In Mark 7 Jesus sternly reprimands the Pharisees
for substituting their own self-serving law for the commandments
of the Old Testament. Plainly, Jesus was not abrogating the law
of the Old Testament itself (Mt. 5:18-20), but rather rebuking
men who substituted man-made regulations for God’s spiritual
commandments. Regulation is inescapable; the only question is
whether man will be regulated by God or by his fellow man. God
in Christ is a gracious and merciful regulator (Mt. 11:28-30).
Man, on the other hand, is often a totalitarian regulator.
Tyranny in Every Man’s Bosom
In his classic work The Revolutionary Ascetic, Bruce Mazlish observes
how leaders of modern revolutions from Robespierre to Mao to Lenin
had distinctly ascetic traits, depriving themselves of the ordinary
licit pleasures of God’s creation. This asceticism was a
crucial factor justifying to themselves the rationale to tyrannize
their countrymen—“I am self-disciplined, self-denying,
and self- sacrificial; therefore, I may discipline you and punish
you and and extract from you the greatest possible sacrifice.”
In Eric Hoffer’s aphoristic wisdom, “The revolutionary
agitator must first start a war in every soul before he can find
recruits for his war with the world.” He must teach man
to be his own tyrant before he can tyrannize the masses.
contrast, Christian lovers of liberty like the late G.K. Chesterton
often relish fatty food and great grog and other earthly pleasures.
Their lives—often like their waistlines—are full and
joyous and robust (though one need not be corpulent to love liberty!).
They hate tyranny, and they know that men cannot tyrannize the
world unless they first tyrannize themselves.
The Word of God liberates us from man-made tyranny, “Christian”
or otherwise; but men with deficient and distorted views of the
Word of God eagerly tyrannize under the guise of great piety.
Too many strict Presbyterian elders and charismatic “apostles”
consider it their job to maintain suffocating surveillance over
the entire congregation and to govern almost every aspect of their
lives. One Presbyterian even suggested that a potential spouse’s
session member, not her father, should determine whom she should
are often equally guilty of such tyranny. One small, razor-wire-enclosed
in northwest Florida, notorious for its overregulation enforced
by seemingly Gestapo tactics, has, from what I can gather, left
in its wake hundreds (or more) of young people suffering serious
spiritual damage as a result of its flagrant subversion of the
Scriptures, albeit under the guise of piety.
Reformers were flamed by a love for the Word of God, which in
the late medieval era had been diluted by the Latin Church’s
canon law and numerous arbitrary regulations that served only
to buttress the authority of the church. To be fair, of course,
Protestants and evangelicals can in practice be nearly as guilty
of such tyranny as the Roman church that they so vocally oppose.
Both are inexcusable.
All sorts of non-biblical regulations and rules and “standards”
become the criteria for what Francis Schaeffer once criticized
as “the new super-spirituality”: prohibition of all
alcoholic beverages, tobacco, “worldly music,” movies,
athletic contests, trendy clothes and cars, fatty foods, and on
and on and on.
At a recent
conference, one ostensibly Reformed speaker argued that all rock
music was sinful and that he could make a biblical case for his
position—though he did not attempt to do this, since such
a case (I am confident) was an invention in his own mind. Apparently,
God didn’t possess sufficient foresight to include in the
Bible all of these “terrible sins” by which we early
21st century Christians may be easily seduced, so he needs pious
totalitarians to dictate to the rest of us worldlings.
totalitarianism is an affront to God and his Word. Let us recall
that Jesus Christ reserved his severest denunciations for those
who substituted their own regulations for God’s inspired
the guise of piety is the most dangerous tyranny of all.
Andrew Sandlin, an ordained minister, is president of
the Center for Cultural Leadership, a Christian educational
foundation dedicated to reclaiming contemporary culture
for Jesus Christ. An interdisciplinary scholar, he holds
academic degrees or concentrations in English, English
literature, history, and political science. He has written
several monographs and books, including The Full Gospel:
A Biblical Vocabulary of Salvation and Totalism, and
hundreds of essays and articles, both scholarly and
popular. Andrew and his wife Sharon have five children.