The Bible is Not Off Limits But Only Settles So Much

Two of Old Life’s regular voices, Zrim and Jed, are having an interesting discussion — in response to a post questioning the political machinations of the hallowed Bonhoffer — about whether 2kers may legitimately appeal to the Bible in their civic duties. Zrim argues that the Bible forbids civil disobedience while Jed questions whether a 2ker may employ the Bible in this way.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Bret responds to me that his case for Ron Paul and paleo-conservatism come directly from biblical teaching on the fifth and eighth commandments.

Several points of clarification seem to be in order. First, 2kers do appeal to the Bible. They do so in their personal lives all the time. They even appeal to the Bible — you know, “my kingdom is not of this world,” does not come from Aristotle — to argue for legitimacy of 2k. Two-kingdom theology is thoroughly biblical (or at least tries to be) and its advocates don’t let differences between the kingdoms prevent them from seeing that — to borrow a line from the old E. F. Hutton commercials — when the Bible speaks, believers listen. As I have repeatedly insisted in different forums, the eighth commandment compels me to question whether I should shop at Walmart or at Gelzer’s Hardware. After Sam Walton is not my neighbor, the one whose welfare I am supposed to seek. But Mr. Gelzer is. The Bible gives some instruction about economics. I should try to apply to my life. I don’t see how that is inconsistent with 2k because it is not.

Second, this appeal to the Bible does not mean that I may require Rabbi Bret to shop locally or Jed to drink only the beers made by San Marcos breweries. Individual believers need to respect the consciences and interpretations of other believers. Some may eat meat offered to idols, and others won’t. Both will appeal to the Bible. But appealing to the Bible doesn’t settle whether believers will act in the same way about a host of matters.

Third, the critics of 2k — aside from uncharitably disregarding 2kers’ appeal to Scripture — can’t seem to fathom the difference between the claims made by individuals about biblical teaching and those of church officers and assemblies. For instance, because the Baylys’ believe the Bible compels them to protest at abortion clinics, they believe that church assemblies must call all believers to similar forms of protest. They even go a step farther and think that anyone who dissents from their application of Scripture disobeys the Bible. (Wow!) Meanwhile, folks like Rabbi Bret don’t seem to understand that his appeal to the fifth and eighth commandments for paleoconservatism leaves little room in the church for other perspectives, such as the Covenanters, libertarians, Democrats, or monarchists. Yet, the Reformed creeds insist that church assemblies should address only matters that are spiritual and ecclesiastical. In other words, when the church speaks as institutional church, she must have a biblical warrant. And that explains why the creeds don’t address education, math, or economics. The Bible doesn’t require God’s people to have a uniform method of delivering education, a base-ten system of math, or a commitment to free markets.

The bottom line is that the Bible does not solve the problems that critics of 2k think it does. If you believe in Christian liberty, which is premised upon the idea that Christians have liberty in matters where Scripture is silent — from whether or not to meet for worship at 11:00 on Sundays to whether or not to drive an SUV — then appealing to the Bible will not yield the unity or uniformity in politics or culture that Bible thumpers tout.

142 thoughts on “The Bible is Not Off Limits But Only Settles So Much

  1. “It is our duty, as far as lies in our power, immediately to organize human society and all its institutions and organs upon a distinctively Christian basis. Indifference or impartiality here between the law of the kingdom and the law of the world, or of its prince, the devil, is utter treason to the King of Righteousness. The Bible, the great statute-book of the Kingdom, explicitly lays down principles which, when candidly applied, will regulate the action of every human being in all relations. There can be no compromise. The King said, with regard to all descriptions of moral agents in all spheres of activity, “He that is not with me is against me.” If the national life in general is organized upon non-Christian principles, the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity.

    A. A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology, p. 283-84

    “Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the Gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the Gospel.”

    J. Gresham Machen
    1912 centennial commemorative lecture at Princeton Seminary

    Bob Dylan: “things have changed”

    mcmark: that’s a good thing…

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  2. “If you believe in Christian liberty, which is premised upon the idea that Christians have liberty in matters where Scripture is silent”

    I question the premise. Paul wrote in Scripture that christian liberty is where Scripture is silent? How about this premise: Paul wrote that christian liberty was a matter of contextualization. (How you like that can of worms?)

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  3. I kinda want to rejoice in the liberty of conscience to NOT attempt a rebellion or a replacement of the current regimes. But I am anxious that somebody would think that I have fallen off the 2k side of things into something they call “quietism”. And then comes that “gnostic” accusation. So Hurtful!

    The motives of Christians’ subordination to THEM (Romans 13, those others with God’s exousia) are found not in fear or in calculations of how best to survive, but “in the mercies of God” (12:1) and in “conscience” (13:5). If the reason of our subordination is not God’s having legitimated the specific wrath of the specific nation-state state (or delegating His wrath to that specific nation-state), what is our reason?

    Further attention to the motif of subordination as it is urged upon the slave ( I Peter 2:13) or upon family members (Col 3:18), shows the reason to be that Jesus Christ himself accept subordination and humiliation (Phil 2:5). The willingness to suffer is then not merely a test of our patience or a dead space of “sectarian confessionalists” waiting for Jesus Christ to return. Willingness to suffer instead of killing is an imitation of God’s victorious patience with the rebellious powers of his creation. Not yet, and only when…..

    I Cor 15:24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and every power.

    Destroy? Why not instead reform by the take-over of His secondary agents?

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  4. But, Mark, on top of “quietist” and “Gnostic” (even “unfaithful”) for privileging submission and self-restraint over activism and self-expression, brace yourself for “pietist” and “Biblicist” (even “moralist”) for pointing to Christ and making a case for his imitation in the former virtues.

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  5. Why ww1? Why not the “civil war”? The Confederate “lesser magistrates” so much admired by Doug Wilson only succeeded in making Lincoln’s empire a hundred times more imperialistic. So often when we attempt to overcome “them” with evil, we become very much like “them”.

    No matter if we agree with Warfield about “a final apostasy” or not, we should agree that Jesus is Christ is coming again at the end of His present reign. I Cor 15:25 “For He must reign until He has put all things in subjection under His feet.”

    Maybe we should make a list of the “label/libels” used–gnostic, docetic, stoic, ascetic, masochist…

    2 Corinthians 11:30— If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

    2 Corinthians 12:9-10 — power is brought to an end in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ rests upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.

    2 Corinthians 13:4 For we also are WEAK IN HIM….

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  6. “GAS, I’ll take Machen over you.”

    Bummer.

    “Paul wrote a lot more about the Bible’s silence than he did about contextualization.”

    Did not.

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  7. Zrim & McMark –

    The fact of the matter is yes, we are called to submit to the state, and this is an unqualified reality in Rom. 13. But what I think is missing in this discussion is the fact that though the State exists with divine sanction, with it’s sword bearing power to restrain evil, scriptures simply do not give us enough information on how Christians are to handle themselves in areas of political disagreement and dissent. Which means that, IMO those loyal to the monarchy in the American Revolution were no more pious than were the revolutionaries, since the dispute was over matters which Scripture doesn’t clearly speak – such as the legitimacy of a representative government, and enlightenment notions of the social contract. Similarly, Christian piety shined on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line during the civil war, and again the fight was over issues which Scripture couldn’t answer.

    During the due course of earthly citizenship, of course submission to one’s rulers is in order, and all crimes against the state should be expected to be punished. However, an over-interpretation of Rom. 13 can lead to a de facto legitimization of state political policy – say in a country where dissent of any form is viewed as a crime. If we are to hold to the view that NL, and not Scripture norms the civic realm, then it seems like an end-around to then revert to Scripture to clear up what is inherently a messy and unclear issue. Fundamentally, I am arguing is the following three points:

    1) There are situations that can be contemplated where civil disobedience can be warranted based on arguments from NL, and that the state can be acting out of accord with NL, thus allowing those whose consciences dictate such action,to see a more natural and amenable order restored.

    2) Since Scripture doesn’t indicate how Christians are to behave politically, especially in volatile and highly complex scenarios, it is perfectly understandable to see Christians fundamentally disagreeing on political matters, and it also reasonable that Scripture will prove neither side “right”.

    3) In light of these points, freedom of conscience must be upheld, and allow for difference of opinion.

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  8. Jed, that tears it (quoting Lloyd Bonafide, one of Phil Hendrie’s voices). How can you say the Bible doesn’t speak to the political behavior of Christians when the New Testament is rife with the idea of submission? I appreciate your point the substance of differences in 1776 and 1861 were not addressed in Scripture. But wouldn’t biblical teaching about submission inform the way one acted on the substance? Wouldn’t the Bible’s call, for instance, for humility lead a Christian advocate of secession to try to avoid pride in his argument?

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  9. Jed, I hate sounding so proof-texty, but your whole argument seems based upon the idea of an unjust state. And Peter says to obey and submit not only the good and gentle but also the unjust. If you’re right then I don’t know how to make sense of Peter. And since you’re not inspired, I think the onus is on you to make sense. What’s it mean to obey an unjust superior? Does it really mean revolt? If so, huh?

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  10. Hart: I need to contest something. Your fans see you as The Dude… and you do abide… but I see Walter… you joined a beautiful tradition… you don’t roll on Shabbat… and regardless of what you critics say about you at least you have an ethos.

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  11. DGH,

    Jed, that tears it (quoting Lloyd Bonafide, one of Phil Hendrie’s voices). How can you say the Bible doesn’t speak to the political behavior of Christians when the New Testament is rife with the idea of submission?

    Big ups for squeezing in the Hendrie reference BTW. Let me clarify, because I think I overstated my case in this respect – Scripture does call us to submission to the prevailing political authorities, and this does extend into politics. However, what Scripture does not address is those extraordinary cases where one political order is cast off for a newer form. In these sorts of cases it is not as if the dissenter is an anarchist who aims at casting off all forms of authority, but transfers submission from one to the other, which is precisely what happened in the 1770’s and 1860’s in our own history. If we are arguing that submission is unqualified, and must be rendered to the prevailing authorities, we run the danger of inadvertently legitimizing one form of politics, simply because they happen to be in power at that time.

    As to the historical context of Romans 13, and the culture of the NT in general, I would posit that submission to Rome, which had a nasty penchant for periodic persecution, was nothing like, say submission to Nazi Germany with respect to how Rome ruled, and how Germany did. The 3rd Reich legitimized wide scale violence and tyranny as justified in pursuit of higher Nazi ideals, and generally the rule of law was a laughable joke under totalitarian facisim. Rome, with her faults was generally a society that had a equitable rule of law, where crime was punished and good citizenship was generally rewarded – and in this respect Christian submission served the good of society.

    But in Germany, a good Christian citizen who showed concern for a neighbor who was slated for detention by the state (usually resulting in either death or indefinite detention in a prison camp), would be placed on the horns of a dilemma of being a loving neighbor, and protecting his countryman, often through having to even circumvent the 9th commandment in order to uphold the 6th, or turn his neighbor over to the gestapo in submission to Rom. 13. The fact of the matter is, living in times of political extremism of revolution means having to navigate a hornet’s nest of competing ethical demands. In this respect, submission to the state may have ended up being the least desirable ethical outcome – and these sort of scenarios are what I am arguing that Scripture doesn’t clearly indicate what actions the Christian ought to take.

    But, for example, lobbing a molitov cocktail at the Governor’s mansion, out of an ill-defined sense of political dissent and dissatisfaction isn’t what I would consider warranted civil disobedience. But secession from the 1860’s North, and assembly of a new form of government would be, because it isn’t casting off all authority, merely an issue of transferring loyalty. Civil disobedience all has to do with how it is conceptualized, and whether or not in the end it either restores or creates reasonable political order.

    Wouldn’t the Bible’s call, for instance, for humility lead a Christian advocate of secession to try to avoid pride in his argument?

    One of the points that I was arguing with Zrim, is that in times of political upheaval, neither side should be claiming divine right, even though often they do, and this is unfortunate, since we don’t truly have access to God’s mind in how or why he does what he does in providentially ruling over all things. This is why I find MLK’s invocation of Scripture in the Civil Rights movement so distasteful, not because of the substance of the protest, but because of the great presumption on his part to which side God was on – he could have formed civil rights arguments that hinged on our constitution, and common sense without the appeal to an American civil Christianity. That said, the overarching goals of the Civil Rights movement were good, but frankly I think a lot of the rhetoric was over the top. But the propriety of one’s rhetoric in times where civil disobedience is employed in service of greater political reform shouldn’t detract from the more substantial question of whether or not the political dissent was warranted.

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  12. Those against a 2k Theology seem to moaning about very little real difference. Isn’t it obvious? Do non-2ker’s flip through their Bibles first and foremost when figuring out a new lawn-mower, or snowblower? –– or even to put together a presentation at work based on electrical engineering concepts? The Bible itself limits it’s scope by the very nature of its ‘stitchings’ as they say. It would seem a 2k approach is not only Biblical, but common-sensical; the war against 2k Theology appears more than just a little reactionary and typical of much of sappy, evangelical culture. Or as Dr Hart pointed out, “Bible Thumpers.”

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  13. Jed, Jesus (in Mark 12), Paul (in Romans 13) and Peter (in 1 Peter 2) all had the chance to qualify their calls to obey the magistrate. They all had the chance to say you must render unto Caesar his due—unless he’s a 20th German century tyrant most 21st century Americans hate, and then, eh, not so much. But they didn’t. Peter even goes out of his way to say that unjust magistrates must be obeyed without any qualification. Now, I get that if he tells us to personally and directly break God’s moral law then we obey God before men (Acts 5:29-30). But not only is that actually pretty rare (as in most people didn’t actually have Jews in their attics), but it sure would help your case that calls to obedience are qualified if they actually were qualified in context.

    I know I’ve said this before, but in Mark 12 they were amazed for good reason. Or does anybody really think they were amazed for being told to be good citizens? Sorry, but that’s not very amazing. They were amazed, I think, because they held to some very similar assumptions you seem to be propping up, namely that magistrates aren’t actually disqualified by the fact that their citizens hate them for good reason. Jesus’ hearers wanted a loophole, but none was given. That’s the kind of thing that makes people gasp, especially those who think they have religious justification for civil resistance.

    And do you really mean to suggest that when Paul says that there is no authority except that set up by God that the Third Reich is an exception? Do you really want to say that there was no way for a Christian to be a godly citizen under Hitler or Stalin or Mao or Hussein or Qaddafi? That just seems way more American than Christian.

