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Theonomy vs. Tyranny

Man's choice is between theonomy and autonomy, God's law versus self-law.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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Man's choice is between theonomy and autonomy, God's law versus self-law. Man, being a sinner, a fallen creature, can only create laws and societies which, in their developed form, simply amplify man's sin. The result is tyranny, rule without God.

The power to make laws is the mark of lordship, sovereignty, or explicit or implicit divinity. According to William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it, and this I know, my lords, that where law ends, Tyranny begins." Edmund Burke, a year later, 1771, said, "The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse." Both men made their comments in response to the John Wilkes affair. Wilkes represented the unfettered will of the people as against a still lingering belief in a higher law.

The word tyranny comes from the Latin tyrrannus; it means normally rule by an oppressive power, but, very commonly, tyrannies have been popular. Thus, Adolf Hitler was clearly a man with a popular following, as was Mussolini, and others as well. A tyranny can be a popularly elected party, or group of men, so that a tyranny can exist without a single tyrant. The essence of the tyranny is that no absolute and God-ordained law and justice prevails, only the will of a man, a group or party of men, or a majority or a minority of men. The essence of tyranny is that it represents in some form the will of man, not the law of God. On the other hand, theonomy means literally the law of God. In our time, theonomy represents to all too many people the essence of evil, for the will of man is held to be the source of determination, of law, and morality.

As various areas of society, and its peoples, enthrone autonomy, they dethrone theonomy, and they replace God with man. Thus, in one church after another, to all practical intent God's law has been replaced by man's, and the rules and canons of the church tend to prevail over God's law. In issues relating to sexuality, homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia, this has been especially the case. Tyranny in the church as in the state is tied to this substitution of man's law for God's law.

Tyranny, rule without God's law, is inescapable where theonomy is set aside. The very statement of the need for theonomy nowadays inflames unbelievers and churchmen alike and the difference between them is often in name only.

The tyrants are earnest men, from the days of the Tower of Babel to the present. They believe that they are alone capable of saving the world by means of their planned world order. Implicit in their stand is the belief that the Bible is wrong, and Jesus Christ was wrong. As an instructor training car salesman in positive thinking as a means of increasing sales holds, Jesus was a negative thinker and a failure.

The Thirty Tyrants of Greece, pupils of Plato, wanted to save Greece, and they helped to destroy it. Much of the world's evil presents itself as the true good, and a failure to recognize the moral earnestness of evil can be deadly. The new pornography does not see itself as the purveyor of dirty books but as the source of true enlightenment, as the basis of the liberation of man. Its fervor often is marked by a missionary zeal.

Tyranny is increasing the world over. The decline of the Soviet Empire made way for other and more extensive tyrannies. The moral warfare underway is more deadly than nuclear war.

Jesus Christ is our Redeemer King, our law-giver from the foundation of the world. The insane interpretations of Matthew 5:17-20 which seek to separate Jesus from the law tell us more about the blindness and/or depravity of such men than they do about the Bible. But all men must be taught. In Isaiah's words, "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isa. 28:10).

(Taken from Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. III, The Intent of the Law, p. 205)


R. J. Rushdoony
  • 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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