It’s been said that every Christian is a theonomist because all of us believe in some law from God as the rule for life. Yeah, but. Recall how Greg Bahnsen defined theonomy? “The most distinctive aspect of theonomic ethics, if not also its most controversial application, is its endorsement of the continuing validity and social justice of the penal sanctions stipulated within the law of God.” That’s why some of us don’t call ourselves theonomists – we do not see direct equivalence of the Old Covenant into the “church age.” There is some continuity, as all is guided by the hand of God; but there is some discontinuity, as He has given new revelation. “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things.” (Hebrews 1:1-2a, NKJV) We are bid to listen to the Son, He was set apart from the law and the prophets, being left alone as the mediator and final Word to which we must pay heed (Matthew 17:1-8).
But man is by nature hard-wired for works-righteousness and inclined to cling to a list to measure himself against. This was the Pharisees’ position and it is a characteristic of every state-church that has existed.
Some of the saddest periods of church history have been caused, because the church went back to OC practices of life and worship. The crusaders looked to Joshua instead of His antitype Jesus. The inquisitors modelled themselves of Moses and not the true lawgiver. The radicals at Munster followed David and set up a theocratic kingdom, rather than following Christ and worshipping in Spirit and in truth. The Puritans at Salem followed the Levitical code rather than NC ethics. Chismar points out that:
The Puritan experiment in New England was an enforced experiment in applying God’s law as the rule of society. Its aim was the model Christian community, and no one was permitted to tamper with their experiment. They were honest about this. They had come for their own religious freedom but were not concerned about allowing religious freedom to others.
The church today would be mistaken if it believed it could not also fall into the same trap as those who have gone before.
Law-keepers tend to coercion to get others to follow their way. Every state-church in history has persecuted those who did not submit to their system. This is the way of the world, not the way of Christ. He is the good shepherd who knows what’s best for us and He provides what’s best for us out of a divine love that cannot let us fall away as He leads us in the ways of righteousness.
The Lord Jesus was clear – His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Yet Christians have been overly focused on worldly things since Peter tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross. Theonomic Reconstructionists believe Mosaic Law is to be forcibly imposed upon society, apparently oblivious to the covenant structure in Scripture which applies law given within a covenant to those in that covenant. Man does not have the authority to extract laws from a covenant without express warrant from Scripture.
Whenever men try to impose Mosaic Law on society, they tend to make their own rules, trying to redeem culture and make the world ready for Christ’s return, putting themselves in place of God. Every time this agenda is pursued, men claiming Christ use force of arms to gain support for their cause. Baptists and our forerunners have consistently resisted such movements, seeing the overlapping division God has instituted between His kingdom and the state. We participate in state affairs, but we do not conflate the state with the spiritual kingdom to which we belong.
One of the earliest Baptist confessions, written by John Smith, proclaimed, “the magistrate is not to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force and compel men to this or that form of religion, for Christ only is the king and law giver of the church and conscience.” Much of the abuse of saints has been the product of actual and professing Christians who hold to a state-church; most of which believe they are to use man’s law and the Mosaic Law as means to enforce compliant behavior.
Let us humbly seek to understand what our Lord and King has said to us, learning the nature of the written revelation given us and the nature of the salvation we’ve been called to. The Lamb of God will return, not to deal with sin (for He finished that work during His first advent), but to gather those who eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:28). Enforcing Mosaic Law onto a society cannot redeem it, but it can make those who imposed and enforce that law feel satisfied with themselves. When the Sons of Thunder wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who did not welcome them, Jesus simply led them to another city to see if others would have an ear (Luke 9:52 – 56). We do not impose Christianity on a culture by force, but by the proclamation of the gospel, trusting in the only One who can give life to change lives.
Judgment Day is looming large, and all will give an account to Him. Let us entrust ourselves to the only just Judge, the Lord Jesus, and resist the siren call to force people to walk like Moses. Let us set the example by walking in the footsteps of our father Abraham (Romans 4:12) and our Lord, Christ Jesus.