Remit of last General Assembly: The question of Theonomy was raised by way of Overture. The remit was in the following terms: "[The General Assembly] instruct the Committee on Public Questions, Religion and Morals to undertake a careful and full study of the teachings of Theonomy referred to in the Overture, with particular reference to their relationship to the Confession of Faith, authorising the consultation of any individuals outwith the membership of the Committee whose theological input may be useful, and report to next General Assembly."
It would be easy to stress one or two of the more outlandish notions of Theonomy, in such a way that the whole thing seemed to be the product of the fevered imagination of cranks, and not worth wasting time considering. For instance, according to most Theonomists, the state has no welfare responsibilities. The problems of the NHS are thus solved at a stroke - there would be no NHS! Again, according to most Theonomists, the state should apply the death penalty to a whole range of sins including homosexuality, rape, fornication, apostasy, idolatry and the striking or cursing of parents. Already this tenet of Theonomy has been highlighted in sensational form in a tabloid newspaper. The story was headlined "In Scotland a deacon wants to stone 'bad' kids to death". But before we shake our heads and consider Theonomy beneath our dignity to even debate, there are several causes for concern.
First, Theonomy originated in Reformed circles in America. One of its leading proponents, Greg L Bahnsen, studied at Westminster Seminary, and acknowledged his debt to Cornelius Van Til and John Murray. Second, Theonomy appears to have a growing following, not only among Reformed Christians, but also among a wide range of Christians from conservative Roman Catholics to Charismatics. One reason for this is its optimism. Theonomy, or Reconstructionism as it is also known, is postmillennial in eschatology and believes in the ultimate victory of Christianity in the world before the return of Christ. Scottish presbyterianism has also been strongly postmillennial and so we can appreciate a ready-made openness to that aspect of Theonomy. Third, it appears to take the Bible seriously. After all, does not the Mosaic law require the death penalty for the sins mentioned above? This may be a matter of indifference to those who do not take the Bible seriously as the infallible word of God, but to those of us who do, this is a matter of no small concern. How are we to understand these and similar passages of the Old Testament? We must respond to the Theonomist challenge.
1. What is Theonomy?
(i) A definition Theonomy is an invented English word, based on the Greek for "God's law", in conscious contrast to "autonomy" (self-law). It was used in this broader sense by Cornelius Van Til who said: "There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy." Ultimately there are only two laws or two ways - God's way or man's way. However, Theonomy has now come to be identified with a particular view of God's law. It can be expressed as follows: the whole human race is bound to keep the whole of God's law, including all the civil, judicial laws given to Israel as a nation, as well as the moral law summarised in the Ten Commandments.
(ii) Part of a complex of ideas - Reconstructionism Several labels are used for the movement of which Theonomy is a part - "Dominion Theology", "Christian Reconstructionism" or simply "Reconstructionism". This highlights the fact that Theonomy is not an isolated idea. It is part of a general outlook or worldview. The characteristics of this outlook have been listed in various ways. Mark Duncan, a Theonomist writer, lists them as follows - 1) Calvinistic Soteriology, 2) Covenant Theology, 3) Presuppositional Apologetics, 4) Postmillennialism, 5) Theonomic Ethics. Ligon Duncan of Reformed Seminary, Jackson, a critic of Theonomy gives a slightly different list of three - 1) Presuppositionalism, 2) Postmillennialism, 3) Transformational Worldview (including Theonomic ethics).
One can readily see from these characteristics that there is much that we would readily agree with. Scottish presbyterianism held to Calvinism, covenant theology and postmillennialism long before Reconstructionism appeared on the scene, and this did not involve Theonomy. In addition, many of us have learned a great deal from Van Til's presuppositional apologetics, although probably few of us would agree with him totally, particularly with his rejection of natural law.
The Reconstructionist view of the interconnection of these positions has been brilliantly summed up by Ligon Duncan in the following (long!) sentence: 'It is easy to see how one could argue that if there is no such thing as "natural law" (in the Calvinian sense), and if there are only two ultimate sources of law (God or self), and if God intended the Old Testament case law as "a model of social justice for all cultures", and if Christ is going to return after a golden age on earth characterized by godly rule and peace, then surely the kingdom in the millennium will be ruled on the basis of God's own revealed law in the Old Testament (including case law and the attendant penal sanctions), and Christians should be actively working to bring about in their own countries observance of the law which 0God intended for all nations and which he will establish in the millennium.' It is therefore clear that it is mainly in the area of Theonomy that problems arise. The big question is whether the Old Testament civil law of Israel is still binding.
