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The Power of Heresy

By R. J. Rushdoony
August 01, 1998

The power of heresy and false belief seems at times to outweigh that of the greatest men of God. Compare the power in the twentieth century of Karl Barth as against Cornelius Van Til. Fallen men, and too many are in the church, find it easier to affirm the church than Jesus Christ, God the Son.

An example of the power of heresy is clearly seen in Marcion, who founded the Marcionite movement near the middle of the second century, A. D. His father was a bishop, but Marcion was very early expelled from the church and refused re-admission by his father. There are uncertainties as to some of Marcion's beliefs, but one thing is clear: he held that there were three first principles, in effect, three gods. The world of matter, ruled by law, was the work of one god, and this material realm was the world of evil.

The good god was the author of grace and of charity and is the father of Jesus Christ. This view led at once to dispensationalism. It separated Jesus from the old god to make him a product of the new god and age. In time, third-age thinking developed.

The Jews were the chosen people of the old god, the Christians a la Marcion, of the new. The law being nullified, so too were the creation ordinances and categories, and women were given status in the church which the orthodox held to be non-Biblical.

The Bible, in the early years of the church, included Old and New Testaments as one undivided book. Marcion's division led to a separation into Old and New Testaments, while retaining the format of a single volume, a compromise.

Marcion's thinking was at times close to that of Mani and Manicheanism, i. e., a belief in two gods, one evil, one good, both of equal power and ultimacy.

Much of twentieth-century evangelicalism, with its reduction of God to love, its hostility to God's law, and its tendency, like Marcion, to limit the valid points of the Old Testament to prophecy, reveals that too many "Bible-believing" churches resemble Marcionite chapels more than anything else.

Another great evil of Marcionite thinking has been its depreciation of creationism. Salvation is stressed to the point of making God as Creator almost irrelevant. In the world of Marcion, the creation of the physical universe did not compare with its redemption, whereas for orthodoxy the two doctrines are inseparable, and only the Creator can regenerate.

Again, for Marcion the law and the gospel were irreconcilable, whereas for the orthodox salvation means, first, the satisfaction of the law by obedience, and, second, sanctification by faithfulness to God's law-word. Where orthodoxy sees a total unity between Old and New Testaments, and between the law and the gospel, Marcionite thinking sees an irrevocable division.

The question then arises, why be good if the law is bad? Not surprisingly, very early charges of immorality were raised against the Marcionites, which scholars since have held to be invalid. We have no way of knowing whether the charges were valid or not, but we do know that, logically, immoralism had been vindicated. We also know that, in some church circles where Marcionite thinking prevails, so too in time does immorality.

Because Marcionite thinking now rules in too many circles, modernist, "orthodox," and "fundamentalist," this heresy must be a major concern to all of us. It eliminates as invalid a vast portion of the Bible, the law; it separates law from grace, and love from justice. Can we be loving if we deny justice to men, or do we show grace if we allow evil to prevail? Do we not then reduce the Faith to sentimentalism and a whitewash of sin rather than man's removal by atonement? Is it any wonder that atonement is becoming a fuzzy doctrine to many when law and restitution are denied? Are we Christians or Marcionites?


Topics: Church History, Dispensationalism, R. J. Rushdoony

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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