Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Reconstructionism in a Nutshell

Our old pal, Rev. Andrew Sandlin, is participating in a debate with David VanDrunen on “the role of God’s law in society”. His opening statement can be found here, and it sums up perfectly how he and his fellow Christian Reconstructionists think. Some people find it incredible that there are people who actually want to pass laws that stone adulterers, witches and homosexuals; but these people do. First, he explains which portions of the Mosaic Law still apply today in his theological system:

In addressing social and civil ethics, we do tend to focus on the Mosaic legislation because it contains more extensive (or at least more concentrated) data on these topics. But is it applicable today? Hasn’t the Mosaic covenant and economy been rescinded? Indeed it has. It has been superseded by the “new covenant” (Heb. 8, 10). However, this doesn’t mean that all the ethical stipulations of the Mosaic economy have been rescinded. The sacrificial system (with its ceremonial expression) has been fulfilled and abolished in Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:1-14) – this, by the way, is why attempts to reframe liturgies with an eye toward the Aaronic priesthood are fundamentally misguided. The classification of laws designed to erect a barrier between Jew and Gentile has been erased in the death of Jesus (Col. 2:11-14). And those laws peculiar to Israel as a nation (e. g., circumcision and feasts and festivals) and in her land (e. g., Jubilee and slavery laws) have been abolished in that Israel has been superseded by the multiethnic, multinational church.

Okay, so far so good. We don’t have to sacrifice lambs anymore, though ol’ Jehovah is quite fond of the smell of burning goat flesh. And we don’t have to be circumcized anymore, or have a year of jubilee when we free our slaves (I’m sure the slaves will be disappointed). So what part of the Mosaic law does still apply? He’s got the answer for us:


Nonetheless, the underlying principles of many of those stipulations, and those sometimes termed the “moral law,” reflect God’s unchanging character; and, because they constitute His justice, those laws relevant to the civil aspect of the social realm should be incorporated into human systems of civil law irrespective of the spiritual status of the nation. Why? Because they reflect God’s standard of justice; and apart from God’s standard of justice, there is no justice. Examples: laws forbidding and punishing murder, theft, witchcraft, kidnapping, and perjury. Of course, the NT does adjust even some OT “moral” legislation (the Sabbath), so we must be sensitive to discontinuities. Further, most sins defined in Scripture are not crimes and therefore are beyond the purview of civil law (e. g., deceit, covetousness, lust, and lovelessness). So, in speaking of law, we often are not speaking of civil law.

But this revelatory law’s relevance is not restricted to His people. In the OT God judges the pagan nations surrounding Israel for their violation of His justice, His law (Is. 19; Nineveh in Jonah’s time and so on). Paul gives us the same picture in Romans 1 and 2, where the “work of the law” (that is, the content of the revelatory law of the OT) is written on the hearts even of pagan Gentiles. Thus, there is in God’s Word the expectation that societies will be just societies and conform to His law. The fact that the Bible is designed specially for the covenant body does not warrant us to conclude that it is not in any sense binding on the rest of the world. The moral law is universal.

While a leading objective of the OT is to articulate the Gospel and God’s plan of redemption for Israel in the coming Messiah, it also included stipulations that do not contribute to that soteric purpose: e. g., “You shall not steal,” “You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute.” They reflect God’s justice, but not in any obvious soteric sense. These stipulations are relevant to and in fact bind unbelievers, who stand judged as law-breakers (Rom. 3:19). So, the Bible (not just the OT) discloses God’s standards of justice that inhere in His character. And those standards should be reflected in human legal systems.

So when the bible says “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” – yep, that’s what it means. When it says that women who are not virgins on their wedding day are to be stoned to death – you guessed it. When it says that homosexuals “shall surely be put to death” – they mean it. Just in case you were wondering what it would be like to live under an American Taliban.

Comments

  1. #1 raj
    October 25, 2004

    It strikes me that Sandlin is another reason that gay people should support expansive gun ownership rights.

    No, I am not joking.

  2. #2 Ruidh
    October 25, 2004

    “Paul gives us the same picture in Romans 1 and 2, where the “work of the law” (that is, the content of the revelatory law of the OT) is written on the hearts even of pagan Gentiles.”