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  14. Zrim,

    You are conflating one portion of the passage in 1 Pet. 2 that speaks to submission to the political authorities, to the other that deals more properly in domestic and professional arenas. The state in this passage was a God-appointed entity to uphold civil order, and while the employee-employer relationship in some senses mirrors the relationship but the two spheres aren’t exactly equivocal social entities. It is not as if an unjust employer has the same negative effect on a society as a whole as am unjust ruler, whose task is to administer justice. What happens when the state no longer upholds civil order in any meaningful way? Your answer is that in all cases the Christian must submit to the political injustice, mine is maybe sometimes civil disobedience in the interests of a more equitable order. But don’t mistake leaving room for such political dissent is license to use it for every perceived political inequity, for instance, I think the current tax code is repressive and inequitable, but I still pay and have no plans of protesting unless through the ballot box. I would consider some forms of dissent however, if the state became so repressive that the legal guarantees under the US Constitution were no longer tenable, because I believe that the law is on a higher order of authority than government, otherwise government would be self-legitimizing. The way you argue the point is that Christians have no place in seeking better political arrangements if it involves any dissent with the state. Even if the state has taken upon itself illegitimate, and unlawful (NL) authority – in these cases the king of submission you advocate fosters a sense that the authority of the state is legitimate regardless of how it is exercised and whether or not it coincides with the rule of law.

    In complex cases, where the ethical questions of political involvement aren’t clearly answered in Scripture, we go to NL reasoning. This is the bedrock of current 2K theory, that NL is meant to govern the political sphere, but here you are going back and trying to say that Scripture supersedes NL in complex political matters such as revolution, secession, and dissent. Sorry, but in this case it seems like it is a confusion of spheres that leads you to this conclusion. In all ordinary cases, submission to the government is well in order, but there are instances, many of which we can point to in history of extenuating circumstances in which Christians and non-Christian’s alike are faced with making principled decisions where submission to the state creates untenable ethical dilemmas. Whether that is the extermination of the Jews under Hitler, or whether to fire upon those who were seeking to tear down the Berlin Wall, or whether sequestering American Indian’s on reservations was lawful or ethical, citizens, Christains included have had to grapple with what was the right thing to do in these cases. In these sorts of instances, dissent may be the only way to return to an equitable, ethical norm, and to say that such actions are off the table on the basis of Scripture seems to me to be a very flat way of reading the Bible, and doesn’t necessarily even fit the contours of its own history.

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  15. Jed, Jesus (in Mark 12), Paul (in Romans 13) and Peter (in 1 Peter 2) all had the chance to qualify their calls to obey the magistrate. They all had the chance to say you must render unto Caesar his due—unless he’s a 20th German century tyrant most 21st century Americans hate, and then, eh, not so much

    Zrim, in each instance, Jesus, Peter, and Paul were also addressing historical situations, namely Roman rule, which isn’t at all comparable to Nazi rule, nor was Rome, even at her worst guilty of the lawlessness of many of the worst regimes in history. Peter, Paul, and Jesus were advocating such submission in service of a stable civic reality not overrun with eschatologically motivated political rebellion wherein the state would be overthrown in the interests of the Kingdom. Christians were to be part of these functioning societies and law abiding citizenship was important to the overall aim to lead quiet lives in God’s service. Where Christians were called to sin by the state, they were to disobey. If Christians are being persecuted directly for their faith, I do believe they are to submit to the persecution on spiritual grounds, but not all repression is spiritual or fundamentally anti-Christian, and one must utilize moral reasoning when in these situations to uncover the most desirable course of action.

    Besides, you’re arguments seem to be ignoring a good deal of history – remember Nurenburg? Those in Nazi leadership who contributed to mass crimes against humanity weren’t allowed to plead, “well I was just following orders”. International Law dictated that certain orders were not to be followed, and not a few Nazis were hung for their crimes. In this fashion, Nazi dissenters were vindicated legally and politically for their actions – as they appealed to the legality of their cause and the illegal usurpation that typified Nazi rule. The reason why this pesky example of Nazi Germany keeps popping up is the sort of solution you are positing leaves people with no political recourse in the face of real and sometimes prolonged political repression, which basically undoes any need for NL in politics, because the state is basically self-legitimized and beyond question if no meaningful dissent can be offered in the interests of political change.

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  16. Jed: an over-interpretation of Rom. 13 can lead to a de facto legitimization of state political policy.

    mcmark: I have no idea what “over-interpretation” might mean. But no doubt we all want to correctly understand the chapter, in context. 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.8 Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, llive peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the wrath to God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    I will not presume to speak for Zrim, but let me be clear that I do NOT think that submitting to predestined evil in any way legitimates evil The confession of God’s sovereignty does not lead to an “inductive” conclusion that evil is not really evil. Since God controls the evil, we do not need to seize the handles of history and make history go in the correct direction.

    The justified elect cannot measure whether we should revolt against the “lesser magistrates”, as if certain “lesser magistrates” fall short in being sanctioned as “lesser magistrates, and therefore need to be reformed or replaced. Nor do we have a standard by which to measure whether a nation-state has been predestined by God, because all nation-states have been predestined by God.

    We don’t have to say that what we submit to is good. We can know that what we submit to now is evil. We can have opinions about if the state is persistently attending to the rewarding of good and evil, “servants to us for good”. Let it be noted that “good” and “evil” here should not be understood in some “natural” or “common” or “instinctual” sense such as to cover the preservation of democracy and/or the American empire. The service for good is “to you”, ie, it is to be measure by the welfare of each individual.

    Romans 13:8 says “nothing is due to anyone except love.” Love in turn is defined (verse 10) by the fact that it does no harm. In this context it becomes impossible to maintain that the subjection referred to in verses 1-7 can include a duty to legitimate or agree that the nation-state does no evil. Nor is the chapter our excuse to do harm to others at the order of the nation-state.

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  17. McMark,

    Sorry, Sermon on the Mount has more to do with Kingdom Ethics, and willful submission to religious (e.g. suffering for Christ’s name) persecution than it does to politics of the day (either in Jesus’ or ours). And how does a citation constitute an affirmative argument? We obviously do not employ Sermon on the Mount to our political leaders as they go about governing, so why would we in return employ in upon ourselves with respect to their governance? Since when does being persecuted because of say, the color of one’s skin qualify as Christian persecution? Is being corralled to a reservation by virtue of being of the Souix tribe something that we should have legitimately expected the Souix to submit to, especially if we had broken all treaties with them prior to our reservation policies? Are those who suffer such injustices simply to submit while the state usurps illegitimate authority to itself? Sure sounds like that’s what you are arguing. It just sounds like you are using the “predestined evil” as reason for people to simply accept any lawless activity that a government might impose upon them, because it was supposed to happen.

    The whole prospect to submission to ungodly authorities was on the basis of their religious persecution of God’s people. Christians shouldn’t just go out and protest any annoyance of the government because it is “their right”. But to remove Christians out of legitimate political discourse, which includes dissent is simply world-flight, and doesn’t serve to underscore the call to suffer one bit, because we are called to suffer in Christ’s name for legitimate offenses done against the church or individual Christians on the basis of their own submission to Christ. But political matters can hardly be equated with these spiritual ones, no matter how pressing they may be. Unless you are willing to argue that Christians have no stake in how the world is governed, then we should be leaving the door open to reasonable forms of dissent in political matters – that means dissent in proportion to the offense – you know principles of just war carried out into broader principles of diplomacy.

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  18. Zrim: “in Mark 12 they were amazed for good reason. Or does anybody really think they were amazed for being told to be good citizens? Sorry, but that’s not very amazing. They were amazed, I think, because they held to some very similar assumptions you seem to be propping up, namely that magistrates aren’t actually disqualified by the fact that their citizens hate them for good
    reason.”

    13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances,3 but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius4 and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

    mcmark: I think we get to how radical the amazement is when we consider why the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem “hated” the Romans. 1. The Romans were not “covenant children” The Romans were not Jews. We do not have to go all the way back to the promises to David to remember how concerned Ezra and Nehemiah and others in diaspora were about having a non-jewish wife or a non-jewish king. It’s one thing if the occasional gentile or Roman assimilates into Judaism, but how can they sing the Lord’s songs in lands governed by strangers? There’s some serious discontinuity happening after the exile!

    2. The Romans were occupying Jewish land. It’s one thing for Anglo-Saxons to hate their own kings, and quite another for them to welcome or submit to William the Conquerer. So this is not a simple matter of American citizens hating Obama, but more like Americans hating the Germans if the Germans had taken over, or the Iraqis hating the Americans if the Americans had taken over.

    I am not denying that the claims of Caesar and of God are in competition. There are two kingdoms. Nor am I even suggesting that it’s always clear and simple what those who are submitting are to do. As the young men in the fire said, we don’t know what the Lord is going to do about this, but we do know what we are going to do, whatever action the Lord takes or doesn’t take. But the idea that Caesar can be an occupying non-jew and we can live with that and still submit to that, this is just too much discontinuity to take for those who want to return to the good old days before Jesus Christ submitted Himself to the violence of the Romans and their Jewish enablers, and refused the option to become a Zealot.

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  19. Am I the only one in this discussion who sees some of my esteemed fellow 2kers, who have advocated for NL as the basis for politics time and time again, basically delimiting the applicability of NL in the public sphere so long as the government doesn’t want to, since we are required to submit to the government? It just seems like a weird way of utilizing a biblical end-around to the whole notion that NL should play any role in norming political action.

    From the sounds of it, many of the arguments made here would have sided with the crown in the American Revolution on biblical grounds, even if American independence was declared based on NL theory of the day. Does this strike anyone else as weird?

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  20. Great post, DGH!

    Kudos for mentioning the San Marcos brewery.

    Just to be provocative (I think that’s allowed here) – do you think Matthew 5:38-39 (and especially Van Drunen’s treatment of it) might support free markets?

    Chris

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  21. jed: “Sorry, Sermon on the Mount has more to do with Kingdom Ethics, and willful submission to religious (e.g. suffering for Christ’s name) persecution than it does to politics of the day (either in Jesus’ or ours)”

    mark: Sorry, you are wrong. Your argument by definition is not that persuasive to me, even if your “study bible” has “only for private individuals” at the bottom of the page. And why are you making a distinction between the religious and the political? Even if you could define that distinction, isn’t it the neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian/change the one culture for everybody (take your pick because I forgot where you locate yourself, jed) approach concerned to say that there is no distinction between sacred and secular by which Christ is not Lord of something?

    And how does that “Kingdom ethic is private not public” idea work in practice? If your children are being hurt in private, you do the overcome evil with good thing, if you are in your robe at church, also no gun, but–just exactly where does the “political” begin for you?

    jed: We obviously do not employ Sermon on the Mount to our political leaders as they go about governing, so why would we in return employ in upon ourselves with respect to their governance?

    mark: I don’t know which to talk about first, what you think is obvious or your conclusion. I guess I will attempt to understand your conclusion. In other words, since we don’t expect the cops to not have guns and kill people, the cops in turn can’t expect us not to have guns and kill cops? Of course I am pretty sure that’s not what you meant, so help me avoid putting words in your mouth, by telling me what your conclusion means.

    The most common version of cops is that you call them to do things you aren’t supposed to do. You don’t call them to tell them: you are out and now we are the cops.

    But to get to the point you thought obvious, the problem is probably the “we” because not all of us are agreed that Christians have a vocation to become cops and magistrates. You have to do some complex inferences from Romans 13 to get to the idea that we Christians are to become agents of God’s wrath, since the chapter is telling us to submit to “them” and the chapter before is telling us to leave the wrath to God. It’s quite a jump from that to say, leave the wrath to God means to leave the wrath to me because I’m God’s agent. Romans 13 does not legitimate what the cops do. It tells us to submit to it. It tells us that God has predestined it. God makes even the wrath of man to praise Him.

    zed: Since when does being persecuted because of say, the color of one’s skin qualify as Christian persecution?

    mark: sorry, but I don’t have your study Bible, but I want to correlate this “christian persecution” with the “political” distinction you assume above. If you are up front preaching the gospel, you can’t use your gun? But if they are just trying to take your stuff, then it’s fine to use the gun, because a. Christ is not Lord in that area? or b. the Lord has different rules in that situation? It all sounds a bit abstract to me, like my telling a terminal cancer Christian, well you are not suffering as a Christian but only as a human, get it? And so what?

    zed: But to remove Christians out of legitimate political discourse, which includes dissent is simply world-flight,

    mark: Sorry, we haven’t debated anything before, but you must know this is simply question-begging. You are saying that the “religious” is not “the political”, but you won’t or can’t define the difference. Is what we are doing now “discourse”? Or does it only become “discourse” when I tell somebody who’s not a Christian what to do? Or does it only become “political” when I agree to become a magistrate or cop? There is more than one kingdom, and Christ’s kingdom has not fled from the cosmos simply because Christians don’t presume to tell non-Christians how to rule without Christ.

    To remove Christians out of state-inspected whorehouses, is simply world flight. Since Christ is Lord of the whorehouse, we need to act as salt and light and thus make these places less evil and more Christian than they would be without us there.

    zed: principles of just war carried out into broader principles of diplomacy.

    mark: I won’t ask where these principles are in the Bible since the Bible only has holy war at the command of God by God’s covenant nation and I don’t want you to call me the b-word. But can you tell me a. where are these greater good/just war criteria in the Reformed confessions? And can you tell me what those principles are? I want to know if Christians should be at work to put Henry Kissinger in jail.

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  22. Jed, throw in sixteenth century France and Calvin’s own counsel to the Huegenots to submit. Calvin isn’t the standard. But I’m not so sure I can see the difference between first century Rome (under Nero) and twentieth century Germany. Both had elements of order and real instance of tyranny. Either way, I don’t see Peter and Paul saying submit but only in certain circumstances.

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  23. Jed, if you are trying to distinguish between religious and political authorities, did Jesus not submit to each? The Confession of Faith also talks about not using Christian liberty to resist the authority of both the civil and ecclesiastical spheres. The political and spiritual aren’t equal. But submission to a divinely instituted authority seems to apply to each.

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  24. Jed, I don’t think this is weird, especially since royalists also appealed to natural law. Siding with the crown on biblical grounds doesn’t mean that a monarchy is biblical (though it is — King Jesus, right?). It only means that the Bible teaches submission to God ordained authority. Have you been reading Howard Zinn’s survey of U.S. history again?

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  25. Jed,
    I am not a 2ker (yet), but I do see your line of reasoning. Is there no room for any dissent when the civil magistrate is no longer protecting the good or punishing the evil-doer? It would seem not.

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  26. The way you argue the point is that Christians have no place in seeking better political arrangements if it involves any dissent with the state. Even if the state has taken upon itself illegitimate, and unlawful (NL) authority – in these cases the king of submission you advocate fosters a sense that the authority of the state is legitimate regardless of how it is exercised and whether or not it coincides with the rule of law.

    Jed, first, no, that is not the implication of my argument. It is not the case that submission precludes seeking better political arrangements or voicing dissent with the state. If a familial analogy counts for anything, my kids push for changes and voice dissent a lot, but I do not consider this disobedience per se. I can’t define disobedience exactly, but there does come a point that their pushing and voicing turns unbecoming and they are headed for disobedience.

