The New England Reformer

A Herald of the Reformation

The Secular Error

February 14, 2022 · Chris Carter

Government

Theonomy


The rise of secular humanism as the predominant worldview of Western society is culminating in increased levels of government tyranny. The fact that things are not nearly as bad as they could be should not distract us from the fundamental disposition and goal of secular humanism. That disposition, like any other worldly system, is towards the chaos of autonomy: the self-rule of human beings. Autonomy is death culture; the widespread systemic annihilation of large swaths of society. The rise of Communism, an atheistic worldview responsible for the deaths of untold hundreds of millions, was a foretaste of what happens when the fundamental ideas of secular humanistic thought are taken seriously. We must not be deceived by the myth that the secular world is a neutral ground of level playing field for competing worldviews. To the contrary, secularism claims to be the only legitimate worldview, under which everything else operates. You may practice your Christianity as you please, so long as you do not cross the established boundaries that have been drawn by the precepts of the secular establishment. You may affirm a Christian view of sexuality, but you are prohibited from preaching repentance to homosexuals. You may go to church, but you are required to wear a mask and stay 6 feet from your brothers and sisters while you are there, and so on. Secularism is Leviathan, that monstrous beast of Thomas Hobbes, reaching its tentacles into every aspect of human life so inundating all of human existence so that it may impose itself as the final authority in every matter of life and faith. Religious expression is only tolerated insofar as it is consistent with the precepts of the civil authorities. Your religious convictions regarding sexuality, abortion, civil penalties, good works, and so on, are only valid as long as they comport with whatever the government has to say about the issue. When the rubber really meets the road, the secular state will steamroll your religious liberties. We need not look any further than the past few years to understand how “tolerant” the secular state is of orthodox religious practice. Christian pastors have literally been ripped out of their cars on the freeway by Canadian police, arrested, and thrown in prison simply for opening their churches for Sunday worship. Their churches have been forcibly shut down and swaddled in chain link fence and barbed wire for the basic, orthodox Christian practice of meeting for Sunday worship. Yes, that actually happened here in the Western world. Secular “religious liberty” is an illusion, intended to mask the true intention of secular humanism: the eradication of the Christian religion from the face of the planet.

Despite this, the lie of secular neutrality has overtaken the evangelical world. It has overtaken it so much so that, when it comes to issues of government, economics, education, and justice, many evangelicals are more secular than they are Christian. This is because the vast majority of us have been raised in secular schools, with secular teachers, who teach secular curricula. We have inundated our lives with secular content from secular TV stations, films, and YouTube channels, and immersed ourselves in a world which proselytizes the supremacy of the power of the civil authorities over every matter of life and faith. To defer to the civil authorities on matters of when to open your church, or what kinds of marriages to officiate, or what kinds of stances to take pertaining to racism and justice, is to be complicit in that lie. The reason evangelicalism has bought this lie is because it failed to fortify itself against such deceptions. Where modern evangelical Christian doctrine is quite orthodox, especially on the gospel message, evangelical practice is largely a conglomerate of manufactured theological concepts inherited from 1880s dispensationalism and 1920s fundamentalism. Evangelicalism has been a consistent herald of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, but where it has triumphed in proclamation, it has neglected application. It has limited the scope of the gospel’s power only over those things concerning the individual and their salvation, positing a “dualism” which divides the world into what which is sacred and that which is secular. Christ has victory over sin and death in individual lives, but not in history; in citizens, but not in societies; over personal iniquity, but not over government tyranny. The sacred contains all those things pertaining to Christ, and the secular contains all other things. The sacred contains Biblical teaching, ecclesiology, prayer, and other things strictly related to the very important but very limited scope of “Christian religion”. The secular contains matters of government and politics, business, economics, and productivity, family life, education, entertainment, and everything else that would ordinarily be considered “non religious”. These are the areas where Christ has little bearing, if at all, and consequently, these are the areas where the civil government has the final say. It is no wonder that these are the matters which have slipped so easily into the corruption of secular humanism despite consistent and significant participation by the millions of Christians who live in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Evangelicals have justified this overreach of the civil government by adopting a rehashed and somewhat limited version of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, a 16th century Roman Catholic doctrine which teaches that the government, since it is endowed with power by God, must be obeyed in all matters except those which directly contradict basic Christian tenets. Consequently, evangelicals have abandoned their Protestant heritage of limited government and sphere sovereignty. Secular humanism has claimed authority over all of life, and evangelicalism has conceded this claim in a limited fashion. Even many months into the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was clear that the virus was not as deadly as was originally estimated and it was clear that churches were among those singled out as targets for shutdowns, evangelical churches were still quick to adopt mask mandates and bar attendees from gathering with the Lord’s people on account of mask mandates and attendance limits, or even outright church closures. Such quick obedience to the civil magistrate, even for mandates which so drastically and unnecessarily prohibit basic and essential Christian practices (like communion and weekly worship), is evidence that evangelicalism has generally bought the lie that secularism has told it: “have your Sunday worship, but we are really in charge here”.

