John Calvin: The Transformation of Christendom
Upon This Rock: Rushdoony’s Ecclesiology of the Kingdom
[U]pon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18b
Who owns the future? That should be the question we ask ourselves. We don’t. For the average Christian, a faulty eschatology, and a preoccupation with personal security, represent a willful forfeiture of a distinctly Christian future. Our opponents do not think this way, and our universal indifference to godly dominion is but one more indicator that the future is theirs—all in the providence of God, of course.
Still, the church must awaken from this languid deception because totalitarianism looms over the societal horizon like the creeping fog of the San Francisco Bay. To stretch the metaphor even further, these clouds will not dissipate quickly without the burning rays of a godly people beaming with the authority of Christ. The despotic planners of a humanistic world order revel in the ease of advancement provided them by a church that routinely abandons her post.
Without a return to the true meaning and purpose of the church, we can only expect an increase in the size and scope of the satanic world order. The people of God are simply not prepared to assume a governing position. How could they be? If they do not understand basic issues like God’s will for economics, education, or statecraft, how can they possibly avoid tyranny outside of revolution?
What undermines us is fundamental, and it begins with our very concept of the church and its purpose in history. Set over against this is the mirroring agenda of humanism and its push for global dominion. As I’ve written previously, we were born into a state of war,1 and unless we discard the ideas that neutralize us, our opponents will retain the societal preeminence.
God’s Solution: The Christian World Order
God’s goal in history is the destruction of this apotheosis [man’s will to be as god] and the establishment of His Kingdom or House against the Kingdom or House of Man.2
This is as simple a statement of God’s mission in history as I could find in Rushdoony’s pages. If we define a thesis as that which we are seeking to establish,3 then our essential objective is to destroy the House of Man by establishing the House of God. In contemporary parlance, we foil the plans for a humanistic world order by building the Christian World Order. The million-dollar question is, “How is this done?”
For some, political protest is the preferred method, but protest of the “city of man” is not enough. The power state and its financial backers are too fortified and the masses too indifferent to our shift to globalism. Others are devoted to exposing the nefarious plans for an international super state, but this is also insufficient unless accompanied by an equally comprehensive system. This is what one Reconstructionist has said for years: “You can’t fight something with nothing.” He’s right. Until the body of Christ is fully engaged in the battle for the advancing Kingdom, we will be forced to endure some form of humanistic totalitarianism.
This does not mean, however, that we are ignorant of the agendas of even small groups of evil men. In his comments on Isaiah 28:15–18, Rushdoony states with undeniable clarity that our historic enemies are “evil men”; their goal is a “world order”; and their means of defense are “lies”:
The meaning of the actions of the ungodly, of the lawless and the despisers of God, is that they have a covenant with death and hell. Not only so, but they believe in their hearts that not God but lies are their best refuge, their city and tower of defense. These men seek to shape history by their lies and laws. But God has a sure foundation for His city of refuge, as against the city of man and lies. It is His Messiah, God incarnate, who, as the new Adam, will create a new humanity in His image (1 Cor. 15:45ff.; 2 Cor. 5:17). Through Jesus Christ, the last Adam, God will disannul all that these evil men seek to establish, and their world order, founded on lies and injustice, shall finally perish.4
Note the tone of victory whenever Rushdoony addresses what some refer to as “conspiracies,” e.g., world government. This is the proper manner in which a Christian should perceive the works of darkness. Hopefully, the present threat of world socialism will inspire a generation of Christians to rethink their concept of faith and responsibility. We need a collective faith regarding the “word of the Kingdom”5 in order to push against the very gates of hell.
History Is Not Impersonal
An equal error to over-emphasizing conspiracies is to dismiss them as the delusions of paranoid populists. This is the stumbling block of the intellectual’s dogmatic commitment to rationalism. The orthodox Christian, on the other hand, must not subscribe to an impersonal philosophy of history. He cannot discount the full potential of man’s depravity, viz., its capacity to organize itself in a perpetual agenda for a global order that mirrors the multi-generational mission of the worldwide Kingdom of God. He must not embrace the false comfort of the intellectual who sees history as governed by impersonal forces instead of agendas:
[Conspiracies] can only be understood in terms of unconscious, impersonal historical forces. In this perspective, to see a conspiracy as a conspiracy is a naïve misreading of history, a failure to analyze its basic currents, and an attempt to see historical froth as substance. To “expose” conspiracies is thus seen as a confusion of appearance with reality and an evasion of the basic problems and conflicts of history.6
Whereas conspiracy theories have traditionally been the mainstay of paleoconservatives, contemporary conservatives typically go blind to the threat of statism as long as a Republican administration is steering it. So, when the police powers under the Bush administration increased, most conservatives—including most Christians—celebrated the Federal government’s undermining of our constitutional liberties.
