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The Establishment of Religion

The fact of the matter is that establishment is an inescapable concept, because both religion and law—the foundations of establishment—are inescapable concepts. We either have an establishment of a humanistic moral and intellectual order or we have a Biblical one. We either have an establishment of righteousness or an establishment of wickedness.

  • Christopher J. Ortiz,
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“Justice or righteousness is moral order and is a religious fact. Laws express views of justice or moral order and are thus an establishment of religion. Laws do not per se establish a church but rather a religion …”1 ~ R. J. Rushdoony

If I were to ask, “What is the chief end of man,” most Reformed Christians would respond with, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” So why are many Reformed Christians opposed to Christian dominion? Wouldn’t it glorify God more to see this world brought into subjection to Christ? Or is Christian piety only a matter of eating and drinking to the glory of God?

We can ask what is the chief end of man, but what is the chief end of Christ? Or, what is the chief end of history? If we can glean some semblance of an answer to those questions, then we might gain greater clarity as to the full meaning of the chief end of man. The Apostle Paul speaks of the end in relation to redemptive history in the following terms:

Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 1 Corinthians 15:24 (Emphasis added)

The Westminster divines spoke of the chief aim, or primary purpose, of man, but too much of contemporary Reformed Christianity isolates this purpose to the issues of the heart. Man’s eating to the glory of God actually serves the transcendent purpose of the Kingdom, because man’s eating is a part of his basic stewardship—or trusteeship. All things are to be done “unto Christ,” and this means for the purpose of the King and His Kingdom.

The “end” that Paul has in mind in his letter to the Corinthians is the delivering up of the Kingdom to God by the putting down of all rule, authority, and power. Therefore, when one asks what is the chief end of Christ, the answer is the “establishment” of His Kingdom by means of putting down all opposing authorities—all of which are man-based and devil-inspired.

The Religion of Man Is the Establishment of Wickedness

To establish means to set up (an organization, system, or set of rules) on a firm or permanent basis.2 Establishment is therefore the act of establishing such a system as well as the descriptive of the system once it’s in place. That’s why the present basis of power in the United States is often referred to as “The Establishment.” It is a fixed governing system.

The fact of the matter is that establishment is an inescapable concept, because both religion and law—the foundations of establishment—are inescapable concepts. We either have an establishment of a humanistic moral and intellectual order or we have a Biblical one. We either have an establishment of righteousness or an establishment of wickedness. The most extreme example of the establishment of wickedness is the Roe v. Wade sanction of the wholesale murder of children. To suggest that state-sanctioned abortion is not established religion—reflecting a shared value regarding life—disqualifies one from defining anything else as religious. In other words, if you can’t see the heinous criminality in abortion then you are morally and intellectually disqualified to judge Christianity at any point.

The most commonly used reference for the religion of man is humanism. Although I continue to use this term, I sometimes think this is too benign a descriptive, since the Bible itself consistently uses wickedness in reference to fallen man:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5

Adam’s sin resulted in a comprehensive evil by the Noahic period. In just a few generations, wickedness was woven into the thoughts and deeds of fallen humanity. In this sense, the end result of man’s disobedience was much more than humanism as a school of thought—it was the establishment of wickedness. Only a universal flood could rectify the pervasive evil, and every mountain was moved into the sea (Mark 11:23).

I do not mean to imply we are wrong in using humanism as a description of the religion of man, but faithfulness to the Scriptural text obligates us to consistently frame man’s religious pursuit as the establishing of wickedness. And until we purge wickedness from our own system, we ourselves shall not be established. As the Scriptures declare, only righteousness will cement the godly into an immovable position in history:

A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved. Proverbs 12:3
Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins. Psalm 7:9
In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt not fear oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee. Isaiah 54:14 (Emphasis added on all the above passages.)

Dominion as the Establishment of Religion

The only way to oppose the establishment of wickedness is by Christian dominion. And what is Christian dominion? It is the establishment of religion because it is the establishment of God’s righteousness. As Rushdoony once wrote, “Dominion is the exercise of government, and a religious fact.”2 This is a fearful thing to the radical secularist, and rightly so. The establishment of God’s universal Kingdom via Christian dominion is no paradise for the wicked:

The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways. And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee. Deuteronomy 28:9–10

Dominion represents the fuller meaning of “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Mt. 6:33), with seek being the key word used here—it carries the idea of “coveting earnestly, striving after.”4 In other words, God’s establishment of His Kingdom is not revival-based, nor is it the product of some providential twist on evolution where things get better over time. As Rushdoony consistently taught, dominion is the end result of a multi-generational commitment to a comprehensive application of Biblical law to every area of life:

God’s law is a plan and prescription for dominion in all of life. It is a statement of the means to victory by Christ’s covenant people in their daily lives, in education, the family, the school, the arts and sciences, our vocations, in church, state, and everywhere else…5

Theonomic dominionism is the only means to obstruct the erection of new Towers of Babel, which is what we face today, not only in America but in the world at large, as elite planners consistently seek the establishment of their religion in every sphere of life. Man’s plans must fail because they are in rebellion to God’s priorities of righteousness, justice, and mercy. Rushdoony makes this clear:

The purpose of God’s law is to provide government under God, not under men, not the church, nor the state. God’s law is the means to a free and godly community. In surveying Biblical law, we must first recognize its premise. Fallen man can only create a sinful society and a tyrannical one. The goal of unregenerate man is a new Tower of Babel, Babylon the Great. It means playing God and controlling all things. The goal of regenerate man in Christ is the kingdom of God and the New Jerusalem, a realm wherein righteousness or justice dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Fallen man cannot build a just social order because he is in revolt against the God of all justice or righteousness and His law, which is justice. God’s law is “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), and it is a law hated by all who are in sin, which is slavery (John 8:31–36).6

As Rushdoony noted, the premise of Biblical law is the building of a just social order—something unregenerate man cannot achieve. This is the establishment of religion of which the Apostle Peter speaks:

Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. 2 Peter 3:13

The Greek word used for dwelleth is katoikeo and it means “to dwell fixedly in a place.” This is the idea of establishment, and we see that Peter’s charge to the church is that we look for a new order in which there is an establishment of righteousness. Despite a supposed Constitutional prohibition of “establishing religion,” it remains the chief end of our Christian existence. Not merely in the political sense, but in the totality of life. We are to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but that is most manifested in the establishment of righteousness. The New Jerusalem of the book of Revelation is full of the glory of God (Rev. 21:11) and established in righteousness. Rushdoony sees this fulfilled in the church as the fullness of Christ’s body in the earth:

The glory, once dwelling in the most holy place in tabernacle and temple, is now in the church as a corporate body, in the individual believer in his obedience to the indwelling Holy Ghost, and in every aspect of the kingdom insofar as each facet reveals the glory and serves Him. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”7

Take Away the Wicked from Before the King

In Matthew 6:33, the clause, “and his righteousness,” is coterminous with seeking first the Kingdom of God. Righteousness is as comprehensive as the world system in which we live, and eventually that righteousness must be established in comprehensive fashion—especially in regards to the “throne” of society. This has always been the case when God spoke of rulership:

It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness. Proverbs 16:12

Is this passage meaningless because we are devoid of monarchies? Whatever were God’s standards regarding kings in antiquity remain His standards for any contemporary “throne” even though it manifests itself as Western democracy. At no time can the state claim neutrality when it comes to religious adherence:

Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness. Proverbs 25:4–5

How does one “take away the wicked from before the king?” The clear meaning here is that wickedness is often found within the bureaucracy itself as special interests and financial and industrial oligarchs fill the positions of statist power with hirelings loyal only to their paymasters. The end result is an establishment of wickedness and the satanic religion of man. This is not something to simply expose or whine about. Christians must embrace their dominion calling and “take away the dross from the silver.”

There is no way the church will be able to purge these elements without a clear vision and passion for righteousness, i.e., justice. Seeking the Kingdom means seeking righteousness, and seeking righteousness means establishing justice and order. It is the only means to preserving life and godliness as well as neutralizing wickedness.

Neither Doth Justice Overtake Us

And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness. Isaiah 16:5

Judgment, justice, and righteousness are complementary, if not synonymous, terms. The centrality of the throne of Christ is justice and judgment, yet these are neglected themes in contemporary evangelicalism. Any real concern for justice often positions one as hailing from the political left, but James is clear that real religion is found in a concern for the oppressed:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

We are living in a dark age regarding justice. This was Israel’s lot during the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, and in our own age “truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14).

Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. Isaiah 59:9

According to the Bible, what marks a dark age is the establishment of wickedness and injustice. When there exists an establishment of wickedness, we are overtaken by injustice, exploitation, murder, theft, oppression, and tyranny. When there is an establishment of righteousness, justice will overtake us, and man will find the paradise his heart longs for. This is the restoration of the order of God: it is the establishment of the Christian religion—the Kingdom of God in manifestation.

The Armor of God

World transformation begins in the home and the pulpit. Without a regular emphasis upon seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, our children and congregations will lose sight of the big picture, as well as the theological importance of their daily affairs.

If “justice standeth afar off” (Is. 59:14), it is we who must become the intercessors of God’s vengeance. Isaiah declared that God Himself “put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke” (v. 17), but in Christ we are now to be clothed in the “whole armour of God” (Eph. 6:11). The battle against the satanic forces is a battle over truth, equity, justice, judgment, and righteousness. These are the themes in Isaiah 59, and no doubt the Apostle Paul is referencing these passages in his depiction of our spiritual war. Whereas truth and justice were fallen in Isaiah’s time, we are to have our “loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness” (Eph. 6:14).

We are to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (v. 11), and this is to resist the “children of disobedience” who walk “according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:2). In other words, they walk according to the established religion of the age, which is empowered by “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”

Without this elaborate description by Paul of the nature of our historic conflict, the routine of our daily lives would blind us to the power we express in our doing all things to the glory of God. This has already happened, but changes are underway. We can definitely do more to turn the battle in our favor if we make clear our vision and calling and perpetuate that in a godly posterity.

1. R. J. Rushdoony, In His Service: The Christian Calling to Charity (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 2.

2. Oxford American Dictionary.

3. R. J. Rushdoony, Sovereignty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2007), 151.

4. W. E. Vine, The Expanded Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1984), 1012.

5. Rushdoony, In His Service, 4.

6. Rushdoony, In His Service, 22.

7. R. J. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2001), 217–218.

  • Christopher J. Ortiz

Christopher J. Ortiz is a freelance writer and independent communications specialist servicing churches, ministries, and publishers.

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