One of the foundational tenets of Christian Reconstruction is the validity of Biblical law except where its application is explicitly altered in Scripture itself. It is safe to say that Christian Reconstruction is impossible without Biblical law, also known as theonomy (from Greektheos, god, and nomos, law). Biblical law is the divine moral blueprint for all human activity, including our corrective work in an evil world we refer to as Reconstruction. Biblical law or theonomy is the antithesis of all subjective, ostensibly more spiritual forms of piety.
Critics pounce on our reference to the word “law” and claim it is an affront to grace as though God’s law and grace could be in schizophrenic tension. The emphasis of both theonomy and theocracy, however, is theos. The first emphasis is not on the law but the certainty that it is of God, so the issue to theonomists boils down to the absolute authority, or sovereignty, of God.
Once you assume that God is sovereign, you must deny that attribute to all His creatures, so no man or institution can have anything but limited, subordinate, and delegated authority. A true theonomist places limits on all human authorities, whether church, state, parental, or spousal.
Our foundation was called Chalcedon by my father because he saw that church council (in A.D. 451) as a defining point in the development of the West. It slammed the door on any human agent other than Jesus Christ being the unique mediator between heaven and earth. The ancient world knew primarily absolute monarchs who were either considered divine or had a unique relationship to the gods. To oppose such men was at once both treason and blasphemy. To say the least, freedom was unknown in the ancient world. Some had privileges, but none could claim what came to be regarded as rights in the West.
Chalcedon was in A.D. 451. The era of modern history is usually rounded to the years after A.D. 500. The West developed after Chalcedon, and though both the church and monarchies tried at times to present themselves as having a unique link to divine authority, these claims were increasingly rejected. The association of the development of liberty in the West with the theology of Chalcedon was not a new thesis by my father. Liberty, unknown in the ancient world, became a product of Christendom, and it is only with the decline of Christianity in the West that absolutism has again reared its head, though the god now appealed to is not transcendent and supernatural but the immanent godhead of humanity with the state as its highest collective voice.
The most rigorous rejection of absolutism came with the Puritans during and after the English Revolution. They saw the sin of man as necessitating limits on all human authority. This repudiation of human absolutism in favor of constitutional government was possible because of their Protestant, Calvinistic emphasis on the sovereignty of God. If God is sovereign, no man or institution, such as the state, can claim sovereignty, a word that appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution because it was understood then to be a theological term.
Many will reference Romans 13 as a blanket command to obey all government because it refers to them as ordained of God, ignoring that this very statement gives priority to the authority of God. If God is the ordaining authority, then all subordinate power is secondary and subject to it. Too many references to Romans 13 suggest a Deism whereby God ordained the state and then absented Himself from governance.
Justice vs. a Legal System
There can be only one sovereign and one standard of justice and the Christian must self-consciously identify God and His law as his standard of justice. We have no basis for distinguishing between righteousness as a moral, religious ideal and justice as a civil and legal fact. There is no such distinction in Scripture. The words translated as justice and righteousness in Scripture are interchangeable because they are the same in both Hebrew and Greek.
I have often warned people who go to court expecting “justice.” I tell them that justice is a Biblical concept. Today courts do not administer justice but only enforce positive law, which is whatever the legislature or the courts say it is. Justice, by any Christian standard, is excluded. Any reference to the law of God is regarded as tainting the jury and is grounds for a mistrial; no higher standard than the state’s law is tolerated. There is no such thing as justice outside the letter of the law or a court’s rewrite of that law. Man is the sovereign of positive law, but the only men who have any standing are those who write the laws and rule on them.
Responsibility and Liberty
In Scripture, the purpose of civil government was to be a “terror” or “wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:3,4). It was to address evil so as to allow (but not create) an environment conducive to godly life. This meant the godly had a liberty from the ungodly dominion of the wicked (such a Lamech in Gen. 4:18-24 or Nimrod the mighty hunter of Gen. 10:8).
If civil government tries to shift from a negation of evil to being the creator of a just order, its power must increase exponentially. In Scripture, the primary responsibility for justice was with the individual in the context of his various associations and responsibilities, so the laws are largely addressed to individuals: “Thou shalt …” Individuals are given great responsibilities, but also allowed great freedom.
Statist law seeks to create a world envisioned by its lawmakers, courts, and increasingly its bureaucrats. The law is seen as the creator of social order and justice. This requires policing power and the regulation of all people. Where government assumes responsibility for creating a social order, individual liberty must be replaced by regulation, reporting, and taxation. This shifts the individual’s responsibility and accountability from God to the state, and thus destroys liberty. Instead of being a terror to evildoers, the state wars against the innocent.
The Tithe and Liberty
Before it foolishly clamored for a monarchy in the days of Samuel, Hebrew society was very decentralized. Its primary government was tribal in form, that is, an extended family government by “elders.” Many social functions were performed by the Levites who received the tithes (Numbers 18:21-24). This is an important point. The largest obligation was paid to the Levites, not the priests, who only received a tenth of the tenth given to the Levites (Num. 18:26 ff.). Ninety percent of the first tithe went to the Levites while 10 percent went to the temple priests. The Levites were the larger group and performed various social functions. Their exact functions are not fully explained in Scripture, but the size of their budget (theoretically 9 percent of the nation’s economic growth) shows they had a major function in Hebrew society. Extended families cared for their own, but the tithe meant there was a very large endowment for social needs. The Levites, in effect, were the non-profit charities of the day. There was no provision as to which Levites were to receive your tithe, so the decision was up to the one tithing.
The Civil Tax and Liberty
The only tax to civil authority was a uniform amount on all adult males (Ex. 30:11-16), often called the “head,” or “poll” tax. This was a half shekel of silver each year. The weight of a shekel has been debated, but this tax was between .2 and .3 of a single ounce of silver. At today’s price of silver, that tax represents something near the price of a fast-food hamburger. Such meager funding did not allow for big government. Many of the civil functions were likely carried out without pay by elders as a responsibility of their status. Most social functions were carried out by either the family or the Levites.
“Follow the money” we are told if we want to know where the power trail comes from. In God’s provision, that money trail came from the people and was voluntarily given to Levites for social functions and a portion by them to the priests for ecclesiastical funding. There was only a nominal civil funding. This is closer to a libertarian economic order than we are accustomed to think. There is no Biblical warrant for appropriating big government and tax dollars to remake a supposedly more “Christian” society. Instead, we should seek the defunding of the modern state and the empowering of the family and its liberty.
Why is Liberty Important?
We know the personal benefits of liberty, but we need to realize there is a far more important function to liberty than a personal one. Man has a duty to serve God and to advance His Kingdom. To the extent that civil government limits our ability to do this, it is an impediment not just to our personal and familial well-being, but to our Kingdom work. The big state robs the Kingdom of its funding (as does the failure to tithe).
We know how free markets allow for more goods and services at lower prices, as well as innovations by competing entrepreneurs. When China allowed just a little bit of freedom into its marketplace, an unprecedented economic growth took place. Likewise, we need both the freedom and the funding to be able to do new things that will further the Kingdom of God. When the state claims jurisdiction in any area, our ability to reconstruct it is limited, and to the extent the state taxes us to pay for its grandiose plans for a better world, it defunds our efforts to serve God.
More government means less liberty, and less liberty means we are less free to reconstruct our world in terms of the Kingdom of God and His Christ. For the believer, liberty is both a religious necessity and an ethical issue.
- 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 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.