The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On Advent Sunday

In long eternal ages past
Before the earth was made,
The stars hung in the nightly sky
And sea’s foundations laid,

He lived and reigned upon a throne
In sovereign majesty.
Being and life, they were His own
And Godhead – Deity.

All things belong to Him by right
As God’s begotten Son;
His Father was the King of Light,
Creator had He none.

Although all this He had and was
He came down to the earth,
Was clothed in flesh and One of us
Became by virgin birth.

His mother was a young maiden,
Betrothed but not yet wed,
When first the angel came to her
And these glad tidings said:

That she’d found favour with the Lord
And had been very blessed;
She would conceive and bear a Son
Whose name would be Jesus.

He’d be the Son of God Most High
And sit in David’s chair;
His Kingdom would not have an end,
He’d judge all Jacob there.

Young Mary wondered at these words
But rejoiced to hear them.
Her Son had long awaited been
Since prophets spoke of Him.

He was Messiah to the Jews -
With the promised Kingdom
His Laws He’s write upon their hearts
And redemption bring them.

He was the Logos to the Greeks,
The most divine Reason,
The Order beneath everything
Giving life its meaning.

All of Creation still awaits
His return appearing
To judge the living and the dead
And reign on earth as King.

As we begin the Christian year
This anticipation,
We enter in with joyful hearts,
Full of celebration.

We join with Christians ‘round the world,
Now and in days gone by,
And re-enact the wait of old
For His Nativity.

We do so to invite Him in
To dwell inside our hearts
That we might be as one with Him
Who of His church are parts.

“Lord Jesus come and live in us”,
Upon our knees we pray,
“We turn our hearts again to you,
On this Advent Sunday”.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A note about the preceeding essay

The essay in the post previous to this one recovers a lot of ground that was covered in earlier essays, especially those posted in the first couple of months of this blog. This essay in particular was inspired by discussion of libertarianism at Lawrence Auster's traditionalist blog "A View From the Right", particularly this entry:

and this one:

and by Dr. Steve Burton's response to Mr. Auster's arguments found at the traditionalist blog "What's Wrong With the World" here:

I commented on Dr. Burton's post here:

and my essay "Freedom in Society" is an expansion of sorts, of my comments there.

Freedom in Society

The basic political definition of freedom within the tradition of the English-speaking world could be “the right to do whatever is not specifically forbidden by law”. Anarchists, who regard freedom as the absence of law, would obviously object to this definition. It is an important starting point however, because it is the opposite of the notion that people are only allowed to do whatever they are expressly permitted to do by the law.

In these two concepts we see the essential difference between a society that is constitutionally free, and a society that is constitutionally tyrannical or totalitarian. A constitutionally free society has clear, specific rules as to what you are not allowed to do but otherwise leaves you free to make your own choices. A constitutionally tyrannical society has specific rules as to what you are permitted to do and if you do something that is not on that list you could be in trouble with the government. English-speaking countries are by a long-standing tradition constitutionally free societies.

It should be apparent from this that freedom is quantifiable. In a constitutionally free society, the more laws there are the less freedom you have. There is a form of tyranny which can exist within the form of a constitutionally free society because “the right to do whatever is not specifically forbidden by law” does not particularly mean much when there are laws against everything.

Clearly then if we wish to live in a free society we should be aiming for less laws rather than more. This brings us to the question of what kinds of actions should laws forbid.

Evelyn Waugh admirably expressed the Tory (1) position on this question when he wrote:

I believe in government; that men cannot live together without rules but that these should be kept at the bare minimum of safety. (2)

Laws should be limited to what is necessary. This is true, not only for the sake of maintaining liberty in a free society, but also in order to ensure that the laws we do have are effectively enforced. When laws are multiplied, society’s law enforcement agencies have a tendency to concentrate on laws that are easily enforced but less important over laws that are more important and more difficult to enforce. This produces the situation that Dr. Samuel Francis dubbed “anarcho-tyranny”. (3) Picture a city where the police department goes to great effort to make sure the traffic regulations are kept while gang violence runs amok and unsolved homicide after homicide cases pile up, and will you get the idea.

