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Supporting the Local Church

By Mark R. Rushdoony
May 01, 2004

It is only through faithful preaching and teaching of the Word that churches can fulfill their high calling before God.

The ministry of Chalcedon has for thirty-nine years promoted a very broad view of the Kingdom of God and the role of its citizens. Chalcedon is an educational ministry that seeks to proclaim the application of the Word to every area of faith and life. We are not competitors with the local church any more than we compete with the family or the state. We seek to be a voice directing men in terms of their calling to faithful service as citizens of the eternal Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is wherever Jesus Christ reigns. It begins in the heart and mind, but must extend outward to the family, the vocation, the community, and our message to the world.

“Christ is Lord” is our message. We call the state to its proper role. We call churches to their proper roles. We call families to go beyond study and worship to dominion activity in terms of their acknowledgement of Christ’s Lordship.

Emboldened by Chalcedon, numerous pastors are fearlessly proclaiming the Faith for All of Life. We are often told that “Chalcedon changed my life.” Some, struggling against great challenges in their ministries, have added with a smile, “It’s all your fault!”

Many ministries have begun because of Chalcedon’s encouragement to apply the faith to all areas of life: countless schools, all kinds of professional organizations, orphanages, political groups, pro-life organizations, worldview organizations, charities, scholarly endeavors and more. Many have pursued theological training, including seminary training, and local churches have been organized as well, but many of our own “spin-offs” have been independent ministries. A few, particularly schools, have been privately owned for-profit ventures.

Some have criticized such activities and Chalcedon itself as “parachurch.” This charge is illegitimate, however, for it assumes that our duties more rightfully belong to, or are perhaps even in conflict with, the local church. The local church has a lofty calling, but if we allow it an elevated organizational structure we return to the fallacy of Rome.

Spheres of Authority
God has given us spheres of authority for governing our lives. What is legitimate for one sphere cannot legitimately be assumed by another. Authority is circumscribed by Scripture.

The family is God’s basic institution. Four of the commandments pertain directly to the family and its preservation. We are called to protect its honor (honoring father and mother), purity (no adultery), and property (no theft or covetousness). We are therefore called to preserve the family (and its definition in terms of “mother” and “father”) and further it by covenantal education.

The state is God’s ministry of justice (Rom. 13:1-7) and is godly when it limits itself to defending liberty from evildoers. A Biblical state would seldom intersect the life of the self-governed man. The limited scope of a Biblical state is easily seen in the limitation of the tax to a head tax, a uniform amount on all adult men (Ex. 30:11-16). A uniform tax would have to be so small that even the poor could afford it.

The organized church is also a necessary but limited sphere. It is a ministry of grace, which can only be fulfilled by its proclamation of the Word. The church is a ministry of grace, but not the mediator of that grace. Its purpose is to encourage the saint’s growth and edification, but it cannot go beyond its authority and try to control all aspects of the Kingdom of God.

Levites and Temple Priests
There is a Biblical model for the organized church and the work of the church. In the Old Testament, the Levites were dispersed throughout the land. Only a small number of the Levite tribe were qualified to perform acts of worship in the sanctuary. The tithe for God’s work went not to the few temple priests, but to the Levites, who, in turn, passed on one-tenth of that amount (1% of the income of the people) to the priests in the temple (Num.18:21-28). God’s property went to God’s larger work and this giving was under the control of the tither. There is no indication that the tithe had to go to “the local Levites.”

The Levites performed many functions including acts of charity, education, and music. In the early church we know that believers quickly saw their responsibility to rescue babies abandoned by the Romans (infanticide). There was, no doubt, a method of finding and placing unwanted babies.

The organized church has as its purpose the preaching and teaching of the Word and corporate worship. Its role is essential and need not be diverted by insisting all Christian activity be under its organizational umbrella. There is, thus, a need for Levitical work in the body of Christ which builds on the teaching of the organized church.

One legitimate area of the church outreach is in missions, but even here Levitical work has been far more efficient. In the 19th century the creation of independent mission boards to oversee missions allowed for the greatest expansion of missionary activity in history. The churches gave up direct control but supported these agencies for the good of the Kingdom.

The Church vs. a Church
We often fail to properly see the role of the church in the Kingdom of God because we artificially limit our idea of the church to its structural or organizational aspect, rather than seeing it in terms of its members and its head, Jesus Christ. The church of Jesus Christ is the “holy catholic church” of the Apostles’ Creed; it is all God’s people of all time, living and dead.

