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Church and Government

One of the more serious examples of false or muddled thinking today is with a regard to the use of the words “church” and “government.” When people say “government,” they usually mean the state or federal government, and nothing could be more false.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony
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California Farmer 237:3 (Sept. 2, 1972), p. 36.

One of the more serious examples of false or muddled thinking today is with a regard to the use of the words “church” and “government.” When people say “government,” they usually mean the state or federal government, and nothing could be more false. The Puritans knew better. The state for them was “civil government.”

Government meant first of all the self-government of the Christian man. There is no more basic and important government in society than that. Government also means the family, a very important area of rule and authority. It means the school, which governs the early lives of people, and it means also the church, a very essential area of government.

Our work governs us, as do our friends and relatives, and the people of our community, by their attitudes and opinions. Clubs and organizations we join also govern us. The kinds of government are many. Civil government is an important one among many, not the only one, and the most important government of all in human society (other than God’s) is self-government.

The same misuse appears with the word “church.” We usually mean by that word a religious institution, a denomination, or sometimes a building. The church, however, is first of all the mystical body of Christ, the true, living, and supernatural congregation of all the redeemed in time and in eternity. It is thus far greater than our church or its local building.

We must be loyal to our particular visible church insofar as it is sincerely and faithfully obedient to Christ and truly manifests and represents His Body, not to perfection but with essential faith and obedience. We can sometimes be disobedient to Christ by obeying “our church.”

In any case, if we limit the meanings of church and government to an institution and a state, we have not only misused those words but also limited and impoverished our lives. Instead of seeing ourselves as the basic government in human society, we have handed over our lives to the civil government. We are the government, each in our conduct of our lives under God. To forget that is to take the road to slavery.

Moreover, the true church is first and last Jesus Christ Himself and every particular congregation insofar as it is faithful and obedient to Him. To limit the church to an institution is to put ourselves out of communion with Him who is the church.

The way we use these words tells us much about our time. A man speaks out of his heart and faith, and we have been trusting too much in things present, things as we see them, rather than in things as God ordained them. For as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).


R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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