(iii) The origins of the movement The origins of Reconstructionism lie very much in the Dutch school of Reformed theology from Abraham Kuyper to Dooyeweerd and Van Til, and again there is much in this that is healthy - the emphasis on thinking and living Christianly in all areas of life, and the impossibility of being neutral about God.
Reconstructionism is also a reaction to some unhealthy tendencies in evangelicalism, especially American evangelicalism - 1) Neglect of the Old Testament in Christian ethics, 2) Lack of involvement with social issues , 3) Subjective pietism, 4) Antinomianism. Reconstructionism is particularly right-wing in its political and economic proposals to remedy this situation. Again it is clear that here are valid areas of concern, but again Reconstructionism is not the only possible Reformed reaction to these tendencies. Francis Schaeffer and others have shown alternative and less problematic ways.
Three of the main authors are Rousas J Rushdoony (The Chalcedon Foundation), Gary North (Institute for Christian Economics) and Greg Bahnsen (Southern California Centre for Christian Studies).
2. Is Theonomy consistent with the Confession of Faith?
(i) What does Theonomy teach? Theonomists teach the unity of the law, and it is "the law in exhaustive detail" that must be kept. The only exception they make (perhaps inconsistently) is for the ceremonial law which they say has been fulfilled by Christ (but even here Bahnsen argues that Christians are still under obligation to offer blood atonement, although in a new manner), otherwise the whole law, moral and civil, remains. They reject the traditional distinction between the moral and the civil. Bahnsen writes: "Repeatedly the New Testament authors assume the standard of the law in their ethical themes and make application of the law in their moral judgements. Every scripture, every point, every word, and indeed every letter of the Old Testament law is upheld in the New Testament. Therefore, it would seem obvious that the socio-political aspects of the Old Testament Law would retain their validity today - that they are authoritative for civil magistrates of all ages and cultures." (By This Standard, quoted by Peter Masters, World Dominion, p.19)
The point at issue for the moment is not whether this position can be supported by Biblical exegesis (this will be considered later), but whether it is consistent with the Confession of Faith. Theonomists reject a fundamental distinction between the civil law of Israel and the moral law, and they teach that the whole civil law (in its exhaustive detail) is binding on the Christian and the magistrate today. "Hence the social punishments detailed in God's word are as authoritative as any other command He sets down to be obeyed." (Bahnsen, Theonomy, p.436) "Therefore, if rulers are to follow the whole law of God as they are responsible to do, then they must execute the punishments God has prescribed." (ibid. p.467)
(ii) What does the Confession teach?
If Theonomy is clear in its rejection of a distinction between civil and moral, and in its insistence on the continuance of Old Testament civil punishments today, the Confession is equally clear, but in an opposite direction. The Confession teaches (Chapter 19 - Of the Law of God) a threefold distinction in the Law - moral, ceremonial and judicial. The moral law is the Ten Commandments (19.2,3) and remains binding on all (19.5). The ceremonial laws "given to the people of Israel as a church under age . . . containing several typical ordinances . . . prefiguring Christ . . . are now abrogated under the new testament." (19.3) As far as the civil law is concerned, the Confession says "To them also [i.e.. Israel], as a body politick, 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." (19.4)
Now, no matter how much effort Theonomist writers expend in trying to show that their teaching does not contradict the Confession (and some go to great lengths), they face an impossible task. The Theonomist says the judicial laws are still binding, the Confession says they have expired (died, become invalid). The Theonomist says other nations (apart from ancient Israel) are obliged to keep the judicial laws, the Confession says no other nation is obliged to keep them. Theonomists say these laws apply in exhaustive detail, the Confession says only the "general equity" of these laws apply. This is about as clear a contradiction as it is possible to get!
