You shall not allow a sorceress to live (Ex.22:18).
One of the signal failures of the church of the modern era has been to take passages such as this one seriously. The Bible does not teach that societies must tolerate in a legal sense, all of the religious views of people. This text commands capital punishment for a person who commits what is clearly a religious act of hostility to God, in violation of the First Commandment.
But if a nation’s laws require religious toleration, than all religious views and behaviours could theoretically be equally acceptable. That means that religiously motivated cannibalism, honour killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and a host of other despicable activities must become legally acceptable. A more confused muddle it would be difficult to imagine.
The Bible does not teach religious toleration, it teaches religious freedom. But that freedom is always within the context of Christian law, and that freedom is with a view to godly service and dominion. We are to “…offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb.12:28-29).
This is why every society must choose its law-base, and this itself will always be at heart religious.
The fact is that all law is ‘religious.’ All law is based on some ultimate standard of morality and ethics. Every law system is founded on the ultimate value of that system, and that ultimate value is the god of that system. The source of law for a society is the god of that society. This means that a theocracy is inescapable. All societies are theocracies. The difference is that a society that is not explicitly Christian is a theocracy of a false god.
If the State (according to Romans 13:1-5) is to be given the sword to punish evil-doers, than there will be times when this will include what is clearly religious behaviour.
The sorceress is a rebel against God, endeavouring to introduce a rival religion to a community. God in commanding that “you shall not allow a sorceress to live,” requires us to identify with Him not only in our religious beliefs, but our legal structures and sanctions as well, because all law is religiously motivated and constructed.
Other passages confirm this. He later commanded that,
If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or your daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods” (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the Lord your God… (Deut.13:6-10).
What are we to do? Well, we either obey the Word, or we don’t, and both have consequences. When Saul failed to obey God in wiping out all of the Amalekites (I Sam.15) and then consulted with a witch (I Sam.28), he brought himself under God’s judgment, forfeiting the kingship of Israel. In fact, he was killed by an Amalekite (II Sam.1). His failure to enforce God’s capital punishment brought destruction on his own head.
Jehoshaphat was a lot better than Saul, but he too made mistakes. After one of them, he was confronted by a prophet:
Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord and so bring down wrath on yourself from the Lord? (II Chron.19:2).
When Elijah confronted Israel and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18), he didn’t tread quietly. He knew there needed to be a national renewal, and that would require the rejection of Baal worship, which had compromised the nation. And when God confirmed his word (v.36-38), Elijah then dealt with the 400 prophets of Baal (v.40).
Obviously, this requires that we re-think the role of civil government. What’s it here for?
The civil government’s primary function is to protect the community against the wrath of God by enforcing His laws against public acts that threaten the survival of the community.
Jesus, speaking of Himself, told a parable of a nobleman, who “went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return” (Luke 19:12). But he encountered resistance from some who were unwilling to follow instructions. His final statement in the parable?
But those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence (Luke 19:27).
I wouldn’t want to face my day of accountability before Jesus Christ, having failed to stand my ground, or to tolerate something as basic as disobedience to His case laws, given through Moses.