A little over a year ago I wrote “Reformed Papists, Being Offended, and Rushdoony.” The main idea of that article was that being a “Reformed Papist” is very much a genuine affliction which deserves an objective label. When Christians employ that sort of term, it is not as if they are calling you a “poopy head,” a “dummy,” or just sticking their tongue out at you. Not at all. These Christians are communicating ideas about the individual or the teaching in question—ideas that are as old as truth and articulated clearly by men such as R.J. Rushdoony. It is the same as being named a Power Religionist or having your teaching labeled “Power Religion.” These terms, although admittedly somewhat harsh, are not empty invective used merely to hurt feelings.
Authority, and how Christians view authority, is not covenantally neutral. The claim of Power Religion is a serious one for that reason. We are not talking about ideas on the periphery, but rather foundational ethics that guide and spheres all of life. Dr. Gary North primarily spoke of Power Religion in regard to statism, i.e., the deification of the state. Anytime someone appeals to the statutes of the nation as a basis for ethics, as opposed to appealing to the transcendent Law-Word of God, that individual is participating in Power Religion. Specifically, they are participating in a statist form of Power Religion. Power Religion, however, has to do with authority in all spheres of life, not just the state. Dr. North explains the basic concept.
What distinguishes biblical dominion religion from satanic power religion is ethics. Is the person who seeks power doing so for the glory of God, and for himself secondarily, and only to the extent that he is God’s lawful and covenantally faithful representative? If so, he will act in terms of God’s ethical standards and in terms of a profession of faith in the God of the Bible. The church has recognized this two-fold requirement historically, and has established a dual requirement for membership: profession of faith and a godly life.1
In other words, Power Religion is the religion of “who are your elders?” Power Religion is the religion of “shut up, be quiet, and fall in line.” Power Religion is the religion of “obey because I’m the husband.” Power Religion is the religion of coercion, verdicts without evidence, strong-arm power-plays, and positional worldly power. Power Religion is a twisting and corrupting of Biblical authority into worldly power. Dr. Gary North wrote an entire book on this topic. Is is titled Authority and Dominion, yet it was originally titled Moses and Pharaoh: Dominion Religion Versus Power Religion.
Some may already be planning their hundredth passive-aggressive social-media post about “peace” and “unity” that is actually about peace only according to their stipulations and regulations; “repent and then we can talk,” and “follow the rules and there will be law and order.” To be fair, not all critics are so given over to their baser appetites. Many are well-intentioned. Many are also very much distracted by verbiage that rubs them the wrong way. They read the words “Power Religionist,” and they stop reading. Or, if they continue reading, they are fuming and preparing how they will respond that makes themselves a victim, consciously or not. It is interesting how some of those who mock the idea of victimhood, as if Satan made up the concept, are so quick to claim it for themselves. Conversation after conversation is about how they do not like the tone of the conversation or how they don’t like their ideas being connected to “Power Religion.” Comment thread after comment thread is a futile attempt to dig your way to something of substance. Though articles and books are available on Power Religion and other contentious topics, those are ignored in favor of making every conversation about personalities. Further, the outrage is far too selective. If, for example, myself or another blogger writes harshly about a popular pastor who is considered fair game, we will receive pats on the back and have a crowd of cheerleaders reveling in the fight. If, however, similar harshness is directed towards a man that is greatly admired, the sharpness is transformed magically into something in which no Christian could ever supposedly participate.
This isn’t solely the problem of the offended. If I know a term will trigger someone, it must be weighed to determine if it is wise to use the term. Sometimes, it is not worth it. Other times, exposing the pride of those who are easily offended is very much worth it. Tone and persuasiveness matter, but not nearly as much as the truth of a word or idea.
“Name-calling” or “othering” is not automatically a virtue or a vice. “Power Religionist” is not a randomly-picked insult from an insult fishbowl; it is a well-reasoned and descriptive term. Sharp? Sure. True? One thing is certainly true: it is far easier to be offended than it is to be accountable or to make an argument. Being offended by a term should not be the “get out of logic free” card for Christians.
