Mock Trial for the Church

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.


Filed under evangelical politics, Presbyterianism, Spirituality of the Church, Westminster Confession of Faith

58 responses to “Mock Trial for the Church

  1. Richard

    Come on, culture warriors! Let’s draw up an indictment of Politician Doe! What do we charge him with?

  2. If politician Doe is saying that abortion should remain legal he may have the case when the life of the mother is in danger in mind. We would probably need him to elaborate on what he is saying.

    • Good point, Erik. The idea should be that, basically, Doe supports the status quo on abortion laws. Or something like that. There would probably have to be some elaboration on such points if we get a taker.

  3. sean


    How formal do you want this to be? If I can manage the time and depending on what you’re looking for, I’m game to playing out the contrarian position. IOW, It’s punishable(church discipline) because you’re advocating for institutional sin which at some point must make contact with individual and personal transgression and you’re assuming a dichotomy in the individual(politician) which is at odds with his confessional commitments to ‘love of neighbor’ as part of his sanctification in the third use of the law, and further your besmerching the name of Christ in aligning with the state in violating God’s moral law, while naming the name of Christ and possibly giving cause to lead a weaker brother astray.

    • Sean, maybe. But we can get the ball rolling on the eventual issues.

      Some things you need to keep in mind:
      – The difference between commiting a sin (an abortion doctor), and failing to impede a sin.
      – The numerous ways in which magistrates conceivably could, but don’t impede sin, e.g., not impeding heresy, failure to impede non-marital sex. Will you prosecute them all, or cede that there are political philosophies on how coercive the state should be?
      – The distinction between “you should have an abortion” and “the state should continue to abide by Roe v. Wade.”

  4. sean

    Point one; The difference between commiting a sin (an abortion doctor), and failing to impede a sin.

    Response: While not diminishing the various degrees of culpability, does not even the LC’s delineation of the second, third and even fourth relations of sins of commission and omission render prosecutable culpability within a church court if such sins are done wittingly and in defiance of prophetic(preaching-teaching) warning against such flagrant violations of God’s revealed will?

    Point Two; The numerous ways in which magistrates conceivably could, but don’t impede sin, e.g., not impeding heresy, failure to impede non-marital sex. Will you prosecute them all, or cede that there are political philosophies on how coercive the state should be?

    Response; This is a non-starter assuming we all abide the American revisions to the WCF, it’s not a matter of state-sanctioning but individual fealty of a confessing member and what may be an irreconcilable position considering this caveat, though state-tolerated. At one time the state mandated loyalty to the emperor’s cult, would you have argued that a christian centurion in Rome was beholden to his vocation over his cultic kinship and therefore justified in martyring his christian brethren?

    Point Three; The distinction between “you should have an abortion” and “the state should continue to abide by Roe v. Wade.”

    Response; Again, implicit encouragement via support of Roe v Wade, vs. explicit recommendation is an inadequate and sinful(see LC delineation of the ten commandments) act of both commission and omission(failure to oppose even institutional sin(i.e. emperor’s cult) and should expose such a person to church discipline.

    • Re: Point one, Gloria Allred just called to tell me you’re litigious. If the church courts are going to prosecute a failure to keep someone else from sinning, the first thing incoming church members should do is give availability dates for the first trial against them. Then I also think you would have difficulties as a prosecutor in credibly showing a) that it is within the politician’s power to have impeded an abortion, and b) that any abortion took place as a result of this speech.

      On point two, I would like to know if you will also be prosecuting for the statement “adultery should continue to remain legal.” Note that opposition to adultery is distinct from a view that the state should criminally prosecute it. Also, you would be charging every poltician in our country with the sin of not impeding adultery.

  5. sean

    Re Re point uno: She would know. You altered the trajectory of the charge, It’s not his failure to prevent another from sinning it’s failing to exercise(even futilely) the power his vocation provides him (voting yea or no) in upholding God’s righteous command(which he’s taken a cultic oath to uphold and submit one’s self to, even to the point of receiving discipline from the elders should he knowingly and willfully fail to honor that oath, and place himself at odds with the confession. We are distinguishing culpability for sin over against the same for a crime, yes? I’d ask you to stay on point thank you very much. We aren’t making distinction about charitable(various allowable conclusions) but about murder which the catechism expands upon one’s culpability and liability for and to. A) has been answered. B) to the degree one participates in perpetuating even institutionalized evil, one would be hard pressed to avoid culpability as it’s extrapolated in the confession and further in the catechism. This isn’t ignorant omission, but willful disregard. I refer you to similar cases within the Roman communion where discipline has been exercised upon confessing members(prohibited from receiving the eucharist) yet they have committed no crime as regards the sanctioning of the state.

