Access your downloads at our archive site. Visit Archive
Magazine Article

Divinizing the Temporal Order

The Council of Chalcedon (A. D. 451), as Rushdoony insightfully observes, lays the foundation for Western liberty by prohibiting the divinization of any aspect of the temporal order.

  • P. Andrew Sandlin,
Share this

The Council of Chalcedon (A. D. 451), as Rushdoony insightfully observes, lays the foundation for Western liberty by prohibiting the divinization of any aspect of the temporal order.1 It does this by setting forth in sharp terminology the Christological definition of the relation between God and man in the Person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man, His divine and human natures united in His Person, but never confused or blended. This preserves the absolute distinction between Creator and creature. Man cannot become God, and God cannot become man. This latter point must be properly qualified. In a general sense we sometimes say that God in the second Person of the Trinity became man as Jesus Christ. We are actually asserting, if we are orthodox, that our Lord took to Himself a human nature. He did not assume a human person (this is the heresy of adoptionism), because God the Son is eternally a Person. This divine Person, the eternal Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, took to Himself a human nature which, along with the divine nature, is manifest everlastingly in the single Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Council of Chalcedon clarified the basics of the precise relation between the divine and human natures in our Lord. In this "hypostatic union," the divine and human were said to be related "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation." This means that the divine and human are everlastingly united in our Lord. The natures are united in a single Person and at no point are in conflict with each other. Terminology does not suffice to express accurately this union, but suffice it here to say that both natures in the Person of our Lord are conversant, coordinate, and cooperative. But they are not confused. The divine nature is not blended with the human nature; the Creator does not blend with the creature. In this specific sense, God does not become man.

This implies, among other things, that man does not share in divinity. This dogmatic statement was a radical break with the thinking of the ancient world. Much of it held the idea of the great chain of being that all life existed within a single continuum sharing in a single, macrocosmic being. The gods were at the top, then man, then the animals, and on down to the rest of living things. As one moved down the continuum, he participated less in the divine being.2

The Bible and orthodox Christianity know nothing of this pagan idea. The distinction between God and man is not merely quantitative, but qualitative. Man is gloriously fashioned in the image of God, but in no sense participates in God's being. In ancient Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome, the state in the form of the emperor or other political leader was usually divinized; he was significantly higher up on the vertical continuum and was, in fact, a god himself.3 Christianity broke decisively and unwaveringly with this divinization. It held that God and man are qualitatively distinct, and that in the great Mediator of salvation, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, divine and human are forever united but never confused. The drastic implication of this Christological definition is that no aspect of the temporal order can ever be divine. All men stand immediately under divine authority; no man or human institution stands between God and man as a full or partial divinity.

The Divinization of the Family
It is often hard for us today to think of the divinization of the family, since modern Western democracy has become such an anti-family ideology. The ancient Roman world (particularly during the Republic) saw the family as an extension of divinity. Until this century and the incursion of Western ideas, this divinization of the family almost equally obtained in Oriental cultures like China and Japan; ancestor worship is a logical practice when the family is divinized. Of the ancient Roman divinization of the family, Nisbet elaborates:

The head of the family was not merely father, judge and protector; he was also priest. The traditional religion of Rome was scarcely more than an extended spiritualization of the high points of family life: birth, marriage, and death. Nothing violated the religious, any more than the legal, autonomy of the family. The father was the supreme priest of the private gods of the family and its hearth, the Lares and the Penates. No child was ever born into a family; he had to be accepted, following birth, through the religious authority of the house father.4

In the Western world, the divinization of the family gradually collapsed before the divinization of the state and the church. Today it is virtually nonexistent, but shades of it survive in Mafia families and, interestingly enough, in perverted views of family authority among some conservative Christians. One popular family counselor, for instance, has taught for years that a wife and children must obey the father's authority, even if he requires them to sin. He states that God will not hold them accountable for their disobedience to His objective law, only for disobeying duly constituted family authority. While the Bible and Christianity strongly emphasize the authority of the father and of the family, they do not place in any man's hands the prerogative to compel disobedience. Nonetheless, the divinization of the family has almost completely disappeared.