Many Christian Reconstructionists and abolitionists talk a lot about tyranny. Tyranny, as defined by God, is a display of Power Religion. This is true in all spheres of life. As someone who believes in the headship of faithful husbands in the family, Biblical submission to elders in the Body of Christ, and the legitimacy of the civil magistrate, it is vital to understand the root of Power Religion, tyranny, and injustice.
Power Religion never begins at the state.
Power Religion, a form of idolatry, is born in the heart. The tyrant thinks he knows better than the Law-Word of God. The creation thinks he knows better than the creator. In his thoughts, actions, and words, his appeal is to himself rather than God: his experience, his knowledge, his age, his long beard, his gray hair, how many children he has, how often he holds anti-abortion signs, his accomplishments. Man wants to be God; so, instead of theonomy, autonomy is chosen.
Power Religion quickly spreads to the family. Instead of authority being vested ethically and judicially in objective truth and justice, authority is co-opted and placed solely within gender and position, i.e., Husband. Instead of God’s Word determining roles, headship, and authority (all real things), these ideas are twisted and expanded to make “the man who would be God,” the little god of the household. By playing god, autonomy is chosen over theonomy.
The petty tyrant first tried to usurp God’s Kingship over his ideas and actions, and naturally, this extended to the family. Now he’s a tyrant over the weaker woman, who is then told to submit with little to no qualification. And, of course, the children as well. Power Religion is worshiped, which is just another way of saying that man is worshiped.
But it doesn’t stop there. The tyranny of the heart is a tyranny over truth itself, and this infiltrates the Church. This tyranny poisons our local assemblies. Once again, the true Biblical authority that has its foundation in service and ethics is supplanted by a view of authority that is dependent on rank and title. Authority is no longer ethical, but instead, it is ontological. Such elders twist and expand their God-given authority far beyond Biblically-prescribed bounds, thus extending their tyranny over “their” congregants. Once again, autonomy is chosen over theonomy.
What began in the heart spreads to the family and then to the ecclesiastical institutions of the Bride of Christ. The tyranny of the home, with its radical patriarchalism and machismo, spreads to the petty chieftains of local churches. These ecclesiocrat bullies lord over others under the false covering of their own supposed authority, as opposed to the ethical/judicial authority of God’s Word. Just as being a husband and a father is a legitimate role, the elder is also a legitimate role—one that is equally able to be corrupted. Man is a master craftsman of twisting the good gifts of God.
But it still does not stop there. Since it has been previously determined, by how our families and fellowships function, that authority comes from titles, the civil magistrate then runs wild with vain speculations on what may be helpful to the “common good” and what may seem reasonable according to subjective humanistic systems. The civil magistrates vest in themselves, with the approval of most, the same type of secular authority we tolerate in our church communities and families: rights come from documents, truth and justice come from institutions, courts determine law. Again, authority is seen as ontological, not ethical. Authority is positional, not ethical. The appeal to the Supreme Court is the same appeal to position as the appeal to husband. And again, autonomy is chosen over theonomy.
If we talk a lot about ignoring Roe v. Wade, and if we talk about defying the tyranny of the federal beast, yet we are blind to the very same heart of Power Religion in the church, the family, and our own lives, I see very little hope in being able to overcome any tyranny at all. Praise God that His victory is not dependent on our faithfulness.
So, yes, we can complain and rant about being called a name we don’t like, or we can consider what is being communicated. No one likes being called an ageist, a Romanist, an ecclesiocrat, a hireling, or a Power Religionist. Yet these are ideas that demand to be examined, not dismissed and shrugged off.
The time has come for a program of Christian reconstruction. Something new must replace humanism, from the bottom up, in every sphere of human existence. The dominion religion must replace the power religion. Humanism’s world is disintegrating, both intellectually and institutionally, and it will drag the compromised Christian academic world into the abyss with it. That is where they both belong. Weep not for their passing. And if you happen to spot some aspect of humanism which is beginning to wobble, take an appropriate action. Push it.2
- Gary North, Authority and Dominion, Vol. 1, p. 2.
- Gary North, Authority and Dominion, Vol. 1, xviii.
Originally published on Jul 26, 2018 at The American Vision.