However, those Theonomists who care about being consistent with the Confession (and not all do - Gary North urges a revision of the Confession) take the qualification concerning general equity to mean that the Old Testament civil law still applies. Is this fair? Surely this is not fair. If the framers of the Confession believed that the Bible taught Theonomy, they would have stated that the sundry judicial laws still applied and then made any necessary qualifications to that statement. It is not right to take a qualification to a very clear statement and force it to mean the opposite of the clear statement.
But what does the Confession mean by general equity? As Sinclair Ferguson points out (Theonomy - A Reformed Critique, p.330), the expression "general equity" has a long history stretching back to the Greeks and Romans and was a well-recognised technical legal term by the time of the Westminster Assembly. It means "the application of the principles of justice to correct or supplement the law". It involves a recognition that it is not enough to have laws, whether in the form of statute law or case law, these must be administered in a way that is fair and just. It is therefore quite clear what the Confession means. It is saying that the actual laws have ceased to be valid, but the general principles of justice in the civil law of Old Testament Israel are still valid. What are examples of general equity in OT? - a man must not be punished for a crime he has not committed; two or more witnesses are required to convict; punishment should be proportionate to the crime.
(iii) Impact of Declaratory Act XII 1846 re "persecuting principles"
When the General Assembly, in 1846, passed a Declaratory Act concerning the Questions and Formula for Ministers and other Officebearers, they declared "that, while the Church firmly maintains the same Scriptural principles as to the duties of nations and their rulers in reference to true religion and the Church of Christ, for which she has hitherto contended, she disclaims intolerant or persecuting principles, and does not regard her Confession of Faith, or any portion thereof, when fairly interpreted, as favouring intolerance or persecution, or consider that her office-bearers, by subscribing it, profess any principles inconsistent with liberty of conscience and the right of private judgement." It may be necessary, due to the negative connotations of the 1892 Declaratory Act to point out that a Declaratory Act is a quite proper mechanism for the Church to declare its understanding of the Confession. The 1846 Act is such a proper use of the procedure and it has always been part of the accepted legislation of the Free Church of Scotland almost from its inception.
This is relevant to the Free Church's attitude to Theonomy, as Theonomists usually hold that the magistrate must enforce the whole Old Testament Law including sanctions against idolatry, infidelity and apostasy. Bahnsen writes, "Just as the magistrate of the Older Testament had divine imperatives which he was responsible to carry out, so also magistrates in the era of the New Testament are under obligation to those commands in the Book of the Law which apply to civil affairs and social penology." (Theonomy, p.317) and "The magistrate is under moral obligation, then, to apply death to those who transgress God's law at places where God requires the life of the criminal." (ibid. p.470) It is quite clear that Bahnsen's understanding of Scripture and the Confession is at complete variance with the position of the Free Church of Scotland as expressed in Act XII 1846. He believes the Confession to teach that the magistrate is to enforce the death penalty on those who are guilty of breaking "the first table of the law" - those who are judged to be atheists, blasphemers, heretics and schismatics (ibid. p.538,539). This is completely contrary to the Free Church's position which opposes persecution and favours toleration.
(iv) Are Theonomy and Confession consistent?
It is clear from the above that Theonomy is not consistent with a straightforward reading of the Confession. In addition it is also clear that the adherence of the Free Church of Scotland to the Confession is in such terms as to exclude religious persecution from the powers of the magistrate. In other words we believe in religious toleration.
3. Is Theonomy consistent with the Bible?
It can be argued that Theonomy may be inconsistent with the Confession but it might still be consistent with the Bible. The Confession might be wrong. Indeed, we should have the same readiness as John Knox, who framed the Scots Confession, to have our creeds corrected from Scripture.
(i) Theonomy's Golden Text The golden text for Theonomy is Matthew 5:17,18 - "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (NIV) Theonomists take this to mean that the whole law "in exhaustive detail" is still valid in the New Testament age. However, this is based on an idiosyncratic interpretation of the text. There are two distinctives of this interpretation. First, the meaning of "the law" is narrowed to matters ethical and judicial. And second, the word translated "fulfil" is interpreted to mean "confirm and restore". The Theonomist therefore understands Jesus to teach that he has come to confirm and restore the law in exhaustive detail. As far as the first point is concerned, it is clear that Jesus is thinking of the whole Old Testament revelation, as he uses the comprehensive term "the law or the prophets". Even more importantly, there are no good grounds for translating as "to confirm" instead of "to fulfil". Throughout the New Testament this word in its various forms is used in the sense to fill, to fulfil or to complete. In 107 occurrences of the verb and the associated noun, there is no definite instance where it necessarily means to "confirm and restore" (which is Bahnsen's interpretation).
