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The Heresy of the Faithful

By R. J. Rushdoony
September 01, 2003

Many people excuse the extensive apostasy in the Church by pointing to original sin. Man is so great a sinner, we are told, that we should not be surprised at the extensive sway of unbelief in the very hearts of the faithful, let alone the world. We are reminded that the heart of man "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). This is true, but the Scripture is not a Manichaean document. It does not assert that Satan and sin have a power equal to or greater than God and His grace. On the contrary, "God is greater than our hearts" (1 Jn. 3:20), and "greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4). Great and almighty is our sovereign and triune God, and we cannot limit His power without sinning, nor can we ascribe the helplessness of the church to the greater power of sin and Satan. Rather, we must ascribe it to the heresy and laziness of believers, who limit God in their unbelief.

Surrendering to Satan 

Related to this acceptance of apostasy, which is an implicit acceptance of the superiority of Satan, is the surrender of this world to Satan and to unbelievers. The whole of the Old Testament speaks of God's judgment against all ungodly nations, and Saint Paul speaks in Hebrews 12:18-29 of the second shaking, the judgment of men and nations in the Gospel age, so that the things which cannot be shaken may alone remain. Christ who arose from the dead in the same body in which He was crucified set forth by His resurrection His victory over history as well as in eternity, over matter as well as in spirit. The work of God's judgments in history is to clear the way for Christ's Kingdom to prevail, heralded in Revelation 11:15 with the glorious proclamation, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever."

Can we surrender the world to Satan and be true to Scripture? One fine pastor has said that all "matters of political, economic and social concern" should be bypassed by the clergy:

When you remember what Jesus said about the superiority of the wisdom of the "children of this generation" to that of the "children of light" in such matters (Luke 16:8), you know that society can manage its affairs quite well without the benefit of the clergy.

Fully Developed Righteousness 

Let us call this interpretation what it is: blasphemy! Is the world better off if the clergy fail to proclaim and apply the Word of God to all things? And what did our Lord teach in Luke 16:8? Did He ask us to yield the world to the "children of this generation," or did He urge us to apply our wisdom even more earnestly? R. C. H. Lenski, in The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel, summarizes the meaning:

Thus: the fully developed unrighteousness we see in this man as regards the unrighteous mammon is to help us to see and to inspire us to attain the complete contrary, the fully developed righteousness with which we are to handle this unrighteous mammon: first, in the use to which we put it (v. 9); second, in the estimate we put upon it, which underlies any use we make of it (v. 10-12); third, in the resistance which we offer it, this underlying both the use and the estimate (v. 13). (p. 830)

Unbelief does not give superior wisdom, nor does regeneration make men idiots in the affairs of the world, that we should turn the management of society over to unbelievers! Rather, no man is better able to manage himself and the affairs of the world than the instructed Christian, and it is the duty of the clergy to instruct the believers in all things according to the infallible Word of God.

The Perils of Pietism 

Some men claim the authority of Luther for this retreat from the world, this Protestant version of monastic withdrawal. Instead, its origin is in Pietism, which revived the medieval spirit in the church and withdrew it from the world. Instead of a Reformation concern with the whole counsel of God, Pietism concerned itself only with the soul and surrendered the world to the devil. With Pietism, Protestantism ceased to be the army of God, going forth to conquer in Christ's name, and the church became instead a kind of new monastery, where men could retreat from the world and its problems and contemplate heaven.

This writer received a letter from a fine and faithful pastor, criticizing him for speaking on economics in a church building, in the parish hall. Preaching on the Gospel, the doctrine of justification, he defined as preaching on "absolutes," and all other teaching dealt only with things relative. But the whole Word of God is true, and the Scripture speaks to the whole of man's life!

The following is my answer to the letter, reprinted on request, because so many Christians are disturbed by the limitation in their clergy's preaching due to Pietism:

Dear Pastor:

Your gracious letter arrived today, and I hasten to answer it before it gets lost in a hundred or more letters which have accumulated during my travels.

We are agreed, I am sure from your letter, in affirming the infallibility of Scripture, justification by faith, and the sovereignty of the triune God. We alike hold to the doctrines of creation and the Fall, and the depravity of man. The difference is, I think, practically summed up in your suggestion:

"According to our understanding, (a common one, I believe), a public minister of the Gospel is representative of Christ, and therefore under a restriction to declare the whole counsel of God.

