The modern era has seen the concurrent rise of humanism and statism. The two have, since antiquity, gone hand in hand. If we seek to supplant humanistic thought in our worldview, we must also renounce statism as a method of replacing it in our culture.
Those grown accustomed to a strong state will see the remedy to oppressive statism in some better form of the same. This has, unfortunately, been what the conservative/liberal division has come to mean, that conservative statists are to be preferred to liberal statists because of their somewhat better stand on particular social issues. Meanwhile, our liberties grow fewer and fewer, and the growth of civil government is outpaced only by the debt it imposes on our futures and those of our children.
In an age of statist growth and proposed statist solutions, Christian Reconstruction has a difficult time getting its message of reform understood. People correctly assume we believe in change but incorrectly assume that we seek to do so through control of the state and its legislative powers. Much of this is likely because of our emphasis on the necessity of Biblical law. Many, no doubt, assume that law necessarily implies civil law and that our alternative to humanistic statist law is Biblical statist law. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Solomon writes, “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Ps. 127:1). He speaks of house and home but also of the city, in fact, the entire social order, and its builders. All efforts are in vain unless God is the Creator and Defender of man’s community life.
A statist is like the watchman of Psalm 127:1, who believes human activity and initiative is the key to social order and progress. Any real reform must begin with a foundation in God and His Word. Because man is a sinner, his activity tends toward the expression of and license to his sin nature. Humanism, as the elevation of man above his legitimate role as God’s creature, leads to an exaggerated view of man’s role in society. In humanism it is man’s sin against God that defines his lust for power over other men.
In Scripture, sin represents a servitude (John 8:33–36) that began in Genesis 3, and our redemption is our freedom from that sin and its guilt. As our servitude was moral, so is our freedom in Christ. Our life as new creatures in Christ’s salvation is thus characterized by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and His government of us. Our sanctification is our growth in grace as the self-governed of God. We grow in obedience to God and His Word in an increasing awareness of our moral duty as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Christians have a duty in the civil realm, but they must always be aware that they hold a dual citizenship and that they are called to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). The self-government of the Christian who self-consciously seeks the rule (Kingdom) of God and His justice (righteousness) in his own life is the basic form of Christian government. Such self-government, which is no more than another way of saying obedience to God, is the prerequisite of a godly society.
The alternative to self-government under God is frequently a government by others apart from God. When men reject God and His right to govern them, they leave a void, a need for government without a transcendent source thereof. Government then becomes humanistic because man is the only authority left. Men who abandon God are left with government without God. Humanism makes man supreme. Because civil government is the highest collective voice of men, it tends to assume the transcendent authority its citizens deny God.
Man’s slavery to sin makes him reject the source of his freedom. As he embraces sin, he embraces the lust of the original sin, the desire to act as gods determining good and evil (Gen. 3:5). Those who would presume to be as gods end up being ruled by those who role-play as gods more aggressively. Individually, the growth of sin means personal evil. Socially, the growth of evil means the increasing prominence of evil in all facets of the public arena. In a democratic society devoted to humanistic aspirations, the prominence will be particularly felt through the institution of civil government.
Similarly, as redemption is manifested in the lives of God’s people, His grace will be manifested. This begins, of course, with the individual, but extends outward from each individual as he displays the grace of God and his own self-government in terms of that grace.
Redemption is more than the entrance of man’s soul into the Kingdom of God, for He calls us to be born again as new creatures. Redemption is our entrance into a fullness of life. Christ promised us life “more abundantly” (John 10:10). We are called to serve God and testify to His grace and mercy. Rather than separating spirit and matter dualistically, we see family, school, work, law, civil government, and all things in terms of Him. Rather than rebels, we are now adopted children and heirs, who seek every opportunity to exercise faith and faithfulness. Because we are recalled to service by our redemption, we must look to God for our eternal life and for the conditions of our mortal life; we see all things as under His governance. His grace and law within us becomes our essential governing force.
We often hear correctly that the basic unit of society is the family. Some other social units are church, school, vocation, and civil government. The individual is not properly a social unit but the component of all social units and so his self-government is fundamental to the character of every aspect of social organization.
