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Revilers or Reconstructionists?

By Martin G. Selbrede
January 13, 2021

“That’s referring to somebody else. That’s not me.”

This is a fairly common response when we read Paul’s list of those who won’t inherit the Kingdom of God in 1 Cor. 6:9-10. The ten categories listed are representative, not exhaustive,1 and it’s easy to read the list carelessly as we get toward the end: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners. Lenski observes that “Paul writes objectively, yet any one of the members in Corinth who needed a warning can apply what he says to himself.”

Have we Reconstructionists lost the ability to apply divine warnings to ourselves, or to even pay attention to the detailed ways in which unrighteousness crops up in our conduct? One has to wonder.

It is particularly notable that Paul includes “revilers” in his list. What are revilers? R. J. Rushdoony lays out a clear definition:

Revilers are those who, as their own gods, are in constant judgment on all other men.2

This is an important definition which we will return to shortly.

Paul’s list evolves as he writes. In 1 Cor. 5:9 he tells us not to keep company with fornicators. The next verse expands to four classes: fornicators, the covetous, extortioners, and idolaters. In verse eleven he adds the drunkard and the reviler to the list, and revilers appear in chapter six as noted. We’re not even to eat with a reviler: their conduct is unrighteous and excludes one from the Kingdom of God.

The word for revilers is loidoroi, which is “used of injuring another's reputation by denigrating, abusive insults.”3 The variant loidoros means “to say harsh things,” “make verbal assaults,” “using mean-spirited, insulting words to demoralize (humiliate),”4 and it generally “covers all forms of verbal abuse—to malign, revile, slander.”5 The NET Bible translates the term as “the verbally abusive.”

The word revilers appears in these “vice lists” for a reason. The list itself has a purpose: “The vice lists serve as a kind of electrified fence that warns about the limits of admissible conduct.”6 Consequently, revilers are an important part of this electrified fence that we are not free to ignore or trivialize.

Paul’s response to being himself reviled is to bless in return (1 Cor. 4:12—“being reviled, we bless”). To revile in return when we are being reviled is not part of our tactical weaponry and finds no counterpart in the armor of God. Small wonder: reviling excludes us from the Kingdom of God, and Paul asserts that we deceive ourselves if we think otherwise (1 Cor. 6:9).

At least one transliteration of the word treats it as a compound term: revilers are literally say-SPEARers—those who plunge a verbal spear into someone else.7 When Paul says “and such were some of you” in the next verse, we need to ask ourselves if that past tense really applies to us, or if our current conduct is implicated.

What Dr. Rushdoony brings out so clearly is the element of “constant judgment on all other men,” for reviling is nothing if not a judgment upon the character, conduct, intellect, integrity, or other attribute of the target. Rather than letting God judge, we elbow God out of the way and do the judging for Him. Man prefers to be in “constant judgment on all other men” because it places man on top as judge, as the standard of right and wrong, truth and error.

This is precisely why Rushdoony says the revilers act “as their own gods”: because they usurp God’s prerogative. God, after all, might be silent, “testing the sons of men with His eyelids” (Psalm 11:4),8 and the reviler then justifies his words as needful and righteous. His words are neither of these things—rather, they exclude him from inheriting the Kingdom of God.

Building Character or Revealing It?

Social media, such as Facebook, are venues that often bring out the worst in people, whether Christian or not, Reconstructionist or not. The underlying principle is laid out by Rushdoony when discussing politics and marriage:

Politics is an area of order, not the means to order. Similarly, marriage is an area of order, not the means to order and peace. A man and woman who are at peace with God and with one another can establish godly order in marriage because they bring order and peace to marriage. Marriage simply gives greater scope for the already existing condition and allows its extension, and, conversely, if there is neither peace nor order in the life of man, marriage will increase the scope of his disorder.9

This is what we see in social media: it increases the scope of man’s disorder. These venues become mirrors that show us who we truly are, and the picture is often an ugly one. Yet we’re prone to double down on our ugliness. In other words, our conduct on Facebook reveals our character by giving greater scope to what we bring to it.

Moreover, there is a contagious element to reviling: seeing other Christians, especially respected ones, indulge in it can numb us to its dangers. As A. R. Fausset pointed out, “There is less danger of associating with open worldlings than with carnal professors.”10 Matthew Henry observed that Christians tend to be “naturally upon their guard” around the unregenerate and worldly men: “They are apt to have a horror at their wicked practices. But the dread of sin wears off by familiar converse with wicked Christians.”11

Therefore, beware the leaven of the revilers who identify as Christians.

The First of Two Examples We Should Follow

In Jude 9, we read about Michael disputing with the devil over the body of Moses. The point that Jude makes is how Michael speaks to the devil. Michael “dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (NKJV). Other versions render the term as “railing accusation” or “railing judgment,” which Young’s Literal Translation renders “an evil-speaking judgment.”

Michael doesn’t dare to do this, but men in their presumption actually believe that they know better how to deal with others.

Consider the comments of Puritan commentator Thomas Manton concerning the key lesson we need to extract from Jude:

Railing and reviling must not be used with the worst adversary in the best cause.12

This is remarkably clear instruction. You and I cannot possibly have a worse adversary than Michael had been disputing with, and Michael’s cause is better than any cause we could possibly be promoting today. So, we can never argue that our adversary is so bad or foolish that he or she deserves to be reviled by us, or that our cause is so important and noble that reviling is justified. Jude 9 tears any such pretensions to pieces.

