Work, Dominion and the Law

By: Roger Oliver

When men get together we tend to talk about what we do for a living. The most animated conversations I have with my friends (male) have to do with our jobs. For some time now we have been faulted for that, like it was a weakness. We’ve been told that we do this because of something to do with our natures, survival of the fittest evolutionary nonsense I suspect. We are told we need to learn to be more interested in the person, to get to know each other spiritually and emotionally.

This is all nonsense and I’ll tell you why. What us guys do is who we are. That is natural and good. This is not a product of evolution or something the male of the human race is going to grow out of someday. We have been given a commission to dominion over the creation and our jobs are how we do that. It would be unnatural for men not to ask one another about what they do. I get downright emotional when I recognize competence at the dominion task God has given a friend.

Further, the way we do our jobs is an ethical/judicial matter. We either risk it all to live according to God’s law in our work or we cut ethical corners to meet deadlines and make money or get a promotion. Which we choose reveals in whom we trust. Trust produces obedience, whatever the cost. A working definition of integrity that I have carried around with me for years is doing a right thing in a right way because it is right to do it, no matter the cost. What was not always clear was by what standard? How do we judge what is a right or wrong thing to do?

This all came together for me recently in a chat with a friend about his work. Coincidentally, our wives were busy talking about the evils of patriarchy, you know, how to micromanage your wife. We were too busy discussing our dominion tasks to worry much about that. Don’t believe in it. I think anyone who worries about his authority over his wife doesn’t have enough to do. Our wives are our partners in the dominion task to which we have been called together. I could not do what I have been called to do if my wife needed to be micromanaged. I thank God for her competence at what she does.

My friend is a safety engineer for a natural gas/petroleum pipeline company. He explained to me that safety is more than individual procedures; checklists to help workers do things right and avoid accidents. It is also a function of the culture of an organization, the patterns of communication and the values of the company. If the boss values meeting performance goals more than safety the workers will pick up on that and there will be accidents.

Among the several industry incidents he shared with me, one case caught my attention: a meter registered a drop in pressure between two pumping stations. This generally indicates a leak in the pipe although it could also be a broken meter. Similar things happen in your automobile. A gauge indicates a drop in oil pressure. You take it to the mechanic where you discover that the oil pressure is fine. Turns out it’s the oil pressure sending unit that is bad. In the case of the drop in pressure in the pipeline, the worker did not trust the meter so he kept restarting the pump. As a result, he pumped thousands of gallons of oil into a river.

This is an ethical/judicial matter, not just a matter of relative values in an organization. If so, by what standard are we to judge that a life is more important than a production deadline? What if it turns out that it was only a meter that is broken and it cost hours of needless downtime? If not the Law of God, then what, the self-determined values of the organization? Auto companies face the same dilemma when they discover a fault in a design that requires a recall. They often use statistical analysis to determine how many lives may be lost vs. the cost of a recall. Is this lawful? Is it ethical? By what standard?

A complaint lodged against the application of the Law as expressed in the Mosaic code in modern times is that it is bound up in cultural accoutrements. A common example is the law requiring a fence around your roof to keep people from falling. We don’t have flat roofs in modern times, goes the argument, so the law doesn’t apply. There are two things wrong with this argument.

First, some people do have flat roofs, at least where I live they do. I live in Mexico. Sometimes these roofs are designed to serve as a kind of patio. They are called an asotea. Usually they are protected by a wall to keep people from falling off the roof. That some people do not protect their flat roofs with a fence is a sign of a people in rebellion against God and his Law.

Second, this is a spurious argument to deny there is an absolute and immutable ethical/judicial standard that God has revealed. It is case law that applies in principle to all times and all peoples. Paul taught us how to analyze and apply these cases to our times in 1 Corinthians 9:9, 10, “For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest.”

