THE HERESY OF DEMOCRACY WITH GOD
A YOUNG woman, mother of a girl of six years, described conditions in the grade school (K-6) across from their church. One teacher is openly a lesbian. Some boys regularly drag screaming girls into the boys’ restroom to expose themselves to the girls, and nothing is done about it. The leading church officer had an answer to her call for a Christian School: he did not believe in spiritual isolationism for Christians, and this is what Christian Schools represent. Unusual? On the contrary, all too common an attitude.
In Chalcedon Position Paper no. 2, I wrote on “Can We Tithe Our Children?”, I quoted Psalm 128:1,
“Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways.”
This fell into the hands of a minister, who was apparently very upset by it. He corrected the word of God, and wrote to declare, “I do not like the word feareth, Rather loveth the Lord.” Unusual? No, all too common.
A pastor, planning to speak on Biblical authority had the word “authority” altered in the church bulletin by members to read “leadership.” A prominent church publication spoke with ridicule and hatred of all who would believe in anything so “primitive” as Biblical law. Another pastor, planning to discipline a seriously sinning member, was attacked by his fellow pastors at a church meeting; somehow, it is unloving to deal with sin as God’s word requires it.
Is it necessary to give further examples? More pastors lose pulpits for their faithfulness to Scripture than for any other reason. Trifling excuses are found to make possible the dissolution of a pastoral relationship. Open sin is condoned, and simple faithfulness is despised. The telephone rings regularly to bring reports of fresh instances of churches in revolt against God and His word. Gary North is right. Humanism’s accomplices are in the church (Christian Reconstruction, III,2).
Much of this stems from one of the great heresies of our day, the belief in democracy. At the beginning of the century, some churchmen began talking about the democracy of God, i.e., that God wants a universe where He and His creatures can work and plan together in a democratic way. Of course, if our relationship with God is a democratic one, we can correct the Bible where it displeases us, eliminate what we cannot correct, and use other standards and tests for the church and the clergy than God’s enscriptured word. Then, logically, our word is as good as God’s word, and as authoritative as God’s.
In his important study, The Heresy of Democracy (1955), Lord Percy of Newcastle declared of democracy that it is “philosophy which is nothing less than a new religion” (p. 16). The justification for all things is not to be found in the triune God but in the people. Virtue means meeting people’s needs, and the democratic state, church, and God have one function, to supply human wants. State, school, church, and God become chaplains to man, called upon to bow down before man’s authority. In fact, Lord Percy said of state schools, “This is, indeed, democracy’s characteristic Mark of the Beast… of all means of assimilation, the most essential to democracy is a uniform State-controlled education” (p.13). To challenge that system is to shake democracy’s structure, including its state and church. Earlier, Fichte saw statist education in messianic terms: “Progress is that perfection of education by which the Nation is made Man.”
Within the church, the modernists first advocated the state as God’s voice and instrument. Wellhausen, the German leader of the higher criticism of the Old Testament, declared: “We must acknowledge that the Nation is more certainly created by God than the Church, and that God works more powerfully in the history of nations than in Church history.”
Behind all this is the question of authority: is it from God, or from man? If God is the sovereign authority over all things, then His law-word alone can govern all things. Religion, politics, economics, science, education, law and all things else must be under God, or they are in revolt!
If the ultimate authority is man, then all things must serve man and bow down before man’s authority. As T. Robert Ingram has so clearly pointed out in What’s Wrong with Human Rights (1979), the doctrine of human rights is the humanistic replacement for Biblical law. Man now being regarded as sovereign, his rights have replaced God’s law as the binding force and authority over man and his world.