    Second, again, I just don’t see how you square Paul, who says that there is no authority except from God, with the idea that there is such a thing as an illegitimate authority. You can claim that natural law reveals that there is such a thing as an illegit authority and as such deserves disobedience, but I’d simply say that this is an example of reading natural law poorly. I’d say that it is clear that it is more honorable to endure poor treatment with obedience instead of revolting in disobedience. And so does Peter who says, “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” A child who remains loyal and obedient to his repulsive father is esteemed over the one who revolts. Or maybe the former strikes you as, what was it, “weird”? If so, more American than Christian, I’d say.

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  27. Mark,

    I am a waiter by night, when I am not moonlighting as a superhero. I have been in fine dining since the economy went south in ’08, and working to finish my degree so that I can jump back into the workforce when (or if) the economy turns.

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  28. All,

    Let’s clearly establish what I am and am not arguing here. I am not arguing that the Christian is free to dissent from governmental authority on the basis of personal preference, but only in the cases where there is sufficient ethical and legal warrant through the natural law. I hold to the political theory of the social contract which has been a sound development in NL theory historically and does explain the nature and role of government, and as such the government and the public as a whole (vs. the individual) exist in a symbiotic relationship of mutual submission, as governments exist as a vehicle to serve the public by providing reasonably ordered and safe societies wherein individuals and families can go about their business.

    What I mean by ethical warrant for civil disobedience is the following – when the rights of the individual or community are so egregiously violated that there is no recourse to lawful dissent under the current political arrangements. There are many ways in which governments breach the social contract, however rarely do these offenses rise to the level for which extra-legal action is warranted – I would confine warrant to those areas where rights such as the right to life, one’s person, and one’s lawful posessions (such as homes) are wrongfully threatened or taken on the basis of a government who deems that it can and will do so legally. Other such breaches, while potentially serious, cannot constitute ethical warrant, because there is usually recourse to change within the system.

    Additionally, the notion that submission is only given when agreed to under a NL model that allows for certain limited measures of civil disobedience, is to obscure the point greatly. Even if there are areas where an individual, or more preferably a group engages in the very serious undertaking if civil disobedience, this does not necessarily mean that in all points the authority of government is questioned, more likely than not is a certain stance, or policy that is being questioned. Ordinarily, governments, even if imperfect do deserve submission, however, in instances of higher order ethical violations, the individual may be bound to make an ethical value judgement based on competing demands. For instance, can an individual American soldier in the late 19th century ethically make the case that submitting to the state and following orders to take the lives and property of American Indians is the right decision, especially when his highest oath is not to his officers, or the President, but to the Constitution which accords rights and due process to all natural born citizens of the United States? In this instance, he must make the decision between maintaining submission to lawful authorities, and violating his oath to the constitution. If he is a Christian, he must also weigh whether or not obeying an order to raid an Indian village constitutes the violation of the 4th and possibly the 8th commandment in order to fulfill his duties in Romans 13. If he, in his conscience cannot reconcile his higher order ethical demands, and the demand to conduct the raid, I would argue that dissent, even at pain of court marshal is can be warranted upon the dictates of conscience, and the priority of one’s oath.

    I would also opt in all possible cases for non-violent dissent, which is why I reject the assassination attempt on Hitler conspired by Bonhoeffer, because while dissent was in order given the crimes of the Nazis, violating the 6th may very well have been at issue, unless Bonhoeffer employed a just-war argument (which would probably have been problematic to say the least). However, the example of Sophie Scholl’s non-violent dissent against the Nazi regime is a crucial example of how dissent should be conducted in the face of vociferous tyranny – read more here 70th Anniversary of Die Wiesse Rose.

    The fact of the matter is even in the Biblical account we have record of Rahab shirking the authority of the magistrate in Jericho, committing acts of blatant deception, all to aid what constituted Israel’s conquest of the land. In doing so, she transfers loyalty from one magisterial body to the other in a time of war – not altogether different than what some have done in revolutions and civil wars throughout history. This isn’t to say that all civil uprisings, or revolutions are equally warranted, or that the Christian can justify involvement in every one. But, for those willing to transfer political loyalty, and display the willingness to win the political argument, on the battlefield if necessary, can be free in conscience to do so without violating the command to submit to the magistrate – because unless we are also going to establish a corollary doctrine of prior claim, the issue at hand is submission to authority, not which authority one submits to in a time of political upheaval and uncertainty. This is why I am more inclined to give combatants and supporters of either side in the US Revolution, and Civil Wars, without arguing that one side was more right than the other, because depending on one’s cultural location, Christians can and did land on all sides of these issues – and frankly I don’t think an appeal to Scripture sufficiently detangles the issue

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  29. Jed, thanks for the effort. My point hasn’t been to take sides in any specific political or historical circumstance and assign greater piety accordingly. So it is progress, I think, for you to say you are “more inclined to give combatants and supporters of either side in the US Revolution, and Civil Wars, without arguing that one side was more right than the other” when you previously suggested that “many of the arguments made here would have sided with the crown in the American Revolution on biblical grounds… weird.”

    Instead of finding ways to justify civil disobedience, my point has been to give emphasis to civil obedience. What that looks like exactly in particular circumstances, I am not sure. But it does seem plain to me that the Bible makes that same emphasis. I know you think that the 2k construal has an allergy to the Bible in civil considerations, but I think this is a misconception. The Bible may not norm the civil sphere, but it does rule its adherents. And it seems to me that its adherents should be more concerned for the emphasis it makes.

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  30. Zrim,

    The Bible may not norm the civil sphere, but it does rule its adherents. And it seems to me that its adherents should be more concerned for the emphasis it makes.

    This is all fine and good, and in principle we agree, but practically speaking, I think we go in different directions. I think the typical mode of existence for the Christian is submission, and I am glad that I have never been placed on the horns of a dilemma that has caused me to question this. But, I think there are cases where even scripturally, based on a higher biblical ethic of the preservation of life or land, the Christian might question whether or not submission is the best policy.

    The other main contention I have here is that we claim that Christians are members of society, and as such have the freedom to be involved politically – however historically dissent has been one of the key motivators for political change when all else has failed. The argument that is being made here gives unqualified deference to the magistrate, even where he is at odds with the fair and equitable rule of law. Now privately you may disagree with a government, but to remove all ability for its citizens to dissent is to make the power of the government essentially self-legitimizing, making the government the final arbiter of the law that is to be submitted to, as opposed to the NL. Basically this ends up making the NL the basis of political rule only if the government feels like they want to submit themselves to the rule of law.

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  31. But, Jed, I guess I thought the point was to try and sync up principle and practice? If you’re going in another direction practically does that mean you’re emphasizing civil disobedience in real life?

    But if your other main contention is that Christians have the freedom to be involved politically then we are quite agreed. You may want to say that political involvement means dissent, but there is such a thing as a patriotism of affirmation. And I don’t think anybody is trying remove all ability for its citizens to dissent; I’ve said numerous times that my point doesn’t preclude dissent (even vigorous dissent). The point is about dis/obedience. The question is really about being able to distinguish dissent from disobedience, the whole time trying to keep in mind that the Bible forbids disobedience. I know it’s not in the American DNA, but it sure seems like the Bible would have us err on the side of obedience. We hear all the time how we are to be counter-cultural when it comes to any number of facets in American culture–could it be that our political disposition to demand death if liberty cannot be afforded and not to be tread on needs exhortation?

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  32. Zrim,

    Your argument here unwittingly feeds into American/Western exceptionalism here in a key way – dissent is legal, even vigorous dissent in the West. However the same dissent that is legal in the US and other constitutional democracies is illegal in totalitarian regimes, and can cost the dissenter his life. Typically in the US dissent doesn’t entail civil disobedience, but even this wasn’t always the case historically as we saw in the Civil Rights movement in the middle of the last century. The freedom to dissent is vital, IMO to the health of a functioning political body because it can facilitate change and opens the door of communication between those in power and the governed.

    However, in the absence of these sorts of freedom, dissent is illegal – whether we are talking about hardline Islamic states, to Sub-Saharan dictatorships, to Communist China and North Korea. In this very real sense, any disagreement with the state is viewed as civil disobedience – and this is why I am grouping dissent and civil disobedience. Basically, the only difference between the two in many cases is what the laws are in the particular area in question. In this respect, I think that involving oneself in dissent/disobedience may be the only way to promote political change toward a more equitable situation. If you are going to argue that since the State sets the rules, and Christians must always follow the rule of the State (except worship), then Christians must never dissent in states where dissent is disallowed – which means that if their political views are not in tacit agreement with the State, they have no freedom to be involved politically in these nations.

    You frequently cite American DNA as if this is the source of the impulse to civil disobedience, but that simply obscures the issue frankly – I am arguing that civil disobedience needs to be justified 1) ethically and 2) through the use of NL reasoning which is to be the basis of all political activity in the first place. And to clarify, I cannot think of a single current issue now facing the Republic, no matter how strongly I feel about it, that currently has me contemplating any reason to justify civil disobedience – we aren’t even close to those kinds of problems in the US – any dissent that I might express can be done so freely within the constraints of the law. So there are many cases where I would outright disagree with civil disobedience because it should only be a political tool of last resort.

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  33. Jed, and your line of reasoning seems to assume that if a North Korean can’t get all the goodies an American can then something is fundamentally very wrong. How does that not feed into American/Western exceptionalism? Is it really all that intolerable that other places in the world have different arrangements, such that dissent is disobedience? I don’t see what keeps your assumptions from shock and awe. And you also seem to privilege political change for equity before obedience. I’ve got nothing necessarily against the former, but it’s the latter the apostles esteem. Why does it seem like this always gets a wink and short shrift?

    I understand you are contending for civil disobedience to be justified ethically and through natural law. But I am asking for it to be justifed biblically, as in a new covenant sort of way, as in the kind that Jesus, Paul and Peter would affirm.

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  34. Backing up again to the notion that Scripture calls for obedience to the governmental authority, with the exception of issues pertaining to obedience to God (presumably centering on questions of worship and syncretism), I think we need to take a closer look at some of the issues in the passages that have been cited here:

    Romans 13:1-7 [1] Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [6] For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

    Clearly this passage is calling Christians to submission to their rulers, this being evidenced through good conduct and payment of taxes. Rulers derive their authority from God, and as such Christians owe them honor and respect. However, what has not been emphasized here is in vv. 3-4, namely that Paul is describing a reasonably functional political system where good behavior is rewarded and evil behavior is punished, and the State is to function as an judicial arbiter of good in a society. Paul isn’t contemplating an issue in this passage where the State has ceased to function within its appointed role as a minister for good, and is either rewarding and demanding bad behavior, or punishing righteous behavior.

    Moving to 1 Peter 2:13-17 [13] Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, [14] or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. [15] For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. [16] Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. [17] Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

    Echoing Paul, Peter calls Christians to submit to the government, and by extension all other institutions of authority, and in this he contemplates a government that upholds the rule of law. Christians are not to use their freedom for evil means, otherwise they would be subject to the just punishment of the state.

    In both of these passages we clearly see the biblical precedent of the general equity of the 5th Commandment extended to the civil realm, where respect, and submission is due to those in positions of authority. In the NT passages there are no “exception clauses” for areas in which Christians are demanded to disobey the authority of their rulers. Yet we see examples in the NT of Christians who do not submit, as the example of Antipas shows, where he presumably is killed for his refusal to participate in the cult in Pergamum. Since there is no exception clause, Christians must employ moral reasoning in instances where the State has surrendered its role as a minister for good, and instead is a minister for evil. Just because the few examples we have in Scripture of civil disobedience against the magistrate center in on a refusal to worship pagan deities, doesn’t at all mean that there are other times where the Christian isn’t also forced to weigh the ethical implications of submission to the authorities or doing the right thing.

    Mark, this is what I am speaking of with respect to over-interpreting Rom. 13 – because it obviously cannot mean submission when the state is the progenitor of gross and blatant evil, and the Christian would be morally compromised in complying or offering further submission to the state. To go back to the example of Nazi Germany yet again, the Nazi regime had been a perpetrator of crimes against humanity, and all who spoke against such evil, or did not tacitly support it by giving allegiance to Hitler were either imprisoned or executed. In the example of Sophie Scholl in the Munich Student Uprising in 1942-43, the crime that cost her her life was the non-violent protest of the German policy of murdering Jews and the medically infirm. When she would not retract her calls to the German government and people for reform on the basis of conscience, she was executed. To me this is an example of warranted political dissent par exellence, because complicit support of the state in this respect may not have constituted a spiritual or churchly matter in the strict sense, but it would have involved not loving and seeking the welfare of one’s own neighbors, and it would have constitued a violation of the NL concept of the right to life and the 6th commandment and it’s general equity biblically.

    So to restate the issue, just because Scripture only offers examples of disobedience to the State on issues of worship, does not mean that there are no other valid means of disobedience when the government ceases to function in the way anticipated in Romans 13 and II Peter 2.

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  35. Zrim,

    Jed, and your line of reasoning seems to assume that if a North Korean can’t get all the goodies an American can then something is fundamentally very wrong. How does that not feed into American/Western exceptionalism? Is it really all that intolerable that other places in the world have different arrangements, such that dissent is disobedience?

    The issue at hand is that the reasons for American and N. Korean dissent could be over the ostensibly same ethical issue, yet for the Korean it would be wrong simply on the basis of Korea’s legal system that intends on creating political hegemony, even if that means by force. Basically you are privileging American dissent, because we allow it, not on its ethical or moral merits – that is the fundamental flaw of the blanket assumption that Scripture rules out all possibility of civil disobedience. Basically this is to say “God lets me because I am an American”. When the ethical issues are far more complicated than this.

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  36. Zrim,

    I understand you are contending for civil disobedience to be justified ethically and through natural law. But I am asking for it to be justifed biblically, as in a new covenant sort of way, as in the kind that Jesus, Paul and Peter would affirm.

    It absolutely is justifiable biblically, when the Gestapo is at your door asking you to turn over any political enemies, you say “no” because it could lead to their death. It means you refuse to follow orders as a Sheriff deputy if you are called upon to foreclose upon and elderly couple who claims that their home is paid off, and that the bank is fraudulently inducing foreclosure. You are asking for affirmation from Peter and Paul on issues that they simply do not address – they are speaking to the submission to the state, because it is a minister for good – they in no way address what the Christian is to do in those unfortunate times when the state is a minister of evil. In areas where Scripture does not clearly speak, we have liberty – and that is all I am arguing here.

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  37. Jed: Mark, this is what I am speaking of with respect to over-interpreting Rom. 13 – because it obviously cannot mean submission when the state is the progenitor of gross and blatant evil,
    and the Christian would be morally compromised in complying or offering further submission to the state.

    mark: I don’t think it’s useful to throw around that “obvious” word. As Tonto asked the Lone Ranger, who is we and who is them, paleface! Would you fault the “moral compromise” of the Lord Jesus for His submission to the occupying empire and its allies on the Sanhedrin? Is Christ’s rejection of Peter’s sword an endorsement of the gross and blatant evil done by the Romans, or do you think that the Roman administration of Roman laws was basically good for business and civilization?