Paul is saying that the law is not tied up in the culture of ancient agriculture. It is not primarily about animals either. The principle is that the worker is worth his Hire. Paul says so in 1 Timothy 5:18 where he says the worker is worth his hire alongside a quote of the prohibition of muzzling the ox. Who else said that? Well, Jesus said that In Luke 19:7. Paul apparently quotes Jesus or a common saying in 1 Timothy 5:18 as an expression of the meaning of Mosaic Law prohibiting muzzling the ox. It isn’t just about oxen and it isn’t just for ancient Israel. “It was written for US!” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:18.

Are you required to put fence around your roof if it is a gabled roof that not even a mountain goat could climb? Probably not but in principle, of course you are subject to the intent of this law. You are responsible to proactively protect human life on your property. The liability for animals that fall into an unguarded pit and the ox that gores In Exodus 21 are similar in intent. All of these are tied to the 6th commandment, thou shalt not murder. It is more than a prohibition against taking a life without cause; it is also a command to protect human life at all cost. From this we get our liability laws, why you buy insurance on your automobile and can be held responsible for accidents that happen on your property. This is especially true if it can be shown that you were negligent with your own property. The attractive nuisance laws are based on the same principle.

Back to my friend who is a safety engineer for a natural gas/petroleum pipeline company. You see, his dominion task is precisely to help companies comply with the intent of the law to build a fence around a flat roof. He spends every waking hour at work thinking about this and does an admirable job of it. He is highly competent at it too. Because it is a dominion task related to the judicial/ethical demands of the Law and he does it so well, I get downright excited listening to him tell about it. Any man worth his salt would.

By what standard do we judge which is more important, a life or a deadline, a life or a recall? The law of God makes it clear; we protect human life no matter what the cost. This is how we know how to do a right thing in a right way because it is right to do it, not matter the cost. Without the Law, we are adrift in a sea of ethical relativity. So it is in our modern times and we are paying the piper.

Good Reading

The so called “great books” are not necessarily good books. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was required reading when I was in high school. It is apostate fiction, a caricature of Puritan culture and theology. One of the most terrifying things you could hear from your peers was, “Don’t be so puritanical.” It was an invitation to immorality, lawlessness. Still is. Other great literature of this ilk that I had to read in high school:  Huckleberry Fin, The Crucible, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

In college I had to read a long book about Lawrence of Arabia. Great adventure story but the professor had to make a point of the hero’s alleged latent masochistic homosexuality. I figured out that is what the prof wanted to hear and asked him about it. He confirmed it. Gave me the creeps, both the idea and the professor, but I got an A in the course.

I’m reading “Apostate – The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West.” Very enlightening and very sad. I recommend you read it.

As I piece together the required reading list of English literature from my high school days it occurs to me all of it was apostate and downright evangelical about it. Now we have a gospel of faith without repentance filled with phrases like, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” and “Christianity is a relationship not a religion.”

I wonder how many Christians who are so unreasonably opposed to the application of God’s law to all of life have been influenced by these books. What I have heard them say about God’s law for our times certainly seems to be more informed by Hawthorne et al than by actually reading Rushdoony, Bahnsen, North and other authors who have writing on the subject.

We need to retake this area by encouraging our folks who are gifted writers to write good fiction that testifies, “About repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21) One way to do that is to buy and read what they write. A friend, Martin Selbrede, is taking a shot at it, “Hidden in Plain Sight.” I recommend you buy it and read it.


A Mother’s view of the ‘Learning Center’

Christian schools sound good on paper, but what are they like in practice? Well, hear, first hand, what the Learning Center has meant in the life of one Mother and her two talented and delightful daughters.
By the way, do you think teaching God’s law has a negative effect on children. Think again! Don’t forget to share!

