Samuel Rutherford against Radical Home-Schooling

I am not against home-schooling.  I plan to home school. The following is from Daniel Ritchie’s blog.

Samuel Rutherford versus radical home-schooling

rutherford.jpgAlthough the editor of this blog is not opposed to home-schooling (indeed, it is often the only way for parents in our current circumstances to ensure their children get a Christian education), we reject the extremist notion that it is the only scriptural (or even the best) way to educate children.  Our Reformed forebears did not believe this to be the case; you will even notice that Samuel Rutherford applies a favourite home-schooling “proof-text” to those who teach children in schools.  This, moreover, also demonstrates that the Covenanters did not believe in Kuyperian notions of sphere-sovereignty.  Since magistrates and school-teachers are also “fathers”, texts like Ephesians 6:4 could also be applied to them and not just to literal fathers.  Hence they rejected the idea that education belonged to the “sphere” of the nuclear family alone :

There are with us Doctors of Divinity who teach in Schools and Universities, men tried to be holy and learned, and then put in office, as 1 Tim. 3. 10. under whose instruction are students aiming at the holy ministry called expectants, as in the Jewish Church in their Colleges, were young Prophets, or sons of the Prophets, as 1 Sam. 10. 5. 2 Kin. 4. 1. 1 King. 20. 35.  These Doctors and also the teachers of human literature, who train up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, Pro. 22. 6. Ephes. 6.4. if they aim at the Ministry, prophesy in our presbyterial meetings, 1 Cor. 14.29.

Samuel Rutherford, A peaceable and temperate plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland (London, 1642), p. 319.

A short thesis on theonomy

I’ve found Rev. Brian Schwertely’s sermons on theonomy helpful for me.  I should like to clarify what I believe on theonomy:

1.  I do not hold to the Bahnsenian thesis ala Matthew 5:17.   Better stated, I don’t feel bound to defend it.  Truth be told, I really doubt Poythress and the Biblical-Theology Klineans were able to deal with it in such a way that didn’t gut the Reformed ethic of any real meaning; that said, I don’t debate that particular passage because I don’t think my own position turns on it.

2. Specifically, I hold that the moral principle within the judicial case law is binding, but not necessarily the case law itself.  I think this is what “general equity” of WCF 19.4 really means.   While Bahnsen clearly demonstrated that Westminster Seminary had no clue what “general equity” means, I am not entirely convinced that Theonomists were able to say that 1) the judicial law is binding in exhaustive detail but 2) not this particular law (e.g., an unbetrothed virgin has to marry her seducer).

3.  Per #2, this formulation allows us to avoid the worst aspects of Christian Reconstruction, avoid being tied down in endless debates over exegeting Matthew 5:17 (or even worse, any kind of Klinean spin-off), and interpret the Scottish divines in a faithful way that allows a distinct theocratic witness.

A Gillespian dialogue (repost)

I suppose I probably could have spared myself a lot of grief in seminary by not taking the theonomy route.  I mean, I’m not a theonomist now, so it wouldn’t have mattered right?  Well, it’s not so simple.   Let’s consider:

  1. Under no circumstances would I have countenanced any political movement that did not kiss the feet of King Jesus.  Even so, there remain alternatives to theonomy.
  2. I even quoted published critics of theonomy (Poythress) to professors and they still said it was unacceptable.

On the other hand, had I grounded my political ethic solely in Rutherford, Gillespie, and the covenanters, my argument–or at least my rhetorical presentation of it–would have been indestructible.  The conversation would have gone something like this:

Covenanter:  Professor/teaching assistant, is it acceptable to employ Old Testament laws in constructing a political ethic for today?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No, for theonomy is wrong/marxist/homosexual/terrorist*/we fired Bahnsen for that.

Covenanter:  Did I say anything about theonomy?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No, but you mentioned Old Testament laws and that’s theonomic.

Covenanter:  I am glad to see you admit that much of the Bible teaches theonomy, but that is not what I was advocating.  Have you read Rutherford?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No.

Covenanter:  Rutherford based much of his argument on the validity of Old Testament ethical norms for today.

Professor/teaching assistant:  Well, the Reformed faith has come a long way since then.

