Judicial Religion

By | July 24, 2012

Experiential religion proclaims institutional peace: “peace at any price.” Ezekiel responded to such an assertion in the name of God: “. . . they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace” (Ezek. 13: 10a). Experientialism elevates the goal of peace because experientialism has little interest in the systematic efforts that are always required to purify institutions as a prelude to social reconstruction. It does not cry, “Give me liberty or give me death.” It rests on another choice: “Give me peace or give me death.” God gives defeat to those who choose peace at this price. Experiential religion calls for a flight from the world. Experiential religion’s advocates may hide their real concern – the systematic abandonment of a world supposedly so corrupt that nothing can be done to overcome widespread cultural evil – by appealing to their moral responsibility of “sharing Christ to the world” or “building up the Church” rather than rebuilding civilization, but their ultimate concern is personal flight from responsibility. Experiential religion shares a theological affirmation with power religion: religion without binding propositional truth. The power religionist often speaks of religion as grounded in man’s experience. He may mean collective man; with neo-orthodoxy, this may mean individual experience. Neo-orthodoxy is inherently pietistic, even though its advocates are usually power religionists.  Modernist experientialism moves all religions into the realm of comparative religion, comparative culture, and therefore cultural relativism. This supposedly allows the power religionist personal freedom from the responsibility of having to conform to the specifics of any religion, especially if he regards himself as the vanguard of the next evolutionary phase of religion. This form of experientialism denies the uniqueness of anyone doctrine or rite for all time and places. “There have been many saviors, many gospels.” In contrast, the pietistic experientialist grounds his faith in his unique personal experience. He mayor may not claim that this experience is universal. The Zen Buddhist does not; a Christian mystic may. If he claims that this experience is available to anyone, as the Christian fundamentalist does, he nonetheless has to admit that this experience cannot be put into words. It must be felt in order to be appreciated; it is nonpropositional. A New Gnosticism Experiential religion is creedal, but in a gnostic sense: relegating matter and time to the realm of second-best or even to the realm of evil. Through experientialism, gnosticism seeps back into the Church. Gnosticism’s goal is inner peace through an escape from time and from judicial confrontations in time. Gnosticism is Christianity’s ancient rival. It keeps returning in new garb. Rushdoony has pointed out that gnosticism has generally been hostile to the creeds. “Creeds to obviously revealed its departure from and hostility to the faith. It was much more effective to affirm the Apostles’ Creed and to re-interpret in terms of Gnosticism. This, from Gnosticism on through neo-orthodoxy, has been a favored method of heresy.” This was precisely the strategy adopted by the modernists in the Northern Presbyterian Church after 1900: proclaiming that they believed the words of the Westminster Confession, they re-interpreted the meaning of its words and declared the opposite after ordination. Both forms of experimentalism – mysticism and pietism – are opposed to judicial religion, for judicial religion announces both the universality of its claims and the uniqueness of its message. It announces: one way. Biblical Christianity proclaims the sovereignty of God, the reliability of the historic creeds and confessions, the necessity of standing firm for principle, and the requirement that faithful men take risks for God’s sake. It proclaims that the one-time sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary was a judicial act. His righteousness is imputed judicially to fallen men by the grace of God. Imputation is God’s judicial declaration: “Guilty as charged!” to the sons of Adam; “Not guilty!” to the adopted sons. The theological doctrine of justification by grace through faith is a judicial doctrine. Because covenant-keeping man’s salvation is grounded in God’s judicial declaration, he is responsible before God to keep God’s ethical commands (I John 2:3-4). The Church must be kept pure by preaching which is faithful to the Bible, by the faithful administration of the sacraments, and by the defense of both doctrine and sacrament through discipline: the removal from ordained office of false preachers and the excommunication of covenant-breaking members. In short, judicial religion mandates judicial sanctions: in Church, State, and family. The battle for judicial religion begins in the Church, for the Church is the place where the whole counsel of God is to be preached. Judgment must begin at the house of God (I Pet. 4:17). Both the power religion and the experiential religion have become mystical and antinomian as they have abandoned the creeds and confessions. Protestant and Catholic power religionists have proclaimed Barthian “Christ encounters,” while Protestant experiential religion has moved into mysticism and tongues-speaking. Both forms of experientialism dismiss creedalism as rationalistic and legalistic. Both proclaim: “No creed but Christ, no law but love.” Judicial religion is always openly, forthrightly creedal; it has a public theology. The very existence of the creed testifies to the fact that God has dealt with men through revelation that can be summarized accurately in terms of propositional truth. Experiential religion emphasizes creeds only to the extent that they can promote a traditional sense of subordination to God that stimulates a religious experience. Power religion is officially anti-creedal. “All creeds are relative,” it proclaims, but it keeps this mental reservation: “except the legitimacy of power and power that legitimizes.” Every worldview has a creed, even if its permanent creed states that “there is no permanent creed.” Creeds are inescapable concepts. It is never a question of “creed vs. no creed”; it is a question of which creed. The strategy of the judicialists: “Make a fight until we win or they kick us out.” The battle cry of the judicialists: “All or nothing!”

-Gary North, “Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church”

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