However, this attitude amongst conservatives is changing as the global agenda becomes more apparent—no doubt a socialist in the White House helps. Even the pundits on FOXNews are admitting that a “conspiracy” for world government is afoot. On a recent episode of “Hannity,” FOX contributor Dick Morris said in relation to the G20 plans for an international economic order, “And those people who have been yelling, ‘Oh, the UN is going to take over—global government.’ They’ve been crazy, but now, they’re right!”7
As Rushdoony makes clear, whether the League of Nations or the United Nations, modern Towers of Babel remain the humanistic drive because “humanism has a doctrine of incarnation, and the state is the incarnation of its god.”8
Why Conspiracies Prevail
The exposing of any evil planners will be done by God in history, but it will be enacted by first permitting their system to increase, as Rushdoony notes, “He gives evil time to mature, so that the issue becomes clear cut.”9 This is where contemporary conspiracy theorists are injuring both themselves and their audience. They do not understand the Biblical perspective regarding conspiracies and therefore fall prey to the spirit of fear.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Tim. 1:7
Conspiracies are the result of a waning faith in God’s people. When we cast off our responsibility to godly dominion, organized evil moves in to fill the void. These conspirators must be displaced, but a man is greatly deceived if he believes mastering the history of freemasonry, or the Illuminati, will somehow undo the machinations of Satan. The only solution, as Rushdoony states, is reconstruction:
[B]ecause Christian faith has waned and has become antinomian, it cannot maintain or create a law-order. As a result, ancient criminal impulses and movements grasp at power. The key to displacing these grasping evil powers is not a study of the deep things of Satan, nor a belief in their power, but godly reconstruction in terms of Biblical faith, morality, and law.10
Stated more simply, “The weakness of evil conspiracies means that they can normally only occupy a vacuum.”11 If your desire is to stop the plans of evil men, then you must commit yourself fully to the task of reconstruction. If you’re faithful to this calling, you can be assured that God will protect His own, for it is during an evil age that the law-abiding people of God are given a city of refuge:
The cities of refuge thus have a typological meaning which must not be neglected. Jesus Christ and His law-word provide us with our city of refuge in an evil generation.”12
This is by no means a retreat from the battle—it’s just the opposite. We too, as the church, have a global agenda: “It is our task and privilege to make the whole earth God’s city of refuge, a place of justice and safety”13 (emphasis added). We as Christ’s church are permitted to remain in history that we may remake the world in the image of the new Eden. If God prospers us, it is exclusively for these ends:
The concentration of wealth, authority, and a general prosperity in civilization is to be seen as making it into a new Garden of Eden. Ezekiel’s language [Ch. 28] tells us of God’s intentions for Eden and the world. The goal is a glorious and prosperous world paradise under God. The purpose of godly authority is to develop such an order.14
The authority of the wicked will decline only as godly authority increases. As in the parable of the wheat and tares, dominion over the field of the world is determined by which plant crowds out the other.15 History bears no vacuum; the disappearance of the wicked means the increase of the righteous:
When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase. Proverbs 28:28
The Doctrine of Authority
If the purpose of godly authority is to develop a “glorious and prosperous world paradise under God,” i.e., the Christian World Order, then we must expand the meaning of the authority we are to exercise. Even though the humanistic and Christian world orders are supposed to be antithetical to each other, a Christian misconception of the dual doctrines of authority and the church has left Protestantism with its own version of elitist rule. In such a system, the Kingdom of God cannot develop properly:
Godly, hierarchical authority and government works to bring others into their rightful and God-ordained authority and government. Elitism, on the other hand, excludes all but the elite from these spheres.16
If the meaning of discipleship is the preparation for godly authority, then we are failing in this area. The typical understanding of discipleship focuses upon the individual’s spiritual development instead of preparation for godly rule.17 The goal of contemporary discipleship is “to be like Christ”—as if one could determine what Christ was like outside of God’s law!
