Tag Archives: law

Separation of Powers and Religious Liberty

I have been interested in religion/faith and politics from as far back as I can remember. Mostly from my early 20’s. These are the kinds of questions I lose sleep over. Not in an anxious sort of way, just in an OCD sort of way. 🙂 One question that seems to come up time and time again has to do with equal treatment between religion and non-religion in the public square.

A number of years ago, I came across the Kuyperian view of things that gave explanatory power to these questions, however, (at least the materials I have read) they didn’t seem to respond to this question in substantial ways.

Kuyper, if you may recall, talked about the different spheres of society, each having distributive authority from God. For an example, the police have their own authority and a union has it’s own authority. Neither authority should be “omni-competent” taking over the other sphere’s authority. The police can’t take over the union and carry out their responsibility nor should the union do the job of the police. This is essentially what Kuyperians say is an injustice. I personally can bear this out with my job and that of Canadian Customs whom, in the past have expected me to do their job for them at times (I crossed the border fourteen times a night on a round trip. I have never had a problem with American Customs in this regard).

What you see here is what conservatives have always talked about and of which you can read in many of the writings of conservative websites and think tanks from some of their brightest thinkers—a separation of powers— plain and simple. I’m all for this because of my view of human nature. I believe that power can corrupt (not that it does so necessarily) and thus too much power in the hands of a particular sphere or authority is detrimental to the common good.

As an aside, Kuyperian political philosophy is actually conservative in this manner and I came to see this the more I delved into sphere sovereignty. Interestingly, I have a friend of mine who comes to LIBERTARIANISM from a Kuyperian position. Yet, Kuyperians will tell you that sphere sovereignty is different from conservatism and surely different from libertarianism. However, the reason I think Kuyper and conservatism are closer is not because of something I’ve discovered on my own but because it has actually been written about in books like Mark Larson’s book: “Abraham Kuyper, Conservatism, and Church and State’’ where he lays this out very succinctly.

It seems to me that where Kuyperians, conservatives and libertarians all lay their heads down is in this area of separation of powers. They may do so for various reasons but one of the underpinning reasons has to do with justice over-all.

Having said that, I think this touches on the first paragraph of the equal treatment of religion and non-religion in the public square stated above. It’s not so much a question of fairness (for life is hardly ever fair) but one of justice. How do we, as a society, do justice to religious belief and non-religious belief in the public square without establishing one or the other? Again, it comes up time and time again in battles that take place in the courts. For an example, the statue of Satan being placed next to the Ten Commandments in a public square-how does a society do justice to both?

An aside: Satanism is most assuredly a belief system and so I would not say it is UNBELIEF, thus I think it would differ from atheism which seeks to be free OF religious experience. Concerning belief and non-belief though, how does a government seek to do justice to both of those?

At the moment, I’m reading, “Secular Government/Religious People” by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle

I can’t say much about the book because I’ve just gotten into it other than this:

In there, they argue that a “secular government” is not necessarily hostile to religion and establishes an official religion of secularism. Kuyperianism will tell you that in many respects the role of government is to act in a judicial manner between the differing spheres (something the authors recognize). A further implication of this separation of authorities (authorities here can mean the different religious authorities as well) is that government:

“…does not promote religious worship, oversee religious indoctrination, or exercise religious authority. Instead, that responsibility belongs solely to the people and their voluntary religious communities.”

That being the case then, my question is, can the public “space” be filled with religion or no religion? So coming back to our example of belief and non-belief in the public square, would it be the case of government, not endorsing any particular religion per-se, but by allowing religious belief in the public, is that not essentially a violation of government backed religion? Would it violate the rights of those with “no religion?”

The authors as far as I can tell may get into this question but for now they say that each side:

“…ignores half of the “Constitution’s distinctive way of connecting secular government and religious people.”

That is,

“One group exalts the secularity of the state but dismisses the religious character of the people, and the government’s legitimate responsiveness to that character. The other group denies the distinction between the government and the people, and expects the government to mirror and celebrate the community’s (usually the majority’s) religious identity.”

For me, at this point, “no-religion” IS religion. It IS religious. That to me seems to be an important question I hope the authors address. For there really is no violation of establishment of religion when all is religious. If the character of the people is religious, as the authors say, then atheist or theist, a government is ultimately going to violate, at a fundamental level, one party’s religion.


No Revolution After The 2020 Election? Depends On How You See It.

Kevin Williamson writes an interesting piece in National Review entitled, The Revolution Isn’t Coming. I think it is a thought provoking piece but right away, I thought two things:

A.Williamson has either been lulled asleep by the forces around him or like the proverbial frog, in this case, is being boiled alive in a pot of water. Or:

B. Are my expectations too high?

Well, I don’t happen to believe my expectations are too high. I think he, in this article, is blind to the liberal incrementalism, in which case he has moved the political goal posts and is happy with the status quo as is.

