Chalcedon Report No. 34, June 17, 1968
One of America’s original and greatest bleeding heart liberals was Horace Greeley, famous editor and socialist of Lincoln’s day. Greeley was not a Christian but a humanist. Of him, President Andrew Jackson wrote, “Greeley is all heart and no head. He is the most vacillating man in the country. He runs to goodness of heart so much as to produce infirmity of mind.” Greeley’s religion, by his own words, was simply this: “my affirmation creed is mainly summed up in the belief that God is infinitely wise and good, and that all evil is temporary and finite and to be swallowed up in the end by Universal Good.” Greeley’s “God” was a vague universal good.
As a result, it always bothered me to read that this agnostic and bleeding-heart liberal supposedly had a deathbed conversion and died murmuring, “It is done! I have fought the good fight. I know that My Redeemer Liveth.” Various church papers, preachers, and writers have made much of that statement, but it never rang true to me, no more than did other “last words” of some famous old reprobates. But Henry Luther Stoddard quotes it in his book, Horace Greeley, as do others. Lucius Beebe, in The Big Spenders, gives us another version. Whitelaw Reid, editor of the Tribune, who gradually took over ownership from Greeley, was at Greeley’s bedside with Greeley’s daughters. Greeley, at the end, opened his eyes, saw Reid, and muttered, “You s.o.b., you stole my newspaper.” When Reid rejoined the others who were awaiting the end, he was asked by Tom Rooker, “What were his last words, Mr. Reid? Give us his last message.” It was then that Reid said, “His last words were, ‘I know that my redeemer liveth!’” It made a prettier story, and it stuck.
Why am I quoting this story? Because it illustrates so well the desire of many people for a happy ending, for fairy tales. A few years ago, when I spoke in one city, a woman told me (the entire group knew the story from her) that Charles Darwin had renounced evolution in his old age and died a Christian. Also, she claimed, this could be found in a book she had seen of Darwin’s letters, and that the book had since “disappeared” from the public library. I stated that I owned that book, and it contained no such statement. The result: no one in that group wanted to hear me again! Or take another case. Martin Luther King has been compared to Christ by the pope, by many ministers, and by many lecturers. But King denied the Bible and Christ and worked in association with a pervert and with communists. How do some of these people square their church’s stand with their conscience? Well, the story is making the rounds that a day or so before he was killed, King told a friend that he had been very wrong, that the Bible was true, and Jesus indeed was the incarnate second person of the Trinity! The story is not only false, it is wicked. The people who believe it are trying to run away from reality and from responsibility. Their position is one of escapism, of moral irresponsibility.
One such group of people is today urging Christians to do nothing about our world problems: instead, they should separate themselves from every political, social, and religious controversy and problem and simply await the “rapture.” Indeed, this group is preparing for that “event” by equipping itself with rapture suits!
I have not taken time heretofore to criticize various other theological viewpoints. I only do so now because, repeatedly, various persons have raised the question of the “rapture.” It has been repeatedly said that because I and others do not hold to this view, we are either defective Christians or are not preaching the gospel, or are even enemies of the gospel. Several friends have been told that they are not Christians and that they must submit to truly “fundamental” teaching or be lost.
Before going any further, let me state that not all who hold to a belief in the rapture are so arrogant, nor are all so given to escapism. Indeed, at one meeting, where one such believer attacked my concern with social problems, another stood up to say that the Lord’s command is, “Occupy till I come, and no one, whatever their doctrine of the last things, could afford to neglect this order.”
The main source of these escapist doctrines is in the Scofield Reference Bible notes. Scofieldism is a system of doctrine which sees the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy in national Israel. (It is a kind of Christian Zionism.)
Related to this teaching is the school known as Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism holds to three major intervals or “parentheses” in history: 1) between the first two verses of Genesis 1; 2) The church or mystery parenthesis between Pentecost and the rapture; and 3) the Jewish remnant parenthesis, a seven year interval between the rapture and the appearing. Scofield basically accepted this system. Dispensationalism is essentially evolutionary, while claiming to be fundamental; instead of a God who is unchanging, it gives us a changing God; it makes room for modern geological theories. It becomes antinomian or anti-law. A major dispensationalist group, the Plymouth Brethren, emphasize other-worldliness and a surrender of this world and its problems. Some have refused to hold public office, to take daily papers, to vote, or to become involved in the world’s activities by trying to establish Christian law and order.
In its extremes, Dispensationalism becomes anti-Christian. S. D. Gordon rejected the cross of Christ and held that the Mosaic sacrifices saved men in and of themselves. He wrote, of the cross, “It can be said at once that His dying was not God’s own plan. It was a plan conceived somewhere else and yielded to by God. God had a plan of atonement by which men who were willing could be saved from sin and its effects.” This plan was the Mosaic sacrificial system. Scofield held to a similar belief to a great degree, and he looked for the restoration of the temple and of sacrifice. Those who want a detailed examination of the heresies of Dispensationalism and Scofieldism can find it in O. T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co.).
Mysticism, too, leads to similar viewpoints, that is, a denial of the importance of this world and an attempt to escape from history and its problems and responsibilities. The roots of all such thinking are Neoplatonic or else Manichaean.
Neoplatonism held (it stemmed from Greek philosophy) that only spirit or mind is real, and that matter is not equal to spirit, nor as real. This belief Horace Greeley echoed, and its culmination is in Mary Baker Eddy.
Manichaeism held to two kinds of reality, matter, which is evil, and spirit, which is good. (In some versions, such as Marxism, matter is good, and spirit is evil, or, in an inverted Neoplatonism, nonexistent.) The spiritual Manichaean forsakes the world of matter, of history, politics, and problems to concentrate on the world of spirit. The “higher” Manichaeans said marriage was evil, and put marriage on the same moral level as rape and incest.
The Biblical position is that body and soul are alike created wholly good, alike fallen, and alike redeemed in Christ. The Christian’s duty and responsibility is to bring all the world into subjection to the rule of Christ, in whom alone is our true and perfect freedom. To deny either our material or spiritual responsibilities is to deny God. The Christian must seek to bring all things into captivity to Christ.
Those who expect to be “raptured” out of their problems are not Christian. This is paganism: it is a deus ex machina belief, that is, the Greek belief that salvation means being rescued from our problems. Biblical faith holds that salvation means that, now, having been justified by God’s grace, we are empowered to overcome our problems, to do battle unto victory.
I have had some of these escapists tell me that if the Lord will not rapture them out of the “tribulation,” they see no point in being a Christian! This is not faith: it is blasphemy. (The “rapture,” incidentally, is not to be confused with the doctrine of the Second Coming, which is different.) I do not find this escapist doctrine of the rapture taught in the Bible. I do find a commandment which declares that the church must “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Men and nations are to be brought into subjection to Christ the King and His law-word. We have been saved, not to run from the world, but “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Rom. 8:4). The world must therefore be brought under God’s law. This is not escapism: it is a marching order.
- 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.