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The Question of Authority

By R. J. Rushdoony
August 21, 2021

Chalcedon Position Paper No. 10, March 1980

A major challenge confronts American churches and Christians with the January 1980 proposal by President Carter that a military draft registration be instituted, perhaps for both men and women, a question he left open. Our first duty is to protest such a registration, if framed into law, and then, if instituted, to give serious consideration to resistance.

However, it is important, before reacting to any measure, to know what Scripture teaches. First of all, war in the Bible was to be waged only if in defense of justice and to effect godly order. In terms of this, such warfare was called the wars of the Lord (Num. 21:14) and required religious preparation and dedication (Josh. 3:5). Second, the soldiers drafted were no younger than twenty (Num. 1:2–3, 18, 20, 45; 26:2), and it was a selective calling of all such, in some cases, a very limited one (Num. 31:4). Third, exemption was for the newly married (Deut. 24:5), the Levites, or clergy, teachers (Num. 1:48–49), and for those who had newly built a house, or planted a field (Deut. 24:5), the principle being that production and continuity take priority over defense. Fourth, total war was forbidden (Deut. 20:19–20). Fifth, defensive warfare was alone legitimate, and, hence, the number of horses (used in military offensives) was severely restricted (Deut. 17:16). More could be added, but, for our purposes, the relevant laws are these. They restrict warfare to a defensive purpose, and the family has priority. The basic defense of a country is the protection of the family.

This fact was echoed in the U.S. Constitution, article 1, section 8, which limits the calling of the militia (the older term for a drafted army) to three purposes only: (1) to execute the laws of the union, (2) to suppress insurrection, and (3) to repel invasion. As John W. Burgess pointed out, fifty years ago, foreign wars were not included, and Wilson’s draft in World War I violated the Constitution (John W. Burgess, Recent Changes in American Constitutional Theory, pp. 59ff.). Since then, interventionism has been the U.S. policy, intervention in foreign affairs, and intervention in domestic affairs (into the life of the family, the church, economics, etc.). World War I, supposedly a war to make the world safe for democracy, and a war to end all wars, led instead to the bloodiest and most murderous of centuries. Each instance of interventionism since has left the world even worse off. The state is not an instrument of salvation.

The family is God’s basic institution. It was established in Eden, and it is prior to both church and state. It is under neither of them but is a separate government which is directly under God.

Moreover, God’s basic plan of government in church and state is based on the family, and the head of the household, the man. This is the system of elders (also called captains, bishops, presbyters), first as rulers of the family, then as the rulers in all of society (Deut. 1:13–15). Thus, instead of church or state ruling the family, the family-based leadership is to rule church and state (as well as the school).

But the modern humanistic statism is both anti-God and anti-family. The family is a very powerful institution, with a capacity for survival and revival which has outlasted empires. Nations which work to destroy the family succeed thereby in destroying themselves. The state then perishes, and the family revives.

The state prefers atomism, and encourages social atomism, because an atomistic society may be a more violent and rebellious one, but it is a less successfully resistant one by far. The freedom of the family is thus anathema to the modern state.

However, long before the modern state began its attacks on the family, men had begun a rebellion against the family and the responsibilities thereof. The double standard was a product of this revolt. Scripture makes it very clear that, the greater the responsibility, the greater the culpability. The sins of a man are thus more fearful in God’s sight than the sins of a woman, because God has given primary authority to the man. Thus, God declares to the men of Israel, “I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall” (Hosea 4:14). Moreover, our Lord says plainly, “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, first, God requires more of any and all who hold positions of privilege and power. Status increases accountability; it does not give exemption from it. God being the source of all power and authority (Rom. 13:1), all such positions require a greater faithfulness to His law, a closer and more conscientious life and morality, and a greater culpability. The sins of a pastor or president are more culpable before God than the sins of a doorman. Second, the sins of a man are more culpable before God than the sins of his wife or daughters. His headship is not ordained for irresponsibility but for responsibility. Third, not only God, but all men live by this rule, for “to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). This is an obvious fact in the political sphere: politicians are rightly judged more severely by the populace than are ordinary citizens.

But men have long been in revolt against the responsibilities and authority of manhood. They have left the training of children, matters of religion, and the government of the family to their wives. By means of the double standard, they for long exempted themselves from the sexual morality they required of their wives. Sexual faithfulness was seen by all such as a necessity for women, not for men. This was the creed of the men’s liberation movement.

Not surprisingly, in time, women began to make the same demands, as set forth in the women’s liberation movement. All the immaturity, irresponsibility, and freedom to sin long exercised by the modern male was now exercised or demanded by the women. Women’s lib was men’s lib coming home to roost! Before we condemn women’s lib, let us remember that God, faced with a like movement in Israel, condemned rather the irresponsible men, and declared judgment on the whole culture (Hosea 4:14).

Of course, this movement has not stopped with the women. What men practice, their families will readily learn. Women’s lib is being logically followed by children’s lib. The culmination of such a course is the tyranny of children. Isaiah 3:12 declares, “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.” As Pastor Gene Breed of Georgia has pointed out, we have a fulfillment of this prophecy in the present occupant of the White House, and, we can add, in all too many other childish leaders of the nation.