Covenanter: But Professor, Lex, Rex was specifically written in the context of forging a distinctively Presbyterian identity, especially if you combine his argument with Gillespie’s, both of which are to be read against the background of the National Covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League and Covenants, which they and their posterity believed to be binding on future Anglo generations.

Professor/teaching assistant:  But we live in a democracy.  You can’t just expect everyone to agree with those rules.  That’s a theocracy!

Covenanter: I am glad to see you concede the theocratic roots of Presbyterianism.  I agree that such expectations are unrealistic for current America.  That’s quite irrelevant, though.   What God commands is often not contingent on what’s possible.  Isn’t that the point of Calvinistic evangelism?

Professor/teaching assistant:  So, you just want to go kill everyone that disagrees with you?

Covenanter:  No, don’t be silly.  My point is that for us to be consistent with our Presbyterian identity, we must come to grips with the ecclesiastical and political issues of those Covenants.   If that means we need to abandon key modern American ideas and structures like the 1st Amendment (which has already been repealed in the Patriot Act), American Idol, and MTV, then so be it.

Professor/teaching assistant:  Why do you hate America?

Covenanter:  I don’t hate America.   I want what’s best for America.

Professor/teaching assistant: But many aren’t Christians.  Doesn’t this mean they will be executed for worshiping false gods?

Covenanter:  Your objection presupposes something that is impossible on my system:  the only way a state could systematically do such things on a large scale is to be a large state.  Yet this is the very thing I deny.  But to answer your question–it could be death, but more likely it will be exile.  And quite frankly, why would a Buddhist or a Romanist even want to live in a Covenanted state?  Secondly, the law punishes crimes, not private sins (which usually are quite unknowable to the outside world).  The OT law made provisions for how foreigners were to be treated, and it was likely understood that these foreigners had not necessarily converted to the worship of Jehovah.

The previous conversation never actually happened as stated, but it is a summary of a number of conversations I had with students and teachers.  After a while I stopped referencing Bahnsen and used the arguments of Rutherford, but to no avail.

*I was actually called this in class.

Is the SL&C Binding Today? Some Initial Thoughts

The most bothersome fact about modern Covenanting–to some people, anyway–and to the Solemn League and Covenant (SL&C) is that it binds a posterity to a specific historical context centuries earlier.   In other words, if one’s great-grandfather…x, Rev. Dougal McDougal swore to uphold the (SL&C) as part of a nation’s general obligation to (SL&C), then it seems rather odd to argue that one is bound to it today.  In fact, it seems outrageous.   I will argue below the biblical covenanting is good for the Christian life today and necessary for society.  I will argue that the Solemn League and Covenant is one of the most faithful expressions of Christian Testimony.  (To ward off fears, though, I am not a Steelite and will critique some Steelite claims in another post.)

I understand both sides of the argument, and I will try to present them fairly.  The negative position–that one is not bound to them–is fairly straightforward and is most people’s default position.   The first objection:  how can one claim that people today are bound to an ancient oath made centuries earlier.   While having a prima-facie plausibility, this is actually a weak counter and it will be dealt with below.  The second objection is a bit weightier:  does America have such a relation to England that warrants such a binding to (SL&C)?

Response to objection 1:  if this is taken seriously, then a number of similar theological and civil positions become untenable.  Is it fair for posterity (and all of the cosmos) to suffer the results of Adam’s sin?  Is it fair for children to be bound to the vows made by their parents’ at baptism?   Is it rational that I am an American based on the decisions of Masonic Deists like Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin?  Further, Scripture routinely assumes not only that ancient covenants are binding on posterity, but that children can suffer for the civil crimes of their ancestors.   Galatians 3: 15 says, “Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.”  Amos 1:9 says, “ “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof, because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant.”  Amos is referring most likely to the Covenant made between Solomon and Hiram.   This is a civil covenant with no theological overtones, yet God deems it binding.   The entirety of 2 Samuel 21 has God exacting vengeance on Saul, his household, and all of Israel because he broke Joshua’s covenant with Gibeon.

