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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326




Around 1100 A.D., Anselm of Canterbury was one of the foremost of the Church thinks. He wrote an analysis of the Atonement in terms of the legal concepts behind the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether Anselm wrote creatively, or only in reflection of the times is for others to debate.

The purpose of this writing is to create the first part of a bridge between [Reconsidering and Redefining Justice and MAN'S LEGAL CONCEPTS COMPARED TO BIBLICAL CONCEPTS] in an effort to show how our Western legal development lost sight of biblical truth. It is my belief that Anselm's theory contributed to giving a punitive focus to things in the West touching law and organization, including things within the church. From Anselm we will proceed to an exposition on the major words of Christ related to dealing with conflict. [The Path To Reconciliation]

If I understand correctly, Anselm said the following:

(1) God is holy, just, righteous, and perfect; we are not. This is biblically true

(2) God cannot tolerate sin in His presence; for our sins we must die. This is also true.

(3) We both sin (individual acts of choice) and are sinners (by nature). Again, this is truth.

(4) Christ died to satisfy the need of a just God for the death of all mankind due to our sinful nature. Once again, we have truth.

(5) This benefit is available to those who become saved. This, of course, is the stumbling block for the world -- that salvation is in and through the person of Christ. But it is truth.

(6) Christ's death did nothing for our acts of sin, saved or not saved; for those acts, God still must punish us to maintain His "just" attribute. This, I suggest, is not Scriptural, and becomes one piece of a puzzle which will help us understand our legal system, and why people keep crying for justice when in conflict.

As Anselm was writing, the Church in the West (what we today call the Catholic Church) was developing Canon Law and a form of dealing with conflict. An overly simplified, and by no means condemnatory view of what developed, might be considered as follows for offenses called to the attention of the Church:

(1) The Church is the earthly representative of God just as the Judges are the representatives of the King.

(2) Penance (punishment) is done to the Church as fines are paid to the Courts.

(3) Purgatory (punishment) awaits to take care of the sins which are not dealt with in this life might be compared to prison.

(4) Excommunication (punishment) for lack of repentance and habitual sinning looks not unlike execution in secular society.

(5) Special dispensation is available from the head of the Church, granting grace and mercy on behalf of God, similar to clemency which may be granted by the King.

(6) But no one desires to punish the innocent, so we have a confessional booth in the Church to allow for confession without direct punishment, and a right to remain silent, presumption of innocence, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a jury of one's peers, professional advocates, etc. for protection in the secular courts.

Note that when we do an act which is wrong (sin), and hurt some one in the process, the victim is, in both the Church and secular processes, not directly involved. There is no confession or restitution directly to the victim. I suggest psychologically there is no real difference between the two systems in the mind of one who has done an act which has harmed another.

The Western legal tradition, with all its guarantees and protections, is, at its most fundamental, predicated on two basic concepts:

(1) Evil must be restrained; and,

(2) The most effective way to restrain evil is to threaten punishment (fines and prison in criminal cases; bankruptcy in civil cases).

I suggest a number of consequences of our punitive method:

(1) Faced with punitive law, I will choose to deny, rationalize, justify, excuse, and cast-blame. I will not take ownership, be accountable, or seek to make things right.

(2) If the Church presents the same model as does the State, I will act the same in both "jurisdictions".

(3) If greater structure and safeguards (ways to try to escape punishment) are present in one system more than another, I will go to the system which offers the maximum potential to escape punishment.

(4) I will select the system which affords me the best chance to avoid facing the person I harmed by my act, and facing the community in which I live, lest in facing them I am moved by God's Spirit to confess publicly where I have fallen short of the Glory.

(5) It is only natural that a highly adversarial system will develop as we struggle to avoid the attachment of punishment.

(6) It is only natural that we will develop an attitude towards a person who does an act which harms another based upon which part of the system operates against him -- he is an "evil person" in the Criminal System; but "wrongdoer" (or "tort-feasor") in the Civil System.

(7) We will need a massive prison system whereas God, in His system, had no provision for prisons (the Cities of Refuge served another purpose).

(8) We will see a division of people and community result from conflicts left un-dealt with biblically. Victims and offenders are divided, and who make the case of the victim their case are divided from those who make the case of the offender their case. And no one can accept the offender back after prison because no one has heard confession, and so do not know if there is repentance.

