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The relationship between the State and Christianity is a three-pronged issue

One deficiency I have observed among Evangelical Christian comments on political theory, especially from the Reformed perspective (because the Reformed tradition is 85% of the Christian material I read), is that there are basically two categories of questions that are addressed in seeking answers regarding the relationship between Christianity and the State.  Evangelical commentary on political theory blur the categories in an unhelpful matter and don’t recognize the significance of a clear cut “three pronged” approach to Christian analysis of the State.

What I am saying is that there are three categories that need to be addressed by the Christian political theorist, but many Christian thinkers only address two.  Not only does this render the analysis greatly incomplete, but it also contributes to the lack of understanding regarding the proper position on a variety of so-called “policy” issues.

The first category that needs to be addressed is whether God has ordained the State in history.  That is to say, the question is, is the existence of the State contrary to God’s ordaining will?  The answer is that God has surely ordained the State to exist in history.  Nebuchadnezzar was referred to as God’s servant (Jer 43:10, 27:6) and since God ordains the existence of every atom and the life and death of every person, so he also ordains the States that exist around the world –yes, even Nero, Hitler, Bush, and Obama.  God is the grand controller of the universe and nothing is unless he has determined it to be.

The second category that needs to be addressed is whether God commands the Christian to subject himself to the StateAgain, the answer is very clearly yes (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2).  The reason that the Bible gives this command to Christians, I am convinced, is because the early Christians were to live at peace with everybody and not stir up trouble so as to attract unwarranted attention from an imperial state that was systematically opposed to the small Christian church during the first century.  Of course, this command is still applicable today, as we must be reminded that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world and it is in vain that we seek to overthrow and take over earthly thrones.  A general admonition to be subject to the State does not mean that we ought to obey the State when it commands us to do what God prohibits (subsidize abortions), nor should we obey the State when it prohibits us from doing that which God has commanded (preaching the Gospel).

Now, here is where the common deficiency exists among Christian thinkers. They stop here and then confuse the second category with the third and final one.  They assume that because we ought to be generally subject to the State, this means that there is no moral (or economic) problem with the State’s activities whenever it doesn’t prohibit that which God commands or command that which God prohibits.  In this way, things like Social Security (a retirement scheme which exists by government coercion), because saving for retirement in itself is not contradictory to God’s precepts, are far too often completely ignored by the Christian political thinker.  But what they don’t realize is that there is a third category that we must consider; namely whether the individuals who run the State have the moral authority to act contrary to God’s transcendent and binding moral law.

It is in this category, that we find the intellectual ammunition to oppose the whole of the modern state, kit and caboodle.  For just because one is a member of the government does not give him moral permission to take money out of the citizen’s paycheck and call it the income tax, take men from their families and call it conscription, enact a special round of taxes and say it is for “Medicare,” force businesses to comply with absurd regulations for “health and safety reasons,” take control over the education system, monopolize the money and banking sector by banning market competition, engage in fraud and currency devaluation by allowing fractional reserve banking, ban the use of alcohol and certain drugs (while subsidizing others), determine by law where certain prices should be (such as wages, gasoline, interest rates, and housing rents), and a whole plethora of other things.  In short, the individuals in the government itself are bound to obey the Ten Commandments as is every other individual in the nation. No person may steal and none may murder.  No person shall order by threat of violence the actions of peaceful men.  No person may initiate aggression against thy neighbor and governments too will be held to account for the deeds that they do.

Beyond the second category, which addresses whether Christians should obey the State that reigns over them, there exists the oft-ignored third category, which is political theory proper (as distinct from practical political theory —see here).  It is here that we must ask ourselves: is a given action of this agency consistent or inconsistent with the ethical stipulations of God?  Yes, we will subject ourselves to its deeds and turn the other cheek when it wrongs us. For in this we portray to the world that Christ, not the world, is our treasure.  But if we ignore this third category altogether, we are failing to apply the law of God to every institution that arises.  As Murray Rothbard once stated, our chief motivation for being libertarians is because we care about justice (see my comments on Rothbard’s statement here). But where the Christian has an advantage over Rothbard is we have a divine lawgiver who provides for us in clear terms the moral standard by which to compare the State.

1.  Know where the State acts wrongly.

2. Subject yourself to it, for Christ will have his vengeance in due time.

3. All things exist for the praise of this glorious name.

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John Robbins on “Christian” Statists in Power

He calls the Bush era effort to subsidize “Christian” groups one of “faith based fascism.” And he ends with the following screed:

End the student loans; they are funded by money stolen from taxpayers; they have driven the cost of a college education out of sight; and they are used to put young people deeply into debt at the start of their lives.

End the child care vouchers; they are funded by money stolen from taxpayers, and they are used to put children into 9-to-5 orphanages.

End the subsidies for medical care; they are funded with money stolen from taxpayers; they have raised the price of medical care to exorbitant levels; they have encouraged people not to provide for their own; and they have made government an idol.

End the subsidies to Catholic Charities and World Vision; they are funded with money stolen from taxpayers. If those charities were half as wonderful as they tell us, their efforts would attract adequate voluntary contributions. The fact that these charities must rely on funds obtained by force suggests that their programs are less than worthwhile, less than efficient, or less than beneficial.

And let’s be clear about charity. Charity is not compelling someone else to give his money to the poor. It is giving one’s own money away; it is freely contributing one’s own time. Government charity is a contradiction in terms, for government has no money except what it collects by force from others. What President Bush proposes is not greater charity, but aggravated theft and increased compulsion. There is nothing Christian or charitable about it. It is a violation of the Ten Commandments.

This writer has heard no “Christian” leader give the correct answers to the President’s questions. They have already agreed in principle with the President’s faith-based fascism. Long ago they abandoned the whole counsel of God, choosing which Biblical doctrines they would believe and teach, and which they would ignore. Many of them have abandoned the Gospel of the substitutionary death of Christ for his people and justification by faith alone. Now they have denied what the Scriptures teach on private property, the role of government, and the social order.

The salt has lost its savor; it has become worthless; and it deserves to be trodden underfoot by men.

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Diversity in Law, But not in Morals

Because all humans, regardless of whether they are elect, are in the Noahic Covenant, things like civil laws and the role of governance in society are for everyone’s benefit. The goal of civil laws are not to make men right with God, but to keep the world progressing until every elect person is saved. God promised not to flood the earth again because he doesn’t want it destroyed until everyone who has been elected has been justified. Thus, civil laws and governance are temporarily concerned and can be crafted and initiated together with believers and unbelievers in the common kingdom. As Calvin said after noting the Judicial laws had been “taken away:”

“surely every nation is left free to make such laws as it foresees to be profitable for itself.”

Of course, Calvin made major mistakes in the area of jurisprudence, but his words are in the right direction, even if not all that close to a pure libertarian formulation. But the point is that because God’s people are not a single physical nationality, as was arranged under the Old Covenant framework, he no longer has a strict blueprint set of laws for post-Christ governments.

There are moral principles indeed (Calvin refers to the principle of love— and we libertarians define this more specifically to relate to non-aggression), which ought to guide the specifics of a code, but there is not single list of divine-granted codified stipulations for civil engagement as there was under the Old Covenant.

The divine purpose of civil law is to promote peace among men, to deal with the problem of conflict (per Hoppe), and to keep things moving forward until the full number of elect have been saved. And property owners ought to take this concept of civil law and craft the appropriate rules and regulations about the use of their property. Unfortunately, the State has swept in to monopolize and make artificial the entire purpose of the law.

While there can be diversity in positive laws, there is one moral code applicable to everyone. And we use this moral code to judge the wrongdoing of the state and it’s bastardization of the purpose of law: conflict avoidance in accordance with property ownership rules.

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Gary North versus Bionic Mosquito

Well this is juicy.

I republish many Bionic Mosquito articles. I’ve enjoyed correspondence with him over the years. His real name is Jonathan Goodwin and he has been around the libertarian movement for some time.

Recently, he wrote a fictional post, found here. It was a hypothetical about a nearly ideal “propertarian” community and how they solved a property rights situation in a peaceful way. He wrote it in the first person.

Gary North read it. He thought it was a true story. He wrote up an article about it and put it on his site.

Then he found out, per BM’s follow-up post, that it was a fictional account.

Now North is angry, and likely embarrassed– the former because of the latter.

North writes:

The anonymous editor of the Bionic Mosquito has crossed the line. I will never trust him again.

He made up a story about his community. In my summary of it, I said it sounded amazing. I had never read anything like it before. Well, there was a reason for that: the article was a hoax.

I suppose he thought he was clever. He is not clever. He is a willful deceiver. He betrayed his readers without qualms. He also betrayed the people who gave him publicity and helped him build his site.

Now he finds that his hoax has multiplied. This seems to come as a surprise to him. It shouldn’t. He was trusted.

Bionic Mosquito is open about his name– Jonathan Goodwin. He’s not trying to deceive anyone, those who read him consistently recognize his writing style. At any rate, it seems petty of North to get so worked up about it. He doesn’t know Goodwin, as he admits, and there’s no reason to assume Goodwin was planning a hoax. It was a parable.

Kinda humorous, if you ask me.

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VanDrunen’s Argument for Religious Liberty

Though I believe VanDrunen’s epistemology and understanding of natural law have significant problems, I believe his covenantal perspective as it relates to political philosophy is basically correct. At the end of Divine Covenants and Moral Order, he tries to apply his general framework to more practical conclusions, including the question of religious liberty.

[C]ivil government [is] the natural institution most prone to usurp authority and to exercise raw power… The promotion of justice… is the very basis for civil government’s legitimacy. Thus its authority is inherently limited by the obligation to do what is just. Any injustice is usurpation… [J]ustice grounded in the natural law should be proportionate, retributive, restorative, and forbearing (and therefore flexible in application)…

To defend this claim [of religious liberty] I turn again to Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his image.” Of the many significant things about this verse, perhaps most profound is the fact that God, the supreme governor and judge of the world, has delegated aspects of the administration of justice to human beings… Though dispensing retributive justice against fellow humans would have been unnecessary in an unfallen world, in a fallen world imposing just punishment upon wrongdoers becomes a necessary aspect of human rule. To rule a sinful world means, in part, ensuring that those who injure another human person receive appropriate and proportionate retribution.

What God delegates to human beings here is the administration of intrahuman justice. To put it another way, God ordains that human beings should impose punishments for injuries inflicted upon each other. God does not delegate authority to impose just punishment upon wrongs that a human being commits against God himself. From one perspective, of course, any injury inflicted upon a human being is a wrong against God whose image that person bears, so I will modify my claim in this way: God delegates to human beings the authority to impose punishments for wrongs insofar as they are injuries inflicted upon each other, but not for wrongs insofar as they are inflicted upon God.

Thus to return to the question at hand: Does the Noahic covenant shed any light on whether human society might prohibit or penalize the worship or instruction of a particular religion? Yes, and it indicates that human beings do not have such authority. According to the Noahic covenant, human beings have the authority to use force against one another in order to impose proportionate penalties for intrahuman wrongs. For intrahuman crimes such as murder or theft, there are concrete and definable injuries, and just legislators and judges can design penalties that match their severity. But acts of improper religious worship are offenses against God. In such cases human beings are inherently incapable of imposing a proportionate penalty. What sort of human punishment is proportionate to a wrong done against an infinite and eternal God? Even if one were to claim that a teacher of false religion is corrupting the religious sensibilities of the youth, for example, and thus is guilty of an intrahuman injury, it is difficult to perceive how any human court could objectively determine the character and extent of this injury so as to impose a proportionate penalty.

