1. There is much contention over the type of society that Reconstructionists are seeking to build. Given your position within the Christian Reconstruction (CR) movement, perhaps you can give us a definitive statement of what that is. Let me ask it this way: if CRs do indeed get everything they want, if they could design the future to achieve their goals, how exactly do you see both how and what you would achieve?
At the apex of a culture’s value system is that culture’s god. Within humanistic societies, the state takes that fundamental role, agreeable to Hegel’s assertion that the state is God walking on earth. The god of a society is the source of law for that society. All of society then is ordered around that god’s prerogatives, and institutions shaped to facilitate and expedite the state’s agenda. The modern scientific tilt given to this process, as is evidenced by a keen interest in social engineering in terms of the state’s goals, invariably calls for expansion of state power. This result obtains because the abstract idea that “man needs to take control of man” cannot resist instantiation as “one man needs to take control over another man.” Where statism thrives, the emphasis is on power. The state’s inabilities to achieve its goals are blamed on inadequate power, that sufficient state power and resources can secure desired goals. States tend to hold out the carrot of a utopian vision to justify amassing a bigger stick, and a people sufficiently conditioned to think in institutional categories will default to this situation and treat it as normative.
What Christian Reconstruction seeks to do is to unleash the people from the idea of the modern power state. This doesn’t mean that we wish to unleash the people from the state itself: CR opposes anarchism and has repeatedly warned against the call to drop off the radar.
How do you go about unleashing people from the idea of the modern power state? You can’t fight something with nothing: you need something bigger than the power state, something (or Someone) in terms of which all society would be ordered and regulated. You need a bigger idea than the power state: a lesser contender couldn’t possibly prevail. Power states look invincible and monolithic. The ninety-eight-pound-weakling of modern evangelicalism is no match for the power state: it usually cowers under continued threats of losing tax exemptions for even dreaming of flexing muscles in regard to moral courage from the pulpit.
The God of modern evangelicals is squeezed into too small a box to represent any kind of competition to the idea of the modern power state. Secured inside such a box, the evangelicals’ God is no match for the power state: containment of that God keeps the power state front and center when people think of “power.” Accordingly, when people think of “power” in our country, they think of Washington, D.C.
What kind of power could an absentee God inspire? No wonder Christians are the object of continuous political exploitation: they’ve mastered doormat theology. They’ve fallen for the siren song of politics, and thereby implicitly endorse the state’s view that state power is the ultimate power in society. Let the manipulation of Christian voters begin. But their delusion begins far earlier in the thought sequence: they’ve unknowingly swapped gods. Evidence of this is the ease with which most Christians exercise their “faith” on Sunday morning, and live the rest of their lives as if God were the Great Cosmic Mute.
CR seeks to awaken men, women, and children of faith to a recovery of their high calling under the wings of an Almighty God whose very words are more rock-solid than the entire universe itself. There’s been a lot of talk about “waking the sleeping giant of American Christianity,” but it’ll simply hit the snooze button again if it fails to recognize God as God, and God’s Word as ultimate. Christians default to the humanist status quo because of deficient conceptions of God and His Word. God and His Word then are subordinated to the state.
A pathetic example of this is the Christian habit to tithe on one’s net income after taxes: the state takes the firstfruits, while God stands second in line. Few Christians will tithe on their gross income, giving God the firstfruits (Prov. 3:9). Their pocketbook, and the state, too often comes first. Poverty would be eradicated if Christians obeyed the Bible’s poor tithe (Deut. 14:28–29), but their failure to obey has necessitated the expansion of the state to meet this very real social need. In other words, Christian disobedience has fueled the growth of the power state at the expense of God’s impact on the society. Christian lethargy and faithlessness under the cloak of “playing church” has sent the following clear message to our society: this God doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. He is, at best, a cosmic buddy, a PDA (Personal Deity Assistant).
