Biblical Parameters of Deception

 

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiprah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it be a son, you shall kill him, but if it be a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharoah, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

–Exodus 1:14-21

God’s word is given to us for our instruction and direction in the faith. As the emissaries and laborers of our Lord’s kingdom on earth it is never sufficient for us to theorize of and give lip-service to the ways of our Lord. We must have practical logistics and tactics which aim to transition the implication of God’s righteous laws from the abstract and hypothetical to the concrete and corporeal. As we engage in this process we are to make full use of the wisdom, instruction, and commands given to us in the Old and New Testaments.

One such tactic which we find repeatedly employed in Scripture yet which always draws much controversy is the righteous use of deception. Deception, dishonesty, lying, whatever we should like to call it, is always a serious business and the Christian should approach the subject understanding that God hates a lying tongue and there is no place for liars in the heavenly Jerusalem. But lest we rush into places where angels dare not tread we must take a further look at the righteous use of deception as employed and divinely sanctioned by many saints in the Biblical accounts.

In the opening text cited above we find Hebrew women being forced by Pharoah to commit a very wicked act: murder children. So in response the midwives engage in a tactic which has drawn the condemnation of many Christian expositors and commentators through the ages: they lie. They don’t tell half-truths, remain silent, or attempt to conceal the matter. They plainly lie to Phaoroah’s face about the reality of the situation. These two midwives, Shiprah and Puah, were professionals in their vocation and they seem to be cabinet members, or advisors, of the Pharoah. Understanding that there were millions of Hebrews living in Egypt at this time they undoubtedly were the representatives before the Egyptian government of what had to be a multitude of professional Hebrew midwives. In fact we may gather from the Pharoah’s exact words, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women …”, that these Hebrews were so skilled at their jobs that they served the Egyptians also. Being greatly skilled as midwives, a skill even recognized by their Egyptian masters, it is unthinkable that the Hebrew midwives were arriving late for deliveries.

So they are plainly lying. There is no way to get around the fact. These women are both giving a false report to the Egyptian head of state in order to conceal a massive network of behavior which is criminalized by the Egyptian state. Far from scolding the women for their actions the Scripture has nothing but praise. In order to properly understand this we must closely examine the divine directives which allow for this as well as the circumstances which necessitate such action.

Firstly, this is not the only place in Scripture where we see saints lie. To make merely a partial list of the Biblical accounts we must include Rahab’s lies to defend the Hebrew spies during the conquest of Jericho and in Genesis 12, 20, and 26 we find Abraham and Isaac lying to protect themselves and their families. In all of these instances a great many theologians do what Scripture does not do: pass condemnation. We must bear in mind that no matter what we think of the actions in the verses given they simply are not condemned by God. Instead of seeking to read “honest interpretations” back into the Biblical narrative we must submit our reasoning to the truth of God and skillfully seek out why it is that these saints are not condemned for their lies.

And the answer would be that wicked men who seek to trample on God’s law and harm others do not deserve the truth from us. Speaking to His disciples concerning judgment, Christ says,

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.[1]

Proverbs 11:13 instructs us thus:

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.

Just as in war or times of intense distress God makes provision for one man to take another man’s life, so too there are Biblical provisions for deception and lying aimed at those who seek to harm either us or others. And there are many forms of falsity which the Bible shows to be legitimate tactics by which we may defend ourselves from harm and keep back dogs and swine from trampling down Christ’s kingdom.

Caleb rose to prominence under Moses as an adept spy[2]. What is spying other than employing deception against one’s enemies in war? That this is so has been plainly testified to by nations at war that treat uniform wearing combatants as POWs but execute plain-clothes spies for their actions.

In Judges 14 Samson intentionally deceives the Philistines using riddles so that the Lord might use him to deliver Israel from servitude.

While fleeing from Saul David feigns insanity before the king of Gath in order to preserve his life[3]. By pretending to be insane David was clearly lying to Achish about his mental state.

Further uses of legitimate deception involve camouflage to conceal a position during war-time and leaving a radio on at home to confuse potential thieves while the family is away. The point of the matter is that the Ninth Commandment, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor may not be reread as “thou shalt always tell all of the truth all of the time.”

All of the actions listed above must truly be listed as dishonesty. Yet we must remember that they are all things that, in certain and specific circumstances, are commended by the Bible as righteous and wise behavior.

I do hope at this point the reader can begin to see when and why the careful use of deception is not wrong or sinful. A further analogy that may prove helpful is to that of killing a man. God’s law strictly forbids taking another man’s life yet makes accommodation for self defense. Exodus 22:2 reads:

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him …

19th century theologian Robert Dabney makes a very perceptive comment at this point, he says,

Man may kill, when the guilty life is forfeited to God, and He authorizes man to destroy it, as His agent. So, I conceive, extreme purposes of aggression, unjust and malignant, and aiming at our very existence, constitute a forfeiture of rights for the guilty assailant.[4]

In the same way that the thief found breaking in has forfeited his right to life so too the man who seeks to harm others has forfeited their right to the truth. So in the case of the Hebrew midwives, they not only had the Biblical right to deceive Pharoah in order to protect the lives of the Hebrew children, they had a moral imperative to do so. Allow me to liken the situation to taking a life again.

If a man is witness to a woman being molested by another man then he is Biblically obligated to help her even to the point of killing her assailant. The man who refuses to help the woman is a coward and morally perverse. These same circumstances can apply to lying. If the midwives telling the truth had led to the death of infants would they be morally justified for telling the truth? Would a bystander be justified for allowing a woman to be raped so that he himself would be innocent of battery or perhaps killing the woman’s attacker? If the Hebrew women had done anything other than lie to Pharoah they would have cast the precious pearls of Israel before the dogs and swine of Egypt and been responsible for their being trampled underfoot. The Bible holds their actions up to us as a righteous standard, let us not presume to be more righteous than God.

Second, in order to properly apply the Divine allowance for falsity we must carefully understand the prescribed conditions under which it is allowed. Plainly, it is not acceptable for children to lie to their parents about their room being clean or for you to lie to your boss about the schedule on your project at work and pretend that this is justifiable. I once heard an objection to this doctrine that if we are permitted to lie to God’s enemies in order to preserve ourselves then why could we not lie to a non-Christian store owner about goods we intend to purchase in order to preserve our financial estate. Such mockery is useless. In the same way that we may not shamelessly lie in order to further ourselves or even to avoid minor loss to ourselves we may not kill over trivialities and claim it as self-defense[5]. Imagine if the driver of a vehicle shot and killed a fellow motorist under the pretense that the other driver was endangering them and they have the right to protect themselves. Clearly, such petty objections to Biblical doctrine is caviling and a disgrace to God’s word.

In order for us to deceive another and it not be a violation of God’s holy law the circumstances which necessitate such an act must comport with the seriousness of those laid out in Scripture. As God’s creatures we may not seek to lessen or strengthen the force of His word in this area. We see Rahab lie to protect the spies from certain death. Abraham lies to protect himself and Sarah from death or molestation. Shiprah and Puah lie to save thousands of lives. All of these actions are Biblically justified and in fact righteous.

One objection which I should like to deal with before moving to applications is that God will reward us if we always tell the truth. The idea is that God, as sovereign over all things will reward our refusal to violate His commandments against lying by weaving a happy ending out of any situation we may be placed in. In response to this argument Christ plainly teaches us,

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.[6]

If a thief inquires of you when your neighbors will be leaving for vacation so that they may have an easy time plundering their goods it is not a righteous thing to tell the truth. When Herod ordered the three Wise Men to inform him as to Christ’s whereabouts it would not have been a righteous thing for them to tell Herod the truth. If your telling the truth clearly serves the purpose of bringing devastating harm to yourself or your neighbor, it is a wicked thing to do.

Applications

Having established the validity and even necessity of dealing falsely with those who seek to do serious harm to us or our neighbor let us examine a few situations where this doctrine may legitimately be employed.

A school principle is required by the federal government educational standards to teach twelve year olds in depth sexual education classes. By doing this the children are given dangerous exposure to what can easily lead to addictions to pornogrophy or sinful sexual behavior. It is perfectly legitimate for the principle to instruct his teachers that they will not be doing the sexual education classes which the government standards require and then forge the test scores in order to forego punishment or investigation of the school over which he presides.

A second example may be drawn from the medical field.

It is becoming common that doctors be required, upon the writing of a prescription, to ask invasive questions of the patient and then to supply the information gained to the FBI and FDA. For a practicing doctor to act as a spy for government agencies and ascertain information regarding their patient’s ownership of firearms or storage of paper money and precious metals is morally wrong. The doctor here has not only the option but the moral obligation to conceal the private matters of those whom he seeks to serve.

A final example regards modern child abuse laws. Governments today, believing that children belong rightly to themselves and not God and the family, steadily increase the number of laws which place families at risk of having their children taken from them. Parents in America today can face hardship from the authorities regarding the right to their own children if they fail to earn a certain amount of money, have too small of a house, or do not meet the federal standards for education. If a Social Services worker comes to your house inquiring about your neighbor’s income and methods of schooling, should you tell them the truth? Is it righteous for you to reveal things about your neighbor to government agencies that might result in the seizure of your neighbor’s children or land? Again, in this circumstance the same as the others, you have the moral obligation to protect your fellow man.

Conclusion

In the Biblical account of the midwives before Pharoah it would have been a wicked act for them to deal honestly with the Egyptian power structure and condemn thousands of Israelite babies to death. God’s law gives us both the pattern and parameters for righteous deception. Let us not seek to moralize and pretend to be more righteous than our Lord but rather be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves as we work for the establishment of His kingdom in righteousness, power, and glory.

[1] Matthew 7:6

[2] Numbers 13:6,30

[3] 1 Samuel 21:13-15

[4] Robert L. Dabney: Syllabus and Notes of the Course of Systematic and Polemic Theology (Richmond, Virginia: Presbyterian Committee on Publications, 1871,1890, p. 425 f.

[5] Christ’s command to turn the other cheek is very useful in such situations

[6] Matthew 4:7b

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Spirit of the Law: A Critique of Dr. Joel McDurmon’ Cherem Principle as Put Forward in His Book, The Bounds of Love

Table of Contents

 

Part 1

Cherem and the Purpose of Law

Dr. McDurmon on Cherem

Part 2

A Ministry of Death?

Arguments from Silence: Dr. McDurmon’s Abridgment Theory

5th Commandment

7th Commandment

Part 3

God’s Judgment: McDurmon’s Paradox

None Dare Call it Treason

Conclusion

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

God’s Judgment: Dr. McDurmon’s Paradox

 

Dispensing with the exegetical elements of Dr. McDurmon’s recent work, we will now move towards a broader topic: the idea of judgment. In all fairness to Dr. McDurmon, he does not seem to be arguing that his posited changes in cherem law completely retracts them from any type of enforcement. In fact he specifically makes the case for two forms of punishment for these law-breaking actions: ecclesiastical censure (excommunication) and direct societal judgment from heaven (such as was manifested against Jerusalem in 70 A.D.). The central narrative of many portions of The Bounds of Love is that the civil magistrate may not rightfully attempt to proscribe sanctions against offenders in the area of cherem law

On the subject of excommunication we heartily concur with Dr. McDurmon that the Church should not tolerate such evil practices within its congregations. To be cut off from communion with Christ’s Bride on earth is no laughing matter either; for to be so separated from God’s people is to be symbolically cut off from God Himself. The goal of such censure should always be reconciliation but nevertheless, how much better off would our churches be today if they denied people access to the benefits of the Church who continually engaged in gross and unrepentant sin?

Specifically speaking, for the church to place someone under excommunication is to place them under the ban, and the idea of the ban circles right back around to the Hebrew term cherem. The connection between excommunication, the ban, and cherem is ably noted by Rushdoony when commenting on the correlation:

Curse, ban, and anathema are basically the same concept. That which is under a curse, ban, or anathema is devoted or dedicated (cherem), i.e., given over to destruction at the requirement of God. In the church, the concept of the curse, ban, or anathema appears as excommunication.”[1]

Even though the underlying theme of the curse or ban is death, the church is allowed only excommunication as its highest possible sanction, meaning it must stop there. Symbolically speaking, excommunication means the same things as the civil magistrate’s death sentence: both sanctions remove the offender from contact with law-keeping people. Dr. McDurmon argues in favor of the continued practice of church discipline and dutifully cites passages where we see such judgments handed down from the Apostles.

Yet, when we turn to the civil magistrate, Dr. McDurmon’s position is that the magistrate does not have the same operating standard as the minister; he has no sanction against the cherem laws. For Dr. McDurmon, the two different institutions operate by differing standards in the New Testament era. It is telling that his argument for this is an argument from silence.

No cases of people being executed by the civil rulers for cherem infractions can be found in the New Testament Canon we are told. The conclusion drawn from this is the civil penalties for these crimes have been revoked. As we shall see, it is premature to make these assumptions based on the silence of the New Testament. In the days of the Apostles there were no righteous, God-fearing magistrates. We do not see any civil punishments which are in accord with any Biblical standards anywhere in the New Testament. This is not because God has revoked the ability of civil rulers to punish for offenses against His law.

We do not see His laws enforced because the rulers themselves were wicked. In fact, an unwillingness to obey God and implement His righteous law is a large factor in why both apostate Israel and pagan Rome would be totally obliterated by God within a fairly short amount of time from the closing of the New Testament Canon.

Furthermore, an argument from silence is a dangerous hermeneutic to employ when dealing with Biblical law in the New Testament precisely because we do not see any upholding of Godly laws. If Dr. McDurmon is going to argue that his point is supported by the fact that the New Testament nowhere records a person being executed for violations of the laws which he has grouped as cherem, then he cannot object when another scholar posits the same proofs in support of a total abridgment of theonomic standards for law. What’s good for the goose must be good for the gander.

The concept of the church being expected to enforce a standard different than that acted upon by the state creates further problems as well. The Christian view of society holds to a form of “institutional pluralism” where the three sanction-bearing societal institutions, family, church, and state, are all governed by the same law: God’s law. Within this pluralistic, hierarchical structure, individuals have the right of appeal from one institution to another.

