Chapter 23, Of the Civil Magistrate, is something of controversy among Presbyterians lately due its Republican revision in America. Those lately having second thoughts about the Constitution, and inclining to Toryism, insist the 1646 formulation on the civil magistrate is the only genuine doctrine, and presume the colonial redactions of 1787-89 to be ad hoc addenda adopted by a marginalized presbytery.
But such was not the case.
The War of Independence, referred to by the crown alternately as a “Presbyterian Revolt” and “Parsons’ Rebellion,” was led by Scots-Irish Presbyterians under banners reminiscent of those flown in the English Civil War which read “No King but King Jesus!” And the Presbyterian-schooled “father of the Constitution” James Madison led the Presbyterian-laden continental congress under the advisory chaplaincy of Presbyterian Rev. John Witherspoon. Presbyterians of the era not only understood the senatorial (by etymology, “rule by elders”) republican system to be the patent Presbyterian model of government, but insisted that it was an Anglo-Celtic Presbyterian war. So did their enemies, in fact.
As we addressed in chapter 19 with respect to the ‘general equity’ of the law, the divines’ conception of theonomy always posited the ‘third use’ of the law in the traditional common law sense — as case-law principles whose administration is liable to change according to circumstance and context. That is, the American revision of chapter 23 intends no alteration of law or doctrine, but only acknowledged a change in administration apropos to the American context. Or as Bowman stated it:
[A]ll of the massive bulk of our English and American law may be reduced to a very few grand principles underlying the whole which were enunciated by Moses, and which Bracton, Blackstone, Kent, and the host of our English and American commentators have found a common labor in explaining. And the all but fabulous heaps of our statutes, reports, and digests, are but amplifications, and applications of these great principles to the various conditions of society.1
Either way, we needn’t beleaguer the point here. We can affirm both versions — 1646 and 1788 — subject to context.
What we can note in the Americanized version, however, germane to our survey, is that “it is the duty of the civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest” (WCF 23:3).
This means the Emmaean multicult pluralism lately championed by Alienists is antithetical to the confession. And irrespective of his laissez-faire secularism today, Gary North once agreed with us on this:
Into that vacuum have come two rival factions: the political pluralists and the theonomists. The battle is now engaged.
Westminster Seminary’s problem for a generation — indeed, Calvinistic American Presbyterianism’s problem for two centuries — has been to justify a commitment to modern religious and political pluralism in terms of the Westminster Confession’s judicial standards. The faculty has been double-minded on this point. . . . In short, they have abandoned any ideal of a Christian society, i.e., Christendom itself.
This is Westminster’s social and cultural confession — a Theologically negative confession, proclaiming in the name of the original Westminster Assembly what society ought not to be, but never daring to suggest what it should be.
But Gary’s son-in-law, Joel McDurmon has, with no small assist from Bojidar Marinov, squared this circle by positing a new form of theonomy that precludes the first table of the law: you know, those laws dealing with man’s duties toward God. Thus bringing theonomy into a most curious conformity with the ‘principled pluralism’ that formally rose up against it at Westminster and Reformed Theological seminaries in the 1960s and 70s. All by simply denying man’s duties toward God to be part of the civil law.
Remarkable. And absurd.
It merely lands the neo-theonomists with all the anti-theonomists in Keller’s Baal problem. By disregard of the first table in the civil realm, They “are bowing and scraping and crossing [themselves] at the altar of multiculturalism.” Affirming some secular right for the acolytes of Allah, HaShem, and Saturn to set up public idols to their devil deities is to deny Christ’s Lordship.
But read any of their arguments for these positions, and it’s clear that their turn from consistent theonomy toward pluralism is predicated not on Westminsterian thought or biblical law, but on civil rights-era anti-racism and cultural Marxism; which is to say the Johnny-come-lately ethos of Alienism. Which, again, is to say Gnosticism.
But the Synods of New York and Philadelphia revised the Confession expressly to address the American constitutional circumstance, saying, ‘It is the duty of the civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest’ (WCF 23:3). Clearly, they understood the First Amendment to safeguard the liberty of conscience for Christian denominations alone — something that all Christians used to know:
By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christianity are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.[2. Justice Chase, Runkel v. Winemiller, 1799]
The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity [secularism], by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.2
The constitutions [of the states] assume Christianity to be the religion of the state and that equality of religions refers to equality between Christian sects.3
The modern Presbyterian turn to pluralism contra the work of Clark, Van Til, Rushdoony, and Bahnsen, as well as the divines of 1646 and 1788, correlates precisely in both time and concept with their embrace of multiracialism. All posturing aside, the reason is apparent: to preclude other religions from the American nation would be to discriminate against the mass of Brown people from across the globe, not to mention Jews. Pluralism and multiracialism occur in a binary orbit otherwise known as multiculturalism.
So rather than Bahnsen and the divines, it is the thought of Trotsky that most holds sway among Presbyterians today. Over against which Kinists again prove to be the unmoved remnant.
Realize, the American Revolution was against a king who had proven himself “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity” (Declaration of Independence) by engaging in economic warfare against his own subjects, refusing to protect them from “the merciless Indian savages,” and forcing upon them large numbers of African chattels, etc.; all calculated to destroy his own folk in this land. By their tally of his offenses, it’s clear they regarded him a race-traitor.
In this way, the American Republic was a recapitulation of the protectorate-republic come out of the English Revolution contra a previous traitor-king who conspired with foreign powers to levy war against his own people.
Both revolutions and their resultant republics were wholly counter-revolutionary acts of self-defense against revolutionary and treasonous kings. If not for these extenuating circumstances, neither the English nor the Americans would have had reason to contemplate any such confessional revision.
That said, our fathers saw in both incidents a providential serendipity; because the republican form of government was the native circumstance of theonomy under Moses, Joshua, and the Judges, prior to the people’s rejection of God as King in 1 Samuel 8. So even if we would have preferred to avoid such a war aforehand, America’s fight for independence and the iteration of the confession which followed, were, beyond self-defense, a restoration of theonomy to its native and biblical resting place in terms of a national republic.
All of which is to say that the republic was born in defense of a distinct folk and faith. America, who indicted King George of being ‘deaf to the voice . . . of consanguinity’ was self-consciously nationalist at birth. Thus would John Jay famously write:
With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in manners and customs.4
So it comes as no surprise to find all those who wrote of republican government at the time — federalists and anti-federalists alike — agreed with the classic view that “Republicanism depends upon homogeneity of faith and folk”5. And how not when the foundational template for the national republic (old Israel) and its exemplar of representative government were so manifestly tribal (Deut. 1:13-15) and ethnic (Deut. 17:15; Jer. 30:21)?
None of which, looking at the confession, makes sense through the Alienist paradigm. Whereas, if one assumes Kinism, an expansive and univocal witness takes shape before us.
- Bowman, Western Jurist, 91, 1876 as cited in H.B. Clark, Biblical Law, p. 48, n. 3 ↩
- SCOTUS Justice Joseph Story, Familiar Exposition of the United States Constitution, 1840 ↩
- Justice Brewer, Holy Trinity Church v. United States, 1892 ↩
- John Jay, Federalist #2 ↩
- Herbert Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For, p. 15 ↩