    Re Re point dos(this is ‘spaniel for you midwesterners): Marriage is a LEGAL contract, and state sanctioned and therefore subject to judicial process and punishment, and remedy should be sought at the point at which this contract has been transgressed or even dissolution is sought. It may not be criminal but does carry with it judicial recourse and recompense. The second part of your argument is reminiscent of the baptist who wants to charge the paedobaptist with dousing all babies with water. We have in view here only those who are both members of the cult and employees/citizens of the state in various vocations.

    • Au contraire, it is you who are changing the charge. It’s not “failing to exercise(even futilely) the power his vocation,” it is just a statement. You are glomming things together (i.e., conflating issues), which plays well at poltical rallies but not so much here.

      You say “I refer you to similar cases within the Roman communion where discipline has been exercised upon confessing members….” The Roman communion is of limited usefulness here since they can convict on extra-biblical grounds. Not that I’m telling you anything you don’t know.

      You say of adultery “It may not be criminal but does carry with it judicial recourse and recompense.” Do you live in a fault divorce state? I don’t, and I don’t think there are many fault divorce states anymore. So, no, there really is no legal sanction for adultery. But if you don’t like that example, how about a person making the statement that “sex between two unmarried individuals should continue to be legal.” Are you prosecuting that?

      I’ll tell you what makes this case different than it seems at first blush: the task is to prosecute political speech. You are prosecuting something else altogether if you conflate speech about the role of the state with performing/having an abortion.

  6. No Christian has the freedom to support abortion, (Exodus 20:13). Every knowledgeable Christian is rightly bound to oppose abortion when it is made possible to do so, (James 4:17). Given that Politician Doe has said, “abortion should remain legal” we have grounds to reprimand Politician Doe and point out the error of the words spoken and endeavor to inform our Christian politician. There is not sufficient ground for discipline at this point because we do not know from the presented scenario whether or not Doe will continue in willful disobedience once he is informed of his presumably ignorant sin. The church should advise Politician Doe recant the absurd claim that abortion should remain legal because, indeed, God has forbidden it and thus it cannot ever be legal when viewed from the government of the Creator, from whom all authority is given, and thus subjected under.

    However, who would deny that Politician Doe has sinned by confessing wrongly? We know from Romans 13 that it is the duty of the magistrate, as God’s duly appointed avenger, to encourage that which is good and to punish that which is evil. Politician Doe, having been placed in the position of authority which God has instituted to keep order among all flesh, and knowing that God requires the blood even of those animals that shed the blood of man, ought to be filled with a holy fear of God. Given that abortion is murder and that in redemptive history Benjamin, though born in such a way that the mother’s life was forfeit, grew to become a blessed tribe of Israel (the very tribe from which the Apostle Paul was born), Politician Doe has no grounds whatsoever to give his assent to the practice of abortion even in the case where the mother’s life may be at risk. He only has Scriptural command condemning murder and encouraging reproduction. Should Politician Doe continue to insist, for any reason, that abortion should remain legal, then the church is bound to discipline that member.

    • Luke, I was starting to think you were close to the best approach in your second paragraph (I do have an idea of the best prosecution argument), but then you get a buzzer for “Politician Doe has no grounds whatsoever to give his assent to the practice of abortion even in the case where the mother’s life may be at risk.” So a woman with an ectopic pregnancy has to allow the baby to develop in her fallopian tube with no chance of the baby surviving there? Here you speak like a culture warrior in a trance.

      Luke, to flesh out your positon, would you also prosecute Doe for saying
      a) blasphemy should remain legal
      b) non-marital sex should remain legal

      FYI, this is a very bad day for me to do comments. I work then have a multi-hour meeting tonight. I will get back eventually.

      • Bad day for me too. By the way, I do not consider myself to be a culture warrior. The situation you give with an ectopic pregnancy is moot. The baby has no chance of surviving. You save the life that can be saved.

        a) Jesus’ words when holding up a denarius (which had blasphemy written on it) would discount the necessity of blasphemy being on this level.
        b) Unless I have missed it (which is entirely possible) there were not even civil laws against non-marital sex in Israel (though adultery was illegal). Instead, the people were subject to societal shame for such things.

        Murder, however, is on a whole different level. God, as Creator, instituted murder laws in the Noahic covenant with all flesh (not just Israel) such that even the animals (which are ignorant beasts) that take a human life are subject to a penalty of death. This life for a life principle is the principle upon which the magistrates of this world have been founded. They are the duly appointed authorities for carrying out God’s wrath (in a temporal nature) regardless of that magistrates ideas about what he is doing.

      • Luke, I think you approach the best argument. In due time I’ll respond and tell you why I think the best still falls short.

        But where did you get the argument of Jesus and the denarius? Is that a Luke original? What was written on the denarius? Caeser est deus or something like that?

      • Luke, see #2 in the case of conscience binding. That entry isn’t the place not for arguments but, in brief, explains what sin has been committed. Now use it in this case – what, in brief, is the sin committed?

