Christianity and the State
Introduction to Christianity and the State
It is a great honor for me to write, at Felipe Sabino’s invitation, a brief text to introduce the Portuguese translation of this very remarkable and timely book by Rousas John Rushdoony, Christianity and the State, first published in 1986, some thirty years ago.
This modest volume (some 200 pages), together with Rushdoony’s The Foundations of Social Order (1968), has exercised a considerable influence on my thinking, especially in strengthening the Biblical and theological underpinnings of my own historical and political reflections.
My hope and prayer is that it will do as much for many of the readers of the Portuguese version.
The book is composed of forty brief chapters and an epilogue. It could just as well have figured as a supplementary section to Rushdoony’s groundbreaking Systematic Theology.
Christianity and the State is a book of great importance, in particular for its delving into the historical roots of many facets of the relationship between church and state, between Christianity and the state. More importantly, Rushdoony broadens the scope of his study to examine the inescapable (though many would ignore it) confrontation between an ungodly human commonwealth and the social, cultural, and political implications of the Christian faith.
The book is written from the perspective of the author’s American experience of that Biblical conflict between the two paths, the narrow and the wide; between that of the faithful church of Jesus Christ and that of a world given over, to a greater or lesser degree, to the evil one. The basic theme of this book is the constant warfare between these two orders, that of Cain and of Abel, that of Saul and of David, that of Herod and of Jesus Christ. The battle rages constantly through the ages of human history, pitting, on the one hand, a faithful church and a just magisterial power, fighting with the weapons of the Spirit, those defined by God’s law-word against, on the other hand, the carnal powers of darkness—the first political beast acting in conjunction with the second ideological-religious beast—both today so active in our fallen world.
God’s faithful church is thus placed, by its Lord, in the field of constant battle against the world’s spiritual and cultural powers. These manifest themselves visibly in two evil social realities, which the Bible calls the political beast, aided by an indispensable ally, a second cultural beast (also called the false prophet and the prostitute). These symbolic political animals are clearly depicted in various parts of the Book of Revelation. It is the historical, philosophical, and theological significance of this inescapable conflict that Rushdoony so ably examines in this book.
The reader will here find a number of brief, precise studies of the many great debates on these issues viewed through the lens of the covenantal history of God’s church in the world. Let us here mention a few. From the divine pretensions of the Roman Empire we pass to the victory of the church over emperor worship (that acme of political idolatry), to Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, author (with Licinius) of the famous edict of Milan in March 313. This edict granted freedom of worship to the persecuted church of Jesus Christ.
The implications of the Donatist schism in North Africa during the fourth and fifth centuries are then examined, but also the confrontational conflict for political supremacy over medieval Europe between the ambitions of the Holy Roman Empire—that of the imperious German Hohenstaufens—and those equally imperious ambitions of the papacy. It is through such ambitious papal designs that the anti-Christian spirit of ancient imperial Rome was, in the High Middle Ages, resurrected to its ancient political glory, power, and cultural dominance.
This revival in the West, through the machinations of the Roman See, of the power of the ancient beasts culminated in the labors of a mighty pope, Gregory VII (pope, 1073–1085), who, at the end of the eleventh century, in the course of the Investiture Contest with the German emperors, conquered the triple papal crown—that of absolute papal rule over (1) the universal church, (2) the papal territories in Italy, and (3) every kind of secular power. This political victory gave to the papacy, for more than three centuries, a fully effective spiritual and political dominion over the whole of Western Europe.
The breadth of Rushdoony’s perspective is vast. He considers the political thought of Aristotle and of Plato, but also the corporate character of medieval society; Marsilius of Padua, father of the Social Contract, but also the Conciliar Movement as well as the rise of the Inquisition; the political implications of the thinking of Vatican I and II as well as those of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism.
The themes thus treated are as varied as those periods of history our author examines. Here are some of the topics through which Rushdoony studies the various relations between Christianity and the state: sin, justice and the Incarnation; morality and the law; religious liberty, immanence and absolute power. Three important chapters deal with that essential theme, “Statism as a Religious Fact.” The book starts off by exploring “The Need for a Theology of the State” and closes with a vision of hope, “Towards the Rebirth of Government.” Let us listen to some of his closing observations:
The churches represent the great area of freedom from statist controls in many countries. This is a condition which the modern state finds intolerable and is determined to alter … In spite of this and other problems, a major change is under way. Laymen are active in the faith; the Christian family is coming into its own; “minority” groups and various races are rapidly taking leadership within the church and extending the scope of the Kingdom. The battle is real, but the promises of victory are very great. The kingdom of this world shall indeed become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, for this is the victory which alone shall overcome the world, even our faith (Revelation 11:15; I John 5:4).
