An Essay on Covenantal Natural Theology — (Part I)

An Essay on Covenantal Natural Theology — (Part I)

The historico-theological situation of natural theology within the Protestant Reformed corpus rightly requires some relationship between the natural knowledge of God, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. This relationship differs depending upon the nature of either covenant, and what each one either assumes or promises to do. Sometimes, within the historical body of literature on the subject at hand, this relationship is brought out explicitly, while at others it is more or less implicit, yet nevertheless present. The following essay will attempt to demonstrate a correspondence between natural theology on the one hand, and the prelapsarian (before fall) covenant of works and postlapsarian (after fall) covenant of grace on the other. In addition to an historical demonstration of this relationship, a la historical theology, this essay will provide substantial philosophical and exegetical argumentation in service of the thesis above—that the historical Protestant Reformed corpus rightly makes the connection between natural theological knowledge and God’s covenants.

Definitions

The productivity of debate centered around the aforementioned issues depends on definitions. There are three main terms in question throughout this essay: natural theology, covenant of works, and covenant of grace. I will flesh out a working definition to be assumed throughout the remainder of this essay for each of these terms, and any other term requiring definition will be defined upon its employment.

By natural theology I do not mean natural revelation. In this essay, natural theology refers to the innate and acquired knowledge of God and His will derived from natural revelation. Natural theology (theologia naturalis), as Richard Muller puts it, is “the knowledge of God that is available to reason through the revelation of God in the natural order.”[1] Moreover, this natural theology is both innate and acquired which means the present essay will count references to knowledge of God through conscience, on the heart, etc., as references to innate natural theology in connection with the cognitio Dei insita, or the innate knowledge of God.

By the covenant of works I do not mean either the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenants which may be considered covenants whos’ formal bases are obedience. I only mean the covenant imposed by God upon the first man, Adam. God made Adam such that he might comply with all its stipulations, namely to “tend and keep” the garden as a prototypal priest (Gen. 2:15),[2] to partake of garden fruit, chiefly that which was borne from the tree of life (Gen. 2:16), and to abstain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Associated with this covenant were blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The former consisted of continued life and eventual, albeit hypothetical, eschatological consummation; the latter of death (Gen. 2:17; 3:3).

I do not anticipate much disagreement with this definition. The goal of this essay does not require its author to navigate the more controversial aspects of the covenant of works, i.e. the nature of Adam’s hypothetical eschatology or the republication debate with respect to the Mosaic covenant. It also does not demand a defence of the nature of the Abrahamic covenant as a covenant of works—a position I hold, yet one that remains irrelevant to the ensuing discourse. The focus in this essay, with reference to the covenant of works, is the state of man’s knowledge of theology prior to the fall in relationship to the assumptions made in the imposition of such a covenant upon the prelapsarian human race.

By covenant of grace I mean the gracious covenant God revealed in Genesis 3:15 with the promised “Seed.” This covenant was established in the blood of Christ upon the completion of His cruciform work (Matt. 26:28; Jn. 19:30). The focus in this article will be upon the covenant blessings of regeneration and renewal, the effect of which is a repentant frame of mind and an improvement in man’s ability to receive and discern the things of God revealed not only in nature but also in Scripture.

Mapping Out Our Course

The underlying purpose of this essay is to examine various motives which might have led the low to high Reformed orthodox toward a retainment of natural theology in their systematic and dogmatic work. Because of the nature of the current project, the methodological order will not follow traditional systematic or dogmatic arrangement. The reasons for this will hopefully become obvious if they have not already. However, there are a few housekeeping items to consider before we proceed—

First, the present essay will presuppose the truth of the Christian faith. The project at hand is an historical-theological survey of what past theologians of the Reformed orthodox tradition believed about the interplay between natural theology and covenant theology. Moreover, it also contains a philosophical and theological justification for their belief in said relationship. Because of this, we will not set out to prove the validity of natural theology only to proceed in relating the covenants to it. Rather, the extent to which natural theology becomes a necessary article within the Reformed system of theology will be evaluated in terms of how related it is to God’s covenants, especially the covenant of works God made with Adam prior to the fall (cf. Gen. 2). Thus, rather than offering natural reasons for natural theology (there are several we could give), this particular essay will offer explicitly theological reasons for the retainment of natural theology within the body of Reformed confessional orthodoxy. The end-product of this essay will, hopefully, be a persuasive case for retaining natural theology on reason of Reformed theological convictions characteristic of its orthodoxy. Rather than mere historical or rational justifications for natural theology, this essay will venture to ground the conviction of natural theology not only in historical, but also in biblical-theological data.