First, VanDrunen’s distinction between crimes against man and crimes against God (which he applies to the Mosaic Covenant) is precisely how I have explained lex talionis’ function in the Mosaic Covenant.

Second, VanDrunen is correct that religious persecution is a violation of lex talionis and is not an administration of retributive justice. Therefore no one may use force against anyone else for practicing a (non-violent) false religion. To do so is usurpation. This is the only non-contradictory way to argue for religious liberty. Every other attempt to justify religious liberty undermines itself by inconsistencies.

Third, if humans may only use force against other humans to administer retributive justice for physical harm done to humans (that is – if “public utility” is no justification for the use of force), then the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of what the United States and other nations currently do is usurpation not backed by any God-given authority.

In other words, the non-aggression principle is biblical and it is the only consistent defense of religious liberty.

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The State as a Contradiction in Terms

Ethically, we have in the State, as defined above, a contradiction in terms.  For if the State is the means by which private property is supposed to be ultimately defended, and yet the State declares, independent of the will of the property owner, what the property owner must pay him or be recipient of violent expropriation, then the private property itself, rather than being defended, is threatened.  As Hoppe notes: “However, a tax-funded life-and-property protection agency is a contradiction in terms: an expropriating property protector.”

Moreover, if the State claims unto itself the right to act as the sole provider of its services and actively seeks the elimination of any competitors, then in driving other competitors out of business, here too it contradicts its very intended role.  Any State that allows its citizens to choose another criminal punishment corporation if they desire, that is, any State that does not consider itself as the sole provider of its “services,” cannot last as a State any longer than the citizens allow it. And thus, being essentially a voluntary organization, it loses its status as a State; for States are force, not cooperation.  Therefore, a State must, to retain its label, actively seek the eradication of all jurisdictional competitors; and in doing so, it contradicts its role of defender of private property.  For it must violate the private property of its competitor in order to eliminate it.

[…]

The private-law society is one in which all individuals are bound by the same law and there is none who is legally allowed to exempt himself. There is no “public property,” and every owner of property is the ultimate decision maker over the use and restrictions of his property.  There are no public officials who can for “the public interest,” expropriate wealth from the property owner, restrict by force the entrepreneurial activity of the owner in the form of regulations, or create tax-funded bureaucracies, for whatever purpose he has in mind.  No one is allowed to acquire property except by way of original appropriation or voluntary trade; neither is anyone allowed to “prohibit anyone else from using his property in order to enter any line of production he wishes and compete against whomever he pleases.” (Hoppe).

Taken from: http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/history/the-civil-magistrate-vs-the-state/

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A Note on the Religious and the Secular

It’s dawned on me that our understanding of the nature of the Kingdoms (the City of God and the City of Man, to use Augustine phrases) influences our understanding of the meaning of religious as opposed to secular. Clearly, for the Neo-Kuyperians, dominionists, and other one-kingdomers, everything is religious because there is no other alternative, being as there is only one kingdom.

To clarify the way I use the language, given my understanding of the covenants, let me say this. If “religion” means having to do with the kingdom of heaven, then it can be properly juxtaposed with secular, which refers to the second (earthy) kingdom. If religion means worldview or, as I prefer, “philosophical system,” well then juxtaposing with with “secular” makes no sense.

Clearly, my favorite definition, in general, of religion is philosophical system. But when I use religion in the context of a religious/secular distinction, I am actually trying to communicate the distinction between the kingdoms. In this case, therefore, I am not drawing a distinction, as the one-kingdomers might blame me, between living/thinking philosophically neutral and living/thinking religiously.

“Secular” doesn’t refer to a state of philosophical “neutrality,” it refers to whatever is not in the very narrow kingdom of heaven (the church). Secular refers to the “mixed” covenant, in which stands both the elect and the non-elect.

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Reich’s 7 Reasons

Notable leftist who calls himself an economist Robert Reich has a list of “7 Reasons Why Trump’s Corporate Tax Cut is Completely Nuts.” Here’s his 7, with my responses under each one in italic:

1. Profitable U.S. corporations already pay on average of only 14% according to the Government Accountability Office. That’s less than a lot of middle-class families pay. (And that’s less than half the official 35% corporate tax rate.) What’s more, some giant corporations pay little (if any) U.S. taxes because of loopholes or because they shift their profits offshore to tax havens.

Good. They should pay even less than 14%. If he’s worried that this is less than middle-class families, then he should know I also wish to slash middle class families’ tax burden. If the government continues to threaten to steal from them via taxation, it makes sense they they are going to continue hiding their money overseas. I too hide my wealth from thieves.

2. Trump’s corporate tax cut will bust the federal budget. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center projects it will reduce federal revenue by $2.4 trillion over 10 years. This will either require huge cuts in services for all of us, or additional taxes paid by us to pick up the corporate tab.

False, a tax cut cannot bust a budget. The only thing that can bust a budget is stubbornly continuing to spend more than is brought in. We should slash all “services” on the basis that they are either completely unnecessary or will otherwise be provided by the market.

3. It’s based on supply-side, trickle-down nonsense. The White House says the tax cuts will create a jump in economic growth that will generate enough new revenue to wipe out any increase in the budget deficit. Rubbish. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both cut taxes mostly for the rich, and both ended their presidencies with huge budget deficits.

One of the myths promoted by the leftist critics of supply side economics is that Art Laffer was promising that all cuts in taxes will generate enough new revenue to replace it. This is false. This doesn’t mean the supply siders were perfect, far from it– they will still trying to find ways for the government to acquire more revenue more efficiently. But in any case, the cited Presidents ended with huge deficits because they didn’t cut spending. This is the fault of their spending habits, not their tax cuts.

4. It will create a new special loophole for hedge fund managers, big law firms and real estate moguls like Donald Trump. They could slash the  tax rate they pay on their business income from 40 percent to 15 percent. 15 percent is what a middle-class person pays. Do you think people like Trump should pay a tax rate that someone making $60,000 a year pays?

Good. We need more loopholes. I propose that we double down on loopholes until the tax code is one giant loophole. Per his question: yes I do think that. They should all pay zero.

5. It creates an international race-to-the-bottom on corporate tax rates that the U.S. cannot possibly win.One of its supposed attractions is it makes U.S. corporate taxes more “competitive” internationally. But we can’t match the rates in tax havens, which are often ZERO. And other countries will just lower their taxes in response. That’s what happened after 1986, the last time the U.S. cut corporate tax rates.

I love races to the bottom when it comes to taxes. Perhaps the US can’t win. This is because the institution of the State is strong in the United States and we have too many crummy politicians trying to make the world a better place with policy and legislation. We should aim to match the tax rates at zero.

6. American corporations don’t need a tax cut to be competitive. They’re already hugely competitive as measured by their profits – which are near record highs– while the share of taxes they pay are at record lows. Corporations should be doing more to pay their fair share, not getting a giant tax cut!

The goal is not to be “competitive.” If every country steals 95% of their citizens’ wealth, there’s no moral bragging point in being competitive in that one country only steals 95%. Corporations pay their fair share by providing goods and services on the market that people willingly pay for. They need more tax cuts to reward this behavior.

7. Corporations won’t use the extra profits they get from the tax cut to invest in more capacity and jobs.That’s the White House line, but it’s baloney.  Corporations are now using a large portion of their profits to pay their CEOs’ hefty pay packages and to buy other companies in order to raise their stock prices. There’s no reason to suppose they’ll do any different even with more profits.

Part of this point is may be true, but the problem is rooted in the corruption of finance due to the Federal Reserve and its destruction of our economy’s capital reserves. But there’s also nothing economically harmful about buying other companies– this is investing in the growth of the business and is aimed at increased business efficiency and productivity. 

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John Murray on the Church Rebuking the State

When it is maintained that the church is concerned with civic affairs, is under obligation to examine political measures in the light of the Word of God, and is required to declare its judgments accordingly, the distinction between this activity on the part of the church and political activity must be recognized. To put the matter bluntly, the church is not to engage in politics. Its members must do so, but only in their capacity as citizens of the state, not as members of the church. The church is not to create or foster political parties or blocs. The proclamation of the church may indeed induce the members of the church and others to affiliate themselves, in their capacity as citizens, with one party rather than with another or, perhaps, to form a political party for the promotion of good politics. If the proclamation of the church is sound, the church has no need to be ashamed of the influence its proclamation exerts in this direction, nor does it need to be troubled by the charge that may be levelled against it to the effect that it is engaged in politics. In such circumstances the church must be prepared to pay the price for its faithful witness to the political implications of the message committed to it (256).

The question remains: how is the church to proclaim the counsel of God as it bears upon civil affairs? It is obvious that there are two means, in particular, of proclaiming the Word of God, namely, the pulpit and the press. The church lives in the world and it lives within the domain of political entities. If it is to be faithful to its commission it must make its voice heard and felt in reference to public questions. The church may not supinely stand aside and ignore political corruption, for example, on the ground that to pronounce judgment on such issues is to intermeddle in politics. Political corruption is sin, it is public sin, and the church denies its vocation if it does not reprove it. When there is political revolution which contravenes the principles of God’s Word and is directed against the kingdom of God, the church may not be an idle spectator on the round that the powers that be are ordained of God. It must assess the revolution for what it is in the light of the Word of God and proclaim in pulpit and press what the judgment of the Word of God is. If political revolution is right; if it displaces usurpation and tyranny, and is in the interests of equity, the church may not refrain from expressing by like media the favourable judgment which the principles of the Word of God dictate (257).

– John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray 1: The Claims of Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 256, 257.

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David Dykstra on Church & State (and Isaac Backus on Romans 13)

Reformed Baptist pastor David Dykstra’s series on Church & State is worth listening to, particularly the historic overviews of the reformation and American eras.

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 1

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/12/2003

580+ | 37 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 2

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/19/2003

1,020+ | 39 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 3

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/26/2003

480+ | 48 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 4

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 02/02/2003

320+ | 36 min

 

In Part 4, Dykstra explains that Romans 13 describes how Christians should relate to a government that is doing its job. It does not say how Christians should relate to a government that has become tyrannical. He quotes from Isaac Backus’ diary explaining how he preached in the time leading up to the American Revolution (April 23, 1775 – Backus was a prominent New England baptist pastor who testified before the Continental Congress and other political bodies lobbying for religious liberty. Scholars note he has a place beside Jefferson in the shaping of America).

“I noted that in Romans 13, the powers that be were required to submit to were ministers of God to the people for good.”

Backus would argue that Romans 13 could not be pressed into service by tyrants for use. He’s saying this passage only deals with a situation where a Christian is under a government that for the most part is doing a decent job of rewarding good and punishing evil. It does not give us specific directions as to what to do in those situations where a government, instead of rewarding good and punishing evil, rewards evil and punishes good. You see his point? He was saying that’s the kind of government the New Testament requires us to submit to, not to governments that are tyrannical!

But yet, over the centuries, tyrants made use of this passage of Scripture in Romans 13 to brow-beat people into submission. Tyrannical husbands have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat wives into submission. Tyrannical parents have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat children into submission. Tyrannical elders of churches have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat their people into submission. But none of these passages deal with that specific problem as to what to do when you live under an authority is tyrannical. And the essence of a tyrannical authority is an authority who says “I am not subject to law.”

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, this was not eisegesis on the part of an American Revolutionary. It was the historic reformed interpretation of the passage. But if that’s not what Romans 13 is addressing, then what is it addressing?

Why was it necessary to say to the Christian people at the time, “Listen, be obedient citizens. Obey the laws of the state. Be exemplary in how you live.” Why did they have to write that way?

