Mission of the Church (2)

The Church Militant

R.J. Rushdoony

In Matthew 16:18 we read; “And I say also unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

As a child of the manse, I grew up with a tremendous feeling of awe and respect where missionaries are concerned. Among my vivid memories from my childhood are missionaries speak at church, and then having the privilege of having them in my home. I listened always intently to the table conversation, and the missionaries always seemed to me to be truly saints of God, pioneers of the faith, men to be revered and respected.

It was thus something of a shock when, in the mid-thirties I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley, and encountered contrary opinions. I was working my way through school, and among the two or three different kinds of jobs that I held, sometimes simultaneously, was one of occasionally tutoring foreign students who needed help in English, or going over the term papers they were writing to correct the grammar and the English style. As a result, I saw a great deal of the inside of International House, and had many contacts with the foreign students, of whom most were not Christian. Their views of missionaries, as well as of Christianity, were highly critical. They viewed Christianity as cultural death for their people. They had no objection to Westernization, that is, in the form of humanism and technology, but Christian missions for them spelled death for their society.

Moreover, in the sixties as I spoke extensively on campuses, sometimes to a dozen or more in a week, I again and again encountered hostility against Christianity, against Christian missions, and encountered such phrases as this applied to the faith that it was; ‘a religion for losers.’ After my schooling, I went to work. I had been working previously, and during my schooling of the Chinese in San Francisco to the American Indians. I found that as I began my work there, that all too many viewed Christianity as having something to say about the world to come, and virtually nothing about this world, and the very common remark that Indians would make as I would approach them with the Gospel was; “I’m not ready,” or “I’m too young to die.” Christianity was seen as having a word concerning death, not concerning life and living. Also, there were those who regarded it as a hand-me-down, a cast-off, and just as missionary barrels had once been a practice, so now the biggest item in the barrel was Christianity itself. I had not been on the reservation but a matter of days and I had my first funeral, an old Indian. First the funeral feast was held out in the open, a steer was slaughtered, and all the mourners were eating and visiting. The body, as was customary, was outside the cabin in a tent; in fact, the man had been taken out there to die so that his spirit would not haunt the house, and over his body were long branches of wild rosebushes to keep the spirit from crawling out and haunting them. The ceremony took place later by the nearest graveside, but before we went out there, an old Shoshone medicine man got up to speak, and he summoned the people back to the old ways, the good old ways. He summoned them to go back to the worship of the wolf, their god, and he told them to reject Christianity, and one of his best arguments was; “Which of the white men believe it now? Which of the government men at the agency go to the mission? The white man is still giving you his cast-offs.”

I recognized that, while these criticisms that I encountered on campus were motivated, to a great extent, by unbelief and a hatred of the faith, and while these criticisms from the Indians and from others were also motivated by unbelief, there was an element of truth.

Too often, as Christianity meets the world, it meets it as a new monasticism, a withdrawal from the world, and as some thinkers like Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a Catholic political scientist has said; “Medievalism today is Protestantism.” The spirit of monasticism continues in the protestant church, only now there is a married monk, a nun, living together. Because it summons people to withdraw from the world, to withdraw from the problems of the time, to surrender the world to the enemy, and to pull themselves into the shelter of the Protestant convent or monastery.

When the War ended, I saw, as I followed very intensely, all the missionary literature that was coming out. There were evangelicals who were trying to deal with this problem, and a whole series of articles and books were written in the late forties and early fifties on the need for the missionary to get down on the level of the people, and to live their life and to understand their ways. Cultural anthropology was heavily studied by those writers, and they dealt with the fact that it wasn’t necessarily an insult if those who came to visit you did some spitting on the walls and on the floor, because it could be a certain month-long festival of Islam, when it was forbidden to do anything but fast from sunup to sundown. After that you gorged, (and the fast meant that you didn’t even swallow your spittle; you spat it out, no insult intended). These folks went on to describe one-hundred and one customs of different cultures that missionaries could mistakenly find insulting, as well as things they could do that would be offensive in a particular culture, such as offering to shake hands.

All of this made sense. It seemed like good, common sense, logic, handy knowledge for a missionary to know, but the movement did not stop there. It was picked up by the various Bible societies and their translation departments, so that they began to say that we must begin to relate the Bible to the language and the idiom, and the culture of the people. The Bible, after all, comes out of a very alien culture, and to try to present it in its Hebraic form to people who are totally remote to a Hebraic culture, is to fall short of our missionary task.

And so, you had a theory which has been given a name, although it has been called by a variety of terms, of ‘dynamic equivalence,’ which is applied especially to translation, but also carried over into the mission field so that evangelicalism today is very heavily influenced by it.