      • The denarius argument was, indeed, a Luke original. I honestly do not know if it has any real value (accidental pun, which became intended upon discovery). However, I often hear post-millennial types, with whom I am nearly always in disagreement, talk about how the denarius at the time of Christ had a blasphemous saying on it where Caesar claimed his own Divinity due to being the son of Divinity (Emperor worship was a problem in those days). They make some other argument about it. Honestly, the argument I used came off the top of my head as a possible interpretation of that fact, but I have not considered it as carefully as I probably should.

        Now back to our Politician… Scripture equips the man of God for every good work. Likewise, the church pronounces judgment on the basis of Scriptural authority. The church proclaims God’s word forbidding murder. The church proclaims God’s word regarding His institution of earthly governments for the purpose of restricting the outworking of man’s wickedness, especially with regard to murder, (Genesis 9:5-6). Abortion is murder.

        Consider that Politician Doe, a member of a presumably faithful church, has stated that abortion (murder of an unborn infant made in god’s image) should remain legal. Note the word “should.” Doe has just made a statement, not to vote against a particular piece of legislation against abortion (one need not blindly vote against abortion because there may be some foolish legislation out there), but rather has made a statement regarding what the civil government’s responsibility is with regard to that action (murder). The answer should always be that murder of human beings, made in God’s image, is to be punished. Thus, it is forbidden… illegal from the point of view of the Creator who bestows authority according to His good pleasure.

        Our politician needs the church to walk along the way for a bit, bearing some of the weight that comes with that burdensome body of death, which we still drag along and fight against as we sojourn as exiles under the sun of this age, under the curse of the covenant of works according to our flesh, but made alive and set free according to the Spirit of Christ. Politician Doe needs the church to shine the light of Scripture into the darkness of ignorance that has just been expressed from depraved and untransformed thinking. Politician Doe needs to see that it is wickedness to be conformed to this world. Politician Doe needs to hear it explained from Scripture that it is the duty of the civil government to punish evil and that abortion is evil, thus, abortion should not be legal. It should not be treated indifferently nor should it be treated as a protected action, but it should be opposed on the same level that other murder is opposed. Our Politician has (hopefully unwittingly) denied that which Scripture proclaims and is thus in need of a reprimand. Christians are salt and light. Striving to be just, though always imperfect in this present evil age, is obedience to God, which is imitating Christ who was obedient even unto death. As those works are seen by the world, God is glorified. Christians are the aroma of life unto life for those who are saved, but a fragrance of death unto death to the wicked who perish. God is glorified in His Son, to whose image the Christian is being conformed according to the Scriptures, (Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Peter 2:11-12, Romans 9:22-24, 2 Corinthians 2:15-17).

      • Whoa there, Luke, you’re waxing eloquent in your closing argument before your charges have cleared the committee. This is an illustration of why, optimally, this is best done step by step with assigned roles.

        You have yet to fill in the blank for #2. Maybe you would say Doe has commited murder. Or perhaps he is a false teacher. Or you think he just believes a false theory on how the state should punish sin. This is crucial because your scriptures, secondary standards, and closing argument need to support your allegation in #2.

        And, here in committee we are a little suprised that you have already done your closing argument, but now we are wondering if you make the same argument about the politician’s stance that there are many other sins the state shouln’t punish. If a magistrate from Calvin’s Geneva was commenting here, he might borrow your closing argument but make it about heresy, which, he would add, can take many souls to hell. He would say “it is the duty of the civil government to punish evil, that heresy is evil, thus, heresy should not be legal.” In your amusing sidebar about the denarius, you ultimately avoided answering this question.

      • Politicians are public figures who, by the nature of their work, communicate a certain measure of morality to the public. Do we agree on this?

      • Politician Doe quotes Charles Barkley: “I’m not your role model.” The family teaches morals and the church teaches morals. It’s not the job of Chris Christie or Nancy Pelosi to teach morals. But I’m not sure you really want to go down that road unless you want a massive and oppressive state monitoring our lives in detailed fashion.

        President Obama isn’t King David and we aren’t Israel.

    • On what basis, if not on a moral basis, does the civil government punish murder?

      • There’s certainly an overlap, LW. There are many laws that aren’t moral in nature, others (especially criminal laws) that overlap and reflect morality, and others that are designed for social stability. Most laws with a moral element also enhance social stability. Morals with no obvious effect on stability often don’t get reflected in our laws. Some would argue that history shows us that civil enforcement of, for example, the first two commandments is not conducive to social stability.

        But if you go ahead a take a step in the direction you want to go, it might be easier to talk about it.

      • Okay. There are civil laws that are not moral in nature, such as traffic laws, etc. However, are we currently talking about an issue that is neutral to morality? Did Politician Doe say that going a greater speed than 80 mph should remain legal? Last I checked, Politician Doe said that abortion should remain legal. Abortion, which is murder, should not be opposed nor punished.

