Chapter 14 (Socialism and Liberation Theology) pages 236-248
North begins the chapter by quoting Lev 19:15 (as he will do in chapter 15 following) and will develop teaching to try and show that Liberation Theology and Socialism (and, therefore, humanism) is opposed to God’s law and His commands within society in general.
He’s already spoken of the term ‘christian socialism’ as being an oxymoron (page 213) - that is, two words that, by their very existence together seem to deny each other (the same as, for instance, the program ‘Microsoft Works’ - only kidding!) so his hatred of socialist concepts doesn’t need to be proven.
As I pointed out in chapter 12 where the statement occurred, socialism has changed meaning drastically in the passed 5-10 years - especially in England - and it’s not always possible to see from North’s writings just which type of socialism he’s attacking.
Certainly, the ‘socialism’ that had always been a characteristic mark of the UK’s Labour Party has undergone a radical transformation and it appears to no longer mean ‘the favouring of the poor at the expense of the rich within the same society’ - at least, that’s not the way the present Labour government (elected May 1998) has set about running the country (though, as I reread these notes in 2002, I note that the unchildrened families are being burdened with the expense of childrened families even though the latter come about generally through freewill and, indeed, increasingly through acts which are against Biblical law. In other words, immoral acts are being financially assisted and, worse, no moral expectation is being placed upon the offspring being supported by the State).
Therefore, as North’s chapter is read, it’s best to attempt to read the words after trying to understand just what concept lies behind North’s label. There’s enough context for this to be done, it seems, though his previous attempts to slander all forms of fundamentalists (through the presumption that fundamentalists were all teetotal) failed by not providing for the reader an adequate definition of the term within the chapter where his discussion took place.
North notes (page 236) that
‘...biblical civil laws are to be applied equally to all people residing within the geographical boundaries of a biblically covenanted society. The same civil laws are to be applied to everyone residing in the land, regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin’
using the quoted header (Lev 19:15) as being justification for his assertion. However, his listing of the four separate classifications of people/belief throws up some problems. Not only do we not know whether North intends these to be taken just within the Old Testament covenant structure (his previous quoting of Ex 12:49 would indicate that, perhaps, this only is in mind along with his comment that the verse
‘...insists that civil judgment in the land of the covenant must apply to all men equally, whether strangers or Israelites’)
or applied to any ‘covenanted society’ (whatever that might be - I have previously stated that the Church is a nation scattered within the nations of the world and, as such, is strikingly different from the set up under the Old Covenant) or social structure in the New Testament era. North (page 237) insists that his fourfold summation of equality (though I don’t presume that North would limit this equality to just these four points) are universal in application when he notes
‘These binding civil laws have been revealed by God directly to mankind in the Bible, and only in the Bible’
but he does stop short of asserting that the fourfold list is the equivalent of his ‘binding civil laws’ mentioned here and it may be best to take this phrase to mean the two passages previously quoted (Lev 19:15 and Ex 12:49). I’m not absolutely sure of North’s intention at this point.
I’ll deal with the four points from the viewpoint of the Old Covenant nation of Israel and include a short note about the Church’s position under the New Covenant - any allusions to a New Testament ‘covenanted society’ will need to be inferred from the Old Covenant part but ‘through the cross’ into the New Testament.
Race - Legislation is to be the same for the ‘stranger’ (that is, the non-Israelite resident within the land of Israel) as it was for the truly descended Israelite. Ex 12:49 quoted by North above is actually a reference to the regulations regarding the participation in the Passover and v.48 which precedes it indicates that circumcision is the specific action being required of the ‘stranger’. In this way, he’s entered the covenanted society (this legislation was given before the Mosaic Law but after the rite of circumcision that was to mark out all Abraham’s descendants) and can reside within the land as an equal. It’s not obvious whether circumcision had to be applied before the equality of law was commanded in the following rules.