If a man is wrongfully disinherited by his family he can appeal to the church or state for further investigation of his claims. If a man escapes punishment by the state for being a thief, the church can excommunicate the man and thus pressure him to repent and make restitution. This is quite a balanced and well-oiled system but in order for it to function all three governing agencies must be using the same yardstick, the same system of judgment. Gary North succinctly expresses our point here:

There is no doubt that Christianity teaches pluralism, but a very special kind of pluralism: plural institutions under God’s single comprehensive law system. It does not teach a pluralism of law structures, or a pluralism of moralities, for this sort of hypothetical legal pluralism (as distinguished from institutional pluralism) is always either polytheistic or humanistic.”[2]

To foist differing standards of judgment upon the different institutions is either polytheistic or humanistic. These are strong words but they are not easily dismissed. To remove from the state the ability to punish crimes for which the family and church are expected to render judgment is to fundamentally alter the fabric of Christian society. Taking things one step further, to thus truncate the civil magistrate is not only to alter society; it is, moreover, to spell its doom. This single point is in my mind the elephant in the room throughout Dr. McDurmon’s publication on the subject, and he plainly tells us as much. When speaking of the enforcement of the cherem principles, he says that the “sanction is no longer by earthly civil government, it is from the throne of Christ.”[3] And a little later he says that the law-breakers would receive an “even worse judgment that will come from the throne of grace. This judgment fell, in history, in God’s providence, in A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was utterly destroyed in the greatest demonstration of cherem devotion to destruction ever.[4]

The implications of this admission are astounding and that it is here cited as a proof for his argument is telling. God will obliterate, completely destroy, societies for permitting actions to go unpunished which He Himself has supposedly forbidden the magistrate to punish. This is a paradox extraordinaire. According to Dr. McDurmon’s thesis regarding the Cherem Principle, there is nothing a society can do to “remove the evil from its midst” which, if unchecked, will invite God’s destroying wrath. We must tolerate the wicked acts and then accept God’s vengeance upon our land. Dr. McDurmon’s theories nullify the very nature of the magistrate’s role. He must be an onlooker to the heinous acts which will bring a nation’s judgment and destruction. Safe to say, this is not a good plan for maintaining a working society.

 

None Dare Call it Treason

 

In a society which claims God as its king (that is to say a covenanted nation) God’s law is the operating standard for all human judgment and any failure to live by or enforce that law is treason against the terms of the covenant. The role of all three covenantal institutions, as well as God-fearing individuals, is to protect and promote the sanctity of the covenant. If the covenant is broken, the society is exposed to the consuming wrath of God. In this way, we can see that a necessary function of all three of these institutions, and the foremost job of the civil magistrate, is to avert the wrath of God.

When a petty criminal steals fifty dollars’ worth of goods from the local supermarket, he has broken the law and the state can lawfully intervene and force the man to pay restitution to the store owner.[5] In so doing, the state brings justice to the situation in so far as one man has wronged another. But more importantly, the justice of God has been satisfied. Now, we all recognize that the practice of justice cannot atone for the sin committed, but it can, by its restorative action, placate God’s demand for just judgment and law-keeping.

Any crime is primarily against God because it is primarily an offense against His holy covenant law. The job of the magistrate is to intervene into the situation and restore law and order before God does so personally. Once things have gotten bad enough for God to supernaturally intervene, pleading personal righteousness won’t help much. God judges societies in history and on earth, and He judges by the standard of His revealed, holy law. Woe unto those who would remove one jot or tittle and then teach others so.

Dr. McDurmon’s revolutionary thesis creates quite a problem (if acted upon) for the covenanted nation. The civil magistrate is forced to stay his hand while God’s covenant stipulations are trampled upon and the entire nation judged. The crux of the argument here is going to be over how to define the role of the state in the dispensing of God’s covenant to man. Does the state act only to restore law in relationships man to man? Or must it have its eye fixed on rendering justice unto God and recognizing that all sins are sins against our Covenant King? The Bible is clear as to which takes precedence. God’s word says:

“If one be found slain in the land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it is not known who hath slain him, then thine Elders and thy Judges shall come forth, and measure unto the cities that are round about him that is slain: And let the Elders of that city, which is next unto the slain man, take out of the droves an heifer that hath not been put to labor, nor hath drawn in the yoke. And let the Elders of that city bring the heifer unto a stony valley, which is neither eared, nor sown, and strike off the heifer’s neck there in the valley.

Also the Priests the sons of Levi (whom the Lord thy God hath chosen to minister, and to bless in the Name of the Lord) shall come forth, and by their word shall strife and plague be tried. And all the Elders of that city that came near to the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: And shall testify, and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. O Lord, be merciful unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay no innocent blood to the charge of thy people Israel, and the blood shall be forgiven them. So shalt thou take away the cry of innocent blood from thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord.”[6]

God’s consuming vengeance must be stayed. Clearly the focus of such a commandment as this is not only to restore man-to-man relations since, after all, the murderer is not caught. Rather the concern of the governing authorities is that in avenging Himself, God not destroy those who didn’t actually commit the act. It must be pointed out that there are also strong ceremonial elements to this passage, such as the sacrifice of the heifer, but the general equity remains and it speaks volumes. The magistrate must concentrate the ire of God against the law-breaker or else broad judgment (plague and strife) will befall all of the people.

To deny the separation of covenant-keepers from covenant-breakers is to accept the downward leveling of society. It is to tolerate that which God finds intolerable and thus invite His judgment. It is no short of covenant treason. And this point does not go unrecognized by Dr. McDurmon. He comments that “only in extreme or aggravated cases in which blasphemy or false worship aims to lead to revolution, sedition, terrorism, or treason would civil government intervention be appropriate.”[7]

The great irony herein is that blasphemy and false worship are always revolutionary, always seditious, and always treason against the God of the covenant. If Dr. McDurmon really believes that the magistrate can still intervene when covenant-breaking action could lead to or are themselves directly treasonous, then he has not really moved the ball down the field at all. This is because these actions are always treasonous!

It is on this point most of all which we would like to pressure Dr. McDurmon to please explain what he means in greater detail. Is he arguing that there are non-treasonous ways to break God’s covenant? Is it sometimes permissible to publicly blaspheme God and other times not? He himself opens up quite an arbitrary enforcement of the law when, after spending time demonstrating his thesis as to why all these commands do not belong unto the civil realm, he concludes that the civil magistrate actually still could enforce the Biblical penalties if the actions are “bad enough”. But who defines bad enough? Who defines treason? Rushdoony provides a keen definition of treason for us:

Because for Biblical law the foundation is the one true God, the central offense is therefore treason to that God by idolatry. Every law-order has its concept of treason. No law-order can permit an attack on its foundations without committing suicide. Those states which claim to abolish the death penalty still retain it on the whole for crimes against the state. The foundations of a law-order must be protected.”[8]

This point is rejected by many today in the name of “humanitarianism” and “compassion” but the truth remains that a society cannot tolerate an attack against its foundational principles. The foundational principles of a covenanted nation will be God’s treaty and the things contained therein. His laws must be obeyed and His honor and office must be respected. Any attack against the person or law of God will be the greatest form of treason that can be committed against the nation in covenant to God. The implicit import here is that Dr. McDurmon’s thesis constitutes either a shifting of its foundational premises away from those things expressed in Scripture and acted upon by Christians for two millennia, or it is has radical suicidal tendencies. Rushdoony speaks on this dilemma, saying:

The basic premise of the law and of society today is relativism. Relativism reduces all things to a common color, to a common gray. As a result, there is no longer any definition for treason, or for crime. The criminal is protected by law, because the law knows no criminal, since modern law denies the absoluteness of justice which defines good and evil. What cannot be defined cannot be delimited or protected. A definition is a fencing and a protection around an object: it separates it from all things else and protects its identity. An absolute law set forth by the absolute God separates good and evil and protects good. When that law is denied, and relativism sets in, there no longer exists any valid principle of differentiation and identification.”[9]

This brings us rather full circle in our discussion of Dr. McDurmon’s thesis. In denying the law its fundamental quality of separating the good from the evil, Dr. McDurmon has set forward a system of law where the lines become fuzzier and fuzzier until treason cannot be defined. Dr. McDurmon himself seems unable to define treason and must lamely conclude that if certain actions become bad enough they may be treason. Over against this lack of definition, it should be posited that any attack against or transgression of the law-order of God constitutes wicked treason and revolution. God’s Word is clear and we must have the integrity and honesty to stand upon it. Dr. McDurmon’s society is one which must tolerate treasonous acts and thus be subject to the downward leveling and eventual suicide which all such lack of differentiation inevitably brings.

 

Conclusion

 

We have submitted these petitions with a spirit of both humility and grave concern. If the forcefulness of the arguments presented is found distasteful, may the reader be assured that no hostility is borne by the writer. Writing rebuttals and critical reviews is a rather tough business, especially when conducted amongst friends.

In review, the main thing which we hope to accomplish by this work is to establish a better foundation upon which to further the examination of Dr. McDurmon’s Cherem Principle thesis. To Dr. McDurmon, three requests are made in conclusion: the hermeneutics used to reach the conclusions which this book does must be solidified, it must be shown that this new system can produce a definition of and defense against treason, and until these theses have been more thoroughly evaluated the rather uncharitable put-downs of past Christians need to be revoked.

In too many places throughout the reviewed work the hermeneutics and exegesis appeared to be a derivative of the conclusions. Over and above the exegetical qualms, the end result of the Cherem Principle thesis leaves us on a seemingly slippery slope.

Lastly, I have chosen here not to respond to Dr. McDurmon’s marathon of shame wherein he glibly condemns everyone from John Calvin to 17th century Reformed Baptists as being “dangerous” and Papists who only used God’s law as a pretext to advance the social theories of Justinian and Constantine. Aside from advancing characterized versions of historical figures, Dr. McDurmon’s rather heated accusations fall to the ground unless it can be ably demonstrated that the civil magistrate is forbidden to enforce those laws which he has identified with his “Cherem Principles”.

In a spirit of agreement we would thank Dr. McDurmon for not trumpeting our forefathers opinions and views as the gospel truth and we would concur that there are a great deal of men today who are little more than romantic play actors fantasizing about good-ole days that weren’t actually so good. That being said, our efforts in the here-and-now must be towards the goal of furthering God’s Gospel message and all of its ramifications to the praise of the glory of the riches of His grace. A great deal of excellent and pointed work has been done over the last fifty years, work which looks to bear fruit in the near future. Let us not turn aside from that path lest we forsake the good way and lose the small amounts of ground we have gained.

“Treason doth never prosper for if it succeed, none dare call it treason”

 

Acknowledgments

 

In closing I am obligated to express my indebtedness to my wife Rachel, whose self-sacrifice in watching our kids and doing the chores allows me the time to write. To Dr. Paul Raymond for allowing me to use the library at New Geneva to aid in the compilation of sources. Eli Jones and Caleb Green of Richmond Reformed Bible Church for their constant help and support throughout. Again to Caleb Green for taking the time to narrate this into audio form (narrating most of it twice because I couldn’t stop editing it). Fred Beall, for contributing the cover art. And especially to Jonathan Character who single-handedly structured this work into a format and presentation that was hopefully comprehensible. Finally, as a show of sincerity, I would like to thank Dr. Joel McDurmon who has shaped a great deal of my understanding of the Christian faith.

Sola Deo Gloria

Sola Gracia

Sola Scriptura

Solus Christus

Sola Fide

 

 

[1] Rushdoony, Institutes, p. 660 (content in parenthesis supplied)

[2] Gary North, Political Polytheism (Tyler, Texas: The Institute for Christian Economics, copyright 1989) p.576 (emphasis in original)

[3] Dr. McDurmon, Bound of Love: ch. 3

[4] ibid

[5] Or in the case of our “enlightened” society today, the state apprehends the petty criminal, forces the store owner to pay further for the criminal’s incarceration where he is exposed to much more severe criminals and he then returns to society prepared to engage in much worse acts than robbing a convenience store. Meanwhile, law-abiding societies have been paying for the whole operation.

[6] Deuteronomy 21:1-9

[7] Dr. McDurmon, Bounds of Love: ch. 3

[8] Rushdoony, Institutes: p, 38

[9] Ibid. p. 119

Spirit of the Law: A Critique of Dr. Joel McDurmon’s Cherem Principle as Put Forward in His Book, The Bounds of Love

Table of Contents

 

Part 1

Cherem and the Purpose of Law

Dr. McDurmon on CheremA Ministry of Death?

 

Part 2

Arguments from Silence: Dr. McDurmon’s Abridgment Theory

5th Commandment

7th Commandment

 

Part 3

God’s Judgment: McDurmon’s Paradox

None Dare Call it Treason

Conclusion

A Ministry of Death?

 

The discontinuity encountered in regards to the cherem principle is directly related to the difference in nature of the Old Covenant compared to the New.”

Dr. Joel McDurmon – Bounds of Love

 

In moving down the road toward his theory of why cherem laws no longer apply, Dr. McDurmon has sought to establish one connection for us to see: their supposed link to specifically Old Covenant conditions. The idea being that if these laws, (1st-5th & 7th commandments in his view) are firmly attached to the ceremonial types and shadows of the Older Covenant, they may be rightly assumed to have passed away with the coming of the New Covenant[1].

Before focusing directly upon this abrogation hermeneutic, we wish to point out two things concerning the three major factors which Dr. McDurmon seizes as the occasion for the temporary installment of the Cherem Principles. The first is that the Bible itself never explicitly connects the dispensation and jurisdiction of its own civil law-code to God’s presence in the temple, preservation of the seed, or physical inheritance of the land.

We read that God demands holiness of His people for His own holiness’ sake, but there is no mention of Dr. McDurmon’s three points. In order for one to “arrive” at the conclusion that these principles are what led to the temporary establishment of cherem law, there must be a great deal read back into the text. In other words, it is not a point at which one arrives, but rather where one begins and from there attempts to fit the rest of Scripture into that narrative.

Also, as pointed out already, Dr. McDurmon is operating with an alteration, or rather a redefinition, of what cherem law fundamentally is. Second, if God’s consuming presence in the Holy of Holies is what gave rise to the demand for such stringent standards, why aren’t the standards even higher today? We are told in the Acts of the Apostles that at Pentecost, “there came suddenly a rushing and mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they sat. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like fire, and it set upon each of them.”[2] 

Furthermore we know that our “body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, whom ye have of God.”[3] So while it is true that God’s direct presence is no longer upon the Ark within the inner sanctum of the physical temple, His presence is much more diffused throughout the world and in a much more direct way. As the new and greater temple, Christ’s Church carries God’s presence throughout the world and His consuming presence indwells them directly. It seems odd that God would institute a higher standard for society in a day when His Spirit remained within the center of the temple than in a day where He directly inhabits millions upon millions of people all over the earth. Certainly the consuming presence of the Lord is felt much more today than it ever was under the Older Covenant.