Second, conventional wisdom tells us to argue natural theology from Romans 1:19, 21; 2:12-16; and other places such as Psalm 19. However, to be evinced in this essay is a deeper, more comprehensive reason for natural theology revealed in Scripture. Romans 1, 2, and Psalm 19 are not to be read in a vacuum, but must be understood within the broader covenantal, or biblical-theological backdrop in front of which they appear. There are more fundamental explanations behind those texts that will confirm the historical exegesis from a biblical-theological standpoint.

Third, an assumption made in this essay is that the covenant of works and the covenant of grace have actual ontic status (the have being, exist, etc) outside the pages of Scripture, yet are not altogether independent of Scripture. In other words, just as the incarnate Christ has a historically real presence on earth distinct from the pages of Scripture, but nevertheless inspirationally and infallibly revealed therein, so too do God’s covenants have real historical existence which have affected—if not determined—history up to the present. The covenants are infallibly revealed in the pages of Scripture, yet they are not limited in their ontology to the pages of Scripture. They are real historical things made known respectively through general and special revelation; the covenant of works through general and special revelation, the covenant of grace through special revelation alone. The mode by which either covenant is revealed will play a large role in the remainder of this essay.

Resources:

[1] Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 362.

[2] Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 87ff.

All About the Cognitio Dei Insita

All About the Cognitio Dei Insita

The orthodox have usually maintained a threefold theology, what Francis Turretin called a “threefold school of God,” that of: nature, grace, and glory (Institutes, vol. 1, p. 5). The theology of nature, or natural theology (theologia naturalis), has as its object the created world through which God has revealed Himself (Rom. 1:18-20). And as such it is performed inevitably by the unregenerate in some measure. The theology of grace, or pilgrim theology (theologia viatorum), belongs to the church and has as its primal object the Scriptures, yet obviously does not exclude natural theology. And the theology of glory (theologia beatorum) is the beatific vision received by the saints at their glorification.

Continuity Between the Writings of Francis Turretin & Herman Bavinck

Within the first category of natural theology, Turretin understood there to be a bifurcation between two distinct sub-categories of natural knowledge: innate knowledge and acquired knowledge (Ibid., p. 7). There has been a lot of chatter over the last week, and certain is it to increase in the coming month, about the nature of this innate or “inborn” knowledge of God. The Reformed of the post-Enlightenment era, especially those in the 20th century, emphasized this innate knowledge leaning heavily upon John Calvin’s sensus divinitatus, (the divine sense). Herman Bavinck says:

Calvin made a distinction between general and special grace and explained all the good still left also in sinful humans in terms of the former. He specifically believed that an ‘awareness of divinity’ (sensus divinitatus) was present within the human mind “by natural instinct (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pp. 61-62).”

Bavinck goes on to understand this sense or awareness as a “conviction” that there is a God “naturally inborn.” Quoting Calvin further, he says, “people cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him.” He goes on to clarify, “‘Implanted knowledge of God’ does not mean that all people are immediately endowed by God himself with sufficient knowledge so as to be able to dispense with revelation… we possess both the capacity (aptitude, faculty) and the inclination (habitus, disposition) to arrive at some firm, certain, and unfailing knowledge of God.” Speaking to how humans obtain and develop this knowledge, Bavinck writes, “Human beings gain this knowledge in the normal course of development and in the environment in which God gave them the gift of life.”

There is no evidence Bavinck understood the innate awareness of God to be a kind of pre-downloaded ectypal revelation of God, which some other theologians and philosophers in the 20th century would refer to as immediate knowledge. And in this way, there is continuity between Bavinck and Turretin on this point. Turretin, after all, held that, “it is certain that no actual knowledge is born with us and that, in this respect, man is like a smooth tablet (tabulae rasae) (Institutes, vol. 1, p. 6).” Turretin, like Bavinck, did not think of this knowledge in terms of rationcination or discursive per se, but neither did he think of it as inborn, pre-downloaded content, calling it instead, “apprehensive and intuitive knowledge.” It is an indemonstrable form of knowledge which still must arise, and is thus not immediate. The creature finds themselves believing in various moral principles and a higher power, not originally but intuitively.

