What Do Ethics, Eschatology and Economic Progress Have in Common? Gary North Says: Plenty!

In a room full of scholars and economic specialists last week, Dr. Gary North gave a one-hour lecture at the 2013 Austrian Economics Research Conference, that parted the curtain on a bombshell thesis he offered in order to explain (or try to explain) the modern phenomenon of continous, compound economic growth, which inexplicably began in the Western world around 1800 and has continued unabated since then, and thus answer the unanswerable question (also the title of his speech), “How Come We’re So Rich?

I say bombshell because, in an economic school of thought that is heavily populated by atheists and anarchist-leaning libertarians, that’s exactly what it is.

Not to say that anybody in the room was surprised necessarily by Dr. North’s connecting the causational dots in his admittedly unproven theory regarding the unexpected onset of long-term economic progress and radical social change during the last two centuries.  He is, after all, the author of multitudes of books, articles, essays, tomes and commentaries spanning five decades, dealing with economic, social and historical issues from an explicitly biblical, presuppositional, Reformed/Calvinistic Christian perspective.

This is huge.

Not dry-as-dust intellectually huge.  But paradigm-shifting, preconceived-notion-challenging, random-walk-theory-demolishing, economic-myth-busting huge.

North is unique in his historical analysis because it is, in reality, a theological-historical-biblical analysis.  In Austrian, as well as in non-Austrian (anti-Austrian) circles, nobody does it better.

He alludes to the uniqueness of the uniqueness of his thesis during the final part of his lecture — namely, that a sea change in ethics, beginning in the 17th century, coincided with a sea change in eschatology at the same time to begin creating a slow and steady, compounding increase in economic output and economic growth throughout the developing world, starting with northwest Europe — specifically the British Isles — and spreading almost immediately to the United States.

But why?

That’s the $64 trillion dollar question.  One thing is for sure, according to North.  It took from the time of Moses and the Book of Deuteronomy to the time of the battle-weary, ready-for-a-new-and-profitable-adventure Dutch Calvinists of the early 17th century for, (a), the pursuit of personal wealth and profit and material gain — entrepreneurship — to be considered a legitimate (ethical) one for man, even Christian man, and, (b), the prevailing world-and-life view and outlook with regard to the future — especially with regard to the progress and success of the Kingdom of God on earth prior to the Lord’s return — to become decidedly optimistic: postmillennialism.

He says that modern capitalism, the basic concept behind Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Mises’s principle of corporate economic prosperity flowing from individual prosperity through the pursuit of “self-interest” in serving customers in a free marketplace, is a secularized version of the biblical-covenantal principle of corporate prosperity flowing from individual ethical obedience in the pursuit of prosperity and wealth in society for the service of the kingdom of God.

Not your garden-variety evangelical message of pietistic, premillennial poverty for God’s people!

No doubt, some in the audience took exception with his theological explanation (hypothesis) for the reasons behind the unremitting advances and successes and progress of the modern world, both in the economic and social order.  But, all were forced to admit to the fact that, to date, no one — North’s main point — has been able to offer a satisfactory explanation, economic or otherwise, for this radical transformation taking place, when it did, how it did, why it did, where it did and to whom it did.

Those of us who embrace the optimistic eschatology he spoke of, as well as the Scripture’s ethical endorsement of entrepreneurship and individual enterprise in the earthly economy of man for the service of the Kingdom of God, won’t find it hard to appreciate the mystery and majesty of the question, and the richness of the historical insights, riveting vignettes and solid theological perspectives offered by Dr. North, evinced masterfully in his speech at Mises.

A tour de force by the professor of Christian Reconstruction (and conscientious statesman of Austrian economics). Worth watching… twice!

How to Be a Biblical Christian… On Purpose!

Andrea Schwartz

Andrea Schwartz has written a helpful “how to” piece, published in the current (March/April 2013) issue of Chalcedon’s Faith for All of Life, called “The Virtue of Deliberate Christianity.”

Two key words in the title: virtue and deliberate.  Problem: American Christians, by and large, I think, are not known for being either “virtuous” or “deliberate” in their faith. Whether it’s “living out” their faith, “sharing” their faith, or (heaven forbid) strongly and positively proclaiming and fearlessly defending their faith, those who do so on any consistent basis are usually branded as “extremists” (or radical) and considered “outside the mainstream” of evangelical Christianity.

Problem: God calls us to be virtuous and deliberate in our faith.

Solution: Become virtuous and deliberate Christians!

How do we do that?

Andrea says that, first, we need to understand how the Bible defines virtue. (Hint: it has to do with a lot more than just sexual purity and moral uprightness.)  Virtue, in ancient times, meant “strength, courage and excellence.”  Biblically, the word means force, strength of mind or body, and power.  And, as spoken of in Proverbs 31, virtue means strength of character, “the wise use of abilities” and a demonstrated competence in one’s exercise of those abilities.

Second, because biblical virtue is “deliberate,” we need to be deliberate about exercising our faith.  (Intentional would be another, currently popular, way of putting it.)  This is not just “a good idea” –Andrea says it is our DUTY as Christians!

In a family setting,

“The goal is to advance a mindset of keeping the law-word of God and functioning within its guidelines as the way we demonstrate our love for Christ.”

We need to be straightforward about our faith, not subtle. We need to be deliberate about passing on a distinctively Christian world-and-life-view to our children. And we need to “instill a purposeful Christianity” in them in a thoughtful, loving, scripturally-sound way. Andrea relates how she and her husband dealt with a beloved family pet that had suddenly become a menace and a threat to the safety of everyone around, and how they applied the law of God to help them decide the right way to handle that situation–and then used that as a “teachable moment” for their children. Godly instruction in action!

There is power in virtuous, “purpose-driven” Christianity — driven by God’s law-word and by God’s purposeful covenant of grace.

Read further for more practical wisdom…

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The Virtue of Deliberate Christianity

By Andrea Schwartz – bio

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. (Prov. 31:10)

Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. (Prov. 31:29)

When we speak of a virtuous woman, we often limit the meaning to sexual purity or the absence of sinful actions in her life. However, as R. J. Rushdoony points out, there is a much more positive connotation attached to the word “virtue”:

The word “virtue” comes from the Latin and meant originally “strength, courage, and excellence.” In the Old and New Testaments, the words in Hebrew and Greek translated as “virtue” mean in the original languages “force, strength of mind or body, and power.” The meaning of “power” as virtue is clear in Luke 6:19 and 8:46.

In Proverbs 31:10 and 29, the virtuous woman is a strong woman, strong in character and in her abilities. In Proverbs 12:4, we read, “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.” Because a virtuous woman is morally and in every other way strong and capable, she adds so greatly to her husband’s calling that she enables him to be a ruler or king in his realm, whereas a morally weak and incompetent wife is a source of shame and weakness, “as rottenness in his bones.” A husband lacking virtue is fully as disastrous as his wife, if not more so.

