Foundations of Social Order (2)

The Foundations of Social Order, II

R.J. Rushdoony

About fifty years ago, when I was a missionary to the American Indians in an isolated Western reservation, I had staying with me for several months to assist me, an old missionary doctor and surgeon who had spent half a century in southwest China, his mail reached him once every six months, and his supplies also. As we were gathered around the table talking late one night, we asked him: “what did you do when you ran out of medical supplies?” And he said oh that happened regularly, I used things that housewives knew about over the generations. We tried to guess what they were and we all failed, and he said: “they are indeed forgotten victories, these remedies,” and forgotten victories become present defeats.

Over the years I have repeatedly stressed the fact that it is dangerous and potentially totalitarian to speak of the state as the ‘government.’ We do so because we have forgotten the victory for which many Christians died. The word ‘government’ means many things, for us it must mean primarily the self government of the Christian man, this is the first and the most basic sphere of government. If men are not self-governing, then every other sphere of government is warped. The second sphere of government is the family, and its importance in the scriptures is evident, from beginning to end, the family is indeed the great nursery and training ground for all spheres of government, including and especially self-government. Then third, the church is a government like the family God ordained. Fourth, the school is a government as is fifth, our vocation which governs us every day of our lives. Sixth, a variety of private organizations; community relationships and personal and family networks govern all of us. Then, seventh, the state is a government, one form of government among many, in the English-speaking world and in this country for generations, it was referred to as civil government, not government per se.

Now this is an important fact, many of the martyrs of the early church died over that distinction, because they refused to recognize the state as the only government. They held that Christ is king over every sphere of government, including the state, and the state could not usurp the church nor tax it, because it was under Christ as king. It grieves me that there are so many Christians who are ready to say; “let the state tax us.” Christians have died for that, and are we going to surrender it? In most of the world, religion has been controlled by the state as a department thereof. Our very word ‘liturgy’ reflects that fact, look it up in the dictionary for its origin and meaning. Rome allowed no unlicensed; religion, meeting, school, or god, and the Christians were rejecting licensing and control in every sphere except the states power to tax them as individuals, and the states courts, everything else they said was not the legitimate power of Caesar. Islam perpetuates that pagan pattern, it sees the state as the true church, and so on and on in one religion after another. Incidentally, there has been a controversy of late because one major Presbyterian denomination has been giving some of its mission money to support Islamic groups in this country, who want the death of Christianity.

The division of life into independent interacting spheres is an aspect of biblical faith, and it has deep roots in the Old Testament. Never say “government,” when you mean the state house or Washington. The government is upon His shoulders, our king’s, and all the human spheres of government are under Him, for He is king over all kings, and lord over all lords.

This biblical perspective is heightened by the fact of the tithe and the civil tax. According to Numbers 18:25,26, the Levites were to receive the tithe, and tithe a tenth of the tithe to the priests. This meant that the worshiping group received one percent of a person’s income, but when people today in the United States tithe about, or give rather, not tithe, two percent of their income… You know that if everyone gave one percent who is in the church, the church would have far more money than it does now. Unless you think that that two percent national average represents the Christians, no it doesn’t! A great deal of it represents corporate giving to various non-Christian causes, and foundation giving to non-Christian causes, Christians don’t give, except to themselves! They are rich towards themselves and poor towards God.

The care of the sanctuary and its music was given to the Levites, as were; health, education, and charity. Deacons in the literature of the early church were called ‘Levites,’ because these areas were under their control. The civil tax called an ‘atonement,’ or covering for protection of man and society was half a shekel, the same for all males aged twenty and over. Well into the Medieval era at least, this tax was collected among Jews for civil purposes, it is referred to in Exodus 30:11-16. What this tells us is that neither church nor state was to be under God’s law a powerful institution commanding and controlling society. The Levites, later deacons, has more extensive and diffused duties. But the Levites were not a centralized institution, but local ministers of God;s grace and mercy. The Christian man, the believer, was the basic unit of government.