Now, you have undoubtedly noticed that I have not actually answered the question of what kinds of actions should laws forbid in asserting that laws should be limited to those which are necessary. That assertion merely leads to the question being rephrased as “what laws are necessary?”

How do we determine whether a law is necessary or not?

We can only do so, by examining the purpose of law itself. Laws exist as a means to a particular end and their necessity is determined by whether they are essential to achieving that end.

What purpose do laws serve? What is their ultimate end?

The right answer to this question is that laws exist to facilitate society and to ensure its safety and security.

Society consists of people and between people conflicts often arise. It is to be preferred that people settle their disputes peacefully themselves, but if they cannot do so, the need arises for the dispute to be arbitrated. This produces a need for laws which we would categorize as “civil”. Their purpose is to keep disputes from escalating into violence that threatens the fabric of society.

Lets say you and your neighbor disagree as to where the property line dividing your yards is to be located. Your neighbor would like to put up a fence that will cut through your flower garden whereas you believe the fence should be erected so as to include an apple tree your neighbor claims as his own on your property.

How is this to be resolved?

One way is for you and your neighbor to go throughout the neighborhood, gathering support from your friends, and then fight it out between the two parties, destroying property and shedding blood in the process. This is not the optimal solution.

The other way is for society to have clear laws as to how disputes of this nature are to be settled and a magistrate with the authority to hear your side and your neighbor’s and issue a ruling based on the law which both you and your neighbor must abide by.

Civil laws of this nature facilitate society, that is, they make it possible for people to live in peace together in that collective venture we call society.

The other major category of law is “criminal law”. Criminal laws prohibit acts like taking or vandalizing another person’s property, assaulting or killing another person, or raping or kidnapping someone. If you commit a criminal act you are forced to pay a penalty to society, after you have been caught, arrested, and been proven guilty in a court of law. The purpose of criminal law is to protect society and its members from harmful and destructive behavior.

This brings us back to the question of which acts should be proscribed by law – and to the classical liberal answer to that question.

Classical liberalism or libertarianism as it is more commonly known as today asserts that society’s laws should only prohibit actions which harm people other than the person committing the action in their person or property. This is called the “harm principle”. It was the basic thesis of John Stuart Mill’s famous On Liberty (4) but the concept is present in the writings of earlier liberal thinkers as well.

Liberalism’s harm principle should not be dismissed lightly. As an answer to the question of which acts should be illegal and which should not, there is much to commend it. Actions, the criminality of which are uncontroversial among sane people, such as murder, rape, theft and the like, all fall under the category of actions which are harmful to others.

There are, however, problems with the libertarian position which appear when we look at the underlying philosophy behind it and its application to controversial actions.

The philosophy behind the harm principle is the philosophy of classical liberalism. This philosophy asserts that only “individuals” (persons by themselves, not as members of any larger group) are real, that society is a voluntary association of individuals, and that political society and its laws exist to protect the rights of the individual.

One of the earliest liberal thinkers was the 17th century English empiricist John Locke. Locke’s held that in a hypothetical (not necessarily historical) “state of nature” prior to society, all men as individuals are absolutely sovereign over themselves and possess absolute rights to their life, liberty, and property. In this “state of nature”, however, men are vulnerable to violence from other people. Therefore, to protect themselves and their rights, men form societies, which are contracts between sovereign individuals in which they agree to relinquish a portion of their sovereignty to society, so as to obtain laws to protect their rights against the violence of others. (5)

The problem with all this, however, is that it is manifestly wrong and is indeed the exact opposite of what is observable about the nature of human beings and their societies.

All human societies that are older than a single generation existed prior to the people who make up their membership. More importantly, when we look at society in its most basic form, the family, we see that it is not a “voluntary association of individuals”.

