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.

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. )

So Why Do They Hate Rushdoony’s ‘Institutes of Biblical Law’ So Much?

Biblical-Law stone tables

If you pull out a copy of R. J. Rushdoony’s seminal work, The Institutes of Biblical Law (vol. 1, especially)–that path-breaking, paradigm-shifting, pietism-slaying, antinomianism-busting book which essentially launched the Christian Reconstruction movement into orbit in 1973–and set it in front of your average evangelical, or even Reformed, Bible-believing Christian today, you’re liable to get one of two reactions: (1), “What do I care about ‘biblical law?’ After all, we’re under grace not law!“, or, (2), “Aaagggghhhh! Away with that heretical book!  Take it out of my theologically-prejudiced, Jesus-will-be-here-any-minute-now-so-don’t-confuse-me-with-new-biblical-data-that-I-don’t-agree-with presence.  My pastor warned me about THOSE PEOPLE!”

I’m sure he did.

And that’s the problem.

Theonomy, optimistic, postmillennial eschatology and a Christian’s responsibility to apply his faith (comprised authoritatively in both the Old and New Testaments) in EVERY area of life–including politics and culture–are, even now, “foreign” concepts in many Christian circles.  And even though they continue to gain a hearing in some churches and a following among more biblically and historically enlightened Christians, these and other ideas and concepts garnered from the vast mother lode of Christian Reconstructionist resources are still among the undesirable “stones” that are routinely rejected by the “builders” of Christ’s kingdom since the last century.

This is from Martin G. Selbrede at Chalcedon Foundation.  It is the feature article in the Jan./Feb. edition of their official publication, Faith for All of Life.  He discusses the impact that Rushdoony’s Institutes and its teachings on biblical law have had over the years and are having in certain churches and among certain Christians, and why it is having that impact.

Get into a comfortable chair, maybe get a little something hot to drink, and savor what Martin–that is, Mr. Selbrede–has to share with you.

You’re going to like this!

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Another Rejected Stone

By Martin G. Selbrede
Men invariably find themselves on the wrong side of the great reversals wrought by God. The things men regard highly, He esteems lightly. He uses the simple to confound the wise, and the weak to overcome the strong. The stone the builders reject becomes the chief cornerstone (Ps. 118:22, Matt. 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17). While this particular scripture involves the rejection of the Messiah, it nonetheless establishes a general mode of behavior that Christians seem dead set on repeating. Christian leaders building the edifice of evangelical Christianity for the last half-century have been quick to refuse many stones they’ve deemed to be unsuitable building materials for God’s Kingdom.

For good reason did the translators of the King James Version select the term refuse to express the builders’ attitude to the stone that God intends for “the head stone of the corner” in Psalm 118:22.  God’s people treated the Lawgiver the same way they treated His laws. Our contemporary misconceptions concerning His law are legion, so much so that when God asks “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws,” we are certain this was uttered some time after the law was delivered on Sinai. But it was not. God asks this in Exodus 16:28, months prior to the “official” delivery of the law (“official” as determined by the reigning builders leading our churches and seminaries).1

Small wonder that in an age when the great things of God’s law are esteemed a strange thing (Hosea 8:12) we end up traveling across the country with an unsettling message to our fellow Christians: everything you know about the law of God is wrong.

If God’s law has fallen on tough times in our antinomian age, it should be no surprise to find that proponents of God’s law are refused by the builders as well. When R. J. Rushdoony wrote The Institutes of Biblical Law, the book quickly joined the ranks of refused stones. In affirming this, we’re not ascribing canonical status to this imperfect work by an imperfect man, nor equating his book with Scripture, nor identifying its author with the Author above all authors. Nonetheless, the importance of this particular work can hardly be overstated.

The cynics among the builders will be quick to impugn our motives here as self-serving: “You’re promoting that book because you publish it!” No, we don’t publish it. It is published by Presbyterian & Reformed. We draw attention to it because it benefits the Kingdom of God to do so, not because it benefits us financially. Our goal is to expand the reader’s awareness of the significance of this book. In a cynical age, this will be an uphill battle, one made more difficult in the face of resistance mounted by today’s builders.

Rushdoony’s Unforgivable Sins

Why does Rushdoony’s Institutes elicit such hostility among the builders? After all, books about the Ten Commandments have been fairly common in Christendom. At the dawn of the Reformation, John Wycliffe expended considerable ink on the government of God and the Ten Commandments in one of his most important works, his Summa Theologiae (not to be confused with the Summa of Thomas Aquinas). The heirs of the Reformation, the Puritans, likewise regarded the law of God as an issue that needed to be engaged, not neglected or ignored. The fact that God’s law was generally held in high esteem at the high point of Biblical scholarship in the Western world should not be missed. In contrast, today’s quick-and-dirty, sloganized dismissal of the law of God is worse than embarrassing: it has utterly neutered the people of God.

