Continuing with my reply to JohnMark Reynolds’ original response, JMR said this:

My view of the forms of government described in the Bible follows this pattern. The Bible gives us no sanctified form of government for this life.
See: I think that JMR has made a somewhat-obvious oversight here: the Bible certainly gives us one form of government which is sanctified “in this life”: the government of the local church. And the really-stunning thing about that form of government is that it is primarily concerned with what? Maximizing the liberty of the individuals who opt in? Prolly not.

Not sure anyone can make that case. But even if that was the only example, and JMR’s response was, “well, I mean ‘civil government.’ We can’t apply how God wants the church run with how God thinks we might run the world,” (which, to be certain to say it, overlooks even the most rudimentary ability to reason on the part of those who might read the Bible) is a full-fledge constitution or political road-map even remotely necessary to apply moral principles in such a way that we can then rightly deduce how to work them out in a political philosophy?

My opinion is that this is the right application of liberty in this context: applying the relevant moral presuppositions necessarily in Scripture in order to obey as we ought to obey.
The government God established on Mount Sinai was for that people, at that place, at that time. Some laws were as shadows for the rest of us (dietary laws) to teach deeper theological truths and have no relevance to me today. (I can eat ham!) Other laws were the best that could be sustained in poor and nomadic cultures. Our much richer and non-nomadic culture can, for example, establish prisons.
It would be good here to make sure we re-establish my original complaint to Dr. Reynolds – because if we do that, and then look at his approach to dismissing it, we will find an instructive lesson.

What I said to him back when this exchange started was:
Let me suggest 3 things:

1. Liberty is not, in and of itself, a virtue. Demanding that any government be restricted to minimizing the “loss of liberty” is not a principled requirement — let alone a biblically-principled requirement.

2. It’s interesting what the Bible says about who runs a government and therefore how much lordship over goods they ought to have. I would be interested to see JMR work that out over any period of time he’d like to invest in it.

3. As a convinced member of the vast ring-wing conspiracy (and also the subversive cult inside that conspiracy comprised of right-minded Calvinists), I don’t invest much in what either the right or the left forget daily about politics, economics, and sociology. Since all of these ought to be informed in some way by theology — that is, the right place of God, and the right place of man when compared to God — I expect that the secular left and the secular right will find themselves in the same place quickly since they are excluding the same necessary premise for all things.
The argument track he consistently works toward to responding is this: we have more stuff than they had when the books of the OT were written, so those books don’t speak directly to our experience. That is certainly what he has done here.

Now: what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with saying, as above, that we are not nomadic goat-herders? The problem with this reasoning is that no one is advocating that we need to be nomadic goat-herders. What I am saying, and have said, is that Liberty is not the primary objective or limiting factor of government. Justice is the primary ministry of civil Government. To keep the one-hit wonders from countermanding this thread on church authority, I’ll give a little Luther on this subject rather than the WCF:
You might say: “Why then do we have so many laws of the Church and of the State, and many ceremonies of churches, monastic houses, holy places, which urge and tempt men to good works, if faith does all things through the First Commandment?” I answer: Simply because we do not all have faith or do not heed it. If every man had faith, we would need no more laws, but every one would of himself at all times do good works, as his confidence in God teaches him.

