Dr. Gary North once wrote, “The major dividing issue within Christian Reconstruction has been the doctrine of the institutional church.” This is the thesis of his contra-Rushdoony volume Tithing and the Church—an obvious twist on Rushdoony’s Tithing and Dominion. In his book North dedicates streams of ink to revealing an alleged lifetime of evasion of the institutional church by Rushdoony. Added to this is an unusually weak theological argument for the primacy of the institutional church—this book is not a great example of the fine thinking that appears in many of Dr. North’s other volumes.
It’s on page 91 where Dr. North should have waited before assuring his reader that Rushdoony’s aversion to the institutional church is best demonstrated by the absence of any writings by Rushdoony on ecclesiology:
Rushdoony has never written a book on the doctrine of the church, nor do I expect him to …1
He spoke too soon. Dr. North makes this claim in 1994. That very same year Rushdoony published his two-volume Systematic Theology in which he dedicates 114 pages to a section entitled “The Doctrine of the Church.”
Church vs. Family
Dr. North is correct that his doctrine of the institutional church and Rushdoony’s emphasis upon the individual and the family are the central dividing lines of Christian Reconstruction. They are also the primary reason for the misunderstanding surrounding theocracy. An institutional emphasis can more easily be construed as a Biblical justification for advancing the Kingdom through politics, and naturally leads to ecclesiocracy (rule of the church) and statism, while Rushdoony’s doctrine of church and family tends toward theocracy (rule of God) and liberty.
This is made plain when Dr. North cites Matthew 10:34–39 to support his elevation of the institutional church:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
In commenting on this verse, North writes, “Jesus made it plain: the false ideal of the sovereign family is a far greater threat to Christianity than the false ideal of the sovereign state. Jesus never spoke this harshly regarding the state.”2
In actuality, Matthew 10:34–39 is not a disparaging of the family—far from it. The very fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ will potentially make enemies out of those within one’s own household, and that one cannot love father or mother more than Christ, shows that the authority of the gospel supersedes man’s most basic and authoritative sphere: the family. However, much like other Biblical examples where the disciples are asked to put their hands to the plow and leave all things behind, the meaning is soteriological. Therefore, a redeemed family need not be divided. It’s rather the strength of the Kingdom of God.
Christ did not say He came to set a “parishioner against his pastor” or a “citizen against his governor,” but a “man against his father.” Our Lord is speaking hyperbolically by authoritatively challenging man’s ultimate institution: the family. This is also Dr. North’s point. In making it, he is acknowleding that the family represents the greatest “threat” because it carries the most authority. Christ divides man’s most basic institution; but once redeemed, the family becomes the primary instrument for building the glorious Kingdom. And like he said, the state—and the church for that matter—are not even mentioned.
Christian Reconstruction Is a Family Movement
You can often determine the importance of a Biblical subject by considering the penalties and blessings in relation to it. This is especially true in regard to the family:
And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. (Exod. 21:17)
Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Eph. 6:2–3)
The Biblical consequences for either cursing or honoring one’s parents are extreme: death or extended life. There are no such threats or blessings for dishonoring the institutional church or the state. There are such penalties for speaking evil of the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:10), but outside of the Godhead, it is the family that carries the most severe punishment for treason in Scripture. This is the clearest evidence of the centrality of the family as the basic governing body in history. When you consider the contemporary emphasis upon church and state and their mutual exploitation of the family, it should be obvious that we live in treasonous times.
Christian Reconstruction is in essence a family movement. To make it primarily a matter of reform in church and state is to miss the point of the Biblical mandate.3
The answer to the predominance of power in both church and state is theocracy, i.e., the rule of God. When this genuine definition of theocracy is adequately considered, we can easily see how far we are removed from the Biblical form of government. For example, whereas the Scriptures command that the tithe is to the Lord, the average Christian views his portion going to the institutional church. The “rule of the church” dominates the Christian view of life and equally represents the assumed threat by those outside the Christian community. Our problem is exactly as Rushdoony postulated: the “landmarks” have been moved (Deut. 19:14, 27:17; Prov. 23:10–11).
If we examine the landmark of God’s word, we find that we have altered the landmarks greatly. The two centers of human action are now church and state. In effect, the government is now upon their shoulders … God places the basic tax and power in the hands of the family. The sanctuary received a tenth of the tithe, so that the church cannot be a superpower, and the civil government is limited to half a shekel for each male from twenty years of age and above (Exod. 30:11–16).4
The jurisdiction of the family has been compromised. Both church and state have progressively extended their landmarks while compounding their exploitation of the family via the inflationary state—requiring two incomes—and the megachurch absorption of the family’s time. It is interesting to note that a good many of the primary thinkers in Christian Reconstruction departed from Rushdoony’s thesis to seek the Kingdom through politics or exalt the institutional church.
Theocracy and Biblical Law
For a number of years now our often ignored mission statement has read, “Biblical law cannot be imposed; it must be embraced.”5 I say “ignored” because our critics repeatedly accuse us of seeking to impose Biblical law on an unsuspecting society. However, it’s probably insufficient simply to say that Biblical law must be embraced. We are at the heart of the Christian doctrine of the New Covenant when we’re discussing the role of Biblical law in society.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. (Heb. 8:10 emphasis added)
How does one define the New Covenant? For most theologians, it is the redemption of Christ in relation to sin, i.e., a covenant of grace. However, the redeeming of the sinner follows afterward in the text:
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. (Heb. 8:12)
The New Covenant represents more than the restoration of the sinner to salvation—this is to place man in the center. In its fullest sense, the New Covenant is rather a restoration to obedience—i.e., saved men made faithful—with the clear emphasis placed upon the moving of the law from stone to the heart of man. It is for this reason that the New Testament writers downplay “ceremony” and the ceremonial aspects of the law. Without the accompaniment of law and theology, the liturgical emphasis on visual ceremony can divert the focus of the believer to something external. At present, some of the most antinomian and compromised churches utilize the most elaborate liturgies. They nullify the commandments of God by their traditions (Matt. 15:3, 6).
The covenant that God said He would make with the house of Israel is described as the putting of His laws into their minds and writing them in their hearts. He then seals this miraculous work of the Spirit (Ezek. 36:27) by declaring “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” Herein lies the essential structure of Christianity: God-Law-Individual. This is the essence of theocracy, i.e., the rule of God. It is direct, immediate, and unencumbered by ecclesiocracy and statism.
Family as Teacher
In a Biblical theocracy the family is the primary instructor in self-government. We observe this in the well-known commands given to fathers in Deuteronomy to teach their children God’