Virtue thus in its Biblical meaning is strength, moral strength, the wise use of abilities, and a general competence.1

The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 can best be described as deliberate in her actions and duties. Her decisions and undertakings are purposefully in line with her calling, resulting in such a well-run family that her husband’s ability to carry out his dominion role is enhanced. Additionally, as her children mature, they praise their mother for her investment in them because they see the fruits of her efforts in their lives.

How does a young girl arrive at the place in life with the ability to step into the shoes of the immense calling described in this last chapter of Proverbs? Rushdoony points out that this comes through training from a very early age.

A boy or girl reared without the discipline of work, self-government, and moral force thus lacks virtue in the Biblical sense …

Virtue is the strong and positive faithfulness to every word of God, and a courageous stand for the Lord in every area of life and thought. Virtue in the Bible means power. Today, as always, true virtue is God’s power at work in this world through men.2

Thus, it is the duty of every family to establish a deliberate Christianity as the norm for the household. The mother’s day-to-day interaction with her children is especially important in this pursuit. The goal is to advance a mindset of keeping the law-word of God and functioning within its guidelines as the way we demonstrate our love for Christ.

Deliberate

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines the adjective deliberate:

1. Weighing facts and arguments with a view to a choice or decision; carefully considering the probable consequences of a step; circumspect; slow in determining; applies to persons; as a deliberate judge or counselor.

2. Formed with deliberation; well advised or considered; not sudden or rash; as a deliberate opinion; a deliberate measure, or result.

From a very early age, children must be taught the standard of behavior that conforms to the commandments of God. Only with this standard can infractions and disobediences be properly understood and dealt with. Children need to comprehend that every sin is an offense against God, whether or not there has been damage done to another person. With grace, young ones will grow and mature in obedience knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions (Eccl. 12:13-14).

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” All things that we think, do, or say must be analyzed by the Word of God looking to Jesus as the embodiment of that Word in the flesh. That is a tall order. It involves a number of things:

  1. Knowing the Word sufficiently to “weigh” one’s thoughts, words, and actions to determine if they are in conformity to God’s standards.
  2. Understanding the application(s) in day-to-day life
  3. Having the conviction to remain within the parameters the Bible prescribes.

The Bible makes clear in numerous places that we accomplish this by being straightforward and deliberate in our witness of our new life in Christ:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad (Matthew 12:30).

Straightforward vs. Subtle

Because the Great Commission given by Jesus before His ascension is a mandate rather than a suggestion, impacting the culture for Christ is not an optional activity for the Christian. In a time when Christianity is derided and belittled, many believers decide the best way to “win” people to Christ is by subtlety. Their concern is that being direct with people will “turn them off” and they, all too often, are so subtle that their intended audience misses their point entirely.

If we look at the early church and its confrontations with the culture of its day, we note that subtlety was not the preferred weapon used to combat the prevailing pagan ideology. In fact, we see disciples being beaten, jailed, and killed because of their out-in-the-open, unswerving adherence to Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords and His law-word.

In contrast to much of what passes as Christianity in our day, a study of the saints in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs shows that they were deliberate in aligning themselves with the Savior and lost their lives as a result. The virtue (power) of their stance may have cost them their lives, but it encouraged greater numbers to see their light and become followers of Christ.3

In America, if we are deliberate in proclaiming the need for repentance and Christ as the solution to our guilt and sin, we may avoid being beaten, or fired, or jailed for our identification as Christians. But this is not true for our brothers and sisters in Africa, China, or the Middle East. In many parts of the world, deliberate Christianity is a challenge to those who rail at Christ, and believers pay a huge price. However, like Christians through the centuries, they consider their sufferings small compared to the sufferings of Christ who redeemed them and restored them to fellowship with the Father. Sometime in America, we may face the same persecution for our deliberate Christianity.

Many believe that if they model Christianity rather than explicitly share it (“Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.”), they will win souls. St. Paul appears to disagree

13. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

15. And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

16. But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

17. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17, ESV)

A deliberate Christian education is a MUST for any professing/confessing family because allowing anti-Christian worldviews and practices to be presented to children as fact produces a schizophrenic/conflicted mindset. When the Bible’s absolutes are challenged without resistance on a daily basis, is it any wonder that so many children from Christian homes abandon the faith after graduating from statist schools? The absence of a deliberate Christianity permits the humanistic/materialistic/secularist worldview to win the day.

Getting into Shape

When my children were younger and I coached them in preparation for a performance, whether it was a piano recital, a speech, or a drama, I emphasized that all their actions and words should be delivered in a deliberate fashion. I stressed that in order to convey to an audience that they were confident in what they were communicating, it was necessary to be aware of everything that they were doing. I had many examples to point to. Among them were world-class gymnasts and figure skaters. It was always easy to see those who were coached very well and had embraced the particulars of their sport. If you’ve ever seen stop-action photography of these athletes, you can see that they are being deliberate right down to the tips of their fingers and toes. No movement is unpracticed or unrehearsed, and the smoother and more effortless it looks, the more time and effort were put in to achieving it. No gymnast or skater accidentally delivers an excellent performance.

Why don’t believers put the same emphasis on deliberate Christianity? The command to be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is within us is a directive to demonstrate in our thinking, conversation, and actions that what we do is predicated on living our life according to God’s law-word.

When do you instill a purposeful Christianity? First of all, you can’t instill something you don’t possess. The first step is to make this a priority in your own life. Do your children witness you making your decisions in a deliberately Biblical way? Do you consider any decision beyond the scope of Scripture? The young ones who look to you for guidance should be able to conclude that you live your life in accordance with the declarative statement,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Tim. 3:16-17)

I believe many sincere Christians hold back on giving testimony to their faith because they are concerned they will do a poor job of giving a Biblical answer to questions that may be raised. Being ready to give an answer for the hope that is within (a command rather than a suggestion) will follow from living out a deliberate Christianity. Being salt and light arebyproducts of a deliberate Christianity. As a result, providing an explanation should be as natural as reciting our residence address, phone number, or email address. We are ready with an answer because we have done what we’ve done intentionally.

Passing the Torch

How can parents teach their children this purposeful Christianity? Initially it comes by way of example. Children should regularly witness their parents making lifestyle choices (where to live, how to educate, where to work, where to worship, where to shop) based on conformity to God’s Word. God’s Word does not always mandate the details, but provides the guidelines and parameters for our decisions.

I recall an incident that involved one of our pets. Our English Springer Spaniel had been attacked by another dog and almost lost his life. Although he recovered from his injury after surgery for a punctured lung, our dog was never the same. We were no longer able to take him out to run on an adjacent field or for walks in the neighborhood; he was skittish of other animals and would respond aggressively. We had to keep him away from visitors because he would often growl. Eventually he became unpredictable even around my children. One evening my daughter dropped a paper towel and the dog began to eat it. She reached down to get it from him. The dog growled, lunged at her, and made an effort to bite her. Although he didn’t succeed, I became convinced that it was no longer appropriate to have this animal as a pet.

