The overture was once again before the assembly. In review, the overture requests that the GA establish a study committee to examine and give its advice as to whether and in which particular senses the concept of the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the Adamic Covenant is consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. After much debate, and a call for division, the overture was granted by a vote of 83–53.
I just noticed that Stephen Cunha’s The Emperor Has No Clothes in on sale for $3.98. The book is a critique of Richard Gaffin’s doctrine of justification. I have not read Gaffin’s By Faith and Not By Sight because it was out of print – but it appears it has recently been re-published. Mark Jones wrote the forward to the second edition I’m which he calls it “a book that has been so deeply influential in my own theological thinking.”
I greatly appreciate any correction and interaction with Cunha’s critique of Gaffin. Here is my summary:
The purpose of this book is to demonstrate and call attention to the fact that Dr. Gaffin is teaching a doctrine of justification that is contrary to the Westminster Standards, and, more importantly, to the Word of God. In this writer’s opinion, the key factors influencing Dr. Gaffin‘s distinctive teaching on justification are the application of the already/not yet concept to justification and, I shudder to say, a distorted understanding of the resolution between Paul’s assertion that justification is by faith alone and James’ assertion that justification is not by faith alone, which subtly, yet gravely, compromises the classic Law/Gospel antithesis taught by the Reformers (13)
According to Dr. Gaffin‘s view, faith and works are constituent parts of a faith/works complex that is necessary to obtain justification. Just as access to the flight is partially dependent upon the presence of a passport, so justification is made to be partially dependent upon the presence of good works. This goes beyond the traditional Protestant view that works are only evidential or declarative with respect to justification. When Dr. Gaffin refers to works as “the integral fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” in justification, he acknowledges works to be the “fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith,” but denies that works are solely evidential with respect to justification.
It is clear that Dr. Gaffin denies that works are the ground or basis of a believer’s justification. What is not so clear is how works produced through faith can be pulled within the sphere of justification in a way that is beyond purely declarative of justification and, at the same time, not share any degree of instrumentality with faith, nor be a part of what faith itself is. Unless there is a new category of description that this writer is not aware of to characterize the relationship between works and justification, we are limited to the categories of ground, instrument, and evidence. If works produced through faith are in the smallest degree beyond purely evidential of justification, it follows that they must be, to some degree, either the ground or instrument of justification.
From this perspective, the antithesis between law and gospel is not an end in itself. It is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not by virtue of creation but as the consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer. How so? Briefly, apart from the gospel and outside of Christ the law is my enemy and condemns me. But with the gospel and in Christ, united to him by faith, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend. Why? Because now God is no longer my enemy but my friend, and the law, his will, the law in its moral core, as reflective of his character and of concerns eternally inherent in his own person and so of what pleases him, is now my friendly guide for life in fellowship with God. These observations on faith and obedience may be reinforced by referring here briefly to the perennial debate over Paul and James on faith and works. On the coherence between them, in what is sometimes taken to be their contradictory teaching on faith and works in justification, it is hard to improve on what J. Gresham Machen wrote aphoristically, “as the faith which James condemns is different than the faith that Paul commends, so also the works which James commends are different than the works which Paul commends.”
The classic Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis is that there are two antithetical ways to obtain justification. Justification is obtained either through a course of perfect obedience to the law or through faith in Jesus Christ… Dr. Gaffin says that the Law/Gospel antithesis is “not a theological ultimate” and that the Gospel “is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer.” It is here where one may rightly question whether or not Dr. Gaffin truly understands the classic Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis. Understood properly, there is no need to move toward an end of removing an absolute Law/Gospel antithesis in the life of the believer because the Law/Gospel antithesis applies to justification only. Both now and throughout eternity, a believer will rejoice in the fact that he or she has been justified on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death and merits received by imputation through faith alone.
I am very grateful for Rick Phillips’ continual stand against a confusing and troubling view of the final judgment. He has been doing so for several years. See here and here, which was also delivered at the 2009 Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals Conference. Around the same time (maybe part of the same series) he had an article regarding the Westminster Confession as well, but I remember that article being very quickly pulled following some heated exchange with others, including Mark Jones (sorry, can’t find the discussion – it may have been on Jones’ old blog that was removed years ago).
Just recently Phillips posted another helpful stand for clarity on this issue: Concerns about the “Efficacy” of Works in which he warns Mark Jones to take a firmer stand against neonomianism.