You can also see the problem in this video here.


Racism, Abortion and the Constitution

To add to the conversation from my last post, I mentioned that my buddy Dwayne had problems with States Rights because of racism. Dwayne mentioned that there were a few individual states calling to keep people segregated. For an example we had the infamous Jim Crow Laws where blacks and whites, were not allowed to marry or drink at the same fountains, sit at the front of a bus or move or get off the bus if there was no room for whites, etc. Thus, there are some problems with States Rights or so many on the left think.

Such laws are not only foreign to our way of thinking and behaving (legally) today, but the question needs to be asked how we got from there to where we are now. Why is the state (on the federal level) allowed to say, no to slavery but not to abortion? The answer to that is in the founding document, “The Declaration of Independence.” In there it says:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The basis of the US Constitution is found in this document and this portion of that document. It is one of the reasons, that some on the right say leaving abortion to the states is a half-way measure. It doesn’t fulfill that portion of the document. Why, if the unborn are full persons, don’t they have these inalienable equal rights?

The problem of saying that blacks were not created equal (as other human beings, namely white) was based on the arbitrariness of skin colour. So that had to change and eventually did via the US Civil War. Again, to say that blacks are not human and to keep them enslaved via state rights is so unpopular today to be as unthinkable as making state laws against people driving cars or telling people what toppings they can put on their pizza for dinner tonight. (In a sense we DO tell people what to put and not put on their pizza’s, like, for example, bleach, but we don’t make laws covering every contingency. Even bleach is covered under personal harm to another or murder laws).

In relation to abortion, both concern humanization and dehumanization and how it intertwines with state and federal law. In some philosophical/metaphysical respects, they overlap, (personhood/humanness) in others they don’t.

In the case of abortion, the thing in question is (going back to what was asked above in the second paragraph):

  • Is the state, in this case the federal government, allowed to make a sweeping law for dehumanization and thus death? Or should that be left to the individual states?

In the case of slavery and blacks, the thing in question is:

  • Is the state, in this case the federal government, allowed to make a sweeping law declaring dehumanization on all blacks so as to enslave them or should/can that be left to the individual states?

This is essentially what my buddy Dwayne was asking. Why is it left to individual states to declare who is a person in one case but not in the other? The answer goes back to the Declaration of Independence where all men are created equal. In the case of slavery and blacks, they are humans persons created equally as other human persons.

In the case of abortion, the question would, it seems, hinge on whether the Founders INTENDED the unborn to be INCLUDED in the statement of them being created equal (as the already living) and having inalienable rights (as the already living).

If one wants to argue that the “spirit” of the Declaration of Independence should include the unborn, and thus be reflected in a sweeping law in which all states CANNOT have abortions, then all I can say is, GOOD. LUCK. WITH. THAT! Hence, the reason that abortion is and should be left to the individual states and not the question of blacks and slavery. If one really sought to make the unborn as a part of the spirit of the Declaration of Independence then the next level battle would have to be Amendments to the US Constitution of which I really don’t see that happening. Most of the population today would not allow for a federal law or state law declaring other already living human beings non-persons based on the Declaration of Independence, the 14th Amendment and a Civil War. It would be hard to make that shift with regard to abortion through the process of amendments to the US Constitution and I doubt pro-lifers are going to start a war over it. Thus, the question should be left up to the individual states.


Bringing Christian Ethics and Theology to Bear on Culture, Politics or Otherwise

Was talking with my buddy Dwayne Polk (he used to work at Greg Boyd’s church in St. Paul MN, Woodland Hills) privately about politics on Facebook Messenger. He wanted me to put forth my BEST argument for voting for Trump.

“I want to truly go at the best BIBLICAL and THEOLOGICAL grounds for supporting Trump for 2021 President. I mean the best.”

For D, everything hinges on the “Great Commandments”—loving God and your neighbour. I told him that we would need to look at individual issues and then I picked one—abortion. So he asks,

“Lets start right here:

Are the GCs *ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY* for being a disciple of Jesus? Yes or no?”

After a little finagling I said, that they were. Then I asked him, “How the GC (Great Commandments) would work out CONCRETELY with regard to Roe v Wade. He went into the abortion issue at which point I said that I had asked him a specific question about Roe v Wade and not abortion. I was asking about the LEGAL judgment of RvW and not all the arguments or ethics surrounding abortion.

