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The Family

By R. J. Rushdoony
March 02, 2012

The modern age has created a new view of law. Law is seen as confronting two realms; the one realm, the public sphere, belongs to the state and its law and jurisdiction. The other sphere is the private realm, which is outside the law of the state. The distinction is a modern fiction, created by the statists. Moreover, the right to define the extent of the public realm is reserved to the state. Naturally, the state has steadily increased its claims to the detriment of the private sphere, which has grown steadily smaller.

Furthermore the state feels free to redefine what is public, and what is private. Abortion was until recently in the public sphere, and legislated; now, it is more or less transferred to the private sphere, and a matter of opinion and private choice, not legislation. Homosexuality has been largely transferred from the public sphere, and legislative control, to the private sphere, and free choice. Attempts are under way to make a similar transfer from public to private with prostitution, incest, and bestiality.

At the same time, other areas are being moved from the private to the public sphere: the family, especially children; the church and Christian School; medical practice, and much, much more. At the heart of the evil of this current definition of law is the arrogant claim of the state to be the sole source of public law, and the only definer thereof. This claim is as old as paganism, and yet it is fairly new in Christendom and is a product of the humanism of the modern age. Christian civilization has recognized several realms of public law, and the most notable of these has been family law. Other spheres of public law have included church law, (Christian) school law (as in the medieval university and since), merchant law, and more. The state held one sphere of public law among several, and it had no legitimate claim over other spheres.

The triumph of Christianity was also the triumph over the ancient pagan equation of the state with all public law. It was the fundamental principle of the pagan state that it was the sole public sphere, and its right to govern all of life, including the private, was full and free. Plato's Republic presupposes the right of the state to govern everything; this claim was not new to Plato; it was only his form of it that was different.

The early church resisted this claim at every turn. It rejected the claim of Caesar over the church, family, school, and more. The rapid change of Europe after the fall of Rome was due more to faith than to collapse. Europe moved from the centralization and the totalitarianism of Rome to a decentralized society. Flandrin has observed, "Christianity seems to have brought about the disappearance of the powers of the State over the child, and thereby increased the responsibilities of the parents as regards their maintenance and their education. These responsibilities were, at the same time, shared between the father and the mother" Jean-Louis Flandrin: Families in Former Times, Kinship, Household and Sexuality in Early Modern France, p. 176. Cambridge University Press, New York, 1979.) Step by step, society was altered to conform to the Biblical pattern, to become the Kingdom of God. This conformity was never more than dimly or at best moderately approximated at any point, but the benefits are with us still. In particular, the family became the central public sphere.

In Scripture, the family is the basic institution of society, to whom all the most basic powers are given, save one: the death penalty. (Hence, the death penalty could not be executed on Cain.) The family is man's basic government, his best school, and his best church. The decay of the family is the decay of civilization.

To review briefly the basic powers which Scripture gives to the family, the first is the control of children. The control of children is the control of the future. This power belongs neither to church nor state, nor to the school, but only to the family. This power is in the modern era, from the early 1800s, increasingly claimed by the state and its schools. Flandrin cited the disappearance of all statist powers over the child with the triumph of Christianity; today, with the retreat of Christianity into pietism, we see the increasing power of the state over both the child and the parents. Nothing will affect the disappearance of that power except a revival of Biblical faith.

Second, power over property is given in Scripture to the family. Modern man is used to thinking of two kinds of property control, private ownership and state ownership. The Bible affirms that "The earth is the LORD'S," and God gives control of property into the hands of the family, not the state, nor the individual. We have survivals of this form of property control in various community property laws, which mean family property. Community here has the older sense of family. Here too, however, the state claims vast powers: to tax, confiscate, control, and in various other ways to play god over property. Community property laws are all too often simply a relic: the man sees the property as his, but as legally his wife's only because of a legal necessity, not because his thinking is familistic.