Jones argued that our good works play a role greater than “mere evidence” at the final judgment: “God will not grant eternal life unless there are good works; indeed, these works have a sort of ‘efficacy.’”
I am rather raising concern about the need to be clear in avoiding this kind of implication [of teaching that works are an instrumental condition of the Christian's justification].
If our works play more than an evidentiary role in our salvation and inheritance of eternal life, then what is that role? Stephen Cunha notes in his critique of Richard Gaffin:
Unless there is a new category of description that this writer is not aware of to characterize the relationship between works and justification, we are limited to the categories of ground, instrument, and evidence. If works produced through faith are in the smallest degree beyond purely evidential of justification, it follows that they must be, to some degree, either the ground or instrument of justification.
The Emperor Has No Clothes (on sale right now for $3.98)
But Jones says he’s not talking about justification, he’s talking about salvation. To which Phillips rightly responds:
to see these works as efficacious with any sense of instrumentality requires us to have two doctrines of justification, one present and one future, in such a way that justification through faith alone is simply not conclusive. But this is contrary to Paul’s constant emphasis: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). That “now” is not provisional, but conclusive and final.
Robert Reymond agrees:
“Justification possesses an eschatological dimension, for it amounts to the divine verdict of the Eschaton being brought forward into the present time and rendered here and now concerning the believing sinner.”
A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p743
Again, I’m thankful for Phillips’ clear stand against both Tchividjian’s confusion and Jones’.
Norman Shepherd taught a false gospel of works righteousness at Westminster Theological Seminary in the 70s by arguing good works are instrumental to justification. When asked in their ordination exam how we are justified, graduates were answering “by faith and works”. When asked who taught them that, they said Professor Shepherd. He paved the way for the Federal Vision.
In 2002, Shepherd delivered 4 lectures titled “What’s All the Fuss?” regarding his views on justification:
- What’s All the Fuss? (Part 1): The Biblical Doctrine of Justification
- What’s All the Fuss? (Part 2): The Church Doctrine of Justification by Faith
- What’s All the Fuss? (Part 3): Job Justified by Faith
- What’s All the Fuss? (Part 4): A Parable About Three Men
The thrust of his lectures is to show that the Bible does not teach a works-merit paradigm. He presents his position as the “faith-grace” or “covenantal” paradigm and he opposes this to the “works-merit” paradigm.
Well the preceding is only a sampling of the problems we run into on the works-merit paradigm. We become uncomfortable expressing biblical doctrines using biblical language. Texts get bent out of shape in order to make them fit into a paradigm that does not arise out of Scripture and is foreign to Scripture. And without meaning to do so or wanting to do so we can find ourselves compromising the integrity of what is written in the Word of God.
The biblical paradigm, I would suggest to you, is one that is consistently covenantal without the schizophrenic antithesis between the covenant of works and an antithetical covenant of grace.
Lecture 2, @27:00
In lecture 1 he insists that the biblical doctrine of justification consists in forgiveness of sins only.
According to Paul, justification is simply the remission of sin. Justification is the forgiveness of sin. A sinner is justified when his sin is forgiven so that he is accepted by God and becomes an heir of eternal life.
Lecture 1, @11:15
It does not provide a righteousness not our own, it only forgives our sins. And forgiveness alone is insufficient to eternally save anyone. It merely makes us eligible for eternal life.
By his death and resurrection, Jesus once and for all paid the death penalty for sin so that we could be forgiven. By his death and resurrection, Jesus gave us the power of a new life so that we could really live in communion with one another and with the Lord as covenant keepers. He wrote his law on our hearts so that we would obey and live.
Lecture 2, @37:00
Proverbs 12:28 “In the way of righteousness there is life. Along that path is immortality” That is salvation by grace in the Old Testament and it is also salvation by grace in the New Testament. The works-merit paradigm has no way of accounting for those words in Proverbs 12:28. In terms of that paradigm this is nothing but salvation by merit or works, but it’s presented to us in the bible as gospel.
Lecture 2, @43:40
Faith is not belief in the work of Christ. Faith is our obedience.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, faith in his blood, we can know now that we will stand forgiven, justified, in the day of judgment. This faith is an ongoing reality in our lives. We live every day and every hour of every day by faith. And that faith is a living, active penitent and obedient faith. [Inaudible] By the grace of God we have a living and active faith. The good news of the gospel is that the just will live by faith, even though they do not deserve, in themselves, to live. We are pilgrims on the path of life, the narrow path that leads to eternal life. The Bible calls it the way of holiness. By the grace of God alone we have been placed on that path and we stay on that path and we will reach our ultimate destination.