The family is the simple form of society, the building block from which more complex societies are established. Each of us entered the world as a member of a family that we did not choose to enter. We were sired by a father, and born to a mother, neither of which we chose. We do not chose our relationships to our parents, nor do we chose our relationships to our siblings.

The family is prior to the individual person, therefore society is prior to the individual person.

Indeed, there is no such thing as an “individual” the way liberalism conceives him. Liberalism’s “individual” is a person, detached from all society, identified not by that which distinguishes him from other people, but by that which supposedly makes him the same as all other people, i.e., a set of “natural rights” which all individuals are supposed to possess equally.

A person apart from society, however, is not living in a “natural state”. Take a hermit living on top of a mountain, in a remote cave, or out in the desert somewhere? Is such a person living in a more “natural” state than a man living with his wife and children in a community with other men who live with their wives and children? Of course not! These kinds of people, are extremely rare, for precisely the reason that their behavior is not normal or natural for human beings.

Furthermore, a person in isolation from society, is not in the position of having rights but no means to enforce and protect them. Isolated from society, a person has no rights whatsoever. A “right” is by definition a claim on other people and therefore cannot exist in the absence of society.

If liberalism’s philosophy of the sovereign individual being logically prior to society is false and contrary to all observable evidence (and it is), it follows that liberalism’s answer to the question of what is the primary purpose of law, i.e., to protect the rights of individuals, cannot be correct.

Now, if the philosophy of classical liberalism is wrong, and its view of the purpose of law is wrong, does that mean the harm principle is also wrong?


As mentioned previously, if we look for laws which are found universally throughout civilized human societies and which forbid actions that few if any would dispute are criminally wrong, we find these laws tend to correspond to the harm principle.

We also find, when we look into the thought of pre-liberal Western ethical philosophers and theologians, that the harm principle itself is older than liberal individualism.

The most famous work of St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th Century Dominican priest, is his Summa Theologica. The second part of this treatise is devoted to ethics. Here Aquinas raises the question of “Whether it belongs to the human law to repress all vices?”

In his answer, Aquinas states:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like. (6)

The Thomistic position is both similar to and different from the liberal harm principle. The main difference is that Aquinas’ view affirms society and lawfully constituted authority whereas the libertarian view of J. S. Mill is subversive of society and authority.

The subversive nature of liberalism is such that, despite its protestations to the contrary, liberalism is no friend to the free society. When society and legitimate authority within society are undermined, the result that ensues will be either chaos, tyranny, or a mixture of both. It will never be a free society in which people enjoy both freedom and the benefits of society.

Society as we have seen, is not a “voluntary association of individuals”. It is organic in nature, consisting of a variety of social institutions (family, church, cultural and economic associations of various natures, neighborhoods, communities, etc.) which exist in multiple layers in which society expands outward from the family to become the sovereign polity. Within each social institution and every level of society there are positions of authority.

What is authority?

Authority is the right to command obedience. It is distinct from power, which is the ability to compel obedience by force. It is not completely separate from power, however, because authority includes the right to use an appropriate degree of force to ensure that rules are obeyed.

Where is authority located?

Authority is vested in offices or positions, rather than in the people who occupy those positions and exercise the authority.

What is the source of authority?

The source of authority is the constitution of society. The constitution of society is not a charter written on paper like the British North America Act or the Constitution of the United States of America, important as those documents may be. The true constitution of any society is its system of organization, written in its traditions, and established by prescription.

Society’s constitution is not the voluntary contract that liberalism conceived it to be. Rather, it is as Edmund Burke (7) conceived it:

a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection…not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born…linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible worlds, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place. (8)

That description could better be called a “covenant” than a contract. The covenant of society, like all covenants, functions according to the faith of its members.

When members of a society believe in their constitution they will respect the offices of authority established by that constitution (if not necessarily the people who occupy the offices at any given time). The more faith people have in their constitution, the more respect they have for the constitutional authorities, and the more they voluntarily obey the rules without the use of force.

