Foundations of Social Order (3)

The Foundations of Social Order, III

R.J. Rushdoony

I spoke in a baptist church, I believe it was in Alabama, and the woman who was in charge of the dinner, I was an after dinner speaker, with a twinkle in her eyes told me she said: “you know, I know a little bit about you, so I prepared the dinner accordingly.” We are used to having Southern Baptist preachers who are just getting warmed up at an hours time, and they go on and on, and she said: “we get them seated very early, we give them a dinner of ham and corn on the cob, and they’ve got so much ham and corn stuck between their teeth they don’t last long with their speech, and she said we’re not doing that to you today.” Well, I once talked to a Sioux Indian, and in those days when, I was a missionary to the Shoshone and Paiute Indians, the Siouxs had a presbytery made up entirely of Sioux churches. Of course later, I understand the northern church decided that was discrimination and they broke it up against the will, I think, of the Siouxs. But, whether they succeeded or not, I don’t recall, because there was some discussion over it. But the Sioux had no liking for the annual visit of the moderator of the northern church because he would come, one of the old elders told me: “and speak a lot of nothings, and take a long time saying it.” So he said: “we fixed them! After dinner, and when the moderator was about to get up and speak, we would have the elder who was the host for the evening ask him very courteously how he liked the dinner. And of course being a polite man the moderator would say; ‘Very much.’ and the elder would say good, good, we served you, (and this is true,) one of our prized delicacies, puppy meat.” And he said: “you know, it made the after-dinner talk by the moderator very, very short.”

Well, I shall try to stay awake. in spite of the after-dinner hour, and I trust you will too. To review a bit of what we dealt with, the giving in the United States all causes; Christian United Way and other causes is now down to about two percent of the income of American families, and it is continuing to drop. The increasing proneness of Americans to debt living is cutting steadily into their ability to give to anything other than banks and loan companies. After they get through making their house payments and their car payments, the amount of funds they have is very limited. So, by despising God’s law which prohibits long-term debt, they’re paying a price for it, and the church, for failing to teach what God has to say here, is also paying a price. I pointed out also that in biblical law the tithe was paid to the Levites who gave a tithe of the tithe to the priest for the sanctuary. In addition, the Levites provided the music and the general care of the sanctuary, so that perhaps two to three percent of the tithe went to the sanctuary. In other words, more than now goes to all causes in the United States. The Levites were the deacons and teachers of that era, so that much of the government of society was in their care. If today the churches had a regard for God’s law, they would be the better for it.

More than one scholar has called to the fact that Christians are in the retreat; financially and in terms of their impact on the world. Hospitals are a Christian creation. Education for all is a Christian creation, in order as one of the first laws of this country, in a Massachusetts Bay colony, and picked up elsewhere: “that all might know the word of God, and thereby foil that old deluder Satan.” We provided the charity, the education, everything! More than one scholar has called attention to this retreat of Christianity. Some scholars have described the protestant church today as: “a convent full of married monks and nuns,” people withdrawn from the world, unwilling to act in it, or upon it with a faith for victory. In 1928, one Christian scholar; John T. Glover wrote:

“Read James 1:27 and 2:8. Does he say that religion pure and undefiled consists of being baptized with water and observing the Lord’s supper? He does not mention the sacraments at all. Uninspired teachers say: ‘observe the sacraments, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’ Paul says in Galatians 6:2: ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’ Trusting in the sacraments for salvation, and substituting the observance of sacraments in the place of righteous living is a great error, a great perversion of the teaching of the New Testament.”

Glover was not a modernist, he was a teacher of Greek in a Bible school. The work of bearing one another’s burden was so seriously regarded by the apostles that at first they undertook it all by themselves. Very soon they found that a division of labor was necessary. Justice could be done neither to the ministry of the Word, or to the care of the widows and other needy persons. As a result, the diaconate was created as Acts 6 tells us, and we know the abilities of these men from the ministries of Stephen and Philip. The early church began and it continued to exist for about two centuries or more without buildings, but as I observed earlier today with hospitals for the sick or travelers and for the elderly, with homes for orphans and the homeless, and with ministries to every need including courts of law in terms of I Corinthians 6.