Lecture 2, @46:00
Yes we have tended to [separate the two hinges of justification and sanctification] do that. And the reason we do that is because of this works-merit paradigm that lies at the bottom of the way that we have structured this doctrine. Because in this paradigm where the meritorious ground for our salvation is the active obedience of Christ imputed to us and not anything that we do for ourselves. And again, within that paradigm that make sense. That’s what makes it evangelical. But it creates a situation in which now we hear any demand for righteousness in the bible, any demand for repentance, as, which of course is a matter of sanctification, as conflicting with justification by free grace so that the stress on sanctification becomes a threat to justification by free grace, within that paradigm. And the way in which people try to account for it is to say, well, the good works, the obedience will automatically flow once we have believed and been justified, then the sanctification will come along. But that isn’t the way that the bible presents it. We’re constantly exhorted to persevere in righteousness and holiness, without which we will not see the Lord. Then I say, what is the paradigm that accounts for that kind of biblical language?
Lecture 2, @56:00
The active obedience of Christ is not the meritorious ground of our salvation because, not because of any inadequacy in it or anything like that, but because there is no such thing in the bible as obtaining salvation by the merit of works. Salvation after the fall or the gift of eternal life before the fall was never granted on the basis of the merit of works but was always a free gift that is received by faith. That is why Adam was tested on the point of faith. Will we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?
Lecture 2, @1:03:00
We are in the same position as Adam in terms of our need to obtain eternal life. The only difference is that when we sin, it is forgiven. But our works play the same role as they did for Adam before the fall. This is contrary to the London Baptist Confession
London Baptist Confession
19.6._____ Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.
The confession articulates a contrast between the way our good works function and the way Adam’s good works functioned. His obedience to the law was as a covenant of works. Ours is not. This distinction is fundamental to the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone articulated in the confession (note the affirmation of the imputation of active obedience):
11.1._____ Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.
Shepherd is right that this doctrine of justification rests upon the works-merit paradigm and upon the concept of a covenant of works. Sam Waldron notes:
[T]here is no place in Shepherd’s theology for anything like the dichotomy between law and gospel that lays at the foundation of justification sola fide for the Reformation. If there is no such thing as meritorious works, if Christ’s work was believing obedience, if the obedience of faith is the righteousness of faith, then we are clearly dealing with a system of doctrine that has no way to express the Reformation’s contrast between law and gospel. Such a system cannot consistently affirm the justification sola fide squarely built on this contrast.
Allegiance to The Westminster Confession is often understood as subscription to its “system of doctrine.” The Westminster Confession accurately represents the Reformation system of doctrine when it grounds its soteriology on a contrast between the law (“the covenant of works”) and the gospel (“the covenant of grace”). Shepherd has no place for such a structure in his theology and cannot, therefore, affirm consistently the “system of doctrine” taught in the Confession he cites so often in his writings.
-Faith, Obedience, and Justification: Current Evangelical Departures, p. 186
Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants
With all of that in mind, it is particularly troubling to see people continue to recommend Greg Nichols’ book as a faithful representation of the system of doctrine taught in the London Baptist Confession. Nichols’ book is idiosyncratic and not representative of the confession, nor its signatories (see, for example, here and here). Confessional Reformed Baptists should stop recommending his book as representative of our confessional views.