Modern evangelical Christianity has veered off its moorings into the plush comfort of vague generalities. Today’s builders have yet to meet a spiritual cliché they won’t embrace with enthusiasm. Perhaps those of us influenced by the Puritans have been marginally less than gracious when ascribing “warm, fuzzy, pious gush and mush,” to modern ChurchSpeak, with its unbalanced elevation of feelings over all other considerations. If this dominant mindset hadn’t mired so many Christians in a potentially fatal immobility, patience would have been easier to exercise.

The appeal of generalities is that they don’t touch us directly, they mediate information by way of abstraction, and abstraction is always a step or more removed from concrete reality. Speaking in generalities permits us to be oblique. When we generalize the Word of God, we dull its sharp edge. The Word of God becomes a two-sided pillow2 rather than a two-edged sword.

This was the first of Rushdoony’s sins: he was specific. He didn’t spiritualize the Decalogue with high-sounding rhetoric that would actually make void the law of God (Ps. 119:126) or render the commandment of none effect (Matt. 15:6). Recognizing that all of the law and the prophets hang on the two great commandments, Rushdoony mined from God’s own commentaries on His law. God was specific, so Rushdoony’s exposition followed suit.

This was entirely unacceptable.

Although the builders may concede that the law of God is good if used lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8), that the law is perfect, just, holy, spiritual, and to be delighted in with the inner man (Rom. 7:12, 14, 22), the law must always be presented as a vague generality, an inaccessible goal, or (better yet) both. When presented in this way (stripped of specifics), the builders believe they’ve realized the ideal of the spirit (a general ethos) that gives life rather than the letter (God’s statutes) that kills. They’d surely deny that they’ve added or taken away from the law: they’ve simply generalized it. (When pharmacists invented Bufferin to make aspirin easier on the stomach, the notion was valid. Had Bufferin been invented by evangelicals, there’d be no aspirin in it-just buffers to soothe the stomach.)

Books about the Ten Commandments that deal in generalities, that play it vague, that rearrange our Christian clichés and slogans with eloquence, don’t elicit hostility. They’re welcomed because they buffer us from God and the power of His Word.

This was a game that Dr. Rushdoony had seen played out too many times, to ruinous results (especially as a missionary at Owyhee). Muzzling the Word of God was an exacerbation, not the solution, to man’s burgeoning problems. The New Covenant, among other crucial things for Christians, did indeed involve the writing of God’s laws on our hearts and mindsin specifics, inculcating the same spirit motivating David’s composition of Psalm 119. The first Psalm was to be taken as written (it extolled the law of God), not as hijacked by the builders (who point to anything but the law of God as the thing to meditate upon day and night).

In other words, one of the stones already rejected by today’s builders is Psalm One’s reference to the “law of God.” That ugly stone has since been replaced by a much better brick, one hewn by the hand of man, leading the reader away from specifics and back into the evangelical fog.

The Puritans were not crippled by such “improved readings” of the Psalms. We today are not merely crippled; we’re in a body cast and on life support. We ourselves are the emperors without any clothes.

Then along comes Rushdoony.

Rushdoony: the one who waxed specific about the law. The one who treated the specifics as if God had actually written them. By talking about specifics as if they mattered (and they do), he did something dangerous to the generalizations. He swept them, all of them, aside as thinly veiled attempts to repackage human autonomy within the contours of Christian spiritual terminology.

Rushdoony did this two ways. First, he painstakingly documented the consequences of neglecting the specifics of God’s law. Second, he did the same for the consequences of “observing His commandments, to do them” (Psalm 103:18). Most observers expected a Christian writer to speak to the first point, but not so much to the second. But by dealing with the law’s specifics across all domains of human action (cultural, economic, sociological, environmental, scientific), Rushdoony opened up new avenues for seeing the folly of mankind and the wisdom of God. He was unmuzzling the whole counsel of God. And the builders found this to be unacceptable. They preferred to repose true value in God speaking through His Spirit to individual souls, not in His speaking to us through His law. Not merely to assert value, but moral obligation and a ground of blessing, of the law of God (like the Scriptures, in their irksome way, sometimes seemed to do) was beyond the dimensions of our modern cramped orthodoxies.

