When Law and Faith Conflict…

I was recently reading to my daughter from her children’s Bible the story of Naaman from 2 Kings 5. Naaman is a general for an enemy of Israel, who is sent to the prophet Elisha for healing in Israel by a slave girl who was taken from Israel during a military raid he led.

I though about that story as I have watched the recent coverage of the clerk in Kentucky refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The details of that case aside, every Christian faces the issue of how our faith informs our engagement with civil government and the political system in which we live, and how it affects the way we our civic responsibilities.

Regarding the case in Kentucky, I think the clerk is mistaken in understanding her duty. Given her position, I could understand if she felt the need to resign, but I don’t think that performing her duty as a government official is the same as giving her approval to something as a Christian.

But suppose everyone took her position. We unfortunately know more about her personal life than she would probably want now that she is in the public eye. Suppose a Christian judge decided taht one of her divorces was ont on Biblical grounds. In her view, could that judge have refused to grant the divorce? Perhaps a Hindu or vegan public health official might refuse to give a BBQ restaurant a license because they did not believe in eating animals?

Working in and around politics, this is not just a speculative or theoretical discussion for me. Every day, elected officials make these types of decisions, some of which their staff and supporters may not aggree with. Some of which might even offend their beliefs of supporters or staff members in specific ways. Executive appointees may have to carry out laws they disagree with for many reasons. We should be wrestling with those issues all the time, never blindly allegiant to any person, party, or country.

If I am called to work in politics or government, I must discern to know how my faith informs my actions and decisions. Knowing when to fight, when to stay and influence, and when to walk away is difficult even on the most seemingly clear-cut issues.

I feel I must be especially careful to avoid hypocrisy, or selectively moralizing on issues that are comfortable to me. Any time I think that enforcing God’s standards by the rule of law would leave me completely blameless, it is a sure sign I am ignorant of my own sin.

The right of freely exercising religion has also come into this discussion, and all of my Christian countrymen should be grateful for the rights we have in the United States. But to what end will we exercise those rights? I think there may be times we choose to not exercise some of our rights in order to elevate Christ. Think of Paul’s responses in Acts, when he could have used his rights and privileges as a Roman citizen as a shield or even a sword, but often did not and chose to suffer for the gospel instead.

I hope we can show love to our neighbors even when we disagree. If our goal is hsaring the Good News and not just moralism, perhaps there is a better way. I don’t think that simply denying a marriage license will bring someone closer to Christ.

That leads me back to Naaman and the girl. As the children’s version points out, she had no reason to help the general who stole her into slavery and likely killed members of her family in the process. She owed him nothing. Yet she showed love and pointed him back to the healing power that God has, even for those we consider to be enemies.

2 thoughts on “When Law and Faith Conflict…”

  1. Max, I would encourage you to research the writings of Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and Joel McDurmon. You should also consider the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate before condemning Kim Davis’s actions as unconscionable.

    The Gospel claims there is one Truth. This necessarily eliminates the idea of pluralism as a valid moral position. Either the Gospel claim is exclusive of all other truth claims, or it is not truth. This necessarily means that law must be a derivative of that truth, or it is a perversion. An injustice.

    Both Christian and Secular are held to the same standard and will be judged according to that same standard. The best interest of everyone is a theonomic (not to be confused with theocratic) nation. Why? Because God will judge everyone by that standard. By refusing to subject our laws to God’s Law, we withhold grace and mercy to many who would otherwise find it.

    Kim Davis protected the residents of her county from an unjust law. We know it is unjust because it flies in the face of Biblical Law. If the Bible is not your standard of justice, then you do not love God. (John 14:15-24)

    Making concessions because people, in their rebellion to God, turn away from the Gospel when presented to them will harm your witness in the long run.

  2. Nate,

    I appreciate the comment. I would generally say that there are plenty of eschatological foundations and other theological areas around this topic that I would be the first to say I am no leading authority on and frankly a little rusty in my reading. It has been a long time since I read Van Til and Bahnsen, but I am familiar with theonomics. My response would be a couple of considerations.

    The first is on the theological side – at least in my limited opinion I have never received an answer that convinced me on defining how we apply God’s law to civil laws.

    Either we apply the totality of the law – including dietary prohibitions, festivals, and the like – which to fully follow would require re-establishment of the priesthood and the temple; or we start to run into real problems deciding which laws "count" and which don’t. I am certainly aware that people much smarter than me have tried to establish those dividing lines, but I think they all eventually range into ‘how many angels can dance on the pin of a head’ discussions. I simply do not think you can take God’s law given to Israel, rip out major parts of it, and still present it as a holistic legal framework.

    My second objection is based from my practical experience, and I think highlighted in this case – simple hypocrisy. I have typically found that my own personal moralism and legalism tends to focus most on the sins that are least appealing to me. In this case you have a magistrate who has clearly and repeatedly violated the Biblical standards on adultery and divorce acting as a defender of marriage.

    I often find the emphasis I have heard in theonomic discussion (and American conservative Christianity in general) is on what I would call "social" sins. Yet the law is overwhelming clear on issues of justice such as the treatment of foreigners or economic justice issues like gleaning – but I rarely see an emphasis on how we should be applying that clear reflection of the heart of God to civil law.

    My final comment would be to say that I think the essence of the Good News is that God’s law acts convict our hearts and move us to repentance, but I think that enforcement of it on those who lack the power of the Holy Spirit is truly unmerciful. I struggle as a believer to obey God’s law, and the Bible is quite clear that I am powerless to do so without his help. So where would the mercy be in enforcing the Law on people that God has made clear in his Word have no power to obey it?

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