As the Reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries unanimously taught, the papal church was, for the time which was hers, the very Antichrist, that sixth head of the Beast in Revelation 13 and especially 17, destroyed at first (here we perceive the end of the Roman Empire vanquished by the cross of Christ) and then come to life again through the arrogance and pride of the papacy, sorely tempted by final apostasy. She came to imitate the political and religious principles of imperial Rome and worked towards their institutional restoration within the Roman Church. However, it would not be wise to argue, as did many in the older Reformed tradition, that the Roman Church held some kind of monopoly over all anti-Christian power in history. The Antichrist, as is all too well known, often changes his historical location, the better thus to deceive!
The Power of a Covenantal Framework
As we bring the facts of human history under the light of the true covenantal framework of the Bible, and in this way develop Christian historical thought, we are enabled to discern that the spirit of the Antichrist does not always stay put in the same historical location. In one era, it raises its head as the Papal Imperium, rival of the Hohenstaufen in the High Middle Ages, both of which aimed at the exercise of total power. At other times (I’m thinking here of the early modern era), the spirit of Antichrist inspires the absolutist ambitions of the monarchies to rule with total sway (i.e., “the divine right of kings”) over much of Western Europe.
The spirit of Antichrist then once more disappears from view, only to reappear with multiplied strength in the totalitarian revolutionary movements of our past centuries. In our own day, it seems to have found its home in the democratic (vox populi, vox dei) and imperialistic ambitions (pursued politically and financially) of that “exceptional” American nation, now become the hub of the empire of the world. This is indeed a far cry from the character of the original American republic that recognized the danger of such ambitions and thus attempted to keep them within the bounds of an expressly limited, moral, and federal form of government.
This totalitarian anti-Christian power is always the fruit of apostasy: apostasy of both the church and the state. The church falls into apostasy when she denies and refuses Jesus Christ’s dominion as divine Savior and Lord. The state falls into its own kind of apostasy when it makes itself its own idolatrous end. This is still today the case with the Pope of Rome persisting in his permanently usurped role of Vicar of Jesus Christ.
Things are little different with that quasi-divine posture taken up by our Protestant Biblical critics who, in the vanity of their clerical tyranny, usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit by their destruction of the integrity and divine authority of the Scriptures. The state, for its part, denies its own authority by refusing to stand under the divine and creational law of God, becoming a law unto itself. We can indeed perceive such self-divinization of man in every aspect of our Western modern humanism, a religion in which man does not hesitate—at the renewed instigation of the ancient serpent—to seize the place of God.1
This, in particular, is the strange character of our present hedonist, utilitarian, science-worshipping, and technocratic civilization. Having utterly deformed the Creator’s first principles, modern man has once again taken of that poisoned fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and excluded both from his thinking and his doing (corresponding respectively to the mark of the Beast on his forehead and on his hand) all true knowledge, that of both the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and of His works of creation, redemption, and providence. God is thus banished from the technocratic cosmos which autonomous scientific man thus arbitrarily constructs. In our present view of the universe, God the Creator and Redeemer has been utterly rejected. God has in this way disappeared from the very perception of our apostate civilization.2
The Engine of Statist Overreach
We see the state thus rejecting its own proper function as magistrate, called to exercise an authority delegated to him by his divine Suzerain, being thus both under the law of God and fully accountable to the divine Lawgiver for the exercise of his vocation. This is everywhere the case with our modern antinomian state, wherever it has transformed itself into the pseudo-divine provider of truth and of universal welfare for those placed under its power.