The Divinization of the Church
Unfortunately, this is not true of the church. In the Bible, the church, beginning in the Old Testament era, is the visible covenant community. It is the ekklesia, the called-out assembly of believers under Christ's absolute, and elders' derivative, authority.5 It is never an expression of deity but of the visible saints in covenant with God, in the midst of which the Word of God is faithfully preached, the sacraments duly administered, and the true Faith affirmed and practiced. This is the pattern of the Biblical church in both Old or New Testaments. Unfortunately, as the anti-Semitic polemic intensified in the patristic church, so did its willingness to abandon the Biblically Hebraic conception of the church, and look to the gradually collapsing Roman Empire as its pattern. Michael W. Kelley has expertly summarized how this occurred:

One of the chief reasons for this transformation was a shift in the composition of the members of the church from being predominantly Jewish-Christian in character to almost exclusively Gentile-Christian. This alteration also marked a change in the cultural thought-patterns that influenced the vision of the nature of the faith and especially the meaning of Scripture as a total covenant word. For with the transmission of Christianity to a larger Gentile world there entered into the thinking of many churchmen much that reflected the older pagan cultural milieu. This was especially evident in the kind of church-idea that began to emerge. The church began to assume an organizational form that was patterned on the type found in the secular Roman world. It reflected the belief in a natural ruling aristocracy as a top-down principle of command and control. Gradually the bishop becomes less a pastor or minister, a servant of the church, and more a bureaucratic voice of power.6

The authority structure of the church itself became a complicated hierarchy, an arrangement totally foreign to the Bible. Later the church graduated to become Christ's incarnation on earth, the very ontological Body of Christ.7 The pope became the new emperor of the church; and when Rome rendered papal infallibility an official dogma of the church in 1869-1870, she was only solemnizing her centuries-long practice. If, after all, the Roman institution is the incarnation of Christ in the earth, her "emperor" could scarcely be expected to speak anything less than infallibly. Infallibility, as Rushdoony declares, is an inescapable concept; it is never merely abandoned, but simply transferred from God to man or some human institution. Naturally, if we believe that the Roman communion is the institutional expression of Christ's incarnation, and if we believe that incarnation includes not only His humanity but also His deity, we will conclude that excommunication from this institution consigns one to eternal hell. Both Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy perpetuate the pagan idea of the great chain of being. For this reason, the Eastern church teaches that sanctification is deification ("theosis"), and asserts that it is the church, not the Bible, which is man's final authority.8

Protestants have every reason to oppose this monstrous tyranny, but in practice, some are little better. Like much of the patristic church, they have abandoned the Biblically Hebraic conception of the church as the visible covenant community, and have substituted for it a pagan, Gentile-inspired authoritarian hierarchy (Mt. 20:25-28). The church then becomes magisterial rather than ministerial, and to be excommunicated from the institutional dimension of the church is to be excommunicated from heaven itself. Excommunicants are not merely to be treated as heathen and publicans, as the Bible requires (Mt. 18:17), but are actually deemed unregenerate.9 To depict the institutional dimension of the church in this way is to ascribe it at least a partial divinity, and thereby to rob Jesus Christ of His rightful authority in the church. It is idolatrous.

The Divinization of the State
When the crowd responded to Herod's eloquent oration, "And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man" (Ac. 12:21-22), it was simply expressing a long-held perversion of the state corporately or its leaders individually as divinity. The Roman Caesars were considered and considered themselves divinity and expected homage. The persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was not elicited by their worship of Jesus Christ; Roman citizens worshipped all sorts of deities without the interference of the civil government. The difference with the Christians was that they were bound to the First Commandment they refused to worship anyone or anything but God.10

The divinization of the state has became even more pronounced in the modern world, not only in Europe's Enlightenment monarchies, but also, and even more extensively, in democracy both communistic and Western. Western democracies divinize the state in the form of "the people." This, in Alexis de Tocqueville's inimitable thesis, becomes a subtle, benevolent, but equally strangling tyranny.11 The vox populi (voice of the people, in the form of the majority) is the voice of God. In communist states, it is the party itself that claims to be the voice of the people, and, consequently, the voice of God. In either case, to dissent from this statist divinity is to invite its divine wrath. Only a deity can claim absolute property rights, and this is precisely what the modern state both Western and communistic does, in the form of eminent domain and property taxes. Only a deity can establish fiat law, springing from his own being. This the modern state both Western and communistic does, in the form of "positive" law. There is no transcendent foundation for law: law is what man says it is. Only a deity can assign retribution for offenses. Today's state again, both Western and communistic does precisely this. Man determines what crimes actually are, and what penalty men will suffer for them. Further, in the godless gulags of the communistic world, secular perverts create hell on earth, the secular state's counterpart to eternal perdition.