This has a direct relationship to the degree of freedom in society. A wise ruler will seek to govern so as to maintain faith in society and its authorities, and will therefore seek to effectively enforce essential laws without burdening the people with excessive regulations. A foolish ruler, who prefers to maintain order through naked power, will not be concerned about maintaining people’s faith in society by limiting the laws to the few essential laws effectively enforced.

Thus is a functioning society held together by faith. Governors keep faith with the people on their part, by enforcing the laws that are necessary and not passing excessive laws. The people keep faith with the government by respecting the authorities and voluntarily obeying the laws.

In this we see that there is a relationship between legitimate government and consent. It is not the relationship liberalism suggests, however, but rather the inverse. Liberal theory once again has the cart before the horse. Government does not derive the legitimacy of its authority from the consent of those it governs. Rather people voluntarily consent to government when they believe it to be exercising legitimate authority derived from a legitimate constitution.

How does a constitution obtain legitimacy?

The one word answer is “prescription”.

Prescription is the word we use to describe the process whereby a social arrangement gains legitimacy by virtue of having passed the test of time. Rationalists will scoff, but people have far more faith in a social arrangement that has weathered the storms of time and served society well for generations than in an abstract theory that looks good on paper as to why such-and-such a social arrangement is best.

Do not mistake me. I am not saying that we should accept something that is obviously unjust simply because “that is the way it has always been”. I am saying that the generally accepted legitimacy of a stable constitution of society is something that develops over the course of generations through a long period of time.

It can be overthrown, however, in a very short period of time, by government which abuses its authority and betrays the faith of the people, or by subversive doctrines like liberalism which tell people that their personal interests are more important than those of society.

Most of us in the English-speaking world wish to be free. We also wish to be, like all normal human beings, members of societies. We therefore wish to enjoy freedom within society.

The traditional constitution of English-speaking countries in which we are legally free to do whatever the law does not specifically proscribe, contributes towards the fulfillment of that wish. So does the basic idea expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas, that human laws exist to restrict not all vices, but major vices, primarily those in which harm is done to others.

Since we value being part of a society, however, a real society and not liberalism’s “voluntary association of individuals”, we must resist allowing Aquinas’ concept to be twisted into the anti-social, subversive individualism found in the theories of classical liberals like J. S. Mill.

(1) As is my usual custom, here I use “Tory”, not to mean a member/supporter of the Conservative Party necessarily, but a traditionalist conservative, particularly those within the British and Canadian traditions who support the parliamentary monarchy and the Christian Church.

(2) “A Conservative Manifesto” found on page 161 of the 1986 Penguin edition of The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh edited by Donat Gallagher, taken from Waugh’s Robbery Under Law.

(3) The oldest reference I can find for this is “Anarcho-Tyranny USA”, the speech Dr. Francis’ gave to the John Randolph Club in 1993 and published on pages 14-19 of the July 1994 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. In the text of the address Dr. Francis makes reference to his having used the term in earlier columns, but I have no bibliographic details about these. He wrote about it until the end of his life, and revisited the topic in “Synthesizing Tyranny”, the last essay he wrote for Chronicles published in their April 2005 issue.

(4) Mill defines the principle in the 9th paragraph of his introductory chapter. Note that Mill begins this paragraph by saying that the principle should limit all social control over the individual, whether it be by actual laws enforced by the state or the “moral coercion of public opinion”.

(5) Locke’s views can be found in his Two Treatises of Government, originally published in 1689, particularly the second treatise.



