Westminster and Fascism

What is Fascism?

Our purpose in using the word "fascism" is to describe a heavy-handed government which stops short of "socialism." "Fascism" is usually defined as government control over privately-owned wealth. Socialism not only controls, but takes title to all wealth. Fascism is perceived to be "right-wing," or "conservative," although those who are called "fascists," like Hitler and Mussolini, were actually left-wingers and called themselves socialists.

Fascism is generally a 20th-centurty phenomenon, so it is somewhat anachronistic to speak of the Protestant Reformers or the Westminster Divines as "fascist." But they were not socialists as that term is usually employed (the children of the Reformers who settled Jamestown were economic socialists in an important respect that led to famine and poverty; they were certainly not socialists in an ideologically marxist sense).

Fascism is also an American phenomenon. Liberal elites (fascists) in America have long had a world-wide influence. It is regrettable but necessary to admit that fascism is a U.S. export. Hitler and Mussolini both had the initial support of liberal elites in America, and were inspired by them. This article, "Servile Nation," gives important examples.

The purpose of this essay is to show where the Reformers and the Westminster divines departed from Scripture. That always leads to "fascism" or "socialism" or some other "-ism."

Seeing that God's Law is both binding and perfect, some have attempted to gain support for the theonomic position by seeking to prove that the great Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) and other fathers in the faith have held to a theonomic position. This is dangerous. Even if the Reformers held consistently and totally to the theonomic position espoused today by the "Christian Reconstructionists," it is unwise for them to seek to gain support for that position by appealing to men, rather than to God. There are surely some people who would believe anything if it were shown to their satisfaction that John Calvin believed it. Our goal should always be to gain faith and obedience to the Bible as the Word of God.

What makes an appeal to the Reformation even more dangerous, however, is that at times the Reformers were perilously non-theonomic, and to blindly appeal to these men is to overlook their glaring weaknesses. True Reformation must always begin and end with the Scriptures, not with a previous Reformation.

Following the paths charted by the Reformers, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643-47) annuls the Law of God with respect to the State, and gives Fascism the nod. How is this done?

Basically, the Confession rejects the fundamental Theonomic principle as it applies to the State. The "Civil Laws" of the Old Testament are said to have "expired." By what standard we are to judge the State is left disturbingly unclear.

We can see how the Confession is opposed to the theonomic principle in this excerpt from our study on the Anabaptists, in which we considered the standard arguments against Theonomy, and then demonstrated that these same arguments are found in the Westminster Confession. Let us follow the analysis as it was found in the chapter on Theonomy and the Reformers:

Review Theonomy

The Theonomy school thus teaches that the Old Testament is still authoritative, still binding, still canonical, and not to be arbitrarily modified or selectively obeyed. Only the LORD, not any principle of human reason, can put aside or alter the commandments of the Scriptures. The case for this position is extremely compelling, and while supporters may offer varying applications of the principle, the principle itself has not been refuted. Nor can it be, in light of such passages as Matthew 5:17-20 and 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

Arguments Against Theonomy

Surprisingly, "Theonomy" has stirred up quite a controversy, and many arguments have been advanced against it. These arguments can be reduced to a handful, however, and we shall consider them briefly.

Theocracy and the Judicial Laws: Genesis 49:10

One argument begins from Genesis 49:10 ("The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. . .") and combined with such New Testament texts as I Peter 2:13-14 ("Submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake. . .") concludes as this theologian has:

That the judicial laws of the Jews have ceased to have binding obligation upon us follows plainly, from the fact that the peculiar relations of the people to God as the theocratical King. . . , to which these laws were adjusted, now no longer exist. (A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith, p. 256).

God is no longer our King?

In another paper we have spelled out some problems with traditional Christian understandings of the State. Many of these problems are present in this quotation. Aren't the Old Testament Civil laws the best civil laws conceivable (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)? Doesn't the Lord in fact intend all nations to become a theocracy, or Christocracy (Matthew 28:18-20) with Christ reigning as Messiah-King from the throne of David (Hebrews 1:8; Acts 2:30-31; Luke 1:32f.; Isaiah 9:6; etc.)? These theocratic considerations are ably spelled out by Bahnsen (pp. 427ff.).

Of course, the non-Familial state of the Old Testament was a concession to the hard-heartedness of the Israelites (I Samuel 8) and was designed to prefigure the Kingship of Christ, much like the priesthood was. Any theonomic politique which fails to build upon the Family as God's central social unit, and to consider the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, is doomed to construct a view of the State that is as wooden and simplistic as the millennial State envisioned by many Dispensationalists.

A New Christian Ethic?: Matthew 5:21-48

The argument above prompts us to ask, if a non-Familial State is condoned, what laws should it enforce, if not the civil laws of the Older Testament? There are many answers to this question. One begins with the Sermon on the Mount, and alleges that Jesus initiated a new ethic to supercede the Older Testament Laws. But Jesus' words in Matthew 5:21-48 cannot contradict His Word in Matthew 5:17-20; The theonomic authors have clearly shown such analysis to be somewhat superficial: "Jesus does not criticize the law at all; rather, He severely reproves Pharisaical applications of the law" (Bahnsen, p. 90; cf. chap. 3). Of course, Jesus' life and teachings present such a clear manifestation of the Lord's will for our lives that we may say he has given us a "new" commandment (John 13:34).

Love vs. the Law

A third argument sets Love against Law and says that New Testament Christians are to Love, but have no obligation to obey the Law. Love, we are told, replaces Law.