The divinization of the state is the supreme expression of the divinization of the temporal in the modern world.

The Divinization of the Individual
Increasingly, it has a close competitor. The libertarian ideology correctly exposes the evils of state tyranny, but simply replaces it with individual tyranny. This is most marked in the thinking of Ayn Rand and her followers, but is popular among libertarians of most stripes.12 Man himself becomes his own god (almost a pure revival of Genesis 3:5). Man is to be free from virtually all external restraints except, of course, that which the "truly free" individual can impose on that which threatens his autonomy. The leading example is the pro-abortion stance of most (not all) secular libertarians. They despise Christian libertarianism, maximum individual freedom under God's law,13 and substitute maximum individual freedom as determined by the individual. When this freedom conflicts with the freedom of other individuals, the secular libertarians inconsistently respond that at this point, and this point alone, they must curb others' freedom in the case of the unborn child, in a legal massacre to fuel the antinomian dream of the divinized individual. Secular libertarians, that is, do not actually stand for individual freedom as such (they deny freedom to unborn children), but for the freedom of certain antinomian individuals who wish to defy God and all His restraints that is, they wish to be gods themselves.

In the Bible and Christianity, man cannot become God, and no human institution can share in divinity. The most Biblical outworking of this fact is the Reformed view of sphere sovereignty: Human institutions and disciplines operate autonomously in relation to other spheres, and subordinately in relation to God and His law-word.14 They operate autonomously but cooperatively in relation to each other, but each is directly subordinate to God and His infallible revelation of the Bible. Man, for example, is subject to the three main, divine ministerial institutions, family, church, and state, but is immediately and fundamentally responsible to God and His Word. Man cannot be a familial, ecclesiastical, or civil anarchist: he cannot defy or abandon these ministerial spheres unless they directly require what God forbids or forbid what God requires. Further, these spheres cannot act as anarchists against God. The family, the church, and state may not legislate at will, but are strictly bound by the Word of God and necessary consequences from it. This sphere sovereignty maintains the Biblical balance between the one and the many, and forbids the divinization of individual, family, church, state, or any other aspect of the temporal order. It means that God alone is God, Lawgiver, Judge, Legislator, and Royalty (Is. 33:22). Humans and human authority may be legitimate ministers of divine authority, but their authority is never ultimate, and it never participates in any aspect of ultimate authority.

The Creator and creature are fundamentally and forever distinct.


1. Rushdoony, The Foundations of Social Order (Fairfax, VA, [1968] 1978), ch. 7.

2. Heinrich A. Rommen, The Natural Law (Indianapolis, 1998).

3. Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London, 1955), 168-171.

4. Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers (New York, 1973), 37.

5. Stephen C. Perks, The Nature, Government and Function of the Church (Taunton, England, 1997).

6. Michael W. Kelley, The Impulse of Power (Minneapolis, 1998), 128-129.

7. Christopher Dawson, The Formation of Christendom (New York, 1967), 287.

8. Clark Carlton, "A Note for Evangelicals Considering Rome," The Christian Activist: A Journal of Orthodox Opinion, Winter/Spring, 1999, 18.

9. Gary North, Political Polytheism (Tyler, TX, 1989), 599-600.

10. Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture (New York, 1957), 181 and passim.

11. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Garden City, NY, 1969), 250-256.

12. David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer (New York, 1997).

13. Andrew Sandlin, "Libertarian Idea: Maximum Freedom Under God's Law," Christian Statesman, September-October, 1996, 16-20.

14. Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids, 1998), 466-469.

  • P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

More by P. Andrew Sandlin