Essentially, my argument was, it is not loving God or your neighbour by forcing a sweeping claim on everyone in a country that says, “No state can determine their own abortion laws”—some across the board, “right to privacy” that is not found in the US Constitution. The Great Commandments don’t allow a federal branch to strike down laws of individual states in which legal tradition for over 200 YEARS was just swept under the carpet JUST. LIKE. THAT. (snaps fingers). While that isn’t full blown communism, it is the federal government exceeding it’s authority. Could you imagine if a federal court said, “You shall not grow cucumbers?” Or “People cannot ride tricycles?” If it’s not mentioned in the Constitution then each state should decide these things. The reason why you never hear about states making laws against the things mentioned above is because, well, they would be so unpopular. Actually, they ARE unpopular.

Well, the same thing applies to same sex marriage. The high court makes a law legalizing SSM in all states. There is absolutely NOTHING loving here about the Court striking all laws down by fiat in all states. This isn’t loving God or your neighbour—ruling over others in such a way. Think about all those churches that don’t believe in SSM. Across the board, if you are against SSM or you don’t support SSM, then you are discriminating and if you are discriminating, you should lose your non-profit status and/or whatever other penalty they can throw on you with the eventuality of non-existence. Relatedly, if you don’t believe in gay priests, you are discriminating and thus you should lose your non-profit status and/or whatever other penalty they throw on you as well as, ultimately, non-existence. THAT’S THE GOAL. In both cases (abortion and SSM), freedom of religion is at risk.

Let’s turn this around a bit. If a church said, we don’t believe in heterosexual marriage (as strange as that seems because even the most liberal of churches insist on both homosexual and heterosexual marriages which they think is the middle/neutral ground, (it’s all about the love man!) while conservative churches (said they) believe in heterosexual marriages, both should be allowed to practice what they believe. They should be allowed to practice and exist without governmental interference ie., blessing or having their own “weddings” or “marriages.” They should be able to hire the gay priests they want instead of heterosexual ones. That is TRULY following the GC of loving God and neighbour. It’s pluralistic. It’s truly the neutral ground. I’ll put up a part two hopefully this weekend because Dwayne then responded with what he thought was the problem of States rights: Racism.

For me, the truly problematic issue with liberals, progressive Christians or the radical left is their inept understanding when it comes to legal and Constitution questions. I get that they want to bring what Jesus or the Bible has to say to bear on the issues of the day, (obviously the Great Commandments was of concern to my progressive Christian brother) but in order to do that you have to understand “the facts” of the issue (the actual Constitutional and political issues) in order to integrate your Christian ethics or theology in it. For example, it would not help (to use an example that John Stott used so many years ago) to bring the GC to bear on the law for people being attacked on the side of the road (the Good Samaritan story) if in fact it is not the case that people are NOT being attacked. Dwayne and I can agree that love is the ultimate standard to be brought to bear on the culture, legal and otherwise, but it is justice that helps with discerning how that might be so. And that requires looking at the facts of the issue or reality first (not meant chronologically).

So far, the question about legal abortion is not the “best” argument (as if that isn’t a category mistake—how is one question on one issue supposed to be the best reason to vote for a candidate? The word “best” doesn’t seem appropriate here. If I was only allowed to vote on ONE AND ONLY ONE issue in voting for Trump and that was abortion, then I would bring forth one of the strongest arguments for voting for him: the Constitutionality of RvW.


The Flash: Social/Political Ramifications 

I just started watching he first three episodes of “The Flash.” I just finished episode three on Netflix. Anyone else enjoying this TV series? This third one was one of the best episodes yet which has helped me reflect a little more deeply about principled pluralism (it also has some interesting philosophy about our running away from problems as well as running TOO something). Gonna put a spoiler out there to demonstrate what I’m talking about.
Barry has now had some time to think about his father in prison. As a matter of fact, he has being thinking about how he could rescue him since he first went. But now that Barry has supersonic speed he KNOWS he can free him without going through the proper channels and in fact he says so when he he talks to Detective Joe West in the hospital. But alas, both realize that the best way to get his dad out of prison may take longer (going through the process) but it is right and good that they do so in the end. And why is that? This scene, more than anything I’ve watch or read so far on authority demonstrates clearly what Austin Lee spoke about in his book, “Up with Authority” concerning the undermining of authority. Think about what would be the case if Barry decided to break his dad out of jail on his own? First, there would be issues of public trust. Barry (Flash) would be viewed as someone not trustworthy. Who’s to say that Barry would not bend the rules whenever it suits him? Also, what would happen with law and order–something we normally take for granted and depend on–if we decided to skirt the rules and act above the law every time it suited us? Not only would there be no public trust for the “Barry’s” of the world but we also wouldn’t have trust in the system. Think about it. You believe your father is innocent (and in Barry’s case actually is), the rest of us believe he’s guilty. You may have it within your power to free him from prison, but by doing so, you’ve done nothing to convince the rest of us that he is. You may want justice for your father but by freeing him without going through the process you’ve undermined 
justice because now nobody will trust the system, ie., were those in authority in on it? The scope of concern is wider than the more immediate need (in this case).