Restore God as God in the thinking of Christians, however, and the idea of the power state, so active in the minds of men, will face its first real competition. God has not remained silent about His views of the power state, which seeks to displace and demote Him as the ultimate source of law in a society. When Christians imbibe the full weight and force of what the Bible, the Word of God, has to say, the entire dynamic that has led to decades of default to humanistic norms (statistical norms, not ethical norms, mind you) will be arrested. The mode is all-critical. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord” (Zech. 4:6). Christians are not to wield carnal (worldly) weapons, but spiritual ones that will tear down mental strongholds erected against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:4–5).
Whereas men routinely are able to render void the words of other men, God says something quite profound about His words: they will never return to Him void (Isa. 55:11). It is His Word that is central, that alone can withstand the ravages of empires, kings, emperors, dictators, political concussions, and the raging of the nations (Ps. 2). Societies routinely build on the sand, and then fail to survive when the winds blow against them (Matt. 7:24–27). CR holds out the great promise of building a society on the rock, not the shifting sand of humanistic statism. But all such building must be on His terms, for He is clear that evil means render the ends evil. For God, the end never justifies the means: He is a God for whom procedural justice is nonnegotiable, which we will touch on under the second question posed.
Jesus says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Jesus is alerting us to skewed priorities, to a wrong estimate of the relative authority of men versus the authority of God. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm,” warns Jeremiah (Jer. 17:5). Humanism, which sees itself as ennobling and liberating, bristles at any demotion of man’s authority and dignity as reflected here. That the God of the Bible indicts the power state as a false god is doubly vexing to resentful humanists: no one likes to have his god questioned, let alone toppled, especially if one has a stake in the power that particular god delivers to your plate. The two sides harbor opposed ideas of what is good and just, from which principles they indict each other.
Why are so many Christians culturally impotent, socially irrelevant, and in general lockstep with the humanistic power state? Puritan John Howe put it best: “An arm of flesh signifies a great deal, when the power of an almighty Spirit is reckoned as nothing.”
An anemic view of the power of God’s Spirit invariably amplifies reliance on substitutes. This is the key, then: what happens when Christians break this cycle and cease reckoning the power of an almighty Spirit as nothing, but rather as something? The arm of flesh—the power state and the world of politics—no longer signifies a great deal. It is seen as subordinate, not determinative; as derivative, not normative. Isaiah points out that the nations are counted as the dust of the balance and less than nothing (Isa. 40:15). Civil government gains its rightful authority by God’s ordination (Rom. 13:1–6), not humanistic bootstrapping, with specific things for which it is very accountable, and beyond which it shall not grasp nor usurp. Spheres of government that were cramped by statist bloat will be restored to their respective authorities under such an awakening, albeit very slowly. The institution of the family will become the dominant governmental sphere in such a culture.
I belabor this question of the mode of social change primarily due to the propensity of CR’s opponents to cite, in a misleading way, any idiomatic expressions we may use that happen to incorporate martial language. Vigilantism and armed conflict with the state is not integral to the CR program, and in fact are inconsistent with it. Rather, the opposite is the case: CR specifically works for social change from within the structure of a culture. “Regeneration, not revolution” has been the CR watchword for decades.
When CR claims that Biblical law must be embraced and cannot be imposed on a culture, it acknowledges the need to internalize the law principle. When Psalm 94:20 warns that the wicked “frameth mischief by a law,” it indicates that a dominant tool to suppress Biblical morality is the substantive law content enforced by the state. In a culture subordinated to God, such encoded mischief will be reversed, making the crooked paths straight (Luke 3:5) to maximize liberty from the culture (starting with liberty from the usurpations of the power state). Christians will then resist co-opting state power and work toward decentralization.
This above discussion is not simply an extended preamble to my actual answer to your question, but rather provides the crucial context in which the answer must be embedded. For a consistent CR will definitely not insist on what he individually “wants” politically, let alone dare to “design the future.” A consistent CR will argue that these activities are endemic to the humanist agenda (given its proclivity to indulge its utopian visions), but should be anathema to the Christian. A Christian should be future-oriented, but this is not synonymous with seizing control of the future. This follows from my earlier statement that “the mode is all-critical … Not by might, nor by power …” Humanism seeks control of the future using modes neither allowed nor sanctioned by God. When Christians indulge in such humanistic tactics, they’re already on the wrong side of the fence.