  1. Jewish leaders in Paul’s day rebelled against the very notion they were subject to Rome and that they were not free… John 8:31-33…
  2. Jewish leaders questioned Rome’s right to tax them. Matt 22:15-17…
  3. Some Jewish leaders had risen up in rebellion against Rome. Acts 5:34-37… Here were Jews that rose up in rebellion against Rome. Here were leaders that rebellion – official, organized rebellion against Rome. This is one of the reasons Paul had to write as he did to the Christians. You are not to live that way. You are to be God’s different people in your life in the world. Israel was a difficult province for Rome to rule. Armed conflict was a fact of life between Roman forces and the Jewish zealots, predictably. Remember how in Luke 13:1… Barabbas…

So there were reasons for Paul to write as he did, for Peter to write as he did, because these were difficult times. The danger posed to the church was this – and I think you can appreciate it with just a little bit of thought – that Rome might not be able to discern between Jews and Jewish Christians at this early date. And Paul and the other Apostles wanted Christians to be exemplary in their conduct in relation to Roman authority… Matthew 5:41

In other words, these words of Paul and Peter arose from the fact that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, unlike the earthly kingdom of Israel. God’s direct reign as the king over the kingdom of Israel, sitting on his thrown in the temple (see here) meant that any foreign ruler was a usurper who had no authority over Israel. That’s why the history of Israel is God raising up men to overthrow foreign rulers again and again and again. It was called “salvation” (1 Sam. 11:13; 1 Chron 16:35; 2 Chron 20:17). Not so with the kingdom of Christ, which was inward, spiritual, and not of this world. Paul’s point is that earthly, unbelieving rulers still have authority over Christians, insofar as they rule lawfully (as Paul explains).

Starting with John the Baptist and continuing throughout Jesus’ ministry, the Jews were warned of the coming end of the Old Covenant when God would pour out the full wrath of the covenant on those who had broken it. The only refuge was to flee to Jesus, as Jesus explained in John 15:1-6 (a passage about Old Covenant curse, not about church membership). This looming judgment was still imminent when Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans (56-57AD – note, this was before Nero began persecuting Christians, thus Paul is not addressing that. In Part 5, Dykstra notes “At the time, it was still good government. 30 years from the time he wrote this, no New Testament writer would have been able to write this way. In 30 years from when this letter was written, the good government that was Rome would be the evil beast rising from the earth and the sea of Revelation 13 and Revelation 13 becomes almost the mirror image of Romans 13.”). Paul wrote to Jewish and Gentile Christians living in the capital city. Things were heating up between Jews and Rome and Paul wrote to clarify how Christians in the New Covenant should relate to Roman authority.

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD -- a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).
The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD — a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).

Luke 21:20-22 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that the time of your judgment has come.” And what are you, as my people, supposed to do at that time when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies? You are to flee into the mountains. Do not become a part of this Jewish rebellion. Don’t get involved in this insurrection, this rebellion against Rome. Don’t go even back into the city. When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, don’t take part in that. You get out. And thankfully Christians did. And in the Jewish war of rebellion that began in 66AD and was utterly and finally squashed by Rome in 70AD, the Christians were spared because they listened to their Lord.

[I would not necessarily agree with Dykstra’s concluding applications in Part 4, nor the points in Parts 5-8.]

 

Dykstra also has a more recent two-part series on rebellion.

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It’s okay to side with a secularist who is right over a Christian who is wrong

The essence of Christianity, as a philosophical system (which I believe to be the best definition of “religion”), is it’s commitment to truth. There are many possible propositions, too many to count. Most of them are false. The ones that are not false are true. All the true propositions gathered together are what the Christian refers to as God, who is, by definition truth itself. Literally, we worship the truth. This is impressive for a philosophical system. And yet so many critics assume Christians refuse to engage in rationality. Perhaps most Christians do. In which case most Christians are not very “Christian.”

The truth of something does not depend upon the human being speaking. One who is not a Christian can speak the proposition: “socialism cannot properly allocate scarce resources according to their most efficient ends.” And he speaks truly. And the Christian can respond: “socialism does not suffer from this predicament.” And he speaks falsely.

Far too many Christians, attempting to be pious and aware various strains of anti-religionism in quasi libertarian circles, dismiss the Christian libertarian as “getting his political theory from secularists.” But this is not an argument. For the alleged “Christian” political theory held by the accuser is itself wrong, regardless of whether it is self-labelled a Christian view.

The nature of the “two-kingdom” structure of this life allows for Christians to agree, and learn from, non-Christians commentary on various topics, including politics and economics. Much economics, especially in the Austrian tradition, is far better than historical sources from the theologians, irrespective to the great insight that theologians have offered in times past. The Christian world, with some glorious exceptions scattered about, have been routinely and devastatingly statist in these areas.

Is the secularist who takes the principle behind the 8th commandment to its logical conclusion to be ignored in preference for the Christian who all but ignores it?

I have often written on epistemological concerns, and how this relates to the recent two-kingdom debates. My view, perhaps shifting somewhat in its emphasis in recent months, is as follows: the philosophical system that is most consistent, based on the demands of logic (a priori reasoning), is certainly a Christian one. But this fact does not cause Christians to be right in every area simply by virtue of their adherence to gospel-related propositions. Christianity can account for, and has a better foundation for, the ethical and logical demands of Austro-libertarian.

But inasmuch as we discuss ideas farther down the line of reasoning than merely foundation, the secularist libertarian (properly defined) is more agreeable than the statist Christian. What the Reformed Libertarian does, it seems to me, is match a solid foundation with the most consistent political and economic theory in history. By foundation, I refer to the idea that the Christian system is able to provide the backdrop, the setting, for proper reasoning.

We must break free from the logically empty claim that the Christian himself is necessarily right. He is only right inasmuch as he perceives truth correctly. And the secularist may sometimes be right as well. If one assents to a true proposition (“it is wrong to steal”), it is only the thinker who reasons forward with proper logic that discovers true inferences. Whether he is a Christian or not.

For the record, most Christian “presuppositionalists,” (and I say this as a Clarkian) are absurdly bad logicians, political theorists, and economic thinkers as well. 

The secularist may have an improper foundation, but the Christian who does not properly use his foundation is no better off.

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Calvin’s Geneva

Calvin makes some curious comments on 1 Corinthians 5:10 that show how different his view of the church was from ours. I mention it here because it has significant ramifications for political philosophy. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 says “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” Chrysostom gives the obvious explanation “[W]e must live among thorns so long as we sojourn on earth. This only do I [Paul] require, that you do not keep company with fornicators, who wish to be regarded as brethren.” But this requires a necessary distinction between the church and the rest of society. What if there is no distinction? What if an entire society is in the church? Calvin objects

Against this exposition a question might be proposed by way of objection: “As Paul said this at a time when Christians were as yet mingled with heathens, and dispersed among them, what ought to be done now, when all have given themselves to Christ in name? For even in the present day we must go out of the world, if we would avoid the society of the wicked; and there are none that are strangers, when all take upon themselves Christ’s name, and are consecrated to him by baptism… I prefer one [interpretation] that is different from all these, taking the word rendered to go out as meaning to be separated, and the term world as meaning the pollutions of the world  [Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs to be separated from the pollutions of the world.]… There is, then, a sort of intentional omission, when he says that he makes no mention of those that are without, inasmuch as the Corinthians ought to be already separated from them.

Thus Paul is saying (apparently) “of course you should avoid the sexually immoral in the church, because you should avoid all sexually immoral people everywhere.” Not quite.

In a very interesting essay titled European Calvinism: Church Discipline, Jordan Ballor and Bradford Littlejohn note

For all his emphasis on discipline, the ministerial office, and the distinctive institutional form of the church, Calvin never seems to have entertained the Anabaptist separation of church from commonwealth, viewing the whole populace of Geneva as part of the visible church, and never questioning the important role of Christian magistrates in defending and edifying this church… Prepared at the invitation of the Geneva city Councils, this text [Ordonnances ecclésiastiques] provided the blueprint for Calvin’s famous and remarkably successful disciplinary system, of which the chief distinctive was the Consistory. This body, consisting both of elders (twelve laymen chosen from among city Councils) and ministers, was responsible for hearing cases related to various forms of immorality and disorderly conduct, as well as superstition, doctrinal error, contempt of ministers, and more.

In Will the Real Geneva Please Stand Up, Litteljohn elaborates, noting that a common narrative about Calvin doesn’t seem to match the reality.

First, let’s ask what we should expect to find in Geneva on the conventional narrative:

We would find Calvin arriving in Geneva and gathering around him a band of like-minded pastors and laymen, with whom, having studied the Scriptures carefully, he drafted a church constitution.  This constitution would provide for individual congregations to elect elders for spiritual government and deacons for more temporal needs, and each group of elders would be presided over by a pastor.  Together, elders and pastor would oversee the spiritual and moral lives of their congregants, rebuking them and excommunicating them where necessary; deacons, meanwhile, would gather and manage the alms of the congregation for the needs of its members.  Elders and pastors from individual congregations would meet together regularly with all the others within the city of Geneva, and this synod would vote on decisions binding on all the individual congregations, and would hear appeals on disciplinary matters.  Calvin and his fellow pastors would have made this constitution without consulting the city council, though, in order to keep the peace, they would probably have sought the city council’s blessing, or at least their permission, to carry through this arrangement among such believers in Geneva who wished to participate in this scheme.  And here is the key point—they would not have sought to impose this system on the whole populace of Geneva, since the visible church is a gathered congregation of the truly faithful who willingly submit to discipline, not the whole body of merely outward professors of the faith.  Any Christians in Geneva who wished to participate in Calvin’s churches would have done so, and Calvin and his fellow pastors would have had no interest in imposing their discipline on those outside this church (though they certainly might have tried to evangelize them and to convince them to join).  Those excommunicated from these churches would lose their access to the sacraments and their membership in the spiritual kingdom, but would remain unimpaired citizens of Geneva and members of the society there.

Unfortunately, almost no piece of this picture corresponds to the reality.  What do we find instead?

Instead we find, in 1541, the city authorities of Geneva dismayed at the breakdown of morals and social order, and the chaotic administration of ecclesiastical matters.  Seeing the need for a revamped civic order, and recognizing that this could not be achieved without a well-ordered spiritual government, they invited Calvin back to draft the ordinances for them, recognizing his unique combination of theological, legal, and administrative expertise.  Calvin accordingly drafted proposals for the moral government and spiritual provision for the city of Geneva, as a cooperative enterprise between the clergy, the ordinary laity, and the magistrates.  This was solicited, proposed, and enacted as a piece of civil legislation, which the civil authorities in Geneva were ultimately responsible for putting into practice and maintaining.  While it is often assumed that at this early date, there were in fact sharp and irreconcilable differences between Calvin’s vision (an autonomous church) and the magistrates’ vision (a state church), this is considerably overstated.

Gillian Lewis, in her article, “Calvinism in Geneva in the Time of Calvin and Beza (1541-1605),” helps set the record straight.  First, she points out,

there was between Calvin and the Genevan authorities a good deal of common ground, about the functions of a clergy, about the suppression of religious dissent, and about the policing of public morals.  The broad measure of this consensus deserves more emphasis than it is usually afforded in accounts of the Geneva of Calvin: any amount of ingenuity and zeal on the Reformer’s part would, without it, have been fruitless.  It turned out that the Ordinances, in their assumptions and in the details of their provisions, secured from ruling councils and general public not only widespread acquiescence, but genuine support.