The fusion of the temporal and the spiritual is to be found in every manifestation of the Beast-Antichrist. This is clearly to be seen in the way our modern social democratic nations function. Wherever our apostate cultures (truly humanistic cults!) have replaced their former religious beliefs (true or false) with the ersatz of a religion considered only as a social cement, the consequence of such an artificial consolidation of the authority of the state leads of necessity to the emergence of totalitarian power structures. Here the central point is that idols—such as humanism—are in themselves nothing, and that political action replaces the void produced by its utter vacuity. A typical example of such meaningless agitation is found in the extreme forms atheism takes in the countries of northern Europe where, with their total socialism, political action fills the religious void left by the destruction of every kind of individual and personal identity and responsibility, obligating all to conform completely to the social model.3
With this anti-Chalcedonian confusion of the spiritual with the temporal—in imitation of the monistic theocratic empires of Islam, of the papacy of the High Middle Ages and of monarchic absolutism—modern man now reaps the fruits of revolution: Nazism, Fascism, and Bolshevism (the now universally accepted social democratic version of a now apparently defunct Communism). We can see, cresting on the present horizon of history, the Great Babylon of the Apocalypse.4
When the church falls into apostasy and the state becomes antinomian (anomos), the nations of the world become nothings, and are not, in any way, capable of resisting the seductive power of the Dragon and of his Beasts. The first beast is the symbolic representation of totalitarian military/police power; the second beast is the symbolic representation of a totalitarian religious and cultural ideology, the realm of propaganda and of utter falsehood poisoning every field of thought, of action, and of life. The name “False Prophet” is but a synonym for the “Prostitute,” the Dragon’s whore, the second beast. The Babylon of Revelation 13 to 18 becomes a reality when this prostitute (the second cultural and religious propaganda beast) takes her seat riding the first beast (Rev. 17:3–6).
The cruel power of a sword without justice is then united to a totally arbitrary media-frenzied discourse, mendacious and demonic. Its passion is then given free rein to destroy the church and the people of God physically, intellectually, spiritually, and theologically. Apart from the unexpected eruption of divine grace, the coming out from heaven of Biblical revival and reform (such as that experienced in the Reformation of the sixteenth century), little can prevent such a universal disaster. But we in faith and in great hope hold to the immutable promises of the Covenant: curses for those who persevere in their impiety, and blessings for those who strive to remain faithful to God and to His Word.
The Sure Hope
Here indeed is our hope. If the church of God—its local congregations in particular—turn to God, to faith in the gospel and to obedience to the commandments of the law of the Almighty, then the irresistible grace of the Covenant of God with His people will become manifest. This is the sure and infallible teaching of the Scriptures.
According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompense.
So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. (Isa. 59:18–19)
And then shall that Wicked be revealed [the Antichrist, the two Beasts under the rule of the Dragon], whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth [the preaching of the Word, the witness to Jesus Christ which is the spirit of Prophecy (Revelation 19:10)], and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming [His second coming in glory]. (2 Thess. 2:8)
And they [the apostate nations of the whole world, under Gog and Magog] went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city [the faithful congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the earth]; and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. (Rev. 20:9)
Mapping the Path to Today’s Disaster
Let us recapitulate some of what we have said before concluding.
When the prostitute (the second lying beast, that evil counterfeit of the Bride of Christ, the faithful church) rides the first beast (the murderous monster receiving its power from the Dragon) we have Babylon the Great. In Western Europe we are not far removed from such a condition. Babylon is thus the fusion of the two powers, the religious and the political, both church and state, the first and the second Beast conjoined into a society, a culture, and an imperial state totally cemented and bound together by their utter and willful rejection of God and of His law.
This satanically inspired union was observed in the High Middle Ages when, with the rise of the Roman papal church and its total domination of the Europe of this era, both politically and spiritually, Rome redivivus had, for a time, utterly defeated the imperial ambitions of its rival, the Hohenstaufen Empire. But, by the beginning of the sixteenth century, both empire and papacy had seen their aspirations to universal domination broken. The ambitions of the two beasts for total dominion against God (the spirit of the Antichrist) were, as we have seen, then transferred to the new absolute nation-states, first France and England, then Spain and to the apostate culture of the Renaissance (a humanist return to the errors of pagan antiquity).
The baton of this relay—as in a race whose prize was nothing less than total and absolute power—was taken up by the modern revolutionary spirit. This spirit was, to some tentative degree, already present in the utopian aspects of those partially premonitory revolutions, both English and American.5 As from 1789, with a tremendously increased momentum, the French Revolution—fruit of the monistic pantheism of the Enlightenment and of the bureaucratic centralized statism of the decadent late French monarchy—manifested the breaking loose of the Napoleonic spirit of the Antichrist, erupting forth from France to infect all of Europe and, in time, the entire world with its universal pestilence.
