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A "Christian" Nation or The Covenant of Works Applied to the Nations? Undoing Bad Christian Arguments and Straw Men for a Society Gone Morally Mad



The Christian Nationalism Boogieman

It is common in Reformed covenantal circles these days to hear much demeaning talk about so-called “Christian nationalism” or “Christian Americanism.” The idea seems to be that when someone talks about making a Christian nation, they are necessarily hopelessly confusing and misapplying Israel’s very special covenant with God that it alone possessed. The logic seems to be, God gave Israel a covenant. America is not Israel. Therefore, any application of Israel’s covenant to America is a fundamental misapplication of the law. If even the softest whisper is then heard on the air, that we should work towards implementing Christian law into our now utterly rotten nation, accusations of postmillennialism, theonomy, and even heresy often follow close behind. For some, those are all the same thing. And sometimes, you don't even need to hear the term "Christian" in here at all and the same charges apply.

 

I’m not a Postmillennialist. I’m not a Theonomist. Hopefully, I’m also not a heretic!


Strangely, many of those making these charges themselves want to see “social justice” implemented throughout our culture. Somehow this is viewed as good and biblical and not a confusion of the covenant , even though it deals with categories (you know, like social justice) found in Israel’s law-code. For the record, I don’t think this is a confusion either, but that’s because the way "social justice" has been used in modern times by those who coined it has nothing to do with Israel and the OT and everything to do with modern political theories of socialism and more specifically communism, but I digress.

 

Now, I would agree with this sentiment if someone were advocating importing Israel’s ceremonial law-code to America or any other nation. “Let’s reinstitute animal sacrifices and build a temple to God over there!” Of course, no one is doing that. This leaves us with the other two categories of law: civil and moral.


In my estimation, the civil law-code of Israel was essentially the Second Table of the Ten Commandments applied situationally to theocratic Israel’s civil old covenant life. (Ceremonial Law was essentially the First Table applied situationally to theocratic Israel's cultic old covenant situation). It’s more complicated than that, of course, but this seems like a good starting place. If we could agree on this, then it seems to me that anyone wanting to import Israel’s civil law-code to America -- one to one -- is also close to guilty as charged.

 

However, this can get complicated quickly, since the civil laws of Israel are in fact applied in the NT: to the NT church (for example, “do not muzzle the ox”). No, this isn’t applied to a nation, but then again, the NT isn’t written to nations. Isn’t there a moral principle here, however, that might apply to America or any modern nation when they are thinking through what civil laws to enact? Sure there is. The ox has a right to eat while he works, pastors have a right to be paid for their work, and people have a right not to be cheated out of their pay. The modern application of such moral ethics is hardly a confusion of Israel’s covenant with America. All nations need civil laws. The question becomes, upon what basis do you justify those laws?

 

Why is God Judging the Nations?

But none of this is really where I want to go with this post. This is just the background material. There’s many ways I could go with this, but one thought seems worth discussing, as I’ve not seen anyone else deal with it. It’s this: Throughout the OT, God holds secular pagan nations accountable for their moral failures and rebellion against him. See the books of Obadiah, Nahum, Isaiah 13-27:1; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-27; Amos 1-2; etc. How could this be if they were not also in covenant with him? In fact, they are. Isaiah is clear, "The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isa 24:5). This is not an accusation directed against Israel, but the beginning of the culmination of God's legal complaint against the nations of the world. So what covenant is this?

 
The Covenant of Works and the Nations of the World

This is the issue then. Those moral failures, in my estimation, are part and parcel of what we Reformed people call the covenant of works or the covenant of life or the covenant of creation (all roughly synonymous). The term covenant of works gets at the idea of what it takes to merit eternal life under the terms of this covenant. Those terms are perfect obedience. Covenant of life gets at the idea that life is offered as the blessing for keeping this covenant. Covenant of creation is vitally important as a concept here, because this is a covenant that God makes not merely with mankind, but with creation itself. Nature, the Angels, and all men are placed under this covenant (See by book Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptist Primer, 37-52).


What the above objections often fail to grapple with is that not only are all people as individuals born under the terms of this covenant, which is what makes them personally responsible to their Creator, so also are the nations. Nations are made up of individuals after all.