As an aside, flowing from the misunderstanding of a higher standard for societal righteousness, Dr. McDurmon continuously states that the Cherem laws demanded immediate destruction. This is a bit of a red herring on Dr. McDurmon’s part as no such claims are made by the Scriptures themselves. Putting aside any disagreements with Dr. McDurmon’s seemingly inconsistent allotment of just what is and isn’t cherem law, even the laws which he narrows down as cherem do not specify immediacy in any way. In fact one of the case laws which he cites as a Cherem Principle violation expressly says the following:

And if it be told unto thee, and thou has heard it, then thou shalt inquire diligently: and if it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel, then shalt thou bring forth that man, or that woman (which hath committed that wicked thing) unto thy gates, whether it be man or woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall he that is worthy of death, die: but at the mouth of one witness, he shall not die. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him, to kill him: and afterward the hands of all the people.”[4]

Note here that before anyone is put to death witnesses must be summoned, a verdict handed out, and a sentence pronounced. The description given is that of a regular court hearing, and like all court trials, it would seem to be a lengthy and involved process. To further complicate matters, this passage says that in this affair the witnesses must be willing to cast the first stones. This would serve to eliminate false witnesses or even timid honest ones, as many men would shy away from engaging in the actual execution. For the judges in Israel to find multiple witnesses who would obey God by partaking in the actual act of removing the evil influence, not just giving a testimony could take a great deal of time. The connection of cherem to immediacy in verdict needs to be dropped.

A second exaggeration coming from Dr. McDurmon is his claim that the passage previously cited (Deut. 17), if applied today, “would seem to require the death penalty for merely leaving the Christian faith. A simple apostate would, under the strict application of this passage, be required to die at the hands of the State.”[5] In opposition to these assertions, the Bible never demands men be punished by the magistrate for their personal beliefs or in-home religious practices. The proscription is against proselytizing. Under Biblical law, men are free to believe whatever they wish, as God never allows the State to pass judgments based upon its evaluation of men’s hearts and minds. What the Bible does forbid is for apostates to publicly proselytize within the community.

Consider Deuteronomy 13:

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thine own son, or thy daughter, or thy wife, that lieth in thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, (which thou has not known, thou I say, nor thy fathers) … Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hear him, neither shall thine eye pity him, nor show mercy, nor keep him secret: but thou shalt even kill him, thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and then the hands of the people … If thou shalt hear say (concerning any of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell in) Wicked men are gone out from among you, and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known, Then thou shalt seek, and make search and inquire diligently: and if it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you, thou shalt even slay, the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword: destroy it utterly, and all that is therein…”[6]

This passage makes clear that although the wicked act was turning away from the Lord, the thing which must be punished by the magistrate was the missionizing, the attempts to lead others away from the Lord also. A nation ruled by God’s law is not a nation which engages in constant inquisition so as to “ensure” the citizenries’ spiritual estate. The Bible makes this very clear and Dr. McDurmon’s equivocations toward the contrary further reveal a presupposition which he seems to be bringing to the table in all of this discussion. This underlying attitude, prevalent throughout his book, comes to the forefront in the following statements:

The law continues, as we have noted already, but it is now written on the minds and hearts of God’s people, not merely on stones and books. It is that the New Covenant is administered by the Spirit, from heaven, not from the letter on earth. It is also marked by permanence: whereas the Israelites broke the Old Covenant and God cast them away for it, this New Covenant is wrought by God Himself in our hearts and cannot be broken. It is also marked by general forgiveness as opposed to the call for immediate cherem death.”

And after citing from 2 Corinthians 3 he concludes:

This is hardly to say that the law in its entirety is brought to an end, but to show the difference in the nature of the two covenants and their administrations. The first was a ministry of the letter and death, the latter a ministry of the Spirit and life.”[7]

We can all agree with Dr. McDurmon that the New Covenant has certain and definite advantages over the Old, yet in order for him to posit his abridgment theory, he must advance the idea that the removal of any civil enforcement of cherem law is one such advantage. It should be noted that the repetition of the objectionable claim that the Old Covenant called for “immediate cherem death” reappears in the quote above, but of more importance is the fact that here this statement seems to be fleshed out in terms of Dr. McDurmon’s more comprehensive view of the Old Covenant.

He specifically defines it as a ministration of death and says that it was administered by the letter on earth. This is a characterization of the Old Covenant which any good Covenantalist, especially one of a Theonomic Postmillennialist strand such as Dr. McDurmon, should be not quite pleased with. Whether properly understood today or not, the Old Testament era is still part of the greater Covenant of Grace. It is by no means a “ministry of death” and it cannot be so heavily separated from the New Covenant without doing damage to several rules of interpreting the Scriptures. The Westminster Confession of Faith warns against finding such radical discontinuity within the covenant structure, it reads:

There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.”[8]

We may attempt to compare and contrast the different administrative eras of redemptive history in a variety of fashions, but they may not be set at odds with one another. Any and all of the eras of covenant history are a part of God’s greater Covenant of Grace which was set forth after the fall of man. Each differing era of covenant dispensation is a part or segment of the overall Covenant of Grace and to refer to any aspect of that life-promising, life-giving covenant as a “ministration of death” is inconsistent.

Furthermore, if we carefully examine the statements made by the Apostles in the New Testament which Dr. McDurmon draws from, we may come to see that they in no wise teach us to look at the Older Covenant eras as opposed but rather as progressing continuously towards the glorious unveiling of the New Covenant. Roderick Campbell gives us a useful rule of interpretation for evaluating such statements, he says:

Neither Jesus nor Paul intended to minimize the written or spoken word. No! it is not the word inscribed on stone or the spoken word shouted from the housetops that is the killing letter; but it is the word, whether Law or gospel, when not received in faith and love and when it does not produce the intended effects in heart and life. It is not the Law, whether of Moses or Christ, that kills; it is the neglect of the Law which is designed to lead men to Christ, and the neglect of the gospel which is the infallible remedy for the transgressor of the Law … When Paul is contrasting “the letter” with “the spirit” (2 Cor. 3:6), he has in view the preaching or the hearing of the word when it is not accompanied with the quickening and illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit, or when it does not produce the appropriate effects.”[9]

The contrast between a ministration of letter and of death and the ministration of the spirit and of life is not a contrast between the Old and New Covenants but between the proper and improper uses of the law (1 Tim. 1:8). If the law is viewed soteriologically then it is always a ministration of death, Old Testament or New. But when given its proper pedagogical place and accompanied by the Spirit of the Lord, it is always “holy, just, and good.”[10] In commenting on 2 Cor. 3, Dr. Bahnsen agrees with us when he says: “Paul does not despise the law, but exposes the error of exalting the law at the expense of the more glorious gospel … The fault lies with law breaking, not the law itself.”[11]

 

Arguments from Silence: Dr. McDurmon’s Abridgment Theory

 

Be all these things as they may, Dr. McDurmon’s thesis centrally hinges upon the fact that what he is defining as cherem law is specifically abrogated in its civil enforcement by the coming of the New Covenant. The reader familiar with Dr. McDurmon’s work will note that he himself told us, when speaking of the hermeneutics of continuity, that we must be careful in our exegetical method. Merely the fact that the New Testament does not repeat a specific law (or even mention it in one way or the other) may not be taken to assume that laws’ abrogation. The Christian’s rule of interpretation must be Christ’s own words from Matthew 5:18: “Not one jot or tittle shall pass away.”

The passage of Scripture which gives us the clearest picture of exactly which laws belonged unto the abrogated aspects of the Older Covenant is Hebrews 8-10. In particular Hebrews 9, in dealing with the provisional and thus temporary aspects of the Older Testament, tells us plainly that through these very things,

“the holy Ghost this signified, that the way into the Holiest of all was not yet opened, while as yet the first tabernacle was standing, which was a figure for the present time, wherein were offered gifts and sacrifices that could not make holy, concerning the conscience, him that did the service, which only stood in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal rites, which were enjoined, until the time of reformation.”[12]

The message here is a clear one: ordinances of meat and drink, divers washings, and carnal rites served a pedagogical purpose unto the incarnation of our Lord. Now that the fullness of glory has been revealed, these shadows need not remain. Christ, the long awaited King, Servant, Messiah and Savior has come and now the Holy Spirit indwells the Chosen People even as it once resided only within the inner sanctum of the temple.

These are the ways in which the New Covenant is “not like unto the Old.” To push the meaning of this passage from Hebrews further than this is to open the door to a dangerously wide variety of potential meanings. Yet, despite the inherent dangers, this is precisely what Dr. McDurmon does. When defining his central thesis as to the difference between the Old Covenant and the New, he cites Hebrews 8:8-12.

Now, Dr. McDurmon appeals to this passage as the clear and present reason for why the civil enforcement of cherem law is abrogated in the New Covenant. There is one rather large problem with this use of Hebrews to support his claims: the text in Hebrews interprets itself as to what laws the author has in mind and Dr. McDurmon’s Cherem Principles are nowhere to be seen. When writing to his Jewish audience, the author of the book of Hebrews was more than careful to spell out the points of discontinuity between the Older and New Covenants and their administrations.

As a rule of interpretation, it should be noted that when the Apostolic epistles address primarily Gentile audiences (such as Romans and 1 Timothy, and especially such passages as Romans 3:30-31, Romans 7:7,12-14, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11) the authors are careful to stress the holy and persisting natures of Old Testament law and when addressing a primarily Jewish audience to focus upon the points of abrogation and differences between the Older and New Covenants.

The reason for this is the background and understanding of the various recipients of the epistles. Different people were at different levels of maturity and struggled with different things. Both groups struggled with the law in different ways. For the Jews, they struggled to understand the ways in which Christ superseded the temporary administrative elements of the Older Covenant; laws which we Protestants have generally classified as ceremonial. Their problem was not antinomianism (against the law) but rather legalism.

The Jewish members of the First Century Church generally assumed total legal continuity between the two covenant administrations. In fact, and one of the primary reasons for the book of Hebrews being penned was to correct them in this belief. But for our present purposes what we must bear in mind is that every point of Older Testament law which is not specifically repealed here by this letter the recipients would have assumed to be still binding.

That they stopped far short of finding the abridgment of any “Cherem Principles” in this passage is evidenced by the fact that Dr. McDurmon is the first scholar in Christian history to advance this Cherem Principle abridgment thesis. The danger in grounding an argument in favor of “differences” in the covenant eras which is not directly contained in the text itself, an argument from silence in reality, is that the argument can be made to go anywhere.

Dr. McDurmon seeks to posit that one of the differences between the Old and New Covenants is the civil enforcement of his Cherem Principles, but the door which he here opens by not positively appealing to any direct passage from the surrounding context in Hebrews is that any scholar may now freely walk in, employ Dr. McDurmon’s hermeneutic, and declare that the difference between the Old and New Covenants is actually a total nullification of Old Testament law, or really anything which we should like them to be. If we do not limit our own definitions of covenantal discontinuity to that which the text expressly lays out, then we open it up to an incredibly wide spectrum of potential meaning.

Furthermore, that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews expected the people to assume continuity in matters upon which he does not touch cannot be denied as he twice appeals directly to the Old Covenant law in order to establish the severity of ignoring this word from God:

Wherefore we ought diligently to give heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we run out. For if the word spoken by Angels was steadfast, and every transgression, and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be preached by the Lord, and afterward was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”[13]

And a little later he adds,

For if we sin willingly after that we have received and acknowledged that truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a fearful looking for judgment, and violent fire, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despiseth Moses’ Law, dieth without mercy under two, or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be worthy, which treadeth under foot the Son of God…[14]

The Apostle is here asking a rhetorical question. This is the use of a popular logical argument on the part of the author: if p, then q. If you would receive this (p) for breaking the covenant in the Old Testament era, then expect this (q) in the New Testament era. If we remove the first part of the equation in the Apostle’s logical progression the entire line of reasoning collapses. But this is exactly what Dr. McDurmon does when he appeals to Hebrews 10:26-29 as support for his abridgment theory. He writes:

Keep in mind, the author was writing to Hebrews about the change from Old Covenant to New Covenant under Christ. The issue here would have been mass apostasy. The Hebrews who remained in unbelief after Christ would have been committing idolatry (false temple worship) and apostasy (denial that Christ has come in the flesh). Under the Mosaic administration, they would have been devoted to destruction (Ex. 22:20; Deut. 13; 17:2-5) by the civil government. The author of Hebrews acknowledges this. Yet he does not prescribe a cherem death penalty administered by the civil government. He prescribes an even worse judgment that will come from the throne of grace.”[15]

Dr. McDurmon here takes the argument made by the author of Hebrews and turns it on its head. Dr. McDurmon makes the severity of the threat to rest upon the nullification of the laws cited by the Apostle. Over against this interpretation of the passage at hand we may consider the words of Dr. Greg Bahnsen:

The punishment of the apostate under the new order is much sorer than under the old, and the equity of this terrifying judgment under the New Covenant is established by appeal to the Older Covenant law (read Heb. 10:26-29) – thereby assuming its foundational validity. Since the New Covenant brings with it further and worse punishment, we certainly should not see a turning back from the judicial tone, the law and penal sanction, of the Older Covenant. To the contrary, there is an intensification of it![16]

“To the contrary,” Dr. Bahnsen tells Dr. McDurmon, the Apostle’s appeal to Old Covenant law underscores its abiding validity both morally and in the penal sense. If the foundation for the proscription of punishment be here removed, what promise have we of judgment? Clearly, the context to which Dr. McDurmon attempts to fit these passages from Hebrews is not their natural or Biblical setting.

 

 5th Commandment

 

In order to hold his thesis together concerning which laws he has placed under the label of cherem, Dr. McDurmon must maintain some rather unusual and tenuous positions regarding the Fifth Commandment. Although placed within the First Table by Dr. McDurmon, the Fifth Commandment has traditionally been viewed as a bridge between the two broader sections of the Decalogue.

When we read the commandment to honor father and mother, the broader implication is to give due homage to all those in positions over us. Of all the various authorities under which a man in this life must live (family, church, state, and ultimately God Himself) the family is the lowest on the chain of command. Thus when we find the death penalty invoked by the law for disobedience to parents, the implication is how much less insubordination to the higher authorities will be tolerated. One of the case laws attached to the commandment makes this clear.

Deuteronomy 17:12 says,

And the man that will do presumptuously, not hearkening unto the Priest (that standeth before the Lord thy God to minister there) or unto the Judge, that man shall die, and thou shalt take away evil from Israel.”

Aside from the obvious fact that a man who must of needs come before the priest or magistrate for judgment has already broken the law, the greater sin here is in refusing to hearken unto the sentence handed down in punishment. Not only is the man in view now a criminal, he is doubly dangerous because of his blatant disregard for the way in which God has ordered human society be structured. That this commandment contains its own explanation or reason for this death sentence is telling. It simply demands that the evil be put away from amongst the covenant people. Rebellion against rightful authority will not be tolerated. God will not have any blatant rebels before Him.

