Reformation Politics: The Relevance Of Ot Ethics In Calvinist Political Theory -- By: Mark W. Karlberg

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 29:2 (Jun 1986)
Article: Reformation Politics: The Relevance Of Ot Ethics In Calvinist Political Theory
Author: Mark W. Karlberg


Reformation Politics: The Relevance Of Ot Ethics In
Calvinist Political Theory

Mark W. Karlberg*

In recent years renewed interest in the subject of OT ethics has been generated among evangelicals. As part of the Church’s Scriptures, the OT has an important bearing on Christian living. Since the time of the Reformation there has been a Reformed consensus that there is an interconnection between OT laws, personal Christian life, and national public policy. But the relationship has not always been clearly defined, which accounts in part for the current intense debate on the role of OT laws in the formation of public policy in America’s pluralistic society.

In the present article an analysis is undertaken of the teaching of the Reformed tradition, continental and Puritan, concerning the nature and limitations of civil legislation. Issues and questions like the following will come to our attention: How does the NT Church determine which OT laws are normative for Christian life today? How valid is the traditional threefold classification of the law of God? (Protestants have commonly spoken of three kinds of law in the Mosaic legislation: civil, ceremonial and moral. Additionally they have taught a threefold use of the law in the sense of the total Mosaic economy: civil, pedagogical and normative.) What are the grounds for the contention that the civil and ceremonial laws have been terminated by the coming of Christ (these laws having been fulfilled by Christ), only the moral laws being perpetually binding?

The Chalcedon school,1 an offshoot of the Calvinistic tradition, has advanced a particular interpretation of God’s law, known as “theonomy,” which maintains the normative character of the civil laws of Moses in general. The theonomists contend that their teaching regarding the place and function of the Mosaic law in society at large sets forth the position held by the seventeenth-century Puritans. But what was early Reformed theology’s view of the nature of OT ethics? In particular, how did Reformed theologians understand and apply the civil laws of Moses? What precisely did the Westminster divines mean when they asserted concerning the civil laws given to Israel: “To them also, as a body politic, 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” (Westminster Confession of Faith 19.4)?

*Mark Karlberg is part-time instructor in theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary in Maryland.

I. Historical Setting Of Natural-Law Doctrine

It will be helpful to recall certain...

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