The cultural effects of this change have been far reaching. In a remarkably brilliant and telling study, Ann Douglas, in The Feminization of American Culture (I977), has shown the effects of Unitarianism and religious liberalism on American culture. From a God-centred emphasis (not necessarily consistent or thorough in application), a man centred focus emerged. The new justification of women became the cult of motherhood (a humanistic, man centred focus), and for men and women alike, “doing good” for one’s fellow men. With this new emphasis, men left the church, or regarded it as peripheral to their lives, and the liberal clergy developed the fundamentals of what we have today as soap opera religion. In Ann Douglas’ delightfully incisive wording, it’s hardly accidental that soap opera, an increasing speciality of nineteenth century liberal Protestantism, is a “phenomenon which we associate with the special needs of feminine subculture” (p.48). Liberal religion feminized the clergy, made women and Christianity irrelevant to life, and created a spineless, gutless clergy for whom the faith is sentimental talk and not the power of God unto salvation. To quote Dr. Douglas again, “The liberal minister who abandoned theology lost his right to start from the ‘facts’ of the Bible as his predecessors understood them: that God made man, man sinned against him, and God had and has the right to assign any punishment he judges fit for the offences” (p. 200).
This humanistic soap-opera religion conquered other areas of the church. Arminianism quickly adopted it, as did much of Calvinism, as their emphases shifted from God’s sovereign act of salvation to man’s ostensible choice, or man’s experience, and from the centrality and authority of the word, to an emotional, experientially governed “heart-religion”.
In this humanist parody of Christianity, man’s experience has priority over God’s word. One “Christian worker” told me that it was unwise for people to read the Bible without the guidance of a “real” experience of “Spirit-filled” heart religion. Of course, for him the Spirit freed him from the word, a heretical opinion. One pastor, who announced a series of sermons on authority, i.e., the authority of God, of His word, authority under God, etc., was told bluntly that he should preach on “fellowship” with God, not God’s authority. When churchmen are hostile to God’s authority, they are not Christians. Fellowship with God through Christ is on His terms and under His grace and authority.
“If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (I John 1:6).
A church which denies God’s authority will be in no position to resist the state’s authority. It will look to authorities other than the Lord’s for its justification, and, in yielding to the state, it will do so in the spirit of cooperation, not compromise, because its true fellowship is with man and the state, not the Lord. Ambrose, in A.D. 385, resisted the state’s requisition of a church in Milan, declaring, “What belongs to God is outside the emperor’s power.” Ambrose said further, in his ‘Sermon Against Auxentius’, “We pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Tribute is due to Caesar, we do not deny it. The Church belongs to God, therefore it ought not to be assigned to Caesar. For the temple of God cannot be Caesar’s by right.” The emperor, he added, could be in the church by faith, but never above or over it.
Chrysostom, in dealing also with conflict with Caesar, warned his people, in Concerning the Statutes, Homily III, 19:
“This certainly I foretell and testify, that although this cloud should pass away, and we yet remain in the same condition of listlessness, we shall again have to suffer much heavier evils than those we are now dreading; for I do not so much fear the wrath of the Emperor, as your own listlessness. “
Here Chrysostom put his finger on the heart of the matter: the threat was less the emperor and more a listless and indifferent church. The same problem confronts us today. The greater majority of church members do not feel that Christianity is worth fighting for, let alone dying for. They only want the freedom to be irrelevant, and to emit pious gush as a substitute for faithfulness and obedience. In soap opera religion, life is without dominion; instead, it is a forever abounding mess, met with a sensitive and bleeding heart. Soap opera religion is the faith of the castrated, of the impotent, and the irrelevant. The devotees of soap opera religion are full of impotent self-pity and rage over the human predicament, but are devoid of any constructive action; only destruction and negation become them.
The heresy of democracy leads to the triumph of sentimental religion. Dr. Douglas defines sentimentalism thus:
“Sentimentalism is a cluster of ostensibly private feelings which always attains public and conspicuous expression” (p. 307). The focus in sentimental religion shifts from God’s word to man’s feelings, and from basic doctrine to psychology and human needs. The doctrine of the sovereignty of man means the sovereignty of the total man, and all his feelings. We have a generation now whose concern is themselves, whose self-love blots out reality and truth.
