Thank you for coming today and showing your love and respect for my father, Rousas John Rushdoony, and for celebrating his entrance into eternal reward.
He was a man with a great command of words. As such, he deserves a more eloquent eulogy than I can provide. My father was a remarkable man, a man of firm faith, and a man who was certain to act on his convictions about what that faith required of him. We knew him in different capacities. It would be too difficult for me to speak about him as a father and I would like to keep those memories forever my own. I would rather like to say a little about Dad's life as it relates to his labors as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
My father was born on April 16, 1916 in New York City of Armenian immigrants to the U. S. He was conceived in the Old World and born in the New. His parents waited until he was a few weeks old before they traveled to Kingsburg, California where his father was the founding pastor of the Armenian Martyrs' Presbyterian Church. This was an Armenian-speaking church made up of recent immigrants who, like his parents, had fled the twentieth century's first genocide. My father spoke limited English before he started school.
The beginnings of my father's world and life view took shape in that setting of extended family and friends who all shared a horrific past. My father was aware that these people, his people, had lost all because they were Christians unwanted in a non-Christian culture. My father had a phenomenal memory. He remembered the stories told by those of the Armenian Diaspora who came by the farm seeking information about loved ones lost in the massacres or to reminisce about the Old Country. His father also spoke with him at great length of life in the Old Country and imbued Dad with a love for a land he never saw. Despite the tragic experiences of that generation, my father always remembered them as a happy group that loved to laugh and sing. My father could see their character, their strength, and even their greatness as coming from their Christian faith.
My father loved to laugh and enjoy life. He believed the Christian life was one of joy and fulfillment. He did not believe in "sourpuss" piety. The ability to see the Christian faith as one of joy and victory despite temporal difficulties became part of who he was.
His family lived in Detroit, Michigan for a time before returning to Kingsburg. By the time he finished high school, he had lived on a farm and in an industrial city, and had seen roaring prosperity and depression in both urban and rural settings. He was already a voracious reader.
When he attended the University of California, he saw a secular, cynical, humanistic worldview. Marxism was in vogue and the Soviet Union was hailed as a model of progressive reform. He ended up taking much of the teaching selectively. He often took a class for its stimulation and then dropped it.
Seminary was a like challenge. But by that time he knew enough to attend a seminary that was openly modernistic. He said he preferred that to modernism under the pretense of orthodoxy.
My father knew quite early that he wanted to write. But after his graduation and ordination in 1944 he did something that was a bit unusual. Instead of seeking an urban church pastorate that would provide him exposure and access, he became a missionary for 8 1/2 years on a remote Indian reservation in northeastern Nevada, where he would sometimes be snowbound for months. He did this out of a real, though not sentimental, regard for the Indians, a belief that they had been treated badly. But he also felt that he needed to learn how to make the Faith relevant. He was already a well-educated young man, but he wanted to learn how to make the Faith meaningful to others. The isolation also enabled him to study and begin writing articles. He loved his years on the reservation, and always spoke of them in the fondest terms. He so frequently said "during my years on the reservation" that more than a few people thought he was a Native American.
Family constraints made him leave the Indian reservation and he then moved to Santa Cruz, California where he pastored two churches. Santa Cruz was then a retirement community, and he once estimated that he had performed over 500 funerals, the majority of them during these years. It was in Santa Cruz that he began to write his books.
After nine years in Santa Cruz, he retired from the full-time pastorate to devote himself to writing and in 1965 moved to Los Angeles and founded Chalcedon, a foundation devoted to the application of the Christian faith to all of life and thought. People told him an organization dedicated to ideas could never succeed, but he was undeterred. Devoted to writing, study, and teaching full time, my father began to produce manuscript after manuscript. When people think of my father, they think of him as a teacher, a theologian, a historian, or a philosopher. Many have come to respect him for his brilliance, but my father's emphasis was never himself, but about the message. These were all areas in which his knowledge could point people to God and His righteousness.
Most people know my father wrote books and that he loved to read and collect them. My sisters and I all learned that tearing or scribbling in a book was a sin you did not repeat. Few people, however, knew my father wrote poetry. One such poem is about his love of the written word. He wrote it in 1970. I would like to read it. It is entitled "The Luxury of Words."1
The luxury of words, beyond all
Empires, makes me lord
And King. No beggar here,
In majesty, I can afford
The treasured wealth of ages.
Come, gather round and never fear
A drought of gold and silver.
This is the sphere
Of endless plenty, a dower
Of wealth and hammered power.
All words when servant to the Word
Are potentates whose laws are heard.
At the time my father founded Chalcedon and began intensive study and writing, some Christian ministers were making names for themselves and bringing in a lot of money promoting conservative politics, denouncing communism, or fighting one straw man after another. But my father knew this was not what his ministry was about. My father saw the big picture.
My father saw time itself as a creation of God. Human history lies within this boundary of God's plan. Human history has a beginning in Creation and an end in the final judgment. The focal point of this span of human existence is the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross which paid our deserved death penalty for rebellion against God. At the end of time, my father would say, all men will know Jesus Christ. Some will know Him as their Savior and Lord Who restored them to fellowship with God. And some will know Him as their Judge. The minister's role is to point men toward Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and pray that God's Spirit turn them to repentance and faith in His saving work on the cross.
My father always considered himself a minister first, because that was to him his highest calling. Sadly, many saw him as a threat to the gospel itself. He upset a great many people. My father once wrote that he believed in a maximal, not a minimal, Christianity. He did not believe the ultimate goal of the church was to see sinners saved. He believed that was where the church's work began. He believed that the church, the family, the school, and all individuals and institutions should be taught how to serve God in word, thought, and deed. My father believed God to be infinite, and so he urged Christians to see their faith in terms of the implications of the immense grandeur of what they confessed.