    Acts 2:23 “this Jesus, handed over according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

    My point is that we should not confuse what’s “necessary” (because it’s predestined by God) with what is good or practical or legitimate. I can agree with your claim that nation-states do great evil, without in any way seeing any duty or mandate or vocation for us to attempt to fix these regimes or replace them. “Submit” does NOT mean “do the evil they command”. But neither does “submit” mean ” I accept suffering from them because I think they are good and legitimate”. By what
    standard would we make this judgment? What does “do no harm” tell us?

    Patience, even such that we wait for the Lord Jesus to come and judge, is not necessarily cowardice, and most definitely not approval of that which is evil. To do nothing when nothing wise can be done is to avoid the evils which come when we attempt to overcome evil with evil. We cannot dismiss the command with the idea–“if it were only me suffering that’s one thing, but it’s not only me suffering, so therefore I am one of the gods who must do something about it.”

    I do wish you would attend to the context of I Peter 2:

    “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
    7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
    “The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”[a]
    8 and “A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”
    They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

    mark: You need to attend to the meaning of “exousia”. God’s foreordination is not God’s approval. God’s purpose in Christ involves His second advent, and apocalypse will uncover the evils done in the name of the good.

    9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had
    not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

    mark: What some speak of as the “spirituality of the church”, I think of as the “politics of the church”. The words “ecclesia” and “politics” do not belong only to those willing to do violence. God’s
    purpose in Christ is manifest when ecclesia happens and ecclesia will happen. There is something very “religious” about “supporting the troops” of an evil empire, and there is something very “political” about knowing that church is more important than family or race or national boundaries.

    11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the
    day of visitation.

    mark: Unless we adopt a situation ethic (now we have the spectacle of democracy!), since when do aliens tell the nation in which they live how to conduct their affairs. Agreed, you surely are not going to listen to what Jesus Christ said, but we like our plan B better than your plan B?

    13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the
    ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants[ of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the
    emperor.18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.

    mark: What follows this is the context to which I refer. On this matter of unjust suffering, the idea is not to restrict the suffering to something “private” or something which is “religious persecution”.
    Rather, the imperative depends on the indicative of what the Lord Jesus Himself did in a situation where his people were threatened by an evil occupying power. The text does not say to move to Jerusalem and be a carpenter and not have a wife. But the text does say that Christ is our example in suffering, also that we do this by “trusting Him who judges justly”.

    19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his
    steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we, having died to sin, live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

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  38. However, what has not been emphasized here is in vv. 3-4, namely that Paul is describing a reasonably functional political system where good behavior is rewarded and evil behavior is punished, and the State is to function as an judicial arbiter of good in a society. Paul isn’t contemplating an issue in this passage where the State has ceased to function within its appointed role as a minister for good, and is either rewarding and demanding bad behavior, or punishing righteous behavior.

    Jed, you seem to want to stand on Romans 13:3-4 to make the case that a civil authority is only legitimate—and thus worthy of submission—to the extent that it is a force that rewards good and punishes evil. I agree that this is an ideal description of civil government, but I don’t see how this is the basis for obedience. And that’s because in the previous two verses Paul says that there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God and thus whoever resists them also resists God. The magistrate not living up to the ideal is no grounds for the believer to disobey, just like when I’m a grouchy old man that is no grounds for my kids to disobey. Indeed, to obey bad authorities is to mirror God who loves those who hate him.

    You are asking for affirmation from Peter and Paul on issues that they simply do not address – they are speaking to the submission to the state, because it is a minister for good – they in no way address what the Christian is to do in those unfortunate times when the state is a minister of evil. In areas where Scripture does not clearly speak, we have liberty – and that is all I am arguing here.

    Well, I know you want to dismiss Peter when he says to not only obey good and gentle masters but also unjust ones, but that just seems like a pretty tortured, arbitrary and disingenuous way to make this claim. It seems pretty clear to me that both Peter and Paul anticipate this very claim and do a pretty good job of surmounting it. I think you’re asking us to be deliberately naïve to think Paul never contemplated evil magistrates as he wrote and was simply waxing pious-eloquent. I agree that we have liberty where Scripture is silent, but it is loud and clear about what we do in instances of evil authority—OBEY. There is no liberty to disobey. Or if you prefer, WCF 20.4: “And because the powers which God has ordained, and the liberty which Christ has purchased are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God.”

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  39. Zrim,

    Jed, you seem to want to stand on Romans 13:3-4 to make the case that a civil authority is only legitimate—and thus worthy of submission—to the extent that it is a force that rewards good and punishes evil.

    No, that isn’t it at all. I am arguing that when the state turns to evil, the believer must weigh the ethical demands to submit to the government with competing ethical claims to love and serve one’s neighbor. There is a hierarchy in the law “the weightier” matters to which a believer must commit to regardless – and this means setting aside a lesser ethical claim in order to carry out the other. When a state demands that a believer, or any citizen for that matter submit to an evil policy, directive, etc. the citizen must weigh the demands of submission with the ethical damage that could easily ensue if submission is given without considering ethical alternatives.

    The fact of the matter is that no state is perfect, and at any point a relatively good one could be committing some form of evil, but that doesn’t warrant CD necessarily. I am speaking to extraordinary conditions, and that is all I have ever had in mind when it comes to these issues. Your position still flattening an ethically complex question, which is something that even Scripture, especially in Wisdom lit, doesn’t do. The call to submit does assume a functioning state, it gives no indication what we are to do in times of political chaos or upheaval.

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  40. Well, I know you want to dismiss Peter when he says to not only obey good and gentle masters but also unjust ones, but that just seems like a pretty tortured, arbitrary and disingenuous way to make this claim.

    Hogwash Zrim – I get that you disagree, but am I being disingenuine? You can do better Z. The question of civil disobedience in the face of tyranny has not been settled since the beginning of the Reformed movement – and if Reformers such as Calvin and Beza can have differing views on the matter than so can you and I without needless accusations. Stellman and my own views are similar as evidenced from his own writings Christ, Kingdom, and Culture, Part 3: Van Drunen where he also links to additional posts.

    If you go back and read DVD in NL2K, he devotes an entire chapter to outlining Reformed Resistance Theory, which is largely rooted in NL. I am simply following suit with Reformed theologians and thinkers like Beza, Knox, and Rutherford to name only a few on my readings of 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13, who unlike Calvin urged the Hugenots to resist the French monarch on NL grounds, and dealt with the claims of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. I sincerely doubt we are going to settle the matter, but the fact is my arguments aren’t borne out of an inherent American urge to rebel, but are founded in a certain very real strand of Reformation intellectual history.

    The fact is, I get your principled arguments for the illegitimacy of civil disobedience, and I am not begrudging your freedom to hold such views. But if the issues dealt with in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are so manifestly clear and cut and dry, why have these two views, which constitute widely diverging schools of thought persisted in our own tradition if those who think like I do are guilty of nothing more than arbitrary, disingenuine, text-tortouring? The fact is, they are nothing of the sort, nor are my views novel, and while I can appreciate your arguments here, I do not find them sufficiently compelling to change my views. I guess the question is can we simply charitably disagree on a matter that we clearly disagree on without impugning each others motives?

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  41. I am speaking to extraordinary conditions, and that is all I have ever had in mind when it comes to these issues.

    Jed, I know and I think this is part of the problem. Most of us live in ordinary circumstances, so trying to sort out biblical commands by reasoning from the extraordinary seems unhelpful for various reasons, specifically what you seem to end up suggesting is that the biblical commands to obey magistrates doesn’t really apply under Hitler, Mao or Kim Jong-Il because they don’t have “the rule of law.” But doesn’t the Bible apply to all believers in all times and all places?

    If you go back and read DVD in NL2K, he devotes an entire chapter to outlining Reformed Resistance Theory, which is largely rooted in NL. I am simply following suit with Reformed theologians and thinkers like Beza, Knox, and Rutherford to name only a few on my readings of 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13, who unlike Calvin urged the Hugenots to resist the French monarch on NL grounds, and dealt with the claims of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.

    Well, when I go back to NL2K, I find this from DVD:

    Calvin’s convictions on this subject [civil disobedience] were, on the whole, strikingly conservative. In an extended series of discussions toward the close of the Institutes, he hailed the honor and reverence due to magistrates as a consequence of their appointment by God [ICR 4.20.22-29]. Calvin exhorts Christians that they must “with ready minds prove our obedience to them, whether in complying with edicts, or in paying tribute, or in undertaking public offices and burdens, which relate to the common defense, or in executing any other orders.” [ICR 4.20.23]. He goes on to make clear that this applies to bad rulers as well as good: “But if we have respect to the Word of God, it will lead us farther, and make us subject not only to the authority of those princes who honestly and faithfully perform their duty toward us, but all princes, by whatever means they have so become, although there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes.” [ICR 4.20.25]. “The only thing remaining for you,” Calvin adds shortly thereafter, “will be to receive their commands, and be obedient to their words.” [ICR 4.20.26].

    Obey bad rulers. But Calvin isn’t the church. WCF 20.4 is, and it says not use Christian liberty as a pretense to disobey any lawful authority. Despite what Americans might believe, European and Korean and Middle-eastern and Asian dictators are just lawful authorities as Ronald Reagan. So saith Paul.

    The fact is, I get your principled arguments for the illegitimacy of civil disobedience, and I am not begrudging your freedom to hold such views. But if the issues dealt with in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are so manifestly clear and cut and dry, why have these two views, which constitute widely diverging schools of thought persisted in our own tradition if those who think like I do are guilty of nothing more than arbitrary, disingenuine, text-tortouring?

    I’m sorry you don’t like the pointed point about being disingenuous when it comes to Peter. But the plain reading, at least to me, is to obey unjust rulers. And you say, no, unjust rulers can be disobeyed. I’m not sure how much clearer the text can be. And the point you make about such divergent views in the face of clarity could just as easily be made about sola fide: the text is clear that justification is sola fide, yet there are widely divergent views on justification in Christendom. The problem doesn’t lie in the text but in the reader. The text is clear that all magistrates are to be obeyed. How are you as a Protestant not doing with obedience what Catholics do with justification?

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  42. Zrim,

    You are ignoring a common literary device, namely parallelism in 1 Peter 2, where the claims of the first parallel segment are only heightened in the second parallel. This is being used as Peter is drawing Christians from less to more intimate examples of submission, where the requirements heighten. You are also conflating one section with the other, and you have offered or proved no warrant. This doesn’t meet even the most basic requirements of the principles of biblical interpretation. The biggest problem is you aren’t defending your claim with anything but the clarity of the text in your own mind, thereby making your opinions and not the textual data and flow of Peter’s argument determine interpretation. It makes it increasingly hard to take your opinions seriously, especially when you are willing to slander those who disagree with you. I am emphatically stating that I am simply in line with NL apologists historically such as Beza, Knox, and Rutherford, and with contemporary NL apologists such as Stellman – are you going to stand up and emphatically assert that all of us are simply “playing games with the text” as well?

    The fact is, DVD is charitably cataloging what Calvin taught and believed, but if you take the time to go back into the chapter on Resistance theory or read his essay The Use of Natural Law in Early Calvinist Resistance Theory, you will find charitable treatment of the Reformed Resistance theorists, including Beza who did not follow suit with the man he preceded in Geneva. In fact, he uses the Resistance Theorists to argue that Natural Law had been present and in force from the earliest days in the Reformation, using Resistance Theorists positively as an example of how contemporary Reformed thinking needs to embrace NL. At the end of the book DVD also notes that discussion over this and other ethical matters need to take place before the argument can exactly be settled.

    You need to understand and realize that your efforts to eliminate any and all dissent from the political sphere where the government deems it illegal undercuts the degree to which NL can actually be functional in the civil kingdom. You also need to realize how much this limits Christians from participation in politics where opposition and dissent are prosecuted. In the end your stance functionally flattens out the commands of Scripture, giving equal weight to all of the commands therein. Under your rubric, which differs little from Kant’s categorical imperative the Christian is to submit to the tyrannical leader even at the cost of loving and serving your neighbor who may be in danger due to the tyrants policies rather than lie to protect him. You place no weight in the real ethical dilemmas where obedience to the magistrate may induce further law breaking, or conscience violating. The problem is Jesus castigates the Pharisees for ignoring the “weightier measures of the Law” (Mt. 23:23ff), he also bests them with his assertion of the “Greatest Command”, pointing to the reality that even the biblical authors, dating all the way back to the psalmists, and the prophets recognized a hierarchy of biblical commands, giving weight to some over others in instances of competing obligations.

    This is the point of the story of the Good Samaritan – the Jewish leaders all had obligations that they were on their way to fulfill, but they failed to obey the higher command to obey the neighbor. The fact that Christians are demanded to not submit in areas where they are asked to compromise the integrity of the confession or worship also lends more weight to a hierarchy of commands even in Scripture. Just because other scenarios of defying leadership aren’t fully discussed in Scripture over civil disobedience, doesn’t absolve the Christian to check moral reasoning at the door. They too must weigh the demands Scripture places upon them in situations where those demands compete with each other in the civic realm.

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  43. Hooray Jed! Well stated!

    Maybe Hart and Zrim should explain the teleology of obedience. What’s gained with pacificism?

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  44. Jed, I’m not trying to play exegete. I’m reading the Bible plainly. So no matter how many times you tell me to “obey unjust rulers” really means “unjust rulers may be disobeyed” I will always be stymied, just like when an exegete tells me “justification is by faith alone” really means “justification is by faith plus works” will confuse. So you can declare yourself in line with whatever historical and contemporary figures to say biblical commands to obey don’t mean obey, but all that means is I’m stymied by more people. But if it helps, to say unjust rulers must be obeyed is one thing, but obeying immoral commands is quite another. I don’t see how saying to obey unjust rulers means one must obey immoral demands.

    And for the umpteenth time, my point isn’t to eliminate any and all dissent from the public square—dissent isn’t always disobedience. Even so, I still don’t see the problem with limiting Christian’s involvement where dissent is always disobedience and is prosecuted, because obedience is the biblical virtue. I understand that might make the American experiment longer in coming (or perhaps never), but is that really the final measure? And I am not pitting the command to civil obedience against the command to love neighbor. I am saying they are both Christian imperatives and neither swallows up the other. I am trying to give civil obedience more credence than is typically given. I don’t see how bolstering one biblical imperative means to subvert another.

    And I’m sure this won’t go down well either, but the GS isn’t really about bolstering second greatest ethics:

    http://confessionalouthouse.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/the-good-samaritan-and-two-kingdoms/

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  45. GAS, what’s gained is a faithful reading of the NT and the examples of Jesus and the apostles. They weren’t activists. They didn’t try to overturn social structures. They submitted to powers that were tyrannical. They were not a model for modern political theory.

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  46. Hart: I didn’t ask you to beg the question. I specifically asked what’s the teleology of obedience. And just so I was clear I followed it up with the question of the goal of pacificism, since you and Zrim associate obedience exclusively with pacificism, i.e. submission.

