand a life for an eye, or a limb for a tooth!
So the principle of just punishment establishes boundaries for magistrates, not just would-be criminals. It ties the state’s hands when it comes to potential tyrannies. So let’s be clear here: without Theonomy, you open the door wide open to tyranny. In fact, many Christians end up promoting tyranny because they abandon this Mosaic judicial standard.
In case we may be left wondering whether Pink was explicating how things where only under the Old Testament system, he adds this:
Ere passing on let it be pointed out that this law of judicial retaliation ought to be upon our statute books today and impartially and firmly enforced by our magistrates. Nothing would so effectually check the rapidly rising tide of crimes of violence. But alas, so foolish and effeminate is the present generation that an increasing number are agitating for the abolition of capital punishment and the doing away with corporal punishment, and this in the face of the fact that in those countries where capital punishment is most loosely administered there is the highest percentage of murders, and that as corporal punishment is relaxed crimes of brutal violence are greatly increasing. Those who have no regard for the persons of others are very tender of their own skins, and therefore the best deterrent is to let them know that the law will exact from them an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
He returns to the theme of mercy, this time blasting false mercy:
“No man needs to be more merciful than God. The benefit that will accrue to the public from this severity will abundantly recompense it. Such exemplary punishment will be warning to others not to attempt such mischiefs” (from Matthew Henry’s comments on Deut. 19:19-21). Magistrates were never ordained of God for the purpose of reforming reprobates or pampering degenerates, but to be His instruments for preserving law and order, and that by being “a terror to the evil” (Rom. 13:3). The magistrate is “the minister of God,” not to encourage wickedness, but to be an “avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4). Let it not be forgotten that Christ Himself affirmed of the judge who refused to “avenge” the poor widow of her adversary that he was one “who feared not God neither regarded man” (Luke 18:2).
In the subsequent Chapter, Pink reviews and restates his position again. Here he approvingly quotes even a dispensationalist who in large part agrees:
Even Mr. F. W. Grant (a leader among the “Plymouth Brethren”) agreed that, “The righteousness of the law of course remains righteousness, but it does not require of any that they exact for personal wrongs. There is no supposition of the abrogation of law or of its penalties. The government of the world is not in question, but the path of disciples in it. Where they are bound by the law, they are bound, and have no privileges. They are bound, too, to sustain it in its general working, as ordained of God for good. Within these limits there is still abundant room for such practice as is here enjoined. We may still turn the left cheek to him that smites the right, or let the man that sues us have the cloak as well as the coat which he has fraudulently gained: for that is clearly within our rights. If the cause were that of another, we should have no right of this kind, nor to aid men generally in escape from justice or in slighting it. The Lord could never lay down a general rule that His people should allow lawlessness, or identify themselves with indifference to the rights of others” (The Numerical Bible).
Pinks repeats his view again in the third chapter on this passage:
The words, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (v. 38), occur three times in the Pentateuch. They enunciated one of the judicial laws which the Lord gave to Israel. That law was prescribed solely for the guidance and use of magistrates. Its design was threefold: to protect the weak against the strong, to serve as a salutary warning unto evil-doers, to prevent the judge from inflicting too severe a punishment upon those guilty of maiming others. As such it was a just, merciful and beneficent law. If the principle of this statute—the infliction of corporal punishment on those convicted of crimes of violence—was universally and strictly enforced today, it would make this world a much safer place to live in.
So it’s clear once again that Pink saw this law as a judicial law and not just as a moral law. It pertains to the civil magistrate, and should be inforce to prevent tyranny. It would also have beneficial effects in society if it were.
What have we seen from Pink thus far? He believed that Matthew 5:17 referred to the whole law of God in all its categories. Dare we compare Pink’s unhesitating answer “the whole of the law” here with someone else’s phrase, “in exhaustive detail”? I don’t see why not. Further, Pink believed that the word “fulfill” in that passage pertained not only to the work of Christ for our justification, but to a reestablishment of the law as a standard of living. He was able to quote Beza and Henry in support of these views as well.
Pink continued to note that while the law could be divided into three categories, these categories are not to be understood as means of dismissal. Rather, the judicial law itself was divided between some that expired with Israel, and some that continue to bind us today. Those that continue to bind us today include standards for the civil magistrate. These standards include the punishment of crime. This was most clearly the case in Pink’s exposition of the penal standard of “an eye for an eye.” He did not merely argue pragmatically that “it would be nice” to have such a law because it would be better than what we have now, but he said “it ought to be on our statute books”—which is a statement of moral obligation rooted in the abiding nature of this law. It is clear from this that Pink believed (as Gill and others before him) that part of the Mosaic judicial law, including its penal sanctions, remains binding today, and ought to be enforced by the civil magistrate.
For these reasons, I do not hesitate to call A. W. Pink a theonomist, for his position as explicated above is nothing short of Theonomy. Would he have disagreements over some particulars with Rushdoony, Bahnsen, North, and McDurmon? Most likely. Was the greater balance of his message in a different area than social theory? Yes. But on the fundamental distinctives of Theonomy, he was in line with us.
Pink goes on to argue, in this work, that exalting God’s righteous standard to its rightful place—including the realm of civil punishment—would indeed have beneficial practical effects in society. He also notes very clearly the failure of the church to do so. We will cover his comments on this failure tomorrow.
