On the occasion of Chalcedon’s 50th anniversary, I thought it appropriate to review our ministry’s purpose and message. In preparing to do so, I collected some handwritten manuscripts my father wrote over the years, and soon realized his own words could best illustrate our mission1 because the vision of Chalcedon began as his conviction and burden long before it was joined by others.
My father did more than found Chalcedon; he gave it marching orders which we follow still. Unlike the personality cults that drive many modern ministries, my father’s contribution was one of substance embodied in dozens of books and thousands of articles. The writings of most authors disappear after their death; only some works of a few reappear years later. One of the primary responsibilities of Chalcedon is to oversee the availability of his body of work because it addresses core issues with which the church has yet to grapple. We perpetuate the work of R. J. Rushdoony not as a memorial or an historical archive, but as an arsenal for the saints at a critical period of history.
“Born into a Dying World”
More than a few times I have read comments suggesting it was ironic that my father wanted to “impose his religious ideas” on others when his own background was a flight from the Turkish massacre of Christian Armenians that began in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. This perspective fails to distinguish the Biblically-based moral order from the Islamic, and assumes that a secular, humanistic society and ethic better serves man.
It was, in fact, his Armenian heritage and the bloodbath he survived (in his mother’s womb) that shaped his perspective. He saw in Turkey’s brutality the coming ugliness of a godless West:
I am Armenian, and I was born on April 25, 1916; my parents and a few relatives arrived in the United States in November, 1915, refugees from the Turkish massacres. In the march from Van, Armenia, into Russian territory, my family saw the line of refugees attacked repeatedly; they saw the dead bodies sometimes clogging streams, and they walked until no soles were left to their shoes, and their feet were bloody.
In California, on a farm near Kingsburg, I saw, into the mid-1920s, various refugees arrive, and, each time, Armenians came from miles around to ask them, “Did you see my parents, brother, sister, or other relatives?” The answer at times was, “No,” at other times a grim and heartbreaking report. As recently as the 1980s, my cousin Dora had a like experience when visiting Jerusalem on a vacation.
But added to this was another factor, my parents’ prayers from the time of my conception that I would serve the Lord as a pastor and a Christian thinker. I was born into a dying world, with humanistic statism steadily strangling mankind. I recall vividly well into the late 1950s the older Armenian men breaking into tears over the direction of the United States into godlessness and immoralism. They would speak of the ignorance of Americans about the wealth of their inheritance, and they saw a drift into the pragmatic immoralism of Turkey.2
The Healing Blood of Christ
The history of the Rushdoony family went back to at least the time of Isaiah. In all those centuries the family lived within the vicinity of Van, Armenia.3 The loss of this heritage hurt my grandfather deeply. After recounting the death of both of his grandfathers, his older brother (Rousas George) in infancy, and many other relatives, my father wrote:
Before my birth, while still in Russia, my father prayed that I would serve the Lord in the ministry of the Word. From my earliest days, before I could say more than a few words, my father echoed Hannah’s words (I Sam. 1:27–28) and constantly reminded me that I had been given to the Lord, and I was not my own. I was very young when my father’s commitment became my own. I had been prayed for!
John L. Dagg, D.D., the great American Baptist leader, prayed earnestly that his descendants would become believers and join him in heaven. Just yesterday morning, a sixth-generation descendent of J.L. Dagg, Beth Sutton of Georgia, a strong Christian, left us after a wonderful visit. Dagg’s prayers are being answered to the sixth generation at least! More parents need to pray for their children and for their unborn descendants.
Very early, two facts impressed me. First, almost everyone in the farm community (in California) where we lived went to a church. Even in my high school years, much later, only one of their many churches was known to be somewhat modernistic. Second, in spite of this, both our community and the world left much to be desired in terms of being Christian. (Things are dramatically worse now, but they still left much to be desired then.) A third fact struck me forcibly as a boy. An elderly saint in the neighborhood, called “grandfather” by all of us, was somewhat blind and rather feeble. He exercised daily around the two walls of the barn which were not included in the corral. He would tap the side of the barn with his cane, until he came to the end, and would then turn to the other side, all the while praying, reciting Bible verses, and the like. We boys always said “Hello” to him, and shook his hand. In one hundred degree weather, his hands were still cold, even though he wore his winter underwear through the summer. His heart, we were told, was tired and thus would not pump blood to his extremities, and hence they were cold, a sign of creeping death. Years later, as a university student, I read a book which compared the twentieth-century church to an old man, no longer able to pump blood effectively to the extremities. This illustration struck me with especial force. It also helped set my Christian calling. The healing blood of Christ must be “pumped” to the extremities by the living church, both to carry the good news of salvation, and also to extend Christ’s royal dominion over all things.4
The Idea of God’s Law as Our Own Future
My father began his voracious appetite for reading at an early age. One minister who visited the family home expressed dismay on hearing he had read through the Bible several times. There were things in there unsuitable for young minds, he suggested. Nevertheless, the reading continued, but he was again confronted with prejudices of twentieth-century Western Christianity during his university days.