My husband and I went to the Scriptures to determine our course of action. We knew that the dog had serious issues and felt it would be dishonest to give the dog to another family or even the pound for adoption. We knew that providentially we had avoided a trip to the emergency room for our daughter. We went to God’s Word for guidance.

When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. (Ex. 21:28-29)

Because we had both been students of Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law, we also knew to look at his chapter on The Sixth Commandment for instruction. In the section “Restitution or Restoration,” he discusses injuries to persons by animals.

[I]f an animal owned by a man were guilty of the injury; if the animal had no previous record of violence to man, then the animal died (and of course the injured person was cared for and compensated). But if the animal had a previous record of violence, the owner now became liable to the death penalty for murder. (Ex. 21:28-29).4

It became a clear-cut decision that we needed to put the dog down, that we couldn’t risk another incident. Having a Biblical law that said I would be liable for the death penalty got my attention. However, I had children who loved this dog, and my daughter was convinced this was all her fault. I knew I needed to explain that God’s law required me to act and that sentimentality, emotion, and our love for the animal were not good reasons to violate it.

The next day, my daughter and I brought the dog to the pound and remained with him throughout the procedure until it was completed. For days, amidst the tears and sorrow over losing an animal that we had loved for eight years, we discussed the wisdom of God’s law and the need to follow it even when it hurts.

Power in our Testimony

The very purpose of being ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ in our everyday lives is to manifest His grace as we follow His law. We don’t want to be guilty of having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5), since St. Paul warns us to turn away from such people. God’s claims are total and we should abandon the practice of being “subtle” in carrying out the Great Commission.5 Rather we should be deliberate as we inject commentary, opinions, decisions, and ideas with the highest priority being that are we being faithful. As Rushdoony points out,

Our God makes a total claim on our lives, and on our money, too; He requires that our children be given to Him also. How do we respond to Him? Are we rich toward ourselves and poor towards God? Do we have time for everything except His Word? Do we want Him only when we need Him?

If we do not have the power of God in our lives, it is because we are denying it; it may well be that we do not want God to interfere too much with our lifestyle. The mere “form of godliness” will get us no further with the Lord than an imitation airline ticket will get us a flight.

Serve the Lord with all your heart, mind, and being with your life, your money, and your family. Go for the power!6

1. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 15.

2. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 15-16. Of course the term “men” here refers to both men and women.

3. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is available in many formats and should be incorporated into family devotions and the study of church history. Peter Hammond of Frontline Fellowship has an excellent audio CD, Heroes of the Faith, in which he shares many stories of deliberate Christianity.

4. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law Vol. 1 (The Craig Press, 1973), 274.

5. In no way is the call to deliberate Christianity a call to arrogance, pride, or insults. The message of the Cross is offensive; we are not commanded to be offensive.

6. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 37-38.

Andrea Schwartz is the Chalcedon Foundation’s active proponent of Christian education and matters relating to the family. She’s the author of six books dealing with homeschooling and the family. Her latest books are Woman of the House and Family Matters. She oversees the Chalcedon Teacher Training Institute (www.ctti.org) and continues to mentor, lecture, and teach. Visit her website www.WordsFromAndrea.com. She lives in San Jose with her husband of 37 years. She can be reached by email at WordsFromAndrea@gmail.com.

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Reprinted with permission. Read the original article and all of Chalcedon’s online publications by clicking and subscribing (for free!) here.

Church Planting for Dummies: A Lesson in Missions from a Master Builder

David Watson (CPM)
Holy Cow! (to use a culturally-appropriate exclamation for our subject).  I am absolutely certain that practically NONE of you have ever heard of David Watson, missionary extraordinaire.

David who?

David Watson, of Church Planting Movements non-fame, the man who has planted (and whose influence has directly resulted in the “viral” planting of) more churches in the third world than entire denominations have in the history of modern missions.

“Mr. Watson, come here (to North America)… we need you!”

I had never heard of this man until a brief online discussion I had with Dr. Gary North in a forum this past weekend.  I asked a question regarding Gary’s Feb. 25th article, “Hidden in Plain Sight: the Non-Superclass”, and what author Philip Jenkins (a Roman Catholic) had to say in his book about “the next Christendom” that is currently taking shape outside of North America throughout the third world: Asia, Africa and South America.

Gary responded with a reference to the astronomically successful missionary/church-planting efforts of one David Watson: “When a rumpled guy like David Watson starts 80,000 churches on his own in India, and 200,000 worldwide as a trainer, with 60 members per church, the Catholic church cannot compete. No Western church can.”

He then referred to this article.

I was impressed. But more than a little concerned.

After all, this maniacal obsession with starting new churches at near-warp speed for the sake of merely populating the kingdom of God without a good doctrinal foundation (these things take time!) to bring the new converts along in their new-found faith, caused me to wonder aloud (to Gary), Is Watson’s work making a “positive contribution” to the cause of Christian Reconstruction?

The 21 Habits of Highly Effective Church Planters

His “21 Critical Elements” of CPMs surely seemed like just what the doctor ordered to get the Church Impotent out of the pews and onto the field with a winning game plan for reaching the lost in third world countries.

Here is how the author of the article referenced above summarized these 21 elements after attending a conference taught by Watson:

  1. Group process over individual process
  2. Prayer
  3. Scripture, by way of an inductive Bible study process called “Discovery Bible Study”
  4. Households, or existing social units, rather than individuals
  5. Making disciples of Jesus not converts to a religion
  6. Obedience to commands of Jesus rather than doctrinal distinctives
  7. Access ministry – i.e., developing relationships with non-believers
  8. Ministry – meeting people’s needs leads to evangelism
  9. Timing – knowing when people are ready
  10. Intentionality and planning
  11. Person of peace – i.e., a receptive, influential person who is the gateway for a social unit coming to Christ
  12. Appropriate evangelism – i.e., communicating the good news in ways that make sense to people in their particular cultural context
  13. Starting churches, Watson’s definition of which is: “groups of baptized believers in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that gather to worship, fellowship and nurture one another, and, outside of gatherings, endeavor to obey all the commands of Christ in order to transform families and communities.”
  14. Reproduction at every level – disciples, leaders, and churches
  15. Indigenous leaders – i.e., cultural insiders are the best church planters
  16. The work of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Scripture
  17. Persecution
  18. Mentoring, which is the work of developing the whole person
  19. Self-support – in almost every case there are no paid ministers, no buildings to maintain
  20. Redeeming the culture
  21. Awareness of spiritual warfare

Notice # 20: Redeeming the Culture.  I like that one!

But, then, those hard-won, ecclesio-centric, theologically-entrenched Calvinist-Reconstructionist ‘biases” kicked in and made me skeptical.

How can this be any good for rebuilding civilization according to a truly biblical model.  It’s WAY too successful!

Gary answered my question regarding Watson’s “contribution”: numbers.

I responded, “quantity vs. quality”.  Gary responded, Pareto.

Ah, yes.  The Immutable 80/20 Rule.

