Brian Schwertley on the necessity of Biblical Law

Brian Schwertley

Brian Schwertley

In order to emphasize the necessity of biblical law for all areas of life (the family, business, the church and the state) one must recognize the fact that all law is inescapably religious. Once Christians understand this fact, they will no longer accept humanistic law presented under the guise of neutrality, freedom and fairness. Many American Christians have bought into two popular (yet thoroughly unscriptural) concepts of law. One says that a person should not legislate morality. The other states that a nation must remain neutral with respect to religion when making civil laws. The thinking behind such slogans is that since America is a large nation composed of hundreds of religions, the path toward “liberty for all” involves keeping all religious beliefs out of civil affairs. The state must be totally “secular” in its foundation and outlook.

There are a number of things to note regarding these unbiblical conceptions of law. First, the idea that a civil law can exist that is not based on morality and religion of some type is a myth. Rushdoony writes: “The statement, ‘You can’t legislate morality,’ is a dangerous half-truth and even a lie, because all legislation is concerned with morality. Every law on the statute books of every civil government is either an example of enacted morality or it is procedural thereto. Our laws are all moral laws, representing a system of morality. Laws against manslaughter and murder are moral laws; they echo the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Laws against theft are commandments against stealing. Slander and libel laws, perjury laws, enact the moral requirement, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness.’ Traffic laws are moral laws also: their purpose is to protect life and property; again, they reflect the Ten Commandments. Laws concerning police and court procedures have a moral purpose also, to further justice and to protect law and order. Every law on the statute books is concerned with morality or with the procedures for the enforcement of law, and all law is concerned with morality. We may disagree with the morality of a law, but we cannot deny the moral concern of law. Law is concerned with right and wrong; it punishes and restrains evil and protects the good, and this is exactly what morality is about. It is impossible to have law without having morality behind that law, because all law is simply enacted morality.” (6) This point does not mean that man can be saved through law or that laws can change people internally making them moral. It simply makes clear what should be obvious to all, that all laws are a reflection of what people consider right or wrong (ethics) and what people consider to be right or wrong is based on a particular world and life view (religion). (A person’s world-view is equivalent to his or her religion because it deals with an ultimate view of reality or an interpretation of the meaning of life).

Second, these unbiblical conceptions of law are rooted in the myth of neutrality. Does the Bible teach that man can somehow transcend himself, his environment and his own presuppositions regarding reality to autonomously discover truth and ethics in the universe? No. Man is a sinful creature who is dependent on God at every single point. While it is true that man is created in the image of God, lives in a God-created and conditional environment, is exposed to natural revelation at every moment and has a knowledge of God (Rom. 1:19ff.) and His law (Rom. 2:14-15), the Bible teaches that this knowledge is continually suppressed in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Natural revelation is enough to condemn man. However, it cannot be used in an autonomous manner to develop a consistent and thorough biblical system of justice. It was never intended by God to be used apart from special revelation. The Bible unequivocally condemns the idea of neutrality in favor of a total allegiance to Jesus Christ and His law word. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Pr. 1:7). Believers are told to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). If Jesus is to direct every thought, why and how can this exclude laws directed to families and society? The only way that nations can have real justice is to “kiss the Son” (Ps. 2:12) and become disciples of all that He has commanded (Mt. 28:20). Unbelievers who walk in the futility of their mind, who have a darkened understanding (Eph. 4:17-18); who have futile thoughts and foolish darkened hearts (Rom. 1:21) obviously cannot develop a just body of laws apart from thinking God’s thoughts after Him. God’s special revelation is the only place mankind can find a truly just, infallible, reliable, non-arbitrary law-system. “In Your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). “The commandment is a lamp, and the law a light” (Pr. 6:23). One cannot serve two masters (Mt. 6:24). It is impossible to simultaneously adhere to biblical law (the law of Christ) and heathen law-systems. Although there may be surface points of agreement between a Christian law order and a pagan system (e.g., murder is wrong) at bottom each is fundamentally different for one stands upon the bedrock of Scripture while the other flows from rebellious, sinful human autonomy. “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).

Modern professing Christians who have adopted a position of “neutrality” with regard to civil laws and affairs have themselves adopted a position that is really not neutral at all. They unwittingly have endorsed a position that is hostile to a Christian law order. The results have been predictable. First, society adheres to a quasi-Christian form of natural law. Direct revelation is viewed as an embarrassment to intellectuals and much too specific for civil magistrates. As a result an appeal is made to general revelation, which in a post fall world is vague and malleable. Society at this time is directed in a general manner by the Christian world-view. Second, natural law theory is co-opted by anti-Christian secularists. Men appeal to natural law as something objective, but the transcendent, the supernatural and the divine are rejected for an immanent natural order. The personal God of the Bible and His special revelation are left out of the picture. At this point men pretend to be objective; however, it is their autonomous minds apart from God’s word that determine what is true and right. Third, there is a shift among intellectuals toward evolutionary thinking. Law is then considered as something that is non-objective and always changing. This last stage leads directly to legal positivism, pragmatism and secular humanism. Law is simply whatever society says it is. This view says that there are no ethical absolutes.