The Discontinuity Between Turretin, Bavinck, & Other 20th Century Theologians

Another branch of speculation formed in the 20th century off the same concept used by Turretin and Bavinck, the sensus divinitatus. Though the concept of epistemic immediacy comes into Bavinck’s corpus, as we’ve seen above, he tempers such language with the orthodox understanding of the cognitio Dei insita (innate knowledge of God). This would not be the case with those such as Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, both of whom would make knowledge of God immediate in the apparently Socinian sense. Where this divide becomes quite apparent is in the notion of derived vs. underived knowledge. Both Van Til and Bahnsen thought immediate knowledge, in terms of which they understood innate cognition of the divine, was underived in terms of one’s possession of it. They thought it was content original or natural to the creature. Bahnsen, for example, says, “Unbelievers have a true knowledge of the existence and character of God, which is justified by the evidence directly apprehended in God’s clear and inescapable natural revelation of Himself (Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 261).”

Notice, Bahnsen does not say the unbeliever has this knowledge through the evidence directly apprehended in God’s natural revelation, but only that the unbeliever’s knowledge is justified by such. In the same place, he calls this “immediate knowledge,” and opposes it to derivative knowledge, “This is immediate knowledge, rather than knowledge derived by inferences and discursive arguments.” Van Til says, “In the sensus divinitatus, then, we find a welling up within the consciousness of man an immediate awareness of the fact that God is the creator and sustainer of the world (Ibid., 186).” But Bahnsen had just described Van Til’s doctrine of natural revelation as consisting of “the created order… a medium of constant, inescapable, clear, preinterpreted information about God… (Ibid., 185).”

This is odd because Bahnsen wants to insert a medium into an equation concerning immediate knowledge. These two things are mutually exclusive. One cannot have immediate knowledge and have mediate knowledge at the same time and in the same relationship. Such would be a violation of the law of noncontradiction. Van Til appears to agree with Bavinck and even Turretin in the above quote until he equates the sensus with immediate knowledge. If Van Til believed that, according to the sensus divinitatus, rational creatures find welling up within their consciences an awareness of a God, as Bavinck likewise held, then he would certainly be incorporated into the canon of Protestant Reformed orthodoxy on this point. But he did not.

The Significance of Immediate Knowledge

There are massive implications for asserting an immediate knowledge of the divine, rather than a derivative knowledge through one medium or another. The greatest implication is perhaps a slip into pantheism. Pantheism holds that God and the world are identical in essence. To know the world is to at once know God because God and the world are the same thing. For one to have immediate knowledge, it would seem the world would itself need to be God, either the conscience of man is God, or the stars in the heavens are God, or both. Either God and the stars are the same thing, leading to immediate apprehension. Or God is known through the stars leading to mediate apprehension. But these propositions cannot both be true.

The precommitment to immediate knowledge is, perhaps, one reason why Van Til irrationally makes the ontological Trinity both the starting point and the conclusion of the theistic proofs, “To be constructed rightly, theistic proof ought to presuppose the ontological trinity and contend that, unless we make this presupposition, all human predication is meaningless (Ibid., 621).” A surprising statement to be sure. On this assumption, the trinity must be known through nature. And for Van Til, that would mean innately so. Why is this the case? Because if something is presupposed in an ultimate sense, then it is not concluded in any sense. It is held prior to and in back of any and all discursive or intuitive conclusions. This begs the question of the place of faith and the function of Scripture. And it gives the impression that Van Til thought the doctrine of the trinity is a mixed article (revealed in both nature and Scripture rather than Scripture only), right along side the goodness, power, and wisdom of God.