A study of the Old Testament law shows something very different. Under God's scheme, punishment was reserved for those who would reject the offer of grace inherent in His law and legal system. The amount of restitution would double, whipping became a possibility for the repeat offender, and there was a meaningful death penalty. Under His system, we were to take ownership of our acts which harm another -- without regards to the state of our mind (darkened by sin) or our emotions (who can trust a deceptively wicked heart). It is God's standards and not community standards (negligence and recklessness) which is to control. We are to acknowledge our acts to those we hurt, and make things right through restitution, all done in the presence of a supportive community. All this is because the basic purpose of God's law is to see people restored to Himself, to those they have harmed (or been harmed by), and to community.

It is my belief that the Reformation never touched the matter of a punitive based law and system, either in the State or in the Church in the West. It is for this reason that we often find the words "church discipline" inter-lineated between Matt. 18:14 and 18:15.

It is my understanding that the Church in the East (today Greek or Russian Orthodox), having already been substantially estranged from the Church in the West at the time of Anselm, never adopted Anselm's view. Thus, confession is done openly, penance is most likely to be suggestions by the priest of things to do to make things right with a victim, and purgatory does not exist in the dogma of the Orthodox Church.

It is also my understanding that the Church of the East says that the Atonement (my words): "Offers us the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit to set us free from all the negative implications of the sins of the day if we will but confess those sins to God and to those whom we have hurt, and seek to make the wrong right as we are able." The image of a redeeming Christ is very high in the East!

In the East, these words from St. Paul (Romans 7-8) must then have great meaning (please forgive me as I attempt elaboration):

"Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death [terror and fear of the impact of my sins of the day]? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God [I am set in my mind by a choice to obedience to God's ways of ownership of actions which harm others, confession to God and to the ones I have hurt, and the doing of acts of restitution/repentance], but on the other [that is, even though], with my flesh the law of sin [I sin]. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [Condemnation looks at the act of the past, tells us we can never overcome, shows us a pre-determined course of punishment for the future, and paralyzes us in the present. This is bondage to sin. Conviction for our past acts, which is what the Holy Spirit brings to us, asks us to own the act and the harm which resulted, confess it to God and to those harmed, and do acts of justice towards them, still not knowing the future, but knowing that God will be glorified by our obedience. This is freedom to move forward in confidence instead of remaining paralyzed in fear of our sin being discovered.] * * * And we know that God causes all things [even our sins of the day] to work together for good to those who love God [in heart and mind], to those called according to His purpose [who act in confession and repentance]."

I greatly fear that at a fundamental, subconscious level, these words have little or no meaning in the West. I do not know how far we have been removed from them, but my experiences of nearly 20 years in trying to be a minister of reconciliation to Christians in conflict gives me fear.

What intrigues me, and for which I have thoughts but without assurance, is the impact of all of this upon the mind and emotions of the typical Western Christian, upon the views and actions of the Church in the West, and upon our laws and legal systems. Here are the major things which I would like to see more openly discussed:

(1) An analysis of the principle areas of law and procedure in the United States in comparison to biblical principles of restorative justice. I will be writing on this from an analysis of the Old Testament case-law in the near future. The essential concepts I have already laid out in [Reconsidering and Redefining Justice and Man's Legal Concepts Compared To Biblical Concepts].

(2) Why the Church seems far to often to not be a place for reconciliation and resolution of conflict. I will begin this analysis with [The Path To Reconciliation]. The Church was to be a non-state institution showing the things of God to the world. Now where is the leaven to be found? I will offer a number of suggestions for the church working with the State so that the State may offer people entering the legal process a restorative justice option.

(3) Is legalism our safety in our church governing mechanisms rather than deferring to the gifts of one another in true "body life"? What does all this legalism and focus on rights have to do with the fact that so many churches are in schism, often recurring every several years? Have we become mere corporate structures rather than living organisms? I will write more on this later.

(4) Why are the churches in the West, as institutions, seemingly so quick to go to court, so quick to use all of the legal tactics of the world, and so prone to look to government for its rights and authority to exist rather than to God? What accounts for the unbelievably rapid rise in litigation against the church today? Again, I will write more on this later.

I believe there are possibly many other places where we suffer from the legacy of Anselmism -- but these should be sufficient to start discussion.

I will close with a final statement: Nothing I have suggested concerning Anselm or the Catholic Church should be read as commentary against the Catholic Church. It has been an effort to interpret historic facts into a philosophical theory concerning man's laws and processes in contrast with God's laws and processes.