As Dr. Jakob van Bruggen critiques it;

“According to Nida, Jacob’s struggle with the angel is being interpreted psychoanalytically or mythologically. He considers the cultural pattern so dominant that the translation should never be a mere transmitter of the words of the message. There is no formal equivalence between the original message and the translated message. What is needed is not a static equivalence, but a dynamic equivalence. Nida applies the term ‘dynamic’ broadly, even writing of the dynamic of history. Nida says the translator should consider more than the difference between two languages. He must consider the moral difference between the past and the present. The Biblical revelation was an event within the context of an earlier culture, and the real equivalent of that revelation will only be reproduced if the translator or preacher makes the Biblical message once more become a communication event without our very different modern culture. The theory of dynamic equivalence has also grown out of modern anthropology and sociology. The discussion here will be limited to its relationship with communication theory. Quite simply, the theory of dynamic equivalence says that the translator must consider not only the difference between the language of the prophets and their modern readers, but also the difference and the conditioning of the cultural patterns of the two periods. We are faced, not only with a different language, but also with different receptors.”

Dr. Van Bruggen, of course, dissents with that doctrine, as do I. It turns, of course, a great deal of scripture into myth, and the attitude becomes that which so many neo-evangelicals have in this country, that as you face a world in which equal rights are demanded, the ERA amendment. Where you have the problem of homosexuality, where you have abortion, some of these men will say, and I’ve heard them say it, that those things in their biblical condemnation represent only the externals of a cultural condition, and that all that we must communicate is the gospel, and seek to win men and women to Jesus Christ.
Thus, we have, on all sides today, not only in the humanistic, liberal missions, but in the evangelical missions and in Bible translations a concept which speaks of entering a culture rather than commanding it. It does sound persuasive. It is true that we should not hold ourselves above a people when we go to them, but if we go in the Spirit of the Lord, we do not. We do not need dynamic equivalence to tell us that, but for the grace of God, we are no different than they, and that it is with the grace of God rather than any pride of race or condition that we are to meet people, but Jesus Christ does not come into this world to merge into cultures and their peoples, nor to send us out to merge into them. He regenerates! He makes all things a new creation. So that it is not an adaptation to men and culture that we are called upon to fulfill, but a regeneration.

Moreover, there is implicit in all these new doctrines of mission a false concept of what constitutes common ground. Is it common ground to know and abide all the niceties that cultural anthropology can teach us? That’s trifling. What is our common ground? Our common ground is that the same God made us, that we are all created, wherever we are upon the face of the earth, in the image of God, and that when we carry His Word, that word re-echoes through all the being of every man born under the sun, and Paul tells us that the truth of God, of things visible and invisible is known by all men wherever they are, that they hold the truth, or hold it down, they suppress it in unrighteousness.

Now, how do we penetrate that? That’s our problem. It isn’t these niceties and details of cultural conditioning. It is the fact that these men are sinners, dead in sins and trespasses, and the same God made us all, and so how do you penetrate that?

It is sometimes frightening. I’m sure Dr. Conn, like myself, has had his very queasy moments, as you face an alien and a hostile sometimes, group. The first time I preached in a prison and had the guard tell me; “If you have a pocket knife, give it to me before you go in there, and don’t turn your back on anybody,” and then the door clanged shut behind me, and I faced a sullen group that was there because they wanted to win points by showing interest in preaching. I felt very much alone. And the first time when, in a mining camp, I was asked to speak about five minutes or so, and bring a Christmas message, not because they were interested in Jesus Christ, but because it was Christmas time and the rather boozy people there wanted to remember home and Christmas. And so at one end of the saloon, on an overturned beer box, I led in a very shaky tune, the group, in one of two familiar Christmas hymns, and then spoke, a very lonely feeling.

Or to speak the first time I did at the annual Indian encampment, when all the Indians would come together, and some would travel from hundreds of miles away to live again out in the open in tents, and to do little other than to gamble, to dance the old Indian dances, and to carouse, and to fornicate, very literally and openly. And so there, in the middle of that camp, with the drunkards stumbling all around, I stood up to preach the gospel. I felt very much alone. And in these and in other experiences, the worst at some of the universities of this country in the 1960’s in the midst of the demonstrations. I was rescued from one crowd after speaking, by a very friendly Jesuit priest, they showed little respect for his cloth.
And more than once I wondered; “What am I doing here?” What was the common ground? And of what effect was the word I had to say?” My word is nothing, but his Word, well; “…it is the power of God unto salvation.” Now, I would quarrel with many of the opinions I heard in the thirties as a student, and with many of the critiques of missions made today, and at many points differ with them, but let us grant the truth of all that they have written and said. The fact remains that out of that has some a worldwide church, that today the Gospel is going forth in land after land as a product of their work, and in spite of their frailties, in spite of their inadequacies and their ignorance of native ways. Why? Because however feebly, however sometimes haltingly, the word they set forth was the Word of God. The Word through which the Spirit speaks, the power of God unto salvation. So wherever that word went forth, there was the church.