Manton clarifies the issues so well that we quote his comments at length here:

Such reproaches come from an evil principle, contempt, or passion, all evidence of pride. A person who thinks too highly of himself disdains other people. When he is crossed he becomes angry, like a full stream hitting a dam.
Such reproaches are most unsuitable in matters of religion. The God of peace is not served with an angry spirit, and Christ’s battles need no worldly weapons. Christianity, of all religions, is the meekest and most humble; the foundation of it is the slain Lamb. Those who are called to inherit a blessing should not curse people. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9).
These kinds of reproaches go directly against the Word. The Scripture is a great friend to the peace of human societies, for it condemns the slightest offensive word and gesture. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk…” (Isaiah 58:9). God wanted the pointing finger, a gesture of indignation, put aside as well as the yoke of oppression.13

In a world of unrestrained passions and bitterly pointing fingers, with the flow of “constant judgment on all other men” as Rushdoony says, we are faced with a choice. The right choice is to obey God and be transformed from current revilers into former revilers. The alternative is to continue to build in vain.

Jude sets forth Michael as the example to follow. It is an example which demolishes all attempts to justify and rationalize our reviling of others: nobody had a worse adversary than Michael, nor a more noble cause, but reviling is something Michael didn’t dare to do. Do we dare to revile others in the face of Michael’s refusal?

Much reviling is justified by thinking that “the ends justified the means.” Utilitarian humanism propounds this unbiblical standard. That dangerous mindset infected the thinking of Caiaphas, who argued that “it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50). To think as Caiaphas thought that the ends justifies the means is to abolish justice and rectitude, making us unfit for the Kingdom. Not surprisingly, Caiaphas reviled those who didn’t see the solution he had intuited (John 11:49). When we justify our misconduct, we deepen our misconduct.

A Second Example to Consider

We don’t omit Christ as the captain of our salvation, of course, as He is the preeminent One to follow. Christ as our Example is surely a given for everyone who names His Name.

But since we’re talking about Reconstructionists, we might consider that R. J. Rushdoony also set an example of how to avoid being a reviler. He was at the focal point of perpetual vitriol and venom from within and without God’s church. He made his strategy clear to all who would ask: “I do not let my enemies set my agenda for me.” In other words, he didn’t respond to the attacks, though the onslaught lasted for decades from all quarters.14 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” was a perpetual counsel governing his conduct. He was a man who understood that he served the Prince of Peace.

There is a time for war (Eccl. 3:8), but reviling is not to be a weapon of war for us. Consider Rushdoony’s warfare in the courtroom at the January 7, 1987 Leeper trial in Texas,15 where he secured the rights of homeschoolers to operate without state molestation. Here is an abiding model for how to fight for a righteous cause, without falling into the unrighteousness of reviling.

The fact of the matter is that Christian Reconstruction can advance without its proponents becoming revilers, without flinging verbal spears. In previous issues of Arise & Build we’ve continually drawn attention to the nature of the work. Making straight the way of the Lord involves the humble, painstaking work of casting rocks out of the path.16 Zechariah 1:18-21 specifies God’s chosen tools to overcome opposition: “Not other ‘horns’ to push against these; not other men of war to overcome these; but artificers only, men of peace.”17

God’s rule is compared to gentle, quiet waters but men prefer the trappings of power and force, “forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly [God’s way], and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son [man’s way adorned with glory and power]” (Isa. 8:6).

The Kingdom of God is not advanced by a process of negation, by diminishing others. It is to be built up in God’s way. “Not by might nor by power,” we’re told (Zech. 4:6). We do not revile our way to victory. This periodical is not called Arise & Revile, it is Arise & Build. Reconstruction will not advance at the point of verbal spears. That path leads away from the Kingdom of God.

If you now must choose between your favorite theologians and what St. Paul teaches, it’s best you make that choice sooner than later. Their leaven will rub off on you. “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Prov. 25:28). Reconstructionists should never be “in constant judgment on all other men”—they are to be a blessing in the earth.

1. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1937), p. 248.

2. R. J. Rushdoony, Commentary on First and Second Corinthians (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, forthcoming 2021), loc. cit.

3. HELPS Word-studies, no. 3060, quoting from Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 4:293.

4. HELPS Word-studies, no. 3058.

5. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1987] 2014), p. 246.

6. D. E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: 2003), p. 188, quoted in Fee, op. cit., p. 246, n.150.

7. https://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/1co6.pdf. I have preserved the original capitalization.

8. The psalmist is saying that God appears to have closed His eyes to man’s problems and outcries, not responding, thus testing the sons of men with His eyelids (which seem to be closed from man’s perspective).

9. R. J. Rushdoony, Revolt Against Maturity (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1977] 1987), p. 53.

10. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted 1982), vol. 3, part 3, p. 297.

11. Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (McLean, VA: McDonald Publishing Company, n.d.), vol. 6, p. 531.

12. Thomas Manton, Jude (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, [1657] 1999), p. 155.

13. ibid, pp. 155-156. Manton concludes with an appeal to Psalm 43:3—“O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me.” We’re not to be led by our anger and passions but by God’s light and God’s truth.

14. Psalm 41:9

15. scribd.com/document/372067426/The-Leeper-Trial-Transcript

16. chalcedon.edu/magazine/the-crooked-shall-be-made-straight

17. Spence, H. D. M. and Joseph S. Exell, ed., The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), vol. 14, chapter on Zechariah by W. J. Deane and W. S. Lewis, p. 9. See https://chalcedon.edu/resources/articles/the-smiths-of-zechariah


Topics: Christian Reconstruction

Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s magazine, Faith for All of Life. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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