In saying this, I’m not talking about certain rules that can be bent WITHIN the “ground rules.” I’m talking about the ground rules themselves. Certain things can or must NEVER be broken.


Capital Punishment and the Christian Faith

So Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is sentenced to death for the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing and for killing a police officer. After reading, “Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call For Reckoning” I’m convinced that there is no real tension between the Christian faith and the death penalty. Having a little discussion on facebook with one of my friends, Keith Pavilschek I made mention of what Gilbert Meilaender said:

“Evidently Christian sensibilities about forgiveness do not actually require forgiveness, since something called “punishment” is still permitted.”

Apparently some Christians (and yes, I’ve seen them in the media) believe that forgiveness requires no death penalty. But for some reason, it would require punishment. Hmmmm…thinking there is a contradiction there when forgiveness is your bottomline. Keith pointed out that,

“if the death penalty is ‘state sanctioned murder’ as some abolitionists insist, is imprisonment ‘state sanctioned kidnapping’?

and I pointed out

“And how about the ’emotional abuse’ one ‘suffers’ when one is stuck in a prison for the rest of their days”


On Racism

My buddy Tom Belt wrote an interesting piece on racism that you can view here.

I do have a couple of things to say about this though.

A. Dwayne and Tom see systemic racism to be a failure to truly love someone because of self-perception. I really don’t know if I would identify this as the “systemic” portion of racism. Of course, one could say the same thing about blacks against whites. One could also say the same thing about sexism. The list could go on and on. Not trying to say this is not true. As a matter of fact I do see this as a pretty plausible explanation. But an explanation that seems to have to fit into a wider view of justice.
B. Some Christians are fond of saying that Christian morality should not be forced on to others. Something like, “You can’t force non-Christians to love” through law. So, if this is a Christian understanding of racism, I would like to know how this could ever be reflected in law. Should such a view be encoded in law? COULD it be reflected in law? Sure, a non-Christian may not be able to love the way they should if the Spirit was guiding them, but I tend to think that the Spirit is still at work in unbelievers as well as I tend to think that if a view such as this was encoded in law, it may be able to be done without the Christian trappings. In other words, how could we all perceive ourselves as “one?” Forget law. Just put it in policing policies.
C. I do think that this explanation is helpful with regard to responding to the question that was actually proposed to me on Facebook: “Do you think the police want to kill others?”

I don’t think these question are irrelevant. I think the questions Tom raises is one side of the coin while my thoughts are the other side. Theirs is theoritical. Mine is trying to see this as an outworking in law and policing policy. I’ve been guided by a saying that goes something like this:

“Justice fulfills what love cannot.” You can start out with love–looking at what the problem is or what you think the problem is. You can come up with solutions, ie., deal with the self-perception issue, ., ie, we’re all one. But it also needs to have a practical outworking–justice.


Kansas And Marriage: Yep! We’re Still In Kansas Dorothy!

I’m just getting around to looking at a couple of different articles here. The infamous one by Andrew Sullivan here (actually looked at this one this week). And this one by Ryan T. Anderson here. Sullivan MAY BE CORRECT that people or businesses of religious belief can withhold services from gay folk PERIOD, IF THEY SO CHOSE to without threat of penalty. But I suspect he is not (I would agree with Anderson on this point). I tend to think he is reading MUCH more into this than what is the case. It’s good that he links us to the law and if you look at the very first part of the law you can see what is going on here. First there is this:

AN ACT concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage

This has nothing to do with with serving gay folk period (full stop) or anyone who might want to endorse same sex marriage or anyone suspected of being “complicit in celebrating or enabling the commitment of any kind of a gay couple.” What it is saying is just below:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:
(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement;
(b) solemnize any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; or
(c) treat any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement as valid.

This doesn’t center out gays per se, which is what Sullivan, a gay writer, seems to want to infer. Nor is it is centring out same sex marriage per se. What it seems to me to essentially be doing is attempting to be neutral toward religious belief and marriage. In other words, if you have such and such religious belief concerning marriage you should not be coerced to RECOGNIZE or celebrate in ANY WAY a marriage that is contrary to those beliefs.

Now, this might seem odd to some because let’s just say you had a person or business that didn’t believe in traditional marriage. Should that person be coerced to do A, B, or C above? Seems kind of crazy seeing that traditional marriage is the in the majority. Who would say, that THAT marriage isn’t legitmate? But I would say that such a person would have a right to not recognize such marriages (albeit to his detriment) on the basis of freedom of religion or association.

