Can We Get A Little Love-the-Law Street Cred Here?

The shelf life on Tim Tebow is rapidly decreasing now that the Broncos ran into the Patriots’ capacity for cheating. So before Ricky Gervais completely eclipses Tebow in water-cooler banter, a point needs to be made about the charges of antinomianism that two-kingdom theology continues to receive. (The latest comes in a post about Martin Luther King, Jr. that uses the Civil Rights leader to cast aspersions on your humble — all about me — blogger; on the eve of MLK Day no less. The lack of charity among the lovers of the law continues to dumbfound.)

I have been rooting for the Broncos’ QB even if Tebow’s wear-it-on-your-cheek piety is not an Old Lifer’s preferred demeanor. Tebow appears to be genuine in his devotion even if he could benefit from the oversight of a Reformed pastor. But how can he possibly be a poster boy for evangelicals and the Religious Right when he flagrantly violates one of the Ten Commandments that many born-again Protestants want posted in court rooms and public school classrooms? I get it. How to interpret OT law is something that divides many Christians — and boy can theonomists be divisive about it. But Tebow’s actions are hard to square with any traditional reading of the Decalogue. In fact, U.S. Protestants used to be Sabbatarians through and through, and the NFL had to clear all sorts of Blue Laws in order to get its franchises off the ground (Saturday was already taken by college football, which was, and still is in some parts of the country, more popular than professional gridiron play.

Evangelicals may be inconsistent — which of us is not (except of course for the epistemologically self-conscious)? But the disparity between public statements and actions goes beyond the hobgobblin that afflicts small minds. The Religious Right lauds traditional Christian morality and seeks it for the nation at large. This is partly the rationale behind arriving at Rick Santorum as the evangelical alternative to Mitt Romney. Never mind that Roman Catholics like Santorum were the object of some of those Protestant Blue Laws governing the Lord’s Day. A recent column in the Washington Post (touted by the Baylys) attempted to put a positive spin on the evangelical notion that righteousness exalts a nation. It tried to extend the appeal of Tebow to his opposing QB last weekend — Ben Roethlisberger — who appears to be on the mend morally after recovering his evangelical roots. The piece also argued that evangelical piety is much more important than evangelical politics.

Tebow and Roethlisberger point to the essential aspects of evangelicalism, the ones that make it persist — its missionary, proclamatory character on the one hand, and its private, searching piety on the other. The former wants to appeal to the whole world, which is why Tebow’s family raised him not only to preach, but to persuade others with a winning demeanor. The latter wants a changed life; Roethlisberger, in evangelical parlance, rededicated his life to Jesus after a period of backsliding, because he knew no other way to break his pattern of misbehavior.

In Iowa, Santorum’s evangelical “surge” grossed him about 30,000 votes. That may constitute an evangelical moment, and it may inspire some observers to define evangelicals by their political behavior. But it is not a particularly large group from which to draw conclusions about the movement as a whole. Most evangelicals, like most Americans, don’t show up to the voting booth at all. Their political commitments are not nearly as strong as their faith commitments.

Odd that this column says nothing about forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ as being crucial to evangelical piety. Instead, it points to evangelicalism’s life-changing character and how its adherents lead moral lives. If that is so — and there is some obvious truth to this — what about the elephant in the room of the way that evangelicals (in worship and on Sunday) seem to disregard the first table of the law?

What does this have to do with 2k? Well, the critics of 2k never seem to notice that 2k advocates do care about the law and have defended especially the first table. 2kers are invariably Sabbatarian, defend the regulative principle of worship (derived from the Second Commandment), condemn the creation of images of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and fear the ways in which informality in worship may breach the Third Commandment’s call for avoiding profanity. Meanwhile, the critics of 2k, who invariably want the entire nation to follow God’s law, look the other way when it comes to the church following all of God’s law. Some of 2k’s biggest critics are advocates of contemporary worship and praise Christian football players who profane the Sabbath.

So it is false to say that 2k leads to or promotes antinomianism. 2kers follow God’s law and defend it — all of it. What seems to be 2kers problem is that we don’t apply the law selectively to public life. That selectivity may not qualify as antinomian. But it hardly constitutes the love of God’s law that 2kers allegedly lack or qualifies as honest.

24 thoughts on “Can We Get A Little Love-the-Law Street Cred Here?

  1. I am naive and occasionally trusting of those who are evangelicals, but reading this Tebow post has reminded me how this group run screaming towards their ‘stars’ and their example, but in the process they seem to forget fundamental matters like the Ten Commandments which are so prominent in all the Reformed confessions. This relatively short piece by Dr. Hart says more than many an academic book on the subjects mentioned.