They also redeemed captives! As Rome grew weaker its navies were no longer able to cope with piracy, and many people were taken captives and held for ransom with no-one to ransom them except the Christians. One pastor, shepherd of souls, could say long before his death that he had helped rescue fifteen thousand captives. Do you understand what that means? Wherever there was a need, the early church worked to minister to that need.

More than a century ago, Gerhard Uhlhorn called attention to the great difference between the welfarism of the Roman empire and the charity of Christians. The Romans distributed money and food in terms of political premises. Seneca observed the thief as well as the perjurer and the adulterer receive the public corn; everyone, irrespective of morals, is a citizen. But, what was received only increased the demand. One emperor in 255 AD, decided to go a mile further than any previous emperor and he said every person on welfare would have their children and their children’s children to the end of time automatically go on welfare without application, and they cheered him that year, but the next year but he had nothing more to promise. In Ulhorn’s words: “Christianity first introduced true benevolence and as it has a noble labor so it has also honored innocent poverty.”

Seneca, the Roman philosopher had said the aim of philosophy is to despise life, but Christians worshiped the one who is truth and life. Accordingly Christians became the dominant force in society. They rebuilt Europe when Rome fell, abolished torture and other evils, including slavery, which the Renaissance revived. Renaissance humanism, and Enlightenment humanism reintroduced slavery into the world.

Late Medieval pietism led to a loss of catholicity, and of relevance as religious concerns became narrow rather than universal. As the center of the Christian concern became; peace of mind, peace of heart, the right relationship with God, questions that should be settled with conversion, were made lifelong concerns. Alfred Von Martin has written that with the Renaissance religion ceased to be the moving and dominant force in society, it was replaced by politics. The Reformation, for a time, changed that, but with the decline of the reformation, and the return of pietism to the church, the church withdrew from the world. Last of all in colonial and early America. Up until the time of president Andrew Jackson, the church took care of health education and charity. Biblical preaching was replaced by pietistic preaching which aimed at producing a spirituality which had no earthly good. Theology became shop-talk among professional theologians, arcane discussion reserved for the doctors of theology, and beyond the reach of peoples in the pew. An example of this was lapsarianism, which had as its premise an erroneous assumption, namely a time-sequence in the mind of God, but God is the creator of time not its subject.

I am happy that a trend that is now apparent all over the country, theology returning to the pulpit, not a narrow theology, but a broad-based theology. Those of you may have picked up a book on the book table on ‘word of faith theology,’ man as God will find in it masterly theology, better than is taught in many a college and seminary, and it’s in a pulpit in Mississippi. Marvelous! Theology is returning to the church.

But what happened with this other development of the departure of theology to the seminary was that the church was divided in two sectors. On the one hand were the scholars speaking to one another learnedly and abstractly, and irrelevantly. On the other hand were the scholars writing their learned tomes, and talking endlessly to each other. Both were separated from reality, the pious to pious gush, and the scholar to scholarly gush. This left the pastors unsupported in their effort to relate the faith to life. There is a story which could be better told by doctor Lee, Francis Nigel Lee, about a scholar in the Netherlands who decided he was going to be (he was a theological professor) the great authority on angels. And so he began to collect evidence of angelology from all religions and cultures. Having tenure, he would not lecture on any subject but angels. Students got bored with the subject, and finally he had no students so that was all the better, he was collecting a salary to do nothing but learn new languages, and learn about Hindu, Buddhist angels and the angels in Islam, learning Arabic for that, and so on and on. Until there was nothing of interest to him except angels, he didn’t want visitors to come by, he wasn’t interested in his children, he was going to be the world’s great expert on angelology. Finally, his wife left him and moved in with her daughter, and said when you come to your senses, and can live again with humans I’ll return. Well, he finally finished the seventh manuscript volume of the most complete work on angels ever produced, and went to bed joyfully, planning to take the seven massive volumes to the printer the next day. That night the Lord spoke, and the house burnt down, God gave his opinion of such scholarship.