By no means, however, does CR doubt that the future, as determined by God, will come to pass exactly as He intends. To the extent our understanding of His Word is accurate, the goal of history will match what CR teaches a godly society and Christianized world will look like. But CR would undermine its own position by adopting humanistic strategies, fighting in Saul’s armor, so to speak (1 Sam. 17:38–39). St. Paul argues that Christians are NOT to use carnal weapons (2 Cor. 10:3–4; Eph. 6:12–13), which are the only weapons and tactics available outside of Biblical faith. When men then attempt to determine the future, under the aegis of humanism OR Christianity, they will learn that God is in the business of confounding every explicit and implicit attempt to dethrone Him. Christian Reconstruction consistently teaches that you can only achieve the future God intends by going about it God’s way. There are no shortcuts, and carnal weapons (among which we might add such well-intentioned but nonetheless misguided—because unbiblical—actions as economic boycotts) have no legitimate place in the hands of Christians.
God will shape the future by shaping the hearts of the people. Regeneration, not revolution. Spiritual weapons, not carnal weapons. Working within the system, like leaven working through the dough, until at last it is all leavened, recognizing that God, acting directly on human souls, enacts the most fundamental change to shape the future. What CR laments, and works to reverse, is that far too many Christians have been “sold a mess of pottage” and forsaken their birthright, have co-opted humanistic methods and goals and diluted Biblical Christianity with an admixture of humanistic elements. This mixture of iron and clay won’t hold together, for “[e]xcept the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps. 127).
What the Bible teaches is that the law of God will one day become the law of all nations, and we still see “the isles waiting for his law” (Isa. 42). The greatest law is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and spirit (Deut. 6:5). Such a love cannot be feigned: God directly inspires it by regeneration, enabling not only this love of God, but love of one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:39). The universal keeping of God’s law presupposes the universal extension of the gospel of Christ and the conversion of all peoples to faith in Him. This, too, is the context for the ultimate future toward which CRs labor, recognizing that the goal is far off, and that we are, most likely, destined to be stepping-stones in that process. CR inculcates a willingness to be such a stepping-stone for an ultimate goal that may be generations away. The promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that through his seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed is the framework in which a reconstructed society is embedded. Such a society is God’s payoff on His own promise to take a lost world and to reshape it, in His hands alone, into a saved world where “all shall know me [the Lord], from the least to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11), where all nations, as nations, are the disciples of Christ (Matt. 28:18–20).
The other reason Christians would NOT be the ones achieving these goals is that they are expressly forbidden to boast to that effect, but to acknowledge God as the Giver of every good gift (James 1:17), as the Author of the world’s future, as the One to whom the promise is fulfilled that unto Him, “every knee should bow … [and] every tongue should confess” (Phil. 2:9–11). CR assuredly does NOT hold that this is some compulsory, mandatory, involuntary submission imposed by force against unwilling subjects anxious to rebel against some imagined tyrannical God. Rather, this idea that St. Paul (Phil. 2:9–11) quotes from Isaiah 45:22–23 involves willing, voluntary, grateful acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty.
The society that CR works toward will only be fully realized when a Biblically constituted society becomes the object of conviction and earnest desire among the people. As things stand today, too many Christians are vested in a humanistic vision of their own future, and like the rich young man confronted by Christ regarding his covetousness, they too will turn away from the vision of a Biblical society, being filled with sadness at its price (forsaking the shallow comforts that humanistic tactics bestow) being too high.
While it is commonplace to caricature Biblical law as a blueprint for theocratic tyranny in societies unsophisticated enough to adopt it, this caricature assumes (1) the God who wrote that law doesn’t really exist, and even if He does, He’d have to be kidding, and (2) society should be indifferent to the question whether or not it is better off with God’s blessings upon it, insofar as men under humanism are authors of their own blessings.