Lev 24:22 seems to be the best Scripture for understanding the Law as being universal in application upon all who were resident within the land of Israel. It reads
‘You shall have one law for the sojourner and for the native; for I am YHWH your God’
it being the summation of the passage dealing with the general principle of ‘an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ under the Mosaic law.
In the New Testament, Gal 3:28 states that, in Christ, there’s neither ‘Jew nor Greek’, while Col 3:11 speaks not only of these two demarcations but also of ‘barbarian’ and ‘Scythian’. Though the Old Covenant spoke of equality within a geographic location between races when it came to the relevance and application of the Law, the New Covenant speaks of the equality of people ‘in Christ’ - not a geographic location anymore but a Person.
Colour - The Old Testament Law does not, as far as I can tell, speak directly concerning either ‘black’, ‘white’ or whatever other colour that might cause distinctions within the human race. But there’s certainly no adverse statement made that the colour of the skin should be grounds for separation and distinction within the Israelite nation.
The New Testament, on the other hand, by its mention of ‘Jew and Gentile’ sums up all colours throughout the world as being at once irrelevant.
National Origin - Lev 24:22 seems again to be the best Scripture for showing the unimportance of national origin, along with the Scriptures previously cited for the New Covenant.
The Law was just as applicable to the natives of foreign lands when they resided within Canaan as it was to those who were born as residents within the land. Therefore, the distinction is never on the grounds of country of origin but on country of residence. There was to be equality of justice for all under the Old Covenant legislation.
The same is true under the New Covenant - no one person must be given partiality (James 2:1-9) whether it be in standing within the Church or in the treatment that they’re given. But the important criteria is that they be ‘within the Church’ just as, under the Old Covenant, the participants of impartial justice resided ‘within the nation’.
Creed - provides us with a problem.
North speaks of impartiality within ‘a biblically covenanted society’ (page 236) which he has further clarified by stating that it was within ‘the geographical boundaries’ of the land of Canaan that it applied. I’ve stated above that, under the New Covenant, this phrase ‘geographic boundary’ has become a ‘spiritual boundary’ - that is, Christ - all who reside ‘in Christ’ must be treated and judged with equality.
But what of the people who reside outside Christ? That western society is built upon the tenets of Scripture and ancient Israelite society is well pointed out by North (page 237) but he’s failed to note the point that western society is not predominantly part of the covenant ‘in Christ’. That is to say, although mankind operates on the basis that all men should be judged with identical statutes and laws, the position of the vast majority of men and women (that is, outside Christ) makes it that they can’t be judged equally.
The christian believer, for instance, now that he’s submitted his life to Christ, has passed from death to life and stands in a special relationship with God on the basis of the work of Christ through the cross – he’ll no longer taste spiritual death and can’t be judged with regard to past committed sin because that issue has been resolved once and for all time.
It seems right that there will still be some form of judgment of the believer at the end according to Scripture (I Cor 3:10-15) but it’s not on the basis of sins committed (which have been dealt with) but on the basis of what progression was made in the christian life.
The unbeliever, on the other hand, stands condemned before God. He’s judged by God on the basis of those things that have been committed (Rev 20:11-12). Because he’s not ‘in Christ’ then he’s not judged along with or in the same manner as those who are ‘in Christ’ - God’s judgment is partial in the sense of ‘location’ but impartial in the sense of social standing, race, colour, national origin, sexual orientation and the like.
Within society there cannot be equality of judgment because society resides in spiritually different areas.
But we need also to address the issue of credal statement within the Church. Should all those who are ‘within Christ’ be judged with the same laws regardless of credal statement? This is very tricky and almost impossible to find an easy and simplistic answer to.
If a man or woman is ‘in Christ’ then it implies that they must have the same credal formula as another, because their relationship with God should express itself in Truth rather than error. If a person, however, is within a church building but not ‘in Christ’ then their credal formula cannot be the same - true, they may mouth the same words week in, week out, but the reality of the relationship with God can’t be said to overflow into the credal statement that’s identical for all believers.