(7) Edmund Burke was an 18th Century British statesman who was originally a classical liberal himself. He entered politics as a member of the Whig Party (the liberal party of the 18th century). He was a friend of Samuel Johnson, the prominent 18th century man of letters, who was noted for his Tory views. Burke once wrote to Johnson’s friend and biographer James Boswell that he had dined with Johnson and “we had a very good day, as we had not a sentence, word, syllable, letter, comma, or tittle of any of the elements that make politics”. Burke may very well have been the “scoundrel” Dr. Johnson had in mind in his famous remark about (false) patriotism, recorded by Boswell. The French Revolution changed all that. Seeing the horrible violence that sprung from the “armed doctrines” of the “Enlightenment”, Burke took up cudgels for tradition, organic society, the ancient constitution, monarchy, and the church – the traditional articles of Tory faith - in a treatise entitled Reflections on the Revolution in France originally published in 1790. When Marie Antoinette was beheaded in 1793, Burke bemoaned the fact that in a “nation of gallant men…honor…and of cavaliers”, “ten thousand swords” had not “leaped from their scabbards” to defend her, and mourned the death of the “age of chivalry” and the rise of that of “sophisters, economists and calculators”. Burke had, to paraphrase Irving Kristol, become a “Whig mugged by reality” , a “neo-Tory” if you will.

(8)Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Gateway Edition, (Henry Regnery Company: Chicago, 1955), pp. 139-140.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Their Duty and Ours

Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because 'tis fifty years to-night
That God has saved the Queen.

Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we'll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home to-night:
Themselves they could not save.
– A. E. Housman (1)

On November 11th, 1918 the Allied commander-in-chief and the German secretary of state signed the Armistice which brought the fighting in the first World War to an official end in a railway car in Compiègne Forest in Picardie, France. The following year, His Majesty King George V issued the following proclamation:

To all my people:

Tuesday next, November 11th, is the first anniversary of the armistice which stayed the world-wide carnage of the four preceding years, and marked the victory of right and freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of that great deliverance and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of this feeling it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the armistice came into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities. During that time, except in the rare cases where this might be impractical, all work, all sound and all locomotion should cease, so that in perfect stillness the thoughts of every one may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

Thus November 11th came to be Armistice Day. After the hostilities, which were renewed in 1939, were brought a more decisive close in 1945 the day was renamed Remembrance Day in countries loyal to the British Crown. This change reflected the desire for a more general memorial of those who made the ultimate sacrifice at the call of king and country.

Although Remembrance Day is only 91 years old it embodies concepts which are much older, concepts which have been part of human society since time immemorial. One such concept is the concept of duty. It was out of duty that the men we honour on Remembrance Day gave their lives. It is out of duty that we who live keep their memory alive.

What is duty?

Duty is the sense that one owes a particular service to others. Society would fall apart without duty. Parents have duties to their children, children have duties to their parents. Spouses have duties to each other. Our highest duty is to God. Our second highest duty is to our country.

We, as members of a particular society and country, are part of a whole that is larger than ourselves, a whole that embraces not just those living today, but generations past and generations yet to come as well. Our leaders, owe a duty to our country, to see to it that our country is not endangered and the lives of its young people spent fighting wars for frivolous reasons.

When, however, our country finds itself at war, duty calls upon our young men to go out and fight and if need be die for our country. This is a duty that cannot be fulfilled apart from a willingness to sacrifice all one is, has, and hopes to be and gain. Unflinching bravery to the point of death is not something which can be bought. There is no quid pro quo that society can offer in return.

We honour them for their sacrifice, for honour and glory have always been the reward of valour. Some would prefer that we did not do this. They argue that to honour courage in battle is to glorify war, and hence to encourage and perpetuate it. Therefore, they say, in the interests of ending war and bloodshed, we should not glorify it. Such people are tragically and foolishly mistaken.

Men have always recognized that war is a horrible thing, the cause of bloodshed, death, destruction and sorrow. That has not prevented men from fighting wars. War is a product of human nature. St. James, in the first verses of the fourth chapter of his general epistle, identified lust or desire, as the root from which fighting and war springs. Desire is located in the human heart and cannot be eliminated by schemes to make war a thing of the past.

We cannot eliminate human nature without eliminating human beings entirely, a rather high price to pay for world peace. We should not go about provoking and instigating war, but we must be ready to defend our country in war if the need arises. For this reason, we must continue to honour those who have laid down their lives for our country in the past.

