A properly theonomic society in terms of civil government would be closer to classic libertarianism than any other common political position. There would be differences, of course, but in general, theonomic standards would simply require a radical reduction in the size and scope of civil government. It would require a stronger sense of law being a restraint upon government rather than a burden imposed by it. It would include a radical reorientation from a powerful centralized government exemplary of a police state back to a free, largely volunteer-based focus on local community.
We noted earlier where Hebrews says the Mosaic Law “proved to be reliable,” and that by it “every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution” (Heb. 2:1–2). This means that the system of justice laid out in that law was perfectly just. The author of Hebrews then immediately adds that we should “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we should drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1–2). This was certainly excellent advice for the author’s audience, which was about to experience God’s wrath poured out upon Jerusalem (A.D. 70) for its apostasy. But it is excellent advice for us today as well. We need to pay much closer attention to the abiding system of justice laid out in Old Testament law. We have certainly drifted far away from it, and the consequences for us have been stark.
. . . in which righteousness dwells
Two passages from Isaiah give us the imagery for a starting point perhaps better than any others. Both describe an ideal theonomic society, although in different degrees and perspectives:
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore (Isa. 2:2–4).
This is a vision of world justice and peace. It is founded upon God’s law. That law reaches all nations. The spread of that law will involve many court cases and settlements, perhaps even internationally, but will lead to peace. Not only will peace reign, but all military-industrial complexes will be abolished. They will be transformed into agricultural science and productive technology of all forms. Botany, husbandry, and food production will advance in all ways. Nations will no longer devote such tremendous resources to “learn war.” All the time, energy, and money sunk into militarism will be transferred to more productive areas.
Isaiah elaborates more later:
For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth, . . .
No more shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain
or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD,
and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD (Isa. 65:17–25).
This expands upon the earlier vision of world peace and prosperity. Now we have a great vision not only of peace, but of longevity. We also have promises of successful business and labor, and great respect for property. There will be no taxation or socialism: “they shall not plant and another eat.” The state will not steal and give to others.
These two visions alone help get us started answering the question of what a theonomic state would look like. It would not only be about changes in law and politics. It would include longer-term social and cultural improvement. This means that in trying to develop a vision of Theonomy, we are simultaneously developing a grand vision of liberty and peace. Let’s not be naïve, however. Such liberty and peace are built upon the most fundamental aspect of government: self-government. Without the self-government of the Christian person, there can ultimately be no liberty or prosperity. Thus, the civil applications of God’s law are secondary, or at least only complimentary, to the vital need for the individual conversion of the soul to Christ, and the self-government under God’s law that follows. These are the fundamental elements of Christian culture.
With such Christian self-government and self-consciousness more widespread, we could begin to start expecting changes in civil law and government as well.
For starters, the religious foundations of social order would be protected. Christians of all denominations could flourish. Religious liberty would be protected. Those who do not wish to worship Christ may hold private opinions and even practice other religions. Freedoms of assembly and speech would continue, and public debate and dissent would certainly be tolerated. Only purposeful, open disgrace and defiance would be prohibited. Traitors and revolutionaries would be banished or even executed in extreme cases.
The civil government would be greatly decentralized and in all cases itself subject to the rule of law. It would be greatly limited in its scope and focus, its budget and treasury, and the nature of its army (Deut. 17:14–20). It would dare not undertake any measure of war without prayer and assurance of a just cause, and would always exhaust every effort for peace first. This would forbid entanglements through international alliances, especially with anti-Christian nations (Ex. 23:32; 34:15–16).
No one could be forced to work on Sunday or fired for refusing to do so in most cases (Ex. 20:8–11; 23:13; Lev. 23:3).
Parental authority would be upheld by the civil government and its discipline honored. Those who attack parents have committed more than simple assault and battery, they have attacked the foundation of social authority itself. They could be subject to punishment, though the death penalty is now commuted to exile (Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18–21). This law is not applied to children. Jesus upheld this law (Matt. 15:1–9; Mark 7:1–13) and applied it to adults who curse their parents (see Mark 7:11—“a man”). On this principle, incorrigible criminals can earn the death penalty as well, and others lose the right to vote.
Government agencies such as Child Protective Services or Departments of Family Services would be abolished or stripped of power to remove children, divide families, or otherwise impose penal actions through civil or administrative courts. All government Departments of Education would be abolished, all government schools privatized, and the primary responsibility for education would return to the family. Home and private education would reflect the worldview of the parents, and thus would normally be explicitly Christian and express God’s foundations of social order (Deut. 6:7–9; 11:19–21). Property taxes would be eliminated, freeing citizens and families from the socialistic burden of financing the educations of other people’s children, and destroying the government’s stranglehold over both property and education—a powerful tool of liberal activists and statists. Christians would be freed politically, religiously, and financially to educate their own children at their own expense and to the glory of God. Business, technical, and trade education would flourish. Ridiculous degrees in feminist studies and other fringe liberal arts propped up today only by enormous government subsidies would largely disappear.
The principle of honoring parents extends in certain ways to other positions of honor or authority. Cursing (not merely criticizing or challenging) government officials or other authorities is prohibited (Ex. 22:28). The most common relic of this principle used today is the crime of contempt of court, though it may often be abused. Still formally on the books are censures for things like contempt of Congress also. This legacy would continue, be more formalized, and taught. It will be expected for people to honor the aged and elders in general as well (Lev. 19:32). Judges and government officials, however, will themselves be held to strict standards of law and righteousness (Deut. 16:18): grievances will certainly be petitioned for redress, and all government agents (the few there would be) held accountable.
Thus parents and authority in general are protected from abuse. This is not because they are perfect, but because they are not. Even imperfect authority, however, is preferable to revolution and anarchy. These laws protect the social order itself.
Next section: What it would look like: a second table vision