Chalcedon Report No. 193, September 1981
I was once going by a tennis court I passed from time to time, and I overheard an argument. One young man was objecting to a too faithful following of the rules, which meant that he had lost a game. “Look,” he protested, “we don’t have to be that particular! We’re not pros!” On another occasion as I walked by, one young man made an especially bad play, and his friends on the sidelines teased him. He called back, “I’m just protecting my amateur status!”
I thought of these incidents today when I received a long letter from someone who is not on our mailing list. A friend had given him one or two Chalcedon Reports to read, hoping to interest him. He was writing to me to tell me why he could not be interested. We were not “relevant.” What did he mean by relevant? We were asking too much of people. He said he had seen one of my books previously, so he knew whereof he spoke. You must talk, he advised, to people on their level and not expect too much of them. He was as good a Christian as any, better, to judge by his bragging, and he knew that maybe in heaven everybody would be totally faithful, but, in this life, getting them saved, and getting a trifle more out of them, was enough. Relevant Christian work has to begin where people are and move them an inch or two ahead. After all, he said, progress in history is by inches.
This man was trying to protect his amateur status as a Christian! He was saying, in effect, don’t expect too much out of me, or anyone else. We can’t be proficient, professional, full-time Christians, only amateur part-time “Christians” (if such is possible).
The trouble with that argument is that God does not “buy” it. From beginning to end, the Bible makes it clear that the Lord requires a total obedience, and that, having given us His covenant grace and law, and climaxed it with the gift of the Spirit, He expects great things from us. The Lord does not call amateur Christians, only full-time professional ones. Nothing is more ridiculous than the idea of many that “full-time Christian service” means the mission field, a pastorate, or some like calling. We are all, whatever we are or wherever we are, called to a full-time Christian life and service.
Trying to protect our amateur status as Christians is like trying to protect our reprobation.
All the same, many churchmen have tried to make “amateur Christianity” into a standard. One leader of a generation ago, and the founder of a seminary, wrote: “To impose a need to surrender the life to God as an added condition of salvation is most unreasonable.” Another man has gone even further, stating that, once you say “Yes” to Jesus, He is bound eternally by a contract to save you: you can “commit every sin in the Bible, plus all the others, but there is just no way you can go to Hell!” (see A. ten Pas, The Lordship of Christ [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books], pp. 13, 19–20, for a critique of these and many more like statements).
Man is created in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and with dominion (Gen. 1:26; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). Our standard of relevancy cannot be man as he makes himself, but man as God made him. Man is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). He was created to be God’s dominion man over all the world, and to rule it according to God’s law. To diminish man’s responsibility and calling, to reduce God’s law to a few vague moral precepts, and to set a minimum standard of faithfulness is evil. We cannot minimize God’s law and calling. The one thing we cannot be as Christians is amateurs: it is a total calling.
However, nothing more clearly marks the modern church than a reduction of faith from God’s supernatural act in us to our easy believism and casual disobedience. Early in the last century, one famous man, on his deathbed, remarked easily, when asked to repent for his many sins, “God will forgive me: That’s His business.”
Protestants, quick to criticize the sorry medieval doctrine of indulgences, have fashioned their own doctrine of indulgences: accept Christ, and then you are safe; if you sin, He’ll have to forgive you. Easy believism offers great benefits if you buy the policy, but it delivers nothing but reprobation.
Amateur Christianity is not Christianity but a modern version of Phariseeism. Paul well describes it as “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5). The road to hell is lined with amateur Christians.
Pick up your Bible, and take a good, studied look at the road signs!
- 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.