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The City of God: Readings in R. J. Rushdoony on the Christian World Order

From his very first newsletter, Rushdoony established the framework and agenda for the Chalcedon Foundation—an agenda that still governs Chalcedon’s mission today, i.e., Chalcedon consistently presents the Christian world and life view over against all other competing systems. Regardless of the nature or origin of the opposing systems, they are all inherently humanistic.

  • Christopher J. Ortiz,
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“The purpose of Chalcedon is to further the thinking and scholarship of a new upper class, of people geared to the future and dedicated to godly reconstruction.”1

~ R. J. Rushdoony

From his very first newsletter, Rushdoony established the framework and agenda for the Chalcedon Foundation—an agenda that still governs Chalcedon’s mission today, i.e., Chalcedon consistently presents the Christian world and life view over against all other competing systems. Regardless of the nature or origin of the opposing systems, they are all inherently humanistic.

In October 1965, Rushdoony’s initial letter to his small band of supporters referenced the Renaissance as an example of how a comprehensive worldview is established to dominate history. He saw the ancient movement as dependent upon two elements: (1) it was sponsored by the wealth of the era’s rulers, and (2) it was driven by humanistic statism. And while he saw a similar movement underway in 1965, his incomparable faith and vision called for the support of his work as a means to counter the humanist worldview:

What you are doing, in your support of me, is to sponsor a counter-measure to the prevailing trend, to promote by your support, interest, and study, a Christian Renaissance, to declare by these measures your belief that the answer to humanism and its statism is Christian faith and liberty. Our choice today is between two claimants to the throne of godhood and universal government: the state … and the Holy Trinity.2

To many, this may sound like unrealistic ambition on Rushdoony’s part; but as of 2007, his faith has proven most effective. Christian dominionism developed into one of the most formidable social movements in the twentieth century by bringing Christ to bear on education, politics, ecclesiology, entertainment, the arts, science, etc. Rushdoony saw clearly that an equally comprehensive worldview could unseat the historical dominance of humanistic statism. By 1967, he dispensed with Renaissance and adopted the descriptive Reconstruction:

It is urgently important that we think now of Christian Reconstruction, but our thinking cannot be idle talk: it must be both Biblical and also practically applied in our daily life … There are many people ready to eliminate statism, but they have nothing to replace it.3

Here was his challenge: as one man, he could do his part in providing a direction for Christian scholarship in the development of Christian civilization, but for Biblical ideas to reverse the humanistic trends, there needed to be a network of Christian social institutions financed by Christians themselves:

In any advanced social order, social financing is a major public necessity. The social order cannot exist without a vast network of social institutions which require financing and support. If a Christian concept of social financing is lacking, then the state moves in quickly to supply the lack and gain the social control which results. Social financing means social power.4

Tithing and Ecclesiology

Tithing as the means to social financing was paramount in Rushdoony’s thinking, and he returned to it often. From the outset of his independent work with Chalcedon, he called on Christians to sponsor the Christian social order through their tithes. Despite the fact that a majority of church leaders faithfully advocate tithing, Rushdoony’s concept was revolutionary and remains to this day a centerpiece of controversy. For him, tithing was to be directed toward the work of the Lord and not consumed by the bureaucracy of the institutional church:

What we must do is, first, to tithe, and, second, to allocate our tithe to godly agencies. Godly agencies means far more than the church … To limit Christ’s realm to the church is not Biblical; is pietism, a surrender of Christ’s kingship over the world.5

It was not that Rushdoony was antagonistic toward the local organized church—far from it. His concern was the work of Christian Reconstruction, i.e., doing the Lord’s work in every area of life:

We need to assess the need for Christian reconstruction and then conscientiously support those agencies which we believe best further it: a church, an organization dedicated to creationism, or the cause of Christian education, missions, Christian scholarship, and so on.6

Without the creation of tithe-funded Christian agencies, totalitarianism will continue to grow up around us. Sinful man is committed to “tithing,” and some of the most pernicious oligarchs are faithful supporters of their collectivist agenda. They understand the inescapable reality of dominion:

Without the tithe, basic social functions fall into two kinds of pitfalls: on the one hand, the state assumes these functions, and, on the other, wealthy individuals and foundations exercise a preponderant power over society. Tithing releases society from this dependence on the state and on wealthy individuals and foundations. The tithe places the basic control of society with the tithing people of God.7

