He exposes himself as something of a Theonomist. Let's not get hung up on the technicalities here as many are quick to do. No, he's not advocating a Two-fold division of the Law, equating the Civil and Moral codes in the specific framework of Westminster Confessionalism that advocates the Mosaic code for the modern state.
But the theological impetus that generated that specific nuance of Theonomy is much larger. The basic premise that Scripture, the Covenanted canons of Old and New Testament are to be applied to nations that are part of the temporal order is a broader conceptualisation of the same premise and it is one MacArthur subscribes to. He is for all intents and purposes a Theonomist.
We might at this point discuss whether or not this is compatible with MacArthur's modified Dispensational Theology or if the Judaising tendency inherent in Dispensationalism isn't at this point working itself out into his larger theology. I would argue that MacArthur is in fact representing the worst of both worlds... inheriting and implementing the Judaising tendencies in both Scholastic Reformed theology and the system of Darby which demands the Old Covenant is still in effect and still finds fulfillment in the Jewish people. This stands in direct contradiction to the New Testament's insistence that all the promises find their realisation in Christ and that the Old Testament is fulfilled and abrogated.
MacArthur advocates the legislation of Christianity and yet fails to grasp that in speaking this way he necessarily must redefine what Christianity is. He's speaking in categories alien to the New Testament and all but advocates the old Puritan position of 'Better hypocrites than profane'.
It's better to force people (through legislation and court orders enforced by men with guns) to become pseudo-Christians than for them to be simply lost. I can't help but think of the words of Christ in Matthew 23.
You travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Cotton Mather and John MacArthur advocate a social Christianity that is foreign to the New Testament and produces little more than hypocrisy. Apparently Evangelicals have learned nothing. The phony Christian society that was Puritan New England faced a backlash leading to destruction and is today one of the most anti-Christian areas in the Western world. Today this is happening once more on a larger and more generalised scale (such as in the 'Bible Belt') but the blind leaders of American Evangelicalism can't see it and are leading their flocks off a cliff.
MacArthur's arguments are philosophically coherent but that's not the criteria we employ. The question is, are his views Biblical? They certainly are not.
You can always build rational systems especially if you determine the premise not to mention the rules for coherence. The questions MacArthur and those like him are asking are questions the New Testament doesn't deal with, issues than are not even on the radar so to speak. In fact the New Testament offers completely different categories when it speaks of the Church's relationship to the world. MacArthur would make the 'outside' holy. He would not seek a quiet life but conquest. He would not embrace the cross and suffering but thinks godliness is gain and mammon a means to build God's Kingdom.
His understanding of Israel and the nations is completely mistaken. The pagan nations surrounding Israel were not subject to God's Law and couldn't be. They were not held to such an account by the Prophets. As MacArthur would have it, each pagan nation should have constituted a theocratic state patterned after Israel. This fundamentally represents a gross misunderstanding of what Israel was and its place and role in the world. It is certainly a Non- if not Anti-Christocentric view of the Old Testament.
A light to the nations does not mean the nations were to become replicas of Israel. Individuals were to convert and essentially become Jews but the world could not become Israel. Even in the New Covenant as Israel as the Church/Kingdom now encompasses the world, the world, the nations do not become Israel. They do not become manifestations of the Kingdom... it is simply that the Kingdom is present in them through the presence of the Holy Spirit via regenerate covenanted people.
Building on a false foundation MacArthur constructs a coherent system which necessitates the Theonomic position he advocates... but unfortunately it doesn't represent Scripture and is in fact contrary to it.
Romans 13 provides a prime example. There is great focus on the fact that the magistrate is God's minister but the lessons of Romans 12 are missed, let alone the rest of the teaching of the epistles and Gospels. The sword and coin are the realm of Caesar, not Christ's followers.
When we read Romans 13 in the flow of the epistle it completely harmonises with what we read elsewhere... the Church is not part of the world and has no stake or investment in the violence wielded by the temporary but necessary and providential state. Just because it serves a lesser good through the rule of Providence does not mean it is holy or somehow endorsed/blessed by God. The state does not serve God. It serves itself.
Assyria and Cyrus the Achaemenid are also described as God's ministers and in Romans 13 the reference would be to Nero. The 'minister' clause does not sanctify the state anymore than it did Assyria in Isaiah 10 or Cyrus in Isaiah 44-45. That is not Paul's intention. He is contrasting the state with the Christian in Romans 12.
Paul is not arguing for an idealised hypothetical government but giving Christians understanding and wisdom in how to live even under one such as Nero. Even Nero serves a providential purpose. And even though the Bestial Nero-figures of the world will at times persecute the Church, they come and go and yet in the grand scheme it's better to have them, to have government... then to not.
The Christian embrace of Libertarianism is a rank rejection of Christian Anthropology. It is inconceivable that so many so-called Calvinists holding to Total Depravity have embraced this ideology. It is without Biblical or historical precedent.
MacArthur's premise regarding Romans 13 and the Christian state is completely false and based on false philosophical assumptions. His reading of the passage is an exercise in question begging.
I found myself very frustrated in his appeal to JC Ryle's very muddled and ironically less-than-holy understanding of God's Kingdom and ethics. Ryle's confusion and error, perpetuated by Iain Murray is actually quite instructive and serves as a warning.
Ryle writing at the end of the Victorian age is concerned with the state of England's spiritual decline and fears for its future. What kind of leaders will arise he asks if England fails to promote and enforce Christianity? England and its empire will be lost and fall prey to wicked men.