The similarities between much of what Nichols writes and what Shepherd teaches is striking:
From Greg Nichols’ “Covenant Theology”
In sum, Adam’s original relation to God was familial and filial-parental. Thus it was warm and affectionate, not cold or distant. It was not an impersonal relationship between “contracting parties.” It was not between a disinterested judge and an unrelated defendant, or a ruler to an unknown subject. Thus, a “covenant of works” model simply doesn’t comport with its filial-parental framework. Categories like “contracting parties,” “stipulations,” and “penalties” are foreign to this familial relation. Such categories might suitably define a contract between corporations forging a business venture through their lawyers. They seem woefully inadequate to define a parental prohibition. In Genesis 2:16-17 God addresses Adam, not as a lawyer, but as a Father. This prohibition is an integral part of Adam’s filial relation to God. Thus, the covenant of works model wrenches this prohibition from its filial foundation. This is my primary objection to imposing this motif and its categories on this prohibition. (337)
This conditional form [of the Adamic Covenant] is similar to the conditional form of the Mosaic covenant… Observe that if [Adam] had complied with the condition, he would simply have done what was required. He would not have merited or earned anything – because he merely gave what was owed, trust and compliance. (346-7)
God freely blessed Adam with the Sabbath and with the hope it symbolized. Adam did not earn the Sabbath by works. Thus, Adam did not merit his hope by works – but he could sin and forfeit his hope. The covenant of works motif seems to say that Adam had to earn the hope of eternal rest that God gave him freely as a privilege… By eternal hope I refer to this expectation of divine blessing once he fulfilled his mammoth vocation. When he had populated and subdued the earth, he would have entered his rest. (341)
An Evangelical Explanation of the Mosaic Covenant’s Conditional Form
In this conditional promise God doesn’t say: “if you repent and believe, then you will be my special people,” but, “if you keep my law, then you will be my special people.” God said to Adam, if you eat you will die, implying, if you obey you will retain life and Eden. Similarly, he said to Israel, if you obey, you will retain Canaan, but if you disobey, you will be judged and disinherited. As Adam lost Eden, you will lose Canaan…
This teaches the necessity of gospel obedience unto complete salvation… (Lev 18:5; Matt. 5:20; Rom 8:12-13)
Jesus warned that evangelical obedience was necessary to enter heaven… This is how the conditional promise of the Mosaic covenant applies to the Christian life. It demonstrates the necessity of perseverance in gospel faith and holiness. …The law is gracious because it teaches us that if we live a holy life, mortify the deeds of the body, and keep evangelically the commandments of God, we will go to heaven, not to hell. (233-4)
One of the primary points emphasized in the Sandy Cove lectures (July, 1981) is that the obedience required of Adam in the “Creation Covenant,” had he rendered it, would not have been meritorious. Adam was a son, not a laborer. The concept of wages earned, reward merited, is not appropriate to the father-son relationship. This is not a point made somewhat incidentally by Mr. Shepherd along the way, but a point that is evidently fundamental in his theology of the covenant.
Mr. Shepherd rejects not only the term “covenant of works” but the possibility of any merit or reward attaching to the obedience of Adam in the creation covenant. He holds that faithful obedience is the condition of all covenants in contrast to the distinction made in the Westminster Confession. The Westminster Confession states in Chapter Vll that the first covenant “was a covenant of works wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” In contrast, in the second covenant, the covenant of grace, the Lord “freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved.”
He describes the requirement of our covenant-keeping obedience in terms drawn from his description of Adam’s covenant-keeping. We have resources that Adam did not have, Mr. Shepherd shows. We have forgiveness of sins in the blood of Christ; we have the Spirit to move us to obey; but we also have the same covenant condition to meet, and the same threat for disobedience.
As the Lord God came to Mount Sinai to deliver his commandments to Moses and all Israel, so also the Lord Jesus came to another mount to deliver the commandments of the new covenant to his disciples and to the church of the new covenant…. Far from abolishing covenant obligation, Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). (The Call of Grace)
The obedience required of Israel is not the obedience of merit, but the obedience of faith. It is the fullness of faith. Obedience is simply faithfulness to the Lord; it is the righteousness of faith. (The Call of Grace, 39)
The ‘covenant dynamic’ of Mr. Shepherd makes the function of our obedience in the covenant to be the same as the function of the obedience of Adam in the covenant before the fall. … Adam’s covenantal obedience in the garden did not merit any reward; neither does our covenantal obedience. But both are required by the covenant command. The threat for disobedience is eternal death. This threat is as real for us as it was for Adam in the garden. The warning of the New Covenant must not be blunted or made hypothetical in any way. God’s threat to Adam or to Israel was not idle, and the same sanction of the covenant is directed against us in the New Covenant.
Reason and Specifications Supporting the Action of the Board of Trustees in Removing Professor Shepherd
Summary of Shepherd’s errors:
1) Denies the concept of merit
2) Therefore denies the covenant of works
3) Therefore denies Christ merited anything
4) Therefore defines forensic justification as only forgiveness of sins (rejects imputation of Christ’s righteousness)
5) Defines faith as including obedience (faithfulness).
6) Argues that the process of sanctification (regeneration) is prior to justification.
7) The “works of the law” that we are justified apart from are works done in an attempt to merit a reward (Rom 3:28). This does not have reference to “good works” of the believer (obedience of faith), which is necessary for justification (Gal 5:6).