Book Review: No Other Standard: Theonomy and its Critics

By Chuks Ezemando, Vicar of the Anglican Church, Lagos, Nigeria
AUTHOR: Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen
Year published & size: 1991 / 351 pages

Click here to go to the WEB SITE (to download free):

Against Antinomianism

Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen focused on the biblical bases for comprehensive theonomy; the Laws of Moses as applied in Christ as the basis for individual, family, Church and societal sanctification; powered by the Holy Spirit. Dr. Bahnsen actually wrote against the vice of antinomianism. He promoted comprehensive pro-nomianism.
Dr. Bahnsen insisted that whoever hears Moses will hear Christ, since Christians should honor the law of Moses just because the words of Christ require us to do so. Theonomy is not a matter of hearing Moses instead of Christ, but rather hearing Moses because of Christ.
To show that the pro-nomianism of the Apostles went beyond the individual, family and church he quoted examples of New Testament citations of Moses’ Civil Laws:

Paul appealed to the extra-decalogical prohibition against incest (1 Cor. 5:1). The case law against homosexuality was upheld in the New Testament (1 Cor. 9:9). James applied the judicial law about prompt payment of one’s employees (5:4). The important New Testament injunctions about not avenging oneself, about going to an offending brother, and about caring for one’s enemies are all taken from the judicial laws of the Old Testament (Rom. 12:19; Matt. 18:15; Rom. 12:20; Matt. 5:44). You see, the New Testament cites the judicial laws of the Old Testament too often, and without apology or disclaimer, to accept at face value the bold claim of theonomic critics that these laws have been abolished by the work of Christ or the coming of the Holy Spirit. ‘Not one jot or tittle will pass away from the law until heaven and earth pass away’ (Matt. 5:18).

Dr. Bahnsen gave further examples, thus: “Isn’t condemning a man without a hearing a civil matter (John 7:51)? Isn’t murder and its judgment a ‘reference to’ the civil aspect of the law (Matt. 5:21)? Isn’t ‘an eye for an eye’ a civil aspect of the law (Matt. 5:38)? Isn’t the execution of incorrigible delinquents a civil aspect of the law (Matt. 15:4)? Aren’t things ‘worthy of death’ charged by the Jews a reference to civil aspects of the law (Acts 25:7-8, 11)? Isn’t theft a civil matter (Rom. 13:9)? Extortion (1 Cor. 5:10; 6:10)? defrauding of salary (Jas. 5:4)? Isn’t submission to civil rulers a ‘civil aspect’ of God’s law (1 Pet. 2:13-17)? Our examples could go on and on, but the point should be made by now… The conflict between the law of the political Beast and the law of God is a key motif in Revelation (12:17; 13:16-17; 141, 9, 12; cf Deut. 6:8).”

He went on to explain how antinomianism – especially in legal issues – inevitably results in double standards. God does not have a double standard of justice in society. Rape is wrong, whether in Israel, Nineveh, or New York. And punishing rapists too leniently or too harshly is wrong for magistrates, whether in Israel, Nineveh, or New York. If God has not revealed objective standards of justice for crime and punishment, then magistrates cannot genuinely be avengers of God’s wrath against evildoers. They could only avenge their human anger against those who displease them, without any assurance that genuine evildoers are receiving a just recompense. In that case the “sword” would truly be wielded “in vain” (Rom. 13:4), and good people would have a real reason to fear (v. 3). The criminal standards of the Old Testament are God’s objective standard of public justice, prescribing for every transgression its “just recompense of reward” (Heb. 2:2) and executing only those who do things “worthy of death” (Acts 25:11; cf Deut. 21:22) – even as the pagans know (Rom. 1:32; 2:14-15).

He applied God’s law to judges (Acts 23:3; cf Leviticus 19: 15). He endorsed God’s prohibition of reviling rulers (Acts 23:5; cf. Exodus 22:28). In dealing with social relationships and conditions he appealed to the Mosaic case laws regarding incest (1 Corinthians 5:1; cf. Leviticus 18:8), regarding homosexuality (Romans 1:27, 32; cf. Leviticus 20: 13), and regarding fair treatment of slaves (Colossians 4:1; Cf Leviticus 25:43, 53). He endorsed the use of God’s law to curb social crimes like killing one’s parents, kidnapping, homosexuality, perjury, etc. (1 Timothy 1:8-10). He expected the civil sanctions of God’s law to be applied (Acts 25:11), teaching that civil magistrates must pursue their offices as ‘ministers of God’ (Romans 13:1-4). He indicted the emperor for his ‘lawlessness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

So, contrary to the erroneous position of critics of comprehensive pro-nomianism, the Civil Laws of Moses (as the basis for several New Testament commands), run almost from Matthew to Revelation.