If the Theonomic interpretation fails to do justice to the text, what is the correct interpretation? One of the fundamental principles of correct interpretation of the Bible is the comparison of scripture with scripture. We must ask how other passages speak of Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures. When we do so, we discover that the Gospels are full of references to Jesus fulfilling the Scriptures in the sense that what Jesus said or did, or what was done to him, was exactly what the Old Testament prophesied. One example is Luke 24:44 - "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (NIV). Another interesting example is John 15:25 - "But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'" (NIV) This is interesting because the reference to the "Law" in this case is to Psalm 69:4 - indicating that Jesus understood the Law as being much wider than the judicial (or even the moral) law.
However, it is obvious that Jesus was including what we now call the moral and judicial law, as he used the term "commandments" in the next verse (Matthew 5:19) and he goes on in the rest of the Sermon of the Mount to speak concerning moral and judicial matters. But this does not resolve the matter simply, as Theonomists seem to think. We still have to ask: In what way does Jesus fulfil the various aspects of the Old testament Scriptures? To answer that we must go to various passages in the New Testament, not just Matthew 5:17.
Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament by doing what they foretold of him (eg. Matthew 26.56). He fulfilled the ceremonial law of tabernacle and temple ritual by achieving the real atonement for sin through his death (eg. Hebrews 9:23-10:4). He fulfilled the moral law on behalf of his people by his perfect obedience (Romans 5:19). He fulfilled the laws regarding the separation of Israel from the nations through food regulations by showing that they had a spiritual fulfilment (Mark 7:18,19, Acts 10:14,15,28), thus removing a barrier between Jew and Gentile.
Much of this would be granted to a large extent by Theonomists. However, the crucial question remains: In what sense did Jesus fulfil the judicial laws of the Old Testament? Was it in the same sense as he fulfilled the moral law which, although obeyed for us by Christ for our justification, is still valid for our sanctification (albeit in the heightened awareness of love)? Or was it in the same sense as he fulfilled the ceremonial and food laws, which are no longer valid? This is the nub of the problem. The Theonomist claims the judicial laws are merely part of the moral law and as such are still valid. The Confession says they have expired. Which represents true New Testament teaching? Both cannot be right.
(ii) New Testament passages relevant to judicial laws Matthew 5. Whilst recognising that the major thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is ethical, the various emphases which impinge on the civil and judicial should not be ignored. It is clear that the primary concern of his kingdom is with the spiritual and moral application of the law, not the civil and judicial, but Jesus speaks of murder, adultery, divorce, retribution, persecution - all of which have civil aspects. However, in connection with divorce (Matthew 5:31.32) there is the clearest evidence that Jesus was altering even the civil application of the law. John Murray (Divorce, p.27) demonstrates that Jesus authoritatively replaced the death penalty for adultery in the Mosaic code with divorce. "Here then is something novel and it implies that the requirement of death for adultery is abrogated in the economy Jesus himself inaugurated. Here are accordingly two provisions which our Lord instituted, one negative and the other positive. He abrogated the Mosaic penalty for adultery and he legitimated divorce for adultery. . . One the one hand, the abrogation of the death penalty for adultery and the substitution of divorce as the legitimate resort for the innocent husband indicate a relaxative amendment of the penal sanction attached to adultery. On the other hand, in the abrogation of the Mosaic sufferance respecting divorce we find an increased severity of moral judgement and legal enactment."
This is in keeping with the whole tenor of the Sermon on the Mount and indeed with the whole of Jesus' teaching and attitude. He shows the demands of God's law are much greater at the moral and spiritual level, but he relaxes the penal severity of the Mosaic law. This is obviously the understanding of the Westminster Divines in their citing of Matthew 5.17 with 5.38,39 as supporting Chapter 19.4. Geerhardus Vos (Biblical Theology, p.387) puts the general principle as follows: "it did not follow, that because God had through revelation given a law, it therefore had to remain in force in perpetuum. The only question was who had the proper authority in this matter of regulating the mode of life in the theocracy, and plainly here the Messianic authority of Jesus Himself was taken by Him into consideration."