Watson’s approach to missions and church planting is ALL about the numbers.  Get the multitudes into the kingdom of God first.  Train them later.

Gary posted two articles today on this remarkable man and his remarkable “process” (not methodology): “The Unknown Christian Revolutionary Who Has Launched a Massive Recruiting System to Transform the Third World,” and, “Foreign Missions That Work.” (Sorry, members only!)  Here, he says to adopt the 80/20 rule: “target the 20% who will be the leaders in 10 years. Target 20% of them. Target 20% of them. Go after the top of the pyramid.”

Pareto and the spiritual pursuit of excellence.

Watson’s presentation begins at about the 13:00 mark on this video.  It is a captivating and compelling monologue.

Pay close attention to what he says about culture, evangelism and the Gospel.

“Mr. Watson, come here (to North America)… we need you!”

The Libertarian Theology of Rushdoony and the Christian Reconstruction Movement

R. J. Rushdoony

Here is an essay that Gary North says offers an accurate assessment of the origins and development of the Christian Reconstruction movement and its theological (and political) principles.

It was written in 2007 by a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State University, Michael J. McVicar (posted in his blog, June 2012).  Neither a “hit piece” nor a ringing endorsement.  But, I am warning you!  It paints a rather stark (yet relatively bias-free, though it’s a little prickly towards the Tyler, Texas side of the ledger) picture of the major players — Rousas J. Rushdoony and Gary North — as well as other key figures who helped shape and define the movement, how it came into being, how it ultimately came to split into disparate camps, and how the movement, in McVicar’s opinion, fares “today” (2007).

Now, this is not a “decline and fall” kind of an article.  It is more of an academic — and critical — summary of a very broad and deep intellectual and theological school of thought which, while it initially launched from a single port, has now — almost because of rather than in spite of the rifts and disputes of its leaders — sailed far and wide and has carried its “Christian libertarian” message to lands more distant and in ways far different from what its founders may have originally intended or anticipated.

For those of you who embrace the biblical-theological-eschatological message of Christian Reconstruction (and even if you don’t!), this article may serve to “connect the dots” and fill in the timeline of your understanding a little bit better with “the good, the bad and the ugly” of how we got here, where we came from, where we’re going and where we stand as a movement.

If anything, it shows the human side of fallible but gifted men who have played strategic, providential roles in moving the certain advancement of the kingdom of God forward to the “next level” of integration and transformation.

My main criticism is that it portrays Rushdoony’s objective (and by extension, the objective of his colleagues) as that of founding a “theocratic America” rather than fostering a theonomic, self-governing, self-consciously biblical Christianity, both in America and around the world.  And regarding Gary North, well, once you get used to his in-your-face analysis and “acrid prose,” his writing becomes music to your ears!

(Compare this with an alternate assessment (“Christian Reconstruction is alive and well”) written from a pastor’s perspective, that is more recent (and more brief), which I comment on here.)

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The Libertarian Theocrats

By Michael J. McVicar, Fall 2007

In their struggle to understand George W. Bush, some liberal intellectuals have looked to the writings of Rousas John Rushdoony, the Armenian-American minister whose championing of a theocratic America influenced some of the nooks and crannies of the Christian Right during its rise to prominence. For example Mark Crispin Miller, in his frontal assault on George W. Bush’s response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,1 charges that Bush not only acted unconstitutionally, but in his religious imagery echoed the infiltration of Rushdoony’s ideas into his Administration (and the Republican Party at large). Miller interprets Rushdoony’s theology as a call for Christians to take “dominion” over all aspects of the federal government and replace it with a theocracy.2 “With their eyes on the future, those [Rushdoony followers] at work on forging an all-Christian USA are overjoyed that Bush is president, for they correctly see the regime’s imposition on the people as itself a signal victory for their movement.”3

But a spokesman for the think tank Rushdoony founded told me Miller is wrong (Rushdoony himself died in 2001). Registering disgust, Chris Ortiz of the Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California, explained that Christian Reconstructionists, as they call themselves, think the war in Iraq is both immoral and ungodly. Not only are a good many stridently critical of the Bush administration, Ortiz said, he agreed with Miller’s indictment of Bush, which he heard during a recent radio interview. At best, some Reconstructionists might see Bush as a well-intentioned fool, Ortiz told me. Many see him as a manipulative politician who snowballed the American people into supporting his disastrous presidency.

Those casually familiar with Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction may find Ortiz’s comments befuddling since a recent spat of popular books like Miller’s Cruel and Unusual have argued the exact opposite, identifying Rushdoony and his followers as allies of the Bush administration. Ortiz surely wants to distance himself from a failing president, but his remarks also reveal a Reconstructionist distaste for the hard, government-centered politics that brought Christian conservatives into the corridors of Beltway power.

Since the movement’s emergence in the mid-1960s, Christian Reconstruction has always been a little different from other factions of American conservatism. Not surprisingly, the movement wins attention for Rushdoony’s call for the eventual end of democracy in favor of a Christian theocracy, and his insistence that a “godly order” would enforce the death penalty for homosexuals and those who worship false idols.4 But Christian Reconstructionists insist that they have always been uncomfortable with authoritarian institutions of political power because, unlike Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Rushdoony wedded his rigid theological perspective with a libertarian perspective that looked outside the boundaries of popular conservatism for answers to the problems facing the United States.

“Christian Libertarians”

At first glance, the phrase “Christian libertarian” seems a contradiction, especially when one applies it to Dominionists – as the full range of those calling for a Christian nation are called – and Christian Reconstructionists. It is true that today a secular – and in some cases rabidly atheistic – tendency dominates libertarianism. But this has not always been the case.

During the 1930s, a wide variety of business, intellectual, and religious leaders banded together to attack Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Those who emphasized the sovereignty of the individual citizen, resistance to a centralized bureaucracy, and the benefits of unfettered free market capitalism eventually coalesced into the libertarian movement that we know today. For a brief period into the 1940s, these anti-New Deal forces formed an alliance with Protestant religious leaders determined to resist “socialistic” tendencies within the church.5 While this cooperation was short-lived, it had a profound impact on the contemporary Christian Right.

The chief target of these economically conservative evangelical clergymen was the Social Gospel, a wide-ranging theological and social movement rooted in the late 19th century whose champions sought to fight poverty and improve the conditions of America’s poorest using the government to regulate market forces. The Social Gospelers pulled together across denominational lines to advocate for a heightened awareness of labor conditions in the country. But the movement had a theological side; its clergy tended to emphasize the corporate, collective nature of salvation. Moreover, many were willing to embrace evolutionary theory as a means of explaining human origins. Such a naturalistic perspective led to a willingness to see human beings as the product of their material and social environment.

Like many in the Progressive Era, the reform-minded period before World War I, the Social Gospelers believed that legislation and government regulation could change Americans for the better by changing the social environment in which they lived. By focusing attention on the social context that drives individuals to sin, the social gospel seemed to downplay the individual, embodied experience of salvation that American evangelicals have traditionally sought.6 Not surprisingly, many prosperous American churchgoers found the emphasis on economic justice over the saving of souls to be yet another expression of the “socialistic” threat to the American way of life.