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  47. Zrim,

    “Jed, I’m not trying to play exegete. I’m reading the Bible plainly.”

    This is nothing less than intellectual laziness Zrim, you make slanderous claims to the effect that my motives when interpreting the text are somehow “tortured, arbitrary and disingenuous, when there is historical precedent in the Reformed camp that speaks otherwise. I can see why Manata basically shows your arguments no respect, not because you don’t have valid observations, but because you make bombastic claims that devolve into personal attacks, but then when pressed to make factual, affirmative arguments, that form the backbone of theological discourse, you simply balk, restate your opinion and defend why following the rules of discourse don’t apply to you.

    I can see that you are only left a few options, either a) stop being lazy and defend your opinions with more than the fact that it is your opinion, or b) do everyone a favor and stop making claims that you have no interest in substantiating. I could ask you the same questions regarding the accusations you level at me:

    Is Jason Stellman handling the text in a “tortured, arbitrary and disingenuous” manner, since his views on the use of NL and Scripture differ from your own?

    Was this the case with Beza, or Rutherford, or Knox?

    Do you care to even attempt to substantiate your claims, beyond “that’s how I see it”? If not, there is absolutely no point in continuing this conversation.

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  48. DGH,

    They were not a model for modern political theory.

    I completely agree here. But if this is the case, how much are we going to push Scripture into norming political behavior? Historically speaking, Roman tyranny, while inexcusable looked nothing like modern totalitarian tyranny, as Romans did not engage in genocidal warfare, but rather conquered and then folded provinces under their lawful rule. And generally speaking, with the exception of periodic persecutions, where the excesses of the cultic religions of Rome were whipped into an irrational frenzy, Rome was a lawful society that was in many respects more stable and desirable to live in than the Dark Ages that ensued after Rome fell.

    But if we are not to look at the Bible as a model for political theory, then what? My main beef with Zrim has been his refusal to admit that Reformed Resistance Theorists attempted to grapple with similar questions, such as to what extent NL and Scripture combined to inform Christian roles in highly unstable political situations. If we are to draw the line on submission to the ruler in all circumstances, it is a reworking of Kant’s categorical imperative that essentially leaves the expression of issues of conscience and ethical dissent at the sole discretion of the State, with the only exception of worship. I am not sure closer reading of ethics within Scripture or ethical reasoning under Natural Law Theory demands an absolutist rendering of this text. That is unless we are going to argue that submission to the ruler is on par with all other commandments other than the 1st and 2nd.

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  49. Jed, slow down. This has nothing to do with discerning motives and slander. It’s a simple point. The text says to obey unjust authorities and by the time you’re done you end up saying disobey unjust authorities. I don’t know what else to call that but wanting reading. I understand you don’t like that, but how is it slanderous, bombastic and personal? But can you at least see my point and why this causes so much angst in a dim wit?

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  50. Jed, I have not resfused to admit that Reformed Resistance Theorists attempted to grapple with similar questions. To the extent that you are representing them, I am asking them the same simple (albeit rhetorical) question: how can obey unjust magistrates mean disobey unjust magistrates? Less rhetorical, If obey doesn’t mean disobey then what do you think it could possibly mean to obey an unjust authority?

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  51. Jed, how about Zrim’s conscience? Are you accusing him of false conscience by not resisting tyranny?

    It seems to me that we have a parallel situation as what happens with worship. Does the Bible require resistance to tyranny? That seems pretty hard to argue. Does the Bible require obedience? Well, it sure seems to and the history of the West prior to sixteenth-century France does as well. I am not going to deny that NL has more to say about politics than SL. But I can’t deny what the Bible does say about rulers and the ruled (and that doesn’t make me a biblicist).

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  52. Zrim,

    First of all: the verses in question do not say “submit to unjust magistrates”; they simply say “submit to magistrates” Second of all your ethical reasoning is atrocious. Let me back up and explain why: my claim is that civil disobedience is ONLY in order with ethical warrant. Ethical warrant would include a very short list, such as the threat of life, theft (e.g. of ancestral lands), magistrate invoking right of the “first night”, refusal to offer legal equity that places the individual or community in serious peril, or some other similar action by the state for which the citizen would have no recourse other than civil disobedience to communicate disssent. This isn’t about protesting or refusing to pay taxes, or dodging the draft because the war is unpopular; it is about far more oppressive issues.

    These sorts of breaches of government would be offenses against the decalogue, such as the 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th commands, or better summed up in the 2nd great command to love the neighbor as one’s self, of course we don’t need the Decalogue to inform us of the validity of these commands since we know them Naturally through the NL. In the study of biblical ethics, we can plainly see that the commands in Scripture are not all on the same moral plane, but they are hierarchical in nature. In situations where the moral and ethical situation places one at odds with one command, such as when David ate the consecrated bread while in need (Mk. 2); or when Rahab had to weigh the decision to break the 9th command vs. protecting enemy combatants whom she believed were on the right side of the issue; or when the Pharisees wrongly claimed they were not responsible to honor their parents as the 5th clearly demands, because of their tithing obligations. Examples such God’s desire for mercy over sacrafice, even though he demands both further reinforce this.

    The fundamental error in your line of reasoning is that you refuse to consider ethical alernatives, or engage the difficult questions of just war doctrine when it comes to political revolt. The issue is not as cut and dry as “obey the unjust magistrate in all circumstances” even when obedience leads to a greater injustice. This has no precedent in Scripture, nor would it pass even the most basic scrutiny in ethical theories such as those entailed in NL. If your reading of Rom. 13 is the correct one, the following would also be true:

    1) One could be a labor union member, and start on under current legislation, but not in the past when unionizing was disallowed by both employers and even government officials.
    2) A German citizen could not dissent from Nazi rule or their many crimes in hopes of reforming a society (since they were required to offer oaths of strict allegiance to Hitler), but an Amercian soldier could kill Nazi’s
    3) An American Indian could not fight to defend his own land, even though American’s had claimed rule of the land without prior claim, other than a deed showing that the land was purchased from another European power.
    4) East German soldiers would have been forced to fire upon unarmed protesters in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, rather than dissent from what they viewed as a murderous command.
    5) Rosa Parks should have remained in the back of the bus because she was a Southern Black, as opposed to say a resident of Chicago, even though the constitution guaranteed all US citizens equal rights and protection under the law.

    So on biblical and ethical grounds your arguments are seriously lacking, unless you can state the case that Scripture demands submission in these respects.

    You can claim all day that your intentions were not offensive, but when I called you out on your ridiculous remarks, you only defended them further, so I don’t buy your equivocations here. Either I am playing fast and loose with the Word of God, or I am not – it is really that simple, and if you aren’t going to dignify your claims with more than opinion, I take your comments as slanderous. Period. The fact of the matter is you are reading Romans 13, and 1 Peter 2 in isolation of the rest of Scripture, and making submission in all areas to the magistrate to be self evident. Further, you continue on this line of arrogant, and unsubstantiated thinking even when you are shown that within the Reformed tradition there has not been agreement on this issue.

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  53. Hart: So to be like Christ- since he wasn’t involved in politics neither should we?

    Since he wasn’t involved in baseball neither should we?

    All this exemplar stuff is starting to sound like the social gospel.

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  54. DGH,

    Jed, how about Zrim’s conscience? Are you accusing him of false conscience by not resisting tyranny?

    Fair question, let’s just dig into what I have already added in the combox, I think it should be sufficient to clarify where I stand on the issue of whether one must resist tyranny. What I am arguing is that one is free based on the dictates of conscience and ethical warrant to civic disobedience, meaning one simply can in some cases:

    Response 2/6 – 12:40 PM2) Since Scripture doesn’t indicate how Christians are to behave politically, especially in volatile and highly complex scenarios, it is perfectly understandable to see Christians fundamentally disagreeing on political matters, and it also reasonable that Scripture will prove neither side “right”.

    3) In light of these points, freedom of conscience must be upheld, and allow for difference of opinion.

    Response 2/7 – 4:01 PM:In areas where Scripture does not clearly speak, we have liberty – and that is all I am arguing here.

    Response 2/7 – 11:49 PM:The fact is, I get your principled arguments for the illegitimacy of civil disobedience, and I am not begrudging your freedom to hold such views. But if the issues dealt with in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are so manifestly clear and cut and dry, why have these two views, which constitute widely diverging schools of thought persisted in our own tradition if those who think like I do are guilty of nothing more than arbitrary, disingenuine, text-tortouring?

    So, briefly, I think there is room for disagreement on the issue without ascribing absolute certainty to one’s view on the issue, and then disparaging those who disagree as playing games with Scripture. No Christian is obligated to civil disobedience in these extraordinary cases that I have listed in the discussion to this point. I may think it is ethically the wrong call, but I certainly can cross the dictates of conscience on an issue so unclear.

    It’s not as if Reformed Resistance Theorists ideas were coming from nowhere or that 16th century European political theory emerged ex nihilo, they came in part from Occam, Acquinas, Scots, and even further back to Augustine. I realize that your desire to adhere to Scripture with respect to where you stand on ones response to magisterial authority doesn’t make you a biblicist, but the issue has hardly been settled either. I think there is sufficient data within Scripture to question the absolutist interpretation on submission to the magistrate, even though in general I would appeal to NL ethical arguments if I had to publicly defend a decision to disobey authority. I could care less if Zrim holds a differing position, the bur in my saddle is his insistence that a “plain reading” Scripture clearly supports his view, thus allowing him to disparage all disagreement, and absolving himself of the responsibility to defend his views.

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  55. Jed, the texts in question may not say obey the unjust magistrate in all circumstances, even when obedience leads to a greater injustice. But neither do they say be civilly obedient, unless you have ethical warrant not to be. And my born, bred and buttered Yankee ear doesn’t like the sound of Rosa having to stay in the back any more than yours. But when I read the Bible it sure doesn’t seem to give much warrant to break the rules of authorities. I know you think my reasoning skills are atrocious, but I do hope you can see that I am honestly wondering about how our shared American ideals seem to bump up against biblical revelation, and my worry that we might end up baptizing them instead.

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  56. Zrim,

    Stop confusing this with American ideals as if this discredits my arguments, the fact is Resistance Theory is nearly twice as old as America, it’s a smokescreen to the issues I am raising. What I am making is both a biblical case for the hierarchy of moral claims, and a political claim based on NL. I have just given you a few examples that have nothing to do with worship where authority was not followed, and I could add the case of Onesimus who didn’t exactly submit to Philemon, but when Paul writes Philemon, he implores him to find no blame in Onesimus – and further uses his apostolic muscle to not only plead Onesimus’ innocence for a crime that in Rome was punishable by death, but to also press for his release. The fact of the matter is there are instances where authorities were disobeyed, even in Scripture, and not always for religious reasons as was the case with Onesimus, Rahab, and David’s eating of consecrated bread. It’s not as if the precedent is totally lacking.

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  57. This “debate” has certainly made interesting reading, but for some reason old Joe Fletcher keeps coming to mind every time I read one of the rebuttals.

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  58. GAS, when you say that this side is saying that since Jesus wasn’t involved in politics neither should we, I don’t recognize the implication of my view one iota. It reminds me of when Frame says WSC thinks the cultural mandate is no longer in effect or that God’s sovereignty swallows up human responsibility. What the what?

    Jed, I don’t see how pressing, imploring or pleading someone’s non-religious case is disobedience. I’ve already made this point to you. Paul wasn’t being disobedient to work for Onesimus. But he did send O back to P and exhorted P to be obedient to his apostolic direction. How you get anything but the theme of obedience out of Philemon is quizzical.

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  59. Zrim: Hart tells me that Jesus and the apostles were doormats for the authorities. Then he told me to be like Christ. What other implication do I have?

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  60. Zrim,

    Onesimus deserted his owner, a crime in the Roman empire punishable by the death of the slave, yet Paul presses for his release, and asks that any perceived wrongs to Philemon be blamed on Paul. Not only does Paul remove legal recourse for Philemon, but he asks for Onesimus’ release. If this is not civil disobedience then pray tell, what is. What about interacting with the substance of my argument.

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  61. George,

    If you are saying that navigating competing ethical claims is equal to situational ethics, I would simply answer it belongs more to wisdom (e.g. to, or not to answer a fool, to live righteously but not be overly righteous) than Fletcher’s school of thought. Situational ethics was founded on the notion of moral relativism, by a eugenicist no less. Hardly the same as Reformed Resistance Theory. Unless we are speaking of a different Joe Fletcher

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  62. Jed, fair enough. But can you identify where Scripture might guide your distinction between extraordinary and ordinary forms of bad government? I tend to agree with Zrim, that Scripture is clear about submission. The apostles and Christ taught it and practiced it. Natural law might teach otherwise, depending on the interpreter. But not even David would raise a sword against Saul. And David was after the Lord’s heart.

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  63. Jed, the book of Philemon is hardly an inspiration for the underground railroad. Sending runaways back to owners? That sure takes some creative reading. So how is appealing to a slave owner to release a slave qualify as being warm toward disobedience? Slave owners have the authority to set free. I see Paul going through the ordained channels, not working outside the instituted chain of command. If you read the text plainly, I think you can both retain your ideals that eschew human slavery and satisfy the virtue of obedience.

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  64. I am not fully persuaded by John Robbins on Philemon, but Robbins was neither pacifist nor abolitionist– from pg 29…It is the law of the Lord Jesus Christ that governs in Philemon’s situation, not Caesar’s. Philemon’s ownership of Onesimus was perfectly legal under the pagan laws of the Roman Empire, but Paul says that it was not morally proper, that is, it was sinful. Implicit in Paul’s doctrine is the idea that legality and morality are two different things. … In his letter to Philemon Paul makes it clear that Christians must be governed by Biblical law, not pagan law, when the two differ. So even though slavery was legal in the Roman Empire and acceptable to many people, including Christians such as Philemon, it was not fitting.

    Excerpt from pg 31–At the end of his letter, Paul expresses his hope that he will soon regain his freedom. Here he is cleverly planting the idea in Philemon’s mind that slavery is not a permanent condition: Paul is now a prisoner, but he was not a prisoner earlier. He was unjustly put in chains. And soon, thanks in part to Philemon’s own prayers, Paul will once again be a free man.
    If Philemon were to insist on keeping Onesimus a slave, he would be keep­ing Paul’s son a slave.…

    Excerpt from pg 35– Paul did comply with Roman law by sending Onesimus back to Philemon. Even more remarkably, Onesimus, by willingly returning to Philemon, was complying as well. But their actions do not imply that Ro­man law regarding fugitive slaves was just: It was not. Nor does Paul ever cite Roman law as his reason for sending Onesimus back to Philemon.

    The reason the Roman Empire’s fugitive slave law was not just is Deuteronomy 23:15-16: “You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him.” As a rabbi, Paul must have known this verse and many other verses in the Old Testament con­cerning slavery. That is why he did not turn Onesimus over to the Roman authorities: God’s law supercedes Roman law. And when Paul does send Onesimus back to Philemon, he sends him back as a free man. Onesimus returns to Philemon freely and voluntarily, not in chains, not as a slave.

