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Theonomy vs. Autonomy

"There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy."

Cornelius Van Til

The issue . . . is between theonomy (God's Law) and autonomy (self law). Modern autonomous man is aided and abetted in his apostasy from God by the antinomianism of the church, which, by denying God's law, has, in theology, politics, education, industry, and all things else, surrendered the field to the law of the fallen and godless self, to autonomy.

R.J. Rushdoony

"'. . . that He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.'
For from Zion will go forth the Law
Even the Word of God from Jerusalem

Micah 4:2


In the Garden of Eden, man was given a choice: Theonomy or Autonomy.

Those who love life choose to serve God and His Law. They submit to His government and receive His blessings.
Those who hate God and His Law choose Autonomy -- self-government -- even if it means death. As Milton painted the desire of Autonomous Man:

                                      Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
    John Milton, Paradise Lost,   I, l 262
Autonomous Man is "pro-choice,"
and chooses hell and death:
to be rid of God.

All they that hate Me love death
Proverbs 8:36

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you,
that I have set before you
life and death
blessing and cursing

T H E R E F O R E   C H O O S E   L I F E

that both you and your children may live;
that you may love the LORD your God,
that you may obey His voice,
and that you may cling to Him,
for He is your life and the length of your days.
Deuteronomy 30:19


      Law is an inescapable concept. Every individual has his or her own ideas of right and wrong conduct. When individuals associate they form a shared standard of social morality. Their group will reward (bless) conduct which conforms to that standard or penalize (curse) conduct which is contrary to it. This is "law."


      Social morality -- law -- is the externalization of a society's religion. The source of a society's morality is the authority by which all rival moralities are evaluated and judged. This standard is the "god" of that society.
      Any religion which claims not to have a god is denying the existence of a personal god, and affirming an impersonal god. Any society which in its legal system denies or refuses to affirm the existence of any god is merely denying the existence of a transcendant personal god and covering up the existence of an immanent personal god, which is usually the State.
      "The rule of god" is called "theocracy." Theocracy is an inescapable concept.
      The question is not, "Should we live in a theocracy?" but rather, "Which theocracy will we live under?"
      Micah prophesies the world-wide flourishing of Christian culture; a Christocracy based on the Torah, the direction-giving Law of the Bible. Obedience to the Law and the Prophets would return us to the Garden, with every worker sitting safely under his vine and fig tree (Micah 4:1-7).
      This prospect is unacceptable to the Amerikan Theocracy of the 20th century, whose god is Man as "truly" incarnated in military-industrial planners, financiers, scientists, and other academically-credentialed elites. These would-be gods (and the masses who empower them) prefer a pyramid-style welfare-warfare State in which they bureaucratically predestine the lives of human cannon-fodder for their own profit. Personalism is replaced with mindless obedience to bureaucratic regulations rewarded by "personal peace and affluence."


      The Modern World is a world of law, lawyers, and legal systems; our lives are governed by myriad laws and we are kept in line by an army of lawyers and bureaucrats. Love, forgiveness, service, and personal responsibility are Christian concepts, hence foreign to the Modern Humanist Theocracy. As the Secular State grows larger, literacy, safety, respect for others, discipline, competence, and love become scarce.


      Many in our day would denounce government coercion in the name of individual liberty. These "anarchists" would eliminate the State, but not "archists," for each one of these "anarchists" seeks to be as god, the governor of his own world. The chaos and terror many imagine when they hear the world "anarchy" is really the dictatorship of thousands of little "archists," each seeking the "rule of god" in their own little theocracy.


      Biblical Law is a Blueprint for the Reconstruction of a Personalist Christian Culture. God's Law is a comprehensive rival law-system which the Prophets declare will replace all human Empires. God's Law is the total antithesis of man-centered legality. God's Law and His Prophets present a concept of social order quite opposite that of the Amerikan Humanist Theocracy.


      Totalitarianism and "anarchy" are both an assault on the Kingdom and Reign of God. Biblical Law is a blueprint for peaceful patriarchy; the triumph of secular, man-centered law has resulted in the bloodiest century in human history.


      The Amerikan Theocracy and its prophets (TV, cinema, "news magazines," etc.) have convinced its citizens that "law" is

(1) a code of vengeance
(2) put into effect only by institutions (the rest of us must not "take 'the law' into our own hands"), or else
(3) a primitive priestly system of ceremonial blood-letting, ritual cleansings, and repetitive liturgies.

      Citizens of Christ's Kingdom, cleansed by the blood of Christ (the True High Priest) shed in His execution (the final blood-ritual), hear God's prophets, and know that God's Law is Love: If I obey God's Law with respect to my neighbor -- his life, his liberty, his property -- then I truly love my neighbor.
      God's Law is Universal and Non-Institutional: The Bible does not provide a "civil code" for any political/economic system. The social effect of universal, spontaneous and habitual Law-keeping in the lives of generations of families is Decentralized Christian Culture, flourishing as each generation of families is discipled to bear more Spiritual Fruit.
      The Source of law and social order is the Spirit, not armed guards. The Standard of a Godly social order is Biblical Law, not parliaments, bureaucrats, and university professors.
      The Goal of a Godly social order is the Kingdom of God and His glory, not that of the "fatherland." We are motivated to pursue such a civilization by faith (not the sight of flags, monuments, and parades), which works through love (not military might).


      Political scientists, sociologists, lawyers, and legislators are all concerned about the maintenance of "social order." They look for "The Rule of Law" in a society, and worry that theirs might "disintegrate into anarchy and chaos."
      Citizens of Christ's Kingdom (Philippians 3:20) do not worry about what they should do to maintain "law and order." They simply obey God's Law in their own lives. The Spirit uses acts of obedience -- little ones; sacrificial ones -- to build the Kingdom of God.
      Those who are afraid that the Law and the Prophets written before Christ can neither guide Christians nor be relevant to our impersonal, crumbling culture, are comforted by Jesus' Word in Matthew 5:17-20. There is an alternative to Humanist Theocracy. The Spirit makes people love the Law of God; God's Law is no longer a threat to people who have covenanted to turn from idols and serve the Lord.
      From Moses to Malachi, God sets forth an unchanging standard of justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). The Law itself, and the Prophets who explicated it, declared that the ceremonial laws of liturgy and ritual bloodshed were not to be confused with righteousness as set forth in its personal and social precepts, which form God's blueprint for justice, peace, and harmony.
      The essence of God's Law is not a cold impersonal list of "Thou shalt not"'s, and certainly not the typological priestly ritual of the shedding of blood following a violation. The "weightier matters" of the Law are justice, mercy, and faith. That mercy and faith are two-thirds of the Law's weightier matters should not surprise us. Biblical Law was authored by the Spirit and the Fruit of obedience is the "Fruit of the Spirit": love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; all of which are commanded by the Law of God.
      God's Law ("Theo-nomy") is neither "primitive" nor inadequate for our "complex" civilization. Every area of life is effectively addressed by the Comprehensive Law-Word of God.
      When faithfully taught and obeyed, observance of the Law of God mends the torn fabric of life. Bringing our lives under the total jurisdiction of Christ is the key to social renewal, not reforming the lives of others through the impersonal violence of statist bureaucratic regulation.

Vine & Fig Tree is Grounded in Theonomy

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