There was, for example, agreement about the duties allocated to each category of the new-fangled ministers of the Word, deacons, doctors, elders, and pastors.[7]

Let’s look at these offices, since these are the building blocks of Presbyterian ecclesiology.  Although one can read countless accounts by modern Reformed authors attacking government-run welfare on the basis that in the Calvinist tradition, welfare is handled by the church as a distinct institution, managed by deacons, and not by state functionaries, and although many of these accounts will even claim that this is how it was in Geneva,[8] this rests on a fundamentally anachronistic dichotomy.  In fact, as Lewis explains,

Deacons proved uncontroversial.  It is doubtful, in any case, whether they can reasonably be regarded as a “Calvinist” innovation, in principle or in fact.  Procureurs to oversee the finances and hospitaliers to take care of the day-to-day care of the sick and impotent poor had been established in 1535, when the city had amalgamated a crowd of ecclesiastical charities and private funds into the centrally-funded Hopital-General, established in a recently emptied convent.  All that the 1541 article did was to confer upon those officials the Scriptural cognomen “Deacon”, and the dignity of being regarded as part of the fourfold ministry.  From the outset, however, they were in no real sense ministers, but lay office-holders elected by the civil power.  Nor was there anything novel or unconventional in their duties to support the view that we have here an example of a new and specifically “Calvinist” attitude toward the poor.[9]
Deacons, in short, far from being an independently-elected office of an independent “church” were essentially civil functionaries serving the church in the united Christian community.

What about elders?  Surely these are the bedrock of Calvinism’s autonomous spiritual government?  Well, not really.  Again, Lewis:

Elders had to be “decent and respectable men, beyond reproach and of unblemished reputation, above all God-fearing and carrying spiritual weight.”  They were chosen from members of the city’s ruling councils.  They usually found themselves carrying the burden of the office for years on end.  This must surely have contributed to the development of a consistent style and tone in the Genevan church, and to some extent in Genevan public life.  As the Ordinances had intended, their co-operation with the pastors did produce some genuine dovetailing of the activities of the spiritual and the civil power.[10]

Indeed, most of the moral issues that the consistory oversaw were a matter of enforcing civil legislation that had been passed before the Reformation even came to Geneva:

Like that of other cities, the commune of Geneva—long before the Reformation—had regularly passed edicts against fraud in commerce, against usury, against excessive luxury in dress, against sexual offenses and prostitution, and against drunkenness and disorderly behavior in the street.  There was a spate of such legislation between 1536 and 1541, when the newly sovereign republic was asserting its authority in every sphere.  The edicts passed in Calvin’s day, indeed in the whole period from 1541 to the early 1570s, were a continuation of this process, and formed part of a wide program me of clarifying and tidying up some of the anomalies, gaps, and obscurities in the city’s rudimentary legal code.  The ordinances concerning public morals reveal the lineaments of what was, in the eyes of the magistrates, acceptable social behavior.  They were designed not so much to transform the community so that it became more godly as to protect traditional decencies and preserve the status quo. The Consistory contributed to this end. . . . Ready acceptance of most of the Consistory’s rulings by the community in general suggests that there was a high degree of overlap between the morality the pastors extracted from the Scriptures, and the everyday assumptions about decency and the proprieties and justice which prevailed. The Consistory was a part of this continuum of edification.[11]

Not, that is, that the Consistory exercised coercive jurisdiction in enforcing these laws.  Rather, it served as a sort of halfway house, filling the gap between preaching that demanded standards of righteousness, and civil courts that punished unrighteousness.  It was, as Lewis puts it, “a tribunal of first resort, sifting out those cases which should properly be passed on to the civil courts,” involved “in infra-judicial settlement of pastoral matters which had got out of hand.”[12] (Given the sheer scope of moral legislation that Geneva had enacted, which would otherwise have remained largely unenforceable, a body like consistory was almost demanded.[13])

This certainly helps provide a clearer picture of Calvin’s view of the civil magistrate and how all of society related to the church. This concept is the root of the idea among Protestants that the duty of the civil government is to make people more moral – to behave outwardly like Christians (see Local Pastor Longs For Good Old Days When America Pretended To Be A Christian Nation and Left Behind in America: Following Christ after Culture Wars). Thankfully most modern reformed churches have abandoned this model of the church in favor of congregationalism (yes, modern Presbyterianism is largely congregational). But regretfully, many of them still retain vestiges of it in their political philosophy.

See also Calvin’s Two-Fold Government.

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Rutherford on Romans 13 and the Distinction Between Person and Office

see also Rutherford on Romans 13 and the Logic of Resistance

Question XXIX. Whether, in the case of defensive war, the distinction of the person of the king, as a man, who can commit acts of hostile tyranny against his subjects, and of the office and royal power that he hath from God and the people, as a king, can have place.

Before I can proceed to other Scripture proofs for the lawfulness of resistance, this distinction, rejected by royalists, must be cleared. This is an evident and sensible distinction: — The king in concreto, the man who is king, and the king in abstracto, the royal office of the king. The ground of this distinction we desire to be considered from Rom. xiii. We affirm with Buchanan, that Paul here speaketh of the office and duty of good magistrates, and that the text speaketh nothing of an absolute king, nothing of a tyrant; and the royalists distinguish where the law distinguished not, against the law, (l. pret. 10, gl. Bart. de pub. in Rem.); and therefore we move the question here, Whether or no to resist the illegal and tyrannical will of the man who is king, be to resist the king and the ordinance of God; we say no. Nor do we deny the king, abusing his power in unjust acts, to remain king, and the minister of God, whose person for his royal office, and his royal office, are both to be honoured, reverenced, and obeyed. God forbid that we should do so as the sons of Belial, imputing to us the doctrine of anabaptists, and the doctrine falsely imputed to Wicliffe, — that dominion is founded upon supernatural grace, and that a magistrate being in the state of mortal sin, cannot be a lawful magistrate, — we teach no such thing. The P. Prelate showeth us his sympathy with papists, and that he buildeth the monuments and sepulchres of the slain and murdered prophets, when he, refusing to open his mouth in the gates for the righteous, professeth he will not purge the witnesses of Christ, the Waldenses, and Wiciiffe, and Huss, of these notes of disloyalty, but that these acts proceeding from this root of bitterness, the abused power of a king, should be acknowledged with obedience active or passive, in these unjust acts, we deny.

Assert. 1. — It is evident from Rom. xiii. that all subjection and obedience to higher powers commanded there, is subjection to the power and office of the magistrate in abstracto, or, which is all one, to the person using the power lawfully, and that no subjection is due by that text, or any word of God, to the abused and tyrannical power of the king, which I evince from the text, and from other Scriptures.

1. Because the text saith, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” But no powers commanding things unlawful, and killing the innocent people of God, can be e0cousi/ai u9perexou/sai higher powers, but in that lower powers. He that commandeth not what God commandeth, and punisheth and killeth where God, if personally and immediately present, would neither command nor punish, is not in these acts to be subjected unto, and obeyed as a superior power, though in habit he may remain a superior power; for all habitual, all actual superiority is a formal participation of the power of the Most High. Arnisæus well saith, (c. 4, p. 96,) “That of Aristotle must be true, It is against nature, better and worthier men should be in subjection to unworthier and more wicked men;” but when magistrates command wickedness, and kill the innocent, the non-obeyers, in so far, are worthier than the commanders (whatever they be in habit and in office) actually, or in these wicked acts are unworthier and inferior, and the non-obeyers are in that worthier, as being zealous adherents to God’s command and not to man’s will. I desire not to be mistaken; if we speak of habitual excellency, godly and holy men, as the witnesses of Christ in things lawful, are to obey wicked and infidel kings and emperors, but in that these wicked kings have an excellency in respect of office above them; but when they command things unlawful, and kill the innocent, they do it not by virtue of any office, and so in that they are not higher powers, but lower and weak ones. Laertius doth explain Aristotle well, who defineth a tyrant by this, “That he commandeth his subjects by violence;” and Arnisæus condemneth Laertius for this, “Because one tyrannical action doth no more constitute a tyrant, than one “unjust action doth constitute an unjust man.” But he may condemn, as he doth indeed, (Covarruvias pract. quest. c. 1, and Vasquez Illustr. quest. l. 1, c. 47, n. 1, 12,) for this is essential to a tyrant, to command and rule by violence. If a lawful prince do one or more acts of a tyrant, he is not a tyrant for that, yet his action in that is tyrannical, and he doth not that as a king, but in that act as a sinful man, having something of tyranny in him.

2. The powers (Rom. xiii. 1) that be, are ordained of God, as their author and efficient; but kings commanding unjust things, and killing the innocent, in these acts, are but men, and sinful men; and the power by which they do these acts, a sinful and an usurped power, and so far they are not powers ordained of God, according to his revealed will, which must rule us. Now the authority and official power, in abstracto, is ordained of God, as the text saith, and other Scriptures do evidence. And this politicians do clear, while they distinguish betwixt jus personæ, and jus coronæ, the power of the person, and the power of the crown and royal office. They must then be two different things.

3. He that resisteth the power, that is, the official power, and the king, as king, and commanding in the Lord, resisteth the ordinance of God, and God’s lawful constitution. But he who resisteth the man, who is the king, commanding that which is against God, and killing the innocent, resisteth no ordinance of God, but an ordinance of sin and Satan; for a man commanding unjustly, and ruling tyrannically, hath, in that, no power from God.

4. They that resist the power and royal office of the king in things just and right, shall receive to themselves damnation, but they that resist, that is, refuse, for conscience, to obey the man who is the king, and choose to obey God rather than man, as all the martyrs did, shall receive to themselves salvation. And the eighty valiant men, the priests, who used bodily violence against king Uzziah’s person, “and thrust him out of the house of the Lord,” from offering incense to the Lord, which belonged to the priest only, received not damnation to themselves, but salvation in doing God’s will, and in resisting the king’s wicked will.

5. The lawful ruler, as a ruler, and in respect of his office, is not to be resisted, because he is not a terror to good works, but to evil; and no man who doth good is to be afraid of the office or the power, but to expect praise and a reward of the same. But the man who is a king may command an idolatrous and superstitious worship — send an army of cut-throats against them, because they refuse that worship, and may reward papists, prelates, and other corrupt men, and may advance them to places of state and honour because they kneel to a tree altar, — pray to the east, — adore the letters and sound of the word Jesus — teach and write Arminianism, and may imprison, deprive, confine, cut the ears, and slit the noses, and burn the faces of those who speak and preach and write the truth of God; and may send armies of cut-throats, Irish rebels, and other papists and malignant atheists, to destroy and murder the judges of the land, and innocent defenders of the reformed religion, &c., — the man, I say, in these acts is a terror to good works, — an encouragement to evil; and those that do good are to be afraid of the king, and to expect no praise, but punishment and vexation from him; therefore, this reason in the text will prove that the man who is the king, in so far as he doth those things that are against his office, may be resisted; and that in these we are not to be subject, but only we are to be subject to his power and royal authority, in abstracto, in so far as, according to his office, he is not a terror to good works, but to evil.

6. The lawful ruler is the minister of God, or the servant of God, for good to the commonwealth; and to resist the servant in that wherein he is a servant, and using the power that he hath from his master, is to resist the Lord his master. But the man who is the king, commanding unjust things, and killing the innocent, in these acts is not the minister of God for the good of the commonwealth; — he serveth himself and papists, and prelates, for the destruction of religion, laws, and commonwealth: therefore the man may be resisted; by this text, when the office and power cannot be resisted.