This movement toward absolute universal political power was then taken up by Britain’s ambition to take hold of the Dragon’s imperial scepter over the world. But such a world empire on which the sun never set—as was the case some two centuries earlier with imperial Spain—as from Waterloo fell into the net of that dominating financial, and thus political, power, the money interests.6
Thus, the Rothschilds, the Barings, the Sassoons and other financial sharks issuing forth from many London banking establishments, came to be the Empire’s rulers of last resort, dominating thus the politics of Great Britain and holding the universal realm of Queen Victoria in subjection as the hostage of the money interests. Theirs were the two opium wars waged by Britain on the Chinese Empire on their behalf. Theirs also were the Irish and Indian famines, cruel signs of the power of their utilitarian lack of any kind of true charitable sentiment.7
It is here that we place the origins of our privately owned central imperial banks, all in due course standing under the shadow of that almighty bank of banks, the Bank of International Settlements in Basel, safely encrusted in the calm and security of neutral Switzerland.
In the course of the twentieth century, within the framework of the imperial finance of our central banks—as further steps in the building up of a total one world empire—came two World Wars and in their wake Bolshevism and Nazism and, today, that very strange latter-day anti-Christian entity called the European Union.
The totalitarian movement of the two beasts (Revelation 13, 17, and 18)—to which belong the devil’s tares of that essential parable in Matthew 13—has now seemingly come to its point of culmination with what one can call “an Absolute One-World Economism”: financial economics married to politics and freed from every kind of moral restraint or accountability to divine law. These uncontrollable powers are, of course, in no way accountable to the peoples and nations of the world. Many have once again gradually come (after the long period of their liberation by the cross of Christ) to be held under the yoke of the Dragon’s irresistible seductions.
This unipolar one-world system is at present largely dominated by that unilateral Yankee-Jacobin imperialism which has today totally usurped the governing power of the formerly proud and independent American republic. This usurpation by an establishment constituted of elements largely foreign to the spirit of the true American heritage has stifled the expression of the soul of that nation by a cultural and media-driven censorship today challenged (perhaps only temporarily?) by the Trump phenomenon.
It is this silenced majority of the nation that expressed itself so vigorously in the hundreds of thousands (sic!) of approving letters received by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn after delivering the inaugural speech to Harvard University on June 8, 1978. His lucid and restrained analysis of the woes of the American nation—and of the West as a whole—was caustically rejected by the Anglo-Saxon cultural and political establishment. For a lucid and moderate analysis and critique of the Yankee-Jacobin anti-American imperial democratic tradition which, at the present time, so utterly dominates American internal and foreign politics, this for the bane of the nations of the earth, we can recommend a number of very enlightening studies by Claes Ryn.8
Perhaps the next phase in the growth of the spirit of the Antichrist in the world will be a multilateral, multipolar financial and economic soft totalitarianism under the aegis of the United Nations and of which the BRICS might well have been the model.
Of course, the godly magistrates of Romans 13 are not the enemy of the church. When faithful to their God-given mandate, both church and state (and every kind of divinely instituted authority) are the divinely appointed legal, judicial, and institutional buttresses to protect society. They are to protect society from any overstepping of the divinely established bounds by either the temporal (state) or the spiritual (ideological and cultural) powers.
Babylon’s Grim Destiny
What we have before us, at least in the West today, is what Sheldon Wolin so aptly calls Democracy Incorporated.9 This is Big Business and Big Finance fornicating with the Big State, united together in the bed of utter monopolistic corruption (financial bribery). This implies an entirely irresponsible, corrupt, and unaccountable monistic totalitarian political, financial, economic, and religious (cultural) anti-Christian power.
This is the system of the Great Babylon as described by Revelation 13, 17, and 18 as well as elsewhere in the Bible. This is the Providential State come into its own (and with a vengeance). This is the fruition of the total confusion of the temporal with the spiritual, of finance and politics, resulting in an ideologically apostate culture that is totally irresistible for those who have received from the powers that be the marks of the beast on their forehead (the mind) and on their right hand (action). It is the utterly utilitarian and hedonist ideology of the cult of absolute power.
But those who love Jesus Christ and have His name written on their foreheads and who obey His commandments know that the Lord of lords and the King of kings speaks otherwise:
John to the seven churches which are in Asia [indeed, to the churches of all time and in every part of the earth]: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Rev. 1:4–6)
How delighted I am, then, that Rousas John Rushdoony’s ever-timely book, Christianity and the State, is shortly to come out in Brazilian-Portuguese. Its important message is of great pertinence to the challenges we face today. May our good and faithful God abundantly bless the translation of this volume, the remarkable labor of a humble, faithful, and zealous servant of the majesty of the living God.
22-28 September 201610
Jean-Marc Berthoud lives in Lausanne, Switzerland. He holds Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Arts with Honors degrees from the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is the editor of the review Résister et Construire, president of the Association Vaudoise de Parents chrétiens in Switzerland, and of the Association Création, Bible et Science, and is the author of numerous books. His work (in French) is posted at http://calvinisme.ch.
