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Definition of man

The Definition of Man

Until men define themselves in terms of the Lord, His Kingdom, His law, and His justice, our society’s troubles will only increase. Man has no right to define himself. God did that on the day of creation.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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Chalcedon Position Paper No. 58, January 1985

One of the problems of our time is the inadequacy and failure of men to be truly men under God. The popular images of masculinity are caricatures, and the “macho” idea ludicrous and absurd.

Because God created man, only God can define a man. The humanistic definitions are thus perversions which warp all who live by them.

According to the Bible, “man” was created by God in His image, and “male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27). This tells us two things: first, the word “man” here is inclusive of male and female, so that, despite the difference in the time of their creation, male and female are alike comprehended as “man” and as a unity in God’s purpose. Second, although there are differences, both male and female are created in God’s image. The Shorter Catechism (Q. 10) tells us, “God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures” (Gen. 1:27–28; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). The Larger Catechism (Q. 20) tells us also that the providence of God toward man includes responsibility, marriage, communion with Himself, the sabbath, and the covenant of life with its requirement of “perpetual obedience.” Thus, man is defined by God in terms of and in relation to Himself.

For men to seek a self-definition is a sin, and for men to define women in terms of themselves compounds the sin. In Ephesians 5:21–33, we have a much abused text concerning male and female. It is important to note that the command to love is given to the man concerning his wife, not to the wife concerning her husband. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. Even as Christ is the head of the church to protect and care for it, so too must the husband be. His headship is not a “Gentile” fact, one of lording it over his wife. The general command to male and female, to all Christians in their relationships, is in “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” There is for both a hierarchy of authorities, first of all God, and then the community. In their human relationships, they are to be “members one of another” (Eph. 4:25), and, because of this, submit their will to the common good in Christ.

We are called and required to serve God unquestioningly. We cannot, however, serve any man so, for such an obedience would be a form of idolatry. Scripture presents Sarah as the model for wives (1 Pet. 3:6), and certainly Sarah spoke plainly and bluntly to Abraham (Gen. 21:9–10), but God on at least one occasion told Abraham, “in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice” (Gen. 21:12). For a woman to be silent and obedient to evil is a sin; it is morally wrong, and it makes her an accessory to the evil.

Unhappily, we have too many people promoting the idea of an unquestioning and servile obedience by wives to their husbands; this is to promote idolatry in the name of faithfulness. Some wives are guilty of a super-obedience as a part of a false piety; they expect God to bless them and give them miracles if they make doormats of themselves. God created the woman to be man’s helpmeet in the dominion mandate (Gen. 2:18), not to be his slave, doormat, or idolatrous servitor.

Moreover, the calling of man, male and female, is to be responsible and accountable, supremely to God, but also to one another. Our Lord says, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). This means that both male and female, although especially males, have very great responsibilities and an accountability one to another: they are not their own: they belong to Christ (1 Cor. 6:19–20), and, after that, to one another, so that mutual consent is the premise in all things, including sexual abstinence or activity (1 Cor. 7:5).

This premise, that we are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19), is thus applied to all human relations, and especially to marriage. Male and female are accountable one to another in marriage; headship thus on the human level involves “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21). The greater the responsibility, the greater the accountability, and the greater the realm of accountability. The accountability of a senator is great, but not equal to that of the president. The accountability of the husband is greater than that of the wife.

Reality is hierarchical. Modern man, with his radical equalitarianism, is unwilling to see that there are gradations of authority and ability in all the world. One of the first things dropped by every equalitarian revolution, including the Russian Revolution, is the practice of equality. Equalitarian demands are usually the prelude to a new realignment of status and the coming to power of a new elite.

Elitism is the insistence and attempt of self-appointed leaders to assume a total power over society. Elitism is opposed to the idea of hierarchy, because hierarchy means sacred rule, i.e., authority in terms of a God-appointed order. The authority of a father and mother is God-ordained and to be used in terms of God’s law: it is hierarchical. Elitism sets man-made standards and requires others to meet them; it means that man plays god and requires the world to bow down to his word.

Because man is created by God and defined by God, man’s authority is hierarchical. Both male and female have a hierarchical power which is basic to life and necessary to social order.

In all authority, the primacy of God is the foundation. If God’s primary and absolute authority be denied, all authority crumbles. All men then seek to do that which is right in their own eyes. If men will not be ruled by God, they lose the capacity to rule. Men who will not be ruled by God cannot rule themselves nor others. They can at best or worst be tyrants, not authorities.

