[!] Jus Divinum: conscience and the State [1]

I’ve been chatting with a fellow who calls himself Jus Divinum over at Steve Hayes’ blog, and I’ve dragged the discussion over here. When appropriate, I’ve left my comments from the previous discussion in place when Jus Div is responding to them.

Thus I said: "There are a lot of shades of gray between the two camps I'm going to posit here, but I think that one end of the spectrum is epitomized by Dobson, Colson, Falwell and the "religious right" -- and these people do believe that if the ship of morality in practice in our nation is off the north star, one way to right the course is to make some new laws that place government in the position of keeping moral choice-making tidy. Their ideal is that if people do not understand morals, government can teach morals to them through law."

And he replied:
... I am being totally sincere by responding that _I have no idea why you would think the above_. The notion that ECBers think the function of law is to "teach morals" is just weird to me. I certainly don't see it in their writings as their motivation for doing what they do.

But then again, I don't know what you mean by "right the course" or "keeping moral choice-making tidy". These phrases are so vague I don't know if they properly describe the motivations of anyone or not.
For that reason, I’m going to flesh out the comments I made in reverse order. When I said, “the right course” and “keeping moral choice-making tidy”, I was saying that there fellows have a particular view of morality which they affirm is “the right choice”. I’m not going all pomo on anybody here, so without quibbling about their list of commandments we ought to keep, I would agree that there is a moral standard that we ought to live up to. “the right choice” is the choice of the individual that ought to correspond to the moral imperative. For example, no one should lie; no one should steal; no one should kill.

Saying that these fellows think there is a “right choice” doesn’t seem all that vague to me, but if it needed fleshing out, there you have it.

Now what could I have meant by keeping that right choice “tidy”? Simply this: that in every case, the government has an obligation to legislate morality if the aggregate community ceases to demonstrate the willingness to make the right choices. That is to say, that the right moral choice must always correspond to the right legal choice. It is a view of government that I don’t think is very wise, and it is not the view of government found in the constitution, but it is the view these men practice in fact.

I can hear the objection right away: of course these men don’t want to legislate every moral action. That’s a crazy exaggeration. OK: it might be. I’d be willing to see a list of moral problems in this country that they do not think are most effectively handled by legislation. I’ll give you my short list of counter-examples: keeping sodomy illegal, keeping some drugs illegal, and getting abortion to be illegal.

Now mind you: I think all these should be illegal. The question is why – for what purpose?

I said:"This passage certainly applies to our elected officials today -- but if Paul was willing to say such a thing regarding Imperial power which was pagan at its very root, how much more does it apply to those who are in political power in our nation today?"

Jud Div replied:
I'm not sure who you think this comment is directed against. The ECBers? Why? The ECBers _explicitly apply_ Paul's statement in Ro 13 to our current government. Why would you think they need reminding in this regard?
Because they are putting the cart before the horse. Paul here says that government is established by God to punish the evil, but in what context does he say this? In an exhortation to establish a government based on Christian morals? Of course not – it is to encourage the Christian that he ought to behave in a godly way, and in doing so he would not have a reason to fear the government.
But here's an interesting question: Paul says that the purpose of government is to be "an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer." Now, keeping in mind Mr. Hays earlier comment on the theonomy-2 thread about sola scriptura, how would you define "wrongdoer"? As Christians are we called to define "wrongdoer" as imperial Rome defines it, or as sola scriptura defines it? That will have plenty of consequence for our view of the duties of government, it seems to me. Do we just get to be postmodernists and let anyone define that word any way he wants to?
It is not post-modern to say that the standard upheld by government (or that will be upheld by government) is not necessarily the standard God commands us personally to uphold. It is also not post-modern to allow the word to have the meaning it has in the context provided.

And in that, Paul here does not call the government of Rome the evildoer, does he? Of course he does not. He has just called all government -- all government -- a ministry of God.

Paul here uses wrongdoer as one who is not doing what God has commanded – the word is juxtaposed against the idea of one who does the godly thing. Government will punish the wrongdoer; you should behave in a godly way so that you have nothing to fear.

Now why will you have nothing to fear? Does Paul say? Of course he does: He says there is no fear because the one who is godly is following the ordained order of things and has a clean conscience. The clean conscience is the critical matter, and in that Paul is not saying that Government will always have just laws but that Christians have an obligation to follow a higher law personally.
Paul is quite aware that Christian responsibilities change depending on the opportunities which are afforded to you. So, to slaves, he writes that if they _can_ get their freedom, then they should do so. Likewise, if Christians _can_ influence their government through lawful means, so that government fulfills its goal of avenging God's wrath on the wrongdoer, then they should do so. Here they are simply holding government to account for what _God_ describes as government's duty. And there are lawful means available to us today, by divine providence, that were not available in imperial Rome.
Paul certainly doesn’t say that in Rom 13. Eph 6 says this:
    5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Col 3 says this:
    22Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
And then Col 4:
    1Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
and 1Tim 6 says this:
    1Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.
And of course Philemon says this:
    8Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you--I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus-- 10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. 15For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother--especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you could find where your interpretation comes from – since it is not in any of these verses – it would be of significant interest to me.

And note: I do not advocate slavery. What I advocate is the Gospel first. The Gospel first. That is why the example of Onesimus is so critical to my position in this discussion, btw.