I knew that no simple political answer, nor a religious revival, would alter our direction. Yet when as a student I first expressed an opinion that Christ as Lord and Savior, and God’s law as our justice structure and our sanctification, represented our only hope and direction, the reaction I received was so hostile that I decided to wait until I reached middle age and more knowledge before attempting to advance this cause. This is why Chalcedon is thirty years old and not older.5
Towards this end, I began my ministry (ordained as an evangelist) among Chinese Americans and American Indians. I preached during those years (twelve years in all) in the open air, in the streets on occasion, in prisons, and I visited the hospital, bed by bed, and so on. At the same time, I thought, prayed, and planned in terms of a theological ministry to set forth the whole Word of God for the whole of life.
I began to write articles (in 1948, I believe), and had three books published, before we finally established Chalcedon, with no money whatsoever, simply by faith.
In 1965, an opportunity arose when some people, whom I had not previously known, asked me to move to the Los Angeles area and teach them the Word of God systematically. Thus, in September, 1965, the first, one-page Chalcedon Report was published.6
The Name “Chalcedon”
The name “Chalcedon” I owe to Dr. Cornelius Van Til, and to George Huntson Williams.7
The name of Chalcedon comes from the Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, one of the greatest councils of the early church. At Chalcedon, the Biblical doctrine of Christ was set forth against the humanists of the day, and the true humanity and true deity of Christ declared. As against the claims of the state to be man’s divinely ordained lord and savior, Chalcedon proclaimed Christ as Lord and Savior.8
I saw Chalcedon’s position in A.D.451 as one which set forth the sole mediatorship of Jesus Christ as the unique incarnation so that neither church nor state can become god walking on the earth nor an extension of that incarnation in any form. This was the foundation of Christian faith and freedom.
This meant too that the foundation of freedom is neither church nor state but the self-government of Christian man. The basic institution in society is the family.
That such a position would arouse the hostility of humanists is to be expected. What I did not anticipate was the level of hatred coming from churchmen, both modernists and evangelicals, as well as the nominally Reformed. All the same, the work has advanced worldwide.9
Theonomy as the Christian’s Government
Misconceptions die hard, especially when there is an unwillingness to learn. There is an artificialness about resistance to theonomy that comes from the fact that it is an idea that is not welcomed by the modern churchman, who wants salvation without strings, a figure-head king who does not exercise His authority, and ethical mandates agreed to by consensus.
Theonomy means no more than “God’s law,” yet it is often greeted as a decidedly evil concept. Because few advocate it, there is an easy dismissal of it as oligarchic:
Over the years, I have been interviewed by newspaper, television, and magazine reporters. They usually begin and end with preconceived notions, most commonly that we want to establish a theocracy in which some men rule in the name of God as an elite dictatorship. I usually try to tell them that Christian Reconstruction is theonomic, really a Christian libertarianism … the state, or civil government, is one form of government among many. It was, in earlier America, referred to as civil government and to call the state the government is implicitly totalitarian. Government begins with us. It is not primarily in state nor church but in man and family.
Last month, one reporter finally understood what I was saying and exclaimed, “That’s extreme radicalism!”
The fact is that some societies have survived under tyrannies with simply self-government and the family, most notably Jews and Armenians. The United States visited by Tocqueville was ruled by persons, families, and private associations formed by the Christian community.
Only in such a society can freedom thrive. No power-hungry state nor controlling church is in charge, but responsible men under God. Freedom cannot be created by decrees of the state. It is an aspect of the life of a self-governing people.10
[Chalcedon’s] purpose is to revivify the “private” sector as a governing force. At one time, all hospitals, schools, charitable activities, and even courts of arbitration were non-statist, required no tax support, and were the governing force in society and subject to neither state nor church, although profoundly motivated by Christianity. In recent generations, the church has reduced Christianity to pious gush, and the state has become an incompetent government and a drain on the economy.11
“A Radical Decentralization of Government”
How can such a society cope with its problems? How does Biblical law adjudicate matters of property rights? We have here a long history of Biblical law applied to problems, such as George Horowitz’s The Spirit of Jewish Law (1953), and H.B. Clark’s Biblical Law (1943), both works written for use by lawyers and judges. If, for example, a man decides to build a tannery, which produces noxious odors, where it will damage the value and use of a neighbor’s property, he has violated the law, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exod. 20:15). It was on this kind of application that for centuries numerous applications of God’s law made for freedom for men and for the protection of their properties.
