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Irrelevance of Churchmen

By R. J. Rushdoony
March 13, 2012

It was around 1660 that the structure of Western civilization began its shift from a Christian to a humanistic basis. In England, this meant the accession of Charles II; in France, Louis XIV was soon to begin changing the country; Germany, recuperating from the Thirty Years' War, was no longer determined by religion but by the balance of power. Spain was lacking in the religious fervor of Philip II of some years previously, and Russia was beginning its westernization in terms of humanism.

Earlier, the goal of all Christians had been godly rule in every area of life: in the individual by means of regeneration and sanctification, in the state by means of obedience to God's law in education by the government of all disciplines in terms of Christian premises, and in every area of life by the Scriptures. But, as Lamont pointed out, "By 1660 these assumptions are no longer widely tenable...Virtue was now an end in itself, not a means to an end?" (i.e., the world under God's law), and the province of religion was reduced to the inner life alone. (William M. Lamont: Godly Rule, Politics and Religion, 1603-60. pp. 163, 166. London: Macmillan, 1969.) The older dream persisted longer in America and was revived by some theologians after 1740, but in the mid-1800s, it too had faded.

Increasingly, the church saw itself in terms of a new calling. Previously, it had declared the requirements of the word of God for every area of life. It had required the state to be specifically Christian, the schools to educate in terms of the word of God, callings and vocations to be governed by Biblical premises, and every area of life to be under the dominion of God. The requirement to be Christian was not limited to the church: it was mandatory for the whole world and for every aspect and sphere thereof. After 1660, and especially with the rise of pietism, the role of the church (and the Christian) was limited to piety and worship. Previously, this limited concern had been the characteristic of mystics and some (but by no means all) cloistered persons, monks and nuns. Now, the entire church began to remake itself into a cloister. "Every man a priest" had become "every man a monk."

As the church began its slow retreat from the world, the humanists began their conquest of it. The state was first of all captured, and, especially after the French Revolution, became more and more openly humanistic in one country after another. Schools were also captured, turned into state institutions, and made the voices of the new established religion, humanism. Law was steadily changed from a Biblical to a humanistic basis and one area after another captured for the new religion. This conquest was capped by the possession of the churches by the new religion. Priest and pastor began to proclaim, not the word of God, but the word of man, not regeneration by the sovereign and saving grace of God, but revolution by the supposedly sovereign power of man. Not the Kingdom of God but the Kingdom of Man was the gospel of the new order in the churches. The new pilgrimage of man was not to Bethlehem or Golgotha, but to Dracula's Castle (see Report 103).

This was not the first time humanism had captured the church, nor the first time the church had been irrelevant to its purpose and hostile to it. Barraclough has written, of the Renaissance popes, that "the popes of the first half of the fifteenth century, from Martin V to Nicholas V, gave way again both to fiscalism on a scale unthought of earlier (for example, the wholesale creation of new offices for the sole purpose of selling them), and to nepotism so unashamed (for example, the placing of the pope's illegitimate offspring in the college of Cardinals) that it might be thought that Christendom would have revolted in scandal. What is astounding is that it did not: and the fact that it did not is the best evidence that people had, so to say, already ‘written off' the papacy; it no longer had any hold over men's minds - not even enough to provoke angry hostility." (Geoffrey Barraclough: The Medieval Papacy, p. 192. Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1968.) Once again, the church does not matter much, because it has ceased to be relevant: its gospel is the state. It has confused godly rule with statist rule, and its answer to most problems is the capture and control of the state.

What marvelous wisdom churchmen have shown in recent years: now that the ship of state is sinking, they clamber aboard! The gospel of statism is creating a world crisis for civilization, and the churches have found it to be the hope of man, not his problem. Apparently in the belief that a drowning man needs more water, churchmen are giving a world sickened by means of humanism even more humanism.

But the irrelevance of churchmen does not mean the irrelevance of God, who is the only ground of all relevance. All things have their being and their meaning in His creative act, and no reconstruction, progress, or hope is tenable or possible apart from Him.

The crisis of our time is a hopeful and heartening fact: it means emphatically that the world is under God's law, that what a man sows that shall he also reap. True, it means times of crisis and judgment, but how else is history cleared of the debris of man's sin and folly? What takes place on television is pale and lifeless when compared to the excitement and development of the world around us. History is the work of God, and it has a good beginning and ending.

(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 881; Chalcedon Report No. 105, May, 1974)


Topics: Biblical Law, Church, The, Culture , Statism

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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