It is somewhat remarkable that the concept of orthodoxy can even survive in the context of vague outlines and fuzzy generalizations, but that haze is strenuously guarded not for its own sake, but for what hides behind it. The man in Matt. 5:19 who loosens even the least commandments of God and teaches men so is deemed “the least in the kingdom of heaven.” By blowing away the fog, the sharp outlines of the antinomian’s razor is revealed in stark contrast against the background of Scripture.

But there was more. The loosening of God’s commandments creates an ethical vacuum that is always filled by something else. In fact, creating new rules of conduct for Christians is itself one way that God’s laws are loosened, not only individually but in the aggregate. Why? Because such attempts at lawmaking undercut the sufficiency of Scripture. The man of God is assuredly not “thoroughly equipped for every good work” with the Old Testament, no matter what 2 Tim. 3:17 reads: men must amend God’s law, peel some of its unacceptable or unworkable parts away, and using our vague general spirituality as a guide, build a more workable set of rules for Christian conduct for our modern era.

Over the course of its 800-odd pages, Rushdoony’s Institutes gives the lie to that misguided Christian conceit. For faithfully recounting the wonderful things in God’s law, the book’s author was labeled a dangerous extremist (that’s when the builders were being nice). In fact, the builders found themselves in agreement with the enemies of Christianity in their assessment of Rushdoony. This is strange company to be in … or is it? Perhaps their joint commitment to human autonomy (overtly so among the humanists, covertly so among far too many Christians) led these two groups to sing in harmony this one time … against the evils and horrors supposedly riddling God’s law.

The Dislocation of Liberty

Beyond the sin of magnifying all the commandments of God (that is, the sin of dealing with specifics, the fleshing out of God’s moral imperatives for man), Rushdoony revealed something else about the law’s detractors. These men invariably pose as champions of liberty, but God’s law maximizes human liberty while rejection of it puts us under the oppressive power of our fellow man. Isaiah 5:20 refers to those who call good evil and evil good, and this moral reversal is routinely played out over against the debate concerning the place of God’s law in our world.

When observing Rushdoony’s achievement in documenting the truth of the Psalmist’s assertion that he walked at liberty because he sought God’s precepts (Ps. 119:45), the builders are quick to contradict the Scripture: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Avoid the bondage of God’s law. Enter into the freedom that comes when those ugly specifics of God’s law are set aside.

But just as Psalm 119:45 cannot be broken, neither can Psalm 94:20: the wicked frame mischief using law. When the law is slacked (Hab. 1:4), something else takes up that slack: the precepts of men. Men abhor moral vacuums, and if God isn’t Lord over the matter addressed by one of His statutes or precepts, then man slips his feet into God’s shoes to legislate in His stead.

Some builders might tolerate the restrictions that God’s law might impose on the secular state, but no builders will tolerate the restrictions that God’s law would place on the church’s most sacred activity: making rules for the congregants to walk by. Ultimately, the implicit defense of autonomy that drives the antipathy toward God’s law merely masks an aggregation of power by human authorities in both church and state. The law of God cuts across all these boundaries to liberate men from lawless overreaching by all human institutions. Since these institutions put on airs as the defenders of liberty (rather than its enemies, as is regrettably the case), they must either repent or characterize Rushdoony’s position as insane (as some have, for all intents and purposes, already done).

Is it not revealing that we have as hard a time finding an elected official who’ll actually follow the U.S. Constitution (setting aside the debate over its Biblical status) as we do a church leader who’ll follow the entire Bible (which, unlike the U.S. Constitution, is actually perfect)? In both cases, men seek to cast various cords from them and burst various bonds asunder (Psalm 2:3), no matter how glowingly they paint such rebellions as liberating acts.

Today’s builders, then, know full well that God’s law encroaches on their power, their authority, their autonomy, their spiritual sinecures, and their plans for the future. They know this as well as the secularists know it-perhaps even more so. If they were not wedded to these “benefits” of antinomianism, they would bend the knee and acknowledge the glory of God’s perfect law of liberty. Instead, they go away very sad, for their possession of legislative power in their spiritual communities is very great and they’re unwilling to put that at risk by unleashing liberty among their flocks as God would have them bestow it in their capacity as His mouthpieces.

If liberty is a dangerous thing, perhaps few should have the actual article, and the rest should merely be convinced into thinking they have it. Nothing achieves this goal better than the vague fog of ChurchSpeak, which has taken turns into Orwellian paths that would have been unthinkable a century ago. When the law of God is magnified, men can clearly recognize whether they’re abiding under their own vine and fig tree or not, and illusions become impossible to maintain. In a world sustained on empty illusions, a world that effectively “loves death” (Prov. 8:36), the gatekeepers have spoken appropriate words of comfort: “peace, peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11)-but they heal the wound of His people slightly.

