Law schools don’t just expose their students to a plethora of laws to commit to memory. What they actually do is alter the thought processes of their students. Spouses of law school students are the first to see this as the law student discovers a greater ability to win marital arguments while also learning the thrill of victory can sometimes be a cold comfort.
Anyway, lawyers think in a certain way and that way of thinking can be generalized into a series of inquiries. What is the law or issue? Given the law or issue, what are the important facts? What are the best arguments, both pro and con? And so forth.
All of which is to suggest a certain approach to analyzing issues in the church. Church matters can’t be reduced to legal analysis, but there are questions involving matters like jurisdiction, the law (moral), and procedures (fair) that are familiar territory to the lawyer. There’s enough in common that it can be a profitable exercise to do church-court hypothetical scenarios to analyze issues Christians confront.
And, yes, I have a hypothetical in mind. It’s an issue that’s been bouncing in the blogosphere, and it could be an illuminating one. But before we get to that difficult hypothetical, let’s do an easier one. We’ll start with a factual situation and then apply the scriptures and standards to it.
1. Specification. On October 7, 2012, Pastor Smith preached that the members of his congregation should vote Mitt Romney for President.
2. Sin charged. Binding the conscience.
3. Scripture supporting the charge. Gal. 1:8–9, 2 Thess. 2:2, James 4:12, Rom. 14:4, 10, Acts 4:19, Acts 5:29, 1 Cor. 7:22–23, Matt. 15:1–6, Matt. 23:8–10, 2 Cor. 1:24, Matt. 15:9, Col. 2:20–23, Gal. 1:10, Gal. 2:4–5, Gal. 4:9–10, Gal. 5:1. [These are proof texts for the WCF]
4. Secondary standards supporting the charge. WCF 1.6. “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
WCF 20.2 “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.”
5. Statement in support of the charges. Voting involves numerous considerations. Those considerations are as numerous as there are issues a President may confront: domestic and foreign, economic and social. Voting may also turn upon the intelligence, competence, demeanor, rhetorical effectiveness, political savvy, etc. of the candidates. With so many factors involved one cannot by good and necessary inference deduce that a Christian must vote for Mitt Romney and to do so is to unlawfully bind the conscience.
This could have been more elaborate, particularly the Statement in Support of Charges, but this should suffice to illustrate how we might walk through any number of issues.
Now that we’ve walked through the analysis we’re ready to look at another specification: “on a certain date Politician Doe said that abortion should remain legal.” Note well that Politician Doe has neither had an abortion nor assisted in one. Moreover, the specification isn’t about Doe’s action on a bill. I’ve tried to construct a convincing argument that would establish the sinfulness of making such a statement but haven’t been able to do so. What is particularly intriguing about this hypothetical is that I disagree with Politician Doe’s position and perhaps you do as well, but establishing a biblical sin isn’t the same as violating popular opinion. And, while we’re on the issue of popular opinion, we should recognize that Pastor Smith (above) might have voiced a majority position in his church but sinned nonetheless.
So is Politician Doe uttering permissible political speech or is he violating the Law of God? We’re assuming that politician Doe is a member of a Reformed church. If anyone would like to construct a case against Politician Doe, let me know. If so, we could conduct a sort of mock trial with advocates on both sides. It could be a useful exercise.