What we fear and love most are often closely related. Thus, today many men fear an economic collapse more than anything else; all too often, at the root of such a fear is a love of money, which money an economic collapse would endanger. It is thus important for us to ask what it is that the United States loves and fears on the world scene, and what it desires to protect. Certainly, it is not Christianity which the United States loves and seeks to protect! The United States has in recent years done more for Red China and the Soviet Union than for Christianity. When Carter speaks of “human rights,” he means humanistic rights; the persecuted Christians of Red China and the Soviet Empire mean as little to him as do the persecuted Christian schools and churches of the United States of America. He has been indifferent to the jailing in recent years of men like the Reverend Levi Whisner and the Reverend Lester Roloff. The Afghans, in their treatment of themselves and others, have not been any better than the Soviet Union. Whatever the sins of the shah, Iran still had a better life under him than at any other time in recent centuries. If it is oil we want, why are we selling Alaskan oil abroad? However we add up the foreign policy scene, we cannot see anything but ugly humanistic policies which are designed to further humanistic statism and its power politics.

Moreover, every modern state has demonstrated that its enmity with foreign powers is a transitory and changing thing. Yesterday’s and tomorrow’s enemies are today’s friends, and future friends as well. Each and every modern state has one abiding enemy against whom perpetual warfare is waged, under the façade of concern and “welfare.” That abiding enemy of the modern state is its own people, against whom perpetual war is waged in the name of perpetual concern. The foreign enemy is often real, but it is the domestic enemy which is constant.

This should not surprise us. The humanistic state is at war with God. For God’s law, it substitutes the state’s fiat law. Because the humanistic state is at war with God, it will be at war with every faithful Christian. Even more, it will be at war with man as such, because man is God’s image-bearer. Therefore, the state seeks to remake man and to obliterate God’s image.

Igor Shafarevich, in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s From Under the Rubble, writes on the goal of socialism as not only the withering away of the state but also “the withering away of all mankind, and its death” (p. 61). It works for the death of the family, the faith, the freedom of man, and all things else, because it seeks a universal destruction, like the Marquis de Sade, who described the death of God, the sun, and of all creation, as the great and most to be desired crime.

God asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Hence, He commands through Paul, “Be not ye unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). In terms of this, God’s law forbids mixed marriages, i.e., marriages with unbelievers (Exod. 34:12–16; Deut. 7:3). It also prohibits alliances with ungodly nations (Exod. 23:31–33; 34:12–16; Deut. 7:1–4). For a Christian to cooperate with a humanistic state in its humanistic goals is to be unequally and sinfully yoked.

Now, Deuteronomy 22:5 forbids a woman from certain assumptions of male life and declares it to be an “abomination unto the Lord” to do so. In The Institutes of Biblical Law (pp. 434ff.), I pointed out that earlier commentators had called attention to the fact that the reference in the Hebrew is not to clothes alone but is general: it refers to things, apparatus, implements, and weapons. Thus, Deuteronomy 22:5 clearly is against the drafting of women and the registration of women for such a military draft. Such a draft has, as its practical consequence, the destruction of God’s order, and of the family.

Not surprisingly, within hours of President Carter’s address, many Christians were resolving to resist such a registration on Biblical grounds. Quite rightly, they saw it as an evil; it involved, first, a plain violation of Deuteronomy 22:5. Second, it involved an ungodly yoking of Christians to a humanistic state and its law. Nothing could have been clearer to President Carter than that such a measure would be offensive to countless Christians, but he gave priority to non-Christian considerations and left the matter an open question. Third, such a registration and draft require submission to an ungodly yoking of men and women.

A significant precedent for opposition was established in a Midwestern state by a state trooper in 1979. Ordered to serve in a patrol car with a female trooper, he refused on Biblical grounds, and won. The hearing was a most significant one. It was admitted that the trooper was one of the most able and honest of all men in the force, a man with an excellent record. The opposition to him from his superiors was motivated, not so much by a pro-feminist perspective on their part, but by their hostility to the idea that any officer would place God’s law above their own orders and regulations. Thus, the tacit issue was this: does a man have a requirement to obey his superior officers rather than God, or shall we, must we not rather say with Peter and the other apostles, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)?

This is one of the key issues of our time. We may be spared the necessity for a decision with respect to registration and the draft, but we are not spared from the issue itself. Who has the command word over us, God or the state? Which of the two must we at all times obey?

The church has long had the luxury of a narrow and limited view of separation. It has been limited to separation from modernist churches. Modernism, of course, is humanism, and at issue is our separation from it also in school and state. The “separated church” which is separated from the modernist church down the street, but is not separated from the humanistic state schools, and from humanistic statism, is not separated to the Lord but to compromise, or to Phariseeism.

It is of the world’s humanistic civil order that Revelation 18:4 commands, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” At issue is God’s authority and law.


Topics: American History, Biblical Commentary, Biblical Law, Christian Reconstruction, Church, The, Constitution, The, Culture , Dominion, Economics, Education, Family & Marriage, Government, Humanism, Justice, Socialism, Statism, World History

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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