The Sin of Contemporary Relevance

God makes clear to His people that His words are not distant and inaccessible but “nigh, even in thy mouths” (Deut. 30:11-14). But too many of our builders today will argue that while God’s laws may not be distant in terms of miles, it isdistant from us in terms of years. If it was delivered thousands of years ago, it was in a form that must only be useful to ancient agrarian societies-not to us.

The builders then assure us that this is their motive for retreating into the haze of vagueness: by so doing, they can glean some spiritual meaning for us today, thus preserving God’s law to us in the only form that we could possibly find benefit in. They find life for an old worn-out shoe by putting a new soul [sic] on it. Their paperback books glory in the hidden treasures of the old shoe (without ever denying, let alone challenging, the “fact” that it’s an old shoe). The builders are then back in the driver’s seat, now becoming the champions of restoring the contemporary meaning of God’s law (as they’ve discerned it) by teaching it in abstraction.

Rushdoony challenges this line of reasoning, arguing from Scripture that the law of God is timeless and speaks to all men in all societies across all temporal boundaries. His powerful exposition of the details of God’s laws so thoroughly establishes their contemporary relevance that it sounds the death knell for those who hold the opposing view (that God’s law is a quaint artifact that long ago retired as the Word of God Emeritus). It is here that Rushdoony’s encyclopedic knowledge comes to the fore, sweeping forward and backward in time with example after example illustrating the wisdom and perpetual applicability of God’s precepts.

Most builders wouldn’t have taken offense if Rushdoony had restricted himself to delineating the value of God’s law during its supposed earthly run (from Moses to Christ as many poorly-guided Christians currently hold it). Rushdoony does no such thing. He shows that Christians who embrace their calling to “establish the law” (Romans 3:31) have an unlimited runway in front of them. By opening the doors to possibilities the faithful had lost sight of after the Puritan era ended, the work of Rushdoony and like-minded Biblical scholars before and after him has set in motion something extraordinary: Christians who have finally taken up the proper armor to fight in, and the proper tools to build with. If the Word of God has contemporary relevance, and we’ve neglected to apply it, then the crying need of our era is to fulfill the Great Commission in its fullness while taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Men and women influenced by Institutes and by preaching based on the whole counsel of God know for a fact that the Word of God is sufficient.  The liberating power of that one point can change the entire world.

Then, the only task remaining is to extend the reach of God’s law, extending the realm of liberty and holiness and Christ’s lordship over all things in the process. This follows from the fact that there is no neutrality in God’s world (despite what the peddlers of piously fuzzy theology might argue). The Bible asserts that “even the plowing of the wicked is sin” (Prov. 21:4), so that men are to work toward an ever-broadening application of God’s law as implied in Psalm 119:96: “I have seen an end to all perfection, but thy commandment is exceeding broad.”

In short, if the law is merely for ancient agrarian cultures, we have to dig deep to find something of value in it for us andour world. But if, as Rushdoony shows, the law is addressed directly to us and our world, and our crises are a direct result of our studied neglect of the Scriptures, then we are actually equipped with the tools God has given us to establish His kingship over our persons and our families … and then beyond.

These are tools that the builders do not believe you should take up or use. They are not for you, they say. These are tools with no contemporary purpose. Stick with the current program, or hunker down, but in any case, do not build anything-especially without our sanction, and especially not with stones we’ve rejected.

But these are tools that Rousas John Rushdoony put directly into your hands, going around the builders entirely. It is yours to decide whether to slacken your grip and drop them into a dustbin, or to wield them like a man.

Rushdoony’s Final Sin

Perchance the builders of modern evangelical Christianity could have forgiven Rushdoony for being specific instead of protecting the status quo ethical haze that hangs like gauze before the eyes of God’s people. They might have been able to overlook his proclamation of liberty from man’s better-reasoned substitutes for God’s laws in both church and state. They might even have been convinced to wink at the vibrant call to action implicit in Rushdoony’s treatment of God’s Word as a timeless revelation rather than a historically-conditioned temporary ethic for ancient Israel that God terminated after sixteen centuries (which He might reinstitute for yet another ten centuries as held by premillennial believers but which most definitely is not for us today). All of that might have been forgiven.

But R. J. Rushdoony won’t be forgiven by these builders.

If you read The Institutes of Biblical Law, you will quickly realize why this is so.

This book is so unremittingly Biblical, upholding such a high regard for God’s enscriptured Word, and then carrying the light of that Word in all its manifold details into every imaginable area, it comes across as a virtual roadmap for applying our faith in ways that are utterly concrete and ripe with meaning.

