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Studies in the Laws of Nature’s God
by Gerald R. Thompson
SELF-STUDY – THE SOCIAL ORDER
In this study, we continue our study of jurisdiction, but from the standpoint of examining the division of authority within society. We will begin our examination of the social order by looking at the individual, the family, the Church and nations.
Specifically, it would be helpful to know whether lonang regards these social institutions as unique for legal purposes, and if so, to what extent. This inquiry is important for two reasons. First, to the extent we can identify any institutional authority given by God, it will indicate the existence of specific inalienable rights which society ought to respect and protect.
Second, to the extent we can identify how these institutional authorities relate to each other, we will be able to describe the nature of inter-institutional accountability. Of particular interest is the extent to which the private sector (individual, family, church, etc.) are legally accountable to civil authority.
The individual is not a social relationship, nor do we normally think of the individual as an institution. Yet, the individual is extremely important for legal purposes. The traditional view of inalienable rights, for example, holds that all such rights are the rights of individuals. Even our most fundamental civil rights, such as criminal process rights and the right to vote, belong to the individual.
This should come as no surprise. The biblical record is clear that moral responsibility and accountability are reckoned by God on an individual basis. No one is held accountable for the sin of another, even for the sins of parents. Similarly, redemption from sin is accomplished on an individual basis – but we will inquire no further in this regard.
One of the issues we want to reckon with here is the extent to which individuals have authority with respect to other individuals. Are there any texts which indicate what the nature of individual authority is?
1. Read Gen. 1:27. To what extent may God be considered the Creator not only of the first man and woman, but of all people? What is the relationship between being made in God’s image and the law of equality? The right to life? That is, if people are not really made in God’s image, where would the right to equality or the right to life come from, if at all?
- By what mechanism or law can we claim the rights or authority conferred upon Adam and Eve, if at all?
- To what extent is the individual the measuring unit of moral and legal accountability?
2. Read Rom. 3:19-20. How does God hold the world accountable for violations of His law, that is, is accountability reckoned by individuals, families, nations, some combination of these, or other?
3. Read Deut. 24:16 and Ezek. 18:19-25. What is the rule of legal accountability under the civil law of ancient Israel? Is this rule peculiar to Israel, or is it a law applicable to all nations?
4. Read Josh. 7:1,10-15,22-26. For what reason were the sons and daughters of Achan killed when the contraband was found? How does this example impact your analysis of individual accountability, if at all?
5. Read Josh. 6:15-21. On account of whose sin, or for what other reason, were every man, woman and child in Jericho killed? To what extent does the exception for Rahab and all her relatives confirm or deny the principle of individual accountability?
6. To what extent are some people born to rule over others?
- Read Gen. 25:21-23. Did Jacob have a God-given right, from birth, to rule over his brother Esau? To what extent, if any, does a prophecy about someone give that person the authority or legal right to carry out the prophecy? Does God grant authority via prophecies?
- Read Jer. 27:4-11. Does God ever give one person the right to rule over another person in the civil or political sense? Did God make Nebuchadnezzar the ruler of Israel? If not, what was Nebuchadnezzar’s relationship to that nation?
- How could you test the validity of someone’s claim that they had been granted authority by God to rule over you?
Like the individual, the family unit is an important social institution. Not only did God create individuals, but He also created the two sexes, and brought the first man and woman together in a marital relation. This raises the question of the extent to which the family unit is also a creation of God and whether families have legal authorities and responsibilities much as individuals do.
If so, the modern breakdown of the family is not only a moral and social problem, but a legal one. Indeed, perhaps one of the most important questions facing society today is the extent to which the family is to be recognized as a legal entity with duties and authorities that society ought to protect and respect. A related issue is the matter of definition: For legal purposes, what is a family anyway?
1. Read Gen. 1:27; 2:18,21-23.
- Is marriage and the institution of the family an invention of people or a creation of God? Who has jurisdiction to define what a family is, and why? Who has jurisdiction to define what rights a family has, and why?
- Is familial authority inherent or delegated? If God had not told the man and woman to be fruitful and multiply, would they have had the inherent authority to do so?
- Did God intend for a husband and wife to relate to each other in a particular way? Is the relationship of husband and wife governed by a pre-defined authority structure? Is the familial authority structure subject to civil modification?
- Compare and contrast families with cohabitation. May God be considered the Creator of cohabitation relationships in the same sense as marriages? Does a cohabitation relationship have any of the authority, rights or other legal consequences of a marriage? How do you know?