7. The ruler, as the ruler, and the nature and intrinsical end of the office is, that he bear God’s sword as an avenger to execute wrath on him that doth evil, — and so cannot be resisted without sin. But the man who is the ruler, and commandeth things unlawful, and killeth the innocent, carrieth the papist’s and prelate’s sword to execute, not the righteous judgment of the Lord upon the ill-doer, but his own private revenge upon him that doth well; therefore, the man may be resisted, the office may not be resisted; and they must be two different things.

8. We must needs be subject to the royal office for conscience, by reason of the fifth commandment; but we must not needs be subject to the man who is king, if he command things unlawful; for Dr Ferne warranteth us to resist, if the ruler invade us suddenly, without colour of law or reason, and unavoidably; and Winzetus, Barclay, and Grotius, as before I cited, give us leave to resist a king turning a cruel tyrant; but Paul (Rom. xiii.) forbiddeth us to resist the power, in abstracto; therefore, it must be the man, in concreto, that we must resist.

9. Those we may not resist to whom we owe tribute, as a reward of the onerous work on which they, as ministers of God, do attend continually. But we owe not tribute to the king as a man, — for then should we be indebted tribute to all men, — but as a king, to whom the wages of tribute is due, as to a princely workman, — a king as a king; — therefore, the man and the king are different.

10. We owe fear and honour as due to be rendered to the man who is king, because he is a king, not because he is a man; for it is the highest fear and honour duo to any mortal man, which is due to the king, as king.

11. The man and the inferior judge are different; and we cannot, by this text, resist the inferior judge, as a judge, but we resist the ordinance of God, as the text proveth. But cavaliers resist the inferior judges as men, and have killed divers members of both houses of parliament; but they will not say that they killed them as judges, but as rebels. If therefore, to be a rebel, as a wicked man, and to be a judge, are differenced thus, then, to be a man, and commit some acts of tyranny, and to be the supreme judge and king, are two different things.

12. The congregation, in a letter to the nobility, (Knox, Hist. of Scotland, l. 2.) say, “There is great difference betwixt the authority, which is God’s ordinance, and the persons of those who are placed in authority, The authority and God’s ordinance can never do wrong, for it commandeth that vice and wicked men be punished, and virtue, with virtuous men and just, be maintained; but the corrupt person placed in this authority may offend, and most commonly do contrary to this authority. And is then the corruption of man to be followed, by reason that it is clothed with the name of authority?” And they give instance in Pharaoh and Saul, who were lawful kings and yet corrupt men. And certainly the man and the divine authority differ, as the subject and the accident, — as that which is under a law and can offend God, and that which is neither capable of law nor sin.

13. The king, as king, is a just creature, and by office a living and breathing law. His will, as he is king, is nothing but a just law; but the king, as a sinful man, is not a just creature, but one who can sin and play the tyrant; and his will, as a private sinful man, is a private will, and may be resisted. So the law saith, “The king, as king, can do no wrong,” but the king, as a man, may do a wrong. While as, then, the parliaments of both kingdoms resist the king’s private will, as a man, and fight against his illegal cutthroats, sent out by him to destroy his native subjects, they fight for him as a king, and obey his public legal will, which is his royal will, de jure; and while he is absent from his parliaments as a man, he is legally and in his law-power present, and so the parliaments are as legal as if he were personally present with them.

…1. Not we only, but the Holy Ghost, in terminis, hath this distinction, Acts iv. 19; v. 29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Then rulers (for of rulers sitting in judgment is that speech uttered) commanding and tyrannising over the apostles, are men contradistinguished from God; and as they command and punish unjustly, they are but men, otherwise commanding for God, they are gods, and more than men…

…2. But let not the royalist infer that I am from these examples pleading for the killing of kings; for lawful resistance is one thing, and killing of kings is another, — the one defensive and lawful, the other offensive and unlawful, so long as he remaineth a king, and the Lord’s anointed…

However the abstract is put for the concrete, it is true, and it saith we are not to rail upon Nero; but to say Nero was a persecutor of Christians, and yet obey him commanding what is just, are very consistent.

But, again, by a person, we mean nothing less than the man Nero wasting Rome, burning, crucifying Paul, and torturing Christians; and that we owe subjection to Nero, and to his person in concreto, as to God’s ordinance, God’s minister, God’s sword-bearer, in that notion of a person, is that only that we deny. Nay, in that Nero, in concreto, to us is no power ordained of God, no minister of God, but a minister of the devil, and Satan’s armour-bearer, and therefore we owe not fear, honour, subjection, or tribute to the person of Nero.

…It is true, so long as kings remain kings, subjection is due to them because kings; but that is not the question. The question is, if subjection be due to them, when they use their power unlawfully and tyrannically. Whatever David did, though he was a king, he did it not as king; he deflowered not Bathsheba as king, and Bathsheba might with bodily resistance and violence lawfully have resisted king David, though kingly power remained in aim, while he should thus attempt to commit adultery; else David might have said to Bathsheba, “Because I am the Lord’s anointed, it is rebellion in thee, a subject, to oppose any bodily violence to my act of forcing of thee; it is unlawful to thee to cry for help, for if any shall offer violently to rescue thee from me, he resisteth the ordinance of God.” Subjection is due to Nero as an emperor, but not any subjection is due to him in the burning of Rome, and torturing of Christians, except you say that Nero’s power abused in these acts of cruelty was, 1. A power from God. 2. An ordidance of God. 3. That in these he was the minister of God for the good of the commonwealth. Because some believed Christians were free from the yoke of magistracy, and that the dignity itself was unlawful; and because (c. 12) he had set down the lawful church rulers, and in this and the following chapter; the duties of brotherly love of one toward another; so here (c. 13) he teacheth that all magistrates, suppose heathen, are to be obeyed and submitted unto in all things, so far as they are minion of God. Arnisæus objecteth to Buchanan If we are by this place to subject ourself to every power, in abstracto, then also to a power contrary to the truth, and to a power of a king exceeding the limits of a king; for such a power is a power, and we are not to distinguish where the law distinguisheth.

Ans. 1. — The law clearly distinguisheth we are to obey parents in the Lord, and if Nero command idolatry, this is an excessive power. Are we obliged to obey, because the law distinguished not? 2. The text saith we are to obey every power from God that is God’s ordinance, by which the man is a minister of God for good; but an unjust and excessive power is none of these three. 3. The text in words distinguisheth not obedience active in things wicked and lawful, yet we are to distinguish…

 

If, for conscience, I am to suffer unjustly, when Nero commandeth unjust punishment, because Nero commanding so, remaineth God’s minister, why, but when Nero commandeth me to worship an heathen god, I am upon the same ground to obey that unjust will in doing ill; for Nero, in commanding idolatry, remaineth the Lord’s minister, his person is sacred in the one commandment of doing ill, as in inflicting ill of punishment. And do I not resist his person in the one as in the other? His power and his person are as inseparably conjoined by God in the one as in the other.

2. In bodily thrusting out of Uzziah from the temple, these fourscore valiant men did resist the king’s person by bodily violence, as well as his power.

3. If the power of killing the martyrs in Nero was no power ordained of God, then the resisting of Nero, in his taking away the lives of the martyrs, was but the resisting of tyranny; and certainly, if that power in Nero was tetagme/nh a power ordained of God, and not to be resisted, as the place (Rom. xiii.) is alleged by royalists, then it must be a lawful power, and no tyranny; and if it cannot be resisted, because it was a power ordained and settled in him, it is either settled by God, and so not tyranny, (except God be the author of tyranny,) or then settled by the devil, and so may well be resisted. But the text speaketh of no power but of that which is of God.

4. We are not to be subject to all powers in concreto, by the text; for we are not to be subject to powers lawful, yet commanding active obedience to things unlawful. Now subjection includeth active obedience of honour, love, fear, paying tribute, and therefore of need force, some powers must be excepted.

5. Pilate’s power is merely a power by divine permission, not a power ordained of God, as are the powers spoken of, Rom. xiii. Gregorius (mor. l. 3, c. 11) expressly saith, — “This was Satan’s power given to Pilate against Christ. Manibus Satanæ pro nostra redemptione se tradidit.” Lyra, “A principibus Romanorum et ulterius permissum a deo, qui est potestas, superior.” Calvin, Beza and Diodatus, saith the same; and that he cannot mean of legal power from God’s regulating will is evident, 1. Because Christ is answering Pilate, (John xix. 10,) “Knowest though not that I have power to crucify thee?” This was an untruth. Pilate had a command to worship him, and believe in him; and whereas Ferne saith, (sect. 9, p. 59,) “Pilate had power to judge any accused before him;” it is true; but he being obliged to believe in Christ, he was obliged to believe in Christ’s innocency, and so neither to judge nor receive accusation against him; and the power he saith he had to crucify, was a law-power in Pilate’s meaning, but not in very deed any law power; because a law-power is from God’s regulating will in the fifth commandment, but no creature hath a lawful or a law-power to crucify Christ. 2. A law-power is for good. (Rom. xiii. 4,) a power to crucify Christ is for ill. 3. A law-power is a terror to ill works, and a praise to good; Pilate’s power to crucify Christ was the contrary. 4. A law-power is to execute wrath on ill-doing, a power to crucify Christ is no such. 5. A law-power conciliateth honour, fear, and veneration, to the person of the judge, a power to crucify Christ conciliateth no such thing, but a disgrace to Pilate. 6. The genuine acts of a lawful power are lawful acts; for such as is the fountain-power, such are the acts flowing therefrom. Good acts flow not from bad powers, neither hath God given a power to sin, except by way of permission.
[1] Arnisæus de potest. princip. c. 2, 11, 17.

[2] Grot. de jur. et pacis, l. 1, c. 4, n. 7.

[3] Winzetus Velitat. adver. Buchanan.

[4] Barcl. adv. Monarchom. lib. 3. c. 8.

______

[5] Not yet confirmed.


 

See also:

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Ownership, Rights, Christ Owns the World?

In a certain Christian Facebook group, the below comment was written:

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This sounds pious, but it is highly misleading and wrongheaded. The debate over property rights is not a matter of whether a certain piece of property is owned by either us or God. Rather, conversations relating to property rights and property ownership refers to who has the legal authority– among men– to make decisions regarding the scarce resources in the world. Property is scarce and individuals each have different desires in mind for how to employ given resources. But we cannot all have our way. Thus, we need a way to determine who has the legal authority to make decisions.

As a solution to this, God has delegated authority to individual stewards and we are told that man has the freedom to use the property under his stewardship according to his or her own determination. We know this because it is wrong to steal, that is, to decide the use of a given resource without the authority of the owner. This does not imply, of course, that every decision regarding the use of that property is per se morally sound; but rather that despite its moral soundness or unsoundness, other men are not allowed to interfere in the use of the property in discordance with the wishes of the steward.

This is the foundation of civilization, for economy, for the furtherance of the world societies. Without property rights, without a clear determination of who owns what, there is only chaos and decivilization.

Property rights are therefore a wonderful gift to mankind.

Finally, man cannot give up his rights. This is a common mistake. He can choose not to exercise them, but they cannot be alienated from him because God created the rights as part of mankind’s nature. That is, these rights have been imputed to the human race, on an individual basis, and the only choice that man has is either to not exercise them for themselves (as in the commenters statement) or else completely ignore their existence in others (in the case of governments, criminals, etc.).

Ironically, in the comment above, it is the respect of rights that could immediately solve the problem of Christians dying. It is a turning away from the systemic breach of rights by thug groups and states, that could magnificently shift the sad situation into a more peaceful scenario.