No less controversial is Rushdoony’s assertion that the authority to distribute the tithe lies with the tither, not the local church. This one fact has caused a great many churchmen to denounce Rushdoony in the harshest terms. However, when one considers that most church budgets are consumed in staff, facilities, and internal programs, Rushdoony is quite correct in balancing institutional church power with the responsibility of individuals to insure their giving is directed toward the work of the Kingdom:

The tither was not tithing if his tithe went to a faithless storehouse; it was his duty to judge then between godly and ungodly Levites. Similarly, the tither today is not tithing unless his tenth goes to truly godly work, to churches, missionary causes, and schools which teach the law-word faithfully.8

When a local church and its elders are actively pursuing the work of reconstruction (e.g., scholarship, education, missions), it is fair to assume Rushdoony would support the full tithe being devoted to that fellowship. However, this is usually not the case. The average denominational church spends very little outside the expense of its own bureaucracy.

If our goal is the development of a Christian social order, then the stopgap measure of a wider distribution of the tithe to a diversity of Kingdom-centered institutions is greatly needed. This was this case during the 1960s—when Rushdoony initially formulated his blueprint for Christian civilization—as churches drew inward during a time of great national turbulence. While America was facing war, revolution, and upheaval, Rushdoony was showing the way to the ancient paths as the only means to securing a Christian future. He was a lone architect analyzing the history of social development while attempting to model his concept of Christian action on the Bible. He knew full well the failings of the world’s competing worldviews, and he would provide Christianity with an end-around to the totalitarian systems ruling in the twentieth century.

The March of the State

The elite rulers of George Orwell’s dystopic novel 1984 recognize that class is an inescapable concept. The great secret behind the war, disinformation, and economic oppression imposed by the elitists upon the population is that these means of subterfuge work to preserve the existence of an oligarchical society.

Twentieth-century communism established itself upon such a worldview. Communist thinkers accused capitalists of seeking to perpetuate their existence by exploiting the labor of the lower classes. Therefore, capital, private property, and the free market had to be abolished, and a new world order of the proletariat would rise to effectively eliminate the class system. All things would be held in common.

During this same period, another totalitarian order was rising in Europe. Countries like Spain, Italy, and Germany were sporting the despotic system of fascism, which began with the supremacy of the state, but unlike communism, recognized class structure as an inevitable reality.

By the time of the 1960s, America was facing subversion by both streams of totalitarianism. The Marxist revolution of the sixties, which created the New Left, produced a host of anti-free-market communists that soon filled the halls of American academia. In 1961, President Eisenhower warned of a threat of “misplaced power” in a new phenomenon in the American experience: the military-industrial complex. In his mind, this alliance of a multi-million-member standing military and a permanent arms industry represented a real danger to democracy—this was an American fascism.

It was during this tumultuous decade that another social order was developing in the mind and work of Rousas John Rushdoony: one that also embraced the reality of classes, yet saw a different path for the historical development of classes—one that embraced godly responsibility.

The Christian Governing Class

There has never been a society without a “governing class.” Sometimes that governing class has gained power fraudulently, but, all the same, in every society it is there, for better or worse.9

Not only is a governing class an inherent reality, but so also is the idea of “slavery.” This is because, as Rushdoony notes, “some men are slaves by nature,”10 and man’s problem is “irresponsibility, a rebellion against maturity and responsibility.”11 In order to retain or support freedom, one must become responsible. “Responsibility and liberty reinforce and strengthen each other.”12

This is by no means an endorsement of what the upper classes do. The Scriptures acknowledge that the rich are often the oppressors (James 2:6–7); but the solution is not their eradication. The Apostle Paul rather brings commandment to bear on the wealthy to remind them of the responsibilities related to their social standing:

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Tim. 6:17–19)

In the modern age, the great conspiracies documented by conservatives are primarily the “money trust,” viz. an elite group of financiers that wield unbalanced control over an economy through direct control of the money supply. The purpose is to create debt, and with debt comes slavery:

In a debt-ridden country, taxes increase, liberties decrease, and the civil government, increasingly less responsive to the will of the citizenry, increases its own power over the people even as it vastly enlarges the power of the invisible government over all. All in all, it is clear that debt is the road to total slavery, and the Christian, both as a person and in his organized society, must recognize the truth of Scripture when it orders, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Rom. 13:8).13

Although we can shift great blame to these godless oligarchs, it remains the fault of the people to allow such power trusts to develop through the abandonment of faith and godly law. As in the crucifixion of Christ, it was the Pharisees, Herod, the Romans, and ALL of Israel that conspired against our Lord (Acts 4:27–28). So also today, oligarchs, political leaders, and a rebellious people share in the reign of ungodly power:

