Fw: Shapes of a Wedge

From: Innovatia <dennis@innovatia.com>
Date: Mon May 31 2004 - 15:00:59 EDT

From: "George Murphy" <gmurphy@raex.com>

> > Two issues here:
> >
> > 1. If God's revealed will in scripture - i.e., his law - is not the
> > Christian's standard for determining what is right and wrong, then what
> is?
> > "Family values"? a "Conservative" viewpoint? the prevailing view among
> > contemporary Christians? Love? The moving of the Spirit? Luther and the
> > Reformers recognized the third use of the law. Jesus came to establish
the
> > law, as I read the NT, not destroy it. Of course, the law can be used
> > illegally, as did the Galatians, but that's another matter. But it is
> still
> > the Christian's reference for what is right and wrong, no?
>
> Well, not quite. But let me back up a bit. 1st, Luther did not
in
> fact use the term "third use of the law." And while the later Lutheran
> Formula of Concord (Article VI) did do that, what it is really talking
about
> is the first 2 uses (the use of the law to control socity and its
> theological function of pointing out and condemning sin) as applied to
> Christians. I.e., it doesn't really endorse a distinctive "Christian" 3d
> use. That idea is much more in the Reformed tradition. This does _not_
> mean that the law doesn't apply to Christians, but just that it doesn't
> apply to them in any way qualitatively different from the ways in which it
> applies to everybody else.

Thanks for the clarification on the history of the "third use."

> Then to the question, "What is to establish right and wrong?" The
> most fundamental Christian answer is "Christ." Phil.2:5 ff, I Pet.2:21 &
> 12:3 - among other texts - point to him (and, significantly, to his
Passion)
> as the model for Christian life. Now this doesn't mean that Christian
> ethics can be done just with a simplistic version of WWJD? For one thing,
> we simply aren't told what Jesus did in a lot of the situations with which
> we're confronted in today's world. And this doesn't mean that the OT law
is
> irrelevant, but it is incomplete and only finds its fulfillment in Christ.
> And of course OT law also doesn't answer many of today's ethical questions
> like those arising from modern technologies.

I'm not so sure it doesn't go farther than what is often supposed. (I
address this at length in XLM.) For instance, a common objection is traffic
laws. But the law does provide for tort liability. If the convention is to
drive on the right side of the road and stop at red lights and one
disregards convention, then one is liable for consequent harm to others
under the law. But what is liberating about God's law is that it leaves it
to the driver to exercise law-keeping to avoid harm.

I would agree that many situations today (in medical ethics, for instance)
were not covered in particular OT laws, of course, but the basic legal
principles are adequate to provide a foundation for deciding how to behave
in these newer cases. Some regard the Ten Commandments as being
comprehensive in covering all the bases of human social concern. The basic
intent of the law is the key to understanding and applying it.

There is also still a place for case law, which is the result of
jurisprudence.

> I don't know what it means to say that the Galatians (I assume you
> mean the Judaizers who were trying to win over the Galatians) used the law
> "illegally." The law says men have to be circumcised, observe the
Sabbath,
> &c. Nothing illegal about that. In Galatians Paul doesn't say that what
> his opponents were arguing for was "illegal" or present some legal
argument
> against them. Instead he tells the Galatians that "now that faith has
come,
> we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian" (3:25).

Illegal in that the Galatians were attempting to use the law in a way that
controverted the law itself. In Paul's exposition to the Galatians about the
wrong use of the law, the issue (as I understand it) was not whether the OT
law is good and applicable but whether one can be justified by keeping it
within one's own experience as a Christian. The inability to fully keep the
law was the issue. The Galatians reduced the broad claims and stringent
demands of the law to something they could satisfy within their human
experience. By supposing they could "keep" the law, this implied that a
sacrifice for sins was unnecessary, for anyone who does not sin does not
need atonement, and does not need the gospel. This reduction of the law is
not allowed by the law. (Deut. 4:2) It also denied the gospel in the
sacrificial part of the law, thereby denying the law, which is illegal for a
covenant people to do.

> As to the idea that we're not supposed to add to or take away from
> the law: In its earliest years the Christian church did just that with
> three of the primary precepts of torah - circumcision, food laws, &
Sabbath
> observance.

Some traditions would consider baptism the NT observance of what
circumcision entailed. The Sabbath was widely observed by all early
Christian traditions not under the papacy (Syriac Church of the East, the
Vaudois, Celtic and Italic churches, etc.) and today by some Christians. As
for the food laws, it was given for a purpose, to protect Israel from
various diseases that God promised they would not suffer from if the law
were kept. Peter's vision establishes that these laws were circumstantial;
I'll grant that. But how are we to distinguish the generality or specificity
of OT laws unless we are biblically informed, such as in Peter's case?
Peter's vision provides us a precedent in how to distinguish the law's
general versus particular doctrines.

