If there is to be any reformation of men and nations, there first needs to be the acceptance of Divine Law as the governing apparatus of society. The European Reformation insisted that civil law be informed by God’s Law in order to reform the society. God’s Law was the means to orderly reformation resulting in an enduring system of righteousness. By this, the individual could be free and the civil order prosperous. God’s Law would ensure national peace under the Divine authority of God.
Within the Genevan framework of the Reformation, Calvin believed that a correct legal system could only be established and maintained by constructing a procedural system by democratically elected magistrates, elected by the people, who were adherent to the Law of God in their administration. This would be safeguarded by a system consisting of checks and balances.
According to Calvin, and the theologians of the Reformation, the God’s Law had three functions. First, it was the “schoolmaster” or tutor, acting negatively as the sinner’s accuser and adversary, convicting individuals of sin and driving them to the Savior. In this way God’s Law is used negatively to expose sin and positively to expose Christ as the solution to sin. Second, the Law is used didactically as a guide for those who have been sanctified by the intervention of the Holy Spirit resulting in the New Birth. To them the Law is a Light and a Lamp of which they love since they understand it to be the perfect Law of liberty. No longer having any power to condemn, no longer the adversary or the tyrannical accuser, the Law becomes the friend of the saint having its efficacy to accuse and condemn invalidated. The third use of the Law is its civil function. In this way the Law is to be used by the magistrates to restrain evil and promote the good.
It was Calvin’s contention that the civil magistrate was commanded by his office as a “minister of God” (Rom 13) and given such authority as to enforce both tables of the Ten Commandments. If that authority was either ill-used, neglected, or perverted in any way, it was the right and duty of the people to depose that civil ruler.
As a result of the reality and efficacy of the Sovereignty of God, which acts as the comforting engine for the Christian life, He should rule both Church and State. Both are religious entities predicated upon God’s universal authority. (Matthew 28). While Church and State have separate and shared spheres of influence and authority, Christ rules them both, and that by His Law.
For the Reformers, Theocracy and Theonomy were fundamental to establishing, maintaining, and securing a civil society. Calvin believed that the entire governmental structure of the State should be ruled by God and governed by His Divine Law. If this was not established civil order could not endure. Eventually the society, and all its laws, would collapse and chaos would result. Therefore, in order for an enduring civil order to be secured, the Law of God must be its foundation. Both Church and State had to work in unity toward that end if its people were to be protected. Upon these principles Western Civilization is established.
George J. Gatgounis comments,
“…God demands an obedience that circumscribes every facet of human existence – sociology, law, government, and politics, as well as a religious belief and ritual…Calvin envisioned a religious republic, both Theocratic and Theonomic. In a theocracy, God rules the state and God rules the church. In a Theonomy, all law derives from God’s Law. Calvin viewed a Christian state as God’s rule by God’s Law…To Calvin, church and state were to be two hands washing each other under God.” 1
If the Church ever hopes to fulfill its Divine Gospel commission, she must return to her Biblical moorings, which were clearly spelled out during the Reformation, and apply them to the world around her. She must hold the civil rulers accountable to the demands of God’s Law. In this way the Church, as judges and ministers of Christ, can redirect of the civil realm away from the oblivion that it is headed toward. Only then will she be found a faithful ambassador of Almighty God.
1 “Calvin The Magistrate”, George J. Gatgounis, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2021