Our goal is thus a free society under God. As St. Paul said, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).
As a result, we have been trying to teach people that God’s salvation alone works, that if we do not begin with the regenerate man in Christ and then teach him to be his own basic government, we will fail. Our answers must be totally Biblical.
We have, therefore, first of all worked to educate and instruct those who will listen in the whole law-word of God. We cannot get good results with alien premises. Too much of the church community is given to pious humanism, not to a root and branch Christian faith.
Second, we have strongly promoted Christian and home schools, defended them in the courts, and worked to establish more and more of them. This in itself has been a major factor in recent years as more and more primary and secondary schooling has become Christian. There is now a very great need to extend this into the college and graduate levels.
Third, at one time health, education, and welfare (or charity) were all in independent hands, and this too needs to be restored. The early church was very effective here, as was John Calvin in Geneva and Bishop Charles Borromeo in Milan. We must as Christians recapture the areas which in statist hands have led to social catastrophes.
Fourth, because such efforts rest on the initiative of persons and families who work together to establish new and free agencies to meet needs under God, this means a radical decentralization of government and of society. It means that civil government is increasingly replaced by society, the community in action.
In an early version of the Apostles’ Creed, in English before the Norman conquest of 1066, the article on the communion of saints reads, “And of the saints the societie” (E. Thomson, editor: Select Monuments of the Doctrine and Worship of the Catholic Church in England before the Norman Conquest, 1875, p. 85f.). A state or civil government is a compulsory order, and, for many churches, the church is a necessary order. The term communion is clearly connected, and rightly so, to its church use. But the word society carries the meaning of the Apostles’ Creed in a community in the Spirit and governed by a more powerful motive than either the church or state. The communion of saints, or their society, is an aspect of our life in the Holy Spirit. This is also a realm of necessity, but it is one ordained by God rather than by some institution.
There is no limit on what can be done to remake our world under God. We have made a beginning, or, rather we have returned to the Biblical mandates and foundations. We will go as far in this as your support will enable us to do. But it will not rest on us nor stop with us. Probably all of you are to some degree active in reconstructing your lives and families, and also your communities, under God. This is God’s work, not ours; it did not begin with us, nor will it end with us.12
“The Basic Issue”
Our God is not a half-god, nor a quarter-god. His is Creator, Lord, and Redeemer over all spheres of life and thought. To reduce the triune God and His jurisdiction to the church and salvation is to deny Him. His government and His jurisdiction are total.
Now we have an increasing number of people who, whatever their sphere of activity, are dealing with the basic problems, not the superficial ones. To do so means, first, very serious problems because it means a challenge to the basic premises of our world. We are then called “extremists” and worse because we threaten the power brokers of our time. These charges are made with heat and intensity because our stand is seen as a threat. But, second, despite all the hostility and name-calling, ours is a happy stand and position. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). We dare not, as God told Zechariah, despise the day of small things (Zech. 4:10). In my eighty years, I have seen several commendable causes, financed by many millions of dollars, fade away and become forgotten simply because the basic issue was never faced: “by what standard?” and “on what foundation?” Because of this, I am confident that Christian Reconstruction will not fade away when I die but will rather only increase because the cause is far greater than I, which to me is a very happy thought.13
“We Dare Not Retreat nor Think of Defeat”
Our goal is to bring every area of life and thought into captivity to Jesus Christ. We believe that the whole Word of God must be applied to all of life.
It is not only our duty as persons, families, and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, our callings, the arts and sciences, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ our King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. Like the Puritans, we seek to assert the “Crown Rights of Christ the King” over all of life.
We believe in the necessity for the total surrender of our whole life and world to the dominion of Jesus Christ.
He is not simply a life and fire insurance salesman but our Lord and Savior. Our salvation is only and exclusively by His atoning blood, and our sanctification is by His law-word, which His Spirit gives us power and grace to live by; as the Lord’s covenant people, we must live by His Word, not our own. He is the only way.