I don't want to affirm this position too simplistically. I recognize that
discerment of the purpose of the law is essential (especially since much of
the OT law is given as illustrative case law). But I am also wary of
Christians nowadays as being too free in its interpretation so as to engage
in new law-making. Complications such as these in adjudicating God's law
must be dealt with by jurisprudence, leading to a body of case law. I don't
claim that living by biblical law is trivial in practice! It wasn't for OT
Israel. But I see it being laid aside too easily nowadays, to the detriment
of those left with only their own moral sensibilities as their guide.

>More generally, some recent NT scholars (e.g., Mark Powell of
> Trinity Lutheran Seminary) have argued that the language about the
> authority of the church to "bind and loose" in Mt does not refer (as has
> been traditionally thought) to the authority to forgive or retain sins (as
> in Jn.20:23) but to its authority to say whether or not particular parts
of
> torah are to be applied in a given situation. It's clear, as I noted,
that
> the church _has_ done this. This doesn't mean that churches - let alone
> individual Christians - can just casually ignore aspects of the law that
> they don't like. But it suggests, e.g., that the church as a whole could
> decide (trusting in the Spirit's guidance) that biblical condemnations of
> homosexual acts do not applied to Christians in committed same-sex unions.
> Whether or not the church should do that is, of course, a matter for
debate.

That's basically the Romanist position of church vs scripture. I am wary of
it in view of the scriptural emphasis upon the eternal nature of God's law.
The church, as representative in the world of Christ's kingdom, must
exercise such discernment, but (as you might be intimating) must do so by
adjudicating God's law. The homosexual issue would be an instance of what
the church should adjudicate (Paul to Corinthians urges adjudication by the
church), however the conclusions or legal reasoning might end up.

> & none of the above give any detailed guidance about what kind of
> laws Christians might find acceptable for a pluralistic society. But it
> does mean that Christians can be much freer about such legal structures
than
> any considerations about Old testament laws might suggest.

My concern was what biblical govt would be like, not a society (such as
America) with a declared humanistic ethical base (in which "we the people"
decide right and wrong). No human law-making is biblically acceptable, if I
understand the plain meaning of Deut. 4:2; 12:32. I think we might have a
different conception of how the Christian is to understand his/her position
politically, perhaps. If a Christian lives under a government that does not
acknowledge Christ as having authority over it, then we find ourselves in a
jurisdiction that, at a basic level, is in rebellion to the jurisdiction
(Christ's rule) that we have given all our loyalties to. The basic
relationship is one of tension, and it is to the extent that the earthly
power repudiates Christ's authority (i.e., biblical govt).

I agree that we have a certain freedom in regard to OT law in that God gives
us a role in adjudicating it, and that of course includes its
interpretation. My concern is that I see AmXny largely doing what the Gang
of Nine in DC do - legislate from the bench, as it were.

> > 2. Both Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 qualify that the "higher powers"
> (hyperecho
> > exousia), whoever they may be, have the characteristic of favoring those
> who
> > do right and punishing those who do wrong. But by who's idea of right
and
> > wrong - i.e., by who's law? They can only be referring to God's law
since
> > they are Christians writing to Christians. Can't be a pagan state's idea
> of
> > right and wrong, eh?
>
> They can be standards of right and wrong that Christians generally
> agree on with non-Christians - essentially the content of the 2d table of
> the law, which is also found in many other law codes and systems of
ethics.
> Cf. the appendix with expressions of the "Tao" in Lewis' _Abolition of
Man_.

My overall conclusiuon regarding Xns and the State is that where the State
laws concur with biblical law, we are subject to them. That would even apply
if a Hitler or Stalin were in power. It is not the rulers themselves but
whether their laws are in conformance with biblical instruction or not that
is at issue. The Chinese Classics were an amazing example of a people
functioning on the true (though partial) patriarchal knowledge of God, from
Noah (Nu Wa) through Japheth (Fu Xi), if Samuel Wang (author of God and the
Ancient Chinese) is right about the descent of the Chinese. It is one of the
examples of biblical govt because King Yu and others acknowledged the
authority of Sheng-di (God, heaven) and the Dao (Truth) over their rule, and
subjected themselves as rulers to God.

> Romans and I Peter were both written before there was any systematic
> persecution of Christians by the Roman authorities, and there is no
> indication in these passages that Christians are supposed to reject any
> significant portions of the laws that all people of the empire were
subject
> to.

