The Standard of Piety

From Christian Education: Piety and Christian Reconstruction by David H. Chilton

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Two questions must be answered on this point: (1) What is the nature of true Christian piety? (2) Does the ICE really “downplay” its importance?

Christian piety, if it means anything at all, is godly living in every aspect of thought and activity. It is, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, to be “careful of the duties owed by created beings to God…” Piety, therefore, must be radically distinguished from its counterfeit in pietism—which centers on rapturous emotional experiences and “devotional exercises,” while steadfastly refusing to apply God’s word to God’s world. For example, Israel and Judah in the eighth century B.C. were often pietistic, with much seemingly devotional activity going on; but they were in fact godless. The prophets, speaking for God, denounced such false religion, often using strong and offensive language: “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. . . Take away from Me the noise of your songs…” (Amos 5:21-23); “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, their incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly” (Isa. 1:13). There was nothing wrong with these acts of-worship as such, for they had been appointed by God. But while the people were doing all these things, they were also neglecting to obey God’s word in all of life; and this neglect turned all their vaunted piety into blasphemous hypocrisy.

Pietism takes many forms. In our day the most obvious is that which is simply a cowardly retreat in the face of opposition: the pietist is too busy with devotional exercises to get involved in working for God’s glory. There is certainly a proper place for devotional exercises; but, after all, the basic reason for any exercise at all is to enable one to live a healthier and more hard-working life. The egotistical parlor-athlete whose entire existence is spent flexing and primping in front of gymnasium mirrors is of no use to anyone—for him, “exercise” is a means of avoiding the demands of real life. Jesus did not send the apostles into monasteries, but into the world, with the commission to disciple the nations. Our exercises are to make us strong for service.

Do reconstructionist writers downplay Christian piety? I don’t believe so, and I could quote extensively from Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen et al to document it. But since the occasion which prompted Mr. Shank to write was an article of mine, I will speak for myself. I do heartily believe in prayer, devotions, self-examination, adoration of Jesus Christ, cultivation of Christian graces and attitudes, and so on. I seek to lay a due stress on these things in my sermons. I admit that I don’t stress them in my articles, and there is a reason for this. In a limited space, articles for The Biblical Educator have an overall goal: to teach teachers how to teach. Our primary purpose is not to teach teachers how to manage their personal devotions (although an article on this theme might be accepted). The same goes for the other ICE newsletters: they are written to deal with specific issues and problems that faithful Christians must face, after they’re done “exercising.” A fundamental thesis of the Reconstructionist is that piety is not for the prayer closet alone, but for all of life—that prayer-closet piety alone is not piety but pietism. But to say this is not to deny the need for a prayer closet. Piety, if it is genuine, will not be restricted to either internalism or externalism. The godly man will seek to honor God at every point of his existence. No area of life is exempt from our Lord’s demands. Thus, in dealing with these issues, the ICE newsletters are teaching “Christian piety,” for to neglect such matters is impious. The standard of piety is the law of God.


The gospel of Jesus Christ is central to any genuine program of Christian reconstruction. The preaching of morality—even biblical morality—will not change hearts. Sinners are transformed only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit through the message of the crucified and resurrected Savior. But that is only the beginning. Once a man has been converted, what then? The gospel has changed him from death to life: he is now supposed to live. He must discover God’s standards for his living in every area—in his family, his work, his everyday activity. Shall we then accuse him of departing from the centrality of the gospel? No! It is the gospel that has made the difference! He is applying God’s standards to his life just because the gospel is central.

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“The Standard of Piety is the Law of God.”

Not a bad way of viewing things. At the present moment, I prefer Perk’s view:

“Righteousness means justice, not piety.”

I’m willing to shift things a bit: the difference between Perk and Chilton is a lot smaller than the distance between both and most pious’n’dead Christian churches, fit only to be ground under the heel of men.

To expand on Perks’s quotation in his article The Kingdom of God is a Social Order:

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 So what is the kingdom of God?

The kingdom of God is a counter revolutionary prophetic social order structured by the covenant of grace—the true society that God intends for mankind. This social order is what all Christians are commanded to seek now, on earth, first, before all else. It is not something that we merely look forward to in the resurrection, but something we are to seek to make a reality on earth now. Without this being the central goal of our life the assemblies of Christians, i.e. the Church, becomes merely a Christian mystery cult—which alas is what has happened today. Therefore, the most important thing we are to seek as Christians in this life is the establishing of this social order as a real community, a real society. Nothing else in our life comes before this according to Jesus, since he tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Righteousness means justice, not piety. But please note that the Church is only part of this kingdom, not the whole of it, and it is the usurpation of the kingdom by the clergy, who are predominantly dualistic cult builders, that has caused and continues to cause such problems for the building of the kingdom, and has reduced the kingdom to the Church, over which the clergy exercise control. In other words the kingdom is reduced to a Christian mystery cult, with the result that it becomes ineffective as the real agent for the transformation of the world, which is what it should be.

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I will have to pound on this again and again, because Jesus Christ pounded on the Kingdom of God again and again.

Every nation must be discipled to the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. This means their entire society, including their civil government, but also includes their familial government, their religious government, their understanding of science and history, their politics and their charity.

Christians must do what God commands us to do. We must be worthy servants, full of the Holy Spirit, cleaned and sanctified to do God’s Will, with His Law inscribed on our hearts.

To the extent that piety is of any value at all, it must be focused on actually obeying the Law-Word of Jesus Christ, of upholding the demands of Scripture.

In time and on earth.

Not only continually in our hearts and our meditations, but also continually with our lips and our hands, at work and in the outer world and the family home and in communal worship of Jesus Christ.

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