“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1John 5.3; ESV).1
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Eccl 12.13-14).
“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, 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” (Rom 13.4-5)
“The concern that when a religiously dominated society has control of the family, moral and governmental regulations, who is to govern the governors?” –Matt Slick2

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS…

What is it that is so troubling about the theonomic position? What is it about the Law of God enforced or applied beyond the individualistic sphere of governance that causes such a negative reaction? What earns the theonomist labels like legalist, radical, biblicist, or an extremist Christian sect? Is it because we teach an ethical norm derived directly from the fount of God’s law? Is the standard that God established, which serves as a reflection of His holy heart, not sufficient, defunct, or tyrannical? How can that possibly be the case when Moses’ proclamation to the children of Israel was the following:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deut 4.5-6; emphasis added).

According to Matt Slick’s rhetorical question above, to seek to apply God’s law in this way to every area of life (starting from the individual, going to the family, and in the church and the greater society at large) is a seemingly dangerous notion. Who will “govern the governors?” Who will govern these religious leaders that have “dominated society [and] has control of the family, moral and governmental regulations?”

What is Slick concerned about? What sits beneath this question? In other words, what serves as the bedrock for Slick’s reasoning that a civil government led by God’s law seems a troublesome scenario?

First things first…

Keyboard warriors are a dime a dozen. Trolls that search the internet just to pick a fight and give you a headache are everywhere. Courage hidden is no courage at all.

That is not what I am doing. I’m not trying to pick a fight. I’m not trying to puff out my chest. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know Matt Slick personally from Adam (our forefather), though I do KNOW he is a son of Adam, like myself. That being said, I also know that Slick professes to be a son of the Last Adam—Jesus Christ. On these two things we share common footing. More importantly, confessing that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, we share a common heritage in God’s covenantal body.3 My interaction with his writing is not personal; although, I must confess that I personally hope that Slick (and others that share his thinking) would reevaluate their position in light of God’s Law-Word. What peaks my interest is the teeter-tottering occurring when one professes Christ as Lord of their heart and Savior of their being, but then they take a firm mental stand in opposition to His Law.

Peeling back the onion…

To look at the outside shell of an onion reveals little, but upon inspection we find that there are layers upon layers when we begin the peeling process. Some onions are sweet, others are a bit pungent with a hint of heat, and for most people the process of preparing an onion as a garnish for a meal will result in crying eyes. Despite the uncomfortable situation one often gets removing layers of the onion in order to prepare it for a dish, the effort is worthwhile. The same is true when we attempt to get to the underlying beliefs of those that hold differing positions from our own.

What is Slick’s underlying position in light of government? What is it that bothers him about applying God’s law (theonomic application) in civil government? It is because he sees civil government as a secular institution:

“A government is a political organization within a nation that exercises the control of military and judicial powers over its population. There are many different types of governments including communist, socialist, democracy, republic, etc. Though an argument can be made that some governments are religious in nature and that governments are overall instituted by God, CARM will classify governments as secular entities….”4

Notice that Slick claims that “some governments are religious in nature” but at the same time he asserts that “overall [governments] are instituted by God.” Raising the question as to whether “all” governments or just “some” are instituted by the Lord? If God institutes all, then why are only some religious? From where is Slick drawing such distinctions? He points to Romans 13:1-2 as to why he believes that God institutes civil governments:

...For there is no authority except from God, and those which exists are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” (vv. 1b-2a; NASB).

But, what leads him to conclude that classifying all governments under the general heading “secular entities” is good and proper? Is this a biblical distinction that he provides his readers or an experiential one?

It would seem that the best policy at this point is to make sure that our definitions of “institute,” “religious” and “secular” are properly defined. The definitions shall be drawn from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary of 2008:

  • “institute—to establish in a position or office…to originate and…establish.
  • religious—relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.
  • secular—of or relating to the worldly or temporal [concerns]…not overtly or specifically religious.”5

What are we to make of these definitions? We know from Romans 13, as well as other places (see Jer 18.7-10; Dan 2.21; 4.17; Prov 8.15-16), that God is the author of civil governments. He has established the institution and office. In fact, if we read a little further in Romans 13 we see that those that fill the office of leadership in the civil sector are called ministers of God three times (vv. 4 {2x}, 6). To what end? The institution and office of civil government is given two key roles in society: “1) They are “a minister of God to you for good”; 2) They are “a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Thus, they do “not bear the sword [of judgment] for nothing” for the civil sector’s responsibility is to uphold justice, protecting the good from the evil, by purging the evil doer (if necessary) from the midst of civil society.

