If you want to make people uncomfortable, all you have to do is intertwine politics with religion. There is a strong sentiment in our society (here in the U.S. at least) of a concept of separation between Church and State. And yet, when we read God’s Word we find the following truth:
- “Old Testament civil rulers were ordained by God, were not to be resisted, and bore religious titles as the representatives of God in society. Their main function was that of avenging God’s wrath against violators of His law for social justice.”1
In fact, Paul makes his argument in Rom 13:1-7 in light of such truth, going so far as calling the civil magistrate a “minister” (Gr. diakonos; deacon) appointed by God (Rom 13.4, see v. 1).
The unfortunate reality today is that there is a lot of talk about social justice, but a down right “antipathy to taking moral direction from the Bible, for to do so is viewed as outdated, ignorant, unreasonable, prejudicial, undemocratic, and impractical.”2 There is a great desire by many to hold all in this nation, in our church’s, in our families to a standard of justice that is fluid, not static. A position that is always moving the principle of practice from one field goal to another. Dependent upon the feelings of the general populace. Yet, “making moral judgments requires a standard of ethics.”3 However, the reality is that people are “uncomfortable and irritated by the holy requirements of God’s law for every aspect of human conduct, ‘modern’ men reject this shackle upon their personal liberty and desires, and they ridicule its provisions for social justice.”4
To be honest, I can understand this attitude by those from outside the Church, but I struggle with Christians who have—because of a syncretistic mindset—conformed to such thinking. This is not how things were always handled in the past. Even a cursory study of western society reveals that there was a foundation of biblical ethics that formed and shaped many things that we once hold dear, and are found complaining we have lost in just a few generations.
Of course, the moment an appeal is made to God’s Law-Word as an ethical standard for living is introduced, every abuse or misuse that has been documented is immediately brought to the forefront as a rebuttal. This, in order to deny any petition to the Bible as the first and final standard of ethical appeal.
You know, no matter how careful I am when purchasing produce, there are still times when I find a bad one in the bunch. But, I do not stop going to the grocery store to purchase my produce. “But today a vast number of theologians [scholars, apologists, pastors and the like] have thrown away the biblical yardstick of ethics and have substituted something else for it.”5 (Now those words were written in the 1980’s, but they are still relevant—perhaps more so—today). The fact of the matter remains that since “all of life is ethical, and ethics requires a standard of right and wrong. For the Christian that yardstick is found in the Bible—the entire Bible, from beginning to end.”6
The word “theonomy” is a cuss word in many Christian circles. It means “Gods-Law” (theos-nomos), and it is from “law” that we derive our ethical norms which have a direct bearing on our moral compass. Like it or not every Christian is a theonomist to some extent. If you are not, then it is pretty hard for you to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12.30; cf. Deut 6.5); or to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10.27; cf. Lev 19.18); including even “your enemies” (Matt 5.44; cf. Exod 23.4-5).
We are told in Scripture that God’s Law is perfect (Psa 19.7), that it is given to light our paths (Prov 6.23); something God’s people are to delight in (Psa 1.2; Rom 7.22) and meditate on (Josh 1.8). The Law/Word of God is spiritual, holy and good (cf. Rom 7.12, 14), and Christians “do not overthrow the law by faith…on the contrary we uphold the law” (Rom 3.31; italics added). For without this Law we would not know what sin is (Rom 7.13), how deeply it infects our hearts (Rom 5.20; 7.8-11) or be able to walk in the steps of our Savior (1Jn 2.6; 3.24; cf. John 15.10).
Christians often get confused on this point. The underlying assumption is sometimes voiced that “yes, we must obey Jesus commandment’s, but not those things spoken of in the old covenantal system.” Without being overtly abrasive that is an extremely naïve opinion. Jesus is Lord (Yahweh) of both covenants. The former a temporary shadow filled with types pointing to the true King of creation, ratified in animal blood. The latter having the crown jewel Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah/Christ properly situated as the cornerstone and capstone, having removed the types/shadows, for the true Prophet, Priest and King has ratified this better covenant in His own blood.
As I have served in the ministry I have often met opposition several times on what I have stated thus far. One particular instance happened a couple of years ago. Two members of my congregation were having a lively discussion regarding the validity of God’s Law today. The aggressor had the other brother on his heels a bit, and so after listening for a few moments, I gently interjected “How are we to know what is right and wrong?”7 His response was quick and to the point, “By natural law of course.” I said, “O.K., what do you mean?” He replied, “That people know right and wrong naturally, it’s written on their hearts. And they can look at creation and see how things are ordered and how things should be done.”