Any directorate, even a small minority, can exercise control when majorities are without faith and direction … More than the guilt of conspirators, however, which is very real, is the helplessness of the Christian West, a helplessness that is a confession of its own sin and shame. Behind the “Money Trust” are, first, the theorists, and, second, politicians without faith or courage, and, third, people who will not live in terms of the Biblical laws with respect to debt.14

For Rushdoony, “superiority asserts itself and governs … [I]f the character be godly, then a godly superiority prevails.”15 This is the only remedy to resisting the growth of ungodly tyrannies. Not an ecclesiastical rule of clerics, but a Christian dominion in terms of social planning via the Word of God:

The true remedy for tyranny is not the rule of a church but of godly law, the rule of law which plans for a present and a future under the sovereignty of God.16

The Aristocracy of Talent

This “planning” must flow from the faith and character of a Christian society. For this to transpire, Christians must first be convinced of a victorious future for the Kingdom of God in history, and the awareness that a governing class is inescapable and that the church is called to produce such cultural leaders. Rushdoony states this point superbly, so I will quote him at length:

[B]ecause there will always be a governing class, and that governing class will reflect the good or evil directions and impulses dominant in society, it is important therefore to do two things, one to produce and train a superior class, and two, to produce and train a vast body of people who will want the leadership that new superior class can provide.
It is most certainly necessary to fight against subversion and against heresy, but something more is needed, a new faith and character in society at large, and a new leadership, a new governing class in terms of that faith and character …
What needs to be done is, first, to bring forth a new people. This is the basic task of evangelism. Moral dry-rot has not only destroyed the older Christendom but the newer humanistic world order. There can be no new class as long as we remain tied to the forms of the old, such as statist schools. Truly Christian schools must be established, and both old and young re-educated in terms of a total faith. Every sphere of life must be viewed in terms of the whole counsel of God.
Second, new leadership must be trained, a new aristocracy of talent in terms of the new humanity of Christ. This leadership must re-think every discipline in terms of Biblical thought: theology, philosophy, science, economics, statecraft or political science, law, and all things else must be re-thought and re-established in terms of Biblical premises.17

This is what Rushdoony referred to as “godly rule,” viz. that salvation is not fire insurance against an eternity in hell but has implications for all of life: “What is required is a Biblical emphasis on justification, on the necessity for conversion, and then the training of the godly for world conquest and rule.”18 This equipping is for transforming our daily activities and property into the tools of dominion:

Every extension of God’s Kingdom by our vocational service, and our dominion over every sphere of life, thought, or land, is an aspect of the redemption of the whole earth.19

Despite Rushdoony’s continual appeal to reaching “every area of life,” Christian Reconstruction is seen almost exclusively in political terms. The conquest of the Kingdom of God will require each Christian to advance the reign of God in every realm he finds himself. It is true that Christians must return to politics, but what we are seeking is much more than Christian politics—we are seeking Christian government.

A Christian Government

[T]he intellectual foundations for the return of Christianity to government are being laid down. In this area, Chalcedon Foundation has pioneered, rebuilding on ancient foundations.20

No other concept has done more to infuriate and frighten both the secularists within and without the church than the notion of Christians in government. I have written much in the last two years regarding the misconceptions surrounding Christian government, but the fact remains that a new form of government is needed and commanded. However, the kind of Christian government advocated by Rushdoony and Chalcedon is not a takeover of the bureaucratic behemoth known as the U.S. Federal Government, but a return to the self-governing Christian man:

The state is sick and dying. Government needs to be reborn. This can only happen as men govern themselves and their spheres under God, as, step by step, they take government back from the state and restore to man his responsibility and freedom to be, in every sphere of life, a participating and governing power.21

As I’ve written previously, Christian dominion in our era is a “taking back” of government and not a “taking over” of the state.22 Although we seek the Christianization of civil government, the foundation of a Christian world order is established upon the embraced responsibilities of self-governing Christians. In the meantime, politics is but one aspect that leads to Christian civilization—it is simply one among many; and godly action begins by acknowledging that Christ has both secured and ordained history as the arena for His victorious Kingdom to be made visible:

The kingdom of God is not depicted as a political kingdom, but its unmistakable sovereignty in the political as in every other sphere is plainly affirmed. To separate that kingdom therefore from the economic, political, and educational aspects of world order, and from reference to the messianic pretensions of these and other activities of man, is to do violence to the kingdom and to misunderstand it. While the kingdom is not of this world in that it is primarily and originally an eternal order, its triumph in and over this world is set forth in the resurrection, a historical event, and shall be developed in terms of the whole of history.23

Closely related to the fact of the Resurrection as evidence of the historical victory of the Kingdom of God is the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). Virtually every Reconstructionist writer has noted that our Lord was issuing a restatement of the creation mandate (Gen. 1:28); and like the Garden, the failure or success of this godly enterprise relies upon the obedience of God’s covenant people:

God created man to observe His statutes and keep His laws in Eden. Man chose his own will as his law and defied God’s order, and the result was disaster and death. The covenant people are redeemed to observe the statutes and keep the laws of God in order that this world and the people thereof might become God’s Kingdom in the fullest sense of the word.24

The Victory of Obedience and Prayer

But for the pessimillennialists, Christian effort is isolated to disciplines such as personal sanctification, missions, and church attendance. Very little is written in terms of a historical victory for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ; but this was Rushdoony’s great contribution to the notion of Christian action. In a moment of obvious frustration, Rushdoony takes amillennialists to task for their evisceration of Christ’s historical victory:

There is no such thing as a millennium or a triumph of Christ and His Kingdom in history. The role of the saints is at best to grin and bear it, and more likely to be victims and martyrs. The world will go from bad to worse in this pessimistic viewpoint. The Christian must retreat from the world of action in the realization that there is no hope for this world, no world-wide victory of Christ’s cause, nor world peace and righteousness. The law of God is irrelevant, because there is no plan of conquest, no plan of triumph in Christ’s name and power. At best, God’s law is a plan for private morality, not for men and nations in their every aspect.25

Set over against these defeatist eschatologies is the great promise of a theonomic postmillennialism, i.e., victory established upon the work of Christ in redemption and the faithfulness of God’s people to hearken to His law-word:

We have one calling, one unchanging God, one unbroken word … [P]ostmillennialism makes clear that Christians not only have a task of soul-saving, but also of school, home, church, business, state, vocation-saving, a calling to bring everything into captivity to Christ the King … [P]ostmillennialism restores the law to its place as the way of sanctification and a plan of conquest.26

This answers the ongoing question regarding the way in which the Kingdom of God comes. For the rapture generation, it is the giant Christ breaking the eastern sky upon a White Horse that will bring in the reign of God. But Christ spoke of the Kingdom much earlier than the Book of Revelation, and He deposits the seeds of the growing Kingdom within His own model of prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

How is Christ’s Kingdom to come? Scripture is again very definite and explicit. The glorious peace and prosperity of Christ’s reign will be brought about only as people obey the covenant law.27

Prayer and obedience become a two-edged sword in the Christian’s call to spiritual warfare. For the overly pious, the tendency is to exalt prayer to a level beyond the simplicity of obedience. In response, many Reformed believers have de-emphasized prayer to avoid a slide into pietism. But, for Rushdoony, “Prayer is not a substitute for action but its accompaniment.”28 When Reconstructionists divorce themselves from prayer, they lob all contingency upon themselves and by so doing, displace the God of providence:

If we are prayerless, it is because we see the future, whatever our formal profession of faith, as something in our hands and for us to determine. It is an insistence on working on our own instead of under God.29

Obedience is important because the individual is important. Prayer carries an equal importance for the same reason. Individuals matter because it is individuals who make the difference. Therefore, we all carry a great burden though we may not all be called to fill the shoes of an R. J. Rushdoony or a John Calvin. Beyond that, God demands that we all “get in the game.” If we allow ourselves to shift into neutral, we become obstacles to the advancing Kingdom and de facto assistants to darkness:

There is no sideline living where eschatology is concerned. We are either a working part of God’s order, or a working part of Satan’s disorder. The myth of neutrality is here as elsewhere a delusion … [T]he restoration of God’s order means that we are a part of the disorder to be overcome.30

Two Kingdoms at War

History is a bifurcation of two lineages: man striving to be as god, and man living responsibly under God. These lines have developed into two respective orders: God’s order, and Satan’s order. These orders are Biblically defined as two kingdoms: the Babylonian kingdom of man (Rev. 17:5), and the Kingdom of God. Both are universal in their respective goals—or at least they should be. Christians have abdicated history and abandoned the dominion mandate; but the kingdom of man remains determined to secure its universal state with the time it has left:

Two kingdoms are at war, the kingdom of man, or Babylon the Great, and the kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem. The Kingdom of man, or Babylon, seeks to establish a one-world order and a one-world religion; it seeks to enthrone man as god, to establish a total humanism in every sphere.31

The Christian is seeking much more than a politico-economic “one-world order.” This is a materialistic, man-centered copy of the Christian world order, which is actually an establishment of the eternal Sabbath—a period of rest for all nations from the fallout of sin:

The people of the Sabbath are to be just and God-fearing; they are to bring rest, through their godly social order, even to foreigners in their midst … The goal is to universalize the Sabbath and its meaning among all nations.32

And as we know that the “sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), so the great Sabbath of the reigning Kingdom shall fulfill man’s desire for peaceful community. One could say, as Rushdoony did, that the “Kingdom of God is ‘the community of covenant man.’”33 But this millennial rest of community is based upon a restored communion with God and should not be misconstrued as a return to a mythological paradise:

It is not an earthly paradise in itself which is the goal of history as Scripture depicts it, but rather the restoration of communion with God, of which an earthly paradise, as depicted by Isaiah and Revelation, is a by-product. Man is keenly aware of the loss of paradise, but not conscious of the broken communion with God. This communion and its new world order Isaiah depicted as the consequence of the atonement. Moreover, it is not a return to Eden, not the recreation of the Garden, but paradise in terms of community with God and man, in the New Jerusalem.34

Therefore the Christian world order, i.e., the Kingdom of God, is a community of covenantally faithful men and women living God’s law-word toward one another in a social order in which peace reigns and earth is filled with His glory. It is not a society of inactive piety, but a world where all works are done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)—it is labor glorified!

Arriving at this “City of God” requires that we seek to glorify the diversity of our present labors. This means a “rethinking” of every area of life, for we cannot glorify God by merely being a Christian in our respective fields. We must work for reconstructing each sphere in terms of God’s law-word:

It means … studying every kind of calling from the perspective of Biblical faith and law. What constitutes a Christian farmer? How are salesmen, shopkeepers, men involved in real estate, manufacturing, or anything else, important for godly reconstruction?35

For critics, this amounts to “bringing in the Kingdom by our own efforts.” I’m sure Rushdoony long ago grew weary of so false an accusation. It’s “by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 4:6), and Rushdoony’s only fault is in taking that promise seriously, i.e., if one is so filled with the Spirit, it is for the call to godly action and reconstruction—he did not believe in the Charismatic concept of the experiential Spirit. The Spirit was sent for acts.

Rushdoony had great confidence that the Holy Spirit would do His work perfectly and that time itself would prove His glorious work. Our part, as willing servants, is to so embrace the promise of a future godly order and allow that future to shape our faith and conduct now. We must labor faithfully knowing that God will sovereignly determine the outworking of our cooperation with the Spirit and the Word:

None of us is called to set the world or our time aright, but rather to meet our responsibilities under God. The responsibility and work at hand is ours; the issue is in the hands of God.36

1. R. J. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 717.

2. Rushdoony, Roots, 545.

3. Ibid., 605.

4. Ibid.

5. Edward A. Powell and Rousas John Rushdoony, Tithing and Dominion (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1979), 9.

6. Ibid.

7. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), 55.

8. Ibid.

9. Rushdoony, Roots, 661.

10. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 485.

11. Ibid., 102.

12. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1984), 15.

13. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2001), 169.

14. Ibid., 170.

15. Rushdoony, Roots, 661.

16. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty, 30.

17. Rushdoony, Roots, 662f.

18. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1983), 461.

19. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology in two volumes (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 974.

20. Rushdoony, Christianity and the State (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1986), 184.

21. Ibid., 185.

22. Christopher J. Ortiz, “Recovering from the Political Hangover of the Religious Right” Faith for All of Life, September/October 2006.

23. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2001), 54f.

24. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law: Law and Society (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), 56.

25. Rushoony, God’s Plan for Victory (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1997), 9.

26. Ibid., 13.

27. Ibid., 39.

28. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, 1204.

29. Ibid., 1212.

30. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, 822f.

31. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come, 229.

32. Rushdoony, Law and Society, 11.

33. Ibid., 61.

34. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come, 19.

35. Rushoony, God’s Plan for Victory, 24.

36. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come, 19.

  • Christopher J. Ortiz

Christopher J. Ortiz is a freelance writer and independent communications specialist servicing churches, ministries, and publishers.

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