    More of a concern is how increasingly respected and star like figures like Kevin DeYoung can likewise downgrade the Second Commandment (read his book on The Heidelberg Confession) and it seems no one highlights this. Why is such a teacher allowed to speak at WS California, and given prominence for this?

    On another matter but for me one no less intriguing, has the legendary Todd Rundgren discovered Old Life? Has one of America’s finest guitar players and song writers, albeit with a slightly acid trip flavour, come to savour the polemics found here? Or is the truth more simple and mundane, that actually the previous comment was posted by someone named after the great Todd or using his name as a pseudonym?

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  2. I was not previously aware Diarmaid MacCulloch wore his hair long and dressed in fine linen. Thanks for the heads up.

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  3. Dr. Hart,

    Which Protestants were more observant of the Lord’s Day in the past, and which weren’t? Did dispensationalism have a significant influence on today’s observance of the Lord’s Day? I ask because I really don’t know.

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  4. Now that the evangelicals in SC openly booed the 2nd table of the Law what’s left?

    Emperor Santorum feeding muslims to the lions?

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  5. One thing you can always be black and white about with Gaffin is that he will say that it’s gray because it’s “not yet”.

    Because it is a pilgrim people “not yet” in the promised land of a consummated kingdom, the OPC continues to mark the weekly Sabbath as a testimony that it is still on the way.

    mcmark: because of this not yet, Christians cannot yet turn the other cheek now, because that would be over-realized eschatology. But on the other hand, Christians have no laws to govern their pursuit of vocations like killing, but they are still on the way and free to kill sometimes, because right now the Bible doesn’t answer anything, except of course to tell us that NOT killing now would pre-emptive. we need to wait until Jesus Christ returns before we are called to suffer as pacifists, but naturally we can suffer now in a different way because you see—everything is just so gray now.

    We can’t do Sabbath the old way of course, it’s still inbetween, but unless you are an unthinking fundamentalist, then it’s black and white that we can’t stop practicising Sabbath even if we need to do it in a gray way (no death penalty or even excommunication). Does this mean that everyone simply does what is right about Sabbath in their own eyes, because the church telling individuals in the church what will be disciplined would not be gray enough?

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  6. You keep betraying your twentieth-century, Americanized, revamped “Reformed” focus — and the mainline roots of your church, at that. In Scotland and Ireland, the strictest Sabbatarians have always been those who maintained the nations’ duty to God; and in America, dissenting Presbyterians maintained the first table with uncompromising fidelity, while also maintaining the obligation that America had to our Lord and His Christ. — I’m also not quite sure why you mentioned the blue laws in a favorable tone; why should the nation preserve the Christian Sabbath, if it should not be a Christian nation?

    Have you ever made mention of the active participation of Charles Hodge and A.A. Hodge in the National Reform Association / Christian Amendment Movement? Just wondering.

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  7. Sean, as I keep saying, what do you do with Jews, Roman Catholics, and Mormons in your Christian nation? If Sabbath obligation is a national duty, then I don’t see how we could ever have this great slate of Republican presidential candidates. But if you make the Sabbath an obligation for the church (not the nation), then it seems you can avoid the NFL and vote for Mitt Romney.

    But if you want to go back to the era when adulterers were executed, have at it.

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  8. Sorry, D.G., one thing at a time. On further reflection, I’m a little surprised that you made the remark, “2kers are invariably Sabbatarian” — did Kline and Irons somehow miss your notice? I’m also unsure as to why you bring up adultery — I thought you were all for the civil magistrate upholding the second table.

    Just a friendly reminder that you’re not actually Reformed — that is, confessionally and historically Reformed (which is the only kind, after all) — as well as calling you on your sweeping ninth commandment violations concerning those who are opposed to your anti-Reformed views of civil government.

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  9. Sean,

    Those of us who agree with Darryl on civil government and are Presbyterian, which statement in the Westminster Confession do we need to take an exception to, since we are not really reformed?

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  10. Sean, the 9th commandment requires you to speak charitably of me. Sorry.

    So you want to bring up Kline, then I’ll bring up Calvin. Unless you are for the execution (by the state) of blasphemers and heretics, you’re not Reformed. Same goes for adultery. If they don’t get executed as some were in Geneva and Massachusetts Bay, then you’re not Reformed.

    How do you like them apples?

    BTW, according to your definition, Hodge and Warfield were not Reformed since they affirmed the American Revisions of the Westminster Confession.

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  11. Dr. Hart,

    I like them apples just fine, thanks.

    I don’t remember speaking uncharitably. I called a spade a spade, but that’s about it.