    Here’s a profound example of how these people fail to understand Scripture. Jesus’ complaint against the Pharisees was that while they kept the law in excruciating detail, they failed to keep the spirit of the law. They put the text before people. There was no room for either justice or mercy in such a strict, rules-driven ethical system.

    If Jesus did anything in “fufilling” the Mosaic Law, he replaced it with a principle based approach. This is why all of the fundamentalist talk of “God’s Law” is so beside the point.

    I also have my own view of Romans 1 and 2 which would shock these same fundamentalists.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    October 25, 2004

    Ruidh-

    I’m not so sure it’s as simple as the Recons misreading scripture. There are enough contradictory verses to allow one to read almost anything into it regarding whether the law is still in place. For instance, in Matthew 5, Jesus says:

    17. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. 21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. 27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

    This appears to be saying that the Mosaic law is still in effect, and that even the contemplation of breaking the commandments given there is tantamount to breaking them. This of course contradicts other things, such as Jesus saying “he who is without sin cast the first stone” in a circumstance in which stoning was the prescribed punishment in the Mosaic law. But that’s my point – one can read whatever they wish into these verses and explain away the others. So it’s difficult to claim that your reading of these verses is any more correct than theirs, they’re just focusing on different parts of it.

  4. #4 Lynn
    October 25, 2004

    “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”

    Ed, see, I told you to stop looking at me that way! LOL

  5. #5 Perry Willis
    October 25, 2004

    The story “he who is without sin, cast the first stone” does not appear in the earliest manuscripts, and if memory serves, when it does appear in later manuscripts, its location in the text varies from manuscript to manuscript. If there was an historical Jesus (which I highly doubt, re Earl Doherty), then this story was not something that actually happened. It is a later invention.

  6. #6 Ruidh
    October 26, 2004

    Ed, let’s take a look at a more modern translation than the KJV you have quoted.

    ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

    My first note is that this is old material. If anything in the gospels is straight from the mouth of Jesus, this is likely to be it. This is part of the Q material — a hypothetical document that 19th Century textual analysists used to explain how Matthew and Luke had material in common (but sometimes in a different order) which was not in Mark, a presumed source for both evangelists. To understand it, we need to go look at its Lukan counterpart.

    The closest is in Luke 16:16-17.

    ‘The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.

    If I had the time, I would next also search for related Paul sections regarding the fufillment of the Law. Paul says that Christ’s death on the cross was the fufillment Jesus spoke of. The Lukan section is closer to a Pauling understanding — you are not justified by works — you can’t force your way to heaven by keeping all of the rules. The Pharisees did this and it got them no where. The Pharisees were all about keeping every law in the strictest manner. Their descendants today are the Orthodox Jews who keep the law strictly.

    The only way is to go *beyond* the rules to the principles behind them. The Law is still there is all of its detail as something of a historical artifact (only destroying the world will destroy the law), but the purpose and meaning of the law comes from having it written on your heart. The heart metaphor here is important. We say that something is a matter of the heart if it involves love of some kind. The Law, understood amd lived through Love, is the goal here.

    Here is where we make the jiu jitsu move. Homosexual couples, in monogamous, committed relationships, exhibit all of the qualities of of love which Paul up holds for us in First Corinthians. WHen we look at the best examples of committed gay couples, we see First COrinthians 13 rather than the consequences of sin we see in 1 Romans 9.

    This is the method of modern hermaneutics, not reading individual verses out of context, but looking at related verses elsewhere to form a consistant picture.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    October 26, 2004

    The only way is to go *beyond* the rules to the principles behind them. The Law is still there is all of its detail as something of a historical artifact (only destroying the world will destroy the law), but the purpose and meaning of the law comes from having it written on your heart. The heart metaphor here is important. We say that something is a matter of the heart if it involves love of some kind. The Law, understood amd lived through Love, is the goal here.

    How on earth does one “understand and live through love” a law that says homosexuals or non-virgin brides are to be stoned to death? If one wants to live through love, one can only reject those laws, not understand them better or differently. There is no loving principle behind those laws, they are utterly barbaric. It is far more reasonable to argue that the concept of love simply supercedes such laws and voids them than to claim that one has to see the love principle behind them or within them.

