Chalcedon Report No. 157, September 1978
The Russian nineteenth-century novelist, Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, had an important section often printed separately as The Grand Inquisitor. Dostoyevsky portrayed powerfully the dereliction of the church when it sees itself as man’s hope rather than Christ Himself. His account is both sympathetic and devastating. The church begins by becoming more the friend of man than the servant of the Lord. Its tender concern for man leads to a more “humane” application of Scripture. The “hard” laws and sayings of Scripture, and its heavy requirement of responsibility, impose too great a burden on men. The church thus begins with a benevolent concern for human welfare and ends up as the Grand Inquisitor, all the while still professing to be Christian and to be truly concerned about human welfare. The reason for the transition from disciple to Grand Inquisitor is that the church has moved from God’s way for God’s goals to man’s way as wiser and more expedient.
In all sectors of the church, the mentality of the Grand Inquisitor still remains, dedicated, earnest, and hardworking, but still ready to burn Christ at the stake in the name of Christ. But, to all practical intent, the church is the discredited Grand Inquisitor, and its efforts are futile and bypassed.
A new and successful Grand Inquisitor is now on the scene, not the church but the modern state. The goal of the state is the salvation of man, not in God’s declared way, but in man’s wiser and more scientific manner. The modern state is messianic in all its being. It wants man saved, paradise restored, sin and death abolished, and its own New Jerusalem, the “Great Community,” established from pole to pole. We cannot begin to understand the grand missionary passion of the modern state if we fail to see its zeal to save man. Man must be saved from God and from himself. Man must be born again, remade, into a new humanity of his own creation. Through its great missionary agency, the state schools, “the children of the state” are to be given the new life of freedom from God and the past into self-realization. The rebirth of humanity is from God into an existentialist, lawless freedom wherein man is his own god and his own law.
Obviously, many do not agree. They continue to believe in the old God and His Bible, and they form Christian schools and churches to perpetuate their outmoded and unmodern faith. They resist attempts by the state to control what belongs to Christ and must be governed by God’s law, not man’s.
The state views these efforts with dismay. As the great, modern Grand Inquisitor, the state regards all doubts about itself as misguided. To believe that the state and its controls are evil is for the state the modern form of blasphemy. How can there be a good society, when the working god of that society is resisted, blasphemed, and rejected?
Remember, the essence of the Grand Inquisitor is his belief that his actions are for the true welfare of mankind. To fight against him is to wage war against truth and man’s best welfare, and against man’s hope and future. For the Grand Inquisitor, false religions bring salvation to the elect alone, whereas the Grand Inquisitor brings it to all men, it is held. The state affirms total democracy increasingly, and world brotherhood. All men everywhere will be saved, because all men will be declared acceptable as is.
The modern Grand Inquisitor is the most powerful oppressor in all history, because he has the powers of state in his hand. He holds the knife and the gun, the courts, and the funds. Law is what he declares it to be.
The Grand Inquisitor emerges in history in one form or another, and in one institution after another, whenever and wherever men deny God’s law-word. Man cannot live without law. If, as antinomians, they deny God’s law, they do not thereby live without law: rather, they substitute man’s law for God’s law. It is then that the Grand Inquisitor emerges. If law and a truly moral concern for human welfare are defined by man, then the defining man or institution emerges as the god of that social order. Men will have a law; it may be their own law, in which case they deny God the King, and every man does that which is right in his own eyes (Judg. 21:25). It may be statist law, in which case the state is God walking on earth. If it is any kind of law other than God’s law, then that lawmaking body has usurped God’s prerogative and is declaring itself to be man’s lord and savior.
The Grand Inquisitor cannot be voted out; he reappears in the new rulers in a new guise. He can only be destroyed by the only wise God, our Savior, whose grace redeems us, and whose law is our way of sanctification in His Spirit.
- 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.