But really, that is an extreme case. However, if you were to take, say, a polygamous relationship or incestuous one or what have you, I would say that folk should not have to recognize or celebrate those relationships on the basis of religious belief and the law should allow you to not recognize or celebrate those and not be penalized as well.


Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt. 4

As a prerequisite most of the information on pneumatic direction that I will be sourcing is from the Gospels and Pauline thought. Having said that…

Some Christians think that what separates a/the Christian ethic from legalism is pneumatic direction. That is, the Christian life is neither established nor guided by human wisdom (those who lean towards a pneumatically directed ethic see almost all forms of external criteria as legalistic, though I would argue that they intuitively work out of a external criteria on many levels) 1 Cor 1:18-2:5, but revealed to us through the Spirit 1 Cor 2:10 (along with the idea of assessing what the most loving thing to do in any given situation would be). This pneumatic direction, for Paul, he designates as “the mind of Christ” 1 Cor 2:16. That is, the mind of Christ is applied by the Spirit. Thus, the Christian is one who lives not by the letter of the Law but is controlled by the Spirit. The “flesh” is the distinguishing feature which controls the unbeliever, but the Spirit is the distinguishing feature in the believer’s guidance and life. This is the “new Covenant.”

What the exact relation between Christ and the Spirit in terms of immediate and direct guidance is not explicit in Paul. It could be that the “mind of Christ” became operative in the life of the Christian THROUGH the activity of the Spirit (this is how I’d usually think of it personally) as in 1 Cor 2:16. However, in II Cor 3:17 Paul seems to equate the two when he says, “the Lord is the Spirit.” Either way, the Christian, it seems, has a knowledge which no human wisdom can approximate or even test. Indeed, life in the Spirit (having the mind of Christ) seems to lie implicit in Paul’s whole conception of the Christian life and of his own apostolic ministry.

However, the question to be raised is this: While there is an emphasis on pneumatic direction, does this EXCLUDE ANY TYPE OF EXTERNAL CRITERIA? Or to put it another way, is there a “morality beyond rules?” (which, by the way, seems somewhat characteristic of Kierkegaard’s “suspension of the ethical”). Well, there have been exegetical issues raised against seeing this as decidedly one sided.

First Exegetical Problem: New Lawgiver and Torah in Messianic Thought
First, in Judaism there was the EXPECTATION of a new Torah. For example, Jer 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant wherein God’s law would be written on the heart. What should be noted is that these verses do not automatically exclude the thought of external type of direction as well. Though this passage goes beyond others in speaking of a “new covenant” it can be paralleled by Ps 37:31, 40:8, Deut 30:14, 6:6 and 11:18 in its reference to the law contained in the heart with none of these passages ruling out the presence of the external Law. Indeed, there were many expectations in both the Old Testament and Jewish literature that some type of external and divine teaching would continue to be valid in “the latter days.” In the discoveries of Qumran there is evidence that the expectation of a new lawgiver and Torah was a part of the common Messianic thought of Judaism. For example, it has been long known that the Qumran community was awaiting “him who will teach righteousness.” (Dead Sea Scrolls).

Thus, while this thought may have been contained within Judaism and influenced Paul, it is more probable, according to some scholars, that the Church was probably more influential than Judaism at this point. Secondly, we see in Peter’s sermon on Solomon’s porch and Stephen’s defence before the elders that there is some sort of providential continuity between Moses and Christ via the quote of Deut 18:15: “A prophet shall (the Lord) God raise up unto you from among your brethren like unto me.”

Lastly, we see in the gospels a new law, new lawgiver, prophet, rabbi (written under the influence of a “high” Christology) where Jesus is seen as a TEACHER with his school of disciples teaching them to keep his COMMANDMENTS and where his person is in some sense a new Torah.

Second Exegetical Problem: Law of Christ
Paul presents the “law of Christ” in two passages:
Gal 6:2 where bearing one another’s burdens the Christian is fulfilling “the law of Christ.” In 1 Cor 9:21 Paul speaks of himself as not being without law before God but as being “under the law of Christ” or “in-lawed to Christ.” So the question to be asked is this: Does the “law of Christ” exclude any thought of a standard in the Christian life which possesses an external significance and validity?

Well, there are two interpretations. One is that the “law” is understood as the old pre-Christian mode that Paul understood unintentionally and the other interpretation is referring to a law where the “law of the Spirit” refers to an inward non-propositional guidance. However, there are problems with this because there is evidence that Paul understood “law of Christ” as more than acting in a Christian spirit and to be different in some respects from “law of the Spirit” Rom 8:2.