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The Benedict Option Isn’t “Two Kingdoms” Enough

Brandon already made excellent points about the Benedict Option and I don’t have much more to add. But one thing stands out to me and I’ve had something on my mind for a couple weeks and this is a good excuse to mention it.

First, a summary of the Benedict Option. Dreher:

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.

Important clarifying interpretation from Brandon:

Dreher laments the downfall of Christendom and sees the Benedict Option as a backup plan to keep Christianity afloat (he calls it an ark) during the coming “dark age” until it can re-emerge when people are “ready to hear the gospel again” in order to re-establish Christendom (“establish your shelter, your monastery in a safe place so you can be there for the rebuilding”).

Now my own take. The Benedict Option is being seen as an alternative to One Kingdom cultural transformationalism. It is being seen as an alternative to the “change the world” mentality. Thus, the danger exists of seeing all dissenters from the Benedict Option as being in the alternative camp. So when I say the Benedict Option isn’t quite where I’m at, I actually mean that I am on the opposite extreme as the transformationalists.

As Brandon noted, the problem with the Benedict Option is not in its “withdrawing from the world” per se, it is in its assumption that there is ever a time to pursue Christendom at all. Dreher thinks that “now is the time” to seek shelter and live “in the world but not of the world.” The problem with this is that it is not radical enough; it does not emphasize our pilgrimage enough; it is not reflective of a strong Two Kingdoms paradigm because it sees our current predicament as a backup plan.

Thus, the Benedict Option does not go far enough. It does not separate that which is temporary (the physical world) from that which is eternal (ideas/truths) in a consistent matter. It waits for a time when Christendom will return, when temporary institutions can once again be united with the Church. But this misses the entire point of Two Kingdoms theology.

Now, don’t get me wrong at all. From a cultural commentator standpoint, I tend to enjoy Dreher and the rest of the American Conservative folks. I certainly read their content and am pleased that there is a voice on the right that is not leftist/neoconservative. I love the Old Right and traditional conservatism. But the Benedict Option isn’t quite where I’m at, though it’s heading in the right direction by withdrawing from the empire. I would just ask that it be more radical in doing so.

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Rothbard on Trump

Didn’t think it was possible, did you?

A Strategy for the Right, first published in 1992 in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, it is the opening chapter in a compilation of Rothbard’s essays, entitled “The Irrepressible Rothbard.”

What I call the Old Right is suddenly back!

Rothbard felt the proper home for libertarians was with the right – the old right made up of anti-New Deal elements, for example H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, and Garet Garrett.  He also points to Howard Buffet (Warren’s dad) and Robert Taft.

The old right also included those who were against American involvement in World War II.

…contrary to accepted myth, the Original Right did not disappear with, and was not discredited by, our entry into World War II. On the contrary, the congressional elections of 1942 — elections neglected by scholars — were a significant victory not only for conservative Republicans, but for isolationist Republicans as well.

Neglected by me, as well; but no longer.  Regarding the House of Representatives:

The 1942 United States House of Representatives elections was held in the middle of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s third term.  The main factor that led to the Republican gains during this election cycle was concern over World War II and American involvement.

Roosevelt’s Democratic Party lost 45 seats, retaining only a slender majority even though they lost the popular vote by over 1 million votes (3.9%).

What?  They lost the popular vote and still won a majority?  I say the Russians did it – and for this claim I actually have some evidence: Roosevelt’s administration was found to be loaded with Soviet agents, sprinkled throughout; Roosevelt’s favorite uncle was named “Joe.”

Regarding the Senate:

The United States Senate elections of 1942 were held November 3, 1942, midway through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term as President. Although this election took place during World War II, the opposition Republican party made major gains, taking eight seats from the Democrats and one from an independent.

Returning to Rothbard and his writing on Trump:

The Marxists, who have spent a great deal of time thinking about strategy for their movement, always pose the question: Who is the agency of social change? Which group may be expected to bring about the desired change in society?

He first examines what he calls the Hayekian model: convert the top philosophers and intellectuals, and then watch the trickle-down effects.

… I hate to break this to you, intellectuals, academics, and the media are not all motivated by truth alone.

Rothbard believes it will take a few centuries for the trickle-down theory to produce fruit, so he moves on to other possibilities: the “Fabian strategy,” used by the left to gradually increase state power, should be used in reverse.  Such is the wish of beltway libertarian and conservative think-tanks.

The flaw here, however, is that what works to increase state power does not work in reverse. For the Fabians were gently nudging the ruling elite precisely in the direction they wanted to travel anyway.

Twenty-five years after Rothbard wrote these words, the lack of fruit due to such beltway efforts is obvious.

What does Rothbard suggest?

Therefore, in addition to converting intellectuals to the cause, the proper course for the right-wing opposition must necessarily be a strategy of boldness and confrontation, of dynamism and excitement, a strategy, in short, of rousing the masses from their slumber and exposing the arrogant elites that are ruling them, controlling them, taxing them, and ripping them off.

And so the proper strategy for the right wing must be what we can call “right-wing populism”: exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational, rousing and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often-shell-shocked right-wing intellectual cadre as well.

He was writing in the time of Pat Buchanan.  He might as well have been writing about Trump.

It seems someone decided to put the Rothbardian strategy to work: Robert Mercer, described as a “reclusive hedge fund manager” and his family.

During the past decade, Mercer, who is seventy, has funded an array of political projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise…. “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government.”

My kind of guy.

There was a time that Mercer was aligned with the Koch brothers, of Cato fame:

By 2011, the Mercers had joined forces with Charles and David Koch, who own Koch Industries, and who have run a powerful political machine for decades. The Mercers attended the Kochs’ semiannual seminars, which provide a structure for right-wing millionaires looking for effective ways to channel their cash.

He and his family soon figured out – as did Rothbard decades before – that the Koch brothers’’ strategy would never achieve much of anything toward real change.  After spending heavily alongside the Koch’s to get Romney elected in 2012…

Rebekah Mercer, meanwhile, was growing impatient with the Kochs. She felt that they needed to investigate why their network had failed to defeat Obama in 2012. Instead, the Kochs gathered donors and presented them with more empty rhetoric. Mercer demanded an accounting of what had gone wrong, and when they ignored her she decided to start her own operation. In a further blow, Mercer soured several other top donors on the Kochs.

Murray must have that “I told you so” look on his face about now, as evidenced in his further comments:

It is important to realize that the establishment doesn’t want excitement in politics, it wants the masses to continue to be lulled to sleep. It wants kinder, gentler; it wants the measured, judicious, mushy tone, and content, of a James Reston, a David Broder, or a Washington Week in Review. It doesn’t want a Pat Buchanan [Donald Trump], not only for the excitement and hard edge of his content, but also for his similar tone and style.

Koch = establishment = Romney; Mercer = in your face = Trump.  Which path offers the better chance for change?  Mercer listened to Rothbard and succeeded; the Kochs kicked Rothbard out and have achieved…nada.

Justin Raimondo gets it:

Libertarianism today is a confused jumble of leftist “lifestylism,” virtue-signaling, and emotional impulses disguised as a political program. You just have to take a look at the Gary Johnson/Bill Weld farrago to see this. On the one hand, the pro-drugs “live and let live” rhetoric, and on the other a declared adherence to a vague “centrism,” brewed a counterintuitive amalgam of “rebelliousness” and pandering to the Establishment. Thus you had Johnson blathering on about the wonders of pot while Weld was endorsing Hillary Clinton. A more disgraceful campaign—in the name of “libertarianism”—would be hard to imagine.

These people have zero understanding of the Trump phenomenon—and I would go further and say they have no conception of the political. Conflating individualism with narcissism, they utilize ideology as a form of self-actualization rather than, say, a way to save the country.

While I have been “associated” with libertarianism, it’s important to note that this association, for most of my career, has been with the perspective of the late Murray N. Rothbard—and Rothbardianism is as different from “official” libertarianism” as it is from modern liberalism.

He goes on to offer:

Buchanan was the necessary prelude to Trumpism, and Pat is clearly the father of that revolution—a fact that is almost never acknowledged.

I will only slightly modify this last sentence: Ron Paul played a key role in this revolution during the time between Buchanan and Trump – both in 2008 and 2012.  The thread runs through Dr. Paul.

Conclusion

Yeah, we all get it: Trump is no libertarian; Trump may even be a Trojan Horse or even co-opted.  This isn’t the point.  What he is, or more importantly what he represents, is the key: a complete rejection of the status quo

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The Sadness of Ludwig von Mises

Ludwig-von-MisesLudwig von Mises:

“Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But…I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.”

Since my college years, I’ve had a hidden fascination with the history and culture– and tragic disintegration of– Old World Austria. One might suppose that my interest in Austrian economics plays a heavy role in that, but while true, there’s always been something deeper than that. Perhaps it was my own mother’s love of the Sound of Music movie. I always connected, at an emotional level, with the tale of Captain von Trapp and the sad fall of Old Austria.

In one scene in the movie, von Trapp gazes off into the distance and reflects on the rise of democratic statism and very painfully laments a “world that is slowly fading away.” It’s a sad moment. Internationalistic statism was gaining the upper hand in Europe and forever changing the European landscape. It was the rise of globalism, of one-world-orderism, multiculturalism, the loss of national sovereignty.

Mises' apartment door-- from my trip
Mises’ apartment door– from my trip

Did you know that the Habsburgs, the Family Elite of Old Austria, opponents of global government and the evils of democracy, were supporters of Ludwig von Mises? The son still lives and even reflected on the Mises he remembered.

For my first anniversary, my wife and I travelled to Vienna for two weeks. It was remarkable. I was able to visit Mises’ apartment, walk where he walked, read where he read. It was surreal.

For all his heroism and courage, Mises too felt the deep pain and loss of the beloved culture of his ancestors. It was not just that Hitler was a bad man. It’s that socialism and revolutionary leftism destroyed an entire Old World culture that pulled deeply at Mises’ heart. In fact, his wife Margit reflected on this pain when she wrote:

From the day of our marriage he never talked about our past. If I reminded him now and then of something, he cut me short. It was as if he had put the past in a trunk, stored it in the attic, and thrown away the key. In thirty-five years of marriage he never, never– not with a single word– referred to our life together during the thirteen years before our marriage.

The decade before their marriage was their time in Austria, before they were forced to flee as the Nazis raided his apartment and burned his books and writings. It was too painful, what became of his beloved homeland. Indeed, for Mises, the rise of socialism and the German statism was a reflection of a “world that was fading away.” Margit:

Lu followed the political situation in Germany and Austria with passionate interest. He saw the slippery road the Austrian leaders were forced upon. He knew Hitler’s rise to power would endanger Austria, and he knew exactly what the future would bring. Only the date was a secret to him. Lu was a typical Austrian. He loved his native country, the mountains, the city of Vienna, the beauty of the old palaces, the crooked streets, the fountains-but this, too, was something so deeply imbedded in his soul he rarely would talk about it. But I knew how he felt and how deeply he was hurt.

I took this photo of the Schonbrunn Palace.
I took this photo of the Schonbrunn Palace.

Not many people understand how the world changed during the world wars. It was during these times that the entire west became rich soil for the doctrines of etatism (Mises’ word, which meant statism) and socialism and democratic egalitarianism. Which is why Rothbard’s essay on World War I is called “World War I as Fulfillment.” War is the stepping stone to cultural and academic upheaval. Hence why Progressives love war and true conservatives despise it.