"For that reason I think that you would be in a more effective position if you were to lecture on such a subject as economics as a lay specialist rather than an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Perhaps it would even be helpful to use a public auditorium rather than a church building — simply because of identification."

At this point, I would disagree, and I believe, from my reading, that I would have Luther on my side.

There are two approaches to subjects, a humanistic one, of which there are many variations, and a theocentric and Biblical one. My recent lecture in Sunnyvale on economics, the third of a series on money, of which the first dealt with the exegetical foundations, has a theocentric and Biblical basis, and my assertion was that the world, and economics, is under God's law, NOT under man-made law.

Proclaiming The Whole Counsel of God 

For me to declare the whole counsel of God means exactly that. The law of God deals extensively with economics, i.e., with money, lending, usury, agriculture, business, etc. (I am enclosing some copies of my recent newsletters, of which Number 8 deals with certain aspects of economics relating to debt. These I dealt with in an earlier talk at Sunnyvale.) One brilliant economist, who has studied the Old Testament and New Testament laws and references to money, has pointed out that fractional reserve banking is clearly prohibited by Biblical law, although, of course, modern banking terminology is not used.

I take the law of God very seriously. I believe that man is saved from the law as a handwriting of ordinances against him, so that man is no longer, as a Christian, under the law as an indictment, but he is under the law as a way of life. The law is now written on the tables of his heart (the sign of the new covenant), and is his joy to keep. Man is not saved to have other gods, commit adultery, kill, steal, or covet, or to break any of God's laws, but, having now a new nature, delights in God's will to the extent that he is sanctified.

The ceremonial and sacrificial law is clearly fulfilled in Christ's atoning death and resurrection. Certain other laws have been subjected to changes by apostolic teaching, or our Lord's teaching, as witness the change of the death penalty for adultery to divorce, and the revision of the day of worship, and the end of the old Sabbath regulations (Col. 2:16f., etc). Certainly the Reformers did not treat the Old Testament laws lightly, as witness their concern with usury.

I believe that it is a part of our modern apostasy that we have abandoned much of the world to the devil and restricted the Gospel to a narrow realm. The doctrine of creation is to me the cornerstone of our faith. Because the Holy Trinity created all things, all things are understandable only in terms of the triune God, and only He can redeem His creation. Moreover, only under His law can the creation function without ruin. Therefore, God's word must be declared for every realm: we must have a Christian economics, philosophy (which begins with the premise of the infallible Word and the triune God), historiography, literature, law, political science, and so on.

I wrote in The Messianic Character of American Education, a carefully documented statement of my thesis, that education apart from Christian theistic principles is destructive of itself and of man. I believe that the same is true of every other field of study.

Christ's Bodily Resurrection 

The doctrine of the bodily resurrection of our Lord is in part a declaration that God's salvation is not restricted to the soul alone, but that time and history as well as eternity, the body as well as the soul, are destined to share in the glorious salvation of our God.

I would agree that the church has no jurisdiction apart from the Word of God, the sacraments, and the administration of godly discipline within the church. But the Word of God speaks to every condition and to every realm of life.

My point in dealing with economics was, in all three talks, Biblical. I dealt with the Biblical laws concerning money and debt in the first two, and, in the third, I simply emphasized the fact that it is God's law that governs the universe, not the man-made power ploys of contemporary politicians. I was giving a lecture rather than a sermon, but, had I been preaching, I would simply have been exegetical. And debased money is clearly condemned in Scripture, as witness Isaiah's indictment (1:22, which clearly refers to the debasing of silver and the adulterating of wine).

One of the fearful conditions of our day is that, apart from the modernistic, humanistic, and apostate schemes offered to men today, there is little to be heard except secular conservatism, which is in essence simply another form of humanism and equally to be condemned. I believe in the necessity for Christian conservatism, and I believe that we shall be under God's judgment if we neglect to proclaim the whole counsel of God for every realm, church, state, school, philosophy (where the great classic is Luther's Bondage of the Will), economics, political science, etc. This is not making Christ partisan: it is simply asserting, to use the old Reformation battle cry, "The Crown Rights of King Jesus" over every realm.

I write this, not in any sense in criticism of your position, but in the prayerful hope that you will recognize the full-orbed claims of our Redeemer.

Very sincerely,

R. J. Rushdoony


Topics: Biblical Law, Church, The, Theology

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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