While the social gospel lost much of its impulse during the economic boom following the war, popular interest in the movement reignited during the Great Depression of the 1930s. To resist this renewed influence – and defend capitalism – the alliance between business and religious leaders sought to reemphasize individual spiritual regeneration and to downplay the effects of social constraints on individual choices.

In 1935, Rev. James Fifield of Chicago formed Mobilization for Spiritual Ideals to address these concerns. Popularly known as Spiritual Mobilization, Fifield’s operation earned the fiscal support of such right-wing philanthropists as J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil, Jasper Crane of DuPont, and B.E. Hutchinson of Chrysler. Facing the daunting task of resisting nearly five decades of entrenched liberal Protestant teaching and the harsh reality of the Depression, Fifield recruited preachers and laymen eager to resist the massive redistribution of wealth envisioned by President Roosevelt. His appeal was simplistic but effective. American clergymen needed to start preaching the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.” In this, the shortest commandment, Fifield and his followers believed they had found the biblical basis for private property and a limit to the government’s ability to redistribute wealth, tax, and otherwise impede commerce.7

In order to undermine government-sponsored economic redistribution, the ministers and laymen Fifield hired focused on the spiritual causes of poverty rather than the social concerns of the Social Gospelers. The New Deal and the conflicts with the Nazis and Soviets were manifestations of humankind’s rejection of God’s divinity for that of a centralized bureaucracy. An all-powerful bureaucracy, they warned, usurped the “Christian principle of love” with the “collectivist principle of compulsion.”8 Beginning in 1949, the Christ-centered free market ideals of Spiritual Mobilization reached nearly fifty thousand pastors and ministers via the organization’s publication, Faith and Freedom.9 With the rhetorical flare of such libertarian luminaries as the Congregationalist minister Edmund A. Opitz, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and the anarchist Murray Rothbard, Faith and Freedom moved many clergymen to embrace its anti-tax, non-interventionist, anti-statist economic model.

In his Faith and Freedom articles, Opitz formulated a systematic theology in support of capitalism, merging economic responsibility with individual salvation to form a “libertarian theology of freedom.”10 In assessing the threat of communism and fascism, Opitz argued that the solution was not collective political action. Instead, he noted that the “crisis is in man himself, in each individual regardless of his occupation, education, or nationality.”11Jesus’ Good News was that “the Kingdom of God is within you,” making every man’s salvation an internalized, personal matter. In Opitz’s reading, Jesus’ gospel becomes the basis for a radical individualism that “was the foundation upon which this [American] republic was established.”12

By the mid-1950s, prominent secular libertarian organizations like the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (ISI) began to supplant Spiritual Mobilization’s influence in libertarian circles. In fact, many of Faith and Freedom‘s regular contributors like Opitz and Rothbard13 left Spiritual Mobilization and began writing for FEE’s publication, The Freeman. Further, Ayn Rand’s atheistic Objectivism pulled many libertarians away from the Christian ideals of Spiritual Mobilization.

While secular libertarianism triumphed, the remnants of its Christian heritage persisted among a small cadre of thinkers and activists who were reluctant to completely jettison Christ from the economy. Spiritual Mobilization helped a generation of theologically and economically conservative clergy find an alternative to the Social Gospel, New Deal, and communism that resonated with their traditional values, pro-business sympathies, and Christian faith. Faith and Freedom encouraged clergymen to see government as a problem, not a solution. The solution wasn’t to take over the government; it was to replace it with something radically different.

The Libertarian Theology of R. J. Rushdoony

Among the many ministers who read Faith and Freedom was a young Presbyterian pastor living in Santa Cruz, California, named R. J. Rushdoony. Rushdoony was attracted to Faith and Freedom‘s consistent warnings of the dangers of a centralized governmental bureaucracy. Born in New York City in 1916 to survivors of the Armenian Genocide, Rushdoony knew the dangers of centralized power all too well. Just a year before his birth in the States, Rushdoony’s older brother Rousas George died during the Ottoman Siege of Van, becoming one of 1.5 million Armenians eventually killed byTurkish forces.14 Rushdoony’s father Y. K. Rushdoony secured his family’s escape first to Russia and eventually to New York City.

Beyond the dangers of governmental violence, Rushdoony was also particularly attracted to Faith and Freedom‘s articles on public education.15 Like many conservative clergymen, Rushdoony saw public schools as hotbeds for collectivist indoctrination and anti-Christian pluralism. Faith and Freedom suggested that it was just to resist compulsory public education, but Rushdoony found the publication’s writers to be inadequate theologians. Therefore, during the 1950s Rushdoony set about to provide a systematic theological justification for Christians to reject public education and embrace locally organized, independent Christian schools. Deploying a unique blend of libertarianism with the most rigorous Calvinistic theology he could muster, Rushdoony delivered a series of lectures on Christian education. When Rushdoony collected the lectures into a single volume, Intellectual Schizophrenia, Edmund Optiz wrote an enthusiastic foreword and helped to secure Rushdoony’s position as a rising star in the Christian libertarian movement.

It is important to understand Rushdoony’s critique of public education, because it is a microcosm of his broader theological project. As a theologian Rushdoony saw human beings as primarily religious creatures bound to God, not as rational autonomous thinkers. While this may seem an esoteric theological point, it isn’t. All of Rushdoony’s influence on the Christian Right stems from this single, essential fact. Many critics of Christian Reconstructionism assume that Rushdoony’s unique contribution to the Christian Right was his focus on theocracy. In fact, Rushdoony’s primary innovation was his single-minded effort to popularize a pre-Enlightenment, medieval view of a God-centered world. By de-emphasizing humanity’s ability to reason independently of God, Rushdoony attacked the assumptions most of us uncritically accept.

Following the lead of the Reformed theologians Herman Dooyeweerd and Cornelius Van Til,16 Rushdoony argued that all human knowledge is invalid if it is not rooted in the Bible. In his first book, By What Standard, published in 1958, Rushdoony summarized the ideas of Van Til and Dooyeweerd. Van Til, a Reformed Presbyterian teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, offered a radical critique of all human knowledge, arguing that it emerges from one’s theological presumptions (e.g. there is one God, many gods, or no god). For Christians, that means a three-in-one Christian God is the source of reliable human knowledge.