So it seems that “the law of Christ” has to have some external validity to it. Now, some scholars have pointed out that Paul was not opposed to “tradition” (paradosis) for the instruction and teaching of Christ and the Church even though:
1. It carried the idea of external authority within Judaism and
2. Jesus strongly denounced the “tradition of the elders” as being the “tradition of men” and
3. Paul had abandoned “the tradition of the fathers.”

In Paul’s day however, pious Jews were told to “hold fast” the traditions” and Paul exhorted his converts to “hold fast the traditions which you were taught” and praised them when they did hold fast the traditions though he opposed what he called “the traditions of men.” Thus, for Paul, it does not follow that he also opposed the external validity of all traditions and principles.

C.H. Dodd said: “…maxims which formed part of the tradition of sayings of Jesus are treated as if they were in some sort elements of a new Torah.

And we see this when Paul, in discussing marriage in 1 Cor 7 claimed for his own view the direction of the Spirit and contrasts it favourably with what Christ said on the subject. Yet, it appeared that what Christ said remains uniquely authoritative.

This also occurs with regard to the maintenance of the Christian preacher 1 Cor 9:14, Matt 10:10, Lu 10:7 the institution of the Lord’s Supper 1 Cor 11:23-25, Matt 26:26-29 and the blessedness of giving, Acs 20:35 and Lu 14:12-14 as though such words of Jesus carried a decisive validity. Lastly, in Romans, there are at least eight passages where Paul is clearly dependent upon the words of Jesus and uses them as external guidance for the Christian life–for example, Rom 12:14, 17, 21

Though Luther insisted that Christ is “no Moses, no exactor, no giver of laws, but a giver of grace, a saviour, and one that is full of mercy” that statement should be understood in its context of justification by faith alone and as a reaction to the “schoolmen” and “merit-mongers” who commercialized righteousness. So the idea that “Christ is the end of the law” for those who believe should not be understood that we receive our guidance ONLY from the Holy Spirit. Though Paul’s usage of the word “law” should not be understood as identical with Judaic usage, it is not accidental. It would be a mistake to understand “the law of Christ” as equivalent of the rabbinic Halakah or to even confine it to the teachings of Jesus. For Paul, immediate Spirit guidance for the Church (no small institution) though valid, did not exclude that which the Lord commanded and ordained.

Bringing The Two Elements Together
So let’s bringing the two apparent polar opposites together. For Paul it seems that he views the teaching of Christ as the embodiment and one true interpretation of the Old Testament, ie. 1 Cor 15:3 where the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies came about in the first instance through the instruction of Jesus. It was not only through this though but also through Jesus’ tangible portrayal and instruction of the divine standard. For Paul, “The Law of Christ” must be understood as both Christ’s teaching and the example of the person of Christ.

So Paul brings both to the table in ethical reflection–Law of Christ and Mind of Christ. However and THIS is an important point, HE NEVER REPRESENTS THE NEW TORAH AS BEING A DETAILED CODE WHICH HAS A READY MADE ANSWER FOR EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE (something my buddy Randy was questioning as he was thinking way ahead of the game. Right on Randy! Tracking me perfectly!). Paul never exchanges the Halakah of the rabbis for the Halakah of Christ. Even where Paul has a definite command of the Lord with regard to marriage (as noted above), we should not understand Paul to be speaking about “law” in the sense of a detailed code covering every conceivable exigency. Instead, this command partakes of the nature of PRINCIPLE. A principle is something that POINTS THE WAY to the solution in a particular circumstance but which must be applied anew to differing situations. And we see this with regard to marriage. Christ establishes marriage as permanent from the beginning. However, he says nothing specific about ascetic separation within the married state or how this works out when one party becomes a Christian. 1Cor 7:10, 1Cor 7:3-6, 1Cor 7:12-16.

Thus, in a negative sense, these principles will objectively pass judgement on the self-assertion and waywardness of the Christian. In their positive sense, they will give authoritative guidance. E.F. Scott is appropriate to quote at this juncture:

“Instead of framing laws he stated principles, and made them so few and broad and simple that no one could overlook them…It is true that he enounced a large number of precepts which appear to bear directly on given questions of conduct…But when we look more closely into the precepts we find that they are not so much rules as illustrations. In every instance they involve a principle on which all the stress is laid; but it is applied to a concrete example, so that we may not only grasp it as a principle but judge for ourselves how it works.”