 

As the prophets predict their doom, they aren’t saying the nations are guilty of violating Israel’s law-code. But they are saying, I would argue, that the moral law of God, which was codified in the Ten Commandments (including the First Table of the Law; the nations are guilty of idolatry for instance), applied to the nations, generally speaking. And this is the covenant of works-life-creation.

 

This never looked identical to even the Ten Commandments as we know them, since several of those laws are clearly directed at Israel. For example, the Fourth Commandment about Sabbath Keeping is in one case rooted in God’s freeing Israel from Egypt (Deut 5:15). He didn’t do that for any other nations. But it would be a mistake to therefore conclude that sabbath is not a moral principle embedded into the very fabric of God’s creation and that in one form or another, all the pagans know it. Sometimes, as in the Baal Cycle, you see temples being built in six days and then a day of rest taking place at the end. This is very closely akin to Israel’s thinking. In others, it may just be that the pagans know that they need rest, like I see in Boulder on my way to church every Sunday as I drive by flocks of bikers and runners. But whatever the case, sabbath as a principle is an objective transcendent moral obligation. No one is off the hook for violating it, even if they are not part of the nation of Israel.

 

It seems that most of the prophets focus their attacks on the nations for their “civil” rather than “ceremonial” application of the moral law. That is, God holds them accountable for their murders, their thefts, violence, their treatment of the poor, and so on. Sometimes, however, he holds them guilty for not worshiping him (cf. Hab 2:18). That’s essentially what we find in Romans 1 where the people of the world forget God and are given over to the worship of creation, or Psalm 82 where in that case it is the fallen angels over the nations, the elohim who directed worship away from the Lord and towards themselves.

 

Conclusion

But the point is, they are all under a covenant with God that holds them morally accountable. And this covenant is not Israel’s covenant. Therefore, to say that to desire to implement Christian law into America is a confusion of Israel’s covenant is not necessarily the case at all. Even if one is talking about implementing civil laws or to some degree even ceremonial laws, this is not necessarily a confusion of Israel’s covenant. This is because the moral law applies in the areas of religion and state and must be applied particularly to any given instance of law-breaking.


Until Reformed theologians actually remember that they themselves hold to covenants with God that are broader than Israel, and that these covenants obligate individuals and nations to keep transcendent moral law, these kinds of claims will continue, and they will do two things. They will first expose a potential hypocrisy not only of their own inability to properly apply OT covenants, but in their often very practical unwillingness to actually get involved in their nations’ moral life outside of their own choirs that they preach to each week (assuming that’s even happening).


More than that, however, as we have seen so many times recently with woke, CRT, and DEI communist ideology not only being tolerated, but praised, but even in the past with the refusal of certain segments of the Reformed world to get involved at all in their nations’ governments such that evil is simply allowed to grow and fester (think Apartheid in South Africa for instance, and now the reversal of it as farmers are massacred in mass by those who suffered apartheid in the same “Reformed” country). And why? God forbid we confuse Israel’s covenant with (fill in the nation, but over here it’s very clearly America).

 

Funny thing about this for Americans? This nation is and always has been in many ways unique among all the nations of the world. It is what it is. For our government is not an oligarchy (I mean, it isn't supposed to be), or a monarchy, but we the people. We are the government. If we do not speak up and act, then we are derelict in our civic duties. Is that itself a moral failure? You be the judge. At the very least, it leads to exactly where we are at now in 2024 in the nuclear bomb of immorality that has been set off. And I’m pretty sure, reading the prophets and what they say to the nations, that this don’t exactly please the Lord.

 

I’m not advocating for the implementation of “Christian” law, or “Israel’s law,” or “Church law,” but transcendent moral law. A moral law that all of us are under in one sense or another, be it a mirror to show us our sin, a power to restrain outward evil, or a means of revealing what is pleasing to God (the so-called Three Uses of the Law). I advocate this precisely because this is not a confusion of Israel’s covenant with America, but because the world of men is still under the covenant of works—as individuals and as nations, until anyone comes to Christ by faith. That’s precisely why we are all accountable to God for what we do.


Doug Van Dorn

Feb 19, 2024

 

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I'm a Christian, husband, father, son, brother, in-law, pastor, friend, fifth gen native Coloradan, published author, blogger, podcaster, radio host, CEO, mountain climber, biker, scholar, theologian, thinker, entrepreneur, amateur archeologist, conservative, lover of all things strange and supernatural, conspiracy theorist (yeah, that's not a bad thing), and ...

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