Biblical Law vs. Common Law? (Part 1)

I’ve intended to write this post for some weeks now, and obviously have not succeeded until now. Last month we attended a conference in Chicago and one of the topics was the title of this post. The speaker started by describing this fatal flaw in the founding and development of America. I agreed with him entirely on this point, for I believe there was a fatal flaw when our Founding Fathers said, “all theft is immoral but some forms of thievery is less immoral than others.” I am, of course, referring to the writing of the Constitution, making it legal for a band of criminals to steal from the rest of us. However, that wasn’t the fatal flaw this speaker was addressing. He took us back to the debate between Augustine and Aquinas. Augustinianism and Thomism, to be precise. I was familiar with this debate because I’ve read Francis Schaeffer and R.C. Sproul and their different opinions about Augustine and Aquinas. To put it briefly: Augustine said, “our minds are entirely depraved and full of sin. We can’t depend on our own reasoning to find truth. We can only rely on the word of God as revealed in the Bible to know what is right and true.” Aquinas came along, some centuries later, and said, “actually, our minds aren’t all the way depraved. We’re still ‘good enough’ to decipher what is right. We can use the writings and teachings of pagans (such as Aristotle) to obtain knowledge.” Back to the story…the speaker at this conference said our Founding Fathers were too enthralled by the ideas of Aquinas. They had this unhealthy synthesis of pagan ideas and Christian ideas. They relied too heavily on their own reasoning and rational thinking to determine what is true. This weak foundation has resulted in the breakdown of morality, culture, truth, and all the evil in the world around us.

The speaker then went on to say we must be careful of this “dangerous” teaching about Common Law. He said that too often we’re eager to turn to the Common Law as an answer to our problems. Instead we need to turn to the Bible as a guide to life.

As you probably guessed, I’m writing this post because I don’t agree entirely with the speaker. I thought it would make a good topic for my website. 🙂

And as you’ve probably noticed, I can be a little verbose at times, so let me give you the “bottom line” to ensure you don’t get entirely lost in my ramblings. Bottom line: I believe the speaker set up a false dichotomy between Biblical Law and Common Law…and then went on to argue his point on the basis of this false premise. Basically he said this, “because Biblical Law and Common Law have two different foundations, here are the problems with relying on Common Law.” And I was going (and am still going), “hey…wait a minute! You didn’t prove that Biblical Law and Common Law are based on two different systems of thinking!”

Since this was last month and since I can’t locate my notes, I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail about what the speaker believes. Instead I’m going to argue my side instead.

Rather than seeing Biblical Law and Common Law as two different systems of thinking and instead of thinking that they contradict each other, we should see Common Law as a natural extension of Biblical Law. If you see Common Law as being a result of Biblical Law, all the problems the speaker described of Common Law suddenly disappear. You’ll have to trust me on this one because I can’t find my notes, but I did test this theory and it did work. I just can’t think of an example at the moment.

Then the next question is, “If Common Law is an extension of Biblical Law, what’s the difference?” I look at it this way: Common Law is the last 6 of the 10 Commandments. Biblical Law is all of the 10 Commandments. Common Law addresses how we interact with other humans. Biblical Law tells us that as well, but most importantly, Biblical Law tells us how we are expected to address our Lord and Maker. Biblical Law tells us what God expects us to do in reference to Himself.

This brings us to the next problem, “if Biblical Law is more complete, then why do we need Common Law at all?” I think this was the point of the speaker. He argued that there is no need for Common Law because we have Biblical Law. And this brings us to the point where I come right out and say I disagree with Reconstructionism. I think there are some very good things about this movement, but I also think there are some dangerous things about it as well. I don’t necessarily have a problem with what they are promoting right now, but I do have a problem with the implications of their teaching. The Reconstructionists will say that all we need is Biblical Law and we should convince everyone to live by it. Think that through. Firstly, we won’t be able to convince the atheist to attend church. And so I think the Reconstructionists will turn to force to achieve their goals. If we can’t persuade the atheist, we can convince him at gunpoint, so to speak. And secondly, you might be able to force an atheist to attend church, but that won’t make him a Christian. He won’t live like a Christian. If everyone must live like a Christian, we’ll end up with a nation full of hypocrites. We’ll have a nation and a church full of Christians in name only. Christians who aren’t Christian at all. We must admit that possibility. We can’t change the heart by changing some externalities anymore than trying to become less worldly by wearing outdated and prudish clothes.

Christ said that His kingdom is not of this world. We can’t grow the church by using the tactics of criminals and governments. The church is a voluntary institution; we can’t force anyone to come a Christian.

And that’s where Common Law fits in. The last 6 of the 10 Commandments are mighty handy when it comes to dealing with other people. We can’t expect the atheist to observe the 1st Commandment. But we can expect him to observe the commandment, “thou shalt not murder.” This is our common ground with unbelievers. It is the only way to bridge the chasm between Christians and non-Christians. Common Law is the only thing that makes it possible for us to live in a world largely inhabited by pagans. Common Law is the only thing keeping us from being murdered. This is the law that God has written on their hearts. He has written all His commandments on our hearts, but non-believers don’t observe all of them. However, that’s not our problem. We have no authority whatsoever to punish a non-Christian for breaking the 1st Commandment. That’s between the person and God. We can warn and admonish them, but ultimately God will deal with them. However, we can punish non-believers for committing murder because this is a place where we can all agree.

To be continued…

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