It is of note that when commenting on this passage Calvin speaks of honoring parents only after giving space to proper submissiveness before God, the civil magistrate, and the ecclesiastical authorities. Viewed in this light, it becomes clear why this command is placed where it is; it has a bearing toward our service to God (First Table) and our service to man (Second Table). The most clear case law application of the Fifth Commandment is Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and it upholds the idea that honor and respect is the central focus:

If any man have a son that is stubborn and disobedient, which will not hearken unto the voice of his father, nor the voice of his mother, and they have chastened him, and he would not obey them, then shall his father and his mother take him, and bring him out unto the Elders of his city, and unto the gate of the place where he dwelleth, and shall say unto the Elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and disobedient, and he will not obey our admonition: he is a rioter, and a drunkard. Then all the men of his city shall stone him with stones unto death: so thou shalt take away the evil from among you, that all Israel may hear it, and fear.”

As an aside, it bears noting for clarity’s sake that the children which Deuteronomy 21 commands to be put to death are not five years old. In fact, it is not talking about minors at all. The passage is dealing with adult sons who are polluting the land with their wickedness and have continually refused to hearken unto the rebukes and chastisements of their parents. Notice the mentioned crimes are drunkenness and public disorderly conduct, not the actions of a fifteen year old. Parents are commanded to be the first to lay a hand in judgment upon their children for being rebellious parasites on society.

How much easier it is to apply the rod at a young age than to have to give public witness to one’s bad parenting by testifying that their own adult and criminal son deserves death at the hand of the civil magistrate? It should also be pointed out that this passage gives its own reason for its inclusion in the law. It has attached at the end, “That all Israel may hear and fear.” The law is again self-interpreting.

Notice there is no mention of the Lord’s alter fire presence or land inheritance laws contained in either of these case laws. Instead, there is just a Biblical injunction to remove the evil from society. Any connection to a heightened sense of judgment owed to the Lord’s tabernacle presence must be read into the text via the readers prior assumptions because we are given no hint that this law is anything more than what it plainly claims to be. Nevertheless, Dr. McDurmon advances his thesis and says this:

“…the Fifth Commandment is part of the First Table. It is a general principle but was also directly tied to inheritance in the land. Under Old Testament law, a son would inherit the land by mandate, not by choice of the parents. A rebellious, incorrigible son was therefore a threat. His wicked influence was to be permanently purged “from your midst” (21:21). (Note that this law is not said to apply to daughters, who could be just as wicked and rebellious, and just as incorrigible, yet could inherit the land only in rare circumstances)”.[17]

Not only is Dr. McDurmon here reading a great deal into the text which is nowhere plainly stated, but in attempting to interpret this commandment as having to do primarily with inheritance, he violates a fundamental rule of interpreting Biblical law. Biblical case law always works from lesser to greater in application. When a Biblical case law says that a man is responsible for another’s injuries in the event of an accident, the inference is how much more is the man responsible if the act which caused harm was intentional. Rushdoony speaks on the 5th commandment saying:

Biblical law is case law, and this law does not deal simply with sons. It means that if a son, who is beloved of the parents and an heir, must be denounced in his crime, how much more so other relatives? A family turning over its son to the law will turn over anyone. Thus, daughters were clearly included. The law said, “There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 23:17). “Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore” (Lev 19:29). The evidence would indicate that no Hebrew girl could become and incorrigible delinquent, and, in periods of law and order, remain alive.”[18]

This comment makes it clear that the Fifth Commandment absolutely does apply to daughters just as much as sons. If a family will turn its eldest son, its most prized heir, over to the civil authorities, how much more willing will they be to bring other relatives (such as daughters) to judgment? The principle of moving from the least application of the law upwards toward weightier matters is one of the basic rules of interpreting Biblical case law. If a theory necessitates the removal or ignoring of hard and fast hermeneutical guidelines, serious work to the theory is required.

As opposed to Dr. McDurmon’s assertions, the law applies to all incorrigible rebels who refuse to hearken unto the God ordained authorities. This is its clear intention and it has always been interpreted as such. Furthermore, Rushdoony gives no indication that this law is today abrogated, in fact he declares that “The law is clear enough; if only the interpreters were as clear![19] He then condemns the rabbinic exegetes for attempting to find loopholes in the plain import of this law and likens them unto the Supreme Court of our own land who would attempt to void the obvious implications of every standing law. For the serious student of Biblical law and its application to society, exegetical gymnastics such as this simply won’t be satisfactory.

 

7th Commandment

 

Having presented our arguments against Dr. McDurmon’s handling of the Fifth commandment, let us now advance to the Seventh. Dr. McDurmon begins talking about what he labels the “Seed Laws” (which fall under his greater Cherem Principle) in the same fashion he has broached his other thesis. He says that,

It is easy to conclude that all such sexual sins resulted in the confusion or defilement of the seed, or the defilement of inheritances, and were thus assigned the death penalty on such grounds – not merely on the grounds of their nature as sexual sins. We can tell in each of these cases that the death penalty was invoked not because of the nature of the sin or crime itself, but because it occurred in overlap with these particular sacred boundaries in the Old Covenant administration.”[20]

Again, it must be insisted that it would only be “easy” to make certain conclusions regarding the intent of these laws if that intent was plainly stated in the text. And in the case of the supposed “Cherem Principles”, no such statements are to be found. Only if we accept the hypothesis that the alter fire, the land as a covenant agent, and the immutability of fleshly inheritance conferred a heightened sense of judgment, can we find any evidence that breaking sexual laws is not simply an affront to God’s law-order in and of itself but a violation of cherem and thus of temporary import. Dr. McDurmon exegetes Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10 next to support his claims. These passages read thus:

If a man be found lying with a woman married to a man, then they shall die even both twain: to wit, the man that lay with the wife, and the wife: so thou shalt put away evil from Israel.” (Deut. 22:20)

“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, because he hath committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall die the death.” (Lev. 20:10)

The demands of this law are clear: the death penalty is applicable to all who commit adultery. However, in order for it to fit into Dr. McDurmon’s system adultery must be seen as a confusion of the seed and not necessarily a civil crime in and of itself. Dr. McDurmon bids us “Consider, for example, the references to adultery just mentioned. One case involves a married man sleeping with a married woman (Lev. 20:10). The other involves any man sleeping with a married woman (Deut 22:22). Each could receive the death penalty. But what of a case between a married man and an unmarried woman? There is no mention of it, although the law regularly specifies when any particular law applies to man, a woman, or both. The silence here is therefore evidence of a non-law.”[21]

In reading this last quotation, one must pause for a moment at the sheer chutzpah with which this statement is put forward. Dr. McDurmon here attempts to convince us that a married man may lawfully have an extramarital affair, as long as his partner is unmarried!

Assuredly Dr. McDurmon would grant that the adulterous act does give the offended spouse the right of divorce, but nevertheless this entire assertion is preposterous. Adultery of any variety falls under the Biblical stipulation that an adulterer be put to death. Biblical law is clear: if an unmarried man has intercourse with an unmarried woman the offending man must pay the girl’s father her bride price and marry her unless the father absolutely refuses the man as a husband for his daughter. If the man is married, he is an adulterer and deserves death.

The simple wording of the general commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” covers this. To attempt to justify his “exegesis” here, Dr. McDurmon appeals to the Levirate marriage laws and the allowance for polygamy. Neither of these laws, however, have a bearing on the command to abstain from sexual relationships outside of the marriage bond. The polygamist, even as socially unacceptable as his behavior may be, is technically legally married to each of his wives. The Levirate laws were for preserving the priesthood and were thus ceremonial, but even here the man was required to enter into legal marriage with his sister-in-law before cohabitation was legal.

Interestingly, Jesus Himself, when responding to the Pharisees in Mark 10, condemns Dr. McDurmon’s understanding of the laws governing adultery:

Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”[22]

If a man is committing adultery by divorcing his current wife for the express purpose of marrying another woman, how much more does he stand condemned if he engages in an adulterous affair while still married? Assuredly there can’t be too much question as to the meaning of this passage.

It is ironic that Dr. McDurmon actually brings this passage from Mark into focus while positing a different interpretation. Citing the entire passage, he finds Christ’s words to be a revocation of the Old Covenant’s laws concerning divorce and adultery. He tells us:

Altogether this means that Jesus reinstated the original power of marriage … The ramifications of this are profound. It is clear now that marriage is no longer tied to the seed laws and inheritance laws – those being abolished.”[23]

Dr. McDurmon here attempts to do what no exegete should ever do – pit Jesus against Moses. He attempts to say that Moses allowed a temporary allotment for divorce because of the supposed seed and inheritance laws under the Old Covenant administration; an allotment for divorce which is now rescinded by Jesus’ further word in Mark. But this will not do.

Jesus does not rebuke Moses or even cast aspersion upon Christ’s own laws of marriage and divorce given at Sinai. Rather, He challenges the prevailing definitions of divorce which were everywhere wreaking havoc in His own day. Concerning arguments akin to Dr. McDurmon’s, Greg Bahnsen warns us saying:

When we turn to the antithesis on divorce we again find no grounds for asserting that Christ breaks with the outlooks of God’s inspired word. While some have alleged to find a repudiation of Older Testament morality here, in actuality it was the hard-hearted and distorted interpretation put forward by the Pharisees that Christ reproved, not the law itself.”[24]

Dr. Bahnsen then informs us that this prevailing understanding of marriage and divorce seems to have originated with a particular sect of rabbinic scholarship, that of Rabbi Hillel. He says that “its teaching seemed to prevail in Christ’s day, permitting a man to divorce his wife for talking to loud, for poor preparation of his meal, or even for not being as beautiful as another woman.”[25] That it is this view of divorce which Christ repudiates, not the Mosaic law, cannot be denied.

Rather than attempt to see the Mosaic commandments on divorce as temporary, we should understand that the hardness of heart for which God’s law makes accommodation is the hardness which was introduced at the fall, in the garden. When Christ tells His audience that from the beginning it was not so that divorce would be granted, He is not speaking of human history up until the onset of the Mosaic law but rather of the nature of man before the fall into sin.

The only reason here it becomes necessary for Dr. McDurmon to attempt to pit Jesus’ teaching on divorce against Biblical law is to uphold his own tenuous arguments. Again Jesus is not concerned about a confusion of seed or the Cherem Principles. Any such meaning must be artificially read into the text.

[1] When I say that Dr. McDurmon speaks of these laws having passed away, I must remind the reader that he speaks of only the earthly enforcement of these laws at the hand of the civil magistrate. Dr. McDurmon still holds that these actions are violating God’s commands and warrant His judgment, but that the judgment will be handed down directly from heaven instead of the indirect use of the civil magistrate as the agent of God’s wrath. As we shall see later on, this presents major problems for Dr. McDurmon’s thesis.

[2] Acts 2:3-4

[3] 1 Cor. 6:19

[4] Deut. 17:4-7

[5] Dr. McDurmon, Bounds of Love: ch. 3

[6] Deut. 13:6-9,12-15

[7] Dr. McDurmon, Bounds of Love: ch.3

[8] 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 7, S. 6

[9] Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, copyright 1954) p. 47

[10] Romans 7:12 — Romans 7 speaks directly to this issue and Paul argues that the law is spiritual (v. 14) but because of our sinful carnality it kills us. The defect here does not belong unto the Law of God, but our fallen nature.

[11]Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy: p. 221 (emphasis in original)

[12] Hebrews 9:8-10

[13] Hebrews 2:2-3

[14] Hebrews 10:26-29

[15] Dr. McDurmon, Bounds of Love: ch. 3

[16]Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, copyright 1977) p. 195 (emphasis from original)

 

[17] Dr. McDurmon, Bounds of Love: ch. 3

[18] R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Copyright 1973) p. 187

[19] Ibid. p.185

[20] Dr. McDurmon Bounds of Love: ch. 3

[21] ibid

[22] Mark 10:11

[23] Dr. McDurmon, Bounds of Love: Ch. 3

[24]Dr. Greg L Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, copyright 1977) pp. 97-98

[25] Ibid. pp.98-99

A Critique of Dr. Joel McDurmon's Cherem Principle as Put Forward in His Book, The Bounds of Love

Spirit of the Law: A Critique of Dr. Joel McDurmon’s Cherem Principle as put forward in His book, The Bounds of Love

For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet faileth in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, said also, Thou shalt not kill. Now though thou doest none adultery, yet if thou killest, thou art a transgressor of the Law.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 James 2:10-11

 

I have had more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancient, because I kept thy precepts”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Psalms 119:99-100

 

Forward by Rev. Andrew Sandlin

 I appreciate having been asked to comment on this critical review. I will refrain from making comments on the substance, since I have not had the opportunity to read Dr. McDurmon’s book. Instead, I’d like to emphasize and applaud the gracious spirit of this response, which, unfortunately, contrasts starkly with much (not all) of the theonomic literature of the past, both pro and con. That debate, on both sides, was often prosecuted in such acrimonious terms that many devout observers understandably walked away. The spirit of this present response is not to be classified that way, and if it helps to move the discussion about theonomy forward, not just in a credibly substantive, but also in a dispositionally winsome, way, it will have proved valuable.

 Andrew Sandlin

Founder & President

Center for Cultural Leadership

 

 Forward by Richmond Reformed Bible Church

“Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The Lord saith: and the Lord hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.”                                                                                                           — Ezekiel 13:5-6

 

This is a day and age where men and women in the Church are not standing in the gaps. Paganism and humanism are having their way in the pulpits of many Churches in America. It is for this reason that the Reformed Church is so important. Being a Reformed Church is all about seeking what God requires for our lives and our church order. In a Christian Reconstructionist assembly, we take the mandate to go into all the world and make disciples of the nations to heart. It is imperative for us to uplift God, the old true doctrines, and to not compromise ourselves and our doctrines to better conform to the latest whims of societal decadence.

It is for this reason, when someone comes along with a new doctrine or a new idea for the Church that we stop and take stock in our foundations. We cannot be like the modern American Church and blend paganism and Christianity together because it tickles the ears of the hearers. God has very condemning words for pastors and teachers who fail to uphold what He requires.

This paper comes at such a time and in such a place where this is happening more frequently. New ideas are being presented to the Reformed Theonomic Church. The orthodox standards passed down by our forbearers and the historic church are being called into question. This could be a time of monumental change for the worse; or this could be a time of reformation. We must be careful to not be led away from the walls. This is a time for rebuilding and reconstructing and we cannot be led away by new ideas that do not comport with God’s Word. It is in this spirit and with this intent that this paper is put forward to the Church.

“God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.”                                                                                          –Romans 3 4

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”                                                                                     –Isaiah 40:8.

 Eli Jones

Elder, Richmond Reformed Bible Church

 

 Preface

 “For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet faileth in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10

Any discussion concerning law, is never a question of “law” or “no law” but rather “whose law?” If man can decide what is righteous, just and equitable he becomes the lawmaker. However, as a result of the fall, mankind,[1] in his natural state, cannot properly determine what is right or wrong since he is both fallible and rebellious to everything that is holy, just and good. Natural man is theologically and philosophically flawed when it comes to accurately identifying good and evil since he is enmity against righteous God. His operating motive is selfish with no regard to God’s will for justice since he desires to be as God knowing good form evil.[2]

This is especially true in the area of penology. How can man know what is the proper response to crime if he is unable to define right and wrong? Without this knowledge, how can man restore order through a just penal system? The answer is, he cannot.