Beyond the individual, the family is the basis of most government in Scripture. The elders and tribes of Israel were extensions of the families. Four of the Ten Commandments directly protect the family (requiring the honoring of parents and protecting the family from adultery, theft, and covetousness), and two of the commandments (the second and fourth) reference their application to family members. No other institution is so prominently addressed by the law of God.
Other social institutions were given spheres of authority over man, most notably church and civil authorities. Yet many other institutions have become legitimate law spheres over man and hence areas of government. A school has its own authority and area of government over students. Vocations involve a form of government by their chain of command. Many vocations have their own licensing, regulatory, and disciplinary bodies as well as codes of professional ethics. These are certainly forms of government.
In addition, our communities and culture have traditions and rules of etiquette that govern us. Hobbies and recreational activities even have rules of conduct. Sports at every level have governing rules and organizations. Those familiar with backpacking know what the unwritten rule of “leave no trace” means, and treasure hunters have an unofficial rule against leaving open holes, among others. These are all forms of government over us, and many are dependent on the self-government of the individual. During the California Gold Rush groups of miners, in the absence of a state government, would determine the rules for a particular mining area. These eventually became the basis of our modern mining laws.
Self-government is still a bigger part of our social organization than we sometimes realize. In all forms of government we must obey God rather than man, but most of these lesser governments over us are no more than applications of the Golden Rule.
Government that is a self-imposed rule necessitates less imposed rules. Most people will go their entire life without any need for the intervention of a civil law enforcement officer. The purpose of such “magistrates” in Scripture was to be a terror to evildoers (Rom. 13:3), not a regulatory bureaucracy over all of society. This is the basis of the requirement of “probable cause” before an arrest can be made. The police are required to have a “probable cause” that criminal activity has occurred before they intervene in the exercise of liberty by an individual. Civil government becomes oppressive when it interferes with the self-government of its citizens.
Christ Is King
The promise of Isaiah 9:6–7 was that the Messiah would be the Prince of Peace, that government would “be upon his shoulder,” and that “[o]f the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” This was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who Revelation 1:5 says is “the prince of the kings of the earth” (said in the present tense) who has “made us kings and priests unto God and his Father” (v. 6). We are kings because we are given to rule under His royal banner and law. We are priests because we are ministers of His grace. Man in Adam’s rebellion rejected self-government in terms of the Word of God. The “judgment and justice” (Isa. 9:7) with which Christ established His Kingdom was repudiated in favor of man’s desire to determine good and evil. All who refuse the government of Jesus Christ repudiate His justice and judgment in favor of another. It is the inevitable progression of humanism that it moves to establish false justice and judgment in terms of a kingdom of man.
God gave man an impulse toward dominion, though man’s desire for it is now corrupted by and sometimes dominated by sin. The Christian must remember that apart from submission to God’s justice, all man’s attempts at dominion are doomed to failure. This submission by sinful man is only possible by God’s saving grace and sanctifying power. Dominion that is not under God through grace will be man’s evil dominion through sin. Abandoning His justice and judgment represents a repudiation of “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
The false dominion of humanistic man is an evil one characterized by the desire to control others. Godly dominion necessitates the prior submission of man to God and His Christ. This, naturally, cannot be politically achieved. The submission of men to God necessitates, individually, His saving grace, and, collectively, their covenantal submission in obedience in their family, church, work, school, and all other areas.
A false view of government as primarily a civil matter blinds us to our calling as the people of Jesus Christ. We must never presume that a godly social order will be initiated by the political process. The church arose in spite of the escalating power and corruption of the Roman civil government, and it can again grow in a statist age.
What the church cannot do is expect to exercise its responsibility through the agency of civil government. The best we can hope for is that the civil government will restrain evildoers and itself be restrained from interfering with the Christian Reconstruction of our culture, which will happen through the power of God’s Spirit in the self-government of individuals, families, churches, schools, and all areas of life and thought.
Christ is King; let His people govern themselves accordingly.
- 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.