More importantly, however, it shows the subjectivism baked in to Van Til’s line of thought. Unless a mental presupposition is made, then all predication is meaningless. Thus, the ontology referenced by the predication would also be meaningless unless the proper epistemological disposition were to be adopted. How can this not end in utter relativism at best or magic at worst? When one thinks rightly (presupposes the right thing), predication becomes meaningful, or so thought Van Til. In his attempted escape from “neutrality” Van Til has banished any and all common objectivity. This is why we hold that Van Til has confused epistemology with ontology. At bottom, the validity of ontological statements are determined by epistemological posture.

Van Til reveals a capitulation to Hume’s skepticism when he writes, “The words ’cause,’ ‘purpose,’ and ‘being,’ used as universals in the phenomenal world, could not be so used with meaning unless we may presuppose the self-contained God (Ibid., 621-622).” The meaning, not only of the words, but necessarily the concepts they signify, are completely reliant upon our thought. This, of course, is not all Hume’s influence. For our purposes here, Hume only cast doubt upon causality, a doubt which Van Til erroneously appears to take seriously. But the influence upon Van Til is also Kantian (and critical) evinced by the assumption of a separation between objective meaning and phenomenology. What would reconcile the noumena to the phenomena, for Van Til, is a belief or presupposition.

Conclusion

The rejection of immediate “inborn” knowledge by the Reformed orthodox was more than a mere nuance of thought, indicative of their quasi-scholastic leanings. It was a conscious effort to rightly place human knowledge within the context of reality by maintaining, implicitly or explicitly, the distinction between epistemology and ontology. Van Til and Bahnsen’s rejection of derivative knowledge was more than just a minor mistake, confusing the implicit rationale and intuition with explicit argumentation (another Van Tillian confusion to be sure). It is a total confusion if not identification of the phenomenal with the noumenal, the epistemological with the ontological. And this, I believe, was unintentional on Van Til and Bahnsen’s part, but it is most certainly an example of what happens when mistaken assumptions are (almost) taken to their logical ends. Would Bahnsen ever say reality depends upon what we think of it? My guess is he would answer, “No, but our interpretation of reality depends upon what we think of it,” or something along those lines.

There is, therefore, a blessed inconsistency here. Van Til and Bahnsen are certainly not pantheists or relativists, nor do they claim Kantian idealism. However, the things they’ve said would most certainly land them in all three camps if they were being logically consistent. If meaning is determined by what we think of it, then there is no objective meaning at all. For this reason, I believe the Reformed Scholastics of the 17th century, and those who maintained continuity with them on this point, among whom were Bavinck, Warfield, and Hodge, did a much better job at holding epistemology in its proper place in relation to ontology than do Van Til and Bahnsen. And one of the ways they did this was properly defining and situating the cognitio Dei insita, or the innate sense of the divine. If immediate, implied is pantheism. If not, then men know God mediately through common or shared inborn principles. The former we reject, the latter we affirm.

 

Natural Theology & Natural Revelation

Natural Theology & Natural Revelation

With the recent and rapid uptick in discussion revolving mostly around natural theology, it is not uncommon for well-intentioned brothers and sisters to oppose natural revelation to natural theology, as if the former is to be preferred over and against the latter. For example, after describing the historical Reformed view of natural theology, the retort will likely be, “But that’s natural revelation, not natural theology.” The problem? Neither natural theology nor natural revelation were historically understood to be mutually exclusive alternatives to one or the other, e.g. a one-or-the-other situation. Instead, the terms refer to distinct, yet complimentary, ideas—ideas with far-reaching consequences.

The Biblical Distinction

Before moving to some historical source material, I want to point out that Scripture itself makes the distinction between our knowledge and God’s objective revelation. In Psalm 19:1-10, the psalmist offers a litany of revelational realities which exist regardless of whether or not we want to acknowledge it. This is nothing short of natural revelation. But in vv. 11-14, the theological imperative is found, or the necessity of knowing or acknowledging God as Lord of the universe. Moreover, in Romans 1:18-20, God’s revelation which comes through what is made (v. 20) is known, or is the object of knowledge according to v. 21, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made… although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

The term for their thoughts in v. 21 could be translated to their reasoning. Now, their thoughts, everyone would hopefully agree, are distinguished from “the things that are made,” through which they “understand” or derive “thought” about God in the first place. The creaturely thought about God is what is often termed natural theology in distinction to God’s revelation of Himself through creation, or natural revelation. The latter serves as the object of the former.