1. See Justin Popvitch: “Reflections on the infallibility of European man,” in Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ (Belmont: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1997), pp. 97–116 and L’homme et le Dieu-homme (Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 1989).
2. Here the writings of Augusto del Noce are of vital importance. See Augusto del Noce, The Crisis of Modernity (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2014); L’époque de la sécularisation (Paris: Éditions des Syrtes, 2001); L’irreligion occidentale (Paris: Fac-éditions, 1995).
3. Here we find societies tending to conformity with the model described by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. See also Roland Huntford, The New Totalitarians (New York, NY: Stein and Day, 1972).
4. Here mention must be made of the danger represented by Islam and the religious ideology of its false prophet, radicalized today by its Wahhabist branch while being manipulated by the United States and by the millenarian Zionism of the state of Israel (the radicalization of Islam being intimately related to its manipulation).
Under the pretense of the defense of humanitarian aims and public morality, entire nations are destabilized by very sophisticated propaganda methods and then conquered by financial, economic, and (if necessary) military means to further the transnational interests of an international clique having the impudence to call itself the “New World Order.” It is thus that international corporations become the new instruments of international anti-Christian and anti-national revolution. This goes under the name of “Color Revolutions.” See here the very able writings of our modern Carl von Clausewitz, Gene Sharp, particularly his three volume masterpiece, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Volume I. Power and Struggle; Volume II. The Methods of Nonviolent Action; Volume III. The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action (Boston, MA: Porter Sargent,  1998).
5. See Jean-Marc Berthoud, “La Révolution francaise et les révolutions,” in Révolution et Christianisme. Une appréciation chrétienne de la Révolution française (Lausanne: L’Àge d’Homme, 1992), pp. 114–163. Both of these Revolutions contained—among many healthy elements—a number of utopian aspects. These positive elements included, in particular, the defense of inherited traditional rights, strongly attacked on both sides of the Atlantic by tyrannical tendencies present both within the British monarchy and later in Parliament. The utopian tendencies encouraged the vision, held by a number of English Puritans, of the bringing of the Kingdom of God into our world principally through the force of political action. As for New England, many cultivated the equally utopian notion of the American colonies as constituting a divinely established “exceptional model” for the reform of an utterly corrupted world, that of a “City built on the Hill,” direct promontory on our earth of the fully achieved Heavenly Kingdom. This was also to be established, to a large degree, by political and even military means. This religious idealism rapidly became secularized and was transformed into a kind of Yankee Jacobinism, as witnessed by the theory of universal progress. See Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (London: Heineman, 1980), James H. Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith (New York: Basic Books, 1983); Arthur R. Thompson,To the Victor Go the Myths & Monuments: The History of the First 100 Years of the War Against God and the Constitution, 1776-1876, and Its Modern Impact (Appleton, WI: American Opinion Foundation Publishing, 2016).
6. The modern origins of this financial domination of politics by financial power can be seen in the foundation of the Bank of England at the close of the seventeenth century.
7. For a very perspicacious analyis of Victorian utilitarianism see the two spectacular satirical novels by Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854) and Little Doritt (1855-1857). For a brilliant study of the roots and nature of Benthamite Utilitarianism, see the doctoral thesis of a very able Egyptian scholar Mohamed El Shakankiri, La philosophie juridique de Jeremy Bentham (Paris: L.G.D.J., R. Pichon et R. Durand-Auzias, 1970).
8. Claes G. Ryn, The New Jacobinism: America as Revolutionary State (Bowie, MD: National Humanities Institute, 2011) and America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003). Jean-Marc Berthoud, “A Christian Critique of American Foreign Policy,” Chronicles, June 1, 2000. For the full text see, Jean-Marc Berthoud, “Une critique chrétienne de la Politique étrangère américaine,” Le règne terrestre de Dieu. Du gouvernement de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ: Politique, Nations, Histoire et Foi chrétienne (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 2011), pp. 318–349.
9. Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).
10. My thanks go to those who have read this text and made many useful suggestions for its improvement.
Jean-Marc Berthoud was born in 1939 in South Africa from Swiss missionary parents and lives in Lausanne, Switzerland. He holds Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Arts with Honors degrees from the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is the editor of the review Résister et Construire, president of the Association Vaudoise de Parents chrétiens in Switzerland, and of the Association Création, Bible et Science, and is the author of numerous books.