Moreover, to deny God means ultimately to deny definition and meaning in every realm. The sexual chaos of our time is a logical one, for to deny God is to deny the meaning of all things, including male and female. The effort by men to define themselves apart from God is suicidal, because it substitutes an empty, humanistic perspective for the Biblical one. Because God is the creator of all things in heaven and on earth, only His order is the natural one. To depart from God’s order is sin, a disturbance of the natural order of life.

Furthermore, because, as Paul says, we are members one of another in Christ, for men and women to put down one another is to put down themselves even more; because in marriage male and female become one flesh, a community of life, they cannot take advantage of one another without harming themselves. Life is not ordained by God to be lived in isolation from God and from one another. It is “not good” for man to be alone, God tells us.

But loneliness is much more than being alone. A man can be lonely in a crowd, if his life is out of focus. Loneliness is most deadly when we are out of touch with life, and to be out of touch with God is to be out of touch with life. We cannot see reality as it is unless we see all things as God’s creation and of necessity understandable only in terms of God’s law-word. Without faith in the triune God, our lives and vision are out of focus, and we are not in touch with reality.

Our Lord tells us, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness (or, justice)” (Matt. 6:33). If we seek first our will and our hopes, we warp our lives and our perspectives. Failure to live in terms of reality and an insistence that our will constitutes the real and the true is insanity, and this insanity is endemic to fallen man. It is basic to our world’s problems and evils, and also to our own. Our Lord says plainly that it is God’s rule and justice we must seek first, i.e., above all things else. Only then, He says, will “all these things (which you desire) shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). In other words, our hopes have no place in God’s purposes unless His rule and justice have priority with us.

Males who seek their own will first warp every area of life which they touch. Whereas Christ, their model, “loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25), such men make themselves, not their families, the center of their lives. They thus impose a warp on the lives of their families, and on all who are either associated with them or under them. Precisely because in God’s order the family is the basic and central institution in life, to warp the family at the central point of human authority has repercussions of a radical sort. Society as a whole is then distorted and rendered ungodly.

Our calling requires us to give God the glory and the priority in all things. David tells us that God made man “a little lower than the angels, and . . . crowned him with glory and honour” to have “dominion over the works” of God’s hands; “thou hast put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:5–6). When men deny God the Lord, they deny also their calling. As a result, instead of having dominion, men fall under the dominion of sin. Their moral universe is turned upside down, and their true strength denied.

Julianus Pomerius (ca. a.d. 497), in The Contemplative Life, wrote that “faith . . . is the foundation of justice.” For there to be justice, or righteousness, in the world, there must first be faith, men of faith. Faith, and its consequence, justice, make us aware that we are not our own, that we are part of a God-created order with a responsibility to God and to one another. As Julianus Pomerius added, “From justice equity also flows, which makes us call the necessities of all men our own and makes us believe we were born not for ourselves alone but also for mankind in general.” “Born not for ourselves alone!” Man in his sin sees the whole world as existing for his pleasure, to be used as he wills it. But “man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” For this we were created, for this we were ordained and born. To deny our nature and calling is to destroy our true freedom and to warp our being. As God’s creatures, we are also called to love one another, and to be members one of another.

Our Lord tells us that the meaning of God’s law can be summarized in two commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:37–39). These two sentences tell us what all of God’s law deals with; the law gives us the specific ways in which our love of God and of our neighbor is to be manifested. God’s law, James 1:25 and 2:12 tells us, is “the perfect law of liberty.” An attempt recently to place an animal heart in a human baby was a disaster; the human body rejected the alien heart. When man is given an alien law, any law other than God’s law, an even greater rejection factor is at work. Instead of liberty, the alien law produces death. The more a society departs from God’s law, the closer it is to death.

The macho male and feminist female images warp life and replace liberty with social suicide.

In this development, false theology has played a key role. As Ann Douglas, in The Feminization of American Culture, shows so tellingly, America’s departure from Calvinism led to a feminization of both theology and culture, as well as of the clergy.

Not surprisingly, the liberal clergy was regarded as effeminate, and people spoke of the three sexes, men, women, and preachers. We now see the consequences of that long and unhappy development. One of the common problems across the country is the oppression of the clergy by whining and complaining parishioners. The pastor is expected to serve the whims of sniveling men and whining women, not Christ the Lord. If he fails to do their bidding and play his sanctimonious part, the complaint is that “he is not a spiritual man.” Some peoples redefine man and the church in terms of themselves. (A particularly fine pastor was recently told by a nasty old wretch, “You’re not doing enough for us senior citizens”; the complainer had only one demand of the church, that it serve him, not that he serve the Lord.)

Until men define themselves in terms of the Lord, His Kingdom, His law, and His justice, our society’s troubles will only increase. Man has no right to define himself. God did that on the day of creation.

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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