The following questions are a bit “bare bones” and I hope to come back soon and jot this out to a more proper blog post. But my point in this post is that there are some key questions which are not being asked today about Scripture and the civil law of nations.
Instead, today, there is a horrible assumption in the Church that God has not given direction in His word for what our civil and government laws should be. I don’t mean every detail. Instead, I am referring to foundational questions about “What is justice and what evils should be punished by civil law?”
This horrible assumption has been growing in the West since roughly the end of the Reformation. The English and American Puritans were the last recognizable group in Western Christianity that believed that the Bible actually speaks in an authoritative way about civil government which, if you think about it, it is pretty important part of life on earth.
Consider that Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” For most in the Church today that rather comprehensive statement by Jesus has come to exclude the government laws that punish evil in society.
Instead, the Church has increasingly looked to secular man to define what civil government should do and what society’s laws should be. In fact, since the Reformation, some new theologies have sprung up which relieve Christians of any responsibility whatsoever for the laws and culture of our nation. This explains to a very great degree why society has taken a turn for the worse in recent centuries, especially, visibly, in the last 100 years.
So, with no further ado, here are five questions that I encourage you to try to answer and think through about civil government among the nations of the earth:
First, does God care about nations having righteous civil laws?
Second, if He does care about righteous civil laws, has He communicated those laws to mankind? If not, why not? And what are the implications of His lack of communication?
Third, if we point the unbelieving world to some idea of “natural law” (the idea that secular man will get a good sense of right and wrong from his study of the creation) as God’s prescribed source of civil law then are we saying that God has revealed just civil laws in the creation but not in Scripture?
Fourth, on that basis, when Jesus says, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”, is Jesus pointing to Scripture AND revelation in the creation which is NOT found in Scripture?
Fifth, if a Christian holds that there is revelation in the creation that is not in Scripture there is a big problem. In this case, Scripture is not the final word. We must then interpret Scripture in light of itself PLUS the light of revelation in the creation.
// End of Questions
Another angle in the Church on the civil law is the idea that God has revealed right and wrong in Scripture but that He only commands and expects Christians to follow it. Jesus said, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word from the mouth of God” but this position changes the word “man” to “Christians” so that it reads “Christians shall not live by bread alone…” This is a denial of Jesus’ words and a denial of the message throughout scripture that all men owe obedience to God in every area of life.
I would point out that Romans 13:3-4 teaches that the civil ruler is a “minister of God” (greek – “diakonos”; the same word as “deacon”) and an “agent of God’s wrath to punish evil doers”. Can we conceive of God ordaining civil government and then NOT provisioning His minister, the civil magistrate, with the information that he needs to do his job for God?
Lastly, I will only mention briefly that the civil ruler exercises tremendous influence over society for better or for worse. We see this repeatedly in Israel in the Old Testament where bad kings led the people astray. Our world is no different. Bad legislators and bad judges pass bad laws that lead people astray. Abortion is legal? What does that teach? Gay marriage is legal? What does that teach? People are instructed daily by the civil minister and his ministry is a power, God-ordained instrument for discipling the nations.
I believe that Christians in the future will see that prior generations did not grasp the centrality and godly power of civil law in discipling our nation. They will view the teaching and enforcement of God’s civil law including all Ten Commandments as a major aspect of teaching and discipling a nation.
I pray that Christians realize God hasn’t left a gaping ethical vacuum in the Scriptures about civil power. “Man” is to live by God’s words. Not “Christians”, but “man shall not live by bread alone”.