R.J Rushdoony perceptively observes,

“Over the centuries, virtually all heresies have been hostile to the Old Testament, or have decreed that it is now an ended dispensation, or in one way or another have down-graded it in part or in whole… Down-grading the Old Testament is a way of re-writing the New because the meaning of the New is destroyed if the Old Testament is set aside in any fashion. As a result, the “New Testament Christianity” of such heresies winds up being no Christianity at all.”[3]

Sins and crimes are clearly spelled out in Scripture. While all sins are not classified as crimes, all crimes however are sins, and they are clearly spelled out with God’s commanded restitution penalty attached. Whenever a crime is committed societal chaos results. God’s penal law of righteous restitution, when it is applied accurately, restores order out of that chaos. The penology of Scripture restores the culture God-ward by commanding Biblical restitution which is perfectly just and equitable because it comes from the Divine Lawgiver, Who is Himself holy, just and equitable.[4]

Once God’s moral law and His carefully prescribed penology is perverted, changed, or ignored, the culture devolves into chaos resulting in God’s negative sanctions.

In Robert Hoyle’s critique of Dr. McDurmon’s “Bounds of Love” where McDurmon asserts that some of God’s moral laws are now to be understood as “ceremonial in nature” and therefore some of God’s penology is not to be enforced. Hoyle offers this as a prelude to his disagreement;

“Throughout the history of the Church there have always been many ongoing debates, not the least of which is the validity and applicability of Biblical law to contemporary society. This being the case, it is from time to time necessary to remind both the Church and society at large of the necessity of maintaining laws and a system of justice which is in accord with the will and law of God.”[5] Holye’s argument is quite compelling and his hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures is scholarly and well thought-out. What makes this work so unique, however, is the spirit of humility in which his argument is undertaken. Hoyle says this,

“One of the men who has proven to be a most dedicated and sound defender of our Lord’s revealed directives for righteous governance has been Dr. Joel McDurmon. Doubtless everyone who reads this will have been, at some point, profoundly impacted by Dr. McDurmon’s many works on the topics of apologetics, Biblical law, eschatology, and epistemology; and his generosity in providing most of his works for free online has only served to make his impact and accessibility so much more apparent. Recognizing these things, it can only be with a spirit of humility and brotherly exhortation that I now present this criticism of Dr. McDurmon’s several theses regarding the application of certain elements and aspects of Biblical law as presented in his 2016 publication, The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty.”[6] Holye’s honorable approach to this critique is refreshing especially during this age of slanderous assaults, personal insults, and the vicious arguments commonly conducted on Facebook, mostly by men who really should know better. And yet, Hoyle does not stand alone in his critique. It is shared by many other well-known and well respected theologians. All of this aside, whether you agree with Mr. Hoyle or Dr. McDurmon is not the issue here. A much more serious issue is at hand. The pressing issue is not so much as to which side of the theological debate you are on, but rather how the theonomic community is going to come together in brotherly love in order to apply God’s commandments to our culture. A culture which is crumbling around us mostly due to the infighting amongst Reformed Christians. This debate is a test to see how the saint, or those so-called, respond to one another. The manner in which one responds to this and other position papers will no doubt reveal whether they are in fact Christ’s disciples indeed.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Joh 13:35”

Regnum enim Christi, Deo Vindice!

Rev. Dr. Paul Michael Raymond

 

Introduction

 Throughout the history of the Church there have always been many ongoing debates, not the least of which is the validity and applicability of Biblical law to contemporary society. This being the case, it is from time to time necessary to remind both the Church and society at large of the necessity of maintaining laws and a system of justice which is in accord with the will and law of God. In his providence, God has seen fit to bless us with a particularly robust number of men who have been given the call to defend His righteous and just statutes over the last two generations and it is only from a devout and fervent desire to see this necessary work grow and develop that I do now submit these humble petitions.

One of the men who has proven to be a most dedicated and sound defender of our Lord’s revealed directives for righteous governance has been Dr. Joel McDurmon. Doubtless everyone who reads this will have been, at some point, profoundly impacted by Dr. McDurmon’s many works on the topics of apologetics, Biblical law, eschatology, and epistemology; and his generosity in providing most of his works for free online has only served to make his impact and accessibility so much more apparent. Recognizing these things, it can only be with a spirit of humility and brotherly exhortation that I now present this criticism of Dr. McDurmon’s several theses regarding the application of certain elements and aspects of Biblical law as presented in his 2016 publication, The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty.

Specifically, I should like to give a further examination and counter argument to his thesis regarding the Cherem Principles and their alleged relation to “First Table” offenses, and his Seed Law theory and its connection to adultery and land inheritance. Dr. McDurmon’s recent writings on these topics provide a new perspective on the issues with which he deals and he himself has admitted that his conclusions are a break with the Reformed tradition and the historical understanding of Christian theologians on the subject. Thus it seems only right that a certain amount of perspective should be given here before his theses can be duly and properly evaluated.

Before we begin, it seems prudent to bring to the reader’s attention a few rules which should always preside over any disagreement or debate betwixt Christian brethren. Those being that we must always be charitable and humble towards those who disagree with us as long as it is possible to rationally accept that they may, in good faith and will, genuinely believe the positions to which they hold are correct. No man is perfect and he ought not to act as such. We all have our shortcomings and it is foolish to think otherwise. The wise Christian should always remember that it is only as a body, as a collaborative group, that we can properly hold and maintain the true Christian faith.

John Frame, a man known for his charity and graciousness, gives a concise recommendation when he tells us that many of our disagreements and contentions could be avoided if “theologians showed a bit more love toward their opponents and their readers, a bit more humility about their own level of knowledge, a bit more indulgence in pursuing the truth, a little more simple fairness and honesty.”[7]

He then summarizes several ways in which unnecessary misunderstanding and animosity can be brought into a situation, he begins with one of the worst: “the practice of taking an opponent’s view in the worst possible sense, without first seeking to find a way of interpreting him so that his view is more plausible or even correct.”[8]

Further down he tells us that “In expounding his opponent’s views, the theologian may present only the most controversial or objectionable features of his opponent’s position[9], thus pretending that his opponent is making a less cogent or orthodox case than what he actually is. And one last significant deficiency which Frame cautions us to avoid is to “correctly identify a weakness in the view of another but…play that weakness for far more than it is really worth.”[10]

Healthy and oft-times spirited debate is one of the primary methods of advancing the cause of truth in any age. With this have no problem, yet there is too often today a spirit of contrariness for contrariness’ sake which tends to detract from the meaningful conclusions that might otherwise be drawn from conversation and even disagreement. This is a very wearying reality and an attitude which I hope to both avoid and transcend with the publication of these petitions. It is with these prerequisites before us that we now proceed.

With love and sincerity, Robert J. Hoyle

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Part 1

Cherem and the Purpose of Law

Dr. McDurmon on Cherem 

 

Part 2

A Ministry of Death?

Arguments from Silence: Dr. McDurmon’s Abridgment Theory

5th Commandment

7th Commandment

 

Part 3

God’s Judgment: McDurmon’s Paradox

None Dare Call it Treason

Conclusion

 

 

 

 Cherem and the Purpose of Law

 In his work on God’s law, Dr. McDurmon takes the time to introduce the reader to the historic division of Old Testament law into three sections; ceremonial, judicial (or civil), and moral. He then challenges the traditional separation of judicial/civil and moral commands, saying that “the commandment against murder is certainly moral, but it also certainly has civil ramifications. We ought therefore to inquire of the converse, and we will find that virtually all of the civil side of the equation is just as much moral as it is civil – including the level of punishment described.”[11]

This means that every civil crime, by nature of its being a crime, has civil ramifications (prescribed punishments from the magistrate) which are also spelled out by Scripture. On this point we totally concur with Dr. McDurmon. The connection between any act which transgresses the law, and the punishment thereof, cannot be broken. If God has declared some act (such as theft or murder) to be a crime, He has not then merely left man to his own devices to discern how this crime ought to be punished.

Furthermore, God’s revealed Word not only communicates to us what actions He hates and expects to be punished by the duly invested authorities (whether they be familial, ecclesiastical or civil) but also how those illegal actions are to be punished. That this theme of revealed law and justice is a prominent one throughout Scripture cannot be denied, for Jesus Himself tells us that:

Till heaven and earth perish, one jot or one tittle of the Law shall not escape, till all things be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall observe and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”[12]

The thrust of Christ’s message here is that His law is eternal and binding and for men to abridge or forego any “jot or tittle” of it without express Biblical warrant is a grave offense. This gives us a rule of interpretation, or hermeneutic, by which we might evaluate any point of continuity or abridgment in matters of God’s law.

Protestants have always held that the ceremonial aspects of Old Testament law have now passed away. The Scriptures plainly tell us that observance of days, washings, and keeping of feasts held a temporary position until their realization, Christ, arrived. However, there has been continuous debate as to what extent the moral and judicial elements remain. One side claims that almost no continuity exists between New Testament moral commands and the Old Covenant law, while more conservative theologians argue for a great deal of continuity between Older and New Testament law.

The chief aspect of law which we must always keep before us is its unavoidable religious underpinnings. There is a great deal of confusion amongst many Christians today about the validity of inherently religious, and especially Christian, law. Listening to the political commentators and historians who guide much of the thought in our fair land, one would come to the conclusion that the ultimate standard for law is one of total objectivity and neutrality towards any religious affinity.

The elephant in the room which this “neutral” or pluralist view overlooks is the inescapably religious nature of law itself. Law must always be derived from some source; there must be a foundation for the standards and statutes which will govern a society. That source will always be the god of that society. Amidst their torrent of cries for toleration, humanists themselves reveal a dogged intolerance toward any law code which sniffs of even a faint whiff of Christianity. In the same vein, Muslims also work tirelessly to implement their own laws in a society where members of their religion are plenteous.

Why is it that seemingly every non-Christian faction works to see its laws implemented while Christians are left calling for fairness and objectivity? Why can’t all the parties agree to play nice? Christians look back to the “good-ole days” when our enemies played nice and everyone could be religiously “neutral” when it came to politics and governing the nations. The wake-up call for Christians today is that those good-ole days never actually existed! “What fellowship hath light with darkness?” the Bible asks us. For Christians, the source of law is not some innate common sense in man or the general consensus or common will of the people. Instead, it is the revealed will of God, His word and the law therein.

God’s law is a covenant treaty. God is a conquering warrior and His law is the standard by which He demands that His people live and govern themselves. Thus the law, whether it be a law which we commonly classify as moral, such as “Thou shalt not covet,” or civil, “Any man that smiteth another that he die, shall be put to death,” serves the purpose of protecting the people from the wrath of God. Being holy, God cannot tolerate a society which tramples upon His righteous expectations and standards. He will visit judgment upon them, He commands us to “Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”[13] 

This command repeats itself in Scripture and it is the underlying theme of Biblical law. Law is designed not to save us from our sins for it is not the instrument of justification. It was believing erroneously in salvation by the law which merited Jesus’ continued rebuttals of the Pharisees and Jewish culture in His day. However, law does reveal the standard by which God expects us to live, as individuals, as a church, and as a nation. Christ’s atoning work purchases our forgiveness for when we do fall short of God’s law, and fall short all men do. That does not mean we are not to try, but rather that we must run the race with endurance!

So we see that law is treaty, God’s hook in the jaws of the nations so-to-speak. If they break God’s law He will destroy them. If they obey God’s law He will bless them. It’s a simple proposition. Rushdoony comments on the concept of law as treaty, when he tells us:

Law is in every culture religious in origin. Because law governs man and society, because it establishes and declares the meaning of justice and righteousness, law is inescapably religious, in that it establishes in practical fashion the ultimate concerns of a culture. Accordingly, a fundamental and necessary premise in any and every study of law must be, first, a recognition of this religious nature of law.

Second, it must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society…Third, in any society, any change of law is an explicit or implicit change of religion. Nothing more clearly reveals, in fact, the religious change in a society than a legal revolution. When the legal foundations shift from Biblical law to humanism, it means that the society now draws its vitality and power from humanism, not from Christian theism.”[14]

This is an important point for us to bear in mind: any change away from God’s clearly revealed law-order is an act of revolution against God, and thus the introduction, whether implicit or explicit, of some other religious source for law. God’s law is a like a peace treaty with man, a plain publication of the things which we must not do lest He avenge Himself upon us. To stray to another law code is to stray from God Himself, break His “treaty”, and ultimately reveal that a new religion has supplanted our professed Christianity. Christians would do well to keep that in mind as they survey the world around them and the problems that we face in society. If we accept laws and standards of justice which run contrary to what the Bible tells us God demands, we must brace ourselves for God’s judgment.

Understanding that God’s law is a divine revelation, or treaty toward a covenanted nation, the second big point we must remember about law is that it is a form of warfare. Any law-system is going to be explicitly at war with all other law-orders. There can be no neutrality between Sharia law and Humanistic law. There can be no neutrality between English Common Law as theorized by Edmund Burke or John Locke and Christian law as spelled out in Scripture. Now, they may share some “common ground” as this is almost unavoidable but there is no neutrality.

Natural Law, Biblical law and Sharia law all agree that murder deserves capital punishment. Humanist law not so much. But the commonality betwixt the systems will cease there, for Christians execute murderers because God commands it whereas Muslims execute murderers because Allah tells them to, and a good adherent to Natural Law because it is the “common sense” thing to do. Every one of these systems of law have their differing source and standard and thus there can be no neutrality amongst them. Rushdoony again neatly summarizes the idea of law as war:

Fourth, no disestablishment of religion as such is possible in any society. A church can be disestablished, and a particular religion can be supplanted by another, but the change is simply to another religion. Since the foundations of law are inescapably religious, no society exists without religious foundations or without a law-system which codifies the morality of its religion.

Fifth, there can be no tolerance in a law-system for another religion. Toleration is a device used to introduce a new law-system as a prelude to a new intolerance. Legal positivism, a humanistic faith, has been savage in its hostility to the Biblical law-system and has claimed to be an “open” system … Every law-system must maintain its existence by hostility to every other law-system and to alien religious foundations or else it commits suicide.”[15]

As can be seen, these two points go hand in hand. For the society or the individual chosen by God to be His own, His law is their treaty. For the individual or society which perseveres in hardness of heart and apostasy, the law is warfare. The law, when properly used in the hands of God’s people with the guiding aid of His Spirit, is the ultimate form of warfare against the ungodly. It is not primarily a physical form of war for the Christian’s war is primarily spiritual, but God’s law is the basis of the ethical/judicial warfare that exists between covenant keepers and covenant breakers within history.

