Chalcedon Position Paper No. 82, January 1987
William H. Riker, in The Art of Political Manipulation (1986), describes how men win by setting up a situation in such a way that people will join them, sometimes with no persuasion at all. He terms this “heresthetics,” and it is “structuring the world so that you can win.” Riker sees this as legitimate and is not concerned with either the immoral or unintended uses of this method, but rather its legitimate usage.
However, intentionally or unintentionally, many people do structure things to give one answer, the one they want. For example, do Americans favor or oppose abortion? It all depends on whose poll you take as your authority. There are enough people “in the middle” who can be easily swayed one way or another by the nature of the questions asked to give either side their desired result.
The same is true in the realm of the church. Issues can be falsified and so presented that only one conclusion seems possible. Anyone dissenting can then be called a heretic, or any name the champions of the false antinomy choose.
The great classic example of a false antinomy is grace versus law. Are these two things to be opposed one to another? Certainly salvation is by grace, not by law, but it is not therefore salvation by lawlessness. If we are logical about this false antinomy, we must then fall into the evil Paul describes, i.e., believing that we should continue in sin that grace may abound! This is the logic of antinomianism. But the opposite of grace is not law: it is reprobation. We are saved by grace, and if we do not have grace, we are reprobate. This is the true contrast, grace versus reprobation. This alone sets forth the issue as to what is at stake, salvation.
The false antinomy of grace versus law has done much harm. It has led to the depreciation of the law and far-fetched and fantastic efforts to escape the force of our Lord’s words in Matthew 5:18–20, where the requirement that the law be fulfilled or put into force is very bluntly stated.
But this is not all. This false antinomy has led men to abandon dominion, because God’s law is the instrument for dominion. As a result, the church has been in steady retreat, surrendering one area of life after another to humanism. The law, as the way of sanctification, spells out the means whereby man, growing in grace by faithfulness to God’s every word (Matt. 4:4), brings all things into captivity to Jesus Christ.
This false antinomy, by pitting God’s grace against God’s law and eliminating God’s law, has put churchmen into the evil position of turning to humanistic law as the solution to the world’s problems. The church thus becomes an ally of anti-Christian forces.
Another false antinomy is faith versus works. Such an antinomy is a violation of God’s plain word that faith without works is dead (James 2:14–26), because faith cannot be fruitless: it has consequences and manifests itself in works. The man of faith is a good tree bearing good fruit, good works (Matt. 7:16–20), whereas an evil man has evil works. Paul, in affirming justification by the grace of God through faith, says, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Rom. 3:31).
When men oppose faith and works, they limit faith to one outlet, pietistic exercises. Prayer then becomes “vain repetition” and a public display to give the aura of holiness (Matt. 6:5–7), rather than talking with our heavenly Father, thanking Him, submitting ourselves and our needs to Him, and looking to Him for our help and our daily needs. The life of holiness is warped by antinomianism into a shallow form.
To condemn the works of faith is to condemn the Lord who requires them. Power in the Lord is associated with fruit-bearing, works: when we bring forth fruit, then “whatsoever ye shall ask in my (Jesus’s) name,” He will give us (John 14:13–14).
Another false antinomy is love versus law. Again, this is a clear defiance of Scripture. We are told that “love is the fulfilling of the law,” i.e., the keeping of God’s law (Rom. 13:7–10). We do not love God if we despise His law, nor do we love our neighbor, our spouse, or our children if we break God’s laws that protect them. Sin does not express love but rather hatred of both God and man. Sin means saying, “My will be done.” It is the application of the tempter’s program, every man as his own god and law, determining or knowing for himself what is good and evil (Gen. 3:5).
The opposite of grace is not law but reprobation. The opposite of law is lawlessness. The opposite of faith is faithlessness or unbelief, and the opposite of good works is evil works. The opposite of love is hatred, not law. These false antinomies are not only erroneous but evil. They paralyze Christian faith and action and falsify Scripture.
Heretics and heresies over the centuries have used false antinomies to break up the unity of the faith, to divide wrongly the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). We have seen the Old and New Testaments held to be opposites rather than the one word of God. Paul is opposed to Jesus, James to Paul, and so on and on, Peter against Paul, the law versus the prophets, and every imaginable antinomy men can devise. These all lead to evil. If we have a false view of what Scripture teaches, we will soon have a false doctrine of God, and the consequences of that are very serious. Walter Oetting, in The Church of the Catacombs (1964), outlined the Roman doctrine of God: “‘Deity’ was usually not defined philosophically, but was seen as that which gives good things. Since Rome brought peace and justice, it was honored and praised and worshipped. But what was the symbol of imperial Rome? The person of the emperor was the obvious choice. Hence the emperor cult” (p. 98). In our time, men in effect have worshipped the modern state because it is the “god” which gives them good things. The devil then becomes whatever works against the modern state. Marx very early held that all enemies of the socialist state should be viewed as evil and separated into a hell for such dissenters. Marx had set up a false antinomy deliberately, and it has been used to kill millions of peoples.
The theological false antinomies have been even more deadly because they deal with the issues of time and eternity. They tamper with God’s revealed Word and misdirect men and churches. They are a very serious form of false witness and a violation of God’s law. They lead to the degradation of the faith.
Oetting’s definition of the meaning of the word “god” to the Romans has been cited. This definition did not stand still. As Harold Mattingly, in The Man in the Roman Street (1947), pointed out, for the Greeks and Romans the word came to mean two things. First, god or gods could mean powers outside and over man. These could be transcendent gods or spirits, or the current emperor. Second, it could mean “inner” gods, a man’s genius, the virtue in a man’s soul, and the like. Since the great gods like
Jupiter or Zeus were once men, all men of power (virtue) could become transcendent gods also (pp. 86–87). By beginning with a false definition of god, the Greeks and Romans went from one error to another and thereby falsified their view of things. They then created false antinomies to compound their error. The Roman Empire had great power, but in its economic and political policies it began by positing false antinomies, and thus it aggravated its problems by false solutions.
To avoid such errors, we must be rigorously Biblical, as Cornelius Van Til has always insisted. In Isaiah’s words, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).
Our age needs the light of God’s requirement, that we believe and obey His Word, not man’s.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, Bishop Hooper found that in his diocese of Gloucester (England), a hundred and seventy clergymen could not repeat the Ten Commandments, and twenty seven were ignorant as to who was the author of the Lord’s Prayer. Under Queen Mary, the situation grew worse as men were hastily ordained without qualifications. As a result of this kind of ignorance, the church was weak, both before and after Henry VIII.
This was very bad, but at least the Puritan party could point to an obvious evil and gain strength by their obvious knowledge of the faith. Today, the ignorance is of a different kind, rests in error, and is more serious because it falsifies the truth. By teaching the false antinomy of grace versus law, they obscure the fact that the opposite of grace is reprobation, and the opposite of law is lawlessness. This is a gross error and a dangerous one. It has a monumental implications for evil, and for the destruction of the church.
- 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.