        As a point of clarification (in response to your statement in the previous comment about David and Israel) I think it may be necessary to point out that I have already shown you how I am approaching this subject with regard to God’s moral decree for all flesh at the Noahic covenant, which censures the murder of anyone who is made in God’s image, (Genesis 9:5-6). This predates Israel and David (and the Decalogue for that matter) and is also explicitly inclusive of all flesh, including animals. Now, unless you hold that it is the church’s responsibility to take the lives of murderers even of those who are outside of the church as well as the animals that kill humans, then you’re going to have a hard time holding this particular matter as the responsibility of any other than that of the civil government.

        Thus, it is a law of God specifically for the civil government which our poor politician has had the misfortune of denying while holding an office of said government. Not only that, he has communicated to the public that which is contrary to God’s law to and thus encouraged others in omission with regard to God’s law against murder while discouraging the righteous who love all of God’s laws and know that murder of mankind is so especially heinous to Him that He has forbidden it by all flesh and set forth its due penalty; requiring a life for a life. (This is why I am essentially ignoring your baiting with regard to the laws for Israel’s government.) In this matter, our church member has taught heresy and encouraged sinful conduct (governmental omission with regard to murder). The church government has a solid case. [insert “waxing eloquent” closure here]

      • So your charges are
        1) heresy and
        2) encouraging sinful conduct.

        Would it be fair to reword #2 as “encouraging murder”?

      • 1)Public teaching of heresy
        a)Implicitly denying the clear proclamation of Scripture instructing the civil authorities under the sun of this age against all acts of murder.
        b)Implicitly encouraging the wicked in murderous acts against unborn infants
        c)Explicitly encouraging inferiors to take no actions seeking to prevent the murder of unborn infants (encouraging omission).
        d)Explicitly encouraging inferiors not to pursue justice against the murder of unborn infants (encouraging omission).

        Now, you will note from previous comments that I would have the church authorities (or members; whoever first notes the offense) come personally to our fellow church-member and make known to this politician just what the Scriptures truly teach on this matter. Then, I would have them reprimand our politician for having erred and, given the public nature of the offense, advise that the politician to recant. Should the politician, upon having been informed of Scripture’s clear teaching, refuse to recant and/or continue to say such things, then, (if it is a member of the church, they should get a witness and again go to the politician and seek to persuade the person) the church authorities should (be informed if they have not already been) continue to try to teach and convince the the politician of the truth, if our politician still insists upon denying the truth and shows no repentance, then we have a solid case for failing to submit to the church with due to having been found delinquent in both doctrine and life.

      • There’s something here that jumps out at me, Luke. This is not a pastor or an elder, and he has not made this statement in the church. Have you ever heard of a layperson being tried for heresy for an out-of-church statement? I think this is a non-starter.

        As for the second paragaph, I appreciate your sensitivity to necessary pre-discipline activities, but let’s just assume any pre-charge matters have been done properly.

      • I do not know about precedence for this matter. I haven’t studied enough in church history to know who all was tried for heresy and on what grounds. However, it is my understanding that any person who would inform the public with regard to a moral duty (such as the necessary requirement for the civil government to be opposed murder) and is a member of a faithful church, having sworn an oath before God to be held accountable in case of being found delinquent in doctrine or life, would be rightly expected not to be delinquent in doctrine or life. In any case where they are communicating what ought or should be the case regarding morality, they must be careful to communicate the truth of Scripture.

        They need not be teaching in the church. They need only to be teaching wrongly while being a member of the church.

      • Luke, nah, no way. There would be no end of heresy trials if we did them on members making out-of-church statements.

      • Sorry I’m late in replying. I had a busy weekend.

        As for your last comment, especially when heresy is a public matter done by one of the church members, it is the church’s duty to correct that false teaching. Such an instance of blatant disregard for the truth is not only a concern for the sake of that member who is in error, but is also a concern with regard to those who heard his words, and is a concern regarding how that member has publicly reflected upon the church to which they belong. As I said before, church government is there for the purpose of bearing up those burdens of the weak, especially with regard to understanding sound doctrine. Lack of understanding is a terrible burden, which Scripture everywhere tells us crushes its bearer to death if left under that load. Consequently, the teachers in Israel were rebuked by the prophets because they neither strove to understand the Scriptures nor were competent to teach God’s people.

        The reason I kept repeating myself with regard to the proper order of discipline was because you seem to always be assuming the final step of actual trial when you speak of discipline. You confirmed that this was your assumption with regard to your case study, which was reasonable enough. However, in your incredulity over this matter of heresy, I fear that you have again imagined that the entire process has to be carried out in full on every instance. I would like to first point out that the case of our politician is a rarer case. Most people are not public and authoritative figures who are speaking to the masses. Secondly, even in the case where a member might privately begin to talk heresy to their fellow members, I would argue that it is not simply from the pulpit that teaching is given, but it is also done amongst the members of the church as they interact. False teaching ought to be confronted and countered with sound teaching. The occasional offense can bring much light if handled properly with merciful patient humility.

