the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
The experience of the children of Israel in Egypt reminds us that when loyalty to God disappears there is no longer a barrier to the omnicompetent State. Nevertheless, the self defined omnicompetent State isn't really omnicompetent. Instead, as Egypt's experience reveals, it is progressively disclosed as incompetent. Such a State is simply the chief institutional manifestation of covenant breaking man's attempt to imitate and then usurp the omnipotence of God. But omnipotence is an incommunicable attribute of God. Thus, the only possible source of man's long term limited power is biblical ethics. Adherence to God's word by grace through faith is the only means of realizing the covenant promises (2 Cor. 1:20).
We live in a time when the State is once again claiming omnicompetence – salvation by law. Pharaoh claimed divinity and the ability to bring health and prosperity to all subjects of the realm; we are likewise burdened with a civil government claiming an ability to legislate the perfect life.
In imperial Rome the health of the people was the highest law. This is because a government that sees human reason as the highest authority will enforce positive law in order to bring about utopia. "Positive law" refers to legislation that compels specific behavior (rather than restrict certain actions), in order to achieve redemption. As R.J. Rushdoony wrote, "If the law is positive in its function and if the health of the people is the highest law, then the state has total jurisdiction to compel the total health of the people." This means "everything becomes a part of the state's jurisdiction because everything can potentially contribute to the health or the destruction of the people." Therefore the law becomes unlimited and the state unlimited. This is positive law because it becomes the business of the state not to control evil and subdue it but to control all men in all areas of life. Thus, "basic to every totalitarian regime is a positive concept of the function of law."
We have arrived at this point not due to a preordained failure of the Gospel but because of a reluctance on the part of the Church to embrace God's law in its legitimate role of maintaining order in society. In other words we have come perilously close to a mind-set that says "let sin abound that grace may abound all the more" (Romans 3:8, 6:1). We are guilty of playing politics. We are guilty of ignoring our nation's Christian heritage. We are guilty of denying the authority of Christ in every area of life. We are guilty of tossing the law of God onto the trash heap of history. The irony is that biblical law applied in its proper new testament context maximizes individual liberty while Man's law minimizes it.
Thus, if we hope to reform society we must first reform the Church. This means the Church must reaffirm God's law as the standard of right and wrong for all mankind. Not in an attempt to effect salvation through law but to protect humanity from a man-centered attempt to save through law. As servants of God, civil magistrates are duty-bound to enforce God's law to maintain freedom and order in society so the preaching of the Gospel of grace might not be hindered (Romans 13:1-6, 1 Timothy 2:1-4). Don't be fooled into thinking a return to constitutional law alone will turn this country around. That remains an appeal to law as savior. Instead, it is an acknowledgment God is sovereign over the affairs of men that will set the country on the right course. This does not mean we ignore the Constitution; it means we understand the Constitution as a human document. And in order to prosper, all human endeavor must be placed under the authority of the reigning king of the universe, Jesus Christ.