General equity of Old Testament Law

Theonomy, reconstruction

Case law

Functional, practical antinomianism

Subjective spirituality, Christianity

Falsely applied psychology

I may be guilty of having expanded the “general equity” phrase beyond its true intent.  However, it is there in the Confession (COF XXI:4).  Has your pastor done the opposite and swept it under the rug?  When the committee presented Parliament with the Confession, the Parliament returned the Confession to the committee with the requirement that Scriptural proof texts be added to the Confession and Catechisms.  They were added, and I have a ratty old copy with them included.  I note that the O.T. is amply cited in these proof texts.  As just one example, at Q&A 183 in the Larger Catechism we find Gen. 32:11 adduced to the answer that, “We are to pray … for ourselves…”  The verse recounts an O.T. prayer for one’s self.  This O.T. occurrence becomes a didactic case in point for our N.T. time instruction, according to the authors of the catechism.  It is general equity in action.

By what arrogance and/or ignorance would a pastor even wish to cut off advice from the sages of the ages?  Reformed theology has always emphasized the continuity between the testaments.  The very phrase “general equity” precludes any attempt woodenly to walk O.T. jurisprudence over into different times and cultures, something that I think some theonomists are indeed guilty of.  But, to pitch out all of that revelation as irrelevant is to insist that God do it all again, just for us moderns.  Was this not the plea of the rich man in Hades?  “… but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent!  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'”  Luke 16:30 There is of course much in this parable, but the illicit desire to have continuing personal revelations is here refused.  The whole Scripture is God’s revelation.  Surely, we must grasp it in context of its times and modes of expression, but we must not airily dismiss large parts of it.  We should leave that error to the hyperdispensationalists.  It is not required that the N.T. restate the O.T. in order for it to be instructive and binding.  Further, there is no bright line dividing the moral law from the civil law of the nation of Israel.

Arguing from consequences (albeit an intrinsically weak argument, I think) is also unsettling to those who would utterly dismiss theonomy.  They cannot abide the consequences of this dismissal.  If we do not accord weight to O.T. case law, all we are left with is that we reproduce it on our own.  Job is our critic when we do this.  “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.”  (Job 12:2a) To leave Christians today with the O.T. moral law, stripped of its interpretive context, is exegetically wrong.  The O.T. case law is most of that context.  Must Christians today figure out on their own the applications without any of the guideposts God set down for us in the O.T. church?  I believe Christians have done just that, arriving in our time with a form of antinomianism.  “Thou shalt do no murder” has now become anti-war and anti-capital punishment.  “Thou shalt not steal” has been divorced from any consideration of the intrinsic theft of fiat money and fractional reserve banking.  We are crashing due to our disregard and beginning to steal more directly as the government robs from specific Peter to rescue generic Paul.  “Thou shalt not commit adultery” has become “So long as she doesn’t get pregnant…”

Though there is a very real danger of legalism — salvation by keeping the law — we have actually become mired in a functional antinomianism — the law is whatever we wish to make it today.  Without any biblical context for the moral law it becomes infinitely plastic.  Those who despise Pharisaism are the actual Pharisees, making of none effect the Word of God.  Jesus couldn’t have been clearer on this than He was as recorded in Mark 7:6 – 13.  Today, Christians are unable to make distinctions between delivering an untruth to their enemy and lying.  It requires O.T. examples to see that distinction.  Rahab is twice commended in the N.T. for delivering untruth to the enemies of God and herself.  At the same time, Christians compose lying come-ons to put on junk mail envelopes to induce the recipients to open them.  Charity has been confused with forced taxation to be distributed among the politically-approved poor.  Truly, we have become child-like in our understanding, requiring governesses and milk when we should be governors eating meat.

