By Rousas John Rushdoony
It was about the middle of the 1960s that this incident occurred. In a smaller city proud of its churchianity, a young man ran off with a married woman. Now his young wife was a thoroughly Christian woman, highly intelligent, attractive, and gracious. The only “advantage” the other woman had was an appetite for sin. The young man in time broke with his new love, lived with another woman, married still another, divorced her, was involved with sexual orgies, robbed a couple of widows, and a warrant was out for his arrest. Because he had obtained a Mexican divorce, not recognized as valid in his state of original residence, a lawyer counseled his original wife to get a divorce lest he take the house from her; it represented her work and savings. When she did, church after church turned on her and excluded her like the good Pharisees they were. One noted pastor treated her with particular coarseness. Was this unusual? Hardly. Recently a man told me that his son’s wife, a flagrant adulteress, had left him, but he was penalized by the church for getting a divorce.
Now, under certain circumstances, divorce is permitted by God’s law. But more and more churches are refusing to recognize this, nor will it do to remind them that God speaks of Himself divorcing His bride, Israel. There are many facets to this Phariseeism, but one of them is clearly the influence of the myth of evolution. An evolution of Biblical religion is clearly in the minds of many. Dispensationalism is one form of this, and it has arisen together with the Hegelian-Darwinian ideology. Some prominent churchmen have said in my hearing that the Old Testament should be cited only where confirmed in the New. Some have insisted to me that a reliance on the Old Testament is a step backward in the history of progressive revelation.
In 1996, Andrew Sandlin reviewed in the Chalcedon Report a little book by the Rev. Jim West, ‘Drinking with Calvin and Luther,’ a good-humored account of the views of some great churchmen on alcoholic beverages and a critique of those who insist that the Bible is against such drinks. There are many in the church who take a strong stand against all alcoholic beverages. When, in another state at the other end of the country, I preached on John 2:1-11, Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, I received a very frosty reception.
The reception to Sandlin’s review of Rev. West’s book brought a strong reaction from a handful of people. One critic commented as follows:
“Christians need to be held to a higher standard than the Bible.”
For many years now, I have heard like comments made with regard to a variety of subjects, especially God’s law, which was supposedly given for a backward, primitive people, the Hebrews! The arrogance of such a view is staggering and anti-Christian. Can man be holier than God? And where does man derive his idea of this greater holiness if not from some new god, himself? In too many ways, churchmen manifest a sanctimonious loyalty to original sin, to their will to be their own god and their own source of law, morality, holiness, and justice (Gen. 3:5).
In the Eastern Orthodox churches, theosis, man’s deification, is seen as the completion of salvation. The Protestants who insist on a higher holiness, or a higher standard, than the Bible’s are setting themselves up as gods over God. Some insist that to hold to the validity of God’s law is to take a step backward in the history of holiness and justice. Many who echo this view have never thought of its implications, but some who have do indeed hold to this opinion and are aware of its meaning. Theirs is an arrogance like that of Job’s friends, to whom he said, “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you” (Job 12:2).
What is clear with regard to Satan is that in his three great appearances, in Genesis 3, in Job 2, and in Matthew 4, he clearly regards his morality as superior to God’s. He is there to correct God and to rectify God’s mistakes. Now we have a like protest: People believe that Christians need a higher standard than the Bible. It’s amazing how “advanced” churchmen have become — that they feel they can correct God and improve on His morality!
Unhappily, there are deep roots to the antinomianism which separates holiness from obedience to God to make it a mystical union with the Holy Spirit. Over the centuries, men have invoked the Spirit to vindicate their disobedience. Somehow, a mystical union with the Spirit places a person beyond simple faithfulness. I have heard of more than one adulterous pastor damn anyone calling attention to his sin as an affront to the Spirit’s vessel. One false argument is that perfect obedience places one beyond the law. But if I steal nothing for thirty years, am I then beyond the law in the thirty-first year? Such thinking goes back over the centuries. One example was the able St. Irenaeus, who wrote:
96. Therefore also we have no need of the law as pedagogue. Behold, we speak with the Father and stand face to face with Him, become infants in malice, and made strong in all justice and propriety. For no more shall the law say: Thou shalt not commit adultery, to him who has not even conceived the desire of another’s wife; or thou shalt not kill,to him who has put away from himself all anger and enmity; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s field, or his ox, or his ass, to those who make no account whatever of earthly things, but heap up profit in heaven. Nor an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to him who counts no man his enemy, but all his neighbours, and therefore cannot even put forth his hand to revenge. Nor will it demand tithes of him who has vowed to God all his possessions, and who leaves father and mother and all his kindred, and follows the Word of God. Nor will he be commanded to leave idle one day of rest, who is constantly keeping sabbath, that is, giving homage to God in the temple of God, which is man’s body, and at all times doing the works of justice. For I desire mercy, He says, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than holocausts. But the unjust man that killeth a calf in sacrifice, as if he should immolate a dog, and he that offereth fine flour, like swine’s blood. But every one that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved; and no other name of the Lord has been given under heaven whereby men are saved, but that of God who is Jesus Christ the Son of God, whom even the devils obey, and the evil spirits, and all rebel powers.1
St. Irenaeus assumed, first, a perfect sanctification on the part of man which is impossible this side of heaven. Second, he assumes further that this perfect sanctification places a man beyond the law, in some higher state of being. Neither view is Biblical. Third, Irenaeus insists that the law has been abrogated.2
While Ireneaus wrote against the Gnostics, in his view of God’s law he was in their camp. He held that faith and charity supersede the law, but he did not say how charity was to be defined apart from the law.3
Gnosticism exalted the spiritual realm and despised the material, whereas, from the Biblical perspective, both of these spheres are alike fallen, and the answer to man’s problem is not spirituality nor materialism but redemption through Christ’s atonement. Satan is a purely spiritual being, and this does not make him good. Very spiritual people can be doing the devil’s work! Hell is full of devils and men who believe themselves to be holier than God. For that matter, our churches, educational institutions, political bodies, and our streets have their quota of such “holy” people.
Excerpt from Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. III, Intent of the Law; by Rousas John Rushdoony, pgs. 165-167.
- St. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (New York, N.Y.: Newman Press
- Translator, Joseph P. Smith, S.J), p. 106.
- ibid., pp. 14, 181, 123.
- ibid., p. 101.
See more from Rev. Rushdoony at www.chalcedon.edu