Let me use a few examples of what I mean. Think of when Jesus tells us to “forgive seventy times seven.” Matt 18:22. This should not be interpreted so precisely such that once we reach that number then we don’t have to forgive anymore. Or the example of prayer in Matt 6:9-13 and Lu 11:2-4 . This does not mean that such a prayer was binding on us in its order and phraseology for a truly proper intercession. What about when Jesus was on trial? Did he literally turn the other cheek?” No, though we believe he was true to the principle in Matt 5:39. The fact that Jesus spoke so much in parables is evidence of the fact that principles were the vital elements while the concrete situations in which those principles were encased were meant to be only illustrative. In Eph 5:2, 25 we read, “…walk in love, even as Christ loved us and gave himself for us” or in his praise of the Thessalonians that they “become…imitators of the Lord.” Are these to mean that we should actually repeat the sacrifice of Christ or that we should punctiliously conform to the external activity of the Lord’s ministry?

Personally, I don’t think Paul, who insisted that “the written code killeth” was prepared to view the Law of Christ as more than authoritative principles set in concrete illustrations.

So, going back to Dodd, the ethical precepts of the gospels “…serve two purposes. On the one hand they help towards an intelligent and realistic act of ‘repentance,’ because they offer an objective standard of judgement on our conduct, so that we know precisely where we stand in the sight of God, and are in a position to accept His judgement upon us and thereby to partake of His forgiveness. On the other hand, they are intended to offer positive moral guidance for action, to those who have, in the words of the gospels, received the Kingdom of God.”

Paul, it seems viewed the Law of Christ as both propositional principles and personal example that stood as valid external signposts all of which are bounds for the operation of liberty and are concerned with the quality of direction of Christian liberty.

Now, up until this point, I have not mentioned anything about pneumatic guidance of the “Mind of Christ.” So what do we mean by the “Mind of Christ.” Because we have the Law of Christ, does this mean then that we don’t need ANY guidance via the Holy Spirit? It would seem that if we were to rely solely on the Law of Christ there would be nothing distinctly Christian about it. As a matter of fact, to do so would be more in line with Stocism. While, the Law of Christ is A DEFINITIVE factor in the direction of Christian liberty, it is not the most DISTINCTIVE factor which ACTUALLY produces the CHRISTIAN ethic. What is the most distinctive factor is the “Mind of Christ” through the activity of the Spirit at work in the believer without whom the principles of the Law of Christ remain remote and unattainable. If all we needed was the principles, then it would seem that all we have is religion. Thus, the Christian is ultimately guided by the Spirit if guidance and Christian life is to be truly Christian, John 16:12-15

Paul uses the word dokimazo–testing, determining, proving. Of this, Cullmann says:

“The working of the Holy Spirit shows itself chiefly in the “testing” (dokimazein), that is in the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment, and specifically of forming it in connection with the knowledge of the redemptive process, in which indeed, the Holy Spirit is a decisive figure. This “testing” is the key to all New Testament ethics….Certainty of moral judgment in the concrete sense is in the last analysis the one great fruit that the Holy Spirit, this factor in redemptive history, produces in the individual man.”

Under the Old Covenant the individual was to “DETERMINE the things which are best being instructed out of the law” Rom 2:8, however, in the New Covenant the Christian is to “TEST all things” and “DETERMINE the things which are best” Phil 1:10 by reference to the working of the Holy Spirit in his life.” (Side note: There is a close proximity of the exhortations “test all things” 1 Thess. 5:21 and “quench not the Spirit” 1 Thess 5:19 End side note). Thus, Paul will exhort, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may DETERMINE what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

So guidance for Paul, will involve both “the Law of Christ” and “the Mind of Christ.” It is not productive of the Christian life if one is to stand alone. It is significant that both the Law of Christ and Spirit directed testing are joined together in the opening verses of Gal 6 and are subsumed under the broader heading of “walking in the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians stresses the Mind of Christ, but it also contains the reference to being “in-lawed” to Christ.” Thus, the “spiritual man” ie. the man who not only notes the principles and example of the Law of Christ but who also allows the Mind of Christ to make application to his ethical judgment at each given moment, “judges all things” 1 Cor 2:15. Such a person realizes that as he is guided by both the Law of Christ and the Mind of Christ” he need not worry about what men say for it is the “Lord who judges” 1 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 2:15, 2 Cor 10:7, Col 2:16. At the same time he will allow the same freedom of ethical decision for his fellow Christian. He may see his brother taking a different course of action, but as his brother so desires to act within the bounds of the Law of Christ and be guided by the Mind of Christ, he ultimately recognizes that it is “before his own Lord that he stands or falls” Rom 14:4, Rom 14 1Cor 2:5 and 2 Cor 5:10.