Godly authority is given to equip believers to advance the Kingdom in every sphere of life, yet the landscape of the Western church is littered with centralized behemoths (megachurches) randomly spaced between a myriad of conservative, but bureaucratic, denominational houses of worship. Both suffer from the same ailment: misplaced authority and a limiting ecclesiology.
The life of the church is not to be directed to developing an institution but to establishing God’s saving power in their lives and in the lives of others, and in bringing dominion into the lives of men and institutions. Church members are the people of God, and they must further God’s reign and government.18
When our Lord gave the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, the purpose was manifold; it was never intended to be isolated to the burly fisherman. In Matthew 18:18, the church itself is bearing the keys, and in Matthew 23:13, the Pharisees are recognized as bearing similar “keys” to the Kingdom:
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
The Pharisees were resisting them that were pressing into the Kingdom (Luke 16:16), but an opposite resistance is apparent today where Christian leadership encourages faith for heaven but resists a faith that seeks to bring heaven to earth. If the Kingdom is to come, hierarchical leadership must prepare self-governing rulers under God:
According to our Lord, the purpose of keys is to unlock doors. The keys of God’s Kingdom must be used to unlock the doors of knowledge, vocation, and service for God’s people, to make them a royal priesthood, priests and kings. The purpose of authority under God is to develop the authority and governmental powers of all those to whom we minister. The question thus is not merely, How do we govern those under our authority?, but also, How do they govern themselves? Something is wrong with us if we must continually support and finance our own children. Mutual assistance is one thing, continuing dependence is another.19
In most Christian denominations, the doctrine of the church is reduced to an identity other than the Kingdom of God:
Rome has stressed the catholicity of the meaning of the church but identified it too closely with the institution. The Baptists have recognized the local nature of the worshipping group and the primacy of faith. The Church of England has seen the relationship of the entire people and their institutions to the church of Scripture but has reduced the church to the nation. Finally, the Reformed Churches have recognized the centrality of the covenant, but they have reduced the covenant to the community of institutionalized worshippers.20
The problem becomes one of conformity as each group focuses upon its doctrinal distinctive rather than the developed Kingdom of God. Rushdoony writes, “Too often the church identifies faith with itself, and faithfulness with loyalty to the institutional forms and practices. It then seeks conformity rather than faith.”21 However, “the more strong any one of these churches becomes in the faith, the less it stresses its own distinctives and the more it stresses the distinctives of Christ and the word.”22
What is the Church?
[T]he church is more than the local building and congregation. The term is closer in meaning to the Kingdom of God. It has reference to the called people of God in all their work together for the Lord.23
Rushdoony’s doctrine of the church is often misunderstood because his was an ecclesiology of the Kingdom. In essence, the mission and the people were indivisible. Despite the claim that pastors understand the church to be made up of people, the people understand the church to be an institution, viz., a non-profit organization representing a particular theological tradition accompanied by professional leaders, staff, and facilities. If Christians can only see the local institutional church, they will remain oblivious to the responsibilities of the faith in establishing the Christian World Order. This doesn’t mean we should discard the institutional aspects of the church. We need only help the local congregation to view itself as a power center for godly government:
A church thus is not essentially a building or an institution, although both can be manifestations of its life. It is a covenant people who believe and apply the covenant law-word to all of life and who seek to bring men, nations, and all spheres of life under the dominion of Christ as Lord. Thus, while the church may be a building and an institution, and both can be important and needed aspects of its life, it is primarily a power and a government at work in the world.24
Rushdoony was not contra-church. He was pro-Kingdom, and that often placed him in opposition to the abuses of institutionalism—a primary hindrance to the advancing Kingdom. His concern was not to divide too sharply the institution from the people. The church is a body of people, whether local or universal, and it is the responsibility of pastors to be sure that laymen understand that they remain the church at all times:
The work of the laity must be seen as a chaplaincy, a carrying of the life of the faith into every area of life and thought. The layman does not leave the church when he walks out of the building; if it is not his life in his calling, then he is never in the church on Sundays either.25
The Church as an Outpost for Christ’s Kingdom
