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Bread upon the Waters: The Heart of Chalcedon’s Ministry

Sowing seed when providence is at its darkest may mean sowing in tears, but the ultimate reaping will be in joy (Ps. 126:5). Those who believe without seeing will enjoy the greater blessing (John 20:29) because they walk by faith rather than by sight.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede,
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[From Chalcedon Report - August 2018]

The seven volumes of R. J. Rushdoony’s A Word in Season were not the first anthology of his Pastor’s Pulpit column in The California Farmer to appear in print. In 1969, a shorter subset of these articles made their way into Bread upon the Waters, published by The Craig Press. That book’s title, drawn from one of the articles1 in it, tells us a lot about Dr. Rushdoony’s intentions for Chalcedon. He was intent upon casting his bread upon the waters and was content to wait upon the Lord for any Kingdom-ward return arising out of his labors and investment of time and resources. While he understood this command in Eccl. 11:1 to be alluding to rice farming,2 he realized that a deeper meaning nested within the Scripture.

Casting your bread upon the waters reflects an orientation toward the future, an orientation made manifest by investing—sometimes sacrificially—in the future in concrete ways, despite uncertainty over results. Paul says, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6). The increase is out of our hands, but the planting and watering remain our responsibility. We’re obligated to be faithful, but the results are in God’s hands. The results may even come after we’ve been called home.

Consider how Dr. Rushdoony chose to cast his bread upon the waters. He wrote books, many of which weren’t appreciated in his lifetime. He lectured around the world. He pointedly set aside time after his sermons to answer questions (no matter how off-topic the inquiry). He appeared in court to help fellow Christians prevail against statist tyranny. He was generous to a fault with his time, often answering the phone when anyone called Chalcedon.

Dr. Rushdoony was invested in the then-lowly state of the Kingdom of God because nothing else in the universe had a future. Only the unshakeable Kingdom would remain standing. He drew attention to the lowliness of God’s Kingdom as depicted in Zechariah 1, where it was symbolized by a humble grove of myrtle trees. The determining factor wasn’t how lowly the myrtles were and are, but rather how the Angel of the Lord in their midst was mighty to set history-changing things in motion.

In that light, sowing seed when providence is at its darkest may mean sowing in tears, but the ultimate reaping will be in joy (Ps. 126:5). Those who believe without seeing will enjoy the greater blessing (John 20:29) because they walk by faith rather than by sight.

Maintaining the Momentum

When Chalcedon’s founder entered the ranks of the church triumphant, no core change to Chalcedon’s work followed. We are still called to cast our ministerial bread upon the waters, to make our resources available, sowing the seed of the Word faithfully.

Newer technologies have dramatically expanded ways in which Chalcedon casts its bread upon the waters. Time investments by its principals are resources as much as audio messages or books are. Participation in conferences, in live question-and-answer sessions, mentoring programs, Chalcedon Book of the Month Club audiocasts, even simple phone dialogues with Christians seeking counsel: these are all investments in the King’s work.

Nobody knows in advance what the resulting harvest will look like. Technically, it’s none of our business: it’s His business. We do need to be about our business, however, with a healthy dose of humility (Luke 17:10).

Chalcedon made its books available at no cost to all who wish to read them on its website. Most literary legacies are zealously guarded on the principle that free access undermines the market for actual books. Few theologians lift the restrictions on their works. (Dr. Loraine Boettner defanged his copyrights,3 refusing to impede the spread of Biblical truth, while the online availability of Dr. Gary North’s books at no cost is equally notable.) The risk of making the content of Dr. Rushdoony’s writings available online for free mirrors the risk of casting our bread upon the waters. It means turning the resource back over to God and trusting Him with the outcome.

Not all bread can be cast using the internet, however. The planting of seed (the donation of physical books) is taken seriously at Chalcedon. Putting resources into play in Uganda and in Zambia (again!) were on the agenda recently, not to mention the stocking (by invitation) of a heavily-used theological library in India (featured in an earlier Chalcedon Report).