Again, Slick’s concern is that if God’s Law is enacted as the standard of justice, of righteous behavior, then who will “govern the governor’s;” who will limit their use of power? And so, he prefers to use “secular” (a.k.a. non-religious leaders or laws or morals) to define the role of civil government in general. Now, it is true that the use of secular does not necessitate non-religious, for the primary concern of secular is worldly concerns, but since the use of God’s law in the civil sphere of governance is what bothers Slick, what other conclusions are we supposed to draw from his writings?

A Question of Religion intent…

This leaves us with the question of religious intent (since that seems to be the actual heart of the issue). To be religious means to be faithfully devoted to what one supposes is true, ultimately, of reality. This can be a deity, but not necessarily so. The practice of faith is not in question, but the object of a person’s or societies faith is.

All people have faith everywhere you look. All people trust (entrust themselves) in, or to, something. They all possess an object of faith that leads them in their perception of reality (metaphysics), their source of knowledge (epistemology), from which they derive their moral norms (ethics).

Let’s look at Slick’s rhetorical question once more:

“The concern that when a religiously dominated society has control of the family, moral and governmental regulations, who is to govern the governors?”

Common but False…

His underlying assumption, which is common but nonetheless false, is that if we apply God’s Law then we are applying a religious standard that is not suitable. Meaning, that without applying God’s Law (theonomy) to the civil government then that government, as most governments are (at least, according to Slick’s view) are non-religious (secular in nature). Again, as I said, common but nonetheless false.

All of life is Ethical and therefore Religious…

Do secular (non-religious) civil governments have laws regarding right versus wrong behavior? Do they then punish what they view as bad behavior and in turn uphold or praise the good behavior of other citizens? We know that they do. We see it, regardless of the form of the established civil government. All nations, all cultures, and therefore all established civil governments have a religious view point that they adhere to and make prescriptions from.

The question is not “if” but “what.” It is not “if this nation has a religious belief that governs the presuppositional worldview of its people and therefore exercised in its civil institutions,” but “what is the religious viewpoint of the people that shapes the society and the civil institutions that govern it?” Again, not “if” but “what.”

Slick’s fear of a religiously dominated society is already realized. The question we must ask is what religious view of the world is being exercised versus what religious view of the world ought to be exercised in the governing of a civil society.

In other words, if God is the author of both the office and the institution of civil government, what should be the standard that governs both the officer and the institution? If God declares that they are to be “His minister for good” in order to pour out “His vengeance” by use of the “sword” of judgment against all who commit “evil,” then what standard of good is to be upheld, what definition of evil is to be used? Should such things be left to the whims of fallen man? Can those who declare evil good and good evil really be seen as fit to rule? Are they not established to image God’s goodness and to hate what He hates?

“The theonomist would contend that neither we as individuals nor our society as a whole has enough wisdom to improve upon that which God Himself has revealed in the pages of His holy law. Sinful creatures are in no position to question or correct the wisdom of God at any point where He has chosen to speak…We must not trade the objective standard of sola Scriptura in our Christian ethic for the subjective standard of personally perceived wisdom…”6

This applies not only to the individual in the home, in the work place, in the church, but the individual tasked with being a civil servant. Both the office and the institution of civil government are God ordained to reflect God’s holy standards, not the whims of personal subjectivism.

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2Slick, Matt. “Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy – CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry),” January 12, 2009, Accessed May 27, 2021. https://carm.org/christian-reconstructionism-theonomy/.

3For example, in an article entitled “Is Christianity a Cruel Religion?” Slick writes, “The truth is that many who claim to be Christians have violated what the Scriptures themselves teach. Christianity is not a religion that advocates cruelty. However, it does teach that all who reject Christ as Savior will face the ultimate punishment of eternal hell. If they want to say this is cruelty, then I would respond by saying it is justice.” October 21, 2013, https://carm.org/about-christianity/is-christianity-a-cruel-religion/. To this I would give a hearty amen.

4Matt Slick, “What is the Purpose of Government According to the Bible?” CARM (Christian Apologetcs & Research Ministry), accessed June 17, 2021. https://carm.org/government/what-is-the-purpose-of-government-according-to-the-bible/

5These are broad definitions missing, perhaps, many of the nuances that some may want to attribute to these terms. They are accurate insofar as they are intended to give a general or basic understanding of how the English language defined them. Given the current war on language here in the West, in light of the ongoing sexual revolution with the alphabet soup crowd, I chose to use a copy readily available in my personal library.

6Greg L. Bahnsen, No Other Standard: Theonomy and its Critics (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), 32, 33, PDF e-book. Emphasis in original.

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