Most believers recognize the church is not a building. Unfortunately, when we speak of the church, we do still frequently limit it, if not physically, then structurally, by locale or government to “a church” or “a group of churches.” God has given legitimate organizational structure to the local church, but we wrongly limit the “holy catholic” or universal church to any one level or manifestation of its structure.

It is certainly not inappropriate to stress different areas of church life. Paul distinguished between all believers when he wrote to the saints in Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colosse, but, in speaking to the authority of a local assembly when error had to be addressed and corrected, he wrote to the church at Corinth and Galatia. A problem occurs when men view the universal church of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom in terms of any single manifestation, when the church comes to mean this church. The church of Jesus Christ is all its members of all time, and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is wherever He reigns. The local “church” is called to be a part of the Kingdom, but not to be its head.

Productive Christians
Man was created to have dominion over the earth. All too often men have tried to have dominion over one another instead. This is the problem of one sphere trying to control another.

The state has, at times tried to control the church and, in the medieval period, vice versa. The church cannot, however, be called a “parastate” organization just because it exercises a form of government and judicial authority over its fold. Neither can the state be called a “parachurch” organization just because its laws are based on a moral foundation. Neither belongs to the other, nor need they compete one with the other. Neither ought to be defined in terms of the other.

The state has a negative function, the suppression of evildoers who threaten the people from within or without its borders. If the state does its job, the family and church are more secure in theirs.

The church also has at least a defensive role, in that it defends and preserves inviolable the Word. When the church effectively performs its duty, the family is strengthened and the role of the state simplified as the culture reflects a high moral ethic.

Both church and state are ministries, the state of justice and the church of grace. What neither can do is create new avenues of godly activity. These are the works of individuals and associations. They expand the productivity of the Kingdom activity in specialized ways while the church supports them by founding such enterprises on faithful Biblical teaching.

One such area in the last generation has been Christian activity in education at all levels. Local churches have, at times, taken the lead in establishing such schools, and I would propose that this education is a logical extension of the church’s teaching of the Word.

Even in this area, however, the management of the school often suffers at the hands of non-educators. The most efficiently run schools are those run by individuals as free-enterprise undertakings. Not a few of these are by ministries who legitimately see these schools as ministries in their own right. God’s work is neither limited to the institutional church nor to what any tax code defines as “non-profit.” God’s work is what magnifies the Lordship and dominion of Jesus Christ.

Music is another legitimate area of church authority, but not all music is appropriate for worship. So individuals have developed their skills in terms of their faith. The Kingdom of God is proclaimed, for instance, in each Judy Rogers’ song a child sings with his mother while doing errands.

Kingdom Work
The Kingdom of God is advanced by the power of God’s Spirit working in the church as the body of Jesus Christ. Individual churches and their pastors and elders have an essential role in Kingdom-building as they faithfully preach and teach the fold entrusted to their care. Where the Word is taught, God is exalted. Where God is exalted He reigns and the Kingdom is opened up, rather than shut (Mt. 23:13). Churches ought to nurture Kingdom activity, but not try to manage it.

Kingdom work outside the local church is not a competitor to its necessary work. Such work is not “parachurch” any more than the Levites were “parapriests.” The institutional church must spend its time and efforts in teaching the Word and edifying believers.

“Church growth” is a false substitute for the growth of God’s Kingdom. Man is to have dominion over the earth and individuals must be given the liberties of citizens of the Kingdom of God in terms of their talents and callings. The institutional church must nourish and encourage men in the Kingdom work; it need not oversee their activity.

Chalcedon’s Ministry
The comprehensive nature of our call makes others see Chalcedon as the motivating factor behind the religious right. The left often sees Chalcedon as the plotters of the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

They are half right. It is not “us” or “our” message, but that of Jesus Christ and His total claim. This is the power of which our Lord spoke when He proclaimed “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Mt. 28:18). The power is in the consistency of the message, not in the messenger.

The Kingdom of God is not under the authority of any church. The Reformation was clear on that. But neither is the Kingdom of God under the organizational control of Chalcedon or any other human agency. The Kingdom of God is under the control of His Spirit that empowers decentralized, widespread faithfulness to King Jesus and His Word.

Chalcedon exists, and the humble rags that make up these pages exist to teach faithfulness. We are not in a turf war with the local church, the family, or the state. It is all God’s ground and we are all His children. Our calling is to serve Him in obedient faithfulness.


Topics: Church, The, Family & Marriage, Education, Dominion

Mark R. Rushdoony

Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.

He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.

In 1998 he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu

He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 40 years with his wife of 42 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.

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