8) Christ’s covenantal righteousness was his living, active, obedient faith. This faith was credited to Christ as righteousness.
9) The same obedience of faith is required of believers in every covenant. This active faith/obedience is credited to believers as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:11; 1:5; 16:26)
10) Argues there is a “not yet” aspect of justification.
11) Our works will be judged on the last day to determine if we go to heaven or hell.
Fix Your Gut: A Book Dedicated to “Fixing” All Your Digestive Ailments and Concerns by John Brisson is currently on sale for $5.99 on Kindle. It’s a steal at that price. I paid $25. I highly recommend it.
I used many of his recommendations for overcoming my son’s H Pylori infection. I’m also at the tail end of following his protocol for Crohn’s. (Results look promising, but it’s too early to say)
From the intro:
Chapter 1 My Story
For twenty-two years of my life, I thought natural medicine was a sham. My grandfather, who was a pharmacist, taught me that standard medicine was the only way to go and that the FDA (and drug companies) could do no evil. I laugh to myself now when I think of how foolish I was back then. Do not get me wrong, I still think conventional medicine has its place in healthcare, but I believe that we should consider all available options and make reasonable choices that are supported by the data. I suffered from different medical conditions including being born extremely premature (twenty-two weeks) in 1985.
I suffered from asthma, poor lung capacity, and a poor functioning immune system until I successfully healed myself a few years ago. Conventional medicine was just “treating” the symptoms of my asthma. It never addressed the true causes of disease which were a deficiency in vitamin C, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and chronic dehydration from ingestion of soda. Supplements changed my life. My asthma symptoms disappeared within six months, and all tests showed my lung function was now completely normal. I asked my doctor how this was possible, and he was completely mystified and refused to consider the changes to my nutrition as a factor. It took conquering asthma and taking my life back to evaluate the relationship that I had with my doctor, and the entire healthcare industry.
My mother passed away from systemic Lupus when I was five. She believed fully that conventional medicine would save her. My father was one of the first Americans in the early 90′ s to be diagnosed with hepatitis C. He participated in the first clinical trials of Pegylated Interferon with Ribavirin. I remember taking care of my father throughout high school and listening to him vomit and sob for hours at a time after taking his medicine. When I was a senior in high school, the medication had left my father with cognitive deficits including memory loss trouble focusing, and paranoid schizophrenia. He left this Earth when I was eighteen years old and about to leave home to go to college. He also believed that conventional medicine would have cured him, or at the very least, kept him alive to see me start a life, get married, and father him grandchildren.
I believe nutritional medicine would have saved both my parents. I believe that we should have opened our minds to other possibilities. What about people who have heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, and autoimmune diagnoses? Are they aware of the treatment options that nutritional medicine has to offer? Conventional medicine does not always address the root cause of these illnesses. In many cases, only the symptoms are addressed.
I am not completely discounting the effectiveness of conventional medicine. The data shows that there is a high success rate of using certain treatments including antimicrobials to fight life threatening infections, surgeries, and stabilizing someone during a medical emergency (like a heart attack, or stroke.) One lovely Christmas morning, I accidentally cut my artery in my left arm and would have bled to death without arterial repair surgery. I also took antibiotics, and I followed my doctor’s recommendations and drug regimen for a month afterwards. I have no problem admitting conventional medicine saved my life. This is why the acceptance of both forms of healthcare is needed in the United States. We can have a complete healthcare system.
Brisson, John (2014-04-12). Fix Your Gut: A Book Dedicated to “Fixing” All Your Digestive Ailments and Concerns (Kindle Locations 197-215). . Kindle Edition.
I had to resign when my youngest son was born with health problems and I dedicated my life to take care of him. My youngest son, Abel, was born with an extremely rare medical condition known as congenital myopathy with excess muscle spindles. He is only one of six children in the world to be given this diagnosis. The medical explanation of this condition is complex, but the simplest explanation that I can describe is that the gene that produces muscle fibers was stuck in the “off” position…
…Doctors told my wife and I that my son would continue to get weaker until he died. He was on a ventilator for the first three months of his life. My wife and I made a difficult choice and his doctors removed the ventilator to end his suffering. Even though I consider myself a Christian, I often struggle with my faith. There is no reasonable scientific answer for why Abel is still alive. Even though he was completely paralyzed, he coughed up the ventilator tube and began to breathe without the assistance. This appeared to be medically impossible because his lungs atrophied. We took our son home the same month.