Of course, these are precisely the points in dispute, so the debate isn’t advanced by mere restatement of its initial premises. Humanists might conclude that, practically, they hold the reins of power and will prevail, whereas Christians regard God as wholly determinative of the future. Because the seat of sovereignty is being contested between God and man, there remains now nothing but a test of strength. God, operating on the scale of centuries and millennia with impunity since He is “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15), whose arm is not “waxed short” (Num. 11:23), cannot help but regard the nations as “the small dust of the balance” (Isa. 40:15) and “less than nothing” (v. 17). CR teaches that the certainty of the ultimate restructuring of all human societies along Biblical lines inexorably follows because of God’s direct and continuous intervention in human history.
If there is no God, the humanists’ perception that CR would reintroduce “the dead hand of the past” on a since-enlightened society might fly. The God of the Bible being real, however, means that society’s self-imagined “enlightenment” is a delusion, and society’s current intent to determine its future humanistically is futile. It is futile, not because Christians will succeed in some imagined struggle for political power (which CR repudiates), but because the future God is shaping, with or without the approval of either Christians or humanists, is simply inexorable. Ancient Rome learned that ridding the empire of Christians didn’t rid it of Christianity. Neither will culturally neutering Christians in today’s world immunize a nation against the omnipotent acts of God. CR simply observes that this is an unwise fight to get into on the part of the nations who “imagine a vain thing” (Ps. 2).
2. Opponents of CR, including myself, believe that CR will lead to the imposition of Biblical law, including such laws as stoning homosexuals to death along with women who are not virgins on their wedding day, “witches,” and so forth, as commanded in the Old Testament. Some CRs have said that this misses some theological distinctions between which types of laws from the Old Testament are to be enforced and which ones are not. Can you tell us, once and for all, what those theological distinctions are and, as specifically as you can, which parts of the OT law would be imposed in the society you envision?
I would correct the way you’ve expressed these thoughts. First, the term “imposition” is inconsistent with CR’s position that Biblical law can only be embraced, never imposed (i.e., it is to be adopted voluntarily by a society as a matter of internal conviction of what constitutes right and wrong and what maximizes human liberty, rather than externally imposed like some kind of martial law to restrict liberty). Note that a society must agree on what constitutes liberty for such a Biblically constituted state to inspire genuine respect among the people who choose to live under it. If and when the mass of society wholeheartedly agrees with David in Psalm 119:45 that “I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts,” it would be unthinkable that its members would voluntarily elect to reduce their liberty by rejecting God’s precepts. They would naturally embrace God’s law, rejecting humanism’s claim to being the author of true human liberty as a misguided siren song first sung by the serpent in Eden (Gen. 3:5).
Moreover, it is not CR that will lead to the embracing of Biblical law, but God’s direct action on human hearts that will lead to it. At best, CR can lead the horse to water, but God must make the horse drink. Hebrews 8:10 quotes the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:33, concerning the people, that God (not CR proponents) “will put [His] laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” Humanism proposes to stop THIS process, and perhaps imagines that deriding CR might gain this goal, given humanism’s systemic revulsion to the supernatural. Nonetheless, if God sticks His law into human minds, and writes it on human hearts (thereby obtaining spontaneous obedience), humanists, to quote Gamaliel, will find themselves fighting against God Himself. So, CR takes no credit for this apart from being His unworthy tools to reawaken Christians to the God “with whom [they] have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
The point you make about “theological distinctions” can be taken two ways: (1) perhaps not every law of the Old Testament is binding today, so the Biblical legislation must be filtered by some standard or canon, and (2) the question of jurisdiction and enforcement is on the table. We’ll examine these in reverse order, first noting (again) that “impose” is a term explicitly rejected by Chalcedon: Biblical law cannot be imposed on a society, only embraced by it. (The failure of external imposition was immortalized by America’s misguided dalliance with Prohibition.)
