Home > 1689 London Baptist Confession, church life, Covenant Theology, Decalogue, Ten Commandments, Worldview > Moral Law, Legalism, and the U.S. Presidential Race

Moral Law, Legalism, and the U.S. Presidential Race


An interesting point brought out in Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series, which I recently finished: when people reject the moral law of God – that which is summarized in the Ten Commandments – they actually end up being legalists.  Anarchy doesn’t work; people naturally want some type of system and order in their lives – so if that system of order is not God’s moral law, something else must take its place.  An obvious example cited by Chantry:  why is it that the fundamentalism movement of the early 20th century went astray, putting emphasis on so many trivial and unimportant “rules” that became the dominant focus?  Another interesting and somewhat humorous story he told, was of listening to a church conference speaker some years before (and Chantry was speaking in 2009), a man who was very anti-law.  Throughout the course of his conference messages, this speaker kept saying how we’re not under law, to disregard God’s moral law, and that instead we have “the counsels of the Holy Spirit.”  People listening began asking “well, what are the counsels of the Holy Spirit.”  In the very last message, the speaker finally answered that question, by declaring that “there are thousands of them (counsels of the Holy Spirit).”

This tendency will come out in different ways with different people: for some, classic fundamentalism.  With others I know, morality (“the law of Christ”) is primarily focused on the exhortations in the New Testament epistles, and quickly becomes an external emphasis on our acts and deeds of charity: being nice and kind to others, giving to the church, and providing food for those in need, especially within the church family.  Such things are indeed proper to do, as fitting under the general category of application of the 8th commandment — yet God’s moral law encompasses so much more and is not limited to merely what we find in the New Testament epistles, but to all of God’s word.

Online conversations about the 2016 Presidential campaign (debacle) provide yet another example of those who set up some type of legalism in place of God’s moral law. I have observed (and sadly I’m not alone) people claiming that how we vote in the U.S. presidential race is a moral issue. The claim put forth is that not voting for either of the two parties is a “wasted vote” and “a vote for Hillary,” and further that to waste that vote by not voting for either of these two, is a moral issue.  As Tom Chantry well described it in a blog post this spring:

Every four years, American Christians are told that we have a moral obligation to vote.  It appears that this year one nominee for President will be a professional bandit with the ego of President Obama, the fidelity of President Clinton, and the honesty of President Nixon.  His opponent will most likely be an unindicted traitor who has already gotten U.S. security and intelligence personnel killed by setting politics over duty.  Will someone please explain to me which commandment requires me to participate in this choice?

Indeed, a study through the Decalogue and the full extent of each of the greater issues addressed in each commandment, provides a helpful guide to understanding which issues really are moral — and which ones are not moral but merely part of a nation’s civil law.  A republic form of government that provides every citizen with “their vote,” with two main choices provided, such that every citizen “must” vote for one of these two, is NOT a moral issue that falls within the scope of any of the commandments of God.

This insistence upon such voting as a moral obligation, actually classifies as legalism for two reasons.  The first one has already been noted: the legalism of putting another law in the place of God’s moral law.

As noted by Chantry, and in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, legalism also occurs when someone takes his or her own application of a moral precept and sets that up as a standard that everyone else ought to follow.  Reference this recent post from Tim Challies, which relates the case of a Christian who came up with his own “rule” for spending time in reading God’s word, of “no Bible, no breakfast” – and others later came along, declaring that all believers ought to follow this same practice.  The same has occurred with this issue (voting for a U.S. presidential candidate):  those who object to other believers not voting for Trump, are the legalists: taking their idea of a “moral” issue (which is actually not part of God’s moral law, but merely civil U.S. law) and making an “application” that everyone else is expected to abide by.

 

 

 

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  1. July 28, 2016 at 7:46 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. Randy Richard
    July 28, 2016 at 10:49 am

    Knowing that I will live with the consequences of the November election, I feel responsible, to at least try to do something. Nehemiah, prayed, and did not sit on his hands. What shall we do? I’m told not to vote, but what?

    • July 28, 2016 at 11:46 am

      We recognize that voting is not a moral issue, and vote for who we think is the best choice (of all choices, not just the main two). We pray for God’s will regarding this country and the people in it, and we weep as Jeremiah did regarding the wickedness in his day. I think our situation is more like that of Jeremiah’s, the destruction of a country, rather than Nehemiah’s day of the rebuilding.

      We recognize that no matter our part in the voting, the outcome is determined from God and it is His doing. Proverbs 21:1, The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will, and Daniel 2:21, He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings. We also pray for God’s grace, including the grace to expect and deal with increasing persecution.

  3. Neil Schoch
    July 28, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    As I live in Australia, voting is compulsory by law, so it becomes a “moral issue” as God’s Word instructs us to obey those who rule over us. There is, however, an exemption for conscientious objectors who believe that the Bible only instructs us to pray for those in government, not vote for them, as we are “citizens of heaven” and “not of this world.” Obviously there were not many democracy’s in those days or more might have been said. Wherever we live, prayer must be paramount.
    The day is surely soon coming when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to this sinful world and rule in absolute righteousness. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

    • July 29, 2016 at 5:31 am

      That’s interesting, Neil — compulsory voting (but with an exemption). I wonder, though, if the compulsory voting extends to the point of actually having to vote for one of the “major” parties, or if people are allowed to leave a blank for any of the different items on the ballot, or to select ‘write-in’ or third-party choices.
      Yes, all of this, the evil in human governments, reminds us to continue looking for Christ’s return, to rejoice in the fact that He will yet return and reign over this world and rule in righteousness.

  4. Neil Schoch
    August 1, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    If you are a conscientious objector you simply don’t vote for anyone. You apply beforehand for exemption. If you do vote you can have an option of preferential voting i.e. putting candidates in order of preference.
    Leaving a blank is called “donkey” voting, and I will restrain from going any further.
    For the record, I pray and vote. Their are many Christians on both sides of Parliament but sometimes their conduct in Parliament, as they get involved in hurling insults at each other, leaves a lot to be desired.

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