My father denounced the tendency to restrict the Faith to one part of our life. To my father, the Faith was more than a personal spiritual matter, though it is that. He saw the Faith as being as big as time and eternity. He saw no limits in God and no limits to His claims. He called men to not only believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ, but to obey in all areas of life. When he spoke of the power and majesty of God, he spoke more than theological lessons; he spoke with a certain faith and practicing confidence. My father believed that the future is as bright as the promises of God, and he urged others to so believe. But he never saw this as great faith; he saw it as the minimal essence of faith.
I remember when my father was not held in high esteem. Some thought he was a rogue who confused a simplistic spiritual message with this big picture and the responsibility it placed on men. But in the 1970s when Christians were being imprisoned and children were being removed from homes and churches were being padlocked for educating children in Christian and home schools, many across the country saw a distinguished, white-haired man they had never met appear in courtrooms to act as an expert witness in their defense. My father testified in dozens of these cases, and slowly the tide turned as victory after victory was won for religious liberty. People then saw my father in a new light. He helped them, yet made them re-examine their own beliefs. He expressed a faith that helped them take a stand based on the Word of God. Once my father was ridiculed on the witness stand by a prosecutor who sought to discredit his testimony. The prosecutor wanted my father to appear ignorant and prejudiced by saying he did not believe in evolution just because the Bible taught creation in six days. When the prosecutor cynically asked him why he did not believe in the theory of evolution, my father incredulously replied that he did not have that much faith. Many began to see that my father was a man who could teach them something about taking a stand for the Faith.
My father loved his work, because it was for the kingdom of God. His illnesses in recent years made his work difficult, and his only regret was that he had more work he would like to do, but he was ready to die. He believed in God and in the reality of Christ's substitutionary death for our sins. He believed that by God's mercy and grace Christ's work was put to his account. He knew that he would reign with Christ.
My father often spoke with delight of the Old Testament references to being gathered unto one's fathers. Many have commented that because my father was a minister, theologian, and scholar, he was already speaking with Moses, Paul, Calvin, Luther, Van Til, or other great men of the Faith. But several times over the last few years he spoke of going to heaven and his first thoughts were of seeing his "Mother and Papa." And then he would choke up and say "and so many godly ones." I knew his thoughts were going back to his Armenian heritage and his home and church life in Kingsburg. My father kept a framed picture of the old Armenian Martyrs' Presbyterian Church near his desk where he wrote. He also kept a copy in one of his Bibles with the inscription "my home church" on the back.
Dad revered his Armenian forebears. Some thought it to be part of a nationalistic pride. There was pride, but he saw in their witness the essence of what it meant to stand for the Faith. In a different time and in a different way, he made a stand for the Faith, and many will look back to his life and work and derive a similar strength and courage. My father's faith strengthened many of us and will continue to do so for years to come.
My father believed the Christian life was one of joy because our victory was certain in time and eternity, our victory having been achieved two thousand years ago by Jesus Christ. Our task is to believe and to stay faithful in dutiful obedience as long as God gives us breath. But even a guaranteed victory necessitates our entrance into the battle. And he constantly encouraged Christians to do battle against evil in service to Jesus Christ.
My father stayed faithful. His final words to his family were to fight the battle unto our certain victory. He said, "We are ordained to victory." He could say, as did Paul when he said goodbye to the Ephesians elders:
I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Last year I suggested to Dad that he was pushing himself too hard trying to preach, even on an occasional basis. His response was, "If I can't preach, there is no reason to go on." Though very ill, my father preached just a month before his death. The Sunday before he died, he apologized that he couldn't preach. It was that evening he asked me to gather my sisters. I would like to read the last paragraph of his last, undelivered sermon on 1 John 5:10-12:
"He that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (vs. 12). Life is not a property of flesh but of God, Who by His grace gives us life. It is He Who made us and can alone give eternal life. Life must be lived on God's terms, according to His law, and in His grace. Thus, life is a gift, not an attribute.
Paul said, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." My father lived for Christ and His kingdom. For the family, his friends, and the church of our day his passing is a great loss. For Dad this is gain. He has gained his certain victory in Christ.
But the battle goes on. And we honor my father and his life's ministry by continuing our labors in the kingdom as he urged us. They will continue at Chalcedon and Ross House Books and they will continue in his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and in their children. And many of you have come from great distances today because those labors of which he spoke continue in you. Our labor for Christ and the great moral battle of which they are a part continue. And as he urged his family, we must fight on because we are "ordained to victory."
Many people were impressed by my father's command of words. But even his greatest gift he saw as nothing before the God he served. I would like to conclude with another of my father's poems, this one written in 1952 when he was on the Indian reservation.
When the Silence Comes2
What shall I say when the silence comes?
The words, which like lush grass,
Grow rapidly on Babel's soil, will wither. The scums
Of speech, which with unhallowed brass,
Trumpet the emptiness, shall turn to shame.
Silence, that borderland of all our speech,
Sends lengthening shadows on our name,
Lays hands upon us. It is a death we never reach
But daily live in. It comes most surely.
The last is the essence of the first
And the certain guardian of the purely
Providential silence, hunger, thirst.
Lord God, when the time of silence comes,
When my sustenance is less than crumbs,
When I stand without a plea,
Let Jesus Christ then speak for me.
1. "The Luxury of Words" Copyright 2001 by Dorothy Rushdoony and the Rushdoony Irrevocable Trust.
2. "When the Silence Comes" Copyright 2001 by Dorothy Rushdoony and the Rushdoony Irrevocable Trust.