So. All of this, it seems, goes to show that we are not totally without guidance when it comes to ethical decision making. We have SOME EXTERNAL CRITERIA in helping to guide us in these things. This does not mean that we have to have complete exhaustive knowledge to cover every possible situation. But neither should it mean that those who hold to a “more principled” Christian ethic should be seen as either claiming exhaustive knowledge or being legalistic. What I’m seeking to do is to counter the pendulum swinging in the OTHER, OPPOSITE direction of merely Spirit guidance (along with an ethic of love) which can lead (though not necessarily so) into ethical relativism. Given this, I hope it is starting to shape up as to how one could be a Pharisee with a genuine heartfelt faith and in turn how Christians can follow a new Torah with a genuine heartfelt faith as well.


Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt 3

I want to begin where I left off from the last post. Essentially, the idea that I was trying to convey there was that one could be a Pharisee, attending to the law out of a heart felt and genuine faith-that not everything was formalism and externalism–that there could be a genuine love and “trust in” AND “obedience to God.”

Now, my point was not to say that one could be made righteous upon doing such works and therefore there is no need for a Messiah. The Messiah has come and for our BEING MADE RIGHTEOUS, the works of the law no longer apply.

However, in much recent theological literature what this has translated into is that because we have no need for the law in our being made right with God all we have to do is follow the Spirit (listening to that “still small voice”) in whatever situation we are in without ANY external criteria to follow. In other words, freedom in Christ means freedom from the domination of the Law which is to say that the Christian lives a life no longer under a detailed code which regulates each particular action but in the new life of the Spirit (a point that my buddy Randy was attempting to get across in one of his responses to my first post where he says that the Pharisees always asked “Why” to have perfect knowledge in order to know how to respond [live for God] in any given situation).

However, before commencing any further (I will deal with following the Spirit within the next couple of posts) I think it is needful that we recognize two strains in Pauline thought. As indicated above, one is the “indicative.” That is, the indicative is that we are “free ‘in’ Christ”–Christian liberty and the other is, the imperative–our part. Such that it would look something like this:

Indicative: “God is at work in the Christian’s life.”
Imperative: “Work out your own salvation.” Phil 2:12
Indicative: “You are ‘in’ Christ.”
Imperative: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom 13:14
Indicative: “dead to sin and alive to God ”
Imperative: “…consider yourself so to be…” Rom 6:11
Indicative: “Sin will have no dominion over you.”
Imperative: “…so do not permit sin to have dominion over you.” Rom 6:12-14
Indicative: “You are free from the law.”
Imperative: “…so stand fast.” Gal 5:1
Indicative: “You live by the Spirit.”
Imperative: “Walk by the Spirit.” Gal 5:25

It seems that one cannot separate the two for to do so, is a “satanic parody” as one scholar put it. And the question then arises as to what the relationship of the imperatives to the indicative are. Two points come to the fore. One is that the they are based in the fact of a new nature and the other is that they are motivated by love.

New Nature–In Romans 6 Paul says the Christian has become “a new creation” and out of this capacity Christians are exhorted to PRESENT THEMSELVES “as those alive from the dead.” (out of the actuality–‘hosei’ Rom 6). That is, Paul declares the very fact of the believer’s death to the old nature and his resurrection to the new ought to settle the question of his allegiance.

The same can be said of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Gal 5:19-24 where the contrast between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruits of the Spirit” points out the same emphasis of the changed nature as the basis for the acceptance and fulfillment of the Gospel imperatives. The word, “fruit” seems to have been deliberately chosen to suggest that the good deeds of the believer are characterized by a certainty spontaneity. That is, they are the natural outcome of a transformed nature rather than the laborious attempt to conform to an external code ie. again, not mere gruelling formalism or externalism.

Also, Luther’s translation of Rom 6 “presenting their bodies IN ORDER that you become holy” is probably more appropriately read in light of Rom 12 where Paul again urges his readers to present their bodies WITHOUT the idea that by so doing they gain a further degree of holiness but rather, that they thereby but respond to the mercies of God. Again, here, not a mere formalism but rather arising out of a “trust in” and “obedience to” dichotomy.

Motivated by Love-The imperatives find their motivation in the indicatives of the Gospel. That is, that Christian ethics is motivated by love and not impelled by the desire to gain righteous. In other words, Christian ethics has the character of works which doesn’t establish the relation of man to the Transcendental but rather it takes the form of OBEDIENCE to the One who has already established that relationship. For Paul, righteousness was already realized in Christ such that New Testament ethics–Gospel ethics is a “therefore-wherefore” ethic.

This should be a reminder to Christians who so many times, quote Philippians 2:12 which exhorts us to “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” but what they often neglect is that this verse starts off saying, “…as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now MUCH MORE in my absence…” assumes that the works of the Christian is to be under the caption obedience.

So there is a distinction between works in order to gain righteousness and works taking the form of obedience based on righteousness which ultimately lead Martin Luther to declare: “Our faith in Christ does not free us from works, but from false opinions about works.”