[Flower (stylized), 2009, JA Van Devender]
For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
In response to my post yesterday, my friend and fellow Christian Scott wrote:
"God's 613 laws and decrees for a well ordered society (what nation is so great as to have the laws of God as their own) deny to the civil government (by omission) any authority to regulate drugs."
This view has much to commend it and appeals to my Libertarian tendencies but I think the fundamental premise must be examined before Christians jump on that bandwagon entirely.
Basically what Scott is stating is analogous to the US Constitution's position that all "powers not enumerated are left to the states." Another article that I most strongly support. Though here, what Scott is saying, is that only those specific areas specifically stated in Scripture where God has declared some sort of judicial process (including law-making) are to be granted to the state as having authority to do virtually anything. This is the Reformed doctrine of the "regulative principle" applied to the state rather than to worship.
One must ask "Is this what God intends?" I would say "no" but that if we are going to err then it is better to err on the side of less government authority than more. So, I deny the absolute principle but applaud the general idea.
As Scott says, though I have not verified the numbers, God has given us a number of "laws and decrees for a well ordered society." He and I both agree that the essential principles, rather than the explicit formulations, found in those principles are timeless and normative. An example being Deut. 22:8 which embodies a principle that a man building a house is responsible for reasonable safety measures to protect any who may be present in it. It should be noted that this same passage makes it a criminal, not a civil matter, if the man fails to do this and someone gets hurt. (Remember that the next time your driveway is iced up.)
What we also have to remember are that many of these laws are directed toward other ends, such as the law against mixing threads (wool and linen) in garment making (Deut. 22:11). I doubt seriously that any modern Christian understands this in such a manner as to preclude wearing polyester or suede clothing which, by necessity, has other materials in the make up. Even the law which required the Israelites to wear tassels on their clothing had sanctions against it. If a person did not do this they were subject to judgment and perhaps even being cast out of the community.
So, at the heart of this question, the Christian must face two things. (1) Does God require or expect the civil government to openly acknowledge His sovereignty in the making, administration and judging of laws by submission to His Scriptures as its ultimate authority, and (2) is civil government bound to enforce only those laws and powers specifically enumerated to it in the Scriptures and not undertake any initiatives or practices that are not therein mentioned.
Scott and I agree that, as Rushdoony stated, every civil government has the responsibility to be Christian. All powers are instituted by God (Rom. 14:1) and therefore all authority is responsible to God to acknowledge Him as the source of their authority. This does imply that the government should make no laws that are in violation of or contradictory to, God's word.
With regard to the second point though, it appears that God does not expect nor require that the limits of civil authority shall be confined to those things explicitly mentioned.
Even in OT Israel, for example, it was understood that "mercy" may take precedence over "judgment." The fact that a crime was punishable by death did not mean that the judge had his hand tied and that every instance in which that crime was formally committed required a death sentence. The function of "judges" was to judge "justly" and mitigating circumstances were in fact allowed.
Further, many of the laws of the Old Testament allowed regulation of such practices as slavery, divorce and polygamy. Jesus reminded people that the "creation ordinances" ("from the beginning it was not so" - Mat. 19:4 and parallels) took precedence over later Mosaic regulations. Thus, though polygamy and slavery were legal under ancient practices, God set the principle in place that allowed later dispensations to first move away from these practices and then, ultimately, to declare them illegal.
So I believe that Scott's fundamental premises, though commendable in intent, have to be more judiciously considered.
For example, as David Hall in his book Savior or Servant? Putting Government In It's Place, has argued, Scott's fundamental position means that government is to have no hand, at all, in founding hospitals, state colleges, tax-funded assistance to the poor (welfare), regulation of business practices other than usury or fraud, inspection of food products, etc. etc. etc. Yet I find the essential principle behind these efforts to be fully in line with the Scriptures' view of government. It was just these kind of efforts that caused Solomon to be sought out for his wisdom in governance and many of them fall under the heading of "doing justly", especially in God's concern for the poor.
Therefore, I believe that God has given us clear guidelines regarding the principles on which just laws and national aspirations are to be directed. I believe that God does require all Christians to work toward a God-honoring government. (Scott here must take into account that this implies that only professing Christians with a history of piety should be placed in national leadership positions.) But God has left a broad range of administrative and regulatory practices unmentioned and His criminal and legislative precepts are not intended as comprehensive. The ancient Israelites had no experience of the need, say, for zoning laws such that necessary industrial allocations of land would not unduly and unsafely impact neighbors.
I know that Scott is widely read in all these things and that many of the positions I state above can be answered. The fundamental premise though is exactly that. God does not, in His Word, ever say that a government can only make laws within the narrow areas that He has specifically mentioned. That is a pre-supposition and not a authoritatively mandated position.
Therefore, if in order to promote a more God-honoring society, Government, for example, chooses to regulate such things as drugs and alcohol because it understands those things as being threats to the overall witness of the community, it MAY do so. It has the authority to do so but it is responsible before God for determining within what limits, if any, and to what ends. This is a "judgment" call and therefore open to the way God guides His people, through the considered argumentation, pro and con, that Godly men and women contribute to the decision process.