Natural Theology

According to the Protestant Reformed and the Particular Baptists, natural theology refers to natural revelation as it’s apprehended by the mind. Franciscus Junius implies this distinction when he writes, “Natural theology is that which proceeds from principles that are known in relation to itself by the natural light of the human understanding, in proportion to the method of human reason (A Treatise on True Theology, 145).” Natural theology proceeds epistemically, i.e. from known principles, that is, in the intellect. Natural theology is performed “by the natural light of the human understanding,” he says. This is, of course, distinguished from natural revelation when he calls natural theology “knowledge of divine matters.” The former is theology, i.e. science or knowledge; the latter is revelation.

Herman Witsius, the Dutch Reformed Puritan, says, “Besides innate knowledge of God, of which man has the principles in his own mind, there is another argument arising from the consideration of the various other creatures around him (Apostles’ Creed, vol. 1, 78).” For Witsius, there is a distinction, albeit not a separation, between the “consideration” and the object of the consideration, i.e. “the various other creatures around him.”

In the broadest sense of the term, “theology” refers to both being and knowing, as Francis Turretin aptly points out, “So the nomenclature embraces the twofold principle of theology: one of being, which is God; the other of knowing, which is his word.” Yet, he says, “When God is set forth as the object of theology, he is not to be regarded simply as God in himself… but as revealed and as he has been pleased to manifest himself to us in his word, so that divine revelation is the formal relation which comes to be considered in this object (Institutes, vol. 1, p. 16).” The revelation, then, is the object of theology. In terms of natural theology, the object is natural revelation, or that which God has revealed of Himself in man and through creatures surrounding man (aka. innate and acquired species of knowledge).

John Gill writes, “There is a knowledge of God by the light of nature.” The knowledge, we say, is the theology, and the object of that knowledge or theology is the light of nature through the work of creation (A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, Primitive Baptist Press, 1976, p. 513).

Natural Revelation

Dr. Richard Muller writes, “Most simply stated, God alone is the subject or material of theology, inasmuch as all theological discourse must be conducted sub ratione Dei, with reference to God as its governing principle.” Quoting Gomarus, he writes, “The material with respect to which, or the object of theology is God openly revealed according to his own goodness, under whom all things that belong to theology are considered, not indeed as parts, species or incidental properties, but as they are either God himself or ordained in some way by God (Post-Reformed Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 316-317).”

Junius writes, “Theology is wisdom concerning divine matters (p. 99).” Natural revelation serves as the object of our theology. This distinction is vitally important because we do not want to make the mistake of conflating objective revelation (i.e. what is) with our knowledge of it. Our knowledge may be insufficient or incomplete, but this could never be said about God’s objective revelation. The second we identify our theologizing with God’s infallible revelation, both through nature and Scripture, we end up in a world of subjectivism, where revelation becomes dependent upon our knowledge of it.

Jeff Johnson’s Scientific Collapse

Jeff Johnson’s Scientific Collapse

I have not read Dr. Jeff Johnson’s new book, The Failure of Natural Theology. I will be reaching out to Free Grace Press for a review copy. But I suppose I could begin my review with the title. When readers such as myself read a title like this one, admittedly, we recoil; least of all because a person must assume natural theology in order to deny it, or adjudicate on its validity (as the title clearly does), and this I will hopefully point out by the end of this article. What’s worse, for readers like myself, is that we understand natural theology to be nothing less than what is described in Romans 1:20, 21:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,  because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The word for knew (v. 21) appears in the Latin as the verb, sciere, or in the noun form, scientia. The term natural theology has always, historically, referred to the science or the knowledge of God acquired through what has been made. There is also the innate knowledge of God which is had through the law of God written upon the hearts of men (Rom. 2). So, when we read or hear an outright denial or denigration of natural theology, we understand such to be a direct attack upon the clear revelation of God’s Word in Romans 1 & 2. Natural theology is nothing less than a knowledge of God through what has been made in our estimation.