Our Lord says concerning his church or kingdom; “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is one of the most abused texts of scripture. It is usually interpreted in a negative, defensive sense to mean that the church will hold out under attack, but whoever heard of gates attacking? The picture is very different, of Christ armies attacking the enemies of God and conquering them. The word “gates” refers to city gates of walled centers of power. Gates are closed defensively to protect the place, but Christ’s armies are sent forth; Go ye into all the world to overcome and conquer the enemies’ strongholds! That victory will be so complete that Isaiah says in Isaiah 19:18, that even in the stronghold of the enemy, Egypt, five out of six cities will be the Lord’s. And second; ‘gates’ in oriental society and in Old Testament times were the places of judgment, where the city council met, and where court sessions were held, because all proceedings were open and in public, from whence we derive our modern practice of an open and public trial. ‘Gates’ thus represent law and judgment in a land. So that we are told the law and the judgment of the enemies of God shall be overthrown in history, because nothing can prevail, or hold out, or withstand the assault of Christ’s kingdom.

But even more. ‘Gates,’ in Old Testament times, meant not only law and power, but also imperial power, the place where the emperor appeared in judgment and in authority. We still had this usage in one case, up to World War I, when Turkey was often spoken of as ‘the Ottoman Porte,’ the Ottoman Gate of imperial empire, the place from whence, ostensibly, judgment went out to the whole Islamic world, and so the text means that Christ’s kingdom, law, justice, spirit, and gospel shall attack, overcome, and replace Satan’s kingdom.

Ours is not a defensive task, nor a defensive mission, but one of conquest. I said earlier that too often the church is monastic, it withdraws from the world, and too often indeed it becomes irrelevant the world so that we might say perhaps, its favorite shrine is that of St. Booby, the Irrelevant, or St. Dormant, the Uncommitted. Perhaps the most trenchant criticism of that sort of thing came in the last century from William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. I suggest sometime you get his classic book, a tremendous and exciting book to read for anyone who thinks seriously of the mission of the church. The title was copied from a work to which Dr. Conn made reference without citing the title. Stanley’s book. Booth titled it, In Darkest England and the Way Out. In Darkest England and the Way Out! It’s a sad thing that the Salvation Army did not choose to follow Booth there, and that it has become a forgotten book, because there is a tremendous amount in that book which is especially telling. On the mission of Jesus Christ to the world in every aspect of its life, Booth called for an across-the-boards Christian reconstruction. He also criticized, very bluntly, those churchmen whom he called ‘mummy Christians.’ And he said they enter the church to be mummified for heaven, and they’re of no earthly good from the day of their redemption, supposedly, to the day of their translation into heaven. And so he said; “There are too many agencies of the church today which are committed to creating mummy Christians.”

And as a result, we have had what sociologists have called the ‘desacrilization’ of society, or the secularization thereof. Christianity eliminated from one area of life after another as a source of law, as a source of social integration, as a source of the impetus for family life, of politics, of education, of law, of the arts, the sciences, and everything.

When I went among the Indians, I was startled to see the collapse and the low caliber of Indian culture. It was rare to find anyone past the fifth grade among boys or girls, who was not already an alcoholic. Of course, sexual immorality began at a very early age. It was a society which, in some respects, was crawling on all fours. And yet it was startling to see, when certain things happened, a vitality there I did not find among the two or three Indian humanists who had gone off to college and returned, in which I did not find among the Christians. Death was a very common occurrence there. TB and VD, and therefore, paresis affecting the brain were things that I buried people with continuously. But what happened to the children when a young couple died and there were three or four young children? Did the state step in? No! These children walked to the house of their favorite relative, or favorite friend of the family, and moved in, and nobody said; “We’re crowded. This is a one-room cabin with a dirt floor. There are already six, or eight, or ten of us here.” No, they took them in, they took them in! I never saw any tragedy for a homeless child did not exist. He immediately had a home and was content. There was never a problem, and I began to realize something that I also realized as I talked with people I came to know from the far corners of the world, and I began to think back to what I knew was my experience in Chinatown. There are many cultures all over the world where the family is the civilization, and what happens when they go in and we preach the ‘simple gospel,’ as so many call it? Why, that foundation of society and or law, and of government, the family, is shattered, and nothing is given to replace it, and very often, the consequences of the Christian community become even worse than that of the pagan community, because the heart of the cohesiveness of society, and of people, has been taken out, and nothing to replace it, so that we do not go with what I shall deal with this afternoon, the full-orbed gospel.