The picture thus of biblical government is a clear one, a high degree of decentralization, with a strong emphasis on the individual and his family to govern in their spheres, and to provide the necessary support to enable the Levites or the deacons and their coworkers to minister in God’s name. We first meet deacons in the new testament in Acts 6. The early church was practicing the biblical care of the needy in its midst, the work became too much for the apostles and seven deacons were chosen. The Levitical duties were then given to a new order of Levites, the diaconate. These deacons not only cared for widows but also taught, and in Acts 7 we see Stephen, and later on Philip, as powerful teachers of the faith. In Philippians 1:1, Paul addresses the saints at Philippi in Christ Jesus with the bishops or Presbyters, and deacons. The deacons are clearly important in the Lord’s service. In first Timothy 3:10-13, we see how similar the requirements for deacons are to those for bishops or presbyters.

“And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Perhaps a good summary of deacons in the early centuries is given by Philip Schaff:

“The office of these deacons, according to the narrative in Acts, was to minister at the table and the daily love feasts and to attend to the wants of the poor and the sick. The primitive churches were charitable societies, taking care of the widows and orphans, dispensing hospitality to strangers, and relieving the needs of the poor. The presbyters were the custodians, the deacons the collectors and distributors of the charitable funds.”

Let me say the records of the early church show all kinds of rules for caring for the poor so that there would be no ‘welfare hounds’ on their list.

“To this work a kind of pastoral care of souls vary naturally attached itself, since poverty and sickness afford the best occasions and the most urgent demand for edifying instruction and consolation, hence living the faith and exemplary conduct were necessary qualifications for the office of deacon. Two of the Jerusalem deacons; Stephen and Philip, labored also as preachers and evangelists, but in the exercise of a personal gift rather than an official duty. In post-apostolic times when the bishop was raised above the presbyter and the presbyter became priest, (the word priest by the way is the word presbyter slurred into one, Southern-style!) The deacon was regarded as Levite, and his primary function of care of the poor was lost in the function of assisting the priest in the subordinate part of public worship, and the administration of the sacraments. The diaconate then became the first of the three orders of the ministry, and a stepping stone to the priesthood. At the same time, the deacon by his intimacy with the bishop as his agent and messenger acquired an advantage over the priest.”

There is no adequate history, I am sorry to say of the diaconate. But one fact in its history deserves both attention and revival. Just as the work of a presbytery, his calling is a full-time ministry, so too the deacon service requires a full-time commitment. This is how Europe was captured by the faith, the deacons were out there working among the poor, among the needy, among the sick, they were the missionary arm of the church going out into the community, they were the ones who made an impression on the world outside the church. As the church revives and strengthens the diaconate and makes it a vocation for those called to it, so too will the church grow and society become steadily Christianized. Nothing is more clear from Acts, that and the fact that the seven deacons were not part-time workers, but full-time servants of Jesus Christ. The Christian Levites were the functioning grace and mercy of Christ’s kingdom. The deacons revealed clearly that Christ’s kingdom is indeed a government. The work of charity carried on by the deacons was in marked contrast to the costly and evil welfarism of Rome, which we have today, here in the United States. At times, this made the deacons a special target of persecution, because their work was not only ‘Christ manifested in his royal kingdom and grace and mercy,’ but also the love of God through His people.

Long before the church had a building, which it did not for at least two centuries, its deacons were creating institutions; hospitals, homes for the homeless, and more. Chalcedon now has, although not so titled, some working full-time deacons. We today face the coming collapse of the welfare state and its programs, all of which have helped destroy the recipients of statist welfare.

There are economists, good ones, who say that as of January ‘92, forty percent of the federal income went just to pay the interest on the national debt. Some are predicting within a year and a half or two years, others say it will take longer, but it’s coming. The interest will equal the entire national debt. One senator was asked what will you do then? And he looked with disgust at the cameraman and interviewer and said why we will inflate of course! You may be a millionaire in the days ahead, and be very poor. This was the kind of world that the church moved into, this was how it conquered the empire, and replaced it, through the deacons.