Christianity has become reduced to a form of Freudianism in which each Christian is accountable only to his or her own conscience.  If we can only whump up a deeper Christian life [read ‘subjective’], then all the guidance we need will come from within as we read Scripture.  No bad old laws to constrain us.  It is a form of “Consult your feelings, Luke,” with a Christian glaze.  (Star Wars, in case you have forgotten.)  While the heart is indeed primary, we have made it the whole matter, as did psychoanalysis of the subconscious.  In ethics the requirement for right ends, means, and motives has elevated heart-motive to supremacy.  Surely, we have the Scriptures, and a few prominent applications to parade around (abortion and euthanasia, at present).  But we are averse to a full-orbed ethical development.  Our own pastor seems unable to grasp an application for Scripture which extends outside of the hearts of the listeners.  Applications start in the heart and end right there.  We are apparently not to reprove outward evil, lest we appear to be, gasp, judgmental.  Rather, we are to endlessly probe our hearts in a form of Christian navel-gazing while the evil world goes by unchallenged in anything specific.

Kathleen Parker, a syndicated neo-conservative newspaper columnist for the Washington post recently gave her review of why the Republicans lost the last election [The State, Columbia, S.C.  11/20/08] She blamed it on the fact that the Republicans overlooked “the gorilla in the pulpit.  Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.  To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP…”  “Armband religion is killing the Republican Party.”  The “intelligentsia” in the party know this.  “…the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows.”  She wants religion to be “returned to the privacy of one’s heart where it belongs.”

Though not a Republican, I was at first incensed at the column, then realized that judgment begins with the church.  Reformed pastors have largely already complied with her desire that religion be contained within the privacy of one’s heart where it belongs.  It is, indeed, only the exuberant, unsophisticated and often erroneous applied versions which get into the public square from the charismatic, dispensational crowd.  We have no bold Kuypers today who challenge our flocks and our culture with specific, footnoted, logically-reasoned gospel-based teaching.  Judgment begins at the church, but it does not end there, as good preaching will point out.  Obedience begins in the heart, but does not end there, as good preaching will point out, with specifics.

Our capitulation to practical antinomianism took place gradually.  I would date it back to no later than 1840, probably before.  My usual whipping boy is that great evangelical disaster we now call the “Enlightenment,” in which revelatory knowledge was cleft from empirical knowledge and given its own little monastery cell in which to self-flagellate.  Now, once you learn to recognize the gang insignia, you can see them everywhere.  It is in our language.  Ask some Christian what he thinks about something and the answer will often come back, “I feel like …”  Feeling has supplanted thinking.  Indeed, as I wrote this I first wrote “he or she,” thus forgetting the federal headship of the male once incorporated into our language.  You can see it in church architecture.  Inside the sanctuary (“auditorium”) there is a platform sited and equipped like any concert platform for our worship performances.  The educational wing is larger than the sanctuary, perhaps appropriate since the pulpits are afraid really to preach and teach the Word in its full specificity.  Of course, the educational wings dispense Gerber products now also.  You can see it in our “church planting” technology.  It tightly follows a business model, with literally the same attention to building siting as would go into positioning a car wash.  [I have actually witnessed this in an MNA committee meeting] Never mind the Roman Christians who met in catacombs.  What failures they were!  The business model, in turn, is infused with applied psychology, which was kidnapped at birth in the 1860’s by materialism. You can see it in the psychological interrogations carried out on missionaries before they are allowed to go onto a mission field.  You can see it even in our teaching on personal worship and spirituality.  We are adjured to have a “quiet time,” surely a biblical thing.  However, note how it keeps our explicit, applied faith out of the public domain, lest it there offend a Kathleen Parker.  Where is Deut. 6 in our life, ethical behavior brought up in the natural course of life and openly addressed there?

While here and there, there may be Reformed pastors who can be rescued from their bad training, such as was Abraham Kuyper, for the most part they will go down with the PCA ship, large, attractive, but lost at sea with all her passengers.  Such pastors will have to be bypassed as we start again with elders who truly exercise “parity.”  Unhappily, parity often risks contentiousness, since pastors do not really like strong ruling elders.  (Contention has risen to near the top among sins.)  You have noted more than I (who more often deserves it) the offense taken at the method of disagreement.  Having sometimes no answer to the substance, they address the demeanor and how it speaks of the condition of the heart.  How can we think highly of Luther’s The Bondage of the Will and have such a fright over demeanor in contention?