In reply, I mentioned that nature does not tell us things we have to interpret them. For example, a mother hamster eats her young. Should we look to nature in this instance to determine the rightness or wrongness of how we ought to deal with our offspring? He told me that of course not, but we are not “under God’s Law today, but under grace” (an obvious reference to Rom 6:14). I agreed, but then asked does that imply we then live lawlessly when Scripture defines sin as such? “Of course not,” he said.
I then asked, “How do we define what is right sexually?” He added, “We are not to be sexually immoral; no fornication.” Again, I agreed. But then, I pressed further. “How do we define what sexual immorality is? How do we know what fornication is? Without God’s Law how do we define bestiality as sinful? If we appeal to nature, someone will point out that we are really just animals and sometimes animals have sex with other animals; for instance, a dog will pretty much hump anything.” Completely flustered with me at this point he said, that I was being “too specific” and he walked out the back of the church. (He did return for evening service, but there was no further discussion about the topic in question. Being gracious, I didn’t press).
Allow me to ask a very important question: How are we to know how to live in this world in a way that is pleasing to the Lord above? If we turn to our current culture they will point us to a pluralistic, relativistic standard of living. The world’s ethical standard is always in flux, because the man who has no king always does right in accordance with his own eyes (Judg 17.6; 21.25). How ought we to live? What about our society?
I believe the answer is firmly seated in Jesus Christ. Jesus—Yahweh in the flesh—is seen in Scripture as the head of both covenants (the latter one having been done away with cf. Heb 8.13). And, the ethical norms that He applied in the past are reflective of His holy heart. Therefore, by His life’s testimony we see that he not only refused to abrogate the smallest jot or tittle of the Law, but condemned anyone who taught others to do so (see Matt 5.17-19). Which is why he preached woe to the Pharisees and scribes (cf. Matt 23) who pretended to uphold the Law as handed down from Moses, but put forward their own man-made traditions that they attempted to bind to the people who were trying to live righteous lives before God (cf. Mark 7.1-13).
Sometime last year a statement was written to be signed by those who disagreed with how some are using “social justice” as a ploy to deviate from the centrality of the gospel in Christianity (https://statementonsocialjustice.com/). I have stated in the past that I agree with social justice, but not how our society defines it. I am not a progressive. I abhor liberation theology. I detest anything that deviates from biblical truth. Therefore, I signed the statement agreeing with the articles defining and defending it.
Imaging Bearing Responsibility
When I speak of societal justice I believe that it is what Christians ought to fight for. This is our Father’s world. He created it. He gave us stewardship over it to rule effectively in His stead (cf. Prov 16.12; 25.5).
Some deny the dominion (culture) mandate described in Gen 1:26-28, believing it has been effectively removed after the fall (Gen 3). I disagree because our fall into sin did not remove our image bearing status. God created human beings as image bearers, this is our status as His creature. People image something, just what exactly depends upon what they ultimately have faith in. The sinner as well as the saint reflects the image of that which they hold dear.
For the Christian we know who we have been created for. Being born from above means being born anew. We have been made new creatures in Christ. His image we are to reflect (Rom 8.29; 2Cor 3.18; Eph 4.24), and we will do so the more our minds are renewed by His Word (2Cor 4.16; Eph 4.23; Col 3.10; cf. Rom 12.2). The former mandate (Gen 1.28a) is once again picked up in Matt 28.18-20 when Jesus declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go…” (Matt 28.18-19a; NET).
We Gotta Do Something! What?
What I fear is that because Christians—knowing something is wrong with the world in which we live—no longer find acceptable or valid the precepts of God as binding upon human lives, therefore, they appeal to something else. Something that reflects not God, but sinful man; specifically, in the U.S.A. context, the state. There are many movements within the Church that have a veneer of goodness, but are full of rot inside.