This is nothing less than astonishing. What blind guides Ryle, Murray and MacArthur are! The British Empire was a machine of theft and murder. Lands and cultures were destroyed and polarised. Millions died. The British Empire was a criminal enterprise, a Tower of Babel devoted to Satan's mission. Britain had already succumbed to heresy and evil even while Ryle sang its praises. The Church (broadly speaking) was already compromised... and men like Ryle led the charge. The Church of England was a perfect image of the Apostate and idolatrous whore, the adulterous bride, the lamb with horns and the voice of a dragon teaching its people to worship one of many manifestations of the Beast.
But what of the missionaries England supported? Yes, what of them? Today many lands are hostile to Christianity not because of the offense of the gospel but the offense of racist imperialism (theft and murder). All imperialism is rooted in racist argument and notions of superiority. It is therefore absolutely heretical. Do the ends justify the means? Just because some were actually converted, is the method vindicated? Does that mean the Altar Call is sanctioned? The seeker movement?
These men, for all the books they have written, sermons preached, for all the good they may have done are (wittingly or not) promoting the twisting of Scripture, mythology, and historical lies.
They advance, endorse and defend a kingdom that is of this world, one built on money, power and violence and one that judges ethics and defines success by these worldly parameters. Good becomes evil and evil becomes good.
MacArthur fears the police state and dictatorship. What a fool! He cannot see that it is he who would bring these things about. Christendom under Rome, Geneva and Canterbury all brought forms of totalitarian government that persecuted dissenters. Does he not realize that just 4 years before Ryle's birth in 1816 the UK's parliament decreed that nonconformists could only preach if they were licensed by the state? MacArthur's so-called ministry and church would not exist during that time unless he registered with the state. Of course he's quite willing to do so today in order to receive the massive tax exemptions. He speaks from a position of compromise and dare I say corruption.
Only in 1828 could Non-conformists (Non-Anglicans) run for office and prior to 1836 MacArthur's own wedding would have been deemed invalid and his children bastards. The only way to escape this was to be married outside England proper which is why many crossed over into Scotland for marriage.
Non-conformists couldn't even attend Oxford or Cambridge until the 1850s. The glorious British Empire that MacArthur and Murray would promote would have been closed off to them throughout much of its history. Non-conformists like Baptists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians were second-class citizens. I would argue as Christians we always live as strangers and pilgrims in whatever land we inhabit but that necessarily implies we wield no power.
MacArthur glorifies past power but then fails to even understand its context.
The British Empire during her period of 'glory' was rooted in heretical and imperial theology and oddly enough (to someone like MacArthur) the many Bible-believing Christians who lived within its domain despised the Establishment praised by Murray and Ryle and were happy to work toward its dismantling. Incidentally they did it through Left-wing politics which would present another problem for MacArthur. On the English spectrum he would not be considered a Bible-believing Christian but an advocate of Throne and Altar, one whose ideology smacked of popery.
Woe to us if we cannot learn from Scripture or history! MacArthur's state would create an Inquisition and thought-crime. Has he learned nothing from the past? No, he has consumed the myths of America and the West and what they supposedly stand for.
Sadly it was mostly godless men who developed man-centred ideas about rights and balance of power and the ideals of democracy. They are fine but morally flawed ideas. They are meant to protect all people but have largely failed and the system as a whole has been in a state of collapse. And sadly many of these ideas were syncretised with Biblical doctrine and one error was corrected through the creation of another, a solution that solved some problems but created many more.
Today a new system, a new religion is rising that will indeed enforce a totalitarian-esque ideal. But the answer is not to counter it with the same, with a cheap grace gospel (an ironic but fitting charge for MacArthur) that creates a Christian veneer, or with the Holy Spirit via legislation as if such a sacrilege were possible.
MacArthur would sound the warning. We must have a godly society or we face death!
He needs to be reminded... put no confidence in princes. This world and all its works will burn. MacArthur represents the same depraved theology of the post-Constantinian era that put its faith in the power and might of Rome and despaired when the idol was toppled.
This ersatz-Calvinist playing Henny Penny shows a real lack of faith in God's Providence and apparently has failed to understand history through the eyes of Scripture. I have found his recent sermons on these topics to be in grave error and repugnant, a wholesale abandonment of Scripture. Has the Holy Spirit failed because Sacralist Christians fail to hold political power?
The West may be falling but that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. In truth it is more a case of the Beast turning on the Whore.
This is what MacArthur laments, while heaven and the Remnant will rejoice (Rev 17.16, 18.20).
The Anglo-American empires are responsible for tens of millions dead, many Christian deaths, and countless deceived and destroyed souls. The empires have sowed social tensions and divisions that have led to dozens of wars and millions more dead.
I understand his concern for society. It's unpleasant to live in a wicked time. As far as loss of privilege the faithful weren't experiencing it anyway... that is, if they were being faithful. It is the morally compromised and financially corrupt like MacArthur and all the institutions of Christendom, who stand to lose the most.
The time is one for sackcloth and ashes and lamentation. It's a time to expose lies and speak the truth despite the pain and the shame. It's a time to offer hope, but not in this world or in its institutions. It's a time for Jeremiah and Isaiah. MacArthur believes it's a time for Joshua and sadly he believes America and lands like it are the Promised Land. After nearly 2000 years, the theology of the Judaizers that Paul so tenaciously fought still lives with us.
That's the danger. This thinking doesn't represent Scripture and misidentifies and misunderstands our context. This teaching is dangerous for it looks for peace in this world, in arms, in political strength. It's a destructive doctrine that brings ruin to the Church. It has generated a backlash, destruction and has made the Church into a corrupt mockery an occasion for God's enemies to blaspheme.