As Pastor Wilson has noted several times, 2020 is a dress rehearsal for what is coming if the church does not get her act together. This year has been an elaborate fire drill. And thus far the returns are less than impressive. We got handed a test on sphere sovereignty – the biblical roles of state, family, and church, as well as individual responsibility, with several extra credit questions about mask mandates, private businesses, the authority of pastors, and how to love your neighbor. And I believe the paper we doodled on for the last six months (with some glorious exceptions) will turn out to have a grade only a few percentage points better than the number of people who died of COVID-19 (and only COVID-19).
The best of our Christian leaders have acknowledged that there may come a time for Christians to resist or disobey. They may have even cleared their throats and with a cracking voice, haltingly suggested that maybe, perhaps, on Tuesdays between 3:30 and 3:45 (Eastern), John MacArthur may have been right do what he is doing – before scuttling back to their gospel-centered bushes. This is the height of our collective courage. And I’m honesty grateful for anything along those lines since it might possibly dry out during the next global warming spasm and becoming something spiritually flammable in the end.
But the question comes down to this: How important is it for Christians to fight for freedom? And I mean Christian freedom – the freedom to worship the Triune God, the freedom to work and provide for our own families without being regulated and taxed to Kingdom Come, the right to assemble peaceably and not be harassed by dress code nannies with Glocks. I’m not talking about the autonomous libertarian perversion of this, popularized by that proverbial line from the Beastie Boys: you gotta fight for your right to party. Unless by “party,” we are talking about all the prep work we’re currently engaged in for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, because that is something of a holy ruckus.
But how important is it for Christians to fight for Christian freedom? Some have come out clearly and said that Christians must not fight for freedom at all. Period. Full stop. Christians must lay down and invite the boots and knees of tyrants to be placed upon their necks. In fact, some hail this pacifistic tomfoolery as solidarity with George Floyd and all the oppressed. However, my gut tells me that there is a far larger segment of the Christian population that thinks Christians should resist tyranny a little bit, somehow, maybe some day, maybe pretty soon, but they are tied up in knots about having a good testimony and not being jerks for Jesus and the words “culture war” taste rancid in their mouths.
Ye Olde Declaration
While it is most certainly not inspired, let’s begin with a few startling sentences from the Declaration of Independence: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands… when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security…” (emphasis mine)
The particular words I draw your attention to are the ones I helpfully emphasized with italics: the words necessary and duty. These are words of moral obligation. The signers of the Declaration of Independence not only say it is the right of the people to push back against the destruction of their rights under God, but it says there comes a time when it is necessary, when it is the duty of God-fearing men to do so.
It’s Worse Than We Think
When would it be the duty of Christians to push back against the destruction of their rights under God? Well, the clearest and easiest answer that many Christians give but very few Christians understand is: when we are being required to disobey God. Many have an inkling of what this might look like when God has prohibited something that the government is requiring, like bowing down to a golden statue of Donald Trump or something. But what about when the government has so encroached on various duties and assignments given to men by God Himself that it makes obedience to God impossible?
God requires a righteous man to care for his elderly parents, leave an inheritance to his children’s children, and provide a Christian education for his children, all while working hard enough to provide some assistance to others in need. Those are all positive commands from God. Now what if our government has created a situation where taxes and regulations are so onerous that it is very difficult if not impossible to obey God? If Jesus were here, He might say to our officious taskmasters: “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your health codes and building regulations and tax code? For you say, Whosoever shall file his payroll taxes, and income taxes, and social security taxes, and property taxes, and sales taxes, and submit to building inspections, it is enough, and you need not honor your father or mother or provide a Christian education for your children, much less an inheritance for your grand children” (cf. Mt. 15:5-6).
But a big part of our problem is that we have gotten so used to being oppressed, we barely notice it. If you had the freedom and responsibility your great-grandfather had, you would have more resources than you would know what to do with. And no, that’s not a good reason to give them up, any more than it’s OK for someone to drive off with a car sitting in your driveway you haven’t been using.
We have sold our freedoms for luxury, convenience, and to feed our sloth and lust. We are in an Egypt of our own making, but the leeks are plentiful and tasty, and on-demand. A great deal of our oppression is also protected by law, and so its shirt is tucked in and hair combed and it is presented as respectable in the light of day. But it’s a total Weekend at Bernie’s scam. Lawlessness established by mountebank “lawmakers” does not magically become justice, anymore than posing with with a dead guy makes him alive.
Who funds all those government programs and all those health codes and building inspectors and administrators and lawyers? Why we do. Who funds all those government college grants and scholarships and public schools indoctrinating our land with God-hating Darwinism and socialism? We do, as well as our children and grand children. Who funds National Socialist, er, I mean Public Radio, the welfare state, and the latest blasphemous, intersectional cow patty dropped from the hinder parts of the National Endowment for the Arts? We do. Do you want to? But more importantly, is it just to command everyone to pay for these services at the point of a gun, with the threat of fines, imprisonment, and implicitly, violence to their persons?
