The sense of defeat among many Christians is understandable. We feel the systems of this world — media, cinema, government, universities, the arts — ignore Christianity, hold it ridiculous and pitiable. In Nigeria, Christians at Federal Polytechnic University are lined up and slain by Muslim terrorists serving Boko Haram. In the West, with every psychotic crisis such as a school massacre, ancient rights of a free people are noisily threatened. Pro-family interests are irrelevant, slightly cock-eyed, even a little mad.
A few days ago the conservative side of the Chattanooga Times Free Press ran an editorial proposing a humanistic view of marriage. “Religious beliefs, while the best reason to oppose gay marriage personally, are perhaps the worst reason to encourage government prevention of gay marriage universally,” advises the editorialist, Drew Johnson. Christianity is fine for your private beliefs, but don’t base statutes or law upon an explicit command in holy writ.
The Times Free Press argues that marriage is a private arrangement between individuals, a sociocentric phenomenon. In other words, it starts with mankind and is wholly defined by man as the originator. In one sense Mr. Johnson is correct. Marriage is an individual right. Because marriage is exercise of a personal right, it should perhaps be registered or recorded by the state, but should not be licensed by the state, as license implies jurisdiction and ownership of marriage by the state.
Mr. Johnson errs, however, when compared to a biblical standard and its public implications. Marriage is a creation ordinance established by God with our first father and mother, Adam and Eve. In marriage, a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife. As Genesis records, marriage exists only between male and female, and is a means of securing man’s dominion of the earth through intimate sexual relationship, population growth and mutual labor.
Breaking from all religion
Mr. Johnson’s argument comes from libertarianism and modernism. These systems offer a peculiar interpretation of man’s relation to God. Modernism views man highly, and God not at all. The impulse of modernism comes from revolution, namely that of Robespierre. The French revolutionary explosion in 1789 “on principle broke with all religion,” Abraham Kuyper notes in a lecture, “Calvinism a Life System.” ‡
“If you exclude from your conception all reckoning with the Living God just as is implied in the cry, ‘No God, no master,’ you certainly bring to the front a sharply defined interpretation of your own for our relation to God. *** The leaders of the French Revolution, not being acquainted with any relation to God except that which existed through the mediation of the Romish Church, annihilated all relation to God, because they wished to annihilate the power of the Church; and as a result of this they declared war against every religious confession” (p. 23). Modernism, then, is by conception hostile to God.
Our stake in the Reformation as great ‘isms’ defy it
Other “isms” are revolutionary against God in their primordial principle. Paganism surmises, assumes and worships God in the creature, Kuyper says. The lowest Animism and highest Buddhism share this limit upon God. Paganism “does not rise to the conception of the independent existence of God beyond and above the creature.”
Mohammedanism is similarly constructed, “characterized by its purely anti-pagan ideal, cutting off all contact between creature and God. Mohammed and the Koran are the historic names, but in its nature the Crescent is the only absolute antithesis to Paganism. Islam isolates God from the creature, in order to avoid all commingling with the creature” (Kuyper, p. 20). Islam originates a unique world of human life.
Roman Catholicism thrives on yet another conception of God. The papal tiara ‡‡, the hierarchy, the mass and so on “are but the outcome of one fundamental thought: vis, that God enters into fellowship with the creature by means of a mystic middle-link, which is the Church;— not taken as a mystic organism, but as a visible palpable and tangible institution. Here the Church stands between God and the world, and so far as it was able to adopt the world and to inspire it, Romanism also created a form of its own for human society.
“And now, by the side of and opposite to these three, Calvinism takes it stand with a fundamental thought which is equally profound. It does not seek God in the creature, as Paganism; it does not isolate God from the creature, as Islamism; it posts no mediate communion between God and the creature, as does Romanism; but proclaims the exalted thought that, although standing in high majesty above the creature, God enters into immediate fellowship with the creature, as God the Holy Spirit. This is even the heart and kernel of the Calvinistic confession of predestination.