    Excerpt from pg 37– Paul’s command is not simply that Philemon receive Onesimus, but that he receive him as Paul’s “own heart,” that is, as Paul himself. From the beginning of this letter Paul has been identifying himself with Onesimus. First, Paul called himself a prisoner; then he called Onesimus his son; and now he calls Onesimus himself: “my own heart.” Paul commands Philemon to accept Onesimus as he would accept Paul himself- not as he would accept a runaway slave who, under the laws of the Roman Empire, deserves to be punished for his disobedience. That is why Paul commands Philemon: While Philemon might be eager to get his slave Onesimus back, he would be eager to receive him back as his private property, not as a free man. Paul commands Philemon to ac­cept Onesimus as a free man – as himself.

    Excerpt from pg 39– Paul wants Philemon’s consent so that “your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.” Here Paul makes the contrast as stark as possible. On the one hand, compulsion; on the other, consent. The two are opposites, and Paul clearly favors freedom and voluntarism, and opposes compulsion. That is, Paul opposes slavery .…

    Excerpt from pg 40–…Paul already regards Onesimus as a free man, and that all that is necessary now is that Philemon agree, consent, receive him back as if receiving Paul himself, and take whatever legal steps are necessary to accord him full status as a free man under Roman law. Paul is not returning a runaway slave: Onesimus is “no longer a slave.”

    Excerpt from pg 48 —Paul says that he is writing to Philemon because he has “confidence in his obedience.” Onesimus must ask, obedience to what or to whom? To Paul? Paul has no authority to command anything that is not already com­manded by Christ. That is why he repeats the phrase “in the Lord.” Paul is not inventing some new social doctrine regarding slavery; he is making clear to Philemon and his readers what the law of Christ, not the law of Paul, requires.

    Slavery and Christianity. Paul’s Letter to Philemon. John W. Robbins. 2007.
    The Trinity Foundation. P.O. Box 68, Unicoi, TN 37692

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  65. hey, I’m just a reporter. Don’t you know that we pacifists should not have opinions on politics? I am not a disciple of John Robbins. I just can’t help myself when I get a chance to tell somebody I read something.

    If I had to guess what Robbins would say, I think the answer would be yes. You know the Martin Luther thing—“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.”

    Like that clears everything up! I read Ethics of Freedom by Ellul, 300 pages of dialectic, and all I know now is that we need to beware that when we say “two kingdom”, some folks will immediately think we agree with what Niebuhr wrote about Lutheran paradox.

    Is the apostle Paul saying that there is more than a verbal difference between “voluntary slavery” and some other kind of slavery? If legal slaves engage in “voluntary subordination”, are they no longer really slaves? Can we be “slaves” in different ways? I think reading Philemon means considering these “differences”.

    I am a slave of Christ, therefore it’s no big deal for me to be a slave to you?

    I am a slave of Christ, therefore I cannot be a slave to anybody else?

    I Corinthians 9: 5 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with fa stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching gI may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
    19 For though I am free from all, i have made myself a servant to all, that I could win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I could win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I could win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I could win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I could save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I could share with them in its blessings.

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  66. DGH,

    Unless Paul had some sort of assassination plot against Caesar, the comparison with DB is just plain silly. Besides the emperors had more to worry about from their family and friends in that regard.

    I am not using the book of Philemon as abolitionist propaganda here, and to assume that is to miss the very basic point: Desertion by a Slave would have been a violation of both 1 Peter 2, and Romans 13, as it was a crime which sometimes ruled as a capital offense, and it constituted theft, in this case from Philemon.

    In stead of indicating that Onesimus should submit himself to the authorities, Paul intimates to Philemon that he has the authority as an Apostle to command Onesimus’ release, but instead he sends his appeal (vv. 8-9). Talk about the power of suggestion! Furthermore, whatever blame Philemon might assign to Onesimus, Paul accepts as to be regarded on his own account, not Onesumus’ (vv. 18-19).

    I am drawing no implication for what this might mean for civil disobedience in a contemporary setting, however, I am making the case that civil disobedience was committed in Onesimus’ case. This is simply to serve to point out that the strictures of Paul’s commands were set aside, and not for the reason of a threat to the Christian’s worship or confession.

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  67. Jed, but did Paul take Onesimus from Philemon? Paul’s actions, in other words, are at best murky. I don’t think it qualifies as civil disobedience. Onesimus’ actions may have. But that goes to a different matter, whether I have an obligation to turn Bonhoffer in.

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  68. Jed, the plea that Paul was indulging in some form of civil disobedience continues to strain. Surely the law recognized that Philemon was Onesimus’ master and that O was finally answerable to him one way or another. What would be disobedient would be to by-pass P as O’s immediate authority and either hand him over to the sheriff or the underground railroad.

    Still, your argument that none of the apostles could have possibly conceived of our modern tyrants, and thus disobedience has a place in the interests of political equity and so when the text says obey it could mean that sometimes but not always, sure sounds close to what egalitarians say about women: surely, Paul couldn’t have conceived our modern notion that the world is flat, and thus women having authority over men has a place in the church in the interests of gender equity, and so when Paul says he forbids a woman to have authority over a man it could mean that sometimes but always. In unison, Peter and Paul were products of their times and we really need to make some serious qualifications with regard to their plain imperatives.

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  69. Zrim,

    Did I make the comparrison to 19th century slavery anywhere? You have missed the point and then proceeded to make assumptions that were pondered nowhere in my argument. It simply served the point that the demands listed in Romans 13, and 1 Peter 2 were not followed. And it sure looks like the return of the slave, Onesimus in this case, was simply an act of deference, because Paul made Philemon well aware of the fact that he could simply command Onesimus’ release.

    Regardless of whether or not you agree with Reformed Resistance theory, are you finally willing to at least interact with these historical facts:

    1) Early Reformed Resistance Theorists (ERRTs), each of them historically were not considered heterodox for their views.
    2) Their views were derived from Scripture and NL
    3) Their use on NL has become instrumental in contemporary 2kNL arguments for the legitimacy of NL in Reformed political theory on the civil kingdom?

    And further:
    4) That I am not advocating anything that ERRTs had not contemplated in their own Scriptural or NL exegesis.
    5) That your assertion that a “plain reading” makes such historical views, or those like myself of Stellman on the contemporary 2k scene as somehow guilty of disingenuine twisting of Scripture, was baseless as you offered no exegetical argument (of even the most basic or cursory kind) whatsoever to substantiate your claim. And it was uncharitable because you have taken an item of warranted disagreement between us for the sake of our respective personal consciences and have declared my views to be contrary to the Word of God on the basis of nothing more than your opinion, even when I have offered sufficient explanation, textually and historically to demonstrate that my views have been defended both their historical place among Reformed theologians, and their biblical merits regardless of whether they suit your opinions.

    This is the crux of the disagreement that you are skirting to pursue auxiliary arguments that stand outside the fundamental purview of the argument.

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  70. DGH,

    I didn’t say Paul was committing civil disobedience, it was Onesimus who broke the law, and Paul who made the case that he not only should not be punished, but set free.

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  71. Jed, yes, I get that you like ERRT and that it has a place in the Reformed tradition. But, sorry, I’m about as enamored with Reformed resistance theory as I am with Reformed transformationalism. Why is that such a problem? And take a breath, nobody has “declared your views to be contrary to the Word of God,” sheesh. All I’m saying is it’s pretty strained to carve out a huge place for civil disobedience when Jesus and the apostles make little to no room for it.

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  72. Zrim,

    Surely the law recognized that Philemon was Onesimus’ master and that O was finally answerable to him one way or another. What would be disobedient would be to by-pass P as O’s immediate authority and either hand him over to the sheriff or the underground railroad.

    You are fundamentally overlooking Paul’s argument in deference to your own flimsy argument. Paul intimated to Philemon that as an Apostle he had the authority to simply command Onesimus’ release, and his reason for not demanding Onesimus’ release was not to remain on the up and up with Roman law, his reason is for “love’s sake”:

    [8] Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, [9] yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— (Philemon 1:8-9 ESV)

    I’m not even commenting on whether or not Scripture allows for civil disobedience, since I have already made these sorts of claims. All I am saying is that Onesimus’ act of desertion as Philemon’s slave was a breach of Onesimus’ responsibilities as Philemon’s slave, and a breach of the laws of Rome violating both sections of 1 Peter 2, that deal with responsibility to the law, and to one’s master. I seriously doubt that Onesimus’ disobedience was politically motivated, but it was civil disobedience nonetheless, and the criminality of Onesimus’ actions are not mentioned in the letter, only his wrongdoing to Philemon as his master, for which Paul accepts responsibility.

    The underground railroad references are just games at this point since clearly the epistle to Philemon and the underground railroad of 150 years ago aren’t related in the slightest, nor have I attempted to make the comparrison. Are you going to interact with the substance of the argument here or not Zrim?

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  73. Zrim:And take a breath, nobody has “declared your views to be contrary to the Word of God,” sheesh.

    while you say earlier (2/7 7:56 PM):Well, I know you want to dismiss Peter when he says to not only obey good and gentle masters but also unjust ones, but that just seems like a pretty tortured, arbitrary and disingenuous way to make this claim.

    Now you are contradicting yourself.

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  74. DGH,

    But can you identify where Scripture might guide your distinction between extraordinary and ordinary forms of bad government? I tend to agree with Zrim, that Scripture is clear about submission. The apostles and Christ taught it and practiced it.

    Scripture is clear that we are to submit to authority, I am not arguing that, and never will. But Scripture is also clear about additional moral obligations, such as the 6th command. I can immagine a case where a German citizen would be justified in speaking out against the Nazi’s murderous policies, regardless of whether or not the Nazi’s would have recognized the legality of such dissent – let’s look at a faithful interpretation of the 6th in the WLC:

    Q. 134. Which is the sixth commandment?
    A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

    Q. 135. What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
    A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

    Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
    A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

    We are bound per 135 to all lawful preservation of life, which probably rules out vigilantism, which is why I do view Bonhoeffer’s actions wrong, and indefensible with respect to the 6th. However, it is questionable whether or not the exercise of conscienced non-violent speech in defense of those who are subject to unjust, and unlawful murder such as the example of Sophie Scholl (see also this excerpt of the historical film in which she is interrogated), which I have often cited as a model for acceptable civil disobedience. I realize that there might be some debate over the legality of defying government edicts against free-speech, but lawful can also refer to what is ethically or naturally, or even Scripturally lawful. In 136, the responsibility is only heightened where the violation of the 6th extends to “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life”.

    Given the fact that Christians are expected to disobey the magistrate when they are called to violate the 1st or 2nd command, even where there is no explicit qualifiers in the passages that call us to submit; it isn’t a leap to consider other areas where a Christian is demanded to defy his conscience or the general equity of the Law by the magistrate where he cannot obey “the weightier measures of the Law.” If Scripture, and our own Confessional standards support the fact that not all commands, nor all sins are equal, and requires us to discern good from evil, then it is not even beyond the purview of Scripture to contemplate scenarios where the Christian is free to (and in cases of worship of confession – obligated) choose to obey the commands that carry greater ethical and spiritual weight, even if that means breaking the lesser command.

    I am not saying that any time a government is evil, or slips into an isolated evil practice that the Christians is bound to disobey the ruler, and even in these cases I would say that the Christian should still submit. But in cases extraordinary, and where I do draw that line personally, is in the following areas:

    1) Where obedience to the magistrate requires the Christian to break the general equity of a higher ethical principle such as the Decalogue or their NL corollaries.
    2) Where a Government acts out of accord with it’s own laws, such as in the US, when the government endorses an illegal action. Even here though, rarely if ever does this involve breaking actual laws, since we have constitutional protections that allow dissent.

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  75. Jed, thanks. I’m not sure I disagree, except perhaps to put submission to rulers under the fifth commandment. Which raises the question of conscience about how to resolve conflicting claims of the Commandments in specific situations. I don’t know and I doubt there is any rule of thumb.

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  76. DGH,

    I don’t know and I doubt there is any rule of thumb.

    I agree completely here, that is why I think wisdom is in order to discern good and evil when pressed to this point. I also think there are other subjective considerations that need to be considered such as how civil disobedience on a warranted issue, where it may be permitted but not demanded, would affect the individual Christian witness and/or the ministry of the Church. This is why I would only advocate CD in the gravest of situations, and even where I do leave room for it, I don’t think it should be pursued as a first order of action, and only after much careful consideration.

    My views are possibly much closer to yours practice than you might suspect, all I am arguing is that CD should not be ruled out without exception, because there are some cases in which the hierarchy of ethical demands and conscience requires it.

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  77. I find myself agreeing with Jed. Your argument is well reasoned and articulated. Thanks for the interaction by all parties involved. I wonder what level of civil disobedience would be “acceptable” when denying the civil magistrate their “right” to first night with my bride?

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  78. “The Bible doesn’t require God’s people to have a . . . commitment to free markets.”

    What? Seriously? So, you are saying that the alternative, state-run markets, are no less Biblical than free markets? Was is merely a coincidence that the founders of Socialism and the leaders that advanced their ideology were avowed atheists? You don’t see any connection here? You don’t think centralized power tends to corrupt? The Biblical worldview says NOTHING about free markets?

    This is pure insanity. Any movement (such as R2K) that it leads to such asinine conclusions can be safely written off by anyone with even an elementary understanding of Scripture.

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  79. When they borrowed from “the” Christian worldview, Jon, does that mean that they share your opinion on something? Do you have an opinion on everything?

    In my opinion, we don’t need to have an opinion on which direction in history Satan’s kingdom should turn to at the present moment.

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  80. MM,

    “When they borrowed from “the” Christian worldview, Jon, does that mean that they share your opinion on something?”

    No, it means they borrowed from the Christian worldview.

    “In my opinion, we don’t need to have an opinion on which direction in history Satan’s kingdom should turn to at the present moment.”

    Are you saying civil government is Satan’s kingdom? Do you have Biblical support for this assertion?

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  81. I agree with DGH about the weirdness of having “the” Christian worldview and not being orthodox on the gospel. Jon wants to assume that there is such a thing as this “the worldview” but I wonder what that view is and where you can find it and if anybody has “it”.

    We have noticed before the irony involved in having an “anti-worldview” worldview. But I really would like us to focus on the relationship between believing the gospel and having “the view”. If you can have the view, but not have the gospel, how is it that having “the view” makes your opinions right or wrong?

    Just to warn you, Jon, I don’t plan to keep answering your questions until you begin to answer some of mine. But I admit it’s difficult not to give my opinion when asked. Please note that the following ” answer” is not one anybody else on this list, least of all dgh, would endorse. So feel free to ignore. After all, it’s one thing to “have Biblical support” and another to be correct. For that, perhaps you need either the confessions or “the view”.

    one guy’s opinion: I was looking for the words “civil government” in my Bible, but I must have the wrong translation. Sometimes the powers are the “secular governments” and sometimes they are not? We know the powers have been disarmed (Colossians) and that the Lord Jesus reigns until
    they are all destroyed (I Cor 15:14-28) To be “weak in Christ” is to have the patience to wait for God’s justice.