Rushdoony illustrates how God has actually positioned the true moral axis of the world: not upon moralism, but upon godliness. These two things, moralism and godliness, are not the same thing, as Rushdoony repeatedly proves, again contradicting the builders’ all-too-humanistic vision of morality and Scripture. But how many Christians know this? How many Christians continue to orbit the wrong moral axis, the one still commended by our builders?

Even less forgivable to the builders is the fact that Rushdoony’s book is absolutely formidable in stretching the scope of the Ten Commandments back out to their original total dimensions, thereby revealing the tragic fact that the Word of God has been shriveling and contracting under our watch as we’ve “limited the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:41) under the urging of our builders. Rushdoony’s Institutes reverses the incredible shrinking Bible effect, and comes little (if anything) short of fomenting an explosion of the applied Word of God across all Creation. Every paragraph of this book has the net effect of retaking lost ground. There are few things that can motivate a dedicated Christian more than working to increasing his King’s holdings in the world, starting with himself and his own family.

But there is one thing that is an even greater motivation.

For the final sin of Rushdoony is how he turns the tables on all the builders who vaunt love as the great Christian value. Far from being what his enemies depict him as (an ungracious, unloving legalist), anyone reading Institutes in one hand and the Bible in the other will soon realize that it is Rousas John Rushdoony, not our evangelical leaders, who is the truetheologian of the heart. The careful reader will soon realize that Rushdoony is propounding nothing new, he’s calling for a return to a lost faithfulness on the part of God’s people and pointing the way.

There is no stumbling in the darkness when the statutes of God line the path you walk upon. That is the “highway of holiness” that is so easy to see under the light of God’s law that “wayfaring men, though fools, will not err therein” (Isa. 35:8). In modern language, we’d say that Isaiah is setting forth The Idiot’s Guide to Holiness by using such pointed terms: anybody can understand it, and everybody will know how to walk there. “The redeemed shall walk there,” Isaiah informs us (Isa. 35:9).

For the truth of the matter is that Rushdoony’s Institutes cannot help but prick hearts. It edifies, but it also indicts, for the Word of God always has two edges, and it is probes deeply into “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Moreover, the greatest commandment could not be more clear: we are to love the Lord God with all our heart. If all the law and the prophets hang on this command and its companion verse in Leviticus 19:18 to love our neighbor, theneverything in Rushdoony’s book is directed to how we love God with all our heart. To do this one ultimate thing, while still addressing every other culture-transforming aspect of the book disclosed above, ranks as the most valuable gift any Christian can give to another.

Releasing such a comprehensive, many-faceted love upon our families, churches, and culture, if pursued with the same heart with which David wrote Psalm 119, will quickly show how comparatively anemic our contemporary builders’ notion of love in all its vagueness really is. The specifics of God’s laws embody true love, toward God, toward man, and even toward creation itself, as Rushdoony ably documents.

The more ministries and churches and families incorporate Institutes as a source of exposition, of edification, of guidance, the more they find themselves building on the rock of God’s total word to man, and the less intimidated they become in handling the whole counsel of God in our modern world. The modern builders’ agenda of keeping their fog machine stoked, of refusing the stone of God’s law and any books that unleash it among God’s people, will always appeal to escapists, to antinomians, to those content with false liberty, and any who prefer emotional intoxication over a heart bent on fully serving God and man.

If you can’t see that our builders have already led us into an incredibly deep ditch,3 you will not recognize that Rushdoony is leading you to maturity, liberty, truth, and a faith that overcomes the world.

But once you read the Institutes, you’ll never again see the Ten Commandments as a tired Christian cliché filling dull Sunday school lessons for children. You will know that God’s Ten Commandments anchor nothing less than a siege engine that will level every shakable thing and lay them all in the dust so that the unshakable Kingdom alone will remain. And you and your family will act on that certainty with invincible resolve, total conviction, utter humility, and with every single atom of your being.

1. The strident, tendentious efforts to explain away God’s references to His statutes, laws, and commandments in Genesis 26:5 and Exodus 18:16 (and everything in-between) are likewise heavy with the fingerprints of today’s “builders.”

2. The Monty Python skit concerning the Spanish Inquisition mirrors our modern approach quite effectively, insofar as the most dreaded weapon the fictional authorities use against their targets is “the comfy cushion.”

3. As has been well said, the culture is the report card for the church.

Martin G. Selbrede is Chalcedon’s resident scholar and Editor of Faith for All of Life and the Chalcedon Report.

Reprinted by permission from the author.
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