In this way the law is also a dividing line, a form of separation between good and evil; between lawful obedience and lawlessness. The course of history is the progressive ethical separation of the elect and the reprobate. Wheat becomes more “wheat-like” and tares become more “tare-like”.[16] It is this idea of law as the bar of separation which introduces us to the idea of “cherem”, and Cherem law.

Cherem is a Hebrew word and like most Hebrew words it can carry a few different meanings over into English. Strong’s concordance defines it thus: “to seclude; specifically (by a ban) to devote to religious uses (especially destruction); physical and reflexive, to be blunt as to the nose; make accursed, consecrate, (utterly destroy), devote, forfeit, have a flat nose, utterly (slay, make away).”

We see cherem employed when God commands Joshua to destroy Jericho. The entire city was to be placed under the ban, utterly destroyed, and thus the word cherem is used. In Judges 1:17 we are told that Judah and Simeon utterly destroyed the Canaanites dwelling in Zephath; here utterly destroyed is in the Hebrew the word “cherem.” The cherem theme of all law is that law is a form of separation between God’s people and rebellious mankind. For the Hebrews settling in a new land the law was a tool of separation.

The whole law implied that separation by declaring that wickedness was to be cherem, or devoted unto destruction. The covenant-keeping Israelites were not to tolerate covenant-breaking actions within their midst. To do so was an illegitimate mixture of clean and unclean and was explicit treason against God’s law-order.

The same is true of us today. The law is cherem in that it pronounces God’s total intolerance of covenant-breaking actions and demands that God’s people be separate from such wickedness. There must always be a wall of separation between covenant-keeping and covenant-breaking. This principle of separation is given full manifestation by the law’s “cherem” nature. Dr. Joseph Morecraft III, in studying the cherem aspects of Jericho’s destruction comments ably on cherem. His thoughts are lengthy but so valuable that the reader will forgive us for listing them nearly unaltered.

Toleration of evil in ourselves, our homes, our churches, our schools, our usinesses, our courts, our communities, and our nations is intolerable, and displeasing to God. A society that tolerates evil collapses under the righteous judgment and anger of the God who “hates all workers of iniquity.” Good and evil cannot peacefully co-exist. They are arch-enemies always out to destroy the other. Religious and ethical pluralism in a society are impossibilities – one religion and ethics will prevail over the other.

In our American culture, the issue is not WHETHER religion and ethics will influence and dominate culture, but WHICH religion and ethics will dominate culture: biblical Christianity or some form of anti-Christianity…Because Jehovah is a God who separates his people from the pagan world by his Covenant Law and Promises, separation is not only a basic element of salvation, it is also a basic principle of biblical law with respect to religion, morality, and society.

As R. J. Rushdoony has written: “Every attempt to destroy this principle is an effort to reduce society to its lowest common denominator. TOLERATION is the excuse under which this leveling is undertaken, but the concept of toleration conceals a radical intolerance. In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions as though no differences existed.

The believer has a duty of lawful behavior toward all, an obligation to manifest grace and charity where it is due, but not to deny the validity of the differences which separate believer and unbeliever, (Israelite and Canaanite). In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to tolerate all things because the unbeliever will tolerate nothing: it means life on the unbeliever’s terms. It means that biblical order is denied existence, because all things must be leveled downward. The basic premise of the modern doctrine of toleration is that all religious and moral positions are equally true and equally false. In brief, this toleration rests on a radical relativism and humanism.””[17].

Here is reiterated for us in a very concise form all of which we have been trying to convey. The law is treaty, the law is warfare, and the law is separation. As assuredly as God’s “called out ones”, or ekklesia, are called out, they are called unto something. Not called unto nothing, or unto something which is just a baptized form of what the world is practicing. God has a radically different plan for His chosen people; a difference realized ultimately in heaven and hell.

In history, these two people groups are always separated: in religion, in worship, and in law. One group is consecrated to life and the other consecrated to destruction. This consecration is the embodiment of cherem and it is with this understanding of the “Cherem Principle” that we shall next examine Dr. McDurmon’s unique thesis.

 

Dr. McDurmon on Cherem

Over against the fundamental characteristic of law as separation we previously found that Dr. McDurmon posits a new perspective, which he labels the “Cherem Principle”. For the purposes of his thesis, Dr. McDurmon equates cherem, or the Cherem Principle, with certain elements of Biblical law which he proposes are now passed away.

He says, “Cherem is peculiar to the Old Testament administration because it functioned only in the context where God’s presence was in the physical temple/tabernacle, in the alter fire, the land itself was holy and was an agent of sanctions, and the inheritance of God’s covenant promises was through blood descent and external possession of the Holy Land. As we have seen, all of these realities have been drastically altered by the New Testament economy. The civil penalties based upon the Cherem Principle must be considered in this light as well.[18]

Moving from this position, Dr. McDurmon directly relates the first four commandments of the Decalogue, commonly grouped together as the First Table, as well as the Fifth and Seventh Commandments, to the Cherem Principle and then declares them to have either lessened or no civil sanctions in the New Covenant era.

He says, “It is my conclusion that civil governments no longer have authority to apply cherem punishments in the New Covenant. So which laws does this cover? In general, these are all First Table offenses: false worship, apostasy, idolatry … The cherem principle indicates that certain other death penalties related to the First Table would also no longer apply. It would include laws relating directly to inheritance in the land, even when it crosses into family matters”.[19]

And further down he adds, “We cannot stress enough how intricately God’s cherem presence was tied to the priestly, temple, land, separation and inheritance laws…There are other death penalties involved in such overlap as well. These include the death penalty for certain types of adultery as well as bestiality and homosexual sodomy.[20]

The crux of Dr. McDurmon’s thesis is that any “cherem” elements of the law indicated a temporary increase in severity of punishment because of their supposedly symbolic and ceremonial nature. In his study of the Hebrew term cherem, he shows that it was a devotion to total destruction. With this we have no qualms. However, his selection of just what is and what isn’t cherem law is rather arbitrary and the conclusion reached, that any laws which he chooses to connect with cherem are now rescinded from civil enforcement is a conclusion which has precious little Biblical support and less or even no historical precedent.

This being as it is, Dr. McDurmon’s “Cherem Principle” is largely a thesis, or more accurately a series of intertwining theses, which still need a great deal of refining work. It should be noted here that the burden of proof lies with Dr. McDurmon throughout. His “findings” run contrary to all orthodox standards and understandings of cherem in history.

Rather than view cherem as the eternal barrier which exists between that which God has called unto Himself and that which He has purposed for destruction, Dr. McDurmon founds his “Cherem Principles” upon the idea that a greater standard of holiness was demanded by God while His physical presence was in the temple, the land a direct agent of sanctions, and inheritance was of directly physical descent. Thus, since these three things no longer hold true, the Cherem Principle has passed away.

“Why this change?” Dr. McDurmon asks. He answers for us: “The discontinuity encountered in regards to the cherem principle is directly related to the difference in nature of the Old Covenant compared to the New.”[21] Note here that by classifying only certain laws as cherem and by further claiming that the enforcement of these laws was of ceremonial administration and therefore temporary, Dr. McDurmon is quietly denying the law one of its fundamental qualities.

If, as we saw earlier, cherem embodies the separation which God sets down between His called out people and the sons of perdition, then all of Biblical law is cherem in principle. It is the law which places all wickedness under the curse, or ban. It is the law (and more particularly obedience to the law through faith in Christ) which shows God righteous rule over those whom He has devoted unto Himself.

The point which we must remember is that the law has an inescapable characteristic of devotedness. Every person that lives, has lived, or ever will live, is either devoted to righteousness in Christ (Christ’s imputed righteousness made possible by Christ’s perfect law-keeping) or devoted to destruction under the curse of the law’s sanctions against unrighteousness. The concept of “no neutrality” is an inescapable fact of law. By attempting to limit the scope in which cherem manifests itself within Biblical law, Dr. McDurmon is fundamentally altering the very nature of the law itself.

In conclusion, Dr. McDurmon sees cherem as being connected to three things: the “alter fire presence” of the Spirit of the Lord in the Temple/Tabernacle, the continuation of an undefiled seed within Israel, and the perpetuation of the inheritance of the land from one generation to the next. Next we will examine the veracity of this claim and the arguments made for the cessation of earthly enforcement of these laws.

 

[1] Genesis 2:17; Gen 3:6-8,13; Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Ps 51:5; Acts 17:26; Rom 5:6; Rom 8:7; WCF Chapter 6:sec 1 &

[2] Gen 2:17

[3] Roots of Reconstruction, R.J. Rushdoony, Vallecito CA Ross House Books, 1991, pg. 325

4 Isaiah 33:22

5 The Spirit of the Law: A Critique of Dr. McDurmon’s Cherem Principle as put forward in his book The Bounds of Love pg. 6

 

[6] Ibid

 

 

[7] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1987) p. 324

[8] Ibid, p. 324

[9] Ibid, p.325

[10] Ibid, p.327

[11] Dr. Joel McDurmon, The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty (Braselton, GA: American Vision, inc, 2016) ch. 2

[12] Matthew 5:18-19

[13]Leviticus 11:44, 19:2 20:7 & 1 Peter 1:16

[14] R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Copyright 1973) pp, 4-5

[15] Ibid. pp. 5-6

[16] Matt. 13:24-30

[17] Dr. Joseph Morecraft III, Joshua: Taking Possession of Our Inheritance (unpublished study guide) pp. 111-112 (emphasis in original)

[18] Dr. McDurmon, Bounds of Love: ch. 3

[19] ibid

[20] ibid

[21] ibid

A Baptismal Debate IV

These will be the closing comments in the debate between myself and Mr. Winsley concerning the subject of infant baptism, and as in my last post I shall answer several more of my partner’s objections to the practice. Throughout the debate, and throughout the history of the Baptist movement, one passage of Scripture has always been absolutely essential for the argument of believer’s baptism, Jeremiah 31:31-34 and the corresponding passage in Hebrews. Their understanding here is that God has established a “New Covenant” with His people and that one of the promises of this new covenant is that it can never be broken by any who partake of it. From here the Baptist argues that because the covenant is only partaken of by those who do truly believe, the sign of the covenant ought to be bestowed only upon those who do profess belief. Logically, because children cannot profess belief they cannot be baptized. And to this objection my response will always be that children of believing families have always been included in the covenant of grace; that we now live in the final and gloriously complete dispensation of the covenant does not alter that fact. Below I will give my parting explanations for why this is so.

The course of this debate has been helpful for me in that I have come to a more replete understanding of the credobaptist position and I would congratulate Mr. Winsley on his defense of the position. One thing which I have picked up on throughout and which I should now like to respond to is the idea that the previous forms of the covenant had a lesser emphasis on faith than does this new covenant era in which we now live. The misunderstanding centers around a belief that the Noahic, Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant eras centered around family descent and patriarchy whereas the new covenant is established in faith. Opposed to this false dichotomy between faith and descent the Bible places faith at the center of the covenant in every dispensation; regardless of the manner in which it was administered unto the recipient people. We read in Romans chapter four that God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision to seal the faith that he had already been given. And if we turn to Genesis 17 where God addresses Abraham we will find that the emphasis here is on Abraham’s children, notice:

“Again God said unto Abraham, Thou also shalt keep my covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you, and they seed after thee, let every man child among you be circumcised.”

It is commonly assumed today that this act of circumcision was merely an external rite. A fleshly ordinance which bore no concern for the election of the individual who was to be circumcised. But if we search the Scriptures for what it has to say about circumcision we will find that this common assumption is most incorrect. The Bible speaks of circumcision in many passages and in roughly half of these it has an inward and spiritual focus. I will list some of these to follow:

“And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul? That thou keep the commandments of the Lord and his ordinances, which I command thee this day, for thy wealth? Behold, heaven, and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, and the earth, with all that therein is. Notwithstanding, the Lord set his delight in thy fathers to love them, and did choose their seed after them, even you above all people, as appearaeth this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of you heart, and harden your necks no more.” (Deut 10:12-16)

“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, that thou mayest love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and thou mayest live. And the Lord thy God will lay all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, and that persecute thee. Return thou therefore, and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments, which I command thee this day.” (Deut 30:6-8)

“Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among the thorns: be circumcised to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, ye men of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my wrath come forth like fire, and burn, that none can quench it, because of the wickedness of your inventions.” (Jeremiah 4:4)

“Behold, the days come saith the Lord, that I will visit all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised: Egypt and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all the utmost corners of them that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.” (Jeremiah 9:25-26)

“For he is not a Jew, which is one outward: neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one within, and the circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom 2:28-29)

These passages plainly and firmly establish that circumcision was always a sign and a seal of faith. Again, Romans chapter four says exactly that. In all of these passages we can see that what God demanded was that the people’s hearts be circumcised and that they not merely observe the fleshly ordinance. The verses from Deuteronomy 10 especially state that which I should like to stress: that God chose and spiritually circumcised both His elect and their children. In his previous article Mr. Winsley said that he does not teach his children that because of his faith they inherit some special place in the kingdom; and while I do not want to be unfair to his statement, it is not entirely correct. Yes, it is absolutely good and proper to teach one’s children that what is required of them is a personal and saving faith in the spilt blood of Jesus, no reformed church has ever taught differently. But the fact is that our children do inherit something which children of non-believers are not privy too: Deuteronomy 10 says that God chooses His elect and their seed after them. Peter affirms this in Acts 2:39 when he says that the covenant is for us and our children as well as whomsoever the Lord shall call. Now the Baptist should like to have this verse from Acts say that the covenant is for us and our children as well as whomsoever the Lord shall call so therefore not really our children because they can’t profess faith. But the truth of the matter is that they do inherit a birthright by being born into covenant homes. We are to assume our children’s election and raise them as such until they might prove otherwise. For my own part, I do not view my children as targets for evangelism; rather they are to be discipled to carry on the work which the Lord has begun in my fathers, continued through me and will pass on to my children. The Bible’s schematic of salvation and redemption is much greater than the salvation of human individuals. The salvation of individual souls is wonderful and our only hope but it is no more than a means to God’s accomplishing His ultimate work of reversing and destroying the works of sin and His enemies which bear the works of sin. This is God’s goal in history. The restoration of a redeemed mankind to their original purpose, and election and sovereign grace are merely a means to that end. God’s work is bigger than any one of us. The work is multi-generational, and so is God’s calling, just like the Bible says. Contrary to all this the Baptist tradition says that children are to be excluded from the covenant until they can prove able to understand and knowingly accept. Yet even a careful reading of Jeremiah 31 will undercut this understanding, it says:

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” (Jeremiah 31:31)

Now I use a 1599 Geneva Bible and the word is rendered house, as in house of Judah and house of Israel, but it is in many translations rendered nation; both words have the same meaning. The word here employed is always used in Scripture to denote entire people groups, tribes or nations. And people groups, tribes and nations always includes everyone, by default. God never addresses a nation minus the children. No, He is speaking of everyone, men, women, children, the whole nine yards as they say. If the term here translated as house or nation excludes the children than it here must bear a meaning which it does nowhere else in Scripture. And as for the New Testament counterpart of this passage in Hebrews chapter eight, it speaks of the alteration of the means of dispensing the covenant. With the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ all the fleshly ordinances have been done away with; this means that washings, food laws and temple ordinances have been abolished. Notice that laws concerning covenant entrance are not touched. This is not by coincidence, laws pertaining to entrance into the covenant were not part of the prophetic and typical administration of the old covenant. They were altered yes. Just as Israel received a new name, Christians, they changed out the old sign of circumcision for baptism. As to what manner of things exactly are altered by the changing covenant administration I can do no better than to offer the words of A. W. Pink, a Baptist no less, from his commentary on Hebrews,

“But at this point a difficulty, already noticed, may recur to our minds: Were not the things mentioned in Heb. 8:10-14, the grace and mercy therein expressed, actually communicated to God’s elect both before and afterwards? Did not all who truly believed and feared God enjoy these same identical blessings? Unquestionably. What then is the solution? This: the apostle is not here contrasting he internal operations of Divine grace in the Old and N. T. saints, but as Calvin rightly taught, the ‘reference is to the economical condition of the Church.’ The contrast between that which characterized the Judaic and the Christian dispensations is the outward confirmation of the covenant.”

