Greg Bahnsen Speaks on Wielding God’s Law with Wisdom
“Be affectioned to love one another with brotherly love. In giving honor, go one before another.” Romans 12:10
Why does it often seem that there are more divisions between fellow Christians than fellow unbelievers? Why does it seem oftentimes that Christians have a harder time getting along with fellow Christians—that theonomists have a harder time getting along with fellow theonomists even!—than with the ungodly?
The truth is that unbelievers actually do have just as many disagreements and divisions as Christians (often more so), but these are not often as obvious because unbelievers are frequently not as self-conscious about their worldview and faith as many Christians are trying to be. We are more likely to talk about our differences up-front because we are trying to be self-conscious and internally consistent, whereas most non-Christians don’t care whether they are self-conscious and consistent. Indeed, many of them have adopted post-modern philosophies that shrug off concern with contradiction and inconsistency. Relativism is the flavor of our day.
But there is another, deeper reason for why Christians often have a harder time getting along with fellow Christians—even ones with whom they have far greater doctrinal agreement than with most other people. As the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen would say, they simply lack wisdom.
When the history of Christendom is chronicled, Dr. Greg Bahnsen will no doubt be ranked as one of the “founding fathers” of Christian theonomy. Along with Dr. R.J. Rushdoony, Dr. Bahnsen left behind a body of messages and books that have been foundational in helping the Church of Christ return to a sound Biblical perspective on civil government. He’s been called Mr. Theonomist by some.
As zealous as Dr. Bahnsen was for the Law of God, even he realized before he died that there were some disturbing characteristics rising to the surface among the growing number of Christians willing to call themselves “theonomists” or “reconstructionists.” They were becoming often characterized by belligerence, back-biting, slandering, and arrogance.
Galatians 5:15 warns: “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed lest ye be consumed one of another.” That passage goes on to list the “fruits of the Spirit”—against which, it says, “there is no law.” Those fruits are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperancy” (Galatians 5:22-23, 1599 Geneva Bible).
In 1994 at the church Dr. Joe Morecraft serves as an elder at in Cumming, Georgia, Dr. Greg Bahnsen shared this message embedded below, expressing the need for those Christians zealous for a sound Biblical orthopraxy and worldview to do so with charity, justice, peaceableness, and humility — not back-biting or sowing discord among the brethren. It’s a message on genuine Christian piety (not pietism) in the midst of promoting a Biblical morality. He speaks about how the problem is not with the Law of God. The Law of God reflects the holy character of God! But he stresses that the Law of God in the hands of the foolish can become a frightening tool for much hurt and destruction.
Please take one hour from your day to listen to this message from Dr. Greg Bahnsen. I believe it will truly bless you. (If for some reason it is not appearing, click here to listen to it.)
Often those new to the faith, or new to a particular teaching, are the most zealous to see it promoted. It’s encouraging to see this zeal in action, to be sure. But this zeal must always be tempered with wisdom. Wisdom that will lead the zealous to thoroughly study the Bible and their Christian predecessor’s scholarship carefully before they begin to get dogmatic on the subject themselves. (See James 1:19; Proverbs 18:13, for example.) I Timothy 3:6 warns that a Christian leader should “[n]ot [be] a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (KJV).
As I observe much of the debating going on among my fellow Christians, and even fellow theonomists, on various issues, I often observe them debating over things that were studied and addressed by Christian scholars and leaders of previous generations long ago. Rather than consulting with the Christians of the past, they are trying to re-invent the thenomic wheel, as it were, and thus they are personally recapitulating the maturity process Christendom as a whole has undergone over the last 500 years since the Reformation. They are arguing and dividing over many matters godly men like Luther, Calvin, Baxter, Cromwell, Witherspoon, Kuyper, VanTil, Rushdoony, and Bahnsen answered and honed over the course of many years. If we all exercised the humility to listen and read before we jump to write or speak on a particular controversial topic, we might experience more harmony in our discussions. Of course, everything we take in from a respected Christian teacher should be subjected to careful Biblical evaluation. (See Acts 17:11.)
In the end of the day, we must remember that we are reconstructionists, not merely deconstructionists (no matter how many times my computer’s auto-spell corrector says otherwise!). We are not trying to merely tear-down. We are wanting to build up a way of life that reflects God’s virtue in every arena. But we cannot be building up the Body of Christ when we are biting and devouring one another. Building a godly culture must begin with me personally putting my life under the unconditional submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ—even if He requires me to be just, gracious, and longsuffering to someone who is dead wrong about an important matter of orthopraxy.