    I never said they were Reformed. It’s like if I’m talking to a non- or anti-Calvinistic Baptist, and I refer them to Spurgeon, or Boyce, or Dagg — I’m not saying I like everything they said or did, I just figure the audience might be a bit more receptive than if I was to constantly quote Covenanters. If I refer you to Charles and A.A. Hodge, I’m taking a wild guess that you’ll be more likely to listen than if I refer you to William Symington, Thomas Houston, or James R. and James M. Willson.

    Could you please show me just one Reformed confession of the sixteenth or seventeenth century which sets forth your views of civil government? I would be very interested in that; and that would do wonders in rehabilitating your views as within the pale of Reformed orthodoxy. Even one private theologian (though not as authoritative, obviously, as a confession of faith) from that period would be helpful.

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  12. Sean, I have no trouble saying that no Reformed confession from the 16 and 17th affirms what all the modern Reformed churches now teach as part of their revised confessions. That’s the kicker that you don’t seem to notice. No Reformed church now holds what the Reformed churches used to hold. Also, the Covenanters never made their view of the magistrate a matter of fellowship. The RPCNA had warm relations with the OPC.

    Which means that you are putting a lot of weight on the magistrate for determining what is Reformed. It also means that you yourself are not Reformed because you don’t go all the way and actually believe as the Reformed churches did that Jews and Roman Catholics should not be able to practice their faith.

    Looks to me you’re in a lot of denial here, also about being charitable. Charity would notice that 2k is not as odd as you make it seem, or that it is as isolated as you think. So I guess you like rotten apples.

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  13. Not all modern Reformed churches have revised confessions. I thought you knew that.

    “Also, the Covenanters never made their view of the magistrate a matter of fellowship. The RPCNA had warm relations with the OPC.” For an historian, you don’t seem to know Covenanter history very well. You should probably read what happened at our Synod in 1833. And by the time you Johnny-come-latelys in the OPC were around, we had already (unfortunately) started down the path of abandoning close communion (which was completed in 1977), occasionally allowing men to preach from our pulpits who could not be ordained by our presbyteries.

    I don’t believe Jews and Papists should be able to practice their faith. But I don’t really see what that has to do with you, and your opposition to the Reformed doctrine of the civil magistrate.

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  14. Sean, good bluff. I wonder how many of the faithful would be so concerned about 2k if its critics like you admitted that Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney shouldn’t be able to practice their faith.

    BTW, your minority position in the contemporary Reformed world has plenty to do with me since it puts into context your bluffery to portray me as not Reformed.

    So when are you going to start your own new “Reformed” church?

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  15. D.G., I love that phrase: “contemporary Reformed.” So when will you change your blog name to “Contemporary Life Theological Society” (since your views are light-years from the Historic, Old Reformed in this matter)?

    If everyone else falls away from the historic Reformed faith in this matter (as the vast majority have fallen away in matters of worship), it would not justify our falling away; neither would it actually shift the definition of what it means to be “Reformed”… unless you want to define “Reformed” according to what now goes on in the Church of Scotland, the PC(USA), and other mainline denominations.

    I commend you to the Scriptures, and to the historic Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformed faith. Ignore me, that’s fine; but please don’t turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to them. God bless.

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  16. Sean, if it’s not private information, could you tell us where you live and of which congregation you are part? Is your church active in the democratic process of eliminating the franchise of certain sectarian voters, or does your church conscientiously abstain from the democratic process?

    I live in Pennsylvania, so I may be a bit out of the loop.

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  17. Sean, I’ll see your point about “old” going back to the 16th/17th centuries but raise the point that it goes all the way back to the NT church, which is when the Scriptures you commend were written. And not only do they have “old” on their side but also inspiration. And it’s very hard, it seems to me, to use those old and inspired texts to make the case for the magistrate enforcing by the point of the sword the one true religion. It’s much easier to make the case from them that the church is to lead a submissive, quiet and peacable life under her civil magistrate and only advancing the one true religion by the power of the Spirit, as in Word and sacrament.

    So, to the extent that they more faithfully embody the scriptural texts, it could be that the modern Reformed confessions are older than the 16th/17th century confessions. Unless you think the church really did begin during the Reformation. But as all old lights know, the Reformation was simply a rediscovery of that old time religion.

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  18. Sean, and I commend to you discernment. If you think the Reformed faith hangs upon biblical teaching about the civil magistrate, you may want to move to Scotland. You may also want to check out the OT where rules governing worship are far more prevalent than those informing the monarchy. And while you’re at it, I suggest you consider how well ecclesiastical establishments fared since many abandoned Reformed teachings on salvation and worship while continuing to hold the magistrate accountable to God’s law.

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