    It is one thing to claim that God had predestined the regimes of the status quo as his agents. It is another thing to assume that the agency of these “civil governments” is something different from the
    agency of Satan.. “Submit to” does not mean that we should encourage collaboration and obedience with Hitler and other “civil governments”.

    Romans 13 cannot be understood apart from its context. Romans 12:19 commands Christians not to avenge themselves but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine…” “Submit to them” in Romans 13 cannot mean that we leave it to ourselves or that we are to
    attempt to become the them to whom we submit. “Leave the wrath” does not mean “and take it up again” when you put your other non-Christian “civil” hat on.
    .
    The biblical context of submitting to the powers that God has ordained is important. 1. There is a difference between God ordaining evil to happen and God approving that evil. 2. There is a difference between submitting to the powers and agreeing that these powers are supposed to follow “theistic but not orthodox” standards..

    The Bible commands Christians to never exercise vengeance but to leave it to God. Magistrates can claim that the justice they advocate is not “God’s wrath” but Romans 13:4 says that the magistrate “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

    Notice, Jon, that the governors are executing the specific function which Romans 12:19 commanded Christians to leave to God. Though this does not prove that none of the governors are Christians, it does prove that none of them are obeying God at this point! And the text teaches us that God uses this disobedience (not leaving it to God) as wrath. God does not have to approve of the standards of the unforgiving secular regime in order to restrain sin with more sin.

    James 1:19 “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God requires.”

    Psalm 76:10—“Even human wrath shall praise you, for you are to be feared. Who can stand before you when your anger is roused?”

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  82. The Magistrate is also “not a terror unto good works, but to evil…do what is good…” and God’s “minister to you for good, not evil”.

    By what measure are Christians to know what good works are? What is “good” and what is “evil”?

    As Calvin notes:

    “[Magistrates] bear the sword; not only the sword of war, but the sword of justice. They are heirs of restraint, to put offenders to shame; Laish wanted such, Judg. xviii. 7. Such is the power of sin and corruption that many will not be restrained from the greatest enormities, and such as are most pernicious to human society, by any regard to the law of God and nature or the wrath to come; but only by the fear of temporal punishments, which the wilfulness and perverseness of degenerate mankind have made necessary. Hence it appears that laws with penalties for the lawless and disobedient (1 Tim. i. 9) must be constituted in Christian nations, and are agreeable with, and not contradictory to, the gospel.”

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  83. Well that is embarrassing… the above quote is Matthew Henry, here is Calvin…

    “Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the wellbeing of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects, they are therefore debtors also to them. And private men are reminded, that it is through the divine goodness that they are defended by the sword of princes against injuries done by the wicked.
    For they bear not the sword in vain, etc. It is another part of the office of magistrates, that they ought forcibly to repress the waywardness of evil men, who do not willingly suffer themselves to be governed by laws, and to inflict such punishment on their offenses as God’s judgment requires; for he expressly declares, that they are armed with the sword, not for an empty show, but that they may smite evil-doers.”

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  84. Jon,

    There is evidence that the economic system outlined in the OT law (E.g. Jubilee Law, Law’s for Sabbaths for the Land) would not exactly fit the “free market” models of today. What’s more is there isn’t solid evidence that the economic system entailed money at that time (a later development), as transactions took place on a very sophisticated barter system at least up to the Monarchic Period. The fact was, there were certain economic realities that fit more of a command and control, and even a wealth re-distribution model. Of course there was also an emphasis on equitable weights and measures, but historically, most viable economic systems have required reliable mediums of exchange to survive. To say that Scripture demands free market economics is pure anachronism, as no such system existed, or was even contemplated at the time the OT or NT were composed. Adam Smith, was revolutionary simply because he was able to recognize how economic activity coalesced naturally in a cultural and industrial setting that was far different than the ancient systems of Israel or the Greco-Roman world.

    Why do we need to baptize capitalism to call it a good idea? Like any field of social or economic thought, free-market capitalism must be defended on its own internal merits – which I believe it does without needing to turn to Scripture for justification.

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  85. Back on the topic of merited civil disobedience, I ran across a contemporary example over in Ireland over foreclosure law – here’s an interesting exchange between a Sheriff’s representative attempting to exercise a foreclosure, and an advocate who refused his entry on the property of the foreclosed party on the basis of the Irish constitution:

    Constitution Halts Sheriff

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  86. MM,

    I did not intend to purposely ignore you, I just didn’t understand the question at all. I am positing the merits of an objective Christian worldview and you said something about “opinion.” I didn’t understand it, so if you want to please elaborate I can indulge you.

    As for your exegesis of Romans 12-13, you say “Notice, Jon, that the governors are executing the specific function which Romans 12:19 commanded Christians to leave to God. Though this does not prove that none of the governors are Christians, it does prove that none of them are obeying God at this point!”

    I think you are totally wrong here. While it is wrong for individuals to take vengence (vigilantism), it is quite legitimate for civil government to do so (justice). This is the whole basis for the distinction between murder and capital punishment. If we follow your logic, every magistrate who conveys the death penalty is guilty of 1st degree murder.

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  87. As far as DGH’s, your, and many folks’ on this site obsession with hating the concept of worldview, I can only conjecture as to what is causing this strange phenomenon. I have to think there is some sort of axe to grind here that forces people into performing mental acrobats to avoid the obvious. As for anyone who goes so far as to refuse to even write the word (i.e., w— v—-), I start to wonder if mental disease is a factor(?)

    A worldview is simply a philosophy of life. AND WE ALL HAVE ONE (known or unkown to ourselves). Do you have a metaphysic? Do you believe in immaterial entities (i.e., God, logic, etc.)? Then you have a worldview which reflects that belief.

    DGH et al: Please stop playing games and resorting to pure weirdness to try avoid such obviousness. DGH has admitted and seems to revel in being a “curmudgeon.” Such an arbitrarily contrarian attitude smacks of pride and the desire to draw attention to oneself. “I want to be different!” I thought we were supposed to give up such childishness in elementary school? Let’s cut the games and debate like men.

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  88. Jed,

    Every time one of you guys encounter an argument you don’t like, you dismiss it as “anachronistic.” Please explain how a barter system would mitigate against a free market.

    “The fact was, there were certain economic realities that fit more of a command and control, and even a wealth re-distribution model.” Okay, you made an assertion. Now please make an argument to support.

    Apparently, you find no connection with the athestic worldview (uh oh, I’ve lost many of you with that evil word) of Karl Marx and his economic philosophy. The deification of the state involved in anti-free market economies is purely coincidence? God scattering the people at Babel was arbitrary? There is no moral implication in the civil government stealing our money via inflation?

    Guys, you are obviously smart people. But your desire to hold to this ridiculous radical 2K worldview is forcing you into the most absurd conclusions. Repent, please and let’s get on with it. We are on the same side here.

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  89. I understand that you think “everyone has a worldview”, Jon. But I keep asking you, where did you find your worldview, and how do you know it’s “objective”? How do you know your worldview is the correct one and that other people’s are wrong? Did you find your worldview in a book by Edith Schaeffer? Or did you locate it in the stars above?

    And is there a difference between “the” Christian worldview, and other “individual” worldviews? Are there some Christians who don’t have “the” Christian worldview? Or, as DGH has asked from the beginning, are there some non-Christians who nevertheless have “the” Christian worldview?

    And I warn you: if you don’t talk to me the way I think you should talk, perhaps you are simply not masculine enough….

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  90. MM,

    “where did you find your worldview” – In Scripture.

    “how do you know it’s “objective”?” Well, I am not a postmodern, so I believe in objective, knowable truth. Space does not permit an extensive thesis on epistemology, but suffice to say that God has created us in a way, and communicated to us in a way such that we can know objective truth. How do you know your creeds are objective? Or would you say they are subjective? How do you keep from dissolving into complete subjectivism? Can you apply your same questioning to your own beliefs (worldview)?

    “How do you know your worldview is the correct one and that other people’s are wrong?” Because mine is based on Scripture. If one’s worldview is not, then it is wrong.

    “And is there a difference between “the” Christian worldview, and other “individual” worldviews?” Yes. The Islamic worldview, for instance, is wrong in its belief in an unkowable God.

    “Are there some Christians who don’t have “the” Christian worldview?” To the extent that they diverge from Scripture, yes.

    “are there some non-Christians who nevertheless have “the” Christian worldview?” They don’t have THE Christian worldview, but they do borrow from it at many points. For instance, they believe in the regularity of nature.

    “And I warn you: if you don’t talk to me the way I think you should talk, perhaps you are simply not masculine enough….” Yes, man up.

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  91. Jon,

    The point I am making is that there are plenty of Christian world view apologists who look to Scripture to justify their particular economic theory, and this isn’t limited to free market advocates as some advocate more collective models (e.g. socialism and communism) from Scripture as well. But what each group here ends up doing is cherry-picking the parts of Scripture that *might* privilege their modern system while ignoring the parts of Scripture that do not lend as much support for their economic theories. What I am arguing fits within the grammatical-historical reading of Scripture that must form part of our hermenutic that says the economic system(s) that existed in Scripture weren’t capitalism, and that outside certain economic commands such as tithe/offering, Jubilee, and earmarks for the poor, and tax commands in the NT Scripture makes no affirmative argument for any economic system.

    So, the anachronistic point is important, not because there aren’t possibly elements of free market capitalism that aren’t also found in Scripture, such as the importance of contract law, but because the economies of the ANE and then Greece, and then Rome were not capitalism and to say that they were is to misunderstand ancient socio-economic constructs. There are also some elements that other economic models historically have pointed to, whether that was mercantilism, or older medieval systems that reflected elements of Scripture. The OT system of land inheritance which parceled out the land to families in perpetuity would have been problematic in a capital system as well, as capitalism relies on the velocity of assets through the system, this would include the sale, purchase, and resale of property, which would not be allowed per Jubilee Laws.

    I have no problem with free market capitalism, as someone who tends toward an Austrian School of economics I think that the free markets succeed where Marxism, or Keynesianism, or other systems fail. But, I am of the opinion that battles in economics must be fought on the field of economic argument, theory, and discourse. If you sat in a room with other economists, even one’s who were sympathetic to the free market, if you were to justify your position with “because the Bible tells me so” you would be dismissed because your arguments would lack sound economic rigor.

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  92. Jon, we all understand worldview 101. But the reason Christian worldview receives criticism is that it doesn’t seem to pass the test of uniformity in application. You can take two people who claim Christian worldview “based on Scripture” but have very different outlooks about how the world should shake out, which seems to suggest that Christian worldview doesn’t have the direct bearing on temporal affairs its proponents claim. Christian worldview might begin to make more sense when its application is seen in things like doctrine, creed, sacrament, doxology, and church polity.

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  93. Jed and Zrim,

    There are many different denominations, but you are a member of yours because you believe it is the true one. Does the existence of the Oneness Pentacostal denomination mean that you can’t know that yours is truer to Scripture? Sorry, the existence of competing worldviews does not mean that a true one does not exist or cannot be known.

    Jed, your “Bible told me so” statement sounds like the caricatures people make of presuppositional apologetics. First of all, I am not afraid to say the Bible told me so and I believe it. I am not embarrassed of that. But second of all, I don’t have to just say that I believe in free market economics because the Bible told me so. I believe in free markets because the Biblical worldview sets the foundations for a free market and the Bible is never wrong. Private proerty rights, just weights and measures, de-centralization of power, the concept of enslavement by taxes – these are all Biblical principles. They are also all empricially observable throughout history. I would advance these foundational concepts via Biblical reasoning, with or without explicit references to Scripture, depending on the context.

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  94. But, Jon, the Bible makes a much better case for sola fide than it does for how a country should be politically or economically arranged and executed. Maybe that’s because that’s what it exists for? But what WV proponents seem to assume is that the Bible exists for purposes it seems vastly uninterested in.

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  95. Jon: “Are there some Christians who don’t have “the” Christian worldview?” To the extent that they diverge from Scripture, yes.”

    mcmark: To repeat, I am still more interested in dgh’s questions—are there some nonChristians who nevertheless possess parts of “the” Christian worldview. How can you know that they are living on the borrowed capital of “Christendom”, when in fact “Christian civilization” might be living on the borrowed capital of materialist capitalism?

    But to attend to your answer—is this something like “universals”? Individual chairs don’t matter because there is one perfect essence of “chair-ness” which cannot be located inductively in any specific chair?

    But if that is so, then Jon you don’t have “the” Christian worldview. You only have your own worldview which is not “the” view to the extent you diverge from Scripture. So, again, where do you find this “objectively” universal “the Christian worldview”?

    Some of “them” diverge somewhat from “the” view, but you found it and know it? And if I keep asking questions you can’t answer, that makes me “postmodernist”? Next thing you know, you will notice how “secular” (bound in time) I am..

    But is it “the secular worldview” or are there as many “secular worldviews” as there are people?

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  96. Jon, in the interests of debating like a man, why don’t you address the issue and actually argue for w— v– rather than say everyone knows it exists. MM has offered objections as have I. But your womanly response is to say I don’t love you.

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  97. Jon, do you act always according to your w — v–? Is it subconscious or conscious? What is objectionable is that w– v— advocates make it seem like a wv is something that informs every single act. If it did that, then how could you ever drive a car or cross the street. Somethings like breathing we do without thinking about them. But wv’ers seem to say we need to be mindful of w-v- all the time and if we are the world will be a better place.

    It is a view of knowledge and ideas that does not square with human existence.

    BTW, it is not required by Scripture. You can’t make me have a w-v- no matter how manly you are.

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  98. Jon,

    You are just ignoring historical facts to make an argument that isn’t defensible outside of circular reasoning. The bible doesn’t speak to capitalism – nor does it endorse any economic system, certainly not one as developed or complex as free market capitalism. Simply because the Israelites were warned about the oppressiveness of taxation by the kings did not absolve their responsibilities to pay them as Scripture clearly states. We are still demanded to pay taxes no matter how “oppressive” we think they are.

    Besides, if you were to have a conversation with a Christian in Sweeden, or China, their criticisms of socialism may be very different than yours. Marxist atheism is divisible from socialist economics, as highly religious states in South and Central America will tell you. Many have also falsely used Scripture to defend the virtues of socialism, and all I am arguing is that beyond a massive stretch of very basic principles, Scripture does not support any of the modern economic theories, nor does it automatically condemn them. You can insist on your “bible says so” argument as a basis for policy, but it requires rigor to demonstrate the merits of your economic theory. So your view might get some run at a political rally of like minded individuals, but it won’t effect change when it actually comes to monetary or fiscal policy, or shape the academy’s view on these matters as they inform both major policies in developed economies. You will have to prove the merits of your economic theories on the basis of economic arguments. It might be somewhat self-assuring to hold to the “biblical” model of economics, but until these advocates do the work of economists they aren’t going to see their ideas go very far.