But that's largely an argument from silence. The apostles were always
getting in trouble with the Authorities, in Acts. It wasn't because they had
the attitudes of many in the contemporary Patriot Movement -
undiffierentiated belligerence toward govt - but because the preaching of
the cross of Christ (as F.F. Bruce has noted) drew immediate suspicion of
sedition, of loyalty to a competing jurisdiction. I would suggest that
wherever Christians are maintaining an effective representation of the
kingdom of heaven, there will be a certain tension with the earthly powers
in rebellion to it. The few examples of biblical governments are exceptions.

As for the many laws that seem (or are) neither in accordance with nor in
contradiction to biblical teaching, the Christian is biblically free to
treat them according to conscience. I would agree that the default position
(re: Rom 13, 1 Peter 2) is to try to get along as much as possible with the
prevailing powers. We want to give no more offense to others than the
offense of the cross. But we are not bound in our obedience to Christ to
obey laws that he has not given us nor died to fulfill.

> > While both Paul and Peter describe normative government, few states have
> met
> > their description very well. I would agree that to the extent the state
> > enforces biblical law, Christians are to submit to it. The concept of
> govt,
> > as P & P describe it, is biblical.
>
> It is biblical only in the sense that P & P are part of the Bible.

Sorry for the trivial near-tautology. The tropical heat sometimes gets to my
mind. (APR and MAY are the hottest months down here.)

> Neither of these texts says anything about "biblical law." Christians, as
> I've pointed out, are not bound to obey biblical law - unless they think
> they're supposed to stone teenagers for sassing their parents or execute
> people for picking up sticks on Saturday.

I think the right approach to the law is that we are bound to obey it in the
larger understanding of the gospel. Working out the details of what this
means for church and state, or God and govt, is where the substantial issues
are, as I see it.

Though your two examples are given in somewhat of a simplified form, the
issues behind them (such as labor laws) are substantial. The law of stoning
bad youth actually has some stiff legal requirements - not a casual
undertaking. If such an event were to occur today, I suspect that the spirit
of lawlessness grown up between generations would not be nearly as
pronounced as it is. Why did God give this law, anyway, if not to aid in
preserving society? I'm not saying parents necessarily should do this today,
but I wouldn't discard it simply because it bothers my 21st-century moral
conditioning.

> However, the state is clearly not in
> > accord with biblical teaching in inserting itself into marriages and
> > therefore should not be heeded in this matter. It has no jurisdiction
> there.
>
> You are adding to what Romans and I Peter when you say that and
are
> therefore inconsistent with your own principles. If the state has a
> regulation about couples getting a license if they intend to marry then
they
> should do so, just as they should buy dog or fishing licenses. (The
> comparisons do not reflect my view of marriage!) Of course if the state
> ordered a man to divorce his wife and marry another woman there would be a
> problem.

It is not from Rom 13/1 Peter 2 that I am making this argument but from
Deut. 4:2; 12:32. Which is the controlling text? I don't think Rom/Peter
addresses it, but Deut does explicitly. Any regulation of a State that
results from human law-making adding to God's law is not binding upon a
Christian because in making such law the "higher authority" is not acting in
accord with God's law of Deut. But Deut still holds for a Christian relative
to State law.

There is no biblical law that says that States are not to license
Christians. But there are other biblical principles which conflict, such as
the authority structure in the family established by God's law. The burden
of proof on me, as I see it, is to make a compelling argument that biblical
family doctrine is controverted by State requirements of a marriage license.

> > > Furthermore, marriage by its nature is involved with issues
over
> > > which the state has some legitimate authority - property, inheritance,
> &c.
> > > Thus it's appropriate for the state to define who, in its eyes, is
> legally
> > > married. But the state's definition may differ from the church's.
> >
> > The problem for Christians is that if the State acts outside of God's
> > revealed will in the area of marriage, how much more should we be
careful
> to
> > avoid its unbiblical handling of other family matters? And as my excerpt
> > alludes, the CPS is anything but biblical.
>
> "Unbiblical" is not the same as "antibiblical." If you only do
> things that are "biblical" then you're going to have to try to life the
life
> of a person in the 1st century Mediterranean world. The Bible doesn't
give
> us information about everything that we do in the world.

Accordingly, my understanding of scripture in its application to Child
Protective Services, for instance, is that it (for the most part) behaves in
violation of biblical instruction, as understood in a non-cultic sense. Its
involvement in Christian families is a consequence of not having kept
set-apart from the world-system.

Dennis Feucht
Received on Mon May 31 17:12:56 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon May 31 2004 - 17:13:05 EDT