Chalcedon Report No. 176, April 1980
The Biblical word “perfect” (teleios) normally means fully grown, mature. Unfortunately, too often modern man, in reading Scripture, misunderstands it to mean sinless, thus giving it a different meaning. In politics, too, the word has been misunderstood. When the preamble to the U.S. Constitution speaks of “a more perfect union,” it refers to a more mature union, not a flawless, sinless estate.
This false demand for perfection is a product of sin. In the Garden of Eden, a sinless place, there was no perfection in the sense of a mature and fully developed order. On the contrary, Adam and Eve faced daily the necessity for hard work in caring for the trees, vines, and vegetables, in developing tools to enable them to do their work, in providing themselves with housing, and so on. Eden was a pilot project: what they learned there was to be applied later to the development of a vast world of wilderness. The world of Eden was sinless, but it was not perfect in the sense of being fully developed. The world was at its beginning, not its end.
Their temptation, and their sin, was to reach out to gain a final result without the intervening work, planning, capitalization, and trial and error learning which was required of them as two novices at every task. The tempter’s program was simplicity itself: God is preventing you from realizing your true goals; you can yourselves be gods, knowing or determining good and evil for yourselves (Gen. 3:1–5). Man could become his own lord and creator; he could abolish all evil at will and he could remake the world into a better place for mankind.
Man’s solution to his problems was thus not growth and maturation, not work and planning, but rather the attempt as his own god to reorder reality in terms of his own will.
Since then, history has been the repeated attempts of man to legislate reality into conformity to his will. Problems are not to be dealt with in terms of Eden’s “primitive” way but by fiat legislation. The state becomes the great agency whereby man as god seeks to hurl his fiats against the world, demanding that the world be transformed by the will of the state.
As a result, fallen man seeks for the abolition of all evil by means of law. Are there problems sometimes with parents, and in a number of families? Abolish the family. Are there problems in industry, and in the operation of the free market? Control industry, and abolish the free market. The logic leads to a final conclusion: is life a continual problem? Abolish life: suicide answers all questions!
The world, and all things therein, as God created it, was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Disorder and chaos are products of sin. The very demand for perfection is a creation of chaos and confusion.
Men, however, are now accustomed to regarding their desires for perfection as legitimate demands to make on God, man, and society. What do I need, they ask, to enrich my life and give me what I believe is necessary for self-realization? Is it more money, a new home, husband, wife, children, or another job? Then God and life must supply it, or else we will “punish” God and man by being miserable, sulky, and petty!
This is clearly the attitude of all too many people. A very large percentage of all pastoral, psychological, and personnel problems have their roots in such demands. All too many people throw a tantrum and expect the world to come to a halt with an awed hush, and then jump to do their will! Even worse, such people, with their demands for perfection, do more than mess up their own lives and the lives of all who are near them. They are all too often effective in other arenas as well. They are citizens, church members, workers, executives, union members, corporation council members, and more. The demand for perfection now is carried into one sphere after another.
The result is tantrum legislation to satisfy those who scream the loudest. Tantrum legislation seeks to bypass human factors and relationships, as well as work and forethought, to give man instant utopia. The result instead is the march of hell, which, like the Sahara and its winds, erodes everything it touches.
Perfection, as maturity, is not a product of legislation but of growth, faith, and work. Humanistic law has too long been loaded with all kinds of utopian expectations and has been a fertile source of increasing disorder. Laws whose premise is a radical immaturity as well as a sinful rebellion against God can contribute nothing to society except more erosion.
The very ancient definition of tyrant in Greek was one who rules without God. Humanistic law is tyranny.
- 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.