There are many laws in the Old Testament for which no civil penalty is given. Among these are the laws of tithing, or the keeping of the seventh-year land sabbaths. God reserved for Himself jurisdiction over, and enforcement of, these various laws. When Israel failed to tithe (particularly the tithe to the poor, which God regarded as “grinding the faces of the poor”), God chose when and where He would exact temporal judgment for such violations. He reserves to Himself the prerogative of imposing a wholly eternal penalty without a temporal (visible) component in the physical world. In the case of the land sabbaths, Israel violated them for 490 years, assuming God, who did nothing for half a millennium, wasn’t enforcing it. Wrong. The Babylonian captivity was expressly designed to return seventy fallow years to the farmlands of Israel, for God explained the exile to Jeremiah as being intended to insure that “the land [shall] enjoy her sabbaths” (Lev. 26:34). We can conclude that any law for which no civil penalty (no external penology) is written is a law that God reserves to Himself the right to enforce and/or punish infractions thereof.
In a society that embraces Biblical law, with a vastly reduced state, universal Christian education, vastly stronger family structures, a Biblical monetary and financial system, the poor cared for by tithe agencies, all embodied in a Christian libertarian commonwealth, we will see every jot and tittle of the law being applied. Society ultimately achieves the point for which Christians so unthinkingly pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 5:18 actually asserts that not one jot or one tittle shall pass away from the law of God until all of them are accomplished. This is a prophecy that the law of God, far from being perpetually violated, will one day be honored and kept by every living human being.
As mentioned earlier, this presupposes the universal keeping of the Greatest Commandment (to love God)—genuinely, without dissimulation. “What happened to all the wicked people? Was there some kind of CR pogrom?” Of course not—they died naturally, tending to leave more offspring who became Christians than not. God, who controls the future, always keeps His hands on the reins of procreation. In Psalm 109:13, we read of the wicked, “Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.” This parallels the thought of Psalm 37:10–11: “For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Wicked people age and die off naturally (as we commonly put it), but on average leave no abiding humanistic offspring in the earth, which is inherited by the meek, the redeemed of God who are continually being born, often to unbelieving parents (as Abraham was).
The slow growth of the church over the centuries is to continue until it can grow no longer. The importance of the laws of God finally being kept is that this is the precondition (in Matt. 5:18) for the heavens and earth to at last pass away. The verse has two conditionals: all (of the jots and tittles) being accomplished, and heaven and earth passing away. The latter awaits the former. Then, and only then, does the humanistic dream that the law of God will finally pass away from the universe be realized: on the last day of history, after the entire world has bowed the knee, voluntarily and in deepest reverent gratitude, to Christ. This, CR has compellingly argued on exegetical grounds, is what the Bible teaches.
The importance of observing “every jot and tittle” (which will come back to one of the fears implicit in your question) is that procedural justice, rules of evidence, and laws concerning the testimony of witnesses are a critical, non-optional part of the law. What humanists should (perhaps) rightly fear is Christians adopting a piecemeal approach to the law of God, observing snippets of Scripture here and there and piecing together a completely unbiblical garment by such selective distortion.
This can occur with ANY legal system, humanist or Biblical, where procedural justice (due process) is slighted or abandoned. We saw this recently with the Duke University lacrosse team fiasco: justice is miscarried when the due process called for is baldly neglected. Such neglect is never benign.
So too with Biblical law. The Biblical laws of evidence PROTECT people from illicit application of Biblical law, especially in the case of the various capital crimes in Scripture (for which some theologians, perhaps correctly, argue that capital punishment may be the maximum penalty rather than a mandated penalty, with the exception of murder). It takes two eyewitnesses to an actual ACT (not a propensity or predilection or orientation) to establish capital guilt.
It was this fact that saved the life of the woman taken in adultery that the Pharisees brought to Jesus (eighth chapter of John’s Gospel). Christ applied the clean hands doctrine, which required the eyewitnesses who were to cast the first stones to be free of any guilt in regard to the actual case under indictment. Since all the eyewitnesses had unclean hands (had helped set up the adulterous liaison), they were disqualified under Old Testament law from throwing the stones. The woman stood exonerated on procedural grounds, even though she was caught in the act (which was never disputed). Unless humanistic criticism of CR addresses these important distinctions (which you do appear to be interested in exploring, which is commendable), it will fail to accurately depict the situation as it would stand under Old Testament law as applied to a culture.