These two types of people, therefore, can’t be judged equally with the same laws because they don’t reside within the same boundaries, spiritually speaking. What this actually teaches us for application within the Church is that our credal statements, which have often been a matter of division amongst the universal body of believers, are erroneous - because they don’t unite. Though they’re designed to protect the truth, they actually divide it - instead of uniting believers who have a relevant experience of God and a right relationship with Him, they cause divisions to be erected that destroy unity.
So, North is incorrect when he says that the same civil laws are to be applied to everyone regardless of creed. Firstly because, within the Church (the spiritual body of believers - not a building, or people resident within a building), the same civil laws cannot apply as they do without the Church (I Tim 1:8-11) and, secondly, because creed is not something to be overlooked but something that separates the believer into the spiritual body and marks him out as distinct from society.
I know that this is controversial - but, if this reasoning is correct, equality of law and judgment is only seen to take place (biblically speaking) within the geographically resident people within the Old Covenant regulations and within the New Covenant Church (those who are truly ‘in Christ’). There can’t be equality of judgment and justice outside these two bodies of believers - the geographic nation (Israel) or the nation within the nations (the Church).
When North writes (page 236) that
‘...the State is to imitate God by doing what God does: judge all people without respect to their persons...’
then it can only be correct if the State is committed to Christ in the same manner as the totality of the society over which it presides.
North criticises ‘natural law’ in his notes when he says (page 237)
‘Natural law theory invariably falls into ethical dualism: one law-order for pluralistic society, another for Christians’
but, as we’ve seen, God does judge those within and without the Church on different grounds. Though both groups of people are, for instance, expected to observe categorical law in whatever civilisation or culture they live in, those within the Church have already dealt with transgressions under the Law through Christ.
Civil law is equally binding upon christian and non-christian alike, but the incidence of transgression for the former should be negligible compared to the latter.
North is absolutely right when he outlines the need for impartiality in judgment. But I get worried when he writes things like (page 238 - my italics)
‘There must be the application of sanctions, but the victim always has the right to reduce the sanctions’
This needs clarification. There are definitely transgressions where the sentence may be reduced by the intervention of the offended party (Ex 21:28-31 – I’ve assumed that the ransom is laid upon the transgressor by a blood relative or other though this isn’t certain) but could murder, for instance, demand the death penalty only for the kinsman-redeemer to reject the death penalty that’s due upon the convicted party?
Besides, in the case of the false prophet (Deut 13:1-11), the witnesses are urged (v.8-10)
‘…you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him but you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’
(This, incidentally, would be evidence that all men aren’t judged equally and impartially with regard to creed)
There’s no alternative punishment suggested here and, by the nature of God’s insistence that mercy be not extended, there’s no possibility that it could be found within this law. Therefore, law should be seen to be without mercy - otherwise the same crime may be met with a different punishment depending on the reaction of the victim (see also Num 35:21).
The Law was the final word on punishment and was largely independent from what the victim may or may not have wanted done to their assailant. Did the victim want the death of the assailant when only a pot was stolen from him? Or did he want a small repayment for a large theft? He didn’t have the right to ask for a reduction or an increase in the punishment to be meted out to the transgressor in the majority of cases but (Lev 24:20), speaking of the offence of causing a disfigurement in a fellow Israelite, the Law notes that the punishment shall be
‘…fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured’
This is the position under the Law. When Jesus spoke concerning this principle (Mtw 5:38-42) which appears to have turned into an act of vengeance by His day rather than an act of justice, He expounded it carefully and revolutionised the need for the attitude of the victim to be transformed.
But, under the Law, the punishment stated was the punishment that was met. It didn’t rely upon the intercession of the victim to reduce the sentence (though, if the victim wanted, he could refuse to bring the matter to the attention of the judging elders/judges - that would be his choice though not suggested from the legislation of the Law).