The result is devastation, and we see pagans given more to what should be godly conduct, of care one for another, and very often are Christians. Very early, Christian missionaries began to establish orphanages in many countries, by which they only speeded up this process of disintegration! When aid-dependent children went to the reservation, it destroyed the one relic of Indian life that was good, because it was now no longer the Indian culture taking care of these children, it was the federal government, and there was money in it, and the child very quickly knew he meant money, and it destroyed the relationship between the child and those who took him in.

We thus have a problem, if our mission is not either to the world abroad, or to the world at home, a mission which speaks in terms of the whole Word of God to the whole of life.

Now, these evangelicals who, after World War II, went to the cultural anthropologist to find about the niceties of cultural problems should have looked at some of the bigger issues that cultural anthropology has taught us. For example, what are the two central religious agencies, or areas, in any culture? Well, for us, it’s the church, of course. But no! By and large throughout history, the religious, specifically worship institution; temple, synagogue, or church, has not been the major religious agency.

Religion manifests itself in a culture especially in two areas; three counting the family, but I am going to deal with that this afternoon; law and education. If you want to study a culture, study its law and its education and it will tell you what the religion thereof is. Now, what is our religion here in this country? Our education is humanistic. Our law is increasingly humanistic, so that we are about three-fourths humanistic in our humanistic establishment. The basic religious establishment in any society is the system of laws. Law is enacted morality, and an expression of ‘ultimate concern,’ of a religious faith, so that the law of a society reveals whether it is; Buddhist, Islamic, Shinto, Hindu, animistic, humanistic, or Christian. You see, very often in a society, the specifically cultic institution such as; a temple, a synagogue, or a church will be manifesting relics of a past religion rather than the religion of the day. Law and education manifest this, and what is education?

Well, Columbia Teachers College, some years ago, very emphatically said that education is the transmission of the basic values of a culture to the children thereof and is an expression of its religion faith, and they were right, but of course, they’re concerned with transmitting another religion; humanism. But education is the transmission of the basic faith of a culture. Have we been transmitting it? And too often, the education we give to those who are on the mission field, and the education to which they send them when they decide; “Here is a brilliant young man. Let us send him back to the States,” and make a good humanist out of him.

We have an institution in California, ‘California Polytechnic Institute.’ It’s a state institute of higher education whose concern is purely technical and technological. It trains farmers. It trains engineers. It trains in all the practical arts and sciences. I was very interested when, for a time, I was not too far from San Luis Obispo, and had occasion to have some contacts with the campus to find that so tremendous a number of the students there were foreign. Also, that the various third world countries regard it as almost the only safe school in the United States to send their youth. Why? Well, some of them made the statement that eighty-five percent of the students who go to the United States return back to the native land as full fledged revolutionaries, determined in one way or another, whether in terms of Marxism or something else, it didn’t matter, to overthrow the society, totally at odds with everything, declaring war on their families, on their friends, everything, but those who went to Cal Poly learned something. They learned how to build and they went back to construct, and therefore, Cal Poly has a reputation all over the world that is not equaled in the United States.

Our mission should be to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Then to arm them to go forth into every area of life, to be more than conquerors through Jesus Christ, to manifest the leadership that Christian people must manifest. You see, the church is, according to our Lord in Matthew 16:18, ‘the church militant.’ “The gates of hell shall not prevail.” They shall not be able to hold out against it. ‘The church defensive’ is not Christ’s church, where Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, the head of a conquering host, not a fearful retreating one. The church militant is promised conflict, suffering, but victory as well. “For if God be for us, who can be against us?” It is only the church militant which has any link with the church triumphant. Your mission, whether at home or abroad, is to be ambassadors of the church militant. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank thee that thy Word is true, and thy Word can overcome our sins, our frailties, our shortcomings, our ignorance, and speak to the heart of every man born. We thank thee, our Father, that thy Word does not go forth in vain, but it shall return unto thee, accomplishing thy sovereign purpose. Make us strong and bold therefore, in the proclamation of thy Word, to the overthrowing of the things that are, and the recreating of all things in terms of Jesus Christ our Lord. We thank thee that thou art he who dost make all things new, and thou hast promised that thou wilt never leave us nor forsake us so that we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper. I shall not fear what man may do.” May thy grace, O Lord, be upon these, thy servants, teachers, and students, as they surrender themselves to thy Word and thy calling, but empowered by thy Spirit, they may go forth to conquer in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. In his name we pray, Amen.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books. Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting:

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