Law vs. Grace. Is there Really a Conflict?

Not too long ago I found myself in a conflict over the applicability of the Law of Moses in our times, a concept known as theonomy. Theonomy is just a technical word for the idea that God’s Law/Word is the ultimate source of ethics and the rule of law for all mankind in all times and that means the Law of Moses, at least in principle.

For some reason, the very word provokes violent reactions against it in some circles. There are seminaries that will not allow pro-theonomic books in their libraries or bookstores while openly promoting books critical of the position.[1] The authors who reject theonomy out of hand misrepresent it and debate the misrepresentation, a logical fallacy called a straw man argument. Often these arguments are character assassinations and gross misrepresentations. I’ve heard theonomy called legalism, anti-Semitic, puritanical fascism and a conspiracy to overthrow the government. None of this is remotely true.

I have personally been blackballed by those who disagree with me without so much as an investigation of the facts or even being asked to explain what I believe. We live in times when prejudice has replaced analysis. We used to believe that the best way to silence a false argument was to refute it. Could it be that that the opponents of theonomy are unable to refute it? These are sincere people who believe they are defending the faith. If so, why shut down all discussion?

A dear friend who does not share my perspective observed that my counterparts in the conflict brag about living by grace but demonstrated less grace in practice than those who acknowledge the law, namely me.

To encourage me my friend sent me a devotional by Chuck Swindoll about the law. It was titled “The Legal Swamp. The text was 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.

Now, I love Chuck Swindoll. He was my parents’ pastor for many years at the Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California. When I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary Dr. Swindoll was the president. My father had terminal lymphoma at the time. I approached Pastor Chuck and asked if he remembered my parents. He said yes. I thanked him for his ministry to them and told him about my dad’s illness. A day later I received a hand written note in my student mailbox from Chuck to my parents encouraging and consoling them. That impressed me. This was a guy who knew the sheep he was given to tend for the Master.

I respect Pastor Swindoll but I don’t agree with his take on the law in this devotional. It starts off like this:

“Law never fails to turn me off.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think we need it . . . it’s just that it leaves me cold. It frowns and demands. It requires and warns and threatens. With a grim glare, it dares us to forget its rules or even think about disobeying its regulations.

I know, I know. It protects us. It gives us recourse when we’ve been assaulted or abused. It’s the ultimate big stick we can wave in the face of an adversary. “I’ll sue!” has therefore become our favorite national slogan, which fits perfectly into our me-ism society.

“I’ve got my rights.”
“I’ve got it coming to me.”
“I don’t have to take that from you.”

Those are the overused words of our overkill generation. Parents are now being sued by their children. Teachers are being sued by their pupils. Coaches are being sued by their players. Spouses are being sued by their partners, and it isn’t limited to unbelievers. Christians are now neck deep in the legal swamp. Christian neighbors sue each other. Christian faculty members are now filing suit against the administrations of Christian schools. Churches not only sue one another, congregations now sue their pastors—and vice versa. Parishioners who have complaints about the counseling they received from their ministers are turning to the courts to voice their anger and to seek a financial settlement.”

All true and a sad state of affairs but is the Law the problem? Are we short on grace? I don’t see it that way. The perfect Law of God is something to delight in, to meditate on day and night. It is the law of liberty. The devotional is well meaning and honest but it reflects the false dichotomy of law vs. grace and an antinomian theology.[2]

As I read it, the devotional is a good description of the conflict between humanistic law and the Law of God. If we obeyed the law of God, if we really believed that God has the authority to provide objective law and has done so, if we therefore studied and knew the law, we would not be doing the things Chuck outlines in this devotional.