        The first step, which Christ instructs in Matthew 18:15-17, is to personally go to the offending member and seek to bring that member to repentance privately (though, this is foregone in cases of public offense). In this way, that person is lifted up in their weakness and has the light of God’s word shone before their path so as to scatter the darkness and increase their understanding. I believe that it would be quite rare that the matter would become an issue to go past that first step. Nonetheless, I should hope that the church would do the work to which she is called and that her watchmen would indeed be strong and bold even in the event that the work might become tiresome.

      • Luke, the pace is not a problem. It’s a very good thing that you have things more important to do than comment here! Anyway, some kinds of conversations are done as well or better at a slow pace.

        I’m not sure what the disconnect is on pre-trial issues. My goal is not to comprehensively cover how church discipline should go as a total process in the life of the church, but to open up the issues in this particular allegation. Some of those issues are whether we can separate consensus from biblical sin and to what extent a political statement in itself is subject to church discipline.

        Now,if it is your ultimate conclusion that this individual should be the subject of earnest counsel and that should be the end of the matter, that would be noteworthy.

        I’m not going to agree that heresy charges are appropriate for a layperson making an out-of-church statement but I will hypothetically yield that point to continue the conversation.

        I kidded you about waxing eloquent, but there was also a point to my jest, because sometimes eloquence can fly right over necessary issues that need work. Issue number one is the matter of the precedent the church would be setting. And I’m going to hold my breath until you actually address this one. The politician might also say that heresy should continue to be legal (opposing Calvin’s Geneva), that shopping on Sunday should be permitted (ditto), and that nonmarital sex should continue to be legal. Will you prosecute for all these statements? If not, what is the basis for just picking out one or two? Maybe it’s because you have a kind of political philosophy that you would mandate the church to enforce. Or maybe you have another reason, but you can’t just skip this question.

        Then there’s a second issue at this juncture. The magistrate has taken a vow to uphold the US Constitution. The Supreme Court has the authority to tell us what the constitution means. The SCOTUS clearly says that abortion should remain legal. It also clearly says that heresy should remain legal. So your proposal is to prosecute the magistrate for doing what he has vowed to do. I guess we could take the Anabaptist approach and say Christians shouldn’t be magistrates, but I doubt that is your position.

        So I’m asking you to get into the nitty gritty and grapple with these two issues. No hurry.

      • I think it qualifies as a mixed message to say that you’re fine with a slow pace and also that you’re holding your breath until I answer. Hopefully, by this time, you have passed out due to lack of oxygen and your body has caused you to cease holding your breath and you have begun breathing again. If not, my condolences to your family and friends.

        With regard to heresy, so long as the politician doesn’t say that “heresy should remain legal in the church” there are no grounds for discipline. I pointed out already that my problem with our politician in the case of abortion was not grounded in the civil laws of Israel, which have application in Israel and thus some application to the church and church discipline, but not necessarily to worldly governments. I am likely in agreement with you and with the politician on this one. My argument against murder is coming from one of those instances where God gives a command to all flesh, that is all human kind whether in the church or outside, and He commands that it is to be carried out by mankind even in the event that animals transgress it. Unlike this instance from the Noahic covenant, which was given to all humankind and to the creation itself, the Mosaic covenant was given specifically to Israel, not to those outside. Thus, with regard to our politician, there is little problem in saying that the secular government need not make blasphemy illegal.

        As a quick aside, I generally have a reaction when someone refers to Geneva as “Calvin’s Geneva.” Geneva did not belong to Calvin, nor did he seem to have all that much sway in its governance as can be shown by his denied plea on behalf of Servetus that his death penalty would not be by burning at the stake, but rather by beheading (which is more merciful). That said, it is hard to say what Calvin would have said regarding the government of the United States, which is quite different than any government with which he would have been familiar.

        Regarding our (apparently federal) politician swearing an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, I see no problem because the oath is not to uphold the Supreme court’s rulings. Such rulings are not set in stone. They may be opposed and even repealed. Our politician must take the position that abortion is wrong and that it should rightly be opposed by government and should take that stance despite the errors of the wicked.

        The politician’s oath to uphold the Constitution does not bind the conscience so as to uphold, for instance, Roe v. Wade. Rather, the politician would use the Constitutional form of government set forth in the U.S. Constitution to oppose the wicked ruling. The Politician would be bound to oppose any laws set forth that are opposed to our form of government. Now, one might question what would happen were the Constitution amended so as to include the protection of abortion. Would one be able to make a stronger argument from there? It is my understanding that even in such an instance, a politician may be opposed even to some amendment(s) and strive to gain support in opposition to said amendment(s) among fellow politicians. It is my understanding that the oaths sworn are especially to the Constitutional form of government given that we are the Constitutional Republic of the United States of America. Thus, it is understood that all rulings shall be done so as not to undermine the Constitutional form of government.

