Having outlined the biblical doctrine of tolerance in part one of this series, I will now proceed to show what effect this doctrine has on the civil government and outline the correct policy concerning religious practices that would be appropriate to implement in a Christian state.
Many liberal scholars claim that one of the major achievements of the Reformation and the Aufklarung (Enlightenment) was the establishment of religious freedom in the Western world, bringing to an end the dark ages and initiating a new era of “free thinking.”1 While it is certainly true that the Enlightenment and its modernist principles did most strongly advocate for complete religious tolerance and freedom, the Reformation only helped establish this principle coincidentally, as it was never a goal of the Reformers. This fact can clearly be seen in the theonomic way Geneva was governed in the sixteenth century by its Calvinistic government, who refused to tolerate unbiblical heresies.2 As Joseph Farinaccio points out, James Madison, also known as the “Father of the US Constitution” and a defender of “religious liberty,” clearly intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibit the federal government from endorsing one denomination over another and from having the authority to define “Christianity.” Madison essentially believed in denominational pluralism, not religious pluralism, as it is understood and promoted by liberals today. Farinaccio writes:
The true meaning of the First Amendment cannot be understood apart from its historical context. Since the Federal Constitution’s amendments applied to the Federal government the states were sovereign to decide religious matters as they applied to their own populations. [This] meant that the Federal prohibition against an establishment of religion extended to Congress, since this is the Federal legislative body that would have the power to create a national state-supported church. Most of the state-sponsored churches that existed within individual states were not disestablished until well into the nineteenth century. States were responsible to handle such matters on their own initiative because the Federal Constitution did not have any authority to disestablish churches within individual states.3
It is quite evident that neither the Reformers nor their spiritual descendants (including the Founding Fathers) believed in the doctrine of religious tolerance and the consequent legislation of absolute religious liberty as the cultural Marxists of our day. No, the Western governments formed out of the Reformation always presupposed Christianity as the sole religion of the people of the land. Rousas John Rushdoony also writes:
Every social order rests on a creed, on a concept of life and law, and represents a religion in action. Culture is religion externalized, and as Henry Van Til observed, a people’s religion comes to expression in its culture, and Christians can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organization of society. . . . The basic faith of a society means growth in terms of that faith, but any tampering with its basic structure is revolutionary activity. . . . The life of a society is its creed; a dying creed faces desertion or subversion readily. Every creed, however healthy, is also under continual attack; the culture which neglects to defend and further its creedal base is exposing its heart to the enemy’s knife. Because of its indifference to its creedal basis in Biblical Christianity, western civilization is today facing death and is in a life and death struggle with humanism.4
In a Christian nation which has been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, the implementation of religious freedom would indeed be “indifference to its creedal basis,” which eventually but inevitably would lead to the death of that nation.
According to Scripture, a godly civil government is obliged to protect a mono-religious Christian society. Many prescriptive and descriptive passages concerning godly civil rulers make this clear,5 and to treat all these examples would fall beyond the scope of this article. I would, however, like to refer to one specific passage which is also treated in part one of this series, namely Psalm 101, due to its absolute and simple clarity concerning the matter at hand. By speaking of his “house” (v. 2), David shows that the psalm has applicability to his civil rule, even if he is most immediately referring to his own private household. Consider, for example, how Scripture speaks of the “house of David” (1 Sam. 20:16; 2 Sam. 3:1), the “house of Judah” (2 Sam. 2:4), and the “house of Israel” (2 Sam. 1:12). With this in mind, David’s intolerance towards unbelievers is made clear in verse 5, where he significantly and unambiguously exclaims that he will destroy them, followed by his undertaking not to tolerate their existence in his country (v. 7), and therefore to rid his land of the godless (v. 8). This passage could not have been any more clearly opposed to the modern idea of religious freedom. Psalm 101, therefore, makes it clear that the civil authorities of Christian nations have a duty to “defend and further its creedal basis” by disallowing all non-Christian religions to be freely practiced in its society.
Furthermore, the Belgic Confession also states in its article concerning the civil government: “being called in this manner to contribute to the advancement of a society that is pleasing to God, the civil rulers have the task, subject to God’s law, of removing every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship.” This duty of the civil government, as explained in the confession, can be found in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, where he explains the role of civil authorities: “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (13:4). Of course, good and evil cannot be known apart from God’s law, and therefore what the apostle is literally saying here is that civil authorities have the duty to implement God’s law in society. This includes the first table of the law, which explicitly prohibits the practice of religious freedom in the first and second commandments (Ex. 20:3-5).
Our experience of reality also shows us that even in the most liberal Western democracies of our time, freedom of religion exists only in theory. Freedom in itself is a religiously indexed term, and true freedom can in reality only exist where the law of God is upheld, because any society that fails to uphold God’s law is a society enslaved to sin. The suppression of certain speech is also practically inescapable, and to have full-blown freedom of speech is practical atheism. Recently, for example, homosexual British pop-star Will Young called for the arrest of Christian pastors who preach against homosexuality:6 he is the fruit of the idolization of tolerance by the government of a once-Christian nation. In the name of “religious tolerance,” orthodox Christianity is now gradually becoming a culprit in the very society that was built on its foundation over thousands of years.
Christians are often very inconsistent in their desire for a community free of idolatry. For example, satanism is acknowledged by the Christian community to be outright demon-worship, and any Christian would be alarmed if satanists were tolerated in his community. Yet, in reality, satanism is no more idolatry (or demon-worship) than Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or any other pagan religion. These abominations cannot be tolerated in a country or society that earnestly seeks the glory of God, for they will necessarily destroy it. A cursory look at the contemporary moral state of many of the once-Christian nations of Western Europe, who all opened their borders to many Islamic immigrants from the third-world, proves this.
The practical implications of this principle may, of course, vary according to different circumstances; but in my honest opinion, the best way forward from here would be for theonomists to secede into self-governing ethno-nationalist Christian states. It is important to keep a society homogeneous in order to apply the principle of religious intolerance, because only then can we rely God’s covenantal promises. He executes His promises ordinarily via lineage, and therefore we should trust in Him to regenerate the descendants of believing ancestors. Only by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit executed in God’s covenant can a people persevere through generations (Ex. 20:6). Also, only in homogeneous, tribal societies can completely apostate children of believing parents receive just capital punishment, executed by their kinsmen-rulers (Deut. 21:18-21).
Finally, no unbeliever should ever be granted citizenship or receive a permanent residence status as an equal with the members of the existing homogeneous Christian society. Of course, members of all religions should always be treated with dignity and justice by Christ’s people (Matt. 7:12), but this does not necessitate tolerance of abominations under a Christian government.
Being by nature weak and sinful, we mere people would find it very difficult to overcome our natural inclination towards humanist philanthropy; but if we repent of our sins and walk humbly before our almighty God, the love for God’s law will overcome our tolerance for Christ-hating religions. We will be strengthened to take dominion of His creation and be instrumental in Christ’s victory over all His enemies.
- For instance, see http://www.pinkmonkey.com/studyguides/subjects/euro_his/chap1/e0101g01.htm ↩
- http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?457 ↩
- http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/madison-denominations-and-the-first-amendment/ ↩
- R.J. Rushdoony, The Foundations of Social Order, p. 181. 1968, Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books ↩
- See, for instance, Josh. 23 and Ezra 10, in addition to various narratives in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. ↩
- http://www.christian.org.uk/news/will-young-arrest-vicars-who-say-gay-marriage-is-abhorrent/ ↩