Johnson’s problem, I assume, is not going to be with natural theology in its most proper sense, but with it as it appears in the corpus of Thomas Aquinas, presumably in the Summa Theologiae, vol. 1. I am interested to read Johnson’s book because what critics, such as Cornelius Van Til and others, typically want Thomas’ natural theology to accomplish is far beyond the scope of what it was intended to do in the first place, and this, I propose, is due to the collapse of at least two distinct sciences (species of knowledge). I hope this is not the same path Dr. Johnson travels. It’s quite tiresome. But, the latter third of the book’s description on Free Grace Press’s website leaves only a smidgen of that hope intact:

If Thomas would have rejected the natural theology of Aristotle by placing the doctrine of the Trinity, which is known only by divine revelation, at the foundation of his knowledge of God, he would have rid himself of the irresolvable tension that permeates his philosophical theology. Thomas could have realized that the Trinity alone allows for God to be the only self-moving being—because the Trinity is the only being not moved by anything outside himself but freely capable of creating and controlling contingent things in motion.

First, observe our confirmed suspicions: Johnson is taking issues with Thomas‘ natural theology on the pretense it represents an effort to produce a proper synthesis between Aristotle and Christianity, a common criticism to be sure, and not an entirely false one, though often very much overstated. Thomas distinguishes himself from Aristotle more times than I can count in the first volume of his Summa alone. It is my hope to see a fair appraisal from Johnson concerning the very important points at which Thomas expressly departs from Aristotle.

Second, if natural theology is rejected on the basis of an off-handed assumption, that it must indeed look and perform like supernatural theology, then these two sub-sciences collapse under the pressure of a demand neither sets out to meet. Natural theology must do the work of supernatural theology, or it is invalid. The rebound effect of such thought? Supernatural theology must relegate to natural theology. This is no different than demanding architecture be explicitly religious in character, even though architecture by no means sets out to be religious in its own right. On a smaller, more nuanced scale, to relegate natural theology to the trash heap because it does not do what supernatural theology does would be as if a Seminary fired all its systematic theology faculty because of its failure to teach biblical theology!

What’s worse, and this is especially troublesome for what I perceive to be Johnson’s view, is that natural theology must either be critiqued from the perspective of supernatural theology, or it must be critiqued from some other perspective outside supernatural theology. If critiqued by supernatural theology, the critic begs the question by virtually assuming all natural theology must basically become supernatural theology. If critiqued by some other means, what would it be? It would have to be natural, not supernatural. It would also need to be theological. Therefore, to critique natural theology is to engage natural theology. Natural theology as a sub-science of theology in general is, for this reason, a self-evident fact. In order to prove natural theology false, one would need to use natural theology.

All of that said, I continue to look forward to Dr. Johnson’s work, and I hope to offer a more expansive and detailed review when I can get my hands on a copy. I also hope I will be forced to heavily redact this post. But I’m not holding my breath.

 

Communism? The Particular Baptists Say: No!

Communism? The Particular Baptists Say: No!

Anabaptists, though not monolithic, often adhered to ascetic practices and compulsive distribution of property. The Particular Baptists would distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists in several ways. But one significant characteristic adopted by the Particular Baptists distinguishing themselves from the inherently communistic ideology of the Anabaptists is found in the Second London Baptist Confession (1677), 27.2, On the Communion of Saints, which reads:

Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things according to their several abilities, and necessities; which communion, according to the rule of the gospel, though especially to be exercised by them, in the relation wherein they stand, whether in families, or churches, yet, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended to all the household of faith, even all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus; nevertheless their communion one with another as saints, doth not take away or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions.

Our Particular Baptist forerunners saw property rights, fundamentally, as a theological issue. They cite Acts 5:4 in support of this article. The context is Ananias and Saphira’s grand lie to the Holy Spirit, that they had indeed given much more than they truly did. Peter rebukes them not because they didn’t give enough, but because they lied about what they gave. The apostle assumes property rights in the rebuke itself when he says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God (Acts 5:3-4).”

They also cite Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” The Particular Baptists considered a compulsive “community of goods” to be identified with the sin of theft. This appears to be confessional precedent against socialist or communist policies which would result in the confiscation of private goods for the sake of the “common good” beyond lawful taxation. This means, as Particular Baptists, we have a formal religious objections codified in a statement of faith against compulsive property distribution.