The implications of Van Til’s thought are far reaching. As Rushdoony explains, mankind’s first sin was an ethical fact with consequences for the nature of knowledge: when Eve succumbed to the Serpent’s temptation to “be as gods, knowing good from evil,” she asserted her own intellectual autonomy over that of God’s.17 Mankind’s “fall” into sin was precipitated by a desire to reason independently from God’s authority.18 Rushdoony extended Van Til’s ideas to their logical end to argue that all non-Christian knowledge is sinful, invalid nonsense. The only valid knowledge that non-Christians possess is “stolen” from “Christian-theistic” sources.19

In Rushdoony’s thought, knowledge becomes a matter of disputed sovereignty. Every thought that does not begin with God and the Bible is rebellious: “Man seeks to think creatively rather than think God’s thoughts after Him. Evil is the result of man’s rebellion against God…. Man’s fall was his attempt to become the original interpreter rather than the re-interpreter, to be the ultimate instead of the proximate source of knowledge.”20 Accordingly, humanity’s pretence to independent knowledge becomes a matter of rebellion against God’s Kingdom because “any attempt to know and control the future outside of God is to set up another god in contempt of the LORD.”21 Rushdoony made thinking an explicitly religious activity, a shift in focus with political implications: thinking becomes a matter of kingship, power, rebellion, and, in the final analysis, warfare. Either human thought recognizes God’s sovereignty, or it doesn’t. There is no middle ground, no compromise. It is a war between those who, like Rushdoony, think God’s thoughts after Him and those who do not.

If thinking and education are a matter of God’s disputed sovereignty, then Rushdoony believed that Christians who turned their children over to public schools were in open rebellion against God. In Rushdoony’s view, court orders forcing public schools to cease prayer and bible readings actually removed the only possible foundation for viable knowledge. Following such earlier Presbyterian luminaries as A.A. Hodge (1823-1886) and J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), Rushdoony’s solution was to remove one’s children from public schools and to educate them in an explicitly Christian environment. Such an action brings both child and parent into accord with the “fundamental task of Christian education,” which, Rushdoony summarized, is to exercise dominion, “subduing the earth agriculturally, scientifically, culturally, artistically, in every way asserting the crown rights of King Jesus in every realm of life.”22

In many of the Faith and Freedom articles published during the 1940s and 1950s, Rushdoony saw a reservoir of popular discontent with compulsory public education and he hoped to develop it as an explicitly Christian resistance to the authority of centralized political structures. In this sense, Rushdoony was a shepherd in search of a flock and the libertarians looked more promising than alternatives. When Edmund Opitz helped secure Rushdoony a position with a small but influential libertarian organization known as the Volker Fund in 1962, Rushdoony moved to exert his unique brand of Calvinist-inspired libertarianism on the organization. He began writing a host of position papers that attacked public education, reinterpreted American history in starkly Christian terms (see box), and advocated for the regeneration of America along explicitly Christian lines. After some internal wrangling, the Fund fired Rushdoony in 1963, but the separation was gentle, giving Rushdoony the necessary resources to write two more books.

Rushdoony’s dismissal from the Fund reflected many of the secularizing changes in American libertarianism of that time. As libertarianism evolved into a more mainstream movement, it forced most of its religious defenders to the side. Rushdoony was but one casualty in this process. By the time he left the Fund, however, he had secured enough experience as a grant writer and public lecturer to set his own course. In 1965, he founded the Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization that he used to popularize his call for a “Christian Reconstruction” of American society. In the process of forming Chalcedon, Rushdoony decided to mentor an ambitious college student who shared his passion for libertarian economics and Christianity. Their relationship would prove one of the most fascinating – and volatile – in the history of the Christian Right….

(This is a LONG essay! Continue reading here.)

Reconstructionist Blast from the Past: David Chilton on Covenant Theology

David Chilton

As I mention on the Newsletters page of this site, I plan on selecting, from time to time, some really OLD newsletters from the archival catacombs of Gary North’s website where he has all of the original ICE (Institute for Christian Economics) newsletters stored in PDF format in his Free Books section, and reposting them here.

One of those newsletters was called “The Biblical Educator.”  It ran articles written by various authors — including this one by David Chilton, vol. IV, no. 2, February 1982.

Chilton was probably one of the best writers among an all-star cast of theologians, pastors and teachers in the movement at the time.  Even Dr. North remarked how he had to do almost NO editing of Chilton’s work whenever he was preparing a book manuscript for print, as, for example, with Paradise Restored.

He had a style that was easy to read and yet sharp and to the point.  Chilton made absolutely sure he was getting his message across to you, and that you were getting a good, solid grasp of what he was saying without overwhelming you with a lot of seminary-speak!

If you want a taste of his preaching — he was a passionate and engaging speaker who really knew how to boil down biblical theology into understandable, everyday (and entertaining) terms — listen to a sample of it here.

Rare David Chilton Lecture Series on the Book of Revelation  (Thank you, Steve Macias!)

I would be interested in your feedback on whether you find this particular reprint helpful… or not. (If you don’t find it helpful, then you are obviously still in your dispensationalist sins!… Just kidding.)

Even those of us who have been calling ourselves Calvinists and embracing “covenant theology” for a while can stand to benefit from a thoughtful reading of this simple-but-profound, back-to-basics presentation.

Here is the original article, uncut, uncensored, for your edification and spiritual and intellectual enjoyment.

AN OBJECTIVE THEOLOGY OF THE COVENANT

By David Chilton

Many of you will assume that the following article is just another article on infant baptism. But it isn’t. Many more will think it is not relevant to Christian school issues. But it is. So, on second thought, perhaps you’d better sit down and read it.

The Bible teaches us to think of salvation, the family, the church, and all of life in terms of the Covenant. From the beginning in the Garden, man’s relationship to God – which covered every aspect of his existence – was covenantal: that is, salvation was not individualistic (concerned only with the individual believer), but instead involved his entire household. This does not mean, of course, that all members of a believer’s household were regenerate: but we’ll get to that in a few moments.

Consider some examples of covenantal relationships in biblical history: Adam was the Head of the Covenant between God and all mankind; when he rebelled, he and all his descendants were damned (Rem. 5:12, 18). The godly line of Seth is contrasted with the ungodly line of Cain, the high point in each covenantal line being the seventh generation from Adam (Gen. 4:1- 5:24). Then came Noah, with whom God established the Covenant by which his whole household was saved (Gen. 7:18; 9:9). The Covenant with Abraham also involved his household – not merely his children, but his slaves as well (Gen. 17:9-13). As Meredith Kline has conclusively demonstrated in By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968), the biblical idea of Covenant is an authority structure: the Covenant is imposed upon a man and includes all those under his authority — wife, children, slaves, and so on. This aspect of the Covenant is inseparable from the Covenant itself. Thus, when Paul told the Galatians that their conversion placed them in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:7, 29), he was telling them that their situation was exactly the same as that of any non-lsraelite in Old Testament times who had become a believer: his initiation into the Covenant brought in his household/authority structure) as well (see Ex. 12:48). If you are in the Covenant, all those under your authority are to be placed into the Covenant structure as well.