This error has been compounded by a faulty eschatology that is only around 150 years old. Dispensational premillenialism, invented by J.N. Darby during the Second Great Awakening in the late 1800s, posits a slow and steady decline of society into moral and political chaos before the second coming of Christ. Though many evangelicals are not dispensationalists, much of their eschatology has been profoundly shaped by the rise and popularization of dispensational theology. It comes as a shock to many modern Christians that the idea of a slow and steady decline into tribulation would have been entirely foreign to American Christians some 200-odd years ago, let alone any historic orthodox Christian. It was the optimistic eschatology of the Puritans which drove them to apply the faith to every aspect of life as they sought to reform the world into obedience to Christ. By contrast, the pessimistic eschatology of evangelicals precludes the possibility of long term cultural reformation, shifting the focus from real, holistic gospel restoration of every area of life, to only those things which have an immediate and eternal consequence like evangelism. Again, evangelicals have done a praiseworthy job in the labor of gospel proclamation and evangelism, and they ought to be recognized for their efforts. Where they have missed the mark is not by neglecting the salvation of empires, but in the area of discipleship to lawful obedience. This is where the secular world has put in what the evangelical world left out.

The result of this complex of manufactured theological concepts is a population of evangelicals which may be broadly categorized into a few different groups. There are “secular evangelicals”, whose worldview pertaining to the matters of the world is largely influenced by the secular spirit of the age. In this category are those “Christians” who champion Black Lives Matter, various forms of Marxism, liberalism, feminism, and other constituent facets of the humanist vision. Then, there are the evangelicals who limit the scope of their worldview to accommodate only those things pertaining to the gospel, leaving the rest of the issues up for debate, clinging to a kind of “mere Christianity” that “keeps politics out of religion” and believes that the furthest the faith ought to go in worldly matters is to be prescriptive about Christian obedience and character. In the third group, there are the evangelicals who, like the former, have limited their Christianity only to the scope of only “religious” things, yet who have a genuine concern for issues of liberty and reformation. Their error is to turn to those who champion various forms of “secular conservatism”, and engage in cultural warfare alongside them, advocating for some version of secular libertarianism, Constitutionalism, enlightenment political theory, and general principles pertaining to “freedom”. This is inevitably a losing strategy on account of the fact that it plays within the rules of the game without addressing the rules presuppositionally; a “secular conservative” still thinks like a secularist, acts like a secularist, and plays like a secularist, because they still are a secularist; they still operate with the fundamental assumption that 1) there really is a distinction between the sacred and the secular, and 2) that the secular has the final say.

The alternative worldview I would like to introduce is what Dr. Greg Bahnsen calls “the holistic gospel”, and what Douglas Wilson has summarized so succinctly: “all of Christ, for all of life”. It is distinctly the worldview of the Reformed faith, most notably held by the Puritans, who sought to diligently apply the entire counsel of God’s word to the entirety of life. There are not two buckets, one for religion and one for life, nor are there two kingdoms, one for God and one for man. There is only one bucket, one category of thing, and one kingdom; it is Christ’s, and everything goes in it. He has authority over all things in heaven and on earth. His purpose is drive out every single one of His enemies until all things are redeemed for His glory. History is a great war for the cosmos, and we are His army. Our engines of war are gospel preaching, baptism, and the teaching of obedience to the whole counsel of His law, both in the Old and the New Testaments. Where secular government claims total control over all of life, the Reformed faith teaches the Biblical principle of limited government and sphere sovereignty. Civil government is deacon of God whose purpose is to enact justice by punishing evildoers and rewarding those who do good according to the whole counsel of God’s law: the 10 Commandments. Consequently, any government which steps beyond these God-given boundaries is an abomination, having sinned against God by consuming its people, and is deserving of punishment by God. In this, resistance to government tyranny by Godly people is justified, so as to restore order and righteousness to the republic. Civil government does not answer to itself, nor is it the highest authority. Rather, being a deacon of the Lord, it answers to the Lord, and it is the job of the church to teach even the civil authorities obedience to Christ. Liberty therefore, is not the wanton libertine freedom to indulge in all the passions of the flesh, nor the stifling burden of limitless regulations and taxation, but rather the freedom to live to the glory of God in any manner you please, so long as you obey God’s Law. Real Liberty is to live under Christ, free from sin, restored to good works and lawful obedience.

Everything beyond the authority of the church and the state falls to the authority of the family itself, the first and most foundational institution established by God. This includes business, production, education, family life, raising children, and everything else pertaining to man’s work for dominion of the earth. To the secularist, the most basic and essential authority of any society is the state, but to the Christian, the most basic and essential authority is the authority of the father as the head of his household. Fathers should be Christlike in every way, lords who rule their households the same way that Christ rules His, exercising their authority as kings for sacrificial responsibility over those whom God has given to them. Men should be masculine, able to defend and provide for their household, passionate lovers of their wives, frequent confessors of sin, masters of their domain, and diligent pastors of their family. Women likewise should be submissive to their husbands, examples of femininity, caring nurturers, and executives of the daily affairs of their home, diligent workers who labor in beauty, fruitfulness, Godliness, and care for others. It is individual households, ruled by individual men and women, which ultimately labor in Christ’s work of reformation.

Therefore, we must not be deceived into thinking that reformation begins at the top and trickles its way down. The first and most important work of reformation begins in the heart of man, where a foundation of faith, confession, and repentance is laid, upon which a life of obedience may be lived. The purpose of obedience is good works, in order that we may live as holy instruments of Christ, agents of God’s providence, laborers in the reformation of the world, that our obedience contributes first to the obedience of our families, and then our churches, and then our nations, so that Christ may be all in all. Rejoice in forgiven sin, stand firm, act like men, and go forth to conquer the world.

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Chris Carter · https://newenglandreformer.com
Chris Carter is the proprietor of The New England Reformer.


The Secular Error