I urge you all to go back to your churches and work to make your deacons full-time deacons, well-paid deacons because their work will be hard, to reach out and show that Christ is indeed king. As our modern ‘Rome’ faces collapse, we need to revive the diaconate and its holy and necessary calling. All this leads in one direction, and to one conclusion, we, Christians, must take government back from the state and restore it to Jesus Christ. The government in every sphere of life and thought must be and shall be upon His shoulders, because He is the blessed and only potentate, the king of kings and lord of lords, nothing can be withheld from His rule. This is postmillennialism, it’s taking back government from the state and giving it to the Lord Jesus Christ, not in any centralized form on earth. He has said: “…all power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth,” and I therefore find it baffling that churchmen who profess to believe the bible prefer their political party to God’s Christ, and to God’s law. The church has confused worship, which is necessary, urgently necessary, but the church has confused worship with Christianity. They have assumed that when we worship properly, then we’re Christians, but Calvin defined the true church as the faithful preaching of the Word, and the vast outreach of the deacons and their ministry, and that’s why we have he had the deacons after the offering at the end of the service stand out there to stick the plate at the end of a pole in front of anybody who pretended to be worshipful, this is literally true, and praying when the plate came by, they got them outside the doors, because Calvin felt this was necessary. The church is a barren place, if it be no more than a worship-center. This church is not a barren place, and I have asked Joe Morecraft, and I hope, he will take this as a rebuke that he must send me an article about the ministries of this church in various spheres. And I trust when you read in the Chalcedon Report, you will follow His example.

The church must be the training center, the barracks building of God’s army, where Christ’s people are prepared to exercise dominion in those spheres of life which surround them. Just a few days ago, before I left to come here, I received a long letter from a young man in the deep South and it very clearly raises an issue which is important for our time. He wrote in part:

“I have a christian roommate who maintains on eschatology that pre-tribulation dispensationalism is proven to be the only end-time occurrence according to scripture. I told him I was a reconstructionist postmillennialist of the Augustinian school of teaching, that I thought the church of Jesus Christ would prevail in real time, that I do not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture. My roommate said I was a heretic and all postmillennialists are heretics, he also said that a professing Christian need not lead a holy life to be saved, he just makes a profession of faith on the spot and he gets ‘zapped’ with the Holy Spirit and he is saved just like that.”

Well you are no doubt familiar with that there is a city in Texas a major city where a man for years has been preaching that when you say yes to Jesus when you come forward you put Him under contract and tie His hands, you can go out and be a murderer, you can commit every crime he says in the book and some that are not in the book and He’s got to take you to heaven. That’s blasphemy! but that’s the kind of idea that prevails so extensively, and this is why the church is content with ‘worshiping’ and not serving, it must worship and serve. It must get its marching orders in church, and then apply them.

It is sad that many who were neither Arminian nor dispensationalist premillennialists have come to believe that a bare confession of faith is binding on God, but not on them. Such people may appeal to the Bible, but they are not governed by the word of God. I began by calling attention to the fact that we today falsely equate government with the state or civil government. At times over the centuries the church, or some of the churches, have sought to equate government with the state, and even with the church. But if Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 28:18, and many other texts are right, we must equate government with our Lord Jesus Christ; He is priest, prophet, and king. As our great high priest He has made atonement for us, intercedes for us and prays for us, as the great Prophet He speaks God’s clear and infallible word to us as king, He is our ruler and our law-giver, and when Paul called Christ our king, he was not talking about the kings that exist in our day who are figureheads, he was talking about one who was almighty, all-powerful, and total in His government. If we look elsewhere for prophet, priest, or king, we are faithless because then other lords have dominion over us. When other lords have dominion over us, the Lord gives us over into captivity to our enemies. He will not defend nor bless those who will not have Him as their king. This is why we are in the state we are in, this is why I urge you, work towards a full time diaconate in your church, begin with one full-time deacon. The question of course is an ancient one, “why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?” Let us bring back the king! Thank you.

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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