When Christians accept neutrality (e.g., any non-biblically defined version of natural law) in the civil sphere they sign a peace treaty with those at war with Christ and His people. They open the gates for the Trojan horse of secular humanism and its fruits (statism, abortion on demand, sodomite rights, anti-Christian legislation, etc.). Because law is inescapably religious, believers who adopt a portion of neutrality enable their enemies to disestablish the Christian law order (e.g., as seen in the puritan and colonial eras) and replace it with a godless humanism. “Christian scholars have endlessly asserted the existence of neutral, ‘natural’ laws that can serve as the church’s earthly hope of the ages, an agreeable middle way that will mitigate the conflict in history between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. The winner of such a naive quest will always be the kingdom of man. Theoretical neutrality means man’s operational autonomy: men do not have to consider what God requires or threatens in history.” (7)

Third, given the fact that neutrality is impossible, all law systems are founded on a particular world view or faith commitment. As Rushdoony has pointed out, “It must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society.” (8) In a society where laws are determined by majority vote and/or public opinion, one could say that mankind (or a majority of the populace) is the god of that society. In an Islamic society the Koran or the false god taught by Mohammed (or perhaps Mohammed himself) is the god of that society. There are Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu and even animist law orders. This fact does not mean that in the modern world cultures do not pragmatically borrow laws and rules from other cultures; they often do. (e.g, In the nineteenth century Japan, which had a Shinto religious base and an emperor cult, borrowed laws and procedures from the west as a path to power, economically and militarily.) However, it does give us insight regarding any society. One can examine the laws of a particular culture and ask: “Why is it wrong to discriminate against homosexuals?” or even, “Why does your culture outlaw murder?” If one responds, “Well, it is against the law;” then one should ask, “Yes, but why is it against the law? Why does your society say that it is wrong (i.e., unethical) to commit murder, or discriminate against sodomites or disallow infanticide (i.e., partial birth abortion).” If one drives the argument, the reasoning, back to its original starting point, then one can discover the faith commitment or presupposition regarding reality behind the laws of a particular culture.

When one applies this process to the American law system it is evident that our society is functioning under a secular humanistic law order with some remaining remnants of a Christian law system (e.g., laws based on biblical ethics which are intended to protect the family). In a Christian nation the state understands its responsibility under Christ to implement biblical law by applying the moral principles of divine revelation to modern culture. Neither government leaders, nor judges nor the people have the right to add or detract from Jehovah’s perfect ethical standard (Dt. 4:2; Pr. 30:6). “Nothing is more deadly or more derelict than the notion that the Christian is at liberty with respect to the kind of law he can have….Neither positive law nor natural law can reflect more than the sin and apostasy of man: revealed law is the need and privilege of Christian society.” (9) However, in modern America laws are made or changed solely based upon the opinion of the people. This law-making process can be by direct vote (the will of the majority), by persons elected by the majority (e.g., the congress and senate), or by declaration of a court (e.g., the supreme court). But, what is the standard, foundation or basis of the various decisions by the people, legislature or courts. Is it God’s law, the unchanging standard of righteousness? No. Appeals to the Bible are deemed a violation of church and state.The only decision acceptable is one based on the autonomous choice of the people. Appeals can be made to human reason, utility, fairness, pragmatics, equality and so on. But, by eliminating all appeals to the transcendent and absolute (the unchanging law of God) society is set adrift on an ocean of arbitrary human desires. Such is the essence of humanism-the exaltation and worship of man. It is the religion of the serpent who said to Eve, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). In American circles of power, truth is whatever idea wins the latest popularity contest. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg. 17:6). “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Pr. 14:12).

America’s radical departure from biblical law toward secular humanistic law raises an important question. Why do the majority of professing Christians in this nation ignore or disregard the emergence of an anti-Christian secularism in the schools, courts and legislatures? A major reason is that modern humanism has disguised its hatred of biblical Christianity under the cover of “pluralism.” America, it is argued, is a nation of great diversity that can only exist peacefully under the flag of religious tolerance. Therefore, the humanists have nurtured a two-tiered system. There is the polytheism and pluralism of the masses. But in the important matters of law there is the secular rule of the humanistic elite. One often observes Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant politicians on television assuring people not to worry, that their personal religious beliefs have no influence on the manner in which they will vote and determine legislation. In other words, “In my personal life I believe in God but when I enter the public arena I am an operational atheist.” In the name of neutrality and tolerance the humanists have taken power with the full consent of a majority of Christians. It is only in the last forty years as the humanists have grossly perverted justice (e.g., the legalization of abortion) and openly expressed its hatred of Christianity that many Christians have become alarmed. Secular humanism is an aggressive religion that is evangelistic and expansive; it seeks total jurisdiction over every area of life. It is the same philosophy that at bottom lies behind Nazism and Marxism.

Christians today must wake up and understand that there are two alternatives for American culture. There is theonomy or autonomy. There is humanistic law or biblical law. There is the tyranny of the secular state that rules by its own decrees and grants or repeals rights as it sees fit; or there is liberty, freedom and justice under God’s unchanging, objective, absolute standard. With God’s law all men, both rulers and citizens are under the same objective law-word. The freedom and incredible cultural advances of the West did not happen by accident. As societies place themselves under the rule of Christ and submit to His law they make great advances in godly dominion. When Christians reject the necessity of biblical law for all areas of life (including the public square) they invite rival philosophies to fill the void. We must put into use the tools of dominion. We must conquer by the Word and Spirit or we will be persecuted by a rival religious faith.

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