Natural Law and the Lordship of Jesus

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“The idea of a binding moral covenant on all persons, with salutary relevance even for the spiritually unregenerate, gave the covenant of works tremendous impetus for political theology” (Glenn Moots, Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology, p. 80).

Of course all Reformed thinkers know that everything is connected, but we can still sometimes be surprised at how closely connected it all can be. What do natural law, the covenant of works, theocracy, regeneration, and homosexual marriage have in common? They are all different aspects of the same subject, that’s what.

For reasons I went over a number of times in the Federal Vision fracas, I really don’t like using the name “covenant of works.” It just confuses things, and one of the things it confuses is the crucial need for a “covenant of works.” I much prefer to use covenant of creation, or a name the Westminster Confession uses elsewhere, covenant of life. But unless we hold to a covenant of creation, distinct from a covenant of grace, we will have no basis for speaking to certain public policy issues of the day, like homosexual marriage.

Several books could be written on this, and I going to try to do it in just several paragraphs, so bear with me. If the church is going to speak authoritatively in the public square — theocracy — then there needs to be a basis for speaking to the non-believers. The covenant of creation provides that basis. Suppose one of them comes back with “Well, we don’t believe in your covenant of creation,” and asks you what you think of them apples. The reply is that the covenant of creation is the only possible basis for natural law, which he does recognize (perhaps in spite of himself). He cannot account for this natural law within the framework of his worldview, but it is there nonetheless. For example, the late Christopher Hitchens did not use the language of natural law, but he sure appealed to it all the time.

If there is to be a intersect between church and state, then we have the problem of the wheat and tares times ten. Not only do we have to have a theological framework to deal with the baptized unconverted, but we also have to have a framework to deal with the unbaptized unconverted. How do we declare the lordship of Christ over all things when a significant number of people are obviously outside the covenant of grace?

Failure to look these facts straight in the eye will tend, inexorably, to transform the claims of theocracy into ecclesiocracy, and from that into a separated ecclesiocracy. And when our separated ecclesial community gets out to the woods of Montana, we will not practice homosexual marriage among ourselves out there. But we will have absolutely nothing to say to the infidels in San Fransisco, and if anybody suggests that we send them a prophet to declare their wicked ways to them, we will find our theological toolchest to be empty of tools, and full of excuses. You see, we don’t believe in natural law and nature/grace dualisms.

But the covenant of creation is a covenant that was made with absolutely all mankind in Adam. The covenant of grace is made with those who are elect in the second Adam. These cannot be the same covenants because they are not made with the same people. The covenant of grace is made with a distinct subset of those with whom the covenant of creation was made. It must therefore be a distinct covenant. The question is this: there is a remainder left over after the covenant of grace is established? Are these people in the remainder under any covenantal obligations to God at all? The answer has to be yes.

The reason “monocovenantalism” doesn’t work is because the parties are different. There are some similarities to the illustration of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, but only if you take into account (through a thought experiment) three states that were parties under the Articles but which did not ratify the Constitution. Now your thought experiment has a remainder. Every state under the Constitution was once under the Articles, but in a well-crafted thought experiment not all the states under the Articles came into the Constitution. In the same way, all members of the covenant of grace were parties to the covenant of creation . . . but not all the parties under the covenant of creation are under the covenant of grace. What do we do with them?

And so what do you do with those folks who refuse to believe in Jesus, but who are part of your civil polity? Think of a bumper sticker. “I belong to the covenant of creation, and I vote.” The Church can say to them (authoritatively) that certain things are just off the table (like homosexual marriage) because of natural law. These people can refuse baptism on the basis of their unbelief, but their unbelief is not potent enough to remake the world they live in. The reason they appear to be having some success in the present (as measured by things like homo marriage) is not because of their unbelief. It is because of the Church’s unbelief. The Church is suffering a crisis of faith concerning the government of the world, as evidenced by our chariness in handling natural law. Why don’t we believe in natural law? Because of cowardice.

Our tenacity in believing in special revelation only is something that can actually fly in the current pomo zeitgeist — because we are talking about what all of us “in our faith community” accept as true. But when you make a claim about natural law, you are self-evidently talking about the whole world and everybody in it. This is what some might call a totalizing metanarrative, and God bless it, I say.

“Even though the Fall into sin guaranteed that no one would perfectly keep the covenant of works, persons did not become released from its obligations nevertheless . . . It was a means by which, according to the Reformed reading of the Genesis account, God enabled moral (and therefore political) order. Natural law could therefore govern the conscience of all men” (Moots, p. 80).

Having said all this in defense of natural law (and a robust bi-covenantalism), I want to hasten to add that I am not defending any and all forms of natural law theory. Natural law is not impersonal, but is rather the will of the triune God. Natural law is not inconsistent in any way with special revelation, and natural law rightly understood is not embarrassed in any way by the specific revelation found in Scripture. You shall not suffer a witch to live, objects falling down at 9.8 meters per second squared, and nature itself teaching us that long hair is a woman’s glory are all expressions of the same personal and divine will.

In short, I hold the necessity of natural law in the same way that the Reformers did, and would suggest that there is no way for us to assert the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all things without appealing to it.

Theocracy, not mere ecclesiocracy. Theocracy, not sheer bibliocracy. Mere Christendom. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we have to take care to listen to everything He ever said, anywhere He might have said it. As it happens, He has told us a great deal through natural law, all of it consistent with everything He tells us in His Scriptures. All of Christ for all the world.

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