The gates of hell are not to prevail against the church that Christ is building, but as it stands, we are far from an ecclesiology of the Kingdom that truly threatens the contemporary satanic world order. As Rushdoony has demonstrated throughout his writings, eschatology and soteriology have a great deal to do with this. The postmillennial hope of a universal Kingdom, and a doctrine of salvation that leads to godly rule, are the best means to undoing whatever system humanistic man constructs. This means a return to the true meaning of the church, viz., “an outpost for Christ’s Kingdom”:
It is hardly likely, that after centuries of erroneous usage, we can readily return to the Biblical usage which saw local congregations as outposts of Christ’s Kingdom, as the church or kingdom in Ephesus, and so on, but only by a postmillennial perspective is any such usage at all possible. Today, as the world more openly embraces humanism, our religious institutions, schools, families, and callings must see themselves as outposts of Christ’s Kingdom, local gatherings of the citizens of the new creation. In the building for worship, the true church in a local community gathers to hear the word of God, whereby they are to go forth and exercise dominion.26
God destroyed the first attempt at a humanistic world order when He confused the language of the builders at Babel (Gen. 11); He will destroy all ensuing world orders so long as they are built upon sin instead of the rock of His revelation: the One with authority in heaven and earth. The purpose of the Book of Revelation is simply a full exposition of Peter’s glimpse (“Thou art the Christ”) at Christ’s identity. He was not Elijah, or one of the prophets. He is the One that ascended to the throne to establish His eternal reign, and it is in this reign that we as the church find our identity and mission:
Christ is seen as present in the world in the church, in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, or lampstands (1:12, 20), alive and present in His body as well as in eternity. Christ is hidden now from the world, but present nonetheless not only as King of creation on His throne, but also as the true Church and the head thereof. The purpose of this vision is to give comfort and assurance of victory to the church, not to confirm their fears or the threats of the enemy. To read Revelation as other than the triumph of the kingdom of God in time and eternity is to deny the very essence of its meaning.27
To whom does the future belong? It belongs to Christ—the rider on the white horse who is called “Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” (Rev. 19:11); and because we belong to Him, we are called to share in His reign (Rev. 20:6). As for the beast, the dragon, and the false prophet, they will have their lot in the “lake of fire and brimstone…and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (v. 10). It is not for us to be fearful of any beast or his system. To grant fear and dread to any conspiracy is to grant them our worship, for these paralyzing emotions were created by God and should be directed toward Him that is “our fear and our dread.” If we do so, God Himself will be our sanctuary:
“Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’ Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy, Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. The LORD of hosts, Him shall you hallow; Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. He will be as a sanctuary…” Isaiah 8:12-14 (NKJV)
1. Chris Ortiz, “A State of War,” Chalcedon Report, April 2009.
2. R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology in Two Volumes (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 701.
3. Christopher J. Ortiz, “The Kingdom-Driven Life: Discovering God’s Larger Purpose and Our Place in It,” Faith for All of Life, March-April 2008.
4. R. J. Rushdoony, Deuteronomy (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2008), 64.
5. Chris Ortiz, “All Things are Possible: The Collective Faith Needed to Establish the Kingdom,” Chalcedon Report, June 2009.
6. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2001), 153.
8. R. J. Rushdoony, Christianity and the State (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1986), 41.
9. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System, 157.
10. R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1973), 564.
11. Ibid., 562.
12. Rushdoony, Deuteronomy, 64.
14. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, 1181.
15. Christopher J. Ortiz, “God’s Story for Christian Dominion: The Ancient Secret of the Wheat and the Tares,” Faith for All of Life, Sept-Oct. 2008.
16. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, 1172.
17. See R. J. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1983).
18. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, 746.
19. Ibid., 1173
20. R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law Volume Two: Law and Society (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1986), 336.
21. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, 674.
22. Ibid., 672.
23. Ibid., 670.
24. Ibid., 745.
26. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law Volume Two: Law and Society, 342
27. R. J. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2001), 90.
Christopher J. Ortiz is a freelance writer and independent communications specialist servicing churches, ministries, and publishers.