- Those who decry racism teach their children racism. Those who deny privilege for one group, teach their children privilege for another. Those who decry the robbing of an individual’s rights as human beings, teach their children (if they have not already killed them) to rob others of life. Those that teach acquiring wealth by theft is wrong, teach their children to rob the wealth of others in order to gain what they have not worked for. Those who decry hate speech (i.e. slander), teach their children to speak hatefully towards others they disagree with. Those who decry religion in the public arena, teach their children a religion where man is god in the public arena. Those who decry chauvinism, teach their children to be chauvinist pigs (yes, a feminist is a chauvinist through and through).
One of my daughters came home the other day and said, “Dad, do you know some people say they are color blind. That they don’t see color?” I told her yes. I then asked her if she knew what that meant? After saying that she didn’t. I pointed out to her that I am “color-blind.” (No, I don’t suffer from physical colorblindness.) What I mean by that, I explained to her, is that I don’t see people based on the color of their skin. I view them as fellow image bearers of God, descendants of Adam. There is one race, not many. And while we may all share ethnic heritages that are unique and different, I do not value a person based on their ethnicity, but their character. Some of my greatest friends have been from a different ethnic heritage than my own.
We live in a victim seeking society. The Smollet case from Chicago is one clear example. Racism is not color blind, and it doesn’t just happen because some white man hates a black man. There are blacks who hate whites and they are just as guilty of racism—a.k.a. bigotry.
I’ve seen similar arguments on the issue of abortion. You can’t take my right to kill my baby, because it will infringe on my ability to produce wealth, find happiness or ruin my figure. It’s such a burden to have a baby…you’re a man you don’t understand!
I’ve seen the same form of victim argumentation used to justify rapists and child molesters’ light sentencing. When “gun violence” is reported we act as if the gun is the truly sinful one in the equation, not the sinner who is pulling the trigger. The gunner is a victim that needs the state and state funded institutions to help the perpetrator cope with the pain in their life.
There is a perpetual firestorm raging in our society at large, and in our Christian churches on the whole. I’m sorry, but socialism and communism are not biblically taught paradigms. Neither is the WOKE movement a method of gospel reconciliation, but a perverted teacher of unforgiveness, segregation and division within the body of Christ.8
I am by no means an expert on these issues. But I am confident that our identity as human being’s is defined by the God who created us, not by the groups we associate with (contrary to intersectionality). However, I should add that some of the groups that we associate with are in stark contrast (i.e. opposition) against our Creator. These are the unfortunate results of not being willing to apply of God’s Law-Word to every aspect of our lives (starting with the individual, within the family, within the church, and yes, within the state). Where we attempt to define and then ratify what we believe to be right and wrong by our own standards, and then seek to rectify them by that same standard of foolishness.
I am amazed at how we assume that the Creator of it all, would just leave it to us to figure things out?! This is not the form, method or definition of social justice that is defined within the pages of Holy Writ. Our God loves righteousness and from Him it springs forth, but righteousness is definable by the one who is Right and that is the Holy God of the Bible.
- “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all…righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (Psa 103.19; 97.2b).
The moment we deviate from what He has decreed and assume that authority on our own merit, we are (perhaps without realizing it) carving an idol of our own making.
1 Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), 227, PDF e-book.
For those who are not familiar with Greg Bahnsen he was an apologist (nicknamed “the man atheists fear the most”), an elder/pastor in the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), a scholar in residence, philosopher, and family man. He went to be with the Lord in 1995 from complications during heart surgery, he was forty-eight years old.
2 Ibid, 17.
3 Ibid, 14. Italics in original.
4 Ibid, 17.
5 Ibid, 17, 18.
6 Ibid, 27.
7 The one individual was known for joining into theological debate on a variety of issues. Normally, I would not have intervened, but since this was a discussion between two teachers in the church and things were beginning to pick up in intensity I attempted to ease things a bit. This is a paraphrase conversation, not a word-for-word dialogue. The quotes are used to identify the speakers, but are not intended to be exact quotation as they are the general overview of the conversation that ensued for illustrative purposes.
8 Capstone Report, “Wake Up to Wokeness: J.D. Greear embraces Racialism & rhetoric of White Privilege,” April 6, 2018, http://capstonereport.com/2018/04/06/wake-wokeness-j-d-greear-embraces-racialism-rhetoric-white-privilege/31966/; James R. White, “An Exegetical & Historical Examination of the Woke Movement,” post by James Manning, Sovereign Nations, January 30, 2019, https://sovereignnations.com/2019/01/30/exegetical-historical-examination-woke-church-movement-james-white/.