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  99. “why don’t you address the issue and actually argue for w— v– rather than say everyone knows it exists.” I didn’t just claim that everyone KNOWS it exists; I also claimed that everyone HAS one. Darryl, do you think that a belief system based on materialistic determinism affects the way an atheist studies psychology? Do you think that Richard Dawkin’s committment to naturalism causes him to gravitate to non-Christian theories of origins?

    “Jon, do you act always according to your w — v–?” No, sometimes I am inconsistent. Do you always act according to your creeds?

    “Is it subconscious or conscious?” Both.

    “What is objectionable is that w– v— advocates make it seem like a wv is something that informs every single act.” Why? Why is it wrong to be consistent? Why should I believe that sometimes the Bible should speak to how I act in a certain area and sometimes it should remain silent? This really gets at the heart of the issue, doesn’t it? Your opposition to worldviews is simply because they mitigate against the r2k position.

    “Somethings like breathing we do without thinking about them.” How is this statement even relevant? We have all sorts of involuntary physical reactions. What makes us human (image of God) is our ability to reflect and think rationally about life. Paul said to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. That is just what I mean when I say “have a Christian worldview.” Paul didn’t say to breath like a Christian, but he did say to think like one.

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  100. “Simply because the Israelites were warned about the oppressiveness of taxation by the kings did not absolve their responsibilities to pay them as Scripture clearly states.” Jed, c’mon, you’re better than that. Can you not see the difference between obediently paying the tax in an oppressive regime and the approval of that regime to begin with?

    “Marxist atheism is divisible from socialist economics” No. It’s all based on the same idea that makes the State the messiah and seeks to centralize power like Babel (which God condemned).

    You are running the exact opposite direction of where Christians should be headed politically. I try so hard to explain to Christians that we don’t have “moral issues” and “amoral issues.” Economic issues are every bit as morally relevant as abortion, for example. Yet, in your zealousness to divorce the Bible from any political relevance at all, you are undermining the very efforts we should be advancing. You are siding with the secularists. Man, with friends like these. . . . .

    By the way, Christian economists have done a VERY rigorous and thorough job of laying out a Biblical economy. You won’t agree with them, but they have. Interestingly, I bet the society that you and DGH and other r2k’ers would advance would look very much like one I would design. The only difference is I could support mine Biblically and objectively.

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  101. Which is the Christian economist? Ron Sider or Gary North or my recently deceased friend Art Gill? Since they don’t have the same view of economics, at most only one of these guys could have the “objective” view? Jon, Is the objective view identical with the correct view? And how do we know which is which? What is your view on holding slaves, as long as these slaves are not in the covenant?

    I simply would not presume we all believe the same things but simply label them differently. I don’t think the problems you would have with my attitude about private possessions would only be my failure to dress up my opinion in religious dress.

    How ironic—non-Christians who nevertheless teach not simply “theistic economics” but “Christian economics”…..

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  102. MM,

    “my attitude about private possessions” Is your attitude about private possessions Biblical? Sounds like it’s not.

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  103. MM,

    I have to go now. I have to work so you can steal and encourage others to steal my private possessions. But I wanted to leave one last thought.

    Your entire argument against worldviews can be reduced to this:

    Not all worldviews are the same,
    Therefore, worldviews must not exist.

    Or, put another way:

    In order for worldviews to exist, they must all be identical.

    I think anyone can see how absurd that is.

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  104. Jon, that is not the argument. The argument is that what makes Christian worldview suspect is how it is allegedly traced back to the Bible and is made further suspect by competing Christian worldviews claiming the same source. So what is actually absurd is for one worldviewer to say the Bible contains a doctrine of private property and another to say it contains a doctrine of the redistribution of wealth, and that’s because the Bible contains neither.

    It’s not so much the case for Christian creed, and that’s because the Bible actually has plenty to say about Christology, justification, baptism, evangelization and doxology. Granted, those who claim Christian creed do differ on these and that might look to cause a problem, but at least they can be tested against holy writ. The way WVers speak is a lot like saying the rule book for training dogs applies to cats. There might seem to be overlap or relevancy, but um, dogs are to cats what eternity is to temporality. Or put another way, special revelation applies to spiritual life and general revelation to temporal life. In case you’re wondering, this is the part where you talk about radical compartmentalizing, but really it’s just using the right book to rule the right sphere. Why is that so hard?

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  105. Jon,

    It’s almost useless having a debate with you on the issue of economics, much less which iterations are or aren’t Christian, because you are simply ignorant about economics.

    Socialism is distinct from Marxism, is distinct from communism. There is private ownership in the first, not in the last, and Marx had some incredibly insightful comments on what would befall late-stage capitalism – which is an amalgam of statism, currency debasment, and favoring moneyed interests – the problem with Marx isn’t his observations, it is 1) his assumptions about the nature of reality and 2) the conclusions he draws. Any economist who does not have Marxist leanings must account for the strengths of his position, and understand why it has attracted such a massive following (considering the largest country in the world still holds to a form of Marxism).

    Then you have to answer which version of the free-market are we speaking of Keynesian economics, the London School, the Chicago School, the Austrian School? Each of these also has philosophical pre-commitments that sometimes differ greatly. Any Austrian economist worth his salt will argue that the whole Austrian system is built on the notion of philosophical subjectivism, namely that the Austrian School starts with the individual and his rights, freedoms, and preferences, and then proceeds to build out an economic model from there – which is quite opposite from neo-liberal (neo-Keynesian) economics.

    You have demonstrated little understanding of economics, from a broadly historical standpoint, and in a more specific standpoint other than pointing out a few tenants of free market capitalism are also found in Scripture. Well, fair weights and measures, concern for the welfare of the whole system (e.g. “there shall be no poor among you” – Deut. 15:4), contract law, sound money, are all features of some of the Socialist/Capitalist regeimes in Europe – where they actually are besting the American “free markets” with respect to sound money, and equitable enforcement of the law.

    It’s a nice trick to say that the bible privileges one form of economics, when the fact is, it simply does not, especially systems that did not exist, and were not contemplated by Scripture. If free-market capitalism was the economic system contemplated in Scripture, then Christians have been living in violation of biblical economic principles until around the industrial revolution, when a truly Capitalist society was actually possible.

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  106. Zrim,

    So if two creeds disagree than neither can claim the Bible as its source?

    You are begging the question. The point under debate is whether the Bible speaks to economic issues. You argue against it by saying it doesn’t. Circular reasoning.

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  107. jon: I have to go now. I have to work so you can steal and encourage others to steal my private possessions. But I wanted to leave one last thought.

    mcmark: Rather than answer my questions about the objectivity of “the” Christian worldview, Jon has falsely accused me of stealing and of encouraging theft. I challenge anybody to read this thread and see me doing that. In fact, my opinion is that we need to give as much of our stuff away as we can. Our stuff. Ours to give. But de-capitalization is not theft, and one “Christian economist” (Gary North) is on public record as granting the distinction in my case. (Read Gary’s footnotes!)

    But Jon is more interested in assuming the worst than he is answering questions about his sacred cow. Does having “the” worldview mean getting the last word? If you leave, you don’t get the last word. If we come back, still we don’t have the last word. Those who would be the most humble will need to have the most to be humble about….

    jon: “Your entire argument against worldviews can be reduced to this: Not all worldviews are the same,Therefore, worldviews must not exist.”

    mcmark: Reductionism is not what we really ought to be doing when we read each other. It’s bad enough to be telling each other to shut up and let me talk, because what I say is “objective” and we already know that what you say is not biblical. It’s even worse to put words in the other’s mouth in order to have a “dialogue” with a caricature of our own creation.

    I have never denied that folks have worldviews. I have denied that they need to have them and become “more conscious” about it.

    I have never denied that worldviews are different. I have denied that there is one “the Christian worldview” which some Christians (and non-Christians) have access to.

    I have never denied that worldviews are different. I have asked how you know which views are correct and which ones are not.

    If the answer is that you read the Bible and others don’t, then that doesn’t account for the folks who bring “biblical support” for their opinions. If the answer is that you read the Bible objectively, and that others do not, well, I am afraid that doesn’t seem that objective.

    It’s one thing to say “the whole Bible is my gospel” but if we look at various church confessions, we can begin to see the connections and the reasons some people think God gives priority to the justification of the ungodly instead of the “social gospel” (which since Reagan has eliminated abortion in this country).

    Jon: “In order for worldviews to exist, they must all be identical. I think anyone can see how absurd that is.”

    mcmark: Sure can. I certainly see how dumb that is. I never said it. But the implication of your reductionist “last thought” is that even I can see it but I just won’t. Too stubborn I guess.

    You see it, but you just won’t admit it. I am right and you are wrong and you know I am right so why won’t agree that I am right? Your conclusion is very much like a “worldview”. It begins and ends by begging the question.

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  108. Jed,

    Sorry, I am so beneath you. Though i am not as smart as you, please accept my feable reply. The reason Marxism attracts so many is because they are sinful and make an idol of the State.

    Your comment on Austrian economics is completely false. It is based on objective truths, such as the laws of the free market, human nature, freedom, problems with central power, etc.

    Socialism is antithetical to Scripture. I have already deomnstrated such. You use the exact same arguments as a liberal in your railing against freedom.

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  109. “Humble”??? Haha, now THAT’S funny! Have you guys wondered why the only ten guys in the world who hold this theology hang out at this site? The rest of the world is just not smart eoiugh, apparently. And that’s humble?

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  110. Jon, no, it’s not so much circular reasoning as it is a presupposition that the Bible is silent on economic matters. Maybe you presume that is loud and clear. But if that’s the cased then I suppose you mean to say that the whole confessional tradition has missed it, given the fact that there is nary a chapter or section in any creed, confession or catechism about economics. That doesn’t seem very humble, laddie.

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  111. Zrim,

    Not true. Have you read the parts about the eighth commandment? Or the ninth? Or the tenth? These all have very important ramifications for economic theory. That’s why we can know that Jed and Mark’s socialist tendencies are a form of stealing and based on covetousness.

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  112. Mark,

    You are A web of self-contradictions.

    “If the answer is that you read the Bible and others don’t, then that doesn’t account for the folks who bring “biblical support” for their opinions. If the answer is that you read the Bible objectively, and that others do not, well, I am afraid that doesn’t seem that objective”.

    Same with your creeds. Please explain the difference.

    “I have never denied that folks have worldviews. I have denied that they need to have them and become “more conscious” about it”

    So people have worldviews, but they dont need them? How do they get rid of them? You should start your own speaking tour, compelling people to rid themselves of their worldviews. Is it sinful to have a worldview? Or only if you’re conscious of it?

    “Your conclusion is very much like a “worldview”. It begins and ends by begging the question.”

    But didnt you just say we all had worldviews? So arent you also begging the question?

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  113. I am just getting around to David Gordon’s essay on Romans 13. As usual, I am reporting and not necessarily approving. Of course I have an agenda but I do not file this report to advance it.

    “Our conscientious responsibility to obey the civil magistrate is itself determined by the magistrate’s adherence to his divinely-established purpose. That is, in circumstances where he neither commands what is evil (in which case we must disobey) nor commands what is morally right (in which case we must obey), but merely commands regarding a matter that is “indifferent” in itself, we
    are not morally obliged to obey him, because the conscience can never be obliged to implicit obedience, and, indeed, it is the magistrate who has sinned, by stepping beyond his divinely-established role to reward good and punish evil.

    Prudence, however, may dispose us to obey the civil magistrate even where conscience does not. If
    the magistrate, for instance, required us to put whitewall tires on our automobiles, on pain of death, we would obey not for conscience’s sake (since it is not inherently right or wrong, by divine standards, to have white-walls; and the magistrate has stepped beyond his divinely-instituted prerogatives in requiring such), but for the sake of prudence (why surrender life for such a trivial matter as white-wall tires?). It is not immoral to have white-walls, and so conscience does not require us to disobey (not having white-wall tires is not malum in se, it is merely, in this circumstance, malum prohibitum).

    Similarly, it is not morally necessary to have white-walls, and therefore conscience does not require our obedience. Prudential considerations alone (the power the magistrate has to punish those who disobey him, and the likelihood and consequences of his employing it) govern our behavior in such a circumstance. Of course, the sword is a figurative expression of the remarkable power
    of the civil magistrate, and he does not always resort to this final expression of his authority. He may choose less extreme measures, such as banishment from his realm and its protection, incarceration, etc.

    This view was earlier proposed by theologians such as Thomas Manton (1620-1677): “Whatever God commandeth, I am bound to do even in secret, though it be to my absolute prejudice; but now submission to man may be performed by suffering the penalty, though the obedience required be forborne; and in some cases a man may do contrary in
    private, where the thing is indifferent, and there is no danger of scandal and contempt of authority” (Commentary on James, 385). Manton recognized that it is consistent with our “submission to man” either to suffer the penalty for disobedience, or to disobey privately and not be punished, if the matter required was not a moral issue (and therefore not properly something the civil magistrate could require anyway).

    Manton concurred with the Westminster Assembly (of which he was a commissioner), which rather remarkably (considering that the Assembly itself was called by the Long Parliament) only required obedience to the magistrate’s “lawful” commands: “It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons,to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake” (WCF 23:4, italics mine). However self-consciously, this differs from the earlier Lutheran confessions, that articulated and anticipated a view such as that of Robert Lewis Dabney.

    The Augsburg Confession (1530) had said: “Christians, therefore, must necessarily obey their magistrates and laws, save only when they command any sin; for then they must rather obey God than men.” Westminster used much more ambiguous language than the Augsburg Confession had employed; permitting one to embrace the Augsburg view, but also permitting views such as those of Manton. Those like myself who adopt the view of Manton recognize that the magistrate about whom Paul wrote was a Roman; who neither acknowledged the Law of Moses or the teachings of Christ.

    When Paul said of this Roman magistrate that such “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to
    bad” (Rom. 13:3), what did he mean by good and bad conduct? The opinion of Manton and others was that “good” and “bad” were not here references to the highest Christian ethic, but to those essentials of public morality necessary for cultures to thrive. “Bad” in such a context probably meant something like what John Locke suggested, when he said “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions” (Second Treatise of Government, 1690, II, 6).

    Theoretically, this viewpoint is, I believe, consistent with the definition of Christian liberty and liberty of conscience taught in the Reformed standards, and also consistent with the instructions of
    Romans 13. Practically, this viewpoint justifies the practice of many believers who routinely disobey the civil magistrate (knowingly or unknowingly) in an era when the civil magistrate’s laws more
    frequently deal with matters of indifference than they do with matters of morality. Many Christians adopt this practice, while professing in theory that they are obliged to obey the civil magistrate in every area that is not sin per se. My practice is no worse than my theory; if one is wrong, both are wrong.” from David Gordon’s website

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