        As per the anabaptist position… they must have one heck of a time with Joseph being second only to Pharoah in Egypt and Daniel holding a position advising the Babylonian King. It would be fun to watch their mental gymnastics as they tried to look like they weren’t getting steamrolled.

      • “My argument against murder is coming from one of those instances where God gives a command to all flesh, that is all human kind whether in the church or outside, and He commands that it is to be carried out by mankind even in the event that animals transgress it.”

        Interesting argument. So, you ground your position in Genesis 9: But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
        6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
        by man shall his blood be shed,
        for God made man in his own image.

        Based on this you say the magistrate must impose sanctions against abortion as a species of murder but need not enforce the hypotheticals against non-marital sex or heresy. So politicians must put themselves under Gen 9, and murder is uniquely a sin they all must punish; whether other sins should be opposed by state punishment is optional. Since I haven’t seen this kind of argument before I pause here to see if I correctly understand it.

        On the matter of the oaths, you’re killin’ me, so maybe the magistrate needs to step in to deal with you. I will grant that Roe v. Wade was defective in its reasoning but there is no magistrate who cares about my critique of the decision. Or yours. You can disagree with all kinds of laws but that doesn’t deprive them of being The Law. The SCOTUS has the right to definitively say what the Constitution means, and all three branches of government recognize this. By analogy, if you are an employer who doesn’t like Obamacare and therefore refuses to comply, it will not be a valid defense on your behalf that you disagree with Justice Roberts’ conclusion that Obamacare comes within the taxing power of the federal government.

        So, for example, if a state decides it is not convinced by the SCOTUS view of search & siezure laws and just decides to search any citizen for any reason, it still violates the Constitution nowtwithstanding its theory. Likewise if our politician were to vote in favor of a bill outlawing all abortion the politician would be violating his vow to uphold the Constitution. And we don’t get to cross our fingers during an oath, or take the oath based on an idiosyncratic meaning of the words of the oath.

        To be clear, the politician could test the limits of Roe by supporting any number of bills that test the breadth of Roe’s protection of abortion.

      • You have accurately summarized my argument against abortion as a species of murder for the civil governments of this world being grounded in Genesis 9.

        With regard to the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, what is the problem with my argument? Surely you don’t think that a politician who works to overthrow a Supreme Court decision or to amend the Constitution is violating their oath? The Constitution allows for such changes, though it sets certain requirements with regard to how one may make that change. If you do not think this, then you must ask what it means to swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

        I am arguing that the oath is an oath that, as a politician, you will not grasp for unconstitutional powers by failing to do things through the constitutionally approved processes and that you will be vigilant to oppose anyone who might try to forgo the constitutionally lawful way of doing things. I believe that one may swear an oath to behave in this way while being opposed to the government’s actual practice.

        My argument against our politician wasn’t that the politician failed to accomplish any changes, but that the politician publicly spoke falsehood regarding that which God requires even of earthly government. Given that we are so prone to suppress God’s natural revelation, it is not good for someone who has been given eyes to see to further darken peoples minds.

      • A couple examples might help here. A reconstructionist couldn’t be an elected federal official unless he agreed to set aside his reconstructionist agenda. That’s because, at the very least, he wouldn’t have any intention on upholding the Establishment Clause as that clause has been interpreted by the SCOTUS. An elected official has to be on board with our system of government as interpreted by those who have authority to interpret it. An oath ceases to have integrity and signficance when the oathtaker has a private, idiosyncratic meaning for what the oath means.

        For many this is more clearly seen in an ecclesiastical context. Imagine a candidate for the ministry who affirms “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” But the candidate privately disagrees with that system of doctrine (as did Charles Finney), perhaps reasoning to himself that he would like to use his position as an ordained minister to change people’s mind on how to interpret the system of doctrine. Surely that kind of vow-taking would be a third commandment violation and, if there are enough candidates who take vows in that manner, the denomination could substantially change to its detriment.

        So when a politician vows to uphold the Constitution, he vows to uphold all the Constitution – protection against arbitrary searches, free exercise of religion, and a zone of privacy that unfortunately includes abortion. If upholding the Constitution does violence to his conscience he shouldn’t run for office.

        This doesn’t entirely tie the hands of the politician who thinks Roe (and other decisions affirming Roe) is a defective interpretation of the Constitution. He can support legislation that tests the outer limits of Roe and, although it can be a bit speculative, he can express that conviction when it comes time to vote on judicial appointments.

        You may or may not agree with this, but are you going to potentially excommunicate a man who says, in so many words, “I believe in upholding the Constitution as interpreted by the SCOTUS” when he has taken a vow to do just that?

      • “So when a politician vows to uphold the Constitution, he vows to uphold all the Constitution – protection against arbitrary searches, free exercise of religion, and a zone of privacy that unfortunately includes abortion.”