The lack of grace in a conflict by those who cry the loudest about grace is the natural fruit of rejecting the law. If you do not believe in the law you will see no problem in crucifying your opponent behind his back. Ignoring the legal procedures for dealing with offenses by holding court in private and pronouncing sentence without the accused present is not a problem. We’re under grace, not the law.

What happens when a people ignore God’s law is what Pastor Chuck describes here. We have been taught the law is a horrible thing to be avoided. As a result we never really studied it. Neither have we taken the time to review original sources of those who argue that the Law of Moses is still in force, at the very least, in principle.

A friend in Africa, Chuks Ezemandu, recently wrote the following excellent explanation of theonomy:

The Laws of Moses applied in Christ is the basis for individual, family, Church and societal sanctification; powered by the Holy Spirit. Whoever hears Moses will hear Christ. Christians should honor the law of Moses just because the words of Christ require us to do so. Theonomy is not a matter of hearing Moses instead of Christ, but rather hearing Moses because of Christ.

Matthew 18:15-20, the passage we so often use for peacemaking, is an exposition of the law in Deuteronomy 19:15. The law prohibits anyone from bringing a charge in public without at least two witnesses. Jesus says that means by law you have to go to the accused in person and in private before you make a charge public.

Without the law, there is no grace. Grace, like mercy, operates within the law, not outside it. Think about it for a moment. If there was no infraction of the law, what would grace mean? Nothing. It would be permissiveness. The law of God is anything but demanding your rights. But we don’t know this because we’ve been inoculated against it. In most cases we were born into the faith with an allergic reaction to the law. It is an inherited spiritual characteristic from those who led us to the Savior and discipled us.

Mankind will always be governed by some system of law. The question is not law vs. grace but in which law system will grace operate. Manmade law systems have no room for grace, they are brutal and cruel. When we pit law against grace we nullify God’s law and in effect say any law but God’s Law. The real battle throughout history has not been law vs. grace but God’s law vs. man’s law.

Grace works our salvation by what means? By Christ’s death on the cross. His sacrifice did not nullify the law, rather by it He paid the penalty for our sin. Sin is lawbreaking. Breaking which law? God’s of course. If the law were not the immutable standard of God’s character Christ’s death would be unnecessary and meaningless.

When Paul says we are under grace and not under the law he means we are no longer under the death sentence of the law and are set free to live according His law and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so. But we have to study it to know it. Christianity is not a mystery religion where the Spirit magically speaks to us about what is right and wrong. It’s written down for us.

I thought it ironic that the passage for Chuck’s devotional was 1 Cor 6:1-8. It is about church courts. What do courts do? They judge. They are supposed to make just judgments as Jesus commanded. By what standard? If not God’s law, which law? Man’s problem since the fall has been his insistence on autonomy, auto (self) nomos (law).

The grace vs law false dichotomy is just another version of the same, any law but God’s law. It is the great sickness that has infected the church. The way the grace over law crowd handles these kinds of disagreements is an example of what this antinomianism produces, Pietists red in tooth and claw, as my friend Jason Lawton puts it. There is no more implacable enemy then the one who self-righteously is sure he is doing good but by his own autonomous standards.

Jesus’s and Paul’s beef with the Pharisees was not that they were keeping the Law of Moses but that they weren’t. They had abandoned the Law of Moses for their own autonomous law, their traditions. Are we any different?

I have yet to see anyone deal honestly with the arguments in favor of a theonomic view of the Law refute them. This is true even of those who have grown up with an antinomian theology. They may fight it and only reluctantly agree that maybe the Law has a role in modern society. The truly recalcitrant refuse to read original sources preferring to debate the abundant straw man misrepresentations. Why? They prefer autonomy, any law but God’s Law. May God grant us mercy to learn to love and live by grace in His perfect Law of Liberty.


[1] Greg Bahnsen, PhD, No Other Standard, Theonomy and its Critics, Tyler, TX, Institute for Christian Economics, 1991, p. 1

[2] Antinomian: against the law, especially the Law of Moses and its application in our times.