Our sinful world lives under the burden of guilt and the sentence of death. The churches too often are like an old man whose dying heart cannot pump blood to the extremities. We must strive to reach the inner and the outer city, places near and far, church, state, school, and all other areas of life and thought with the saving power of Christ and His sanctifying law-word. We are plainly told that, “without shedding of blood is no remission” of sins (Heb. 9:22). Christ’s blood has been shed, and ours is now the task of proclaiming His salvation, dominion, and victory unto all the world. Our Lord tells us very plainly that the very “gates of hell shall not prevail (or, hold out) against” His church (Matt. 16:18). John tells us what this means: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4). In fact, Paul tells us, whatever the persecution or battle, “we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Having such assurances, we dare not retreat, nor think of defeat. We belong to the Lord: He made us, and we are His property; He redeemed us, and thereby made us doubly His possession. Our Lord, as the Adam of the redeemed and new humanity, said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:9), and we must follow His example of obedience or faithfulness in all our ways.
We must rebuild the walls of our Jerusalem and say with Nehemiah, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us: therefore we his servants will arise and build” (Neh. 2:20). In that task of reconstruction, the joy of the LORD is our strength (Neh. 8:10).14
At the End of an Age
We are moving into very difficult times. The age of humanistic statism is winding down; its economics, politics, schools, and more are in decay. In the late 1960s, one of the more important Americans of this century told me that he expected about two hundred years of tyranny and a truly dark age before the rebirth of civilization. I have never believed that. I believe that this is the great hour of opportunity for Christianity. I expect the Lord to accomplish great things in the years ahead; man’s way shall fail, and God’s Kingdom shall triumph.
But we need Christians who meet the definition of a saint that one of you sent me: “The saints were saints only because they wanted to love God to the uttermost.” The New Testament speaks of true believers as saints, as a people seeking to serve the Lord with all their heart, mind, and being. This, God requires of all of us.
Over fifty years ago, as a student, I recall reading of the aftermath of the fall of Rome. Romans were convinced soon thereafter that things would revert to normal. In the villas of southern France, wealthy Romans continued their parties and their fox hunts: “eternal Rome” would soon reassert its old pattern, they believed. Some of these fools were churchmen, one of them a bishop. They were soon gone, and their world with them.
We are summoned repeatedly in Scripture to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and being. Our Lord says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Nothing less will please the Lord. Only faithfulness will make us “more than conquerors” in Christ (Romans 8:37).
Unfed people do not live long: they die of starvation. Unfed church members also wane in strength and become basket cases. We try to feed Christ’s people, sound an alarm concerning the evils which confront us, and we also seek to further Reconstructionist activities in various areas of life and across the globe. We are only able to do this as you support us.
Back in the late 1950s, when I wrote about these things in Intellectual Schizophrenia, I concluded by saying that this is a great and exciting time to be alive. I have not changed my mind.15
Commanding the Future
We submit that the future, more than ever, depends on the study of the meaning of God’s law-word. Unless we develop the implications and requirements of God’s command-word for our time, we will continue to walk in darkness, and under judgment.
This is Chalcedon’s calling and purpose, to set forth God’s Word in all its meaning for every sphere of life and thought.
There have always been schools and agencies to train men in terms of specific current duties in church, state, school, and other spheres. Beyond such vocational training, valuable as it is, there is the need to study God’s Word simply to know it, and, knowing it, command the future in terms of its meaning and mandates. Will you help us?16
1. I have, when possible, noted the dates these handwritten manuscripts were composed. Some or all were likely printed in some form, but the specifics of how or when are not easily determined without exhaustive research.
2. “Reflections on 80 Years,” by Rousas John Rushdoony, 1996.
3. Now Van (pronounced Von), Turkey.
4. “The Vision of Chalcedon,” by Rousas John Rushdoony, undated.
5. “Reflections on 80 Years.”
6. “The Vision of Chalcedon.”
7. “Reflections on 80 Years.”
8. Untitled, 1970 or 71
9. “Reflections on 80 Years.”
10. “Chalcedon’s Vision,” by Rousas John Rushdoony, undated.
11. “Chalcedon Foundation,” by Rousas John Rushdoony, (early 1990s).
12. “Chalcedon Vision.”
13. “Reflections on 80 Years.”
14. “The Vision of Chalcedon.”
15. From a printed Friends of Chalcedon letter titled “A Report from R.J. Rushdoony,” June 1991.
16. “Study and Progress,” by Rousas John Rushdoony, 1986.