        I will agree that the vow ties the hands of a politician from passing laws that “violate the privacy of the womb.” However, it does not at all tie his hands against trying to overthrow that interpretation because the Constitution he has sworn to uphold also has this great little part of it called Article 5 wherein the Constitutionally approved amendment process is set forth. Therefore, any person, having sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution may readily oppose any part of the Constitution so long as that opposition is not done using the Constitutionally approved processes. This limitation of power is only that; a limitation of power. I would argue that a person could swear an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution while being entirely opposed to even to the first amendment (why the people would want to vote such a person in is beyond me). That person could then work to gain support for the position that the first amendment to the bill of rights should be stricken. Now, in this instance, such a person would be operating apart from the principles that are generally held by the Constitutionally conservative, but so long as that person used the processes set forth and (until the amendment process was successful) did not try to pass any laws against the presently amended Constitution, then that person would be keeping their oath and conserving the constitution.

        I think it is appropriate that you likened the oath to uphold the constitution to subscription to the Westminster Standards. I would argue that you have made the mistake that Americans (especially conservative ones) tend to make (myself included). That mistake is looking at the Constitution as though it were an ideology. Now, it cannot be denied that it was made with certain principles in mind, nonetheless, the Constitution is nothing more than a form of government. Thus, it would be far more appropriate if your analogy had been made, not with the Westminster Standards, but with the book of Church Order, which is amended regularly and recently had the wording of the membership vows changed (at least in the OPC).

        Thus, the Constitution, being a form of government, has little to do with setting standards. Though the Bill of Rights has ideological values listed in it, they are not by any means unalterable. I believe that this is why we have quotes from people such as the quote from John Adams where he writes, “While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practicing iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

      • Luke, you push things a little too far. While I would never call the Constitution an ideology and acknowledge that much of it is a form of government, there are also substantial rights involved. This links up with a difference we would have with what an oath to uphold the Constitution means. Under your theory, it seems that the vow-taking politician could have it in his mind to turn the entire Constitution inside out just so long as he doesn’t introduce legislation to do so. I would call that a deceptive, false oath.

        Ultimately I do agree that a politician could take the oath of office while hoping for a change in the SCOTUS view of abortion rights. But, getting back to our hypothetical, it’s one thing to agree upon that and another to say it is sinful to voice support for what is now the law on abortion, particularly when the magistrate isn’t forcing anyone to have one.

        This might be a good time to point to another hurdle. WCF 31.4 says

        “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.”

        It sure seems like a session would be meddling with civil affairs when it would sanction the politician for voicing support for the SCOTUS view of the constitution. The church would be muzzling the politician and implicitly commanding him to pick this political battle to engage his resources. It is, in a sense, a session taking indirect control of the affairs of the magistrate.

        I suppose you would make this a case extraordinary?

        I wrote, “Therefore, any person, having sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution may readily oppose any part of the Constitution so long as that opposition is not done using the Constitutionally approved processes.” Omit the word “not” to make it read, “so long as that opposition is done using Constitutionally approved…”

  7. sean


    We are bringing charges in a church court, correct? If so, the arguments given could gain traction as violation of membership vows. Or at least I haven’t seen you refute it in those environs yet. Same goes for the adultery angle. Considering the rhetorical flourish coming from the various monocovenantal brands, these are some of the arguments I can imagine being proffered. I already ruled out ignorance as grounds for NOT pursuing discipline in the church for Politician Doe. I’m assuming willful disregard on Doe’s part in favor of a 2k dichotomy(informally considered-we’re not determining scruples at this point) which I’m assuming would be part of the charges of infidelity to the confession being brought against Politician Doe.

    Come back, don’t go away all mad like that.

    • Sean, let’s try another angle. Or maybe it’s the same angle, but we just can’t gloss over it.

      Here are three things that are alike:
      – Doe performs an abortion
      – Doe fornicates
      – Doe blasphemes.
      They are alike, because they are actions of Doe that violate moral law.

      Here are three thing that are not like the above:
      – Doe says abortion should remain legal
      – Doe says fornication should remain legal
      – Does says blashphemy should remain legal.
      These are alike because they are political statements about how the state should use its coercive power. Here Doe has not aborted, fornicated, blasphemed, or caused anyone to do so.

      Do you see how the analysis has to be very different for the second set?

  8. sean

    Well, I do. But my theonomic, fire breathing reconstructionist alter wants some blood on the walls, and wants vindication of God’s righteous standards. So, my alter wants charges brought against Doe for violation of his membership vows particularly various sins of omission and commission as it regards the 3rd commandment, the 6th commandment, the 7th commandment and the tenth commandment.

  9. sean

    We/he are/is sad that we/his complaints have not been chosen and attribute it to your blatant antinomianism and fear of being defeated on your own blog. The chanting of imprecatory psalms has commenced……….in my head, maybe out loud…………I think.

  10. sean

    “Pace?! Pace! You couldn’t handle my Pace!”

  11. sean

    Hmmm, yeah, soooo sorry. He’s still not real happy with you.