I am grateful for conventional medicine. They stabilized my son’s life. He lived in the ICU for a total of six months. I am grateful to all the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff that took care of my son. Conventional medicine stabilized my son. Supplementation extended and improved his quality of life.
diagnosed. They say it takes becoming sick to take one’s health in their own hands, and the same can be said for me. I wrote this book about digestive health and coached many clients with digestive problems and concerns because no one should have to suffer.
Brisson, John (2014-04-12). Fix Your Gut: A Book Dedicated to “Fixing” All Your Digestive Ailments and Concerns (Kindle Locations 250-254). . Kindle Edition.
As I’ve argued previously, “natural law” two kingdoms theology logically results in theocracy for anyone who recognizes WCF/LBCF 19.2.
Well Kim Riddlebarger has made my point for me:
Then there are those in the current debate who contend, in agreement with Calvin, that it’s the civil magistrate’s duty to enforce the first table of the law. Well, as important as Calvin is in understanding reformed political theory, when Calvin speaks of the role of the civil magistrate, Calvin could not even begin to conceive of a secularist democracy that now rules Europe. And therefore his value in terms of his understanding of how the church ought to relate to the magistrate is limited because of the change in circumstances. And that, I think, is self-evident in the fact that all of the reformed confessions written at the time of the reformation have all been changed in the United States in the articles that deal with the churches relation to the civil magistrate, because the situation here is entirely different than it was in the days of the reformation. And the reformed churches, both Presbyterian and Reformed, acknowledge that.
Let me play a bit of advocacy here: What if Calvin’s right about the civil magistrate? And by the way, I tend to think he is, he’s on the right track here. What would the magistrate enforcing the first table of the law look like in a real world of Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress? Do we really want the magistrate, in it’s current form, to protect the church, it’s gospel, and it’s doctrine? There is a law of unintended consequences and we have to think very, very carefully about the consequences of taking particular actions. It’s one thing to argue, “Yeah, Calvin says we should recover the first table of the law, enforced by the civil magistrate!” Ok, I think there’s a good, biblical basis for that, and I’m going to argue for it. But what’s that gonna look like in the United States? We no longer live in an America with a generic Protestant political establishment…
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 1: Why This Has Been an Important and Controversial Doctrine @49:30
While Adam is building this temple garden in Eden he is under probation, where God has commanded of him perfect obedience. The question is, perfect obedience to what? Well, I would say to the moral law, which is later enshrined and codified in the two tables of the law we commonly speak of as the 10 commandments… Natural law reflects the same commandments written upon the human heart and subsequently revealed on the two stone tablets at Mt. Sinai.
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 3: Adam in Eden – Tracing the Redemptive Historical Themes of the Two Kingdoms @21:30 and 38:50
I think we have to be realists. One of the things that we’ll talk about is, it’s one thing for Christians to very triumphally say “Well, you know what we need, we need to recover the law of God as the standard for civil government.” Well, whether that’s true in theory or not is a separate question. The reality is, “Are we in our lifetimes ever going to live in a country, in a situation where we are under a theocratic state as Israel was in the Old Testament. And the answer to that is “No.” So a lot of the discussion that goes on about the ideal is only so much time wasting because the question we have to deal with, at least that I have to deal with as a pastor having to answer questions for people in my church and in my pews, is “How do we survive in this current situation?” And I’m going to argue that keeping those two kingdoms distinct is a very, very important starting point… So throw out the ideal. We’ll talk about the ideal. The ideal is important, I mean, we ought to look at what the ideal is to understand what ought to be so we can think about a theoretic about how we ought to approach stuff. But the fact is we live in a time and place when we are going to be a minority, a small minority of a minority and we’re going to have to get the best deal that we can in the political kingdom, in the civil kingdom. And that’s just how it is.
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 4: Adam Cast From Eden – The Birth of the Civil Kingdom @52:30
Thankfully, for the coherence of discussion, Riddlebarger is consistent in his natural law theory. If the civil magistrate is to enforce natural law, then it is to enforce the 10 commandments.
Note: Natural Law Two Kingdoms will not get you to the non-establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. It will land you in Geneva.