North’s discussion which concludes with the statement (page 238)
‘...judicial equality before the law has to mean economic inequality after the sanctions have been imposed’
is correct - the victim became economically better off when restitution was necessary (he received the cost of the item stolen plus twenty percent from the assailant) but their judicial standing was equal as the requirements of the Law had been satisfied.
Though this is the basis of western civilisation, the ‘masses’ still haven’t come to terms with the reality of the commandment.
A statement a little further on by North needs clarification. He writes (page 239)
‘...Leviticus 19:15 refers to the legitimate differentiation of wealth and power. This verse formally legitimizes the simultaneous existence of degrees of power and degrees of wealth within the holy commonwealth’
There’s a problem here. God said to the Israelites in Deut 15:4-5 that
‘...there will be no poor among you (for YHWH will bless you in the land which YHWH your God gives you for an inheritance to possess), if only you will obey the voice of YHWH your God, being careful to do all this commandment which I command you this day’
and yet also He states that (Deut 15:11)
‘...the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land’
Just as the Law doesn’t command the Israelites to put their wives away with a ‘bill of divorce’ (Mtw 19:3-9), so too the Law doesn’t command the Israelites to aim for a society in which there’s rich and poor. When North speaks of Lev 19:15 legitimising the existence of both weakness and strength, poverty and riches, it must be understood that God was making a necessary provision for all sections of Israelite society.
If they were to obey the covenant, there would be no poor among them (Deut 15:4-5) but that they would soon rebel against the Law and choose to go their own way was also known to the Lord so that the poor would never be a non-existent class within society (Deut 15:11 - the law here does not mention their future disobedience, however).
Provision for all society, therefore, was what lay at the base of the legislation, not any justification for the different classes.
North enters in to a good discussion of ‘Liberation Theology’ and brings out some interesting points. When North proposes that (page 240)
‘The Bible says specifically that God is on the side of the righteous’
he’s stating what should be fully accepted. But, as a knee-jerk reaction to Liberation Theology (LT), he derides the notion (page 240) that
‘God is on the side of the poor’
Certainly, North is correct in opposing the sense in which LT would use that phrase, but, under the Law, God does show Himself as favouring the poor in the sense that they need protection from the exploitation of the rich and powerful. So, though North is correct in his arguments, the phrase should be applied with clarification to the numerous passages within the Law which speak specifically concerning provision for the poor.
Where LT went wrong was to see the right of the poor throwing off the oppression of the rich (even with violence) rather than seeing a need for the rich to take on board their obligation to help the poor through the enforcing of righteous legislation through an uncorrupt State.
One other problem was that LT assumed that the Law of God could be applied within a set up in which the vast majority were unsaved men and women. Equality before God cannot exist outside of the Old Covenant geographical boundaries of Israel and the New Testament boundaries of Christ - the Gospel is the only long-term effective way to change society by bringing people ‘into Christ’. From here, the reality of equality and the care of the poor will flow as a natural result.
Unfortunately, North’s statement (page 244)
‘God is righteous; so, He brings negative sanctions against those who are not righteous. God is righteous; so, some people are deservedly poor’
almost equates with the thesis that the poor are unrighteous while the rich are righteous. I have little to comment on this quote except to say that wealth is not a proof of righteousness before God (Luke 12:13-21, Mtw 5:44-45).
North’s statement (page 246) that
‘The only justification for the State to intervene to take wealth from one individual and give it to another individual is that the first individual has been convicted in a civil court due process of law for having committed a crime against the second individual’
is incomplete. There’s provision under the Jubilee laws for the reversion of tribal allotments to their rightful owner in the fiftieth year (Leviticus chapter 25). This legislation would have seriously hindered the accumulation of wealth within Israelite society had it been enforced.
This sort of legislation pulled away at the desire of men and women to be materially wealthy and would have turned their attention toward the necessity of providing for the poorer members of society (see also Deut 15:7-8).
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