Harnessing Technology

Likening Chalcedon’s website to an iceberg isn’t far off the mark: most of it is under the surface where you can’t see it. The site is an extraordinary research tool providing crucial resources to involved Christians, and keeping it current (content- and technology-wise) is an expensive, but future-oriented, proposition. In conjunction with Chalcedon’s use of social media for interactive outreach, the website provides a reliable anchor for casting our bread upon the waters.

Soon after Chalcedon began videocasting Mark Rushdoony’s sermons on Sundays, Andrea Schwartz noticed that they didn’t strictly follow his father’s format. There were no open-ended question-and-answer periods after the sermons.

“Martin, you could complement Mark’s sermons by doing a live Q & A session after his Sunday messages,” she pointed out to me. “Between the two of you, the strong points of Rush’s weekly ministry would again be available to a growing audience, i.e., a methodical sermon followed by a free-wheeling, open-ended dialogue with participants.”

Of course, putting oneself out there involves risks (“working without a net”). Close collaboration with “ground control” (my Chalcedon support team) insures that we can walk away from the inevitable landing after an hour of unbridled discussion. Because God’s Word applies to all of life, no questions are off the table. Manichaeans, dualists, pietists, and two-kingdom exponents only need to defend a tiny ghetto. We, however, need to encourage His people to be the leaven that penetrates the entire world.

God’s people shall be willing in the day of His power (Ps. 110:3). Those who respond to the whole counsel of God, who don’t discount the Old Testament as the Word of God Emeritus, are called great in His Kingdom (Matt. 5:19): they do and teach even the least of His commandments. It’s gratifying to cast our bread upon these particular waters: good things will come of it as we sow His seed among those with ears to hear.

In Season and Out of Season

The second annual Future of Christendom conference (Oct. 5–7, 2018 in Reading, PA) is another opportunity for us to cast our bread upon the waters. This year’s event, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society, is focused on education.

Like last year, the speaker roster generated controversy, and so we are again picking our way through landmines. “It was a toxicity with a history. And a future.”4 So, teaching in and out of season (amid tumult) is yet another way we cast bread upon the waters. The Word of God is not bound, and “is worth more than gold, yea, than much fine gold.” We will “continue our liberality” in dispensing it (Isa. 32:8, Geneva) knowing God purges the dross (Mal. 3:3).

As a headline speaker alongside Dr. Paul Michael Raymond, I’ve been asked to speak on Kingdom Education in the Present: The Need and Kingdom Education in the Future: The Vision. If these topics aren’t in Chalcedon’s wheelhouse, then nothing is. I would preach on these topics in hell itself if given the chance because His Word is “a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29).

Your continued support for Chalcedon is multiplied many times over by the labors of those here who cast their bread upon the waters. We are grateful for the opportunities your faithfulness opens up to us and to like-minded ministries.

Be confident, too, when you cast your bread upon the waters. In today’s world, it is a truly revolutionary act.

1. It now appears in R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 2 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books/Chalcedon, 2011), pp. 71–73.

2. Rushdoony states, “The ‘bread cast upon the waters’ was rice, the farmer’s remaining store of grain, which he sowed in order to reap a harvest … The choice they faced as planting time came was simply this, live well today by eating up the future, or sacrifice today for life tomorrow.” From ibid.

3. It is true that some reprints of Boettner’s books have popped up on Amazon with purported copyright notices. The fact that these reprints misspell Boettner’s name on their front cover (it is not Lorraine, it is Loraine) is appalling. They usually omit Boettner’s original copyright notices, such as: “Copyright 1932 by Loraine Boettner. Any one is at liberty to use material from this book with or without credit. In preparing this book the writer has received help from many sources, some acknowledged, and many unacknowledged. He believes the material herein set forth to be a true statement of Scripture teaching, and his desire is to further, not to restrict, its use.”

4. Anshel Brusilow, Shoot the Conductor (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2015), p. 332. There’s no ultimate future for such rancor, of course, but in the foreseeable future the prospect is clouded.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • 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.

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