Notice what Pink stresses here, it is the outward ceremonies and economic situation of the church which changes with the transition of the covenant eras. Not a word concerning the inclusion, or rather the rejection of our children from the covenant. To further drive home the point we nowhere see our Lord forbid the children from coming to Him. When his disciples attempt to obstruct the little children from coming unto Him He rebukes them saying, “For of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Nowhere in the Bible do we find evidence that our children are to be excluded from the covenant, in fact, we are taught that they are to be raised to carry on our covenant assignments.

One last subject I should like to broach is that of the lack of Scriptural or Patristic evidence for the Baptist position. My comments here are not directed at Mr. Winsley as he has been rather gracious in refraining from prattling on about how we never see infants baptized in the New Testament records; and that is well thought out on his part because we also never see older children who have recently professed faith be baptized either. The Baptists always deny the possibility that any of the many household baptisms we find in the New Testament would include infants but despite the “sola Scriptura” line which is usually sung by Baptists, there is no record of any infant being denied baptism and then the individual being baptized after making a positive confession some years later. We find this position nowhere: Bible, early church, it is not to be found. Baptists do need to be frank with themselves here: as much as they like to chide their Presbyterian brothers of holding to a system which is built upon theological conjecture and inference, it is really the credobaptists who must do just that in order to maintain their position. We find in multiple baptism accounts from the New Testament that entire households are baptized, this would very strongly suggest that infants were included here. We nowhere have any record of a child from a believing home not being baptized and then receiving the sacrament only after making a positive confession, it’s just not in the Bible. I have just said the same thing twice but it really could be said again. With the line of argument often taken by the credobaptist position one would be led to believe that we everywhere have record of children being brought before the church at the age of ten or twelve and asked to make a positive confession, but it is nowhere to be found. So in conclusion of the Biblical proofs both sides must be willing to concede that the matter of infant baptism can only be resolved by applying one’s theology of the workings of the covenant to infants; and when this is done the surrounding evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the paedobaptist position.

Thus concludes my humble debate with Mr. Jonathon Winsley. It has been fun and I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to seriously debate this issue in a spirited yet dispassionate and reasonable manner. I would be lying if I said I haven’t learned some things about BOTH positions while putting these posts together and I hope that our work will prove beneficial to all five people who will read it in the future. I am especially grateful to Jonathan for not claiming victory over me when it took me almost a month to get this last post up on my blog. What can I say, preparing for the baptism of all these kids I have takes time! Alas, I jest. It has been sincerely fun and I only pray edifying to any who may happen to read,

Robert J. Hoyle

A Baptismal Debate III

Infant Baptism III

Up to this point I have taken the time to lay out the Presbyterian view of the nature of Baptism, that being that it is a covenant oath which grants one admission into a covenantal relationship with the Lord; and why it ought to be administered unto the children of communicate church members. I have attempted to lay out the scriptural case as efficiently and precisely as possible and have largely refrained from answering each and every objection put forward by Mr. Winsley. Having offered up my scriptural case I should now like to take this post to directly engage my debate partner on a few issues, establish several arguments from logic which handily confirm the Presbyterian view of baptism as well as to bolster my arguments with the witness of many of the Reformed Church’s greatest exegetes. The reader will excuse my excessive deliberation in laying out the way by which I shall proceed for this is done in attempt to make the case that much more cogent and easily accessible to all. Rather than separating the three elements of this current post I have chosen to intermingle them so as to reinforce one another as I progress.

In his last post, titled Simplicity in Exegesis, Jonathan claims that I have not responded directly to his exegesis of Jeremiah 31 and the connected passages in Hebrews 8 and 10. He attempts to distract the reader by saying that I am ‘vaguely appealing to nice-sounding eschatological prophecies’ and that mine is a ‘grand sweeping tale of inferences and conjectures’. At these points Mr. Winsley really has outdone himself! The real elephant in the room, which should have become apparent to all following this friendly debate by now, is that my partner has not offered up much leg-work of his own. He has borrowed from my own definitions of the nature of baptism, which I carefully laid out, and only responded to some of my peripheral arguments employed for establishing the Biblical veracity of the Paedo position. Moreover, my partner’s main proof text, which he has revisited many times, does not talk at all about baptism! I need not set Jeremiah 31:31-34 or the subsequent passages from Hebrews 8 and 10 down again as the reader has assuredly memorized them by now but the subject of baptism is not even touched on in those passages. Mr. Winsley is absolutely correct to say that these passages detail variations in the administration from the old covenant era to that of the new. But when he accuses me of allowing the terms of the old covenant to dictate the new he simply goes too far, for the process of covenant admission (which is at the heart of this discussion) is never expressly altered beyond the fact that baptism is established as being the new circumcisions. And in case we aren’t aware, the correlation between the two signs, the one superseding the other to be precise, is clearly laid down by Paul when he tells us:

“In whom also ye are circumcised with circumcision made without hands, by putting off the sinful body of the flesh, through the circumcision of Christ, In that ye are buried with him through baptism, in whom ye are also raised up together through the faith of the operation of God, which raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11-12)

It should be noted that this passage in Colossians is detailing the differences between the old and new covenants and once again covenant admission is not detailed as being altered in any way except that the mark of the covenant oath has been changed from circumcision to baptism; a change which Paul carefully documents for us. And in direct response to Mr. Winsley’s usage of Jeremiah 31 I offered up several possible ways in which the passage could be interpreted without placing such a strain upon it. Interpretations which are much more in accord with the vast majority of divines and exegetes in church history than what Jonathan’s understanding is.

Furthermore I must confess to being a bit amused by my partner’s appeals to the simplicity of his case as evidence in its favor; as if simplicity were some sort of fundamental virtue. Granted my arguments in favor of infant baptism over the course of this discussion may have been somewhat in-depth compared to the case made for the Baptist position but appealing to simplicity as a strength for one’s position is rather pushing the limits of good reason. Imagine if during the days of the debates over Trinitarianism and theology proper the church had gone with the simplest options available. In fact the advantages of Arainism and Nestorianism in opposition to the orthodox Trinitarian view espoused by Athanasius, Tertullian and Augustine was their relative simplicity. In commenting on the error of simplicity R. J. Rushdoony speaks thus:

“An ancient and persistent danger is the fallacy of simplicity. There is a pronounced resentment on the part of very many men against knowledge that is beyond their capacity…The ignorant and foolish piously bleat for “the simple, old-time gospel,” when the reality is that their simple-minded gospel is a modern invention. While certain basic doctrines of the Bible are uncomplicated ones, the Bible as a whole is not a simple book, and it gives us no warrant for passing over its complexities to dwell on its simplicities, because both aspect are inseparably one.”

My point here is not one of insult but rather that Mr. Winsley, a Reformed Christian same as myself, ought to know better than to make what Rushdoony calls the Roman error of “confusing simplicity with strength”. (all above quotes taken from Rushdoony, Foundations of Social Order, page 79)

Dismissing the false boast of simplicity I should also like to take issue with a few specific arguments from Jonathan’s last post. In attempting to strike down my use of 1 Corinthians 7:14 he cites Calvin, as if his interpretation overthrows the way I used the passage. But just a little further down on the same exact page of his commentary on 1 Corinthians 7 Calvin interprets the passage in the very way which I employed it. In fact, I was drawing from his commentaries when using 1 Corinthians 7 when I used the passage in the manner in which I did. Calvin there asks rhetorically “But if the children of believers are exempted from the common lot of mankind, so as to be set apart to the Lord, why should we keep them back from the sign? If the Lord admits them in the Church by his word, why should we refuse them the sign?” He is of course here speaking of baptism and lest the reader become confused Calvin is not here insinuating that the children of believers are somehow saved by merely being the children of believing Christians but rather he is following from Romans 11:16, a passage dealing with external covenant participation, and saying that the children are covenant members from birth. That covenant participation, but not necessarily election, is a hereditary affair is plain for all to see. A. A. Hodge comments ably on this fact when he says:

“Every covenant God has ever formed with mankind has included the child with the parent; – e.g., the covenants formed with Adam; with Noah, Gen. ix. 9-17; with Abraham, Gen. xii. 1-3; xvii, 7; with Israel through Moses, Ex. Xx. 5; and again, Deut. Xxix. 10-13; and in the opening sermon of the New Testament dispensation men are exhorted to repent and believe, “because the promise (covenant) is unto you and to your children,” etc. Acts ii. 38, 39.”

Moving from this confirmation of the hereditary nature of external covenant participation, Hodge doubles down saying, “This has been the belief and practice of a vast majority of God’s people from the first. The early Church, in unbroken continuity from the days of the apostles, testify to their custom on this subject. The Greek and Roman, and all branches of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, agree in this fundamental point. The Baptist denomination, which opposes the whole Christian world in this matter, is a very modern party, dating from the Anabaptists of Germany, A.D. 1637.” (above quotes taken from A. A. Hodge, Commentary on the Westminster Confession, pages 346-348)

Hodge’s last comment should especially weigh heavily with anyone wishing to call themselves a “Reformed” Christian. He is quite correct to assert that the Paedo position is the position of every orthodox church in history with the exception of the otherwise orthodox, but certainly rather young, Baptist tradition. As for the early church being unanimous in their practice of infant baptism I think the case is rather closed. Mr. Winsley’s attempt to cite some wildly Pelagian sounding statement from Justin, a church father known more for his knowledge of Virgil and Plato than Scripture, seems irrelevant. I will grant that St. Cyprian’s understanding of the nature of the sacraments is rather crude but the ruling of the council of Carthage still stands as the evidence for that which I presented it and if the reader is taken aback by the common errors that persisted in those days than we may consult Augustine, who also held to infant baptism but with a much more modern view as to the mechanics thereof.

But transcending all these things, the greater point which I should like to hit at is that the burden of proof in this whole debate lies upon the Credo side, and with Jonathan. As noted, Paedo-Baptism is what was, in effect, practiced throughout the Old Testament era, it was universal in the church up until the sixteenth century and still persists amongst a great deal, if not the majority, of reformed and evangelical churches today. If the practice is to be overturned than the Baptist must put up clear grounds as to why that is the case. And I have never seen any argument advanced from the Baptist side which even comes close. Imagine with me for a moment that we are part of the first generation of Jews to hear the preaching of the Apostles; now for all of our lives we have studied in the Scriptures and faithfully practiced the things therein. The apostolic preaching may seem strange at first because it details so many changes in covenant administration but all of the changes which are made follow naturally from Christ’s completed work and the coming of the Holy Spirit and furthermore, they are clearly spelled out. Now the external rite of covenant participation has been changed from circumcision to baptism but is there any apostolic argument evident for why we shouldn’t apply the same basic rules of covenant participation? I think not!

Following also from the preceding scenario is the issue of hermeneutics. A hermeneutic is the way in which one interprets the Scriptures; and at the end of the day that is the single dividing point between Baptists and Presbyterians. For all of our similarities we really do employ radically different hermeneutics. The Presbyterian hermeneutic lends to much more continuity between the old and new covenant era. The Westminster Confession even says concerning this, “There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.” (WCF viii. Vi) It is this interpretive method which places more focus on the continuity of one redemptive era to the next which has led Presbyterianism to be the historic champion of postmillennial optimism as well as either nascent or overt theonomic ethics. The opposite generally holds true for the Baptist method of interpretation. With their hermeneutic placing more discontinuity between the different dispensations it gives naturally to not only the Credo-Baptist position, but also premillennialism and either an exclusively New Testament ethic or none at all. This observance should hold some weight with this audience as it is my presumption that many of them will be postmillennial thoenomists. And if that is the case than I would urge you to consider the implication of any hermeneutical rule which you seek to employ. If you stress discontinuity in one area, such as covenant participation (baptism), where it is not expressly stated, but then assume continuity in other areas, such as redemptive history (postmillennialism) or ethics (theonomy) than your inconsistency will weaken your ability to speak with other Christians in these areas. From the view of assumed discontinuity between the old covenant and new than I would grant that credobaptism is the correct position but the opposite is also true. It should not be surprising then that whenever a scholar wishes to study more into the resurgent doctrines of postmillennialism, Theonomy, presuppositional apologetics and so forth that they must take up books authored by people holding to the paedobaptist position.

A Baptismal Debate II

This is my second rejoinder in the debate between myself and Jonathan Winsley over the nature of baptism and whether it ought to be applied to infants. In my previous post I sought to show the nature of baptism; that being that it is a covenantal oath made before God and men and by which God will judge those who do enter into His covenant.

In this post I will seek to do two things:

  1. Offer a better understanding of Jeremiah 31 than what Jonathan’s Baptist faith is able to afford. The Baptist interpretation of participation in the New Covenant hinges largely upon a certain understanding of Jeremiah 31 and I will show that their interpretation is not the only possible understanding of this passage nor is it even the most appropriate.
  2. Set forward why it is that a proper understanding of covenant participation does lead to the baptism of infants and that the practice ought to be observed by all.