God informs Samuel that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). This is a restriction that humanistic law is impatient with, for it routinely seeks to discern motive in criminology (a conceit compounded by the modern legal creation of so-called “hate crimes”). Humanism sees fit to punish a person for what he thinks, or what he is. Biblical law looks to the concrete act, observed by adequate, uncompromised eyewitnesses innocent of collusion. So serious is the matter of eyewitness testimony (embodied in the ninth commandment against bearing false witness against one’s neighbor, which is a commandment primarily dealing with court testimony) that dishonest witnesses will receive the penalty on themselves that their false testimony would have wrongly imposed on the defendant. (An example of this in the apocryphal book of Susannah is self-explanatory in this regard: Daniel impeached the two liars’ testimony, freed innocent Susannah from certain death, with the false witnesses then condemned.)
These procedural requirements, which are part and parcel of the substantive Old Testament law, have obvious application to some of the cases for which you express concern. Decade after decade, as a nation grows more Biblically consistent, and an ever-increasing percentage of its population regards the law of God as the proper standard for morality, it is likely the resulting social pressures (now so successfully applied via our current culture of political correctness) would gradually revert back in favor of Biblical moral expectations, causing most Biblically illicit conduct to seek more private venues (beyond the reach of eyewitnesses to the act) well before any such Biblical laws became transcribed into civil law. The idea of some kind of wholesale slaughter of, say, homosexuals, is a total fabrication resting on a fragmentary, piecemeal, unsystematized approach to Biblical law. Biblical law deals with concrete acts observed by qualified eyewitnesses. While humanism could, consistent with itself, write a law calling for someone to be executed for merely being homosexual, the Bible expressly forbids such a monstrous travesty.
Biblical law will never be introduced, even voluntarily, on such a scale unless it is fully understood and its ramifications plumbed as to all its jots and tittles. Anything less than the entire Biblical program, any attempt to simply impose it on an unwilling populace, will face the same fate as Prohibition did. Biblical law must be embraced, and by a large majority of the population, and this process will surely take decades, if not centuries, to complete. It’s driven on, not by the will or intentions of men, but by the Spirit of God. CR is not so much in the driver’s seat, as it is pointing out who actually sits in that seat. I’ll resist appealing to Plato’s cave, but the temptation to do so here is admittedly rather strong.
I think that great societal value inheres in the Biblical laws concerning restitution. Modern society has lost sight of the victim and the moral requirement of restitution. Restitution is fundamental to God’s plan for the world’s future (Christ remains in heaven “until the times of restitution of all things,” according to Acts 3:21). Prisons are unbiblical: they’d have no place in a society that has embraced Biblical law. Fractional reserve banking would disappear, as would monetary inflation, which also shrinks the power state in the process. Who wouldn’t embrace the replacement of the IRS with a Biblical tax code? Only those who hail the power state as the new god who will remake mankind in its new image. CR sees that humanistic paradise as a crippling serfdom.
So, what parts of OT law are imposed on society in the CR vision? None of it is imposed, but ALL of it (outside of the Old Testament sacrificial system superseded by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, or any laws specific to Israel’s archetypal status as a nation directly covenanted to God) is ultimately to be voluntarily embraced, both its procedural as well as its substantive content. This maximizes liberty in a society.
3. A more specific version of the last question: tell me what religious liberty would mean in a CR society. Would those of other religions, or no religion at all, get to advocate their ideas publicly? Or would they be punished, as happened in OT times, for worshipping false gods or for trying to get others to believe as they believe?
This is a very good question. Why, precisely, was declension from Yahweh treated so severely in ancient Israel? For the same reason that modern states tend to treat treason as a capital crime, routinely executing those convicted of being traitors. The nature of Israel (as a nation specifically and directly covenanted with God) put it in a peculiar relationship to Him, a relationship that accorded such apostasy the status of treason. That such individuals invited others to participate in their treason made their apostasy doubly and trebly invidious. God’s actual presence was in the middle of the camp (in the tabernacle) or the city (in the temple), and this made an enormous difference in how such actions were treated. There ARE no casual relationships with a God who is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29) AND love (1 John 4:16) and truth (John 14:6) incarnate—and especially not when He manifests His presence physically in the midst of the camp (Num. 12:5).