When one reflects on the fall of Western Civilization, it’s not just the state itself that must be blamed. It’s the entire culture. Look at what happened to Charles Murray. Everything is racist, sexist, bigoted. These words have no meaning. They are merely bully clubs intended to destroy the remnants of Old World traditions and mannerisms.

Consider then Margit’s remembrance of Mises’ pain:

In retrospect I judge these attacks differently, and I believe I understand the reason for them. Lu wrote some notes in 1940, and I read them again and again. He wrote of Austria and of Carl Menger, who as early as 1910 recognized that not only Austria but the whole world was getting nearer to a catastrophe. Lu, thinking alike, tried to fight this with all the means he had at his disposal. But he recognized the fight would be hopeless, and he got depressed– as were all the best minds in Europe in the twenties and thirties.

He knew that if the world would turn its back to capitalism and liberalism (in the old sense of the word) it would tumble into wars and destruction that would mean the end of civilization. This terrible fight against corruption, against the foes of liberty and the free market had broken the spirit of Menger, had thrown a dark shadow over the life of Lu’s teacher and friend Max Weber, and had destroyed the vitality and the will to live of his friend and collaborator Wilhelm Rosenberg.

Theirs was a fight for a world that did not want to be helped. Few people recognized the danger, and even fewer were readyto fight alongside Lu. It was like being on a sinking ship on which people were dancing though the end was near. Lu recognized the danger. He knew how to help his fellow passengers. He tried to lead them to the right exit, but they did not follow him– and now doom knocked at the door.

_________________________

“Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But…I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.” –LvM

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The Benedict Option?

After listening to two interviews (here and here) with Rod Dreher about his new book The Benedict Option, and reading his FAQ, I really don’t think he has anything to offer Reformed Christians.

At first, he seemed to have a good thesis:

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.

Three cheers for that! Dreher seemed to be criticizing the idea of Christendom, where the church and the world are one. He notes

As lay Christians, we have to build some kind of walls to separate ourselves from the world so that we can continue to go out into the world and minister to people and be who Christ asked us to be. The culture itself is so toxic and so anti-Christian that we’re just not going to make it if we let anybody and anything come into our hearts and into our imaginations.” (Mohler @39:00)

Three cheers! Christ established his church to be in the world, but not of it. The church is a gathering of those called out of the world and it establishes the wall of membership to distinguish itself from the world and through the means of grace to put to death the love of the world. Christendom severely compromised this call by equating the world and the church. Living in Christendom, Calvin commented upon 1 Cor. 5:10-12 “Paul said this at a time when Christians were as yet mingled with heathens, and dispersed among them, what ought to be done now, when all have given themselves to Christ in name?… [T]here are none that are strangers, when all take upon themselves Christ’s name, and are consecrated to him by baptism.” In this sense, the fall of Christendom is to be cheered for Christendom has always been an enemy of the kingdom of Christ.

But that is not what Dreher has in mind. Rather, Dreher laments the downfall of Christendom and sees the Benedict Option as a backup plan to keep Christianity afloat (he calls it an ark) during the coming “dark age” until it can re-emerge when people are “ready to hear the gospel again” in order to re-establish Christendom (“establish your shelter, your monastery in a safe place so you can be there for the rebuilding”). Dreher’s focus throughout is this world, this life, the kingdom of this world. Ironically then, the Benedict Option is a very worldly call for Christians to separate from the world. Why? Because Christians are not of this world? No, because the world is no longer Christian.

As others have noted, when you listen to everything Dreher has to say, the Benedict Option is really nothing more than a call to be intentional about being a Christian. Be careful what you listen to and watch and read. Be intentional about community and education. Be intentional about raising your children. All basic stuff. Of course the question is, why do we have to start being intentional now? Well, because Christendom has fallen and Christianity is no longer the dominant worldview, therefore Christians need to be deliberate and intentional about their Christian life. Before you could just go to school and go to work like everyone else, watch the same stuff as everyone else and live like everyone else and still be a Christian, because we lived in a Christian nation. But now we don’t, so now you have to stop and think and be intentional about being a Christian, since most people aren’t anymore. So now, “to live in the world as faithful Christians [will] require some critical withdrawal from the mainstream.”

This worldly focus comes as little surprise when you find out Dreher “came to Christ through the Roman Catholic Church” and that he “read [his] way into the Roman Catholic Church from being an agnostic, atheist teenager… It was a very intellectual conversation. I was extremely prideful intellectually. I thought that if I had the syllogism in my head, my faith could withstand any trial.” But later he realized he needed more than a syllogism (proving the existence of God), he also needed ritual. So he became Eastern Orthodox, where he made his faith “incarnate.” There is little evidence Dreher is someone who has been convicted of his sinfulness and his need for a Savior, rather than simply someone who found atheism, and then the Roman Catholic Church, untenable. Consider how Dreher thinks Mormons relate to the Benedict Option.

One thing that’s really delighted me and surprised me in doing this research is to get to know more about what the LDS church does. Leaving theological concerns aside, as a social entity they do a terrific job of integrating faith with communal life and to looking out for each other. I think the rest of us from the older Christian traditions have a lot to learn from Mormons.

The Benedict Option is a thoroughly worldly vision of cultural transformation written by a cultural commentator (who admits he’s kind of making it up as he goes). He does not have anything to offer Reformed Christians about how to live our life as pilgrims in this world. Go listen to some expository preaching on Christian living instead. (That doesn’t mean everything he says is wrong, it just means there’s no reason to look to him for answers)

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Vern Poythress’ Critique of Prisons

From Vern Poythress’ The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (which is very worth reading, though I would disagree with and refine many points).

15 A Critique of Prisons

How do we evaluate the present systems of criminal justice in modern societies? Most modern societies use imprisonment as the primary form of punishment for crime. Some limited steps have been taken here and there to introduce alternative punishments, such as making thieves pay back for their theft. But such alternatives are the exception rather than the rule. For practical purposes we must focus attention on the value of imprisonment as a form of punishment.

First of all we should distinguish carefully between using prison for punishment and using it as a means of custody before trial. The use of some form of custody until the time of trial is attested in the Bible itself (Lev. 24:12; Acts 21:34; 23:35) and is widespread elsewhere. Sometimes no reasonable alternative is available. In such cases the temporary use of a prison is surely legitimate. To prevent this practice from becoming an unacknowledged or unintentional form of punishment, state authorities have an obligation to work for practices that promote speedy trial. In addition, the provision for bail works in favor of preventing unjust punishment in the form of confinement.

The deliberate use of prison for the purpose of punishing convicted offenders is quite another matter. In practice, it is a disaster. The statistics with regard to repeated offenders give a grim picture. Those who have been involved in prisons, either as state authorities or especially as prisoners, testify to their ineffectiveness, oppressiveness, and destructive tendencies.1

But I prefer to base my arguments on principle rather than on the actual results of the prison system. If I were to appeal only to actual results, I would leave open the possibility that prison reform could straighten out the system. I do not believe that any reform could be adequate, because the system is wrongheaded from the beginning.

To evaluate properly the principle of imprisonment, we must use biblical criteria. As we have seen, proper response to crime involves four aspects, namely restoration, punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Restoration and punishment must be our primary concern. But deterrence and rehabilitation can be significant secondary indicators of whether a proposed solution makes contact with the reality of the human condition.

Does prison justly restore and punish?

Does prison promote just restoration for crimes? Restoration means making things good to the victim of a crime. The victim’s situation must be restored as far as possible to its original condition before the crime. Or if such restoration is not possible, some other kind of restoration to normalcy is appropriate, as when the thief gives back a substitute for a destroyed object, or when the fornicator is forced to marry his partner.

Prison in itself obviously restores nothing. Moreover, in cases where restoration involves the use of money, prison works against restoration by destroying the offender’s capacity to work in order to obtain money to pay the victim.

Does prison promote just punishment? Just punishment, as we have argued, always fits the crime. It always matches the nature and the intensity of the crime according to the principle, “As you have done, it will be done to you.” The only crime for which imprisonment would be the fitting penalty would be the crime of imprisoning someone else! A kidnapper might of course imprison the victim, and so one might deduce the penalty of imprisonment in this special case. But as we have seen in chapter 11, kidnapping also constitutes a usurpation of the authority of the state and as such merits the death penalty. The punishment of imprisonment does not cope with the full guilt attaching to kidnapping.

On a very general level one might argue that all crimes are abuses of the offender’s social powers and his tacit agreements with society. Hence such abuses are met by depriving the offender of interaction with society. But such reasoning grossly misconstrues the nature of crime. It pretends that crime is an offense against the criminal’s social rights, that is, an offense against the criminal himself, and also an offense against society as a whole, that is, society in the abstract. Neither is true. Crime is an offense against the victim. It is a much more personal thing than this reasoning admits, and not seeing the personal character of crime is one of the criminal’s main problems.

Yet another difficulty arises with respect to imprisonment. No plausible means exists for determining a just quantity of punishment. If the punishment matches the crime, as in my proposals in chapters 10-12, its quantity is automatically determined at least in a rough way. A theft of a small amount is met by a penalty proportional to this amount. The theft of a large amount is met by a penalty of a corresponding amount. But what do we do if we must use only the penalty of imprisonment? How much time in prison corresponds to the amount of a theft? We cannot say, because time and money do not directly match. How much time corresponds to murder? How much time to bodily injury? How much time to rape? How much time to adultery? Amount of time does not quantify any crime in a reasonable way.

We might perhaps propose to quantify some things by converting between quantities of money and quantities of time. An amount of time in some circumstances can be reckoned as equivalent to the amount of money that a person could earn during the given amount of time (see Exod. 21:19). But can we use such a criterion to deal with imprisonment? If the time really is equivalent to the corresponding amount of money, we should be satisfied with a monetary payment and not imprisonment. But in fact we are not satisfied, which indicates that the two are not really equivalent. Moreover, the question arises as to whether people who can command a higher salary should therefore be confined for less time. Such a position would offend all our sense of justice. Clearly imprisonment is not merely loss of working time, but in its essence something else altogether. What is it? An extreme form of slavery in which the wardens of the prison have much more detailed control in comparison with most historical instances of slavery? A form of slavery chosen to deprive the criminal of the normal pleasures of slavery, such as meaningful work, access to larger society, some degree of privacy, and social intimacy with spouse and family? What is this monster that we have invented, and how can it ever be just punishment?

Does prison effectively deter and rehabilitate?

Does prison deter crime? As long as the criminal is in prison, he is prevented from preying on the larger society. If and when he is released from prison, there is no guarantee whatsoever that he will not repeat his crime. Because doing time does not effectively match the nature of the criminal’s crime, it does not effectively take away his motive for committing crime again.

An even more telling objection arises from the nature of the small subsociety or subculture within a prison. Prisoners are not totally prevented from preying on fellow prisoners. Murders, rapes, and thefts do take place within prisons. Such possibilities make a mockery of justice. The very thing that is supposed to be punishment becomes the scene of more crime. Prison does not thoroughly deter crime but simply transports crime to another location.

Moreover, the fact of crime within prisons suggests that the real desires of society may be less lofty than its altruistic rhetoric. The motives of a society as a whole are of course varied and confused. But a cynical analysis might suggest the following. The outside society is not really concerned with true deterrence but with its own comfort. By removing criminals from its midst it obtains the comfort of not having so much crime. Subsequently it cares very little for whether crime is deterred inside the prison, as long as this crime is concealed and does not cause guilt feelings. To confine the prisoners for a lifetime would of course produce the greatest freedom from crime for the outside society. But the larger society would feel guilty about such a severe penalty. So it releases criminals after a time for the sake of comforting its own guilt feelings. The amount of time spent in prison is not determined by justice but by the interplay between social desire for freedom from crime and social desire for absence of guilt feelings. In all this interplay society can act with perfect selfishness. At the same time it can pretend that prisons are intended to provide criminals with a rehabilitative environment, and hence it can congratulate itself for having motives of concern for the rehabilitation of criminals rather than their punishment. Such selfishness will naturally produce largely cynicism and not repentance on the part of criminals.