 

In His last post Jonathan compared Hebrews 8-10 with passage from Jeremiah 31 in attempt to prove that there can be no breaking the New Covenant. The emphasis is on these three verses:

“Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, the which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:32-34)

Now this passage clearly promises a new and better covenant, one which will not be broken; and I think I can state that this point is agreed upon by both Baptists and Presbyterians. The differences in opinion appear when we try and discern in what ways our New Covenant is better. The Baptist argument is that none apostatize from it and that all who partake of it are elect and will persevere in their faith as given unto them by the Spirit. To use Mr. Winsley’s specific language “God promises his people in the New Covenant that he will put His law in their hearts and forgive their sins. Only believers receive these promises. Therefore, only believers are members of the New Covenant.” (format changed from original) So the Baptist’s inference into this passage is clear, only those who are saved are truly covenanted. Over against this interpretation is the Presbyterian understanding which places the primary focus elsewhere, as I will now show.

  1. The giving of the Holy Spirit – It is here promised that the God will write upon the hearts of His people and that He will reign amongst them directly as their God. This is the single greatest point where the New Covenant eclipses the Old; Christ’s atoning work has made it possible for God to directly indwell formerly condemned men in a way that was not manifest in earlier ages. Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians 3:5-9 saying, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything, as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is of God, Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life. If then the ministration of death written with letters and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance (which glory is gone away.) How shall not the ministration of the Spirit be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” The ministry of condemnation is now past and the glorious truth and plan of God has been revealed as He now directly indwells His people under the new ministration of righteousness.
  2. Covenant finality – The new and greater covenant will never be broken. This is a point upon which Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians actually agree! The New Covenant is a covenant which cannot be broken, just as God promises, but this in no way would seem to suggest that all of those who partake in it are, in fact, saved. Rather the proper focus of this covenant promise is that the Church, as a whole, as the Bride of Christ, will never finally or entirely break the New Covenant as Israel had under the Old. Now the fact that there will be false members within the Church when Christ returns in glory is no less a fact than that there were still many faithful members of the Old Covenant whom God mercifully enrolled into Christ’s Church when He cast of the unbelieving elements of Israel. There is just no way to interpret this passage as saying that every covenanted person does have saving faith, it is not the focus of the passage. That there will be unsaved people within the Church throughout history, even as late as the last judgment, is everywhere assumed by the Apostolic writers, even by Christ Himself. Many of Christ’s parables focus on this very theme. The parable of the wedding feast speaks of judgment upon people whom have come unto the feast, it says, “Then the king came in, to see the guests, and saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment. And he said unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, and hast not on a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot: take him away, and cast him into utter darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14) In like manner Matthew 25 contain three parables which all foretell of Christ’s judgments upon His own kingdom, reminding us that there are those present who have not saving faith and are merely ‘called but not chosen.’ For the Baptist to say that there are no negative sanctions doled out by God within the covenant in this age is to do hermeneutical gymnastics with these Scriptures here listed as well as the ones listed in my last post and to take the teeth away from the implications of passages such as Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. The fact that the Church, as the whole Bride of Christ, will in fact accomplish her covenant task in no way gives guarantee that all who would reside within her walls are elect.
  3. Millennial glory – I have already shown that it cannot be readily accepted that all who are part of the covenant between Christ and His Bride are necessarily elect, but in order to accept my own interpretation of Jeremiah 31:31-34 which is being put forward, one more aspect of this passage must be dealt with: the idea of all men knowing the Lord. Specifically in verse 34 we read “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.” This passage has two primary interpretations in history: the Baptists viewing it as present ecclesiological reality and the Presbyterians seeing as the yet to come glorious state for Church on earth. The Baptist view was taken to its logical conclusion by the Radical Reformers during the Anabaptist movement when any teaching or instruction within the churches was rejected, using this verse as support for the practice. The second interpretation places a more eschatological focus upon the passage and sees it as finding its fulfillment in accompaniment to the Church’s accomplishment of her covenantal commission. Holding Jeremiah’s depiction of the Church in her New Covenant manifestation here as a yet future reality brought about by the now past (still future for Jeremiah) accomplishment and enthronement of Christ and the impartation of the Holy Spirit has several advantages. For one it avoids the illogical potential conclusion listed above but it also aligns more ably with other Old Testament prophecies of the future glory of the Church on earth. Prophecies such as Isiah 2, which says “It shall be in the last days, that the mountain of the House of the Lord shall be prepared in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it, and many people shall go, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths, for the Law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2-3) Here we see it prophesied that all men shall be taught the ways of the Lord and shall come unto His mount to learn of His ways. Now these two passages need not be set to oppose one another; all people learning of the Lord versus all people knowing the Lord, rather they are both to be seen as figurative depictions of a still future great gospel ingathering. This also fits nicely with Habakkuk 2:14, which tells us “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” As well as Zechariah 14:20-21: “In that day shall there be written upon the bridles of the horses, The holiness unto the Lord, and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy unto the Lord of hosts…”. So we see that Jeremiah 31:34 best fits in with other Old Testament prophecies concerning the future ingathering of the peoples unto Christ’s Church, and need not be seen as a present ecclesiastical condition.

Hopefully having here given a more satisfactory interpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the New Covenant, it is still before me to establish why it is that baptism ought to be administered unto infants. In my previous post I established the basic function and nature of baptism and now I will demonstrate how that naturally and Biblically leads to its application upon the children of communicate church members. We must begin by revisiting and recognizing that the all-encompassing nature which Christianity possesses is precisely why we have spoken of it as a covenant. The Great King, in establishing His treaty, has demanded the allegiance of His subjects in every area of their lives. The entire basis of the Old Testament and the old covenant which accompanied it was the establishment and maintenance of the covenant community. God had called Abraham unto Himself and Abraham was supposed to be faithful in all that the Lord commanded him. The transition to the new covenant changes little in this regard, men are still called to participate in God’s covenant, and their obedience is demanded.

It is not improper to say that the covenant functions like a nation. It has good and bad citizens; and just like any nation, Christianity (the covenant community) has a few basic prerequisites of citizenship. The most basic of these requirements is Baptism. This theme was explored in an introductory fashion earlier and it was seen how Baptism is a vow, an oath of allegiance. Baptism before the Lord could be likened unto the entry bar which all people are required to meet in order to become citizens of the United States. It is a promise that one will live by the law of the land. The often distorted truth is that Baptism is no more than that. It is the external symbol of covenant participation and that only. Baptism is in no way the cause of a person’s salvation. Just as the circumcision of the Jews did not prevent Jesus from raising up children for Abraham from stones (Matthew 3), He will not spare unworthy members of the covenant. Being baptized is not a magic wand which man may use to ward off God’s judgment; quite to the opposite it actually invites God’s inspection. But just as Baptism should never be equated with salvation, it should never be totally separated from it either. It is the symbolic entry into communion with Christ, a ceremonial binding. For some the act never will be anything more than symbolic, they are not truly part of God’s elect, but either way, elect or reprobate, God takes an individual’s Baptism seriously. And for the Church, Baptizing the nations is its earthly objective. The often quoted (one of my favorite passages) Great Commission says,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The importance of this passage cannot be overstated. The Church must issue the Great King’s call to submission. The Church must proclaim Him as the rightful ruler of the world; call for and see to the submission of every nation to His reign as well as instruct the nations in the terms of the Covenant. In essence, the Church’s job is no less than to expand God’s covenant to include every nation and people group on earth. To go about accomplishing this task Christ tells His followers to start at the beginning, by baptizing the nations.

Understanding the serious nature and proper dispensation of Baptism comes into clearest focus when we properly understand its old covenant counterpart: circumcision. God’s requirements for circumcision, as given to Abraham, were clear,

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.’” (Genesis 17:9-14)

Abraham was to circumcise every male in his house, whether born there or added as a servant; this was the sign of the covenant. As we learn from Abraham’s own children and grandchildren, having the marks of the covenant conferred at birth do not guarantee one’s good standing with God. That is rather irrelevant in the face of the realization of God’s command to circumcise every male child on the eighth day. These were the terms of God’s covenant and He promised to enforce them. In Exodus we read:

“At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him (Moses) and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)

God, in enforcing the terms of His covenant, was willing to kill even Moses, His servant for failing to circumcise his son. For Moses, or any Hebrew to fail in circumcising his male children was to both regard his own son as a stranger to the covenant and break God’s commandments. Neither one of these actions would seem very wise yet this had become the standard practice by the time Joshua led the people across the river Jordan, for once the people were on the western shore of the river he circumcised them at Gilgal. For the men of the camp to go uncircumcised would have signified their disinheritance from the blessings and privileges conferred upon their fathers by God. Joshua understood this and duly acted before moving ahead with any military action against the Canaanites. As long as there were uncircumcised men participating in the affairs of the Israeli camp then the people were out of covenant with God. God had bequeathed unto Abraham a symbol of the covenant and everyone who forsook that symbol would be cut off per Genesis 17:14. The thing which we must recognize, and especially Christian parents today, is that the uncircumcised child was no part of the covenant and had no business learning the ways of the Lord. God only extended His grace through the covenant, not through any other means. By promising to cut off the uncircumcised child (and apparently the whole family as in the case involving Moses) God was only recognizing the decision made by the parents to exclude their children from the covenant. It should be reaffirmed here that the birthright of covenant participation was an advantage (Romans 3:1-3) but it did not guarantee election. In Deuteronomy Moses exhorts the people, all of them circumcised no doubt, to hearken unto the Lord. He says,

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” (Deuteronomy 10:16)

Again I will say that there is no confusion here of covenant participation and the effective calling of the Spirit. Moses is here reminding the people that their circumcision means nothing in the face of their rebellion.

All of these things being said, the point which I should really like to drive home with my audience is the importance of including the children in the covenant. Notice how God tells Abraham in Genesis 17 that the covenant is established with him and his descendants. The Israelites were especially commanded to train their children in all the ways of the Lord, Deuteronomy 6:6-7 reads,

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

In other words, the Hebrew’s were to raise their children in the constant admonition of the ways of the Lord. But the children could not be participators in such religious activities if they were strangers to the covenant. In Genesis 18 God stresses the importance of rearing the children within the covenant, saying,

“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:19)

Notice how in that verse the incorporation of the children into the covenant is the crucial factor in receiving the promised blessings. The Psalms also exhort us unto raising our children within the covenant, we read,

“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which commanded our fathers to teach their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children…” (Psalms 78:1-6)

One of the primary focuses of God’s covenant was to establish His commandments and judgments with the chosen people throughout their generations. God did not intend to covenant anew with every generation, rather the people were supposed to introduce their children into the covenant at birth and then train them in all of its ways. We again see the burden which the parents bear for their children in the Decalogue,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner that is within your gates.” (Exodus 20:8-10)

The Lord does not here give commandments to only those who will listen. He assumes children to be part of the covenant which He is here establishing with the fathers. To return to our consistently useful analogy of a conquering king; if the king has made his treaty with adult generations in the nation he has subdued, will he allow the children of the covenanted people to stray? Will he extend a covenant to adult generations and then say to them, ‘allow your children to decide for themselves if they want to keep my gracious covenant or not,’? If he did he would not be a very wise king for he would be forced to recapture the same territory every time a new generation came along. God, however, is a wise King and establishes His covenant in perpetuity, He is a conquering King. When He covenants with an individual He demands the submission of their every sphere of activity. The early Christians understood the ways in which this pertained to Paedobaptism very clearly, Rushdoony says,

“The relationship between circumcision and baptism, the one succeeding the other as the sign of the covenant, was so close that, as we have seen it required in Cyprian’s day the action of a church council to permit baptism before the eighth day. Because the law of circumcision required that the rite be performed on the eighth day, it was believed that baptism should not precede the eighth day, and council action was necessary to alter this. The early church thus not only recognized that baptism was the successor to circumcision as the covenant sign, but also that the same laws governed both. Precisely because this fact was always recognized, infant baptism was inescapably a fact in the early church.”[1]

The fact that children born into houses with just one believing parent makes them covenant members should weigh heavily upon us. And that this is indeed the case is clearly affirmed in Scripture:

“To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:10-14)

It cannot be said here that Paul is insinuating that the faith of one person in the household is effective for the salvation of all for he clearly states that they are unbelieving. What he means is that the household is brought into covenant with God thorough the faith of just one believing member. That is clearly seen in the commandment given to Abraham, he wasn’t told to ask for a profession of faith from acquired servants and slaves, he was commanded to circumcise them. They would be part of the covenant by being a part of his household. This too was recognized by the early church, in Acts we read,

“Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be save, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them in the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” (Acts 16:30-33)

The Jailer would have well understood that he was submitting to the rule of a King. This was not an inward and spiritual or merely personal conversion, it demanded the new allegiance of his entire household. The household of a man of his position would have been quite large but the book of Acts tells us that everyone was baptized. This doubtless included infants because they would now be raised as members of the covenant. They understood that the new covenant operated exactly like the old, just as Abraham was promised that the covenant belonged unto his children, as long as they were faithful, the new covenant faithful have the same promise:

“For the promise is for you and for your children…” (Acts 2:39)

Baptizing an infant in no way forces the Holy Spirit upon them, the Bible provides ample proof of that. But the Christian community cannot remain in good standing and neglect the covenant participation of their children. For the Church to refuse to recognize the children of communicant members as covenant participants is on par with a nation which refuses automatic citizenship to children born unto rightful citizen parents but instead makes every generation apply for immigration status. Obviously any nation which did so would not last long and no nations on earth (to my knowledge) employ such practices for good reason. It cannot be misunderstood, children who are not brought into the covenant externally have no right to be instructed in the ways of the Lord. If any alien sought to become a part of old covenant Israel than they were required to circumcise their entire household. God restricts the blessings of the covenant to only those who join it; He instructs Moses very explicitly saying,

“If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.” (Exodus 12:48)

The implications are clear. If we understand that partaking of the Passover was the action which, both literally at its inception and then afterward symbolically, set the covenant people apart from the rest of the world, to be forbidden access to it symbolized covenant death. And covenant death was the official status of any uncircumcised male and his household. If a Hebrew man refused to circumcise his children and raise them in the ways of the covenant, his household was excommunicated. For in reality, the foolish man who did so had excommunicated himself. He had severed his posterity from God’s covenant. The same rules apply today over Infant Baptism. Any child not externally covenanted to God has no right to be raised in the covenant community. The parents have chosen to excommunicate their children, cutting them off from rightful access to the blessings promised for those who dwell therein. God establishes His covenant in perpetuity, what a shame that many Christians today excommunicate every younger generation, forcing them to resubmit to God’s covenant law. Let us be thankful that we live in an age of increased mercy and staying of judgment, but let us never allow this grace to subsidize our own sluggishness in taking seriously the ways of the covenant.

In the preceding I do not wish to be found offensive towards my credo-Baptist brothers and I take seriously the fact that for all intents and purposes they do recognize their children as part of the covenant. In so far as they take their children to church, teach them from the Bible and in the ways of prayer and giving worship unto God, they treat their children as the inheritance of the Lord; I only wish that they would officially bring them into the covenant as the Lord commands.

 

[1] R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), pp.755-756