By Parnell McCarter



Recently a friend observed the far-reaching implications he has observed when the Establishment Principle is rejected.  He has noticed that it not only affects one’s political philosophy, but even one’s theology.  This observation stimulated me to ponder why rejection of the Establishment Principle has such far-reaching implications.  This article summarizes the conclusions of my musings on the question.


The doctrine of total depravity teaches that all of man’s faculties – his will, his conscience, his affections, his knowledge – have been corrupted by the Fall.  Fallen man does not desire the true God and His moral law.  Man in his natural fallen state cannot therefore govern properly.   He cannot properly govern himself, much less a nation.  His corruption leads fallen man into false religion and false worship, which in turn leads to other heinous sins, even as Romans 1 testifies.  The only solution to this miserable condition is the word of God working with the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit.   Only by these can man get to where he can govern properly, and only by their continued influence can man continue to govern properly.  And this naturally leads to the conclusion that only those with a sound knowledge of the word of God and regenerating grace evidenced by a sound profession of faith and conversation can properly govern, including governing a state.  But this is just another way of stating the Establishment Principle, which teaches that only communicant members of the rightful established church of a state (i.e., those with a sound knowledge of the word of God and a sound profession of faith and conversation) should govern.  Only they should be allowed to vote and hold public office.  They can reasonably be expected to govern in such a way as to “kiss the Son” by enforcing His moral law (at least as much as can be had in this present sinful world), but not those who are new converts still being catechized in the reformed faith, nor heretics and schismatics (many of whom, for instance, reject the Establishment Principle), nor much less those who are clearly in an unconverted state.  It is quite opposite to a secular democratic theory of government (represented, for example, in the US Constitution) which rejects religious test oaths and the Establishment Principle.   The latter assumes fallen man in his natural condition can properly govern a state, whereas the former assumes only those transformed by the word and Spirit can properly govern.  In summary, the doctrine of total depravity implies the doctrine of the Establishment Principle.


Let’s now commit these propositions and their relation to symbolic logic:


A implies B where:


A = the doctrine of total depravity


B = the doctrine of the Establishment Principle


Now, by the logical law of Modus tollens, if A implies B, then:


~ B implies ~ A


In other words, a rejection of the doctrine of the Establishment Principle logically leads to a rejection of the doctrine of total depravity.  And since the doctrine of total depravity is foundational to the doctrines of grace in general (for the doctrine of total depravity explains why salvation must be totally of God’s grace, man being incapable of even cooperating in his salvation), a rejection of the Establishment Principle logically must lead to a rejection of the doctrines of grace, and therefore of the reformed Christian faith.


But, someone may object, “what of Dabney, Hodge, Alexander, and Warfield, and many other Five-Point Calvinists up to our present day? Your conclusion cannot possibly be correct.”  The answer to this paradox is something called cognitive dissonance, which all of us sinful men have, though to varying degrees.  Even Christians sincerely hold propositions as truth which in fact are contrary to one another.  We are all guilty of the crime of cognitive dissonance to some extent, just the specifics vary from person to person.


History, on the other hand, has a way of manifesting such contradictions over time.  To quote Abraham Lincoln here, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”    Each of us may be able to endure our own peculiar set of dissonant propositions in our own lifetime, but it is another thing entirely for all humanity over all of time.  Coming more immediately after America’s colonial era, with a large reservoir of Protestant heritage built up during the time when established Protestantism reigned in the American colonies, the consequences of rejecting the Establishment Principle were more masked in the nineteenth century.  Men like Dabney and Hodge can be more easily forgiven their blind spot regarding the Establishment Principle.  But the reservoir of Protestant heritage is running dry, and the awful consequences of secular democracy and the rejection of the Establishment Principle – rampant infidelity, heresy, idolatry, Sabbath desecration, sexual libertinism, covenant breaking divorce, murderous abortion, etc. – are becoming increasingly apparent.  The modern information age has even sped up the pace philosophies and ideologies race to their logical conclusion. The consequences of rejecting the Establishment Principle are indeed far-reaching.