The greatest hurdle most people have when they attempt to apply God's Word to a social issue is their assumption about God's law itself. Quite simply, they often assume God's law is repressive and necessitates a denial of liberty. This perspective comes from a very non-Christian view of liberty.
The Essence of Liberty?
When the issue of freedom and God's Word arises, the first objection of the non-believer to any interjection of Biblical law usually centers on its inconsistency with sexual freedom. This happens with such predictable regularity that one would think sexual freedom were the essence of liberty, its basic social manifestation. Few would argue this, but multitudes act in terms of that definition. Many repressive regimes throughout history have encouraged sexual vices to mask their destruction of economic and political liberty. Such activity makes men feel free while their enslavement progresses in other areas.
The equating of sin with freedom comes naturally to man as a result of his sin nature. Men in rebellion against God want to see their rebellion as freedom. Those who daily repeat Adam's sin desire freedom from God and His governing law. They define their sinful rebellion as normative and God as an intruder into their freedom. Paul, however, saw nonbelievers as slaves to sin, slaves moving to a certain death. His exhortation to those freed from such slavery was to become servants to God and live (Rom. 6:15-23). In order for us to be God's servants, we must obey His every Word as our command. In this vein, we see God's Word as our "perfect law of liberty" (Jas. 1:25). In order for Christians to put teeth to their faith and make it applicable to all of life and thought, they must first get past understanding sin as true freedom.
Freedom by State Action
Another problem arises in discussing Biblical law. Many wrongly assume that the goal of those who believe in Biblical law is the control of the political process so that such law can be imposed by state action. Because our modern era is an era of statist power, control of the machinery of the state, whether by revolution or by legal political process, is the pathway to power. Many then see the "religious right" as a competition (and hence a threat) in this essentially statist process.
Biblical law was given to a Hebrew society under a decentralized tribal government. It is a moral law, though certainly intended for social and civil application. Only later did the Hebrews have a monarchy, and that monarchy was, on the whole, perhaps more conducive to the corruption of God's law than to its implementation. As moral law from God, it was directed to individual self-government, family government, and social and cultural standards that certainly had very real and necessary applications at the civil level. Many laws, however, such as the tithe, had no provision for human enforcement on any level. The essential thing to remember is that Biblical law is God's law because He was, is, and always shall be the Sovereign Ruler of all of His creation. God rules; the only remaining issue is whether we acknowledge His rule or rebel against it. The first response will always bring us to Biblical law; the latter returns us to Adam's rebellion and slavery to sin.
The Christian must stand for the validity of Biblical law and against statist action, even if such action is for a good cause. The Christian message cannot be imposed by force. It speaks of regeneration, not revolution. Biblical law must be embraced; it cannot be imposed.
The question of which laws should be enacted at the civil level is not a simple one. Our Western legal codes, at least in their basic forms, are products of Biblical law. This can be seen by contrasting Western law with Asian or Muslim law where a non-Christian morality dictates different justice. The Christian codes developed with the advance of Christendom, not with any sudden legislation. As the culture moved away from paganism toward Christianity, the legal system developed.
Western cultures are today far from Christian; however, imposing good laws on a morally lawless people would have a limited effectiveness. The essence of a godly society is a godly people, not a state-imposed legal structure. Laws that get ahead of the willingness of a people to submit to them may only teach contempt for both law and morality in general. Conversion and persuasion must come before the political process. Because the West has, in many respects, reverted to paganism, a simple reversion to Biblical law will not solve that problem.
A Covenant Nation
The example of Israel under the theocracy is sometimes raised with the purpose of suggesting that we must be what God commanded Israel to be. The assumption here is that we are called to be a covenant nation like Israel. Israel, however, was a covenant people before it was a political state, and it remained a covenant people for the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. Israel's political nationhood was a blessing, not a covenant necessity. The mistake here is assuming that the United States (or any political entity) is called to be God's Israel for today. Nations are called to be godly, but not to assume the covenanted uniqueness of Israel. The church, rather, is called to be God's Israel for today. As God's Israel, the modern church's rejection of Biblical law is far more serious in God's eyes than any nation's. The church as God's covenanted people is called to "the perfect law of liberty." We cannot compensate for the church's failure in this regard by trying to impose godly laws on an ungodly people. Such a culture would tend to display a Pharisaical hypocrisy which is also reprehensible to God.
However, saying we cannot impose Biblical law by force is not saying the state should be secular, or that religion should be limited to the "spiritual" realm. "The earth is the Lord's," (Ps. 24:1) we are to believe. There is no inherent conflict of interest between the civil order and Biblical faith. The idea of the conflict of interest stems from Greek dualism, which saw warring realities between matter (such as the state) and spirit (faith). This dualistic conflict of interest was the basis of Marxism's dialectic and Darwin's survival of the fittest. This false idea saw conflict as a metaphysical norm rather than a moral struggle.
Conflict is not a metaphysical fact, however, but a moral one. Men perceive that freedom and God's Word conflict because of their sinful view of freedom. Men and women, church and state, rich and poor all can find a harmony of interests once their slavery to sin is overcome by Christ's atonement received by faith alone. All things belong to God and all find their life and joy in submission to His eternal law. It is in God's law that we find our freedom because all other law represents our rebellion from God, slavery to sin, and a pathway to death. Obedience to God's law is the response in faith to God's salvation through Jesus Christ. It represents life, hope, joy, and blessing. The only alternative to God's law is man's rebellion. In choosing God's law we choose, by His grace, to be free and blessed in terms of His will, rather than our own.
- Mark R. Rushdoony
Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.
He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.
In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu.
He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.
Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.