But now there are four kinds of men: the first, just mentioned, who need no law, of whom St. Paul says, I. Timothy i, “The law is not made for a righteous man,” that is, for the believer, but believers of themselves do what they know and can do, only because they firmly trust that God’s favor and grace rests upon them in all things. The second class want to abuse this freedom, put a false confidence in it, and grow lazy; of whom St. Peter says, I. Peter ii, “Ye shall live as free men, but not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness,” as if he said: The freedom of faith does not permit sins, nor will it cover them, but it sets us free to do all manner of good works and to endure all things as they happen to us, so that a man is not bound only to one work or to a few. So also St. Paul, Galatians v: “Use not your liberty for an occasion to the flesh.” Such men must be urged by laws and hemmed in by teaching and exhortation. The third class are wicked men, always ready for sins; these must be constrained by spiritual and temporal laws, like wild horses and dogs, and where this does not help, they must be put to death by the worldly sword, as St. Paul says, Romans xiii: “The worldly ruler bears the sword, and serves God with it, not as a terror to the good, but to the evil.” The fourth class, who are still lusty, and childish in their understanding of faith and of the spiritual life, must be coaxed like young children and tempted with external, definite and prescribed decorations, … until they also learn to know the faith. [Treatise on Good Works, XIV]
Note that carefully: Explicitly, Luther says that rules/laws are established to curtail the abuse of freedom. That is: because men are, at best, not followers of their faith in God, Luther appeals to Rom 13 to underscore the work of Government. Luther’s view was that if we live outside of grace and faith, we deserve the law. It is made for us. And it is Government’s cause to make sure this happens.

And we should think carefully about this: this is the model of the government God declared at Sinai, and the first act of the government which will be headed by Christ upon his return. This has nothing to do with agrarian cultures: it has to do with the way God has ordained government for us – and for our own good.
We also have a richer political and philosophical vocabulary. This is partly because we have learned the lessons (however imperfectly) from the wilderness government.
that’s an interesting assertion. I’d like to see up to three lessons we have learned “from the wilderness government” which ought to be useful in the interpretation that more liberty and less government is the right political philosophy.
Of course, the wilderness government did not last . . . and Israel was ruled by judges and later by kings.
I think it’s important to note that “the wilderness government was ruled by the Law from Sinai, and in that respect it was adjudicated by Moses and the men appointed by him to judge according to the law.

That is: the chief social objective of “the wilderness government” was justice. It certainly had the soteriological objective of setting a people apart for God’s purpose, but the way that worked out daily was the civil judgment to settle grievances among the people and the covenantal judgment against sin which was settled at the temple by sacrifice.

Here’s a bit to ponder, though:
There is much to learn in each period from Israel’s sacred history. We get ideas about the nature of man and some ideas about government, but not a full blown political philosophy or anything like it.
Interesting, right? “much to learn”?

What we should do is, again, go back to my original statement to Dr. Reynolds and see if I was pleading for a “full-blown political philosophy”. I was pleading for setting the right thing as first and foremost in our political philosophy. Liberty is not, in and of itself, a virtue. Demanding that any government be restricted to minimizing the “loss of liberty” is not a principled requirement — let alone a biblically-principled requirement. This is my main and central point. Arguing against a demand for a “full blown political philosophy” simply rushes past my point to make sure the philosophy department gets to have its say after all.
There is much of value to glean, but doing so is not simple. Our rulers are not David. They don’t have God’s special promises to David . . . so when our fallen rulers compare themselves to David (as one governor recently did) to justify staying in power, they are wrong. Governors are not monarchs!
I am certain I didn’t say they were. If Dr. Reynolds kept his eye on my actual concern rather than the concern that we should treat elected officials who are established by “we the people” as if they were established by Yahweh’s anointing through the prophet, a lot of the dust-up here would be eliminated.

Liberty is not, in and of itself, a virtue. Demanding that any government be restricted to minimizing the “loss of liberty” is not a principled requirement — let alone a biblically-principled requirement. That is my main point, and it is a wholly-Biblical point. I’d like to talk about that rather than the sins of stupid political panderers who give the Christian faith a bad name.
Again: there are principles, but they must receive modern application.
Let’s talk about one: liberty is not the chief end of government – justice is.
Israel’s sacred history is God’s unfolding plan of redemption, not a political guidebook!
And it happens to speak about the main end of government as God intends it for his people whom he is redeeming. It is an “also”, not the “only”. There’s no way to construe what I have said anywhere ever as saying otherwise.

The last bit will have to wait until Monday for a further treatment; may you all have a good weekend, and spend the Lord’s day in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people.

Articles by Frank Turk

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