  12. Sean’s alter ego is like the false prophet who says “pace, pace” when there is no pace.
    Speaking of no pace, I’m semi-comatose from an early Thanksgiving meal. So of course Luke took this opportunity put a lot of words up there that I have to read. Not only that, he seems to have a bit of swagger in his first paragraph. I better go check it out..

  13. Meltdown.

    We are talking about a Church court here correct? Doesn’t this situation presented say that an Elder or Church member is advocating that it is okay legally to partake in a moral sin in the civil realm. It is there right. Am I understanding this correctly?

    We are also putting this in the context of Matthew 18 where all the channels have been met for reconciliation and restoration also. Correct? Is this in the Context of advocating something as true and permissible that is against the moral law of God? It doesn’t matter if this said person Mr. or Mrs. Doe has committed the offense. We are just discussing the situation in light of advocating something.

    BTW, and I hope this doesn’t derail anything but doesn’t the 5th commandment according to the WLC imply that even obeying a speed limit is a moral matter.
    Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?

    A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents,[649] but all superiors in age[650] and gifts;[651] and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family,[652] church,[653] or commonwealth.[654]

    Q. 125. Why are superiors styled father and mother?

    A. Superiors are styled father and mother, both to teach them in all duties toward their inferiors, like natural parents, to express love and tenderness to them, according to their several relations;[655] and to work inferiors to a greater willingness and cheerfulness in performing their duties to their superiors, as to their parents.[656]

    Q. 126. What is the general scope of the fifth commandment?

    A. The general scope of the fifth commandment is, the performance of those duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, or equals.[657]

    Q. 127. What is the honour that inferiors owe to their superiors?

    A. The honour which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart,[658] word, [659] and behaviour;[660] prayer and thanksgiving for them;[661] imitation of their virtues and graces;[662] willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels;[663] due submission to their corrections;[664] fidelity to,[665] defence,[666] and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places;[667] bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love,[668] that so they may be an honour to them and to their government.[669]

    Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?

    A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them;[670] envying at,[671] contempt of,[672] and rebellion[673] against, their persons[674] and places,[675] in their lawful counsels,[676] commands, and corrections;[677] cursing, mocking[678] and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonour to them and their government.[679]

    • At first I wondered “why in the world is RP quoting several questions out of the Larger Catechism?” Then – duh! – it came to me: you are saying that Politician Doe has a 5th commandment duty to recognize the authority given to the SCOTUS to interpret the Constitution, and, since the SCOTUS is not thereby compelling anyone to sin, it isn’t demonstrably sinful for him to support the law of the land.

      Very brave of you to say this, especially since the guys back at the Puritan Board are going to be unhappy with you.

    • But seriously, RP, I’m mid-conversation with Luke and would probably have to repeat a good deal to engage you at this juncture. But to clarify somewhat, it’s not accurate to say the politician is “advocating that it is okay legally to partake in a moral sin in the civil realm.” It’s not inherently an approval of a particular sin, but an opinion about the role of the magistrate with regard to a certain behavior. If the poltician’s statement was generalized, it would be more like “We should not have a criminal law against sin X.” I trust you see a distinction between engaging in a behavior, approving of a behavior, and deciding not to criminalize a behavior.

      Edit: Maybe your statement isn’t too far off, but I’ll leave this clarification here.

  14. sean

    Look at the MM! We were darn close. We want a prize or sumpin’ Preferably a prize

  15. Context is everything Counselor.

    It would be wonderful to be taken in context….

    I stated the below then posted the Larger Catechism.

    “BTW, and I hope this doesn’t derail anything but doesn’t the 5th commandment according to the WLC imply that even obeying a speed limit is a moral matter.”

    Earlier in the comments someone mentioned that obeying the speed limit wasn’t a moral issue. My posting the Larger Catechism on the fifth commandment was in that context… Why would I be in trouble for applying the Confessional standard to that?

    I just finished up at the Reformation Society Conference tonight. Dr. Venema and Pastor Selvaggio spoke tonight. I am leaving for the next few days to go Deer Hunting and spend time with my Dad. I might be able to access the internet at McDonalds but I won’t be home till Monday night at least.

    Be Encouraged brothers.

    • The comment about speed limits was here. It was a good comment I thought. But lacked something so I questioned it based upon the Larger Catechism. I actually asked a question but put a period instead of a question mark. The “but doesn’t” should have been understood as my inquiring. Sorry guys.

      Okay. There are civil laws that are not moral in nature, such as traffic laws, etc. However, are we currently talking about an issue that is neutral to morality? Did Politician Doe say that going a greater speed than 80 mph should remain legal? Last I checked, Politician Doe said that abortion should remain legal. Abortion, which is murder, should not be opposed nor punished.

    • Honestly, Randy, go enjoy your time with your Dad and don’t worry about McDonald’s internet. First things first. That and send me some deer jerky.

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