That unique situation, long ago terminated, will not be repeated, so the circumstance subsuming the classification of such religious apostasy and proselytization under the capital crime of treason no longer exists. As has been well said, the church would be decimating its mission field were it to apply that unique-to-ancient-Israel statute, but St. Paul countenances no such approach once Christ has appeared. The nations are to be made Christ’s disciples (Matt. 28:19), and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17) empowers this supernatural process.
Moreover, the Bible distinguishes between the ministry of mercy and grace (the church) and the ministry of justice (the state). The state wields the sword, but the church does not. In fact, Zechariah 6:12–13 is clear that the civil and religious realms are uniquely and solely united in Christ and in no one (and nothing) else. He is a priest on His throne, “and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” (Zech. 6:13) (between the office of king and office of priest—in other words, between the civil and religious offices). The two are fused only in Christ’s person, but kept separate in all other instances.
The call for doctrinal purity, then, is applied to the domain of grace and mercy (the church) but not iterated for the state (which is constrained in its function). The church is to remain faithful to its Lord because it is specifically chartered to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The strongest remedy the church can impose is excommunication, and that’s the limit of its response to the activity you describe. The sword is denied to the church, as it is to the family, while the state is barred from determining matters of doctrinal purity (which usurps the church’s responsibility) and/or exacting punishment in this category. If the state elects to legislate in terms of Christianity and the Bible, CR holds that the blessings of Deuteronomy 28 will be ultimately bestowed upon it. If the state elects to enact and enforce legislation antithetical to the Word of God, then God reserves the right to exact His judgment on the state, and to do so directly. But the church was clearly informed by its Lord that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. As Paul puts it, Christians are given “the ministry of reconciliation … that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:18–20).
St. Paul was comfortable speaking in public, exchanging ideas with both Jewish and Gentile religious advocates, even confronting a monument to an unknown God. Christians should follow his example and should not fret over the ultimate result of such showdowns with other religions. The entire point of the second chapter of Daniel is that God sends a stone, “cut out without hands” (Dan. 2:34), to the earth that crushes and then assimilates all other kingdoms into itself, thereby growing until it fills the entire earth.
As has been well said, the Word of God is the solvent of all institutions not based on itself. The gospel is adorned with the language of victory. It is sad that when CRs appeal to these passages, they are accused of smug triumphalism. We see no reason to characterize a confidence in the living God in such derogatory terms. If mainstream Christians have difficulties with CR, it is because CR, like Abraham, “staggered not at the promise of God” (Rom. 4:20). Jesus, looking out over the world, didn’t advocate extermination of the heathen masses but proclaimed that the fields were white unto harvest (John 4:35)—and sent laborers out with the good news. St. John, looking on the massed heathen darkness of Asia Minor toward the end of the first century A.D., doesn’t counsel honing the swords to knock out nests of infidels, but, trusting in the promises of God, he assures us that “the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8 NKJV).
This is important: the darkness passes away because the true light is shining (the Great Commission is being obeyed). The passing away of the darkness is a passive consequence of the preaching of the gospel. At no point does John advise Christians to drive back the darkness with swords soaked with the blood of infidels.
God’s New Covenant, predicted in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, is a “better covenant” based on “better promises” (Heb. 8). Among these differences is the fact that the Old Testament laws concerning treason were tied to God’s tabernacled presence in the Ark of the Covenant in the midst of Israel. The laws are not applicable anymore. This is attested to in the Old Testament at Isaiah 65:2–6, among other places, where religious apostasy is declared to be punishable, not by the state, but by God Himself, who declares that He alone “will recompense, even recompense into their bosom,” echoing St. Paul’s New Testament warning to “give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Accordingly, those who indulge in such activities in a society based on Biblical law have far less to fear from Christians or the civil government observing the jots and tittles of Biblical law than they do from God Himself.