    Here is where we make the jiu jitsu move. Homosexual couples, in monogamous, committed relationships, exhibit all of the qualities of of love which Paul up holds for us in First Corinthians. WHen we look at the best examples of committed gay couples, we see First COrinthians 13 rather than the consequences of sin we see in 1 Romans 9.

    This is the method of modern hermaneutics, not reading individual verses out of context, but looking at related verses elsewhere to form a consistant picture.

    This is more than ju jitsu, it’s simply contradiction. Why look at committed gay couples and see First Corinthians 13 about the glory of love and NOT see Romans 1, where Paul declares homosexuals to be vile and unseemly? At least Romans 1 is specific to the subject you’re talking about, whereas Corinthians is only about love in general. At the very least, you’d have to admit that Paul did not intend for you to pick out the vague one and ignore the specific one, and that in fact he would reject your use of his words. Contrary to what you said, this IS reading individual verses out of context and just picking out what you want to be true, extrapolating unjustifiably, and ignoring the clear texts you don’t like. Why not just admit that the bible IS anti-gay, whether you wish it was or not? I have no problem admitting that it is and just ignoring that part, and taking the parts that I find valid or true. But then I don’t think it’s the word of God either.

  8. #8 Ruidh
    October 26, 2004

    Regarding the death penalty for hmosexuiality and adultery (at least the death penalty for *women* for adultery. The penalty seems not to have applied to men.) what part of “Let he amonug you who is without sin cast the first stone” is so hard to understand?

    In Romans 1, Paul says that because of the activities of these people, exchanging natural relations for unnatural relation s, they experienced consequences.

    And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die–yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practise them.

    Paul is very specific about the consequences here. Yet when I look at gay couples I know, I don’t see these things. Are they, then, what Paul is talking about here?

    But the thing that really drives me up a wall is Romans 2:1

    Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

    This should be a red flag to those who want to excoriate homosexuals with Romans 1. But, apparently, no one but me seem sto read it that way.

    I don’t think that the Bible is inherently anti-gay. I’m doing nothing different than Christians who became Abolitionists.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    October 27, 2004

    Regarding the death penalty for hmosexuiality and adultery (at least the death penalty for *women* for adultery. The penalty seems not to have applied to men.) what part of “Let he amonug you who is without sin cast the first stone” is so hard to understand?

    It’s not hard to understand, and I agree with it. The difficulty I’m having is that you are insisting that you aren’t rejecting the spirit of the OT law but merely “understanding it through love”. But there was nothing loving about the initial injunction in the first place, there was no “spirit of love” behind it or anywhere near it. The words of Jesus are a complete rejection of both the letter and spirit of the Mosaic law in this regard. And I think that’s a good thing. I just don’t think one should pretend it is anything other than a rejection of it.

    I don’t think that the Bible is inherently anti-gay. I’m doing nothing different than Christians who became Abolitionists.

    I would agree, but I think they’re wrong too. Which is to say, I think they’re right on the issue of slavery as you are right on the issue of homosexuality, but that you’re reading that correct position back IN to the bible. It is quite obvious to me that the people who wrote the bible thought slavery perfectly normal and homosexuality an abnormal abomination, as was the norm through most of human history. Every single statement about homosexuality in the bible treats it as a bad thing; every single statement about slavery in the bible presumes that it is a normal and natural state of affairs. The only way they can be viewed as saying anything else is if one takes modern, post-enlightenment ideas and reads them back IN to the text. But to do so requires, to borrow your phrase, mental ju jitsu.

  10. #10 Ruidh
    October 27, 2004

    Well, rather than overextend my welcome here, let me just say that *if* you are going to discard the Bible, then there’ absolutely no point in taking the Bible seriously on any point.

    I have no problem with reading things back into the Bible which aren’t obviously there. At one time, any lending of money at interest was considered sinful based on reading Leviticus. Jews were the midieval bankers of Europe because Christians couldn’t take the job. That reading of Scripture, which is as plain as day, went away admittedly with the help of some Gospel parables.

    Slavery is not seen as unjust and as such falls under a proscription to do justice. The text hasn’t changed, our understanding and application of it has.

    Some of us are trying to make the same case for gay relationships precisely because we discern some good things there.