We too, you see, owe a duty to our country and a duty to the soldiers whose memory we collectively honour on Remembrance Day. We owe it to them to preserve the country they died for, a patrimony for their descendants and ours. We owe it to them to raise up future generations with the character and sense of duty they themselves displayed, so that should the call of duty come again, there will be those to answer it.

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

"God save the Queen" we living sing,
From height to height 'tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.

Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you've been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

(1) The lines in the epigraph are the second, third, and fourth stanzas of A. E. Housman’s poem 1887, also known as “From Clee to heaven the beacon burns” (the first line of the poem). It is the first poem in Housman's A Shropshire Lad, originally published in 1896. The lines quoted at the end of this essay, are the sixth through eighth stanzas of the same poem. The celebrations referred to throughout the poem are, as the title indicates, of the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Religion, Righteousness and Christianity

Several decades ago Fritz Ridenour wrote a popular study of St. Paul’s epistle to the church in Rome, entitled How to Be Christian Without Being Religious. (1) The title was cleverly worded. Everybody knows how to be religious without being a Christian – you join another religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. To be a Christian without being religious, on the other hand, is a contradiction in terms. Ridenour, however, was writing in the ‘60’s, and the young generation he was writing to, were being portrayed in the media as rebels who rejected the society of their parents and its rules. Church and religion were part of the society they were rebelling against. To reach this generation with the gospel, Ridenour believed he had to separate the gospel and Christ, from religion.

Ridenour may not have been the first to distinguish between “Christianity” and “religion” in this manner, but he would certainly not be the last. It caught on like wildfire and today large segments of the evangelical church adhere religiously to the idea that “Christianity is not a religion”. Here, however, they have out-Ridenoured Ridenour, who opened his book by quoting Webster’s definition of “religion” as “a system of faith and worship” and saying that “Christianity is certainly that”.

Some evangelicals even go so far as to tell people that “God hates religion”.

What is religion?

People who separate religion on the one hand from the Gospel and Christ on the other hand usually define “religion” as “man trying to reach God through his own efforts”.

This is an incredibly tortured definition of religion however. It confuses an attitude towards religion, i.e., a belief that religion will make one righteous and acceptable in the eyes of God, with religion itself.

The defining element of religion is communal worship. Religion is people collectively, as a community, believing in and worshipping God. It, like marriage and family, is a universal institution of human society.

Does the Bible condemn religion?

No. In the Bible, God condemns certain kinds of religious worship, such as human sacrifice and the worship of idols (deities other than the one true and living God), and He condemns the hypocritical use of religion to mask unrighteousness and unbelief, but He never condemns religion itself. Indeed, in the Bible He established not one, but two religions.

In both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, as we shall see, there is a distinction between religion and righteousness. The Old Testament prophets warned God’s people of His displeasure over their sin, telling them that God preferred righteous behavior to the outward practice of religion.

In the New Testament, the Incarnate Son of God went even further. He preached that true righteousness is righteousness in the heart and not just outward obedience to the commandments. If outward righteousness is not enough to please God it is clear that neither religion nor righteousness can make a man acceptable to God, because all are sinners. That truth is fundamental to the Christian Gospel. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can make peace between a Holy God and sinful man. The Scriptures proclaim the Gospel, the Good News that God has shown His love to sinful mankind by giving us His Only Son Jesus, Who took the burden of our sins upon Himself as He died on the cross paying the penalty of our sins, and promises us that all repentant sinners who believe in the Risen Christ are cleansed from sin, declared righteous in the eyes of the Lord, and have everlasting life as the gift of God.

Does that mean then that if we have the Gospel we don’t need religion?

The New Testament clearly says that righteousness is not “optional” for the repentant sinner who trusts in Christ.