St. Paul actually dealt with a situation exactly as you describe in your question: open criticism of the faith with an eye toward proselytizing away from it. He compares such men to the priests of Pharaoh that Moses confronted: “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was” (2 Tim. 3:8–9). This man Paul, a scholar of Biblical law, had every opportunity to say that the civil government should execute such men for overthrowing the worship of the Lord God, but St. Paul recognizes that “the word of God is … sharper than ANY twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, emphasis added). Paul is set for the defense of the gospel, knows that the sword to be wielded in this arena must come in the form of words from his mouth. As he puts it, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).
Christians needn’t despair of the potency of their message over against the arguments and competing claims of others. Religious liberty works in favor of Christianity (it can spread the gospel in peace), while religious persecution tends to cause it to spread even further and deeper. As Christian historian Augustus Neander put it, everything that’s thrown in the church’s path to impede it ultimately only furthers its growth.
In regard to religious liberty, it is significant that the founder of Chalcedon, Dr. R. J. Rushdoony, didn’t hesitate to defend (in court where necessary) groups beyond the pale of orthodox Christianity (what most Christians would consider cults) from statist intrusion upon their religious distinctives. Most evangelical Christians would have not lifted a finger to assist “the cults” from such state intervention, figuring they deserved to be harassed and persecuted. Christian Reconstruction sees issues with a keener, long-term eye focused on Biblical categories, not narrowly provincial thinking. Christian Reconstructionists were therefore in the forefront of defense of other faiths when they were having their religious liberty abridged by the United States government. Therefore, at a practical level, the charge that Christian Reconstruction works against religious liberty for faiths other than its own brand of orthodoxy is demonstrably, historically false.
Rushdoony’s activities had an obvious limit (he would clearly not defend a religion that called for human sacrifice, since a weightier principle than religious liberty was then at stake). Nonetheless, you’d have a hard time finding another major religious figure as magnanimous in devoting effort in the courtroom to defending religious liberty (on his own dime, no less). Within the constraints just mentioned, Rushdoony understood that scripturally, unless all religions have liberty, none will ultimately have it. But the final moral framework determining the credibility of a putative religious practice (e.g., human sacrifice) had to subsist within the inherited framework adopted by the framers of the Constitution: what we now label, by way of gross dilution, the Judeo-Christian ethic. To provide religious liberty to a religion based on human sacrifice would be to deprive other citizens of their right to life.
As Rushdoony taught, all law is enacted morality: it specifies which actions are legitimate and which will be punished (i.e., laws discriminate between right and wrong). Ultimately, there must be a reference background providing a moral framework in which the world is conceptually organized and ideas evaluated. The current background is a diluted Christian autopilot reference overlaid with a postmodern humanist blanket. It’s far from ideal, but God (not Christians) will insure, on His timetable, the ultimate dominance of His Word over the word of humanistic man. “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up,” Jesus informs His disciples (Matt. 15:13).
God is the direct agent of any such “rooting up” or dispossession. As we learn in Hebrews 12:26–27, God (not Christian Reconstructionists) continuously shakes the heavens and the earth to remove “those things that are shaken … that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.”
Christians have no reason to interfere with God’s sovereign disposition of this process, which He alone presides over and governs. Our task is to preach the gospel, and God will give the increase. CR is protective of religious liberty, surely at least as far as most humanists are willing to grant it. If anything, it is humanism that poses a threat to religious liberty, since there are explicit rumblings underfoot to punish churches for what is taught in the pulpit by revoking the “offending” churches’ tax exemptions. Christian Reconstructionists find it difficult to take challenges concerning religious liberty seriously when significant proponents from the other side evidence outspoken hostility to Christians exercising their religious liberties. From all we can see, the shoe is on the other foot, and accusations that CR is a threat to religious liberty constitute a disinformation campaign that reeks of, at least among some humanists, gross hypocrisy.
Martin G. Selbrede
Vice President, Chalcedon
- 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 publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. 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.