There are two main causes of untold human suffering: lawlessness and love of law. Lawlessness is the kind of act we see in the Boston bombing or rape of a 5 year old girl in India. Love of law is the creation of arbitrary laws that achieve control over others. Which is worst? After 2000 years of Christianity, most Christians still have a hard time understanding the role and limitations of law, or our proper relationship to it. From my understanding of the Bible and study of world history, it seems that “love of law” is far more prevalent in human experience than lawlessness.
Societies that descend into anarchy (lawlessness) are virtually non-existent. On the other hand, societies that descend into martial law, police state, and strict control are too many to count!
Humans just can’t seem to get enough of laws. Every time modern politicians meet, the only thing they seem to do is propose or pass new laws. Most of these laws have unintended consequences that do great damage. The United States passed a Prohibition Law which banned alcohol from 1919 to 1933. Most Christians at the time would have viewed it as a win for Christianity, but I do not believe God did. The law produced a crime wave for 24 years, pushed up the price of alcoholic beverages, created a black market in which violence ruled and established the Mafia which had not really existed in America before. Alcohol had been legal and cheap for thousands of years, and whether you care to drink or not was your own choice, not someone else’s. But when special interest groups and politicians stepped in to regulate other’s behavior using law and force, it did not solve the problem. It exacerbated the problem, made more alcoholics, and cost money and lives.
One would think that Bible-believing Christians would be the most averse to the increase of law-making, but it is quite the opposite. Christians in general are enamored with laws and even lobby for more laws to be passed. What does the Bible say? Galatians 4:21, “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” Paul then explained how the law produces bondage and slavery, and how we are called to be free. Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Christians are not under law, but Christians seem to love to put others under it!
Some people gasp at the thought of less human laws, “What would happen if we didn’t have so many laws?” Washington DC used to be the crime capital of America until in 2007, the city’s “gun ban law” was struck down by the Supreme Court. Violent crime dropped 47% and property crime dropped 48% in that year! It had nothing to do with the government spending more money or the police doing a better job fighting crime. It had to do with freedom to protect oneself. In Australia, where it’s assumed that gun-ownership is wrong and the police should protect us, violent crime is increasing. We trust the government so much it goes without question that more laws will help us. I would estimate a third of my church members have experienced property theft or burglary in Melbourne, and the police do absolutely nothing about it.
Fighting sin with laws is exactly what the Pharisees did. It is also what every religion in the world does. Islam is the very opposite of Christianity because it demands sharia law be enshrined in a government where Muslims are majority. Christians have been proponents of freedom, including for non-Christians in our countries. If we impose our values on others by law and force, are we not instituting Christian sharia, or atheist sharia, or secular sharia?
Every religion, except Christianity, teaches that the way to be saved is to follow more rules. Christ came to set us free from law. If being set free from law saves us and makes us better personally, why do we not apply this to save our society and make it a better place?
How many laws are really needed? Moses summarized all the duty of man in 10 simple bullet points. Jesus summarized them further into 2 laws: love God and love people as you love yourself. The entire United States Constitution can fit inside a man’s shirt pocket, but these days one law passed by Congress, such as the Obamacare Health Act, is printed on a book so thick it must be pulled along on a trolley. Libertarians have an elegant model for good secular government, have only 2 laws: do all you say you will and do not aggress on other people or their property.
The goal of any wise person in power should be to simplify the law, reduce the number of rules and increase the freedom, especially the freedom to preach the Good News, which was the main freedom the first-century disciples fought and died for!
Christians need to challenge their own thinking by the Bible. Excessive law-making has not solved human suffering, is condemned in the Bible as Pharisaical, and causes untold suffering, control, and hysteria. Why do some people love laws? Because when they don’t genuinely have a relationship with Christ, the only true Protector and Caregiver, they must find comfort and security in an alternative: laws. The great danger in our age is not so much lawlessness, but the increase in love of laws.
Another example of the love of law is the state abduction of children under the pretense of “children rights” and “state protection”. In countries like Norway and the UK, children are snatched without warning from their parents on no better basis than a state worker’s opinion that the child may be “at risk of emotional abuse,” a term that is so vague parents are at the mercy of the state to get their children back. The state worker then uses a psychological “expert” to justify their abduction. What could be wrong about protecting children from emotional abuse? There are certainly children born in unfortunate circumstances to alcoholic or drug-addicted parents, but what is the Christian solution? It’s not using human law and force.
