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Family and Civilization

To reduce civilization to political entities, races, nationalities, or other like groupings is to insure misunderstanding, for a civilization is at heart a faith and a community. The faith is of course religious.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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To reduce civilization to political entities, races, nationalities, or other like groupings is to insure misunderstanding, for a civilization is at heart a faith and a community. The faith is of course religious. Civilization for us is a Christian one based on Jesus Christ as Lord and the Bible as God's enscriptured Word. But civilization is not only the expression of a faith, it is being part of a community. There is a very important distinction here that in our time is often obscured, the difference between becoming a member, as against belonging. We can become a member of a club, of a social circle, or of a church; but, where a family is concerned, we do not join it: we belong to it, and not by choice. Membership means choice, whereas belonging means no choice because it is something we are born into and, like our bodies, is always a part of us. This is God's ordination, not ours. We may rebel against God's choice, but to do so is useless and morally wrong. We can change churches, but we cannot alter the nature of our birth and its locale.

The Basic Community
Now the family is the basic community; its ties are normally life-long. But faith also means community, and Jesus Christ requires that, if need be, we leave father, mother, and children for His sake (Mt. 10:37). If faith and family coincide, we then have an especial strength as we face the world.

From the Christian perspective, faith and the family are basic to civilization, and culture is religion externalized, to use Henry R. Van Til's definition. From the viewpoint of humanism, education and technology are basic. One writer, for example, sees utopia ahead by means of licensing all parents, guaranteeing work for all, and so on and on, even to ending death itself, and all progress is seen as inevitable because of evolution! Randal Craig Fasnacht (Life Child: The End of Poverty, The Case for Licensing All Parents, 1992) is indeed a man of great faith in Darwin's theory. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:26 declares that Christ will finally destroy death itself. For Fasnacht, a blind, impersonal evolution will do so. The difference between the two positions is very great. For Fasnacht, civilization is an automatic goal of evolution, whereas for us it is the expression of a faith and a community. This impersonal and mechanical vein of things is currently responsible for our problems. Society is reduced to the outworking of blind, biological forces.

During the tenth century, there was a radical disintegration of public authority in Europe. Its origins were certainly in the decline of the Faith, not impersonal, evolutionary sources. The revival of civilization came about because of a faith revival.

The family as a biological entity has received some attention in recent years from sociologists, and, while their approach is sometimes of interest, it is defective. The Christian family is more than a biological entity. On the biological side, the Christian family is an example of redeemed nature in that more than biology is involved in its life because we have in the Christian family redeemed nature plus grace. The Christian family cannot be reduced to its physical components because it is radically altered by grace. This means that a supernatural power has been introduced into history to alter it.

Serving Grace
The early church father, Lactantius, stressed the family as the center of community life. For him the family was no longer a unit of the Roman state nor the servant of social goals, but a unit in the kingdom of God. Its task is to serve God and to obey Him rather than being a humanistic agency.

This was a major revolutionary step in that nature was seen as called to submit to and serve grace. For the Romans, piety was the proper emotional attitude towards one's parents and the state. For Lactantius, "the contemplation of God is the reverence and worship of the common Parent of mankind." Lactantius used the word humanity and meant kindness and humaneness, that which is properly characteristic of man. In his words, "For what is humanity itself, but justice? What is justice, but piety? And piety is nothing else than the recognition of God as a parent."1 This is an important statement because God as the Father of all families requires justice, His law applied, and this means piety, reverencing Him as our Father. Civilization then is not a product of society and the state but of men in families working together to apply God's law-word to every area of life and thought, with Jesus Christ as their Redeemer-King.

Civilizations in the broader sense have been created by fire and sword so that we can speak of Assyrian and ancient Chinese civilizations, but, in the Christian sense, civilization is a faith product which is inclusive of every area of life and thought and begins in the Christian family.

Earlier, we referred to the revival of civilization in tenth century Europe. It was a faith revival, but its error was that it was state centered. Subsequent revivals of European civilization have been either state centered or church centered. What is now needed is one that is family centered.

Steven Ozment, in When Fathers Ruled, Family Life in Reformation Europe (1983), called attention to the impact of the Protestant Reformation on family life. Despite lingering medieval ideas, the Reformers saw that marriage and the family should serve, not church, state, or men, but the Faith and Christ's kingdom. Like church and state, the family should serve God. Because family life is most personal, it is thereby closer to the totally personal God. Celibacy was seen as a social error where stressed above marriage and the family, and, while the suppression of convents and monasteries by Henry VIII was evil and brutal as well as politically governed, in countries other than England, the movement was religious.

Earlier, as in the Cleric Reformation, monks had been the source of reform. After Luther and Calvin, the family slowly became the nursery of the Faith. In the home school movement, a great development of this impetus is under way.

This meant, in the early years of the Reformation, a strong emphasis on informed and disciplined marriage. One aspect of this still survives in pre-marital counseling.

The trends towards the continuing Reformation by means of the family were thwarted by an evil development which began in the eighteenth century with the Marquis de Sade and came into fruition with the modern twentieth century sexual revolution. Neil Baldwin called it a movement believing in "the sovereignty of pleasure" (Neil Baldwin, Man Ray, American Artist, 213). Western civilization has moved from the sovereignty of God to the sovereignty of the state, then of man, and now to pleasure. This is a shift of very major dimensions.

What we see in such things as the home school movement is a reversal of this pattern. Two facets of this are especially revealing: it begins in the family, and its motivation is mainly Christian. This makes it an important development and basic to any realistic appraisal of the future. When great numbers of parents tax themselves in money and time to home school or Christian school their children, we see a social change in the making, and a sign of the renewal of civilization.


1. Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 3, chap ix, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors, Ante-Nicene Christian Library, vol. 11, Lactantius, vol. 1, (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1871), 157.

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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