I recently had a delightful conversation with a very pleasant, sharp-minded man. As we discussed many things, our attention turned to theonomy and Reconstruction. This man was familiar with some of the prominent theonomic writers, including Dr. Rushdoony. One particular phrase the man repeated was that he could consider himself a Reconstructionist with a little “r.” I had heard this term used before but I noticed, as the conversation continued, why he was saying such a thing. It stemmed from several issues.
First, he held that while he was in great agreement with the positions of the Reconstructionists, he felt that they were lacking in their view of worship. In his study of several writers, his overall understanding was that they denigrated the idea of worship, and indeed the whole of the first four commandments, in favor of the remaining six commandments. His take was that the Reformers rightly put more emphasis on worship (corporate worship, especially). I responded by saying that in my study of Reconstructionist writings and lectures, I had not found that to be true at all. Writers may vary in the application of the Sabbath even to the point where I would disagree with that application but that does not invalidate the position.
Second, he asked about the cities of refuge and how that would be applied today. I freely admitted that I did not have a good answer for this question as I had not studied it yet to any great degree. In an attempt to answer, I mentioned that possibly the institution of the church could provide this role today. But I was quick to point out that simply because I didn’t have the answer does not mean that an answer did not exist. I was confident that this law could be applied today despite my ignorance. He responded by saying that the “classical Reformed” position could easily embrace this issue. How? By the “general equity” clause of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Chapter 19, Section IV. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
His contention? That by applying the general equity clause of the WCF, the problem of cities of refuge would be solved. How? Presumably by not applying the specifics but only the general equity or principle. However, this was never fleshed out and illustrates a major problem with his position: who determines the “general equity” principle on this matter? How do we get from this vague concept to rubber-meets-the-road without inescapably running head on into antinomianism? The answer is: you can’t.
This highlights my third point, namely that of lifting up the time and work of the Reformers beyond what is called for. Too many times, I have run into wonderful Christians who, in many ways, are like the mummified Christians described by William Booth (founder of The Salvation Army). These Christians cannot think that anything meaningful has come into the world since the Reformation. While they would never say the Reformers were perfect and figured everything out, their words and actions demonstrate otherwise. So, too, was the case here. My delightful friend was quick to point out that the Reformers did not figure out everything but then went on to wax eloquently how godly and great these men were. I agree that they were great and godly men, but let’s remember that they were sinful men just as we. “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? For thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this” (Eccles. 7:10). These men operated in a context and were influenced by the errors and trials of the day. What they contributed to Christendom should rightly be honored but our source of truth remains the Scriptures. However, for too many this parking of all thinking in the past only stunts the forward progress of the work of reconstruction. Indeed, as we spoke there was an item here or there that I disagreed with the application of God’s law as mentioned by a Reconstructionist writer and this man would quickly question why I still considered myself a Reconstructionist with a capital “R”? Why not just embrace the classical Reformed position? Simple: because the law of God is specific in its application and speaks to all things. I cannot accept a vague notion of that application in the halfway house of antinomianism.
As Luther once so ably said, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.”