“There is communion with God, but only in entire accord with his counsel of peace from all eternity. Thus there is no grace but such as comes to us immediately from God. At every moment of our existence, our entire spiritual life rests in God Himself. The ‘Deo Soli Gloria’ was not the starting-point but the result, and predestination was inexorably maintained, not for the sake of separating man from man, nor in the interest of personal pride, but in order to guarantee from eternity to eternity, to our inner self, a direct and immediate communion with the living God. The opposition against Rome aimed therefore with the Calvinist first of all at the dismissal of a Church which placed itself between the soul and God” (p. 21).
Grace feeds life of Christian
The Reformation changed the life of an all-encompassing religious life for that of a comprehensive and living “life system.” Whereas Roman Catholicism has snuffed out communion with God through empty manmade rites and customs, the Reformation discovered God in the details and in the human heart. “Thanks to this work of God in the heart, the persuasion that the whole of a man’s life is to be lived as in the Divine Presence has become the fundamental thought of Calvinism. By this decisive idea, or rather by this mighty fact, it has allowed itself to be controlled in every department of its entire domain. It is from this mother-thought that the all-embracing life system of Calvinism sprang” (pp. 25, 26).
In answering objections, Kuyper points out that modernism brings no life, but a spurning of grace. “Modernism, which denies and abolishes every difference, cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity. One type must answer for all, one uniform, one position and one and the same development of life; and whatever goes beyond and above it, is looked upon as an insult to the common consciousness” (italics added).
In contrast is the life root that still nourishes your own church and local fellowship (if only, perhaps, as a vapor). You have heard negative things all your life about Calvinism. Here is a brief, fair summary of its riches.
If Calvinism places our entire human life immediately before God, then it follows that all men or women, rich or poor, weak or strong, dull or talented, as creatures of God, and as lost sinners, have no claim whatsoever to lord it over one another, and that we stand as equals before God, and consequently equal as man to man. Hence we cannot recognize any distinction among men, save such as has been imposed by God Himself, in that He gave one authority over the other, or enriched one with more talents than the other, in order that the man of more talents should serve the man with less, and in him serve his God. Hence Calvinism condemns not merely all open slavery and systems of caste, but also all covert slavery of women and of the poor; it is opposed to all hierarchy among men; it tolerates no aristocracy save such as is able, either in person or in family, by the grace of God, to exhibit superiority of character or talent *** . So Calvinism is bound to find utterance in the democratic interpretation of life; to proclaim liberty of nations; and not to rest until both politically and socially every man, simply because he is man, should be recognized, respected and dealt with as a creature created after Divine likeness (p. 27) (italics added).
The Reformation motivates me in my labor as a writer, as you can understand from Kuyper, because it is a life system. The Reformation’s discoveries allow us a comprehensive world view that neglects nothing. Every common Christian, a person like you or me, should improve himself in this direction.
Drew Johnson the editorialist often espouses a pro-liberty and free market view. Much free market and libertarian argument borrows from Christianity and the Reformation. It assumes the fruit of liberty brought to us by Luther and Calvin and the chaining of monarchs to constitutions. But on the question of marriage Mr. Johnson unveils a conflicting presupposition.
Mr. Johnson says protecting marriage is a wrong use of the power of government. On this point he rejects Christianity and borrows from les revolutionaires francais. As against the Chattanooga Times Free Press famous conservative editorial page, marriage is created by God. Like family and church, it cannot be recreated along egalitarian lines.
The gay lobby, continuing a last-ditch moral revolution, is clearly going to use the power of the state for its own ends. By statute and legal device, captive states will attempt to direct themselves against marriage and its slightly cock-eyed defenders on grounds of toleration.
‡ Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987, 1931). 199 pp.
‡‡ “Originally a Persian headdress. The tiara of papacy denotes its triple power: temporal, spiritual, purgatorial.
Abraham Cooper, John Huffman, Yitzchok Adlerstein, “The Most Persecuted Religion,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 22, 2012