Response to objection 2:  This objection appears to have moral force because of postmodernity’s antipathy to the nation-state.   National boundaries are scorned not only by liberals, but even Reformed conservatives.    Indeed, the worst insult one can suffer is being called a “nationalist” or a “racist.”  As a result, men don’t normally think in terms of  national identity.   Notwithstanding, and I admit my own conclusions are somewhat tentative, most people will see America as a child, whether legitimate or bastard, of Great Britain.  The American Revolution is a negative proof for it.  America inherited the legal and religious traditions, not to mention the language, of England.   America was bound to the English crown for almost two centuries.   Formidable American divines like Edwards and Whitefield saw themselves as good English monarchists (cf. Mahaffey, 2011).   In fact, Whitefield openly championed the Protestant British throne against Roman Catholic Jacobites.

Another objection surfaces:  “Your references are from the Old Testament, which isn’t binding on Christians today.  God only covenanted with the theocratic state of Israel.   The Church is Israel now.”  I am not necessarily quoting Dispensationalists.   This position is the default position among Reformed biblical theologians today.   Let’s consider it:   not all of the quotations were from the OT (cf. Galatians 3:15, which is probably the strongest argument) .  Secondly, while it is true that God uniquely covenanted with Israel, it by no means follows that God frowns on nations today who want to covenant with him.   The objection seems absurd.  Finally, in a promise of the New Covenant, God anticipates Gentile nations seeking to covenant with him.   Isaiah 19 says,

And the land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt; every one that maketh mention thereof shall be afraid in himself, because of the counsel of the Lord of hosts, which He hath determined against it.

18 In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan and swear to the Lord of hosts; one shall be called the City of Destruction.

19 In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord.

20 And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and He shall send them a savior and a great one, and He shall deliver them.

21 And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord and perform it.

The language of covenanting cannot get any more specific.   We have God prophesying that a Gentile nation will seek to covenant with God, even using the language of “vowing.”

So what should we do?

Saying we ought to uphold the SL&C today isn’t that shocking, once considered.  Do you as a Christian believe that Jesus rules over the nations (Ps. 2, 110)?  Do you believe nations are obligated to confess Jesus as Lord?  Do you believe that God judges covenant-breaking?  Is it not true that God destroys nations who actively violate his law?  Most conservative Westminster Presbyterians will agree with everything I have just said.  It’s merely a summary of Reformed political ethics (No, I am not a theonomist).   They simply chafe at seeing the SL&C as binding today, but it need not be seen that way.  We need to consider a number of factors:

  • No one, outside some Steelites, believes that the SL&C should be woodenly applied in a ham-handed way today.  Being obedient and faithful to God means being obedient and faithful in the situation in which he has placed us.  This means:

  • Our relation to the SL&C must also take into account our relation to the U.S. Constitution.  To what degree do we owe allegiance to the U.S. Constitution?

  • And the most problematic application, as seen in objection #2, is the fact that we are currently subject to a country which is legally sovereign and independent from the United Kingdom.

  • This means that the critique must cut deeper:  was the U.S. born in iniquity?

These and other questions can be raised.   Raising them means thinking about the issues.   One of the reasons that Theonomy did so terrible a job in America is that theonomists did very little reflection on the issues beyond cliched slogans like “No Neutrality.”  I think Covenanting has a better future.  It is more faithful to Westminster, has a higher view of the church, and did not originate among fringe groups.

My visit to a Monophysite Church

I had long struggled finding the True Faith, the one once delivered to all the saints.  It happened at a critical time in my life.  Once I entered the liturgy, I knew I had found the True Church.  I didn’t know what to say.  I was in tears, for I was so moved.  I stood in awe that these people really did have the Faith, that they never deviated after rogue councils.  I have finally found peace in my life.  True, I didn’t understand the liturgy, since I speak not Coptic, but that didn’t matter.   Worship isn’t a rational thing.

(Let the reader understand)

Various New Blogs

I still blog here, but to keep it from getting too clogged with different venues, I’ve opened several other accounts:

Notes of a Reformed Scholastic:  this is simply summarizing my reading in Muller, Turretin, and Heppe.  I do not necessarily endorse all of the conclusions, per se.

USA Covenanter:   Explores the implications of biblical covenanting from a modern, American perspective.