So great is this self-absorption that, in any office, faculty, church group, or other fellowship, there are commonly persons who give their momentous personal communiques on purely private matters: “I didn’t sleep well last night … I’m so tired today…Nothing I eat agrees with me lately, and I’m always gassy… I saw the film and used oodles of Kleenex. … The colour green always upsets me… I can’t bear to have children around …” and so on and on. Purely private feelings are announced as though the world should react, be concerned, and be governed by them.
Even worse, God is approached with a similar endless gush of private feelings, as though God should be concerned and upset when an egomaniac is distressed. Few people pray, asking, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Rather, they pray with a list of demands on God, for Him to supply. Now Paul declares that God will supply all our needs “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19), but that promise is preceded by an epistle which speaks at length of God’s requirements of us, and also calls for contentment on our parts with our God-decreed lot (Philippians 4: 11).
Basic also to the heresy of democracy in the church is its belief, not only in man’s needs as against God’s requirements, but its belief in the irrelevance of God’s law. If man is sovereign, God’s law cannot bind man, and both hell and justice fade away. God, then, is allowed only one approach to man – love. He is portrayed as needing, yearning for, and calling for man’s love.
Man is in the driver’s seat, to accept or reject that plea. Lord Percy stated it succinctly: “A mere breaker of law… may always be saved; but there is no salvation for the deniers of law” (p.108). They have denied God’s sovereignty and His power to save. Their only logical relationship to God, then, is not by salvation but by man-ordained fellowship. Then, too, what man has ordained, man can destroy, so there is efficacious salvation, and no perseverance of the saints.
This brings us to the conclusion of sovereign man. On both sides of the “Iron curtain,” politicians trumpet the claim that theirs is the free world. “The free world” is a curious and popular term in the twentieth century, so commonly used that its meaning is hardly considered. What is the free world free from? First of all, it means freedom from the other side. The enemy represents bondage, “our side” freedom, although all the while freedom decreases in the West, even as its relics grow fewer behind the Iron Curtain. The less free we become, the more we are told of the virtues of our freedom. But, second, the whole world is not free in its more basic sense, “free” from God. For the Marxists, religion, Biblical faith in particular, is the opium of the masses. For democratic thinkers like John Dewey and James Bryant Conant, Christianity and the family are anti-democratic and aristocratic, and hence incompatible with democracy. (See R.J. Rushdoony: Messianic Character of American Education.) The Death of God School of a few years ago did not say that God is dead in Himself but that God is dead for us, because, they declared, we find Him “non-historical” and irrelevant to our purposes in this world. Only that which meets man’s needs and purposes is alive for man, and therefore man wants to be free from the sovereign God.
The man who did not believe in “spiritual isolationism,” of which he accused the Christian Schools, was emphatic on one point: we must obey the powers that be, the state, because God ordains it. Peter’s words, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts3:29), brought little response from him. Obedience to many other things in Scripture, such as tithing, bring no similar strong demand for obedience, but all such are ready to call their compromise with Caesar a faithfulness to God.
But to obey in the Hebrew Scripture means essentially to hear the word of God, to believe it, and to act on it. Therefore, W.A.Whitehouse said that the word obey has “the closest possible association with ‘believe'” (A. Richardson, editor: A Theological Word Book of the Bible, p. 160.).
Contrary to the humanistic, democratic mood in religious thought today, Christianity is an authoritative faith. It is held, throughout all Scripture, that all human authority is derived or conferred (or falsely claimed) and is always subject to the sovereign and absolute authority of God and is always subject to the terms of His law-word.
We have an age that wants (if it has anything to do with God) only His fellowship, on man’s terms, and without His sovereignty and lordship. lt dares to correct and amend God’s word; it refuses to hear Him but offers, rather, to love Him. (One Hollywood “Christian” leader of a few years back spoke of God as “a living doll.”) It wants a universe in which man plays sovereign and creator, endeavouring to create a brave new world out of sinful man, or out of self-centered churchmen, and it produces a fair facsimile of hell. Such a world is begging for judgment, and then as now “judgment must begin at the house of God” (I Peter 4:17). As always, judgment precedes salvation.