The social theocrat is one who affirms, like other theonomists, that it is essential that the government have as its controlling axiom or presuppositional foundation the truth of Christianity. However, he also affirms, against many contemporary theonomists, that the government can engage in activities that are not explicitly set forth in scripture, provided they do not contradict scripture. The idea that Christians can enact legislation that is not explicitly set forth in scripture is called the normative principle of civil government, and is opposed by contemporary theonomists who, in believing that the civil government can only legislate what is explicitly commanded in scripture, are said to believe in the regulative principle of civil government. Yet it is argued in this article that a large percentage of historically important Reformed theologians, contrary to what contemporary theonomists believe, accepted the normative principle of civil government. The following quotes were taken from this blog. Consider, for example, what George Gillespie has to say about the role of civil government in protecting and helping the poor:
46. For the better understanding whereof it is to be observed, that so far as the ministers and members of the church are citizens, subjects, or members of the commonwealth, it is in the power of the magistrate to judge, determine, and give sentence, concerning the disposing of their bodies or goods; as also concerning the maintenance of the poor, the sick, the banished, and of others in the church who are afflicted; to regulate (so far as concerneth the civil order) marriages, burials, and other circumstances which are common both to holy, and also to honest civil societies; to afford places fit for holy assemblies, and other external helps by which the sacred matters of the Lord may be more safely, commodiously, and more easily in the church performed; to remove the external impediments of divine worship or of ecclesiastical peace, and to repress those who exalt themselves against the true church and her ministers, and do raise up trouble against them.
He expands on this elsewhere in the same work:
40. The reformed churches believe also, and openly confess, the power and authority of emperors over their empires, of kings over their kingdoms, of princes and dukes over their dominions, and of other magistrates or states over their commonwealths and cities, to be the ordinances of God himself appointed as well as to the manifestation of his own glory, as to the singular profit of mankind: and withal, that by reason of the will of God himself, revealed in his word, we must not only suffer and be content that those do rule which are set over their own territories, whether by hereditary or elective right, but also to love them, fear them, and with all reverence and honour embrace them as the ambassadors and ministers of the most high and good God, being in his stead, and preferred for the good of their subjects, to pour out prayers for them, to pay tributes to them, and in all business of the commonwealth which is not against the word of God, to obey their laws and edicts.
Consider what Gillespie says in another work of his:
The presbyterial government hath no such liberty nor arbitrariness, as civil or military government hath, there being in all civil or temporal affairs a great deal of latitude left to those who manage the same, so that they command nor act against the word of God. But presbyterial government is tied up to the rules of Scripture, in all such particulars as are properly spiritual and proper to the church, though, in other particulars, occasional circumstances of times, places, accommodations, and the like, the same light of nature and reason guideth both church and state; yet in things properly spiritual and ecclesiastical, there is not near so much latitude left to the presbytery, as there is in civil affairs to the magistrate.
Or consider what William Ames says in an exposition of 1 Pet. 2:13-14:
Quest. Why is the Magistracy called an ordinance of man v. 13. seeing all powers are ordained of God, and every power is the ordinance of God, Rom. 13. 1. 2.
Answ. The superiority of power, or government it self is simply and absolutely commanded by God, and in that respect is called the ordinance of God; but this or that special manner of power or government is not determined by God, but by men; and is therefore called an ordinance of man, which as touching the nature of it, may also be called an ordinance of God: And this is the difference betwixt an Ecclesiastical and a civil office. An Ecclesiastical office is not legitimate, if it be not directly determined by God himself, and consequently cannot be changed by men: but this or that civil office may be made & changed by men. And the reason of the difference is this, because God and Christ alone hath dominion and power in spiritual matters; but in civil matters men are also [g]ods, though not absolute.
William Ames, An analytical exposition of both epistles of the apostle Peter, illustrated by doctrines out of every text. And applied by their uses, for a further progress in holiness (London, 1641), p. 58.
George Gillespie, One hundred and eleven propositions concerning the ministry and government of the church (1647; Edinburgh, 1844), p. 13.
George Gillespie, Aaron’s rod blossoming; or, the divine ordinance of church government vindicated (1646; Edinburgh, 1844), p. 84.