But this is a denial of the clear teaching of Scripture that to Love is to obey the Law. Love of God (John 14:15,21,23; Matthew 7:2lff.; Luke 8:21; John 15:9f.; John 15:14; I John 2:4) and Love of man (Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 22:37-40; I John 5:2f.; II John 6) is the keeping of the Law with respect to man and God. Love is not a substitute for Law-keeping.

The Basic Hermeneutic

Another problem that we must mention is the notion that only those Old Testament laws that are repeated in the New Testament are binding. What this means, of course, is that the Old Testament is utterly unnecessary. It is superfluous. You could read the Old Testament if you wanted, but you risk reading so many unGodly things! Just read the New Testament and you get all you need! Bahnsen has rightly disposed of this presupposition:

Orthodox theology, with its dogma of the immutability of God, should recognize as an interpretative principle the unity and continuity of all God's inscripturated revelation; only the Author of Scripture can discontinue what He has said previously. To approach the New Testament with the premise that only that which is repeated from the old Testament is still binding is faulty procedure; everything that God has said should be that by which man lives (Matt. 4:4), not simply those things which God has spoken twice (and at the right places) . We must live by every Scripture unless God explains otherwise, and with respect to the law of the Older Covenant Scriptures we have no annulment, but rather an emphatic confirmation. (Theonomy, pp. 183-184).

Involved in this whole "dispensational" perspective is again an autonomous judging of God's Word, as though God spoke an inferior, unevolved Word in the time of Abraham, or as though God used coarse, undesirable materialist images, such as not muzzling the ox, in order to get across more "important" spiritual truths.

"Natural" Law vs. God's Law

A final argument is the argument from "natural law." It is not our place here to thoroughly analyze and explain the concept of "natural law." It is held by many Theonomists that "natural law," since it is not the objective Word of God as found inscriptured in the Bible, is arbitrary and always dependent upon the autonomous reasonings of men. While there is substantial agreement upon the requirements of Biblical Law, there is far less agreement as to the requirements of "natural law." Rushdoony has exposed the shifting Humanism behind "natural law" (Institutes, pp. 679ff.) . "Natural law" adherents inevitably declare their interpretations of nature to be higher and more authoritative than Scripture. Thus Macpherson:

It is very evident that the circumstances of modern society demand very different regulations from those which suited national conditions under the Jewish monarchy; and on all hands it is allowed that the increase of enlightenment warrants the applications in many directions of a higher standard. Yet whatever principles of eternal justice appeared in those laws are now obligatory -- yet not because found there, but because of their own nature. (Perhaps the very best discussion of the subject now before us is to be found in Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, where there is a section very ably proving that neither God's being the author of laws, nor His committing them to Scripture, nor the continuance of the end for which they were instituted, is any reason sufficient to prove that they are unchangeable....) (The Confession of Faith, pp. 119, 118).

Many commentators agree that the laws of the Old Testament were designed to keep Israel from becoming a "modern society." Some of these commentators mean this for evil; they mean to say "modern society" is good, old Testament Laws are anti-"modern society," therefore those laws are bad. But this is simply to take the position of God, deciding the boundaries of good and evil according to a more the "enlightened" or "higher standard." The Christian looks at the crime, the neglect and abuse of the poor and defenseless, and the destruction of families through a government-sanctioned debt economy, and praises God for His Old Testament Law, which is superior to the laws of any other nation, and would work to prevent these sinful characteristics of "modern society" (cf. Deut. 4:8). The issue is always: Theonomy or Autonomy; the Law of God or the self-made law of man.

Westminster and the Errors of Antinomianism

Many supporters of the Theonomic position, anxious for their view to gain widespread acceptance, have advanced the position that Theonomy is the true view of a majority of Reformed thinkers. This is not necessarily the case, and if it is the case, this writer would prefer not to be a "Theonomist."

In the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 19, we read this concerning "The Law of God."

To them [Israel] also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require. 19.iv

The Scripture verses appended for proof of the above assertion indicate that many of the modern arguments advanced against the theonomic position are being advanced by the Westminster assembly. Let us look at them:

Genesis 49:10 When this verse is combined with the assertion above, shall we take it as a defense of the theonomic position, or an attack against it?

I Peter 2:13 When this verse is combined with the assertion above, shall we take it as a defense of the theonomic position, or an assertion of the right of man [the State] to construct his own laws, perhaps in accord with "Natural Law?" or the demands of "public utility"?

Matthew 5:17 contrasted with 5:38-39 To set these two verses in opposition is most dangerous and unScriptural.

I Corinthians 9:8-10 The purpose of this passage is not entirely clear. Is this Older Testament case law binding because now repeated, or is this to say that this particular law may be applied in the New Covenant?

The Statement in the Westminster Confession concerning the law seems to employ some of the arguments presently used against the theonomic position. An investigation of the view of the Reformers toward the Old Testament, the State, and the Family, may be instructive in interpreting the Westminster position.

While the reader must decide for himself, our conclusion is that this statement is neither a conclusive affirmation nor denial of the theonomic position. We do consider the statement evidence of latent antinomianism, however, in spite of apparent theonomic thinking elsewhere in the Standards.

Further, we view the use of the phrase "general equity" a dangerous slip into natural law thinking, and its use in the writings of the Reformers evidences such non-theonomic thought. While the Reformers would differ from modern reformed churchmen by their advocacy of the death penalty, we feel that the Reformers' (inconsistent) use of the Mosaic judicials was not because of theonomic presuppositions, but rather a desire to bolster the authority of the State.

The Reformers Abandoned Theonomy for Natural Law

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