Men In Combat Over The Civil Law: “General Equity” IN WCF 19.4 -- By: A. Craig Troxel

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 64:2 (Fall 2002)
Article: Men In Combat Over The Civil Law: “General Equity” IN WCF 19.4
Author: A. Craig Troxel


Men In Combat Over The Civil Law:
“General Equity” IN WCF 19.4

A. Craig Troxel

Peter J. Wallace*

[*A. Craig Troxel is the Pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Glenside, Pa. and a Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Peter J. Wallace is a Minister in the OPC and a Ph.D. Candidate in American History at the University of Notre Dame.]

I. Introduction

In recent years there has been a movement among American Reformed and Presbyterian denominations to make declarations upon whether women should be allowed to serve in military combatant positions and whether they should even be allowed to be drafted to that end. This subject has come to be known in its abbreviated form as “women in combat.”1 The motivations for their speaking out about this issue are sincere: the women in combat issue is viewed as a litmus test of one’s genuine commitment to cultural transformation; not to speak out runs counter to the church’s mandate to act as a prophetic witness in Western civilization and to proclaim the whole counsel of God; and, most basically, one’s position on this matter manifests one’s faithfulness to the plain teaching of Scripture.

But for others such declarations portend a dangerous shift within the Reformed tradition. Chief among their concerns is the appropriateness of the modus operandi by which these theological positions have been determined or defended, most especially the use of the Old Testament’s civil law.2 In our judgment, those who seek to defend their stance on women in combat by utilizing the Law’s judicial code do so contrary to what the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches on how the civil law is to be interpreted by the church of Christ when

the Confession states that, “To them also, 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). It is our contention that the plain meaning of this sentence from the Confession has been virtually turned on its head in recent debates over the issue of women in combat. The burden of this article is to defend this assertion.

II. The History and Idea of “Equity”

As a term, “equity” is used primarily in the fields of ethics and law, where it connotes or invokes the ideals of justice, fairness, equality, mercy, and evenhanded dealing, as well as the idea of “judgment according to the spirit, rather th...

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