Currently 90,000 children are under Britain’s “state care”. Can the state be the parental guardian of these children and raise them better than their own family can? 50% of British prostitutes and 80% of British poor who sell “Big Issue” magazines on the streets were raised in “state protection”.
Australia actually has an entire “Stolen Generation” which was abducted by the state from 1909 to 1969. State workers were authorized by law to forcibly remove Aboriginal and Torres Straits children from their black parents, under the guise of “children’s rights”. These ridiculous regulations devastated entire communities, to whom Prime Minister Kevin Rudd finally apologized in 2008. But a political apology is not what is needed; less laws by politicians is the solution. The state is able to commit such acts which would otherwise be considered a crime if done by an individual, merely because it passed another law. Untold misery results from this legal baby snatching by state workers. The fight for rights is a symptom of the love of law. Rights are not the way to total peace and freedom. (I explore human rights in greater detail in this blog: “When Rights Are Wrong”.)
I come to the most controversial example of our Pharisaical love for laws. We rarely like to think of ourselves as Pharisees, but there is a Pharisee in all of us. When we show approbation to others, when we reject others, when we show disapproval of others, we should really pause and ask ourselves why? What law do I love more than that person? Why do I want to impose my standard or rule on them? Why am I so unhappy when they won’t follow my rule?
The most controversial example I am thinking of right now is the Christian fight against gay marriage. I do not believe that gay marriage is Biblical or good for society, but on the other hand, I do not believe the state has any role in defining what marriage is. (People who believe the state should make laws to control everything are called ‘statists’.) It is inconsequential whether the state approves of Christianity or disapproves of homosexuality. When a state passes a homosexual marriage law, it is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. The Church’s responsibility is to preach the Gospel and teach the truth until people’s conscience is awakened and revival burns in their hearts. Passing laws to control people’s behavior will do absolutely nothing for them in eternity.
Why not put it in Biblical perspective? Lot’s call in Sodom was not to pass a law prohibiting homosexuality. His job was to share the Gospel and get people saved from their own doom. The apostles’ job was not to lobby the Roman empire to approve Christianity or to ban alcohol, swords or homosexuality. Think about it. The Lord Jesus never called Christians to do it, and there would have be an empty victory had they succeeded in passing such laws. The Western Roman Empire collapsed under its own law-making (which produced corruption) and Christianity thrived without political approval.
When Christianity was officially approved in Europe by Constantine’s “Edict of Toleration” (313), the Church did not win. Instead she descended into the darkest chapter of her history, one filled with crusades, inquisitions and persecutions. We seem to learn nothing from history. We have too much faith in the state’s power, when God calls us to have faith in Christ’s power. Our love of law continues to work against God’s Plan for us, and our societies are rarely better for our victories in court, Parliament or Congress. Revivals often ignite in the very places where human laws are against Christianity, and Christians do not or cannot fight legal battles and win. It’s an irony that will take eternity for Christians to look upon and weep over.
Christians are not called to make laws, but to set people free from unnecessary burdens. One of the most dangerous threats facing our time is not one of lawlessness, but one of overbearing, oppressive and intrusive laws by other humans. It would be a nice experiment if we could live in a society whose constitution had only three laws: 1) honor God, parents, and leaders; 2) do all you say you will; and 3) do not aggress on other people or their property. In other words, be honest, stay out of other people’s business, and honor God by respecting His order! This constitution is, of course, already written. It’s the Bible, which prescribes both good codes (statutory law) and perfect examples of application (common law). Perhaps in the Millennium, we will experience such a simple and righteous rule through Jesus Christ.
Roman senator and historian Publius Tacitus put it this way, “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” The Bible puts it this way, in Romans 7:20, “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.” Laws do not solve sin, but increase it! One goal of Christianity is to bring people to a place of freedom from false human standards. We are called to be free from laws (and govern ourselves by our submissive relationship with God), not make more laws for others. Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Freedom is possible where laws are simple, clear and few. Our freedom depends on it!
Your comments on Christian confusion over law and freedom are welcome. I””d love to hear your examples.
What do you think are the essential and pointless laws we live by?
For those of you interested in our best-selling DVD “When Rights Are Wrong” or other teachings on “grace,” visit Discover Resources. My books are available there and also at: From Buddha to Jesus and Amazon.