DrudgeReport this morning is covered with shots against Republicans for defying party loyalties and promoting this scary new secretive trade deal Obama has cooked up. The current bill in question has many critics because it gives the president power to negotiate trade deals without Congress, and then force Congress to simple up-or-down votes without amendment or filibuster. But the alleged budget-hawk Paul Ryan, and even the libertarian CATO Institute, are fiercely defending this move, and the whole thing is just confusing.
In reality, the whole thing exemplifies how badly government and both major parties are out of control except by that of powerful interests, and how distantly out of touch the modern generation of freedom-fighters (I include myself in this rebuke) is with the history of what politicians have been doing to them for decades. Indeed, we have no idea how far we truly are from a principled nation of principled liberty.
Recalling the ObamaCare fiascoes which helped birth the Tea Party (you remember that group, right?), the Drudge headline reads, “Republicans rush ObamaTrade before public reads it.” But then CATO goes on to blast “Nine Myths” about this euphemistically-titled power, “Trade Promotion Authority,” clearly arguing what a great thing it is. For me, the wake-up call and central issue is in this sentence: “Congress has granted every U.S. president since FDR some form of trade negotiating authority.”
That should tell you all you need to know right there. The so-called “fast track” trade authority was first installed during the socialistic makeover of America known as the New Deal. (It even got chronological priority over Social Security. Think about that.) And just like all major expansions of power, this one has proven popular with governing officials who get to use it: it has been almost continually renewed.
The shock of this power being something unprecedented could be alleviated by simply reading Wikipedia on the issue:
Congress started the fast track authority in the Trade Act of 1974, . . . This authority was set to expire in 1980, but was extended for eight years in 1979. It was renewed in 1988 for five years to accommodate negotiation of the Uruguay Round, conducted within the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). It was then extended to 16 April 1994, which is one day after the Uruguay Round concluded in the Marrakech Agreement, transforming the GATT into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Pursuant to that grant of authority, Congress then enacted implementing legislation for the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Area, the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Uruguay Round Agreements Act.
From just this window of the history we can see the perennial, and bipartisan, nature of this power.
But that does not mean it is a good thing. Sure, a lot of conservative voices will favor TPA for the same reasons they back corporate welfare programs, TARP bailouts, interventionist foreign policy, and protectionism in general. They are statists who speak freedom but practice government intervention to bolster their investments. They have liberty on their lips, but their hearts are far from it.
According to Wikipedia, George W. Bush even made such “fast track” trade policy a part of his 2000 campaign platform. Then, “In May 2001, as president he made a speech about the importance of free trade at the annual Council of the Americas in New York, founded by David Rockefeller and other senior U.S. businessmen in 1965. Subsequently, the Council played a role in the implementation and securing of TPA through Congress.”
At that time, only 27 Republicans opposed the measure, including one whose opposition is recorded here (page H9019). He called instead for truly free markets:
Mr. Speaker, we are asked today to grant the President so-called trade promotion authority, authority that has nothing to do with free trade. Proponents of this legislation claim to support free trade, but really they support government-managed trade that serves certain interests at the expense of others. True free trade occurs only in the absence of interference by government, that’s why it’s called ‘‘free’’—it’s free of government taxes, quotas, or embargoes. The term ‘‘freetrade agreement’’ is an oxymoron. We don’t need government agreements to have free trade; but we do need to get the federal government out of the way and unleash the tremendous energy of the American economy.
Our founders understood the folly of trade agreements between nations; that is why they expressly granted the authority to regulate trade to Congress alone, separating it from the treaty-making power given to the President and Senate. This legislation clearly represents an unconstitutional delegation of congressional authority to the President. Simply put, the Constitution does not permit international trade agreements. Neither Congress nor the President can set trade policies in concert with foreign governments or international bodies.
The loss of national sovereignty inherent in government-managed trade cannot be overstated. If you don’t like GATT, NAFTA, and the WTO, get ready for even more globalist intervention in our domestic affairs. As we enter into new international agreements, be prepared to have our labor, environmental, and tax laws increasingly dictated or at least influenced by international bodies. We’ve already seen this with our foreign sales corporation tax laws, which we changed solely to comply with a WTO ruling. Rest assured that TPA will accelerate the trend toward global government, with our Constitution fading into history.
Congress can promote true free trade without violating the Constitution. We can lift the trade embargo against Cuba, end Jackson-Vanik restrictions on Kazakhstan, and repeal sanctions on Iran. These markets should be opened to American exporters, especially farmers. We can reduce our tariffs unilaterally—taxing American consumers hardly punishes foreign governments. We can unilaterally end the subsidies that international agreements purportedly seek to reduce. We can simply repeal protectionist barriers to trade, so-called NTB’s, that stifle economic growth.
Mr. Speaker, we are not promoting free trade today, but we are undermining our sovereignty and the constitutional separation of powers. We are avoiding the responsibilities with which our constituents have entrusted us. Remember, congressional authority we give up today will not be restored when less popular Presidents take office in the future. I strongly urge all of my colleagues to vote NO on TPA.
You don’t have to agree with everything Ron Paul said here in order to agree with the basic premise that TPA is not about “free trade.” It is about government regulating trade for its purposes and for the benefit of those who have the most sway in its purposes. Say whatever you want for or against those interests themselves—or who or what you think they should be—but you cannot call it a free market.
In short, TPA is not about free markets. And neither is the United States government—not since 1934, and really not since much, much earlier. In reality, not ever, as I argue in Restoring America, chapter 7 (links below).
You want real free markets? You’re going to have to get much more radical than alarm over Paul Ryan and “ObamaTrade.”
7. The Marketplace