Calvinism and the Older Testament Law


From Victory to Defeat

Three studies on the Reformers' Rejection of God's Law

Chapter 13 of a study on
the Reformers' treatment of the Anabaptists

Kevin Craig
December, 1982

Anti-theonomists in Reformed circles argue that the Westminster Standards reject the Theonomic position, particularly where it asserts that the judicial law of God "expired" with the nation of Israel (WCF XIX:iv). Evidence of the sub-Biblical, non-theonomic character of the Westminster Standards is discussed here, and it is acknowledged that there are many points where theonomic practices are upheld in the Standards. This apparent inconsistency is explained here.

In this chapter we explore the Reformers' hostility toward the Anabaptists as an expression of their hostility toward Theonomy, which the Anabaptists often upheld. At least three authors have demonstrated, sometimes unintentionally, that the Reformers did not uphold the "Theonomic" view of God's Law. We shall review the comments of these three: August Lang, R. J. Rushdoony and Benjamin Nelson. Lang comes from the Reformed tradition, Rushdoony, of course, the Theonomic, and Nelson's perspective is secular. Each of these authors analyze the Reformers ' view of the Law of God and find they rejected it in favor of a more politically or "scientifically" acceptable humanism ("natural law"). Each begins with the German Reformers and then examines the views of Bucer and/or Calvin.

Who Were the Theonomists?

"A Commonwealth is not rightly framed if it neglects the law of Moses!"

This I would rather have passed in silence, were I not aware that many dangerous errors are here committed. For there are some who deny that any commonwealth is rightly framed which neglects the law of Moses, and is ruled by the common law of nations. How perilous and seditious these views are, let others see: for me it is enough to demonstrate that they are stupid and false.
Calvin, Institutes, IV:20:14

Magisterial Reformers:
"Perilous! Seditious! Stupid! False!"