2. Read Gen. 2:24 and Mark 10:7-9. Consider the legal character of the marital union. Is marriage a new legal relationship? Is it a new legal entity? To what extent are “marriage” and “family” synonymous terms?
When people refer to social institutions, it is common to hear the church referred to in the same context as individual, family and nation, especially in the phrase “church and state.” Yet, the matter of dealing with the church as a legal institution is difficult, because of the tendency to delve into doctrines of the internal structure of a church as an ecclesiastical polity, constitutional doctrines related to the separation of church and state, the influence of religion in public life, or even religious freedom in general. These things each have their importance, but none of them are in view for present purposes.
What is here to be examined is whether, according to lonang, there is such a thing as a God-created church relation with unique legal rights and responsibilities which society ought respect and protect.
1. Read 1 Cor. 12:13,18,24,27-28.
- Is the institution of the Church an invention of people or a creation of God? Is the Church a true social relation (a legal relationship between people) or is it merely a religious relation (a relationship with God)?
- Does God intend for members of the Church to relate to each other according to a divinely imposed authority structure? To what extent is this ecclesiastical authority structure temporal (legal) and/or spiritual (moral)? To what extent can civil laws “recognize” the true Church, if at all?
2. Read Mat. 28:18-20.
- Is the authority of the Church to evangelize (gain converts) and disciple (teach God’s commands) an inalienable legal right? Is this authority granted to every individual Christian, or just to corporate bodies?
- Should our civil laws recognize the rights to gain converts and teach God’s commands solely with respect to Christians, or do such rights also belong to non-Christians? Does the civil law have jurisdiction to decide who the true Christians are?
We often think of the “state” in a purely political sense, but here we must be careful to distinguish the organs of civil government from the people who are governed. It is quite possible for God to be the Creator of nations (meaning a body of people), yet to regard people as the inventors of civil government.
It requires us to consider whether a nation or state can be legally recognized apart from, or irrespective of, its organs of government. Certainly, there is some historical precedent for this. The nation of Israel existed when it was enslaved in Egypt, yet it had no political structure. Even the United States existed as a nation in 1777, yet it had no national government.
The nature of civil government will be examined in greater detail later. For now, we just want to see if there is any sense in which God may be considered the creator of nations. Later on, we will examine what legal impact this might have on the nature and function of civil government and the social order.
1. Read Gen. 10:1,5,20,31,32; 11:1-9. To what extent is God the Creator of the first nations of the world? Was the creation of nations man’s idea? Were there any nations prior to Noah’s flood? How do you know?
2. Read Deut. 32:8. In what respect does God create nations and set their national boundaries? Were “the sons of Israel” a nation at the time of Babel? Does Deut. 32:8 refer to a past or present activity of God?
3. Read Acts 17:24-28. Did Paul regard the nations formed since Noah’s flood to be created by God? Is God still in the nation creating business today, or was this a finished work back in the days of Babel (~2200 B.C.), or Deuteronomy (~1400 B.C.), or Paul (~50 A.D.)? What has changed since Paul’s time, if anything, which would affect the way God deals with nations?
Now let’s examine lonang for any evidence of a generalized description of the social order, and whether portions of the Bible may be considered as directed to specific social institutions.
1. What other legal relationships, if any, are created or instituted by God? Should civil laws treat the rights and liberties of God-created relations with priority compared to man-invented relations? Why or why not?
- What other legal relationships, if any, are subject to a divinely defined authority structure? Can a relationship invented by people properly claim to be vested with any inalienable legal rights or authority?
- Is it possible to be born into any legal relation other than as an individual, a family member, a member of the body of Christ, or a national citizen? In what ways, if any, is birth legally significant?
2. Read Lu. 6:27-38. To what extent, if any, are these verses directed to public officials acting in their civil capacities? Is it God’s will that civil government “give,” “lend,” and “pardon”? To whom might these verses be directed, and in what legal capacity?
3. Read Mat. 18:15-20. To what extent are these verses directed to a formalized social relation? Does the phrase “tell it to the church” mean any group of Christians, or is a specific institutional structure presumed? What is the evidence?
4. Read Eph. 5:22-6:4 and Prov. 22:6. Is the relational authority between family members delegated to them by public officials? To what extent is child-bearing and child raising the province of individuals (apart from marriage), the Church or nations?
5. Read Mark 16:15. What is the role of civil government in supervising the church in the performance of its religious authority? See also, Acts 5:29.
* Copyright © 1995, 2006 Gerald R. Thompson. Used by permission.