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The Law and Murder

One of the most difficult concepts for modern man to accept is that religion cannot be divorced from law or ethical standards.

  • Monte E. Wilson, III,
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Editor's Note: This message was delivered at the Chalcedon Conference for Christian Culture in Lusaka, Zambia, June 28, 1997.

One of the most difficult concepts for modern man to accept is that religion cannot be divorced from law or ethical standards. However, isn't law merely an expression or application of morality?

Whenever someone begins stating that laws are definitions of good and bad, or that right and wrong are based upon a religious faith, the question immediately arises, Can we legislate morality? When the question is posed in this way, however, it appears that we have a choice as to whether or not we will legislate morality. The more accurate question is. Whose morality are we going to legislate? When we define right and wrong, we have expressed a religious faith. When I declare something to be morally good, it is because it harmonizes with my religious convictions. Conversely, if it opposes my religion it is wrong. This is true whether my faith is in the civil government, intellectual reasoning, my personal desires or God. The struggle to divorce religion from law has caused considerable confusion and damage. The man who fails to consciously base his life on his religious faith will, in fact, have his life guided by someone else's religious faith. And worse, the man who fails to base his life on the religion of the Creator of the Universe, will be at war with that God.

In my nation today, we seek to tear religion away from morality and have, consequently, ripped to shreds the fabric which holds our society together. We have ceased seeing man as being created in the image of God and are murdering unborn babies. We insist that God's laws have no place in the civil government and, as a consequence, the state has become a tyrannical task-master that claims our tithes (taxes), our private property, our children and our unquestioned obedience. The question is not whether we will have a standard to live by. The question is: with Whose standard are we going to evaluate life? Whose standard is to be used in framing civil law? Whose standard do we use in determining the boundaries of the civil government? Who defines morality? As Christians, we have been given a standard; one which is universally applicable, both in identifying and solving problems and establishing a peaceful, ordered society. That standard is the Law of God as embodied in the Ten Commandments. If we fail to live by this law and lift up his moral absolutes, the only promise in the book we can claim is the one that says, Judgment begins in the house of God.

Biblical Standards

One of the major reasons that our nations choose standards that are contrary to God's is the church's failure to hold forth the validity and the comprehensive nature of God's law. When the enemy came rushing in like a flood, rather than raising the standard of God's Word, Christians began claiming that The End was near and nothing could be done to restrain evil. The fact remains, however, that Christ has not yet returned, the enemy is still rushing in like a flood and we are still expected to obey and apply the Ten Commandments. Although a majority of serious Christians would admit to the fact that the Ten Commandments are to obeyed, they restrict the application of those laws to one's private life. For these people, the law has nothing to do with business practices, education, civil-law and the like. Yet, if this were true, then Christians are faced with a dilemma: By what standard are we to approach those various spheres of life? Is God only sovereign at home and in the church? Can he truly be called the All-powerful sovereign God if there are areas of the universe where his law is irrelevant? Is he not, therefore, the impotent God? The source of the dilemma can be traced back to a less than orthodox view of the Old Testament and of the law in particular. When a majority of Dispensational Fundamentalists and Evangelicals began teaching that the law was nor for today, they subsequently threw out God's revealed will for our daily lives. This obviously left them with a view of life which said there were certain areas of life where God was neutral. The enemy rushed in to fill the vacuum. For the average Christian, the Old Testament is quite perplexing. It is for them very difficult to harmonize grace with law, love with wrath, faith with works. But this difficulty is due to misconceptions, not only about the law, but about God himself. As J. I. Packer wrote:

God's love gave us the law, just as His love gave us the gospel, and as there is no spiritual life for us save through the gospel, which points us to Christ the Savior, so there is no spiritual health for us save as we seek in Christ's strength to keep the law, and practice the love of God and neighbor for which it calls.

God's law is as eternal and unchanging as he is because his law is an expression of his nature. We are not permitted to define righteousness as we “feel led.” We should be grateful that he has not left us in the futile position of defining what is right and wrong on our own but, instead, has revealed his will to us. To ignore or to discount God's standard in any way will only result in confusion and, ultimately, judgment.