Now, some of you are already disagreeing – and I haven’t even gotten to the main point of the article yet. But in order to keep you reading, let me ask you a question: Do you believe in the Ten Commandments? Forget the “theonomy” thesis for a moment; just concentrate on the original Ten. Do you believe they’re still valid ? If so, you are required to believe everything I’ve said up to now. For if you believe in the Ten Commandments, you must believe the Second Commandmentr including the part which is rarely quoted: “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6). This passage teaches that curse and blessing are covenantally passed from generation to generation. H you believe the Ten Commandments, Covenant theology is inescapable. (And, by the way, if you believe that much, then you must also believe what Deut. 28 says about blessings and curses passing through generations, ultimately affecting whole cultures. And that makes you, in principle, a theonomist. Welcome to the club! Now you know why those who reject theonomy are finding it necessary to dump the Decalogue. There’s no middle ground. )

All this is not just a bit of high-flown theologizing. It has a very definite bearing on our daily conduct. Our attitudes and actions toward one another must be in terms of the Covenant. This means much more than infant baptism alone: our whole life must be lived under Covenant law – and that holds implications which few of us have ever considered. In order to understand them, we must examine what Covenant membership involves.

Covenant Membership

The visible sign of admission into the Covenant is baptism (which has taken the place of circumcision, Cot. 2:11-12). In the Old Testament, all those under covenantal authority were members of the Covenant. Period. This is not to say all Covenant members were regenerate — far from it. In the line of Seth, both Methuselah and Lamech were alive when God announced His Covenant to Noah – yet they seem to have been included in the ungodly world. Lamech died before the flood came, but Methuselah died in the year of the flood, and perhaps in the flood itself. Another example is Ham, who was certainly in the Cove- nant, but who inherited a curse instead of blessing. Ishmael and Esau were children of the Covenant, but to all appearances unregenerate. And many Covenant members throughout Israel’s history were unregenerate as well. I’m not saying any of this is ideal. We would like it to be otherwise. We would like all men to be saved. But I am saying this: Regeneration is not, and never was, the condition of Covenant membership.

If not, what is the condition? Covenantal obedience. Look at it like this. Let’s say an alien desired to join the Covenant in Old Testament times. He and all under his authority would receive the sign of circumcision, and from then on all would be ruled by Covenant law. All would have the right and responsibility to par- take of the Old Testament version of communion (Passover and the other feasts). Can we assume that all members of the household were, subjectively speaking, “converted”? Not at all. Yet all were in the Covenant, with all the responsibilities and privileges that membership entailed.

Take a more extreme example. When Israel captured their enemies in battle, they took them as slaves. According to biblical law, these heathen slaves were immediately circumcised and included in the Covenant, with the right to eat at the feasts. Their defeat in battle and consequent status as slaves under a covenantal authority structure automatically rendered them members of the Covenant. They were requred to put away their false gods and heathen practices, and to worship and obey the true God. Regardless of their personal attitudes, they were – objectively speaking — no longer heathen. They were members of Israel, the people of God. It has always been true, of courser that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom, 9:6); Covenant membership does not guarantee saving faith. But all Covenant members were objectively on the same footing. All partook of communion. All were blessed or cursed by Covenant standards. All were addressed throughout the Old Testament as “my people” – until the time came when Israel’s disobedience re- sulted in the excommunication of the nation as a whole, and the Covenant line began to be filled by the Gentiles, who were grafted into the covenantal tree of life (Rom. 11:17-24).

The essential point to grasp here is that one’s covenantal status — one’s membership in the church, the people of God —is based on objective, not subjective, criteria. There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible for admission to the covenantal meals. If you are in the authority structure, you are (or should be) in the church. Membership is not voluntaristic. In the Bible, if oaths had been sworn over you by your lord husband, parent, or owner), you were a member of the people of God whether you liked it or not. Ultimately, if you didn’t like it — if you rebelled against the Covenant – there was only one way out: being “cut off” from Israel (which, at the very least, meant excommunication).

Perhaps the best way to see what happens when we apply objective theology to practical issues would be to contrast it with the practice of two conflicting schools of thought – Realism and Nominalism.

Realism vs. Nominalism – vs. the Bible

Which is more important — unity or diversity? Should society’s needs come first, or should those of the individual? What is most basic to reality – collectivity or individuality? This issue is known in philosophy as the problem of The One and the Many (see R.J. Rushdoony’s book by that title). Historically, the question has been answered from three different perspectives. Realism (it’s called that in philosophy, for reasons that will become apparent; but Realism is not realistic, really) sees oneness and unity as being basic to all reality. It is the view that names, symbols and rituals are real things, which completely determine the particular things that they define. Nominalism, on the other hand, holds that symbols are just names, not realities. Nominalist see diversity and individuality as being most basic.

But the biblical answer is to be found in Trinitarianism. God is triune, and all reality is structured in terms of Him. A brief definition of the Trinity might be this: One God without division in a plurality of Persons, and three Persons without confusion in a unity of essence. God is not “basically” One, with the individual Persons being derived from the oneness; nor is God “basically” Three, with the unity of the Persons being secondary. God is One, and God is Three. There are not three Gods; there is only one God. Yet each of the Persons is Himself God — and They are distinct, individual Persons. But there is only one God. To put it in more philosophical language, God’s unity (oneness) and diversity (threeness, individuality) are equally ultimate. God is “basically” One and “basically” Three at the same time. And the same goes for all of creation. Both unity and diversity are important – equally important. Neither aspect of reality has priority over the other.

Let’s say a Realist and a Nominalist happen to see my wife kiss me. The Realist will say, “Aha ! A kiss is symbolic of love. That kiss proves Darlene loves him !” But the Nominalist will retort, “Whaddya mean? A kiss is just a kiss, like the song says. Sure, it’s a symbol of love. But it doesn’t mean she really loves him. The question is, what’s the attitude of her heart?” I, however, am a Trinitarian; and when my wife kisses me, I recognize it as a symbol of her love, but I also enjoy it because it’s not a “mere” symbol. It is an act of love, and the two go together. I’m sure you’d like to read more of this hot stuff, but let’s go on to some less romantic issues of the Covenant, and consider how each of these views approaches them.

1. Government. The Realist school, holding that unity is fundamental, maintains an episcopal form of church government – power from the top. The Nominalist, believing that diversity is ultimate, and that each person’s individuality is sacred, favors a congregational pattern in which power is exercised democratically, from below. Realism tends toward totalitarianism; Nominalism tends toward anarchy. The biblical form of government is presbyterian, in which there is a balance of power within a structure of authority.

2. Baptism. Realists believe that ritual washing with water really removes original sin. Nominalist see baptism as “a visible sign of an invisible grace,” in which the important thing is whether the individual has already made a decision. They do not see baptism as a means of grace. To them, it is ultimately a “mere” symbol, and cannot be efficacious. The Bible, in contrast to Realism, does not teach that baptism regenerates; nor does it teach, in contrast to Nominalism, that one must give evidence of regeneration before being baptized. Baptism is a means of grace, and signifies not the subjective experience of the recipient, but the objective imposition of covenantal authority over him.