“What shall we say then?” St. Paul asks the Romans, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

The answer is “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

The Apostle’s point is not that placing one’s faith in Christ makes one sinless in practice in this life or that good works help maintain one’s salvation after one has trusted Christ (the epistle of Galatians was written to refute the latter error). He is saying that we are not to use salvation by grace through faith as an excuse to sin. Grace does not operate by removing God’s requirement that we be obedient and righteous so that we are now licensed to sin. Grace operates by removing sin and guilt from the sinner who humbly repents and trusts in the salvation given in Jesus Christ.

If salvation by grace does not give us a license to be unrighteous neither does it give us a license to be irreligious.

Throughout the Scriptures we find God emphasizing that righteousness is more important than religion. In the sixth chapter of Hosea, God declares through the prophet “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” God Himself had established the Israelite system of sacrifice and burnt offerings as part of the Covenant He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. When He says, therefore, that He “desired mercy, and not sacrifice”, this has to be understood as a comparative, as in the second clause “the knowledge of God more than burn offerings” rather than a disavowal of the religious system He Himself had instituted.

In the sixth chapter of Micah, God quotes Balak, King of Moab, as having asked Balaam:

Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He then approves Balaam’s answer:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Christ made reference to verses like these when He condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. When the Pharisees asked His disciples: “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”

He responded by saying:

They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

In the 23 chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew we find Jesus rebuking the Pharisees by saying:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

The “weightier matters of the law”, according to Christ, are those which God is said to require of people in Michah 6:8, “judgment” meaning “justice” and faith corresponding to walking humbly with God. By saying that the Pharisees ought to have done these “and not to leave the other undone”, Christ is clearly saying that the fact that righteousness (justice, mercy, and faith) is more important than religion, does not mean the latter is unimportant.

That is not something that changed with the Cross and the establishment of the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, however, God has established a different religion for His Church than that which He established for Israel in the Old Covenant.

At Mt. Sinai, God established a covenant with the people of Israel, in which He agreed to be their God, and they His people. He gave them a religion, which included a place of worship (the Tabernacle which was later replaced by the Temple), a priesthood (the tribe of Levi), sacrifices, holy days, and a special diet. The religion established in the Old Testament, according to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament, pointed to Christ. The Levite priesthood and the sacrifices of bulls and of goats, pointed to Christ’s eternal priesthood, and the sacrifice of His own blood, offered in the Holy of Holies in heaven, which effectively takes away the sins of those who trust Him.

In the Old Testament, God promised through His prophets that He would, when He sent the Messiah, provide a New Covenant, in which He would write His Laws upon the hearts of His people. This Covenant was accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. This Covenant established a new spiritual community, the Church, led by Christ’s Apostles. As recorded in the Book of Acts, God led the Apostles in the early days of the Church, to decide that circumcision and the dietary requirements of the Sinaitic Law, would not be religious requirements for the Church. Baptism became the initiation ceremony for the Christian Church, symbolizing repentance from sin and union with Christ in His death and resurrection. Christ’s death was the effectual true Sacrifice, which once and for all took away sin, doing away with the need for future sacrifices. In the place of sacrifices in the Christian religion, Christ Himself instituted Holy Communion, as a memorial of His sacrificial death, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the first epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthian Church.

The idea that this does not comprise a religion is grotesquely erroneous. There is no sanction in Scripture for the idea that “Christianity is not a religion” or the notion that “God hates religion” any more than there is sanction for the liberal idea that religion is a “personal matter”. God created man with a need to worship his Creator, and He created man, not as a multitude of independent individuals, but as a social being, existing as families, communities, and societies. Man’s need to worship is an aspect of his collective as well as his individual existence, and thus man needs institutional, established religion. Salvation, is a gift of God, which we receive as repentant sinners, through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a gift God has given us, because He loves us and because we as sinners, need it. Religion is also a gift of God, given to us because He loves us, and because we need it.

(1) Fritz Ridenour, How To Be a Christian Without Being Religious, (Regal Books: Ventura, CA, 1967). Regal Books is an imprint of Gospel Light.