The church must return to its prophetic responsibility of declaring, demonstrating and applying the holy standard of God's law. Preaching Christ's lordship includes a Biblical analysis of how his lordship will be expressed in every area of life. The Bible says that we are to war with Satan (Eph. 6), that we are to destroy false philosophies that raise themselves up against God (2 Cor. 10), and that we are to disciple the nations (Mt. 28). Implicit in all three of these mandates is the command to proclaim and apply the Word of God in its entirety. What is now required of us as Christians is a thorough understanding of the standard of God in the context of contemporary life. We need clear thinking and systematic application of God's laws for living so that the enemy can be defeated, God's kingdom be extended and his glory fill the earth.

Let us consider the national debate in Zambia concerning murder and what God's law has to say about how to deal with those who unjustly kill others. I realize, of course, that this a particularly heated debate in Christian circles due to the abuse of capital punishment by the past political leadership. However, we will not come to the truth by reacting to the errors and sins of others. What we. want to know, the truth that will set Zambia free, is what God's Word has to say about this matter.

Thou Shall Not Murder

What is being prohibited here is unjust violence. Some believers think that any and all violence is contrary to God's Word. However, since the same God who gave Moses this law also gave him laws concerning how to wage war, we know that he cannot be against all violent acts. Contrary to pacifism, reverence for life is not the highest value. The highest value is reverence for God (note the First Commandment). Life cannot be placed before God or our duty to obey his law. God is the author of life and has established the principles for maintaining or forfeiting that life. In relation to this commandment, we forfeit our right to life if we unjustly kill another person: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in His own image” (Gen. 9:6).

Is life so cheap in the eyes of God? No, it is so valuable that to murder a human requires the criminal's execution. One of the fundamental Biblical principles of punishment is that it must fit the crime (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). Proper justice matters to God. We do not execute an individual for driving through a stop sign. We are not to slap the wrist of a murderer.

“Well, Monte, the law has been replaced by a new law: the law of Love.” Okay, who defines love? How do we define it? Where do we go to decide what is “loving” and what is not? By what standard shall we evaluate whether or not something is based on the law of love? Love is keeping the law toward others. The God of the Old Testament is the same God who said, “I am the Lord and I change not.” He is eternally the God of love, just as he is eternally the God of Justice and Wrath. As Rushdoony has noted throughout his works, grace and law are equally ultimate within the nature of God. We cannot pit one against the other lest we have God being at war with himself! Genesis 9:6 bases the penalty for murder on the fact that all humans are made in the image of God. Question: Are we still made in the image of God? I f so, then this command is as valid today as it was in the time of Noah.

“What about the woman caught in adultery?” (Jn. 8:1-11)

— The law of God states that capital punishment can occur only where there is more than one eye witness (Num. 35:30; Dt. 19:15). Jesus underscored the binding validity of this provision in the case of this woman. Where were the accusers? Where were the eyewitnesses? They all walked off, refusing to testify against her. By the way, if a “witness” lied under oath, the penalty for this perjury was clear. Whatever would have happened to the accused had the witness been believed, was to be applied to the false witness. If, for example, I lied about seeing you murder someone, then the penalty for that lie was death (Dt. 19:15-21).

Some say “If we could have perfect justice — never making mistakes — then maybe capital punishment would be wise. But we make mistakes so we should not use this form of punishment.” Yes, we are fallible. However, while we must strive to elect godly men to represent a godly system of law and order, we cannot throw out a system of law because we are not gods. Perfect justice will never occur until we stand before the Throne of God! Do we, therefore, give up on our pursuit of justice?

Others say, “It is only a valid form of punishment if you can prove that it deters crime.” First, we are to base our judicial system on a commitment to obey God, not on our limited and finite view of the results of a particular form of punishment. Second, if we make deterrence a criterion for proving the validity or fallaciousness of a particular law, we open ourselves to advocating injustice. Consider Pastor John Jere. He is walking down the streets of Lusaka minding his own business, breaking no laws. Suddenly, the police run up and shoot him dead. They then turn and announce, “And the same thing will happen to anyone who breaks the laws of Zambia!” Will this deter crime? You bet it will. Is it just? Hardly. Justice requires that the punishment fit the crime.

“But what if the person repents and is converted?” Great! Praise God! If it is genuine, God will forgive and received the individual into heaven when he or she is executed. Civil penalties and spiritual penalties are not the same. The woman caught in adultery could have been forgiven (ethically) AND executed (judicially), had there been witnesses.

When God executed Jesus on the cross, it was because he bore our treasonous sins. For us to say capital punishment is inhumane is to accuse God of being diabolical. Let us not allow our cultural prejudices or our overreaction to past abuses to raise any standard that would cause God to be displeased with our nation.

  • Monte E. Wilson, III
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