Under any other conditions, we would call this theft, plunder, harassment, and slavery. But because men in suits made speeches in a big fancy building and a vote was held, we call it “the common good” and “general welfare” and “love” and some even have the audacity to call it “justice.” But it’s actually just the opposite: it’s injustice to take from someone what they have not freely given.
Jonathan Leeman & Frederic Bastiat
Some of you caught the recent CrossPolitic conversation with Jonathan Leeman, which I appreciated greatly. He was gracious, good humored, and I hope we will get to talk again. But the conversation revealed the continental divide, the watershed issues before us. Francis Shaeffer once explained a watershed issue by pointing at the snow on the tops of the mountains on the continental divide: some of that snow will melt and end up in the Atlantic and some of it will melt and end up in the Pacific. It’s only 6 inches apart up there at the top of the mountain, but it will end up on different sides of the globe in the end. That’s the difference between holding that civil magistrates have essentially a negative or positive assignment from God.
Frederic Bastiat explains the difference: “When law and force keep a person within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing but a mere negation. They oblige him only to abstain from harming others. They violate neither his personality, his liberty, nor his property. They safeguard all of these. They are defensive; they defend equally the rights of all… the purpose of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In fact, it is injustice, instead of justice, that has an existence of its own. Justice is achieved only when injustice is absent. But when the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, a religious faith or creed — then the law is no longer negative; it acts positively upon people.” (The Law, 15)
Do civil magistrates have a positive duty to find new ways to encourage the common good or general welfare? Or has God assigned civil magistrates the duty of merely prohibiting and punishing injustice – and is that all by itself the way civil magistrates secure the common good and general welfare of the people?
The example we used with Leeman was taken from Deuteronomy 22:8: “When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.” I argued that according to this law there would be no building inspectors in Israel going around checking the roofs of Israelites. Rather, there would only need to be a building inspection if someone fell off an Israelite’s roof and was hurt or died. There would only be a penalty if harm had occurred. And the penalty would match the harm according to the biblical laws of restitution (e.g. eye for eye, tooth for tooth). But Leeman argued that he thought it would be reasonable to infer building inspections and penalties for failure to comply with the building codes.
The question we asked in return was: what would the just penalty be for not having a fence around your roof if no harm has been done? He suggested some kind of fine. But who would the fine be paid to? Who has been wronged? Who has been harmed? What is the fine putting right? For those of you taking notes at home, the answers are no one, no one, no one, and nothing. Worse than that, is the fact that requiring a fine when no harm has been done is theft. And worse still is the implicit threat of violence from the magistrate, which is a manifest breach of the basic biblical principle of lex talionis – eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.
While many Christians woefully misunderstand this principle as some kind of permission for violence, bloodshed, or vengeance, it has actually always functioned to limit these things. The laws of restitution found in Exodus 21-22 are very practical applications of this principle, and the clear point is: you cannot shoot your neighbor if he steals your car. Biblical justice requires the return of stolen or damaged property (or its equivalent) with an additional payment doing to the criminal what he sought to do to the victim. But the glory of God’s principle of eye for eye, tooth for tooth is that property theft or damage does not rise to the level of violence. God’s law is limiting violence, bloodshed, and vengeance.
But if a magistrate may require a fine of a property owner when no harm or crime has occurred, the magistrate is implicitly threatening violence against not only the property but also the person. If the property owner does not pay the fine, will his property be seized? If he does not pay the fine, will he be imprisoned? Presumably so.
But this is the world we live in with property taxes, implicitly threatening violence and plunder from the state for failure to pay. This is the world we live in with building codes and health regulations threatening fines, threatening our eviction from our honestly purchased property, threatening closure of our honestly functioning businesses, ultimately threatening imprisonment and violence against our persons when we have done nothing wrong, when we have harmed no one anywhere. But what is alleged? That we might harm someone. But who is to judge what might result in harm, when there is no clear and present danger? This is a blank check that foolish and grasping men will happily make out to their own imaginations, charged to the liberties of those who elected them.
One of the other basic principles of biblical justice is the requirement that every crime be proven by the mouth of two or three witnesses. Short of those two or three witnesses, a true criminal cannot be convicted under biblical law. This principle is enshrined in what we call “presumption of innocence” and analogously applied in our custom of trial by jury. There is safety in a multitude of counselors. But this means that God wants His people to err on the side of letting some criminals go, rather than punishing some innocent people. When biblical justice is fully functioning according to its design, some criminals will get off the hook in order to protect the freedoms of the innocent; the only other option is to lean the other way, seeking to punish every criminal and being willing to punish some of the innocent in the process.
Rather than running the risks of biblical freedom and only punishing evildoers, since a bad thing might happen, we restrict the freedoms of all. And that is the way of building inspectors and health codes, fines and fees enough to swing a dead cat at, a Jabba the Hut Nanny State, and before you know it states are ordering healthy people to stay home, mask up, and close their businesses over a bad flu, a fake emergency, because some harm might happen, all of which God requires Christians to resist.