It is interesting to note Riddlebarger’s pragmatism. He says that the ideal (the enforcement of the 10 commandments) is not practical because we live in a different context under a secular government. He says the American reformed churches changed the confession because they were in a different context. But what led to this change in context? Was it the erosion of true religion? Was 18th century colonial American a pagan, secular society? No. 18th century America was very Protestant. What led to the change in context (change in government) is a change in how these men interpreted the Bible. It was not an appeal to natural law to the exclusion of Scripture. Rather, as Charles Hodge explains, it was primarily an appeal to Scripture, to an interpretation that disagreed with Calvin’s interpretation, that led to changes in how Calvinists viewed the state:
The American Church
The doctrine current among us on this subject is of very recent origin. It was unknown to the ancients before the advent. In no country was religion disconnected with the state. It was unknown to the Jews. The early Christians were not in circumstances to determine the duty of Christian magistrates to the Christian church. Since the time of Constantine, in no part of Christendom and by no denomination has the ground been assumed, until a recent period, that the state and church should be separate and independent bodies. Yet to this doctrine the public mind in this country has already been brought, and to the same conclusion the convictions of God’s people in all parts of the world seem rapidly tending. On what grounds, then, does this novel, yet sound, doctrine rest? This question can only be answered in a very general and superficial manner on the present occasion.
1. In the first place it assumes that the state, the family, and the church are all divine institutions, having the same general end in view, but designed to accomplish that end by different means. That as we cannot infer from the fact that the family and the state are both designed to promote the welfare of men, that the magistrate has the right to interfere in the domestic economy of the family; so neither can we infer from the church and state having the same general end, that the one can rightfully interfere with the affairs of the other. If there were no other institution than the family, we might infer that all the means now used by the church and state, for the good of men, might properly be used by the family; and if there were no church, as a separate institution of God, then we might infer that the family and the state were designed to accomplish all that could be effected. But as God has instituted the family for domestic training and government; the state, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives; and the church for the promotion and extension of true religion, the three are to be kept distinctive within their respective spheres.
2. That the relative duties of these several institutions cannot be learned by reasoning a priori from their design, but must be determined from the Word of God. And when reasoning from the Word of God, we are not authorized to argue from the Old Testament economy because that was avowedly temporary and has been abolished, but must derive our conclusions from the New Testament. We find it there taught:
(a) That Christ did institute a church separate from the state, giving it separate laws and officers.
(b) That he laid down the qualifications of those officers and enjoined on the church, not on the state, to judge of their possession by candidates.
(c) That he prescribed the terms of admission to and the grounds of exclusion from the church, and left with the church its officers to administer these rules.
These acts are utterly inconsistent with Erastianism and with the relation established in England between the church and state.
3. That the New Testament, when speaking of the immediate design of the state and the official duties of the magistrate, never intimates that he has those functions which the common doctrine of the Lutheran and Reformed church assign him. This silence, together with the fact that those functions are assigned to the church and church officers, is proof that it is not the will of God that they should be assumed by the state.
4. That the only means which the state can employ to accomplish many of the objects said to belong to it, viz. pains and penalties, are inconsistent with the example and commands of Christ; with the rights of private Christians, guaranteed in the Word of God (i.e., to serve God according to the dictates of his conscience); are ineffectual to the true end of religion, which is voluntary obedience to the truth; and productive of incalculable evil. The New Testament, therefore, does not teach that the magistrate is entitled to take care that true religion is established and maintained; that right men are appointed to church offices; that those officers do their duty, that proper persons be admitted, and improper persons be rejected from the church; or that heretics be punished. And on the other hand, by enjoining all these duties upon the church, as an institution distinct from the state, it teaches positively that they do not belong to the magistrate, but to the church. If to this it be added that experience teaches that the magistrate is the most unfit person to discharge these duties; that his attempting it has always been injurious to religion and inimical to the rights of conscience, we have reason to rejoice in the recently discovered truth that the church is independent of the state, and that the state best promotes her interests by letting her alone.
- Charles Hodge, The Relation of Church and State originally appeared in Princeton Review in 1863. It is now taken from a recently re-released book of essays by a variety of authors edited by Iain Murray, The Reformation of the Church.
So it was not an appeal to natural law that led to the undoing of state churches, nor was it a degrading of religion in society, but it was the proper interpretation and application of Scripture to the question of civil government. In this regard, Ron Baines has an excellent essay in the first issue of JIRBS titled SEPARATING GOD’S TWO KINGDOMS: Two Kingdom Theology among New England Baptists in the Early Republic.