Jesus' attitude is illustrated in his treatment of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11, which may be textually questionable, but yet record a genuine incident nonetheless). If only those innocent of adultery (and according to Jesus this includes inward lust) could condemn to death, he was the only person who could condemn. The fact that he refused to condemn, shows that he views the Mosaic penalty as no longer valid. This is completely in line with his general attitude. He mixed with tax-collectors and sinners like the Samaritan woman (John 4) and at no time indicated that they should be dealt with by the civil authorities. He even commended prostitutes (Matthew 21:31,32) for repenting at the preaching of John the Baptist (under the Mosaic code, prostitution was a capital offence).
The Apostle Paul clearly followed the Lord Jesus in this. In 1 Corinthians 5 he does not command execution for the member of their fellowship guilty of incest, but excommunication. Most tellingly, in commanding excommunication, he uses the expression "Expel the wicked man from among you" (NIV). This is an almost exact quotation of the Septuagint (Greek) translation of "Purge the evil from among you" (Deuteronomy 17:7, 19:19, 21:21 etc), an expression used in the Mosaic code in the context of the death penalty for various sins, including sexual sins. This is one of the clearest indications in the New Testament that in Christ's kingdom civil penalty has been replaced with church discipline, and execution with excommunication. In addition, of course, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 indicates that the ultimate goal of church discipline is repentance, forgiveness and restoration, not destruction. The Theonomist claim that the attitude of Jesus and Paul was determined by the particular political circumstances of their day does not stand up to scrutiny. If there is an overriding obligation to be obedient to God's law in exhaustive detail, neither Jesus not Paul could be exempted from that obligation just because they lived under a pagan Roman authority. Surely all nations are bound to obey what God has commanded for all time and for every nation, and if, as the Theonomist argues, this includes the Mosaic civil law, Jesus and Paul were duty-bound to urge this on their Roman rulers. Although the Romans did not allow the Jewish authorities to execute the death sentence themselves, appeal could be made to them to do so, as illustrated in the trials of Jesus and Paul. The fact that neither Jesus nor Paul made such an appeal for the carrying out of the Old Testament civil penalties is the final nail in the coffin of Theonomy.
1Peter 2:13,14 - This passage, which commands us to submit to every authority instituted among men, is taken together with Genesis 49:10 in the Confession's supporting references as evidence that with the coming of Jesus the sceptre has departed from Judah and all are now required to submit to the de facto political authorities. This interpretation is confirmed by Ephesians 2:11-17. Before the coming of Christ the Gentiles were excluded from citizenship in Israel (v.12). This means that they were not part of the theocratic state of Israel with all its duties as well as its privileges. What excluded them was "the law with its commandments and regulations" - this is "the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility". It is particularly the law considered as that which made Israel distinctive that is in view. It was not the fact that they had a moral code that made Israel distinctive as a nation - all the nations had the law written on their hearts (Romans 2:14,15). It was the fact that Israel was a theocratic state governed by distinctive civil and ceremonial laws. Circumcision, the food laws, the marriage laws, the ceremonial laws and the judicial laws all excluded the Gentiles from citizenship in the state of Israel. It is the law thus considered that Christ abolished in his flesh. He did this by reconciling both Jew and Gentile to God through his death on the cross. The word translated "abolished" means "made inoperative, deprived of power or annulled".
Galatians 5:3 - "Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is required to obey the whole law." (NIV) Paul's letter to the Galatians is one of the most complete refutations of Theonomy in the Bible. Of course, this is denied by Theonomist writers who understand Paul to be speaking only of the ceremonial law and the fact that we are justified by faith not by keeping the ceremonial law. However, the context makes it clear that it is the whole law, the whole legal covenant made at Sinai, that is being considered - Galatians 3:10 - 'All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law"' (NIV) and Galatians 4:24 - 'These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.' (NIV) Circumcision was the initiation sign of obligation to keep God's covenant with Israel and that covenant clearly included judicial laws (Exodus 21 & 22). The fact that circumcision is now no longer necessary shows that there is no obligation to keep the Sinaitic covenant. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3.13). Interestingly, the expression "the Book of the Law" (Galatians 3.10) is used in Deuteronomy of the whole of the book of Deuteronomy itself which, of course, includes civil regulations as well as ceremonial. This is "the whole law" which the circumcised are obligated to keep, but from which the Christian is free.