Does prison offer significant hope for rehabilitation? Criminals have the most hope for rehabilitation if they feel the justice of their punishment. As I have argued in the previous chapter, such results are far more likely under a system that takes care to think explicitly in terms of principles of reciprocity and justice. In addition, criminals have a greater chance to reform if they are in normal contact with normal society. They then have opportunity immediately to engage in just, socially profitable work and contributions to others. The abnormalities of prison life can never become a viable environment for training in righteousness. In fact, prison frequently produces results in the opposite direction because the morality of a subculture of criminals reverses the morality of normal society.

In addition to all these factors, prison presents dangerous temptations to injustice on the part of the wardens, guards, and supervisors of the prison. Let us grant that many who are charged with prison supervision act out of true good will and as a service to society. They often do so within circumstances that are personally very difficult for them and sometimes dangerous to their own safety. But there is another side that we seldom think about. Supervisors and guards are exposed to temptations that can easily bring out the worst in anyone. They supervise prisoners some of whom are unpleasant people, sometimes vindictive, spiteful, deceitful, or obnoxious. Petty offenses and back talk from prisoners tempt supervisors to return evil with evil. The substandard morality of many prisoners tempts them to treat all prisoners as subhuman and to prejudge prisoners even before the prisoners do something against them. The prisoners have little effective way of making an appeal against injustice, and unjust acts on the part of supervisors are concealed within the prison from the eyes of the larger society. Hence injustice can be practiced with impunity. Supervisors have virtually totalitarian control over prisoners, and such absolute power tends to corrupt the human beings who possess it.

In sum, I would argue that the cases of injustice and sometimes gross inhumanity on the part of supervisors or guards are no accident but a natural product of the unjust, unworkable character of the system. We should be surprised that the system does not turn out even worse than it is.

As a last resort, one might argue that at least prison represents a kind of shadow of hell. In this very vague sense it expresses a kind of justice shadowing the justice of God’s judgment in hell. In reply I agree that prison imitates hell in one way. Just as hell isolates the damned and prevents them from contaminating the holiness of God’s renewed world, so prison prevents its inmates from contaminating the larger society. So long as people are in prison they are deterred from preying upon the larger society. But this result is deterrence, not justice. In other respects the problems remain. (1) Whereas hell expresses the justice of God, prison does not. (2) In hell people may well be prevented from exercising their unrighteous desires against others, but in prison they are still capable of injuring fellow prisoners. (3) The troubles of supervisors and guards still show prison to be ineffective even as an image of hell. (4) If we think that prison is so bad as to be a shadow of hell, are we still willing to argue that it is less bad than my proposed alternatives?

Meanwhile, as long as the present prison system exists, Christians must do what they can on behalf of prisoners (Matt 25:36-40). Through Prison Fellowship and other Christian organizations many opportunities exist to bring to prisoners friendship, community support, and the gospel itself, which is the power of God for salvation. A convenient list of resources can be found in Van Ness, Crime and Its Victims, pp. 193-217.

Chapter 15 Footnotes

1 For an introductory discussion, see Charles Colson, “Towards an Understanding of Imprisonment and Rehabilitation,” in John Stott and Nicholas Miller, eds., Crime and the Responsible Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), pp. 152-180.

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A 19th Century Presbyterian on Taxation as Theft

In this 1803 selection, American Presbyterian Covenanter Rev. Samuel B. Wylie, A.M. calls taxation theft because a government without divine authority that he does not consent to its taking money from him by force. (Covenanters believed that nations must covenant with God to defend the true religion. Since the United States advocated religious pluralism, they had no divine authority at all – at least in Wylie’s view).


Obj. 6. “The saints addressed them for justice, Acts 25:10,12, and 26:32, where the apostle appeals unto Caesar.”

To this I answer. An appeal to their tribunals, no more involves in it an homologation of their lawful dominion, than an appeal from a murderer to a thief, who would be disposed to save one’s life, would be an homologation of his living habitually in the breach of the eighth commandment. Suppose, for example, that Allegheny mountains were infested with a banditti of robbers, whose captain retained still so much humanity as to establish a law, that no poor man should be robbed of more than ten dollars—you happen to be crossing the mountain—five of the gang approach you, and rob you of one hundred, which is nearly your all—you meet with the master of the fraternity—you know the law—and believe that he still has as much humanity remaining as will induce him to execute it. Will you appeal to him to cause your ninety dollars to be refunded, which are due to you by his own law? If you do, will this implicate you in the immorality of the banditti, or be saying Amen to their unlawful practice? Certainly not. If this hold in the greater, it will surely hold in the less. If an appeal may be made to the captain of a band of robbers, without implication in his criminality, much more to these institutions which, though wrong in some fundamentals, are yet aiming at the good of civil society.

Obj. 7. “Christ himself both paid tribute and commanded his disciples to pay it, and that even to Caesar. Matt. 17:27, and 22:21. Was not this an acknowledgment of his authority?”

Ans. Simple payment of tribute never was considered as any homologation of the authority imposing it. It may be given to the worse of tyrants, if not demanded as a tessera of loyalty.

We might ask here, do the people of the United States homologate the authority of the Dey of Algiers, or, for conscience’ sake, recognize him as their legitimate ruler, when they pay their annual tribute to the haughty Musselman? Do they think that the dey has any moral right to demand such a thing? Do they not rather go upon the principle that it is better to give a part to save the remainder, than, by withholding, lose all? Such a course of conduct may be prudent and innocent with any band of robbers…

The other allegation brought from Matt. 22:21, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” &c., is equally unfounded.

It is abundantly evident, from the passage, that the question was intended to ensnare the Lord Jesus Christ, answer as he would. It was proposed by the Herodians and Pharisees; those, votaries for Roman domination, and these, the sticklers for Jewish immunities.

Had he said, “Give it to Caesar,” the Pharisees, ever ready to accuse him, would have represented him to the people as an enemy to their ancient privileges. Had he said, “Do not give it,” the Herodians would have represented him to Herod as an enemy to the government of Caesar. In the fifteenth verse, we are expressly told, they came to him with a view to “entangle him in his talk.” But he, “knowing their craftiness,” split their dilemma, and left their question undecided. He, on several other occasions, thus baffled his adversaries; as in John 8:4,12, in the case of the “woman taken in adultery,” and in Luke 12:14, when application was made to him concerning the settlement of the earthly inheritance. It is objected here, by some, “that this explanation of our Saviour’s answer represents the Lord Christ as shunning to declare the whole counsel of GOD—giving no answer in a case respecting sin and duty.” The inference is false. They were not without information on this very subject. They had the law and the prophets. The Lord Jesus Christ had given specific directions concerning the character of lawful rulers, Deut. 17:15, to whom it was lawful to pay tribute, for conscience’ sake. But it was not information they wanted, but to ensnare him, let him answer as he would, as has already been shown. If silence or refusing to answer in every case, even in matters respecting sin and duty, let the design of the querist be what it will be accounted criminal, in what point of light will the objector view the Lord Jesus Christ, when he finds him actually refusing to answer a question respecting sin and duty, in the case of his own authority? Mark 11:27,33: “Neither do I tell you (says he) by what authority I do these things.” It would be well, if men would consider the awful consequences of some of their objections, before they make them.

But, supposing that CHRIST, in both the instances alluded to, had commanded tribute to be paid to Caesar, what does it prove? Unless he commanded it to be paid as a tessera of loyalty, it proves no more the morality of Caesar’s right, than a minister of the gospel’s advising one of his hearers to give the robber part of his property, to secure the remainder, would, that the minister considered the robber morally entitled to it.

Obj. 8. “But you make use of the money which receives its currency from their sanction; and you support them by paying tribute, &c. Why not swear allegiance, hold offices?” &c.

Ans. We make use of the money, to be sure, but when we give an equivalent for it, by industry or otherwise, it is our own property; and another man’s stamping his name upon our coats is no reason why we should throw them away.

It must be granted, also, that we do support them, by paying tribute, &c. So do we the robber, unto whom we give a part to save the remainder. But will it therefore follow, that I may legally swear allegiance to him, or become one of his officers, in the business of robbery and plunder?…

Should a robber meet me on the highway, and upon finding that I had no money, put his bayonet to my breast; and should it appear evidently, that he intended to kill me, unless I would solemnly engage to take, or send him, a certain sum of money, in a given time, say fifty dollars, ought I not to comply? If I do, the oath is the result of mutual stipulation, which existing circumstances render eligible. It seems to me immaterial, whether the overture originates with him or with me. In either case, I consider it lawful to give fifty dollars to save my life.

TWO SONS OF OIL; Or THE FAITHFUL WITNESS For MAGISTRACY AND MINISTRY Upon A SCRIPTURAL BASIS.


Another American Presbyterian named William Findley, who served as part of Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Committee and served in the U.S. Congress for many years after that, responded to Wylie thus:

Another wonderful illustration, by which the American governments are designated robbers. Did ever the American government rob any man? No. The very insinuation of this is a seditious slander. The author knew that the sedition law was repealed before he wrote his book, but the same authority can renew it again. Robbers, if ever they are so generous as not to take all, give no equivalent for what they take. For what small tribute the author pays in this st ate, which goes wholly to making roads and bridges, or for court houses, courts, &c. the protection and accommodation of which the author and all aliens enjoy, as fully and freely as citizens do, is a full and ample equivalent, which they accept of, and enjoy. They pay no direct tax for the expense of the civil government of the state—this is paid out of another fund, which arose from the state doing more than her share during the distressing period of the war with Britain; of this, the hard earnings of the citizens, in other times, the author, &c. enjoy their proportion, without any equivalent, and they pay none to support the federal government. In England, from which we have copied much of our jurisprudence, allegiance is divided into two kinds, namely, the natural allegiance of natives, which they consider as perpetual, and the local and temporary allegiance, which is incidental to aliens. We have required hitherto only this last, for we have as yet made no law against expatriation, either of native or alien, but freely protect aliens without their giving allegiance. I have already shewn that all approved commentators on the Bible, or on civil and common law, and all moral and political writers, consider it a first principle or established moral maxim, that protection necessarily draws allegiance—that they are morally connected together—that they cannot be separated. This being the case, I recommend to the author to examine the questions over again, on more correct moral principles. In so doing, he will fi nd he has been mistaken; that the state has not robbed them; that it has received nothing but for an ample equivalent; that it did not seize their persons to bring them within their power, nor put them in fear, nor take from them, in this situation, money or goods. This is the legal technical definition of robbery. He will find also, from his own statement, that those whose cause he advocates, intruded themselves within our territory, enjoyed protection to their persons and property, and to their industry in acquiring property—And by his advice refuse allegiance, the only moral return for those very valuable benefits; but instead thereof spurn at the hand that received them when they were strangers, and fed and protected them without receiving the equivalent, which the law of nature, and nature’s God requires. If he does this impartially, he will certainly be convinced that he has cast the charge of robbery on the wrong side—that by the decision of the moral law, himself, and those whom he advocates, are the robbers, in receiving protection without an equivalent, and not the government, from whom they have experienced protection and forbearance, but no violence. (143-144)

For more on Findley see An American Presbyterian Argument Against Covenanters

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