Appomattox, Virginia, is no stranger to great events. It’s famous as the place where Robert E. Lee laid down his sword, bringing to an end the American Civil War.
Today something else is happening in Appomattox that may, in the long term, prove significant to America’s future. It’s happening quietly, in a small way, but God often works subtly, using small things to great effect.
Centered around a little church in Appomattox, a band of ex–New Yorkers is trying to apply, in the real world, the principles of the Bible and Christian Reconstruction. They’re not an army, and they’re hardly in the spotlight. They haven’t set up a utopian community, but blended into the community that’s there. Unlike the Amish or the Hasidic Jews, you wouldn’t be able to identify them on the street.
“They thought we were a cult [at first],” said Paul Michael Raymond, pastor of the Reformed Bible Church in Central Virginia.
To fit in, he recalled, church members went out of their way to engage town and county residents in conversation, write letters to the local newspapers, and establish themselves as regular and reliable customers at all the local businesses. Pastor Raymond ran for election as a county supervisor, which, he said, brought favorable attention to the church. And the church’s homeschooling families carried out many different projects to benefit the whole community.
“We have established ourselves as people with honor and integrity,” he said. “It took time and conscious effort. Are we serving as salt and light for the community? Absolutely! And now we’re regularly asked by local government officials to give interviews on the radio, etc., for our analysis of assorted local issues.
“Whatever the issue, our take on it is always Biblical. The people around here are mostly Arminian Baptists, not Reformed, but they’re still part of the Bible Belt, and that makes them receptive. We could never do this in New York.”
Leaving New York
Throughout history, religious movements have often meant the movement of a people from once place to another: the Pilgrim’s journey from Europe to America, for example. Pastor Raymond’s flock moved to Virginia from Long Island, New York.
“I was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church,” he said, “but that church fell into a difficult time in the 1990s, becoming more and more liberal, less and less Biblical. We pleaded for reform, but our requests fell on deaf ears. So we left the CRC.”
Not setting out to found their own church, the congregation first tried to affiliate with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The OPC didn’t have the resources to plant a new church on Long Island, Raymond said, “so we finally had to start a church of our own. I never intended to become the pastor, but at last I had to do it because we couldn’t afford to hire one.”
The move to Virginia, he said, was inspired by conversations with Howard Phillips, founder of the Constitution party.
“Mr. Phillips said, ‘How can you incorporate the principles of dominion in New York? You’re in the belly of the beast—it’s just too difficult there.’
“We picked Appomattox,” Raymond said, “because Virginia has lenient homeschooling laws, we already had some friends in Appomattox, and the town itself is affordable and quiet.”
They made the move in 1998, leaving behind some of the congregation who still maintain the original church on Long Island. The total church membership in Appomattox is only about “ten or twelve families, including singles and widows,” Raymond said. “But it’s a start.”
A Ministry of Homeschooling
Central to the church’s ministry is homeschooling.
“We all homeschool our children,” Raymond said. “You cannot be in agreement with Christ, and with the pagans and their government schools. As we see it, they’re passing their children through the fire. If you’re still sending your children to public school, you’ll be pretty uncomfortable in our church. We preach sermons against it all the time.”
To support homeschooling parents, the church once a week offers a “Home Educators’ Support Academy,” a series of lectures and workshops for parents on specialized subjects like art, music, and constitutional law. Serving a total of some fifty children, from toddlers to older teens, the church provides community service projects, field trips, a library, online resources for parents, and cookouts and picnics for “socialization.”
“It’s the public school child who’s isolated to his own peer group,” Raymond said. “Our children socialize with people of all age groups.”
Because “God has His people everywhere,” he said, the church has been able to recruit retired college professors to teach college-level courses online in subjects like physics, law, history, and theology.
“Homeschooling is absolutely critical,” he said. “If we’re going to take dominion anywhere, we have to start with education.”
Which, of course, is exactly what the secularists have been doing, through the public schools, for 150 years.
But does this ministry actually change lives?
“We are clear as to the heresy of compartmentalization,” Pastor Raymond said. “So many people call themselves Christians. But they have their Christian life on Sunday and their secular life for the rest of the week. I find it hard to view such deep hypocrisy, such carnal Christianity, as these Christians practice. In truth, there’s no such thing as carnal Christianity.”
And so the Reformed Bible Church’s mission field is not some faraway nation in Africa or Asia, but ordinary Christians here at home.
“These need to be evangelized as if they were outside the church,” Raymond said. “We aren’t well-liked because we call everyone to task—including ourselves.
“The church in America has fallen into such idolatry that God must judge. With all its cultural insanity, the U.S.A. is already in a phase of God’s judgment—the phase in which the whole culture begins to fall apart.”
How would anyone be able to see that the members of this church are living genuinely Christian lives?
“I would ask you first to look at our well-rounded, God-focused family units,” the pastor said. “Our parents are desirous to teach the Christian faith to their children.
“Our people have a strong Protestant work ethic. They’re evangelical at the workplace. In every home, you’ll find a theology library. Our people are zealous for the church. They love the church.
“In my own family, my children, without my asking them to do it, have already begun Christ-centered ministries of their own. My seventeen-year-old daughter, for instance, has started a blog where she discusses political issues from a Biblical point of view. There’s hardly a day goes by in our house without a discussion of how to advance the Kingdom of Christ.
“Whomever you look at in our church, their lives reflect piety. True, we are a sinful people, like any other. We’re always having to put out a fire, here or there, as part of the process of mortification of the flesh. But as families, and as a congregation, we labor together and separately to advance the Kingdom.”
A Theocratic Vision
As focused as they are on building a godly way of life, Pastor Raymond said, he and his brethren don’t expect to ignite a sudden spiritual awakening nationwide. But the church has founded an Institute for Theonomic Reformation (www.hisglory.us) to preach Christian Reconstruction on the Internet.
“Even with redemption, we still err,” Raymond said. “We cannot offer a utopia, but we do offer a system of beliefs and morals based on God’s Word. And we ought to strive for a society system that is theocratic.
“For those who are afraid of the word ‘theocracy,’ it means ‘based on God’s law,’ not a tyrannical government by a small group of religious leaders. The word for that is ‘ecclesiocracy.’”
The ITR’s mission statement sets out the ministry’s position in detail and is recommended reading for those who are unclear about the aims and methods of Christian Reconstruction.
“The weapons of the Christian are not the carnal weapons of violent revolution,” the mission statement says. “The source of Christian strength and victory comes as a direct result of obedience to God’s Law. In its quest to promote this obedience, the ITR provides steadfast education, directives, and application strategies of God’s Word to every area and discipline of life. God’s Holy precepts are the weapons of the Christian Armory.”
“I have to make a conscious effort to remember,” Pastor Raymond said, “that salvation will not come from a political or economic venue, but only from Christ.”
The labor of this pastor and his congregation may be viewed as a small thing, in worldly terms. But Jesus Christ had something to say about small things.
“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matt. 13:31–32).