3. Communion. For the Realist, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are really transformed into the body and blood of Christ, The Nominalist believes communion to be, again, a “mere” symbol of an inward attitude in the individual — and it’s the attitude that’s important. This is why most Nominalist practice open communion, in which anyone can walk in off the street and partake of the sacrament. The radical Nominalist (e.g. the Quakers) dispense with the sacraments altogether. The biblical teaching is that the bread and wine are always only bread and wine; and yet that in the Supper we are having dinner with Jesus, who feeds us with Himself as we eat and drink together.

4. Excommunication. When a Realist church excommunicates you, you’re damned. The decree of those in power effectively consigns you to eternal perdition. Of course, if you’re a Nominalist, you’ll regard the decree as just so many words, and you’ll start attending a Nominalist church down the street. Nominalist churches hardly ever excommunicate anybody – and if they do, the judgment has all the awesome significance implied in not receiving the church newsletter any more; and the excommunicated person gets his name listed on the rolls of another church.. The biblical doctrine is that a lawful sentance of excommunication places a person outside the visible body of Christ, and denies him the opportunity to meet the Lord at His Table. But excommunication does not necessarily mean damnation. It is, in fact, a last-ditch effort to bring the offender back to the faith. The judgment is efficacious (one way or the other); but it does not make a determination of the condemned person’s eternal state. Excommunication has to do with the visible church.

5. Church membership. For a Realist, eternal salvation is guaranteed by membership in the visible church – baptized children are unquestionably regarded as regenerate. For a Nominalist, eternal salvation has little, if anything, to do with church affiliation: everything depends on the individual’s decision to accept Christ — and if he has “decided for Christ,” he is considered a Christian. Church membership is nice, but purely voluntary. Children are unquestionably regarded as unregenerate (except for the Nominalist’s “safety net” – the wholly mythical, unbiblical notion of an “age of accountability,” before which children are not accountable to God for their actions, and are “saved” without being regenerated). The biblical view of church membership is objective and covenantal: All baptized persons (church members) who have not been excommunicated are to be regarded as in the household of God. They must be addressed as members of the Body of Christ, and even “little ones to Him belong.” Communion is to be served to all church members, unless they are under discipline. But communion is to be withheld from those who are not members of a church, regardless of their claims that they have accepted Christ. Unless they belong to Christ visibly, through membership in a real authority structure, there is no objective basis on which to regard them as Christians. Note: i am not saying a non-member is necessarily unregenerate; just that there is no objective evidence that he is. Nor am I saying that communion may be served only to members of my own congregation or denomination; but that communicants must belong to a visible structure somewhere. Communion is thus neither “open” nor “closed,” but restricted.

Theology: Objective and Subjective

All those who are united to a visible church – by which I mean any orthodox, creedally-defined church — are to be regarded as fellow members of the Covenant. Their theological understanding may be woefully limited or defective; nevertheless, by their baptism into the triune Name, they are under the covenantal authority of Christ, and belong to Him. They are to be served communion. They should be required to tithe. In short, all the rights and responsibilities of Covenant membership belong to them. Voting and office-holding, however, are not automatic rights of the Covenant, and may legitimately be restricted to those heads of households who have received sufficient instruction in the faith, and who demonstrate in their lives those characteristics appropriate to the exercise of such respon- sibilities. Our ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) must be objective.

Yet this is not to discount the necessity of regeneration and personal faith. Regeneration cannot be visibly perceived (John 3:8), but it is no less real. Preachers must exhort their flocks continually to believe, repent, and obey the demands of the Covenant to which they were sworn. But they must not address their people as “presumptively unregenerate,” for Covenant members are the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ. Read the writings of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles — do you ever find them speaking to the church as heathen? Never; not even in I Corinthians, and the congregation in Corinth was really a mess. Church members, even erring ones, are addressed as called saints (the same expression as holy convocation in the Old Testament). They are commanded to live in terms of their covenantal calling, and exhorted to refrain from living after the manner of the heathen (who were always differentiated from them). There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible, because there is no need for it: Baptism is the confirmation into the Covenant. You will never find a distinction in the Bible between “communicant” and “non-communicant” membership, because all Covenant members took communion (except for those who were excommunicated). One obvious objection to all this is that it can result in multitudes of disobedient, rebellious, apparently unconverted people taking communion. And such an objection is completely correct. That will be the result, until the day comes when church officers repent of their lily-livered pussyfooting and get serious about church discipline. The Table can be protected. But it does not need to be protected from children.

One of the chief reasons for the downfall of the Puritan theocracy was its confusion between subjective and objective theology. The Puritans rightly understood that eternal salvation is inseparable from regeneration and faith; but they confused that with requirements for church membership and communion. Thus they devised “tests of saving faith” which members had to pass successfully before being admitted to communion. These tests soon degenerated into demands for a subjective, datable experience of conversion — and such an experience had to conform to specific canons produced by the scholars of New England. If your experience didn’t match the order contrived by the theologians – if you had no memorable “experience” at all —in short, if all you had was a love for God and a desire to serve Him in covenantal union with His people: Sorry, try again next time the session meets.

The result was that thousands of church members became “non-communicants,” thousands more never attempted to join the Covenant, and the Puritan Hope of a Christianized culture went down the drain. Solomon Stoddard’s misguided attempt to salvage the situation was demolished by his grandson, Jonathan Edwards: and for all the good that was done by Edwards, Whitefield and the Tennent family in the Great Awakening, that event marked the end of a hope for a covenantal theocracy in America. Joining the Covenant became entirely relegated to a subjective, “spiritual” (i.e., neoplatonic) realm, completely unconnected to objective Covenant union in a visible church. Authority and discipline went out the window, and so did the possibility of Christian reconstruction. Now, almost 250 years later, true evangelicalism is synonymous with philosophical Nominalism. Subjective theology is the order of the day, and any attempt to return to a biblical worldview looks to most people like heresy. The first time I read Norm Shepherd’s article on “The Covenant Context for Evangelism,” I thought he had abandoned Calvinism. The trouble was that I hadn’t been reading Calvin. I’d been reading Arthur Pink, Gardiner Spring, and the Banner of Truth.

There are many applications we could make of Covenant theology, and I’ve hinted at a few already. But I’m running out of space, so I’ll suggest one more, with specific relevance to Christian schools. If the children in your school belong to Covenant homes, do not treat them as if they need a conversion experience. Instead, speak to them on the basis of the oaths to which they are already bound. They are in the Covenant, they are members of Israel, the Body and Bride of Christ. They are not little angels, but they’re not little pagans either. They have been sworn to Jesus Christ as His own. Objectively, they are His children; subjectively, they must live as His children.

(For further reading on the issues raised here, see Shepherd’s article, mentioned above, in The New Testament Student and Theology, ed. by John H. Skilton [Presbyterian and Reformed, 19761; Jim Jordan’s “God’s Hospitality and Holistic Evangelism” [Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. Vll, No. 2]; Jordan’s “Theses on Paedo-Communion,” available from Geneva Divinity School; Edmund Morgan’s Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea [Cornell University Press, 1963]; and Terrill Elniff’s The Guise of Every Graceless Heart [ROSS House, 1961. )