(iii) Old Testament It is not only in terms of New Testament principles that Theonomy is found wanting. Christopher Wright has shown that it does not do justice to the Old Testament either. In his Walking in the Ways of the Lord - The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament, while recognising some of the strengths of Theonomy, he is strongly critical of it at four points. First, Theonomists misunderstand the function of law, especially in ancient societies. Second, they fail to recognise in Israel's legal system the existence of maximum penalties and the importance of the scale of values reflected in the system. Third, they overstate the importance of the pentateuchal laws in the overall balance of the Old Testament canon. And fourth, they seem to be oddly selective in what they say modern civil rulers must apply and enforce from Old Testament law and what they must not.
It is worth developing Wright's fourth point. Bahnsen argues that the realm of the economic marketplace is outside the authority of civil rulers. However, as Wright demonstrates "the pentateuchal law, by any criterion, is deeply concerned about the economic marketplace and prescribes a whole raft of mechanisms designed to preserve or restore justice: in relation to the distribution of land, the payment of workers, lending and debt, alleviation of poverty". In this connection, it is clear that Israel's civil law prohibited the sale of land (Leviticus 25:23). It did not belong to private individuals, but to God. The Israelites were only tenants. However, the private ownership of property is one of the cornerstones of Theonomic economics. This demonstrates that Theonomy has a right wing political bias towards free market economic conservatism. If this is so, is there not good grounds for believing that its views on crime and punishment are due, not to sound exegesis and theology, but to the same political bias?
(iv) General attitude to law and grace In spite of the fact that Theonomist writers are at pains to stress their orthodoxy with regard to salvation by God's grace through faith and not by works of the law, their position has the tendency to undermine the centrality of the gospel of grace, because of their unbalanced emphasis on the law. They fail to take seriously the sea-change that has taken place with the coming of Jesus Christ. They are constantly playing down the contrast made by the New Testament between law and grace - John 1.17 -"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ"; Romans 6:14 - "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace"; Romans 7:6 - "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code"; Romans 13:10 - "Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law"; 2 Corinthians 3:6 - "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant -- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life"; Galatians 3:25 - "Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." There is the tremendous danger that Theonomy leads into a new legalism, where the touchstone of everything is Old Testament law not the gospel of Christ's love.
4. How should we respond to Theonomy?
In light of the inconsistency of Theonomy with the Confession and with the Biblical doctrine which underlies the Confession, demonstrated above, what should be the response of the Free Church of Scotland? This is a matter of great importance, as Theonomic views are becoming influential not only in "Reformed" circles, but also among Charismatics and there is every indication that this influence will grow. In some ways the Free Church could be fertile soil for Theonomy due to our reformed theology, our tradition of postmillenial eschatology and our tendency towards presuppositional apologetics. There are already indications that there is sympathy to Theonomy in some quarters in the Church and indications of the possible disastrous effect on our public profile if we are seen to tolerate such views. Of course, if Theonomy was consistent with the Bible and an essential part of the Gospel, the question of our public profile would assume very secondary importance. However, that is not the case, and while we should all be prepared to suffer mockery and opposition for the offence of the Cross, we should not give needless offence. The name and reputation of the Free Church has suffered enough in recent times, we may not survive another long drawn-out dispute, this time about Theonomy.
Therefore, on all counts, decisiveness is called for. It is essential that the General Assembly declare that the teachings commonly known as Theonomy or Reconstructionism contradict the Confession of Faith and are inconsistent with Biblical doctrine. It is also essential that the Assembly communicate that declaration to the Church and the grounds on which that judgement has been made. To this end the Committee is recommending that this section of the Report together with the relevant part of the Deliverance be circulated to all Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions.
It is also clear from all the preceding that Theonomy thrives in the perceived absence of another approach to Old Testament law that takes the Biblical material seriously. In fact there are other such approaches, such as that of Meredith Kline and that of Christopher Wright. It will therefore be helpful for the Committee to look at this more positive aspect of the matter and to report to next General Assembly.