Third, inheritance in Scripture is exclusively a family power, governed by God's law. The eldest son gains a double portion, unless he is godless and or incompetent. The godly seed are blessed by an inheritance, and God's Kingdom flourishes as a result. Now, however, the state claims prior right to the estate as the true elder son, offers to care for the surviving parent by means of welfare (which is usually needed, when the state claims its share), and makes itself the real executor of the estate. it supplants God's laws of inheritance with its own.

Fourth, welfare is the responsibility of the family, beginning with the care of its own. Paul says plainly, "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (I Tim. 5:8). The family's duties towards fellow believers, strangers, widows, orphans, etc., are all strongly stressed in God's law. However much neglected by the modern church, they are basic to Scripture. Paul declares, of all who do not care for their own, that such have "denied the faith." Again, the state has moved into the area of welfare, not because of any godly or humanitarianism concern for people, but to gain power over man and society.

Fifth, education, a basic power, is given by God to the family as its power and responsibility. The modern state claims the right to control and provide education, and it challenges the powers of the family in this area also. Education in the modern age is statist predominantly. Statist education in the U.S. has led to the highest illiteracy rate in its history.

Today, the attack on the family is being stepped up. Humanistic statism sees control of the child and the family as basic to its drive towards totalitarianism. Every revolutionary movement sees control over the family and the child as central to its goal. This goal was set forth by Fidel Castro as the creation of a new man, a fundamentally humanistic, altruistic man, a perfectible man. The family must give way to the Family of Man. In a speech on July 26, 1960, Castro said: "In a Communist society, man will have succeeded in achieving just as much understanding, closeness, and brotherhood as he has on occasion achieved within the narrow circle of his own family. To live in a Communist society is to live without selfishness, to live among the people and with the people, as if every one of our fellow citizens were really our dearest brother." (Cited in Marvin Leiner: Children Are the Revolution, Day Care in Cuba, p. 16. New York, Viking Press, 1974.) As kiner noted, "The Cuban early-childhood education program, therefore, is only the first step on the road to educating the entire population" (p. 6).

Various groups in the U.S. and Europe have been producing manifesto after manifesto, setting forth "Children's Rights," "Youth Rights," "A Child's Bill of Rights," and like pretentious documents. These are presented as the last word in liberalism and radicalism. They are, in fact, reactionary, going back to the worst in paganism and in decaying cultures and civilizations. These set forth the supposed right of the child or children to sexual freedom, which often means the "right" to be exploited by others; the right to political power, i.e., voting, office-holding, etc.; the right to divorce themselves from their parents, and so on.

These plans must be taken seriously. With the International Year of the Child, every state save one is issuing pronouncements which strike at the heart of the Biblical doctrine of the family. The one exception is Alabama, where a superior governor, who believes that Christian faith means profession with action, has turned to Christians for the state's guidelines with respect to the child. What these revolutionary plans on the part of the enemies of the family call for is really the end of Biblical laws governing the family, the abolition of the family, and a "new man" created by humanism and in terms of humanism's goals.

The sexual revolution was in large measure a revolt against God's laws concerning sexuality and the family. Its goal was far less love and more obviously hatred, hatred of God and man alike. It called for the depersonalization of sex in order to depersonalize man, i.e., to dehumanize man in the name of humanism. Very early in the sexual freedom movement, one prominent advocate called for the same freedom demanded by the Cynics of ancient Greece, to copulate openly in public like dogs.

When the state claims totally the public realm and denies any of it to the family and the church, it destroys man in the process. By obliterating all other claims, it reduces man to a creature of the state, under the public law of the state. Man becomes then public man, even in his copulation!

But man is created in God's image (Gen. 1:26-28), and neither man nor the state can alter that fact. Efforts to do so destroy those who attempt it. History is littered with civilizations which undermined the family. The family is God's ordained life for man, and it endures.

(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 35; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 8, December, 1979)


Topics: Biblical Law, Church History, Culture , Dominion, Family & Marriage, Statism

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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