Well, theology is coming back to the pulpit, rejoice in it! Consider again for a moment the meaning of ‘government’ as more than the state, and as primarily self government. For us, this must mean the self-government of the Christian man. In Revolt Against Maturity which I published in 1977, I called attention to Salem, Massachusetts from 1795 to 1845. Societies were created by lay people, each of whom would begin a work, and then accumulate a following, to meet every kind of need that immigrants possibly could have. They met every boat, they helped the immigrants find housing, to find jobs, they them job training if they needed it. They told them about the foods they could encounter in the United States, which were unknown in Europe. They taught English to the parents, they put the children in Christian school, and hosts of things like that. Do you know that most of the Irish in the United states to this day are Presbyterians? Because there were Presbyterian societies like this that met the boats! Every part of the United States in those days had hundreds of similar groups, loosely organized, action-oriented. I’m telling you this because it is a mistake to believe that the United States was a free country from George Washington on through Franklin Pierce, and some of the other presidents of that pre eighteen sixty era, because of its politicians. No! That was not the key. The key was all these Christian men and women who took it upon themselves to meet every conceivable need they saw in their communities. Once Christians under the influence of revivalism began to abandon these spheres, the state expanded its powers, and statism began to develop in the United States.

In fact, in some parts of the country, the last of these organizations and activities did not end until WWII. How many of you remember Captain Dollar’s steamship lines? They were a Pacific firm, the biggest organization on the West Coast in the area of shipping. The man Captain Dollar was a commanding figure, a big white-haired white bearded man, take note Joseph Morecraft, and a Presbyterian elder. He created homes for all the homeless boys he could find. Each home would have a Christian couple as the father and mother. Each home had sixty boys. There was never a graduate of the Captain Dollar’s homes that ever went astray. When they finished their schooling they were bussed across the bay to San Francisco and taken to old Captain Dollar’s offices, and when the boys crowded in, the old man would pray for each of those boys, hand them each a silver dollar, and say: “God bless you!” Those boys were proud to tell you: “I’m one of Captain Dollar’s boys!” That was one man seeing a need in the San Francisco bay area, and meeting a specific need. There are thousands of stories like that, tens of thousands that tell you why we were so free a country for so long in our history. During WWII they shut down the Captain Dollar’s homes saying that sixty boys could not be properly taken care of by one couple. There have never been state homes that have been successful. Captain Dollar’s homes were a source of pride to every boy who ever went there. In those days, if I met someone, and he learned I was a Presbyterian minister, he would say: “I’m one of Captain Dollar’s boys.” He knew I would appreciate what that meant.

Dr. Cornelius Van Til said very bluntly that man’s choice is between autonomy and theonomy, self-rule, or self law or God’s rule, God’s law. Any honest reading of God’s law makes clear its great emphasis on godly charity, how else can we become members one of another? True social order is only possible on biblical grounds, in terms of God’s law. During the Medieval era, and also the Reformation, ‘charity’ was called ‘almsgiving.’ The word ‘alms’ comes from the Greek ‘Ilios,’ compassion. Now, in the Greek, the word has no singular form. One scholar has said of it that it is as if to teach us that a solitary act of charity scarcely deserves the name. Alms, a way of life, outgoing, continual compassion. We read in Psalm 41:1-3, and there are many many verses like this in the Bible, but we pass over them:.

“Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.”

A magnificent promise, from God who cannot lie! Why do we neglect texts like that? It is God’s word, He equates the quality of life with charity, alms, our compassion. What must God think of members in churches who have never helped the needs of others? He declares: “I am the God of widows and orphans.” He asks us to remember them when we give thanks around the thanksgiving table, by inviting them in. How can we expect God to be merciful to us when we ignore the opportunities He sets before us to govern the world in terms of His law? The church was very early required to separate itself from the world, not to fight it, but to train itself to rule over it. How can we rule over God’s world if we do not begin by having God and His law to rule over us? It is time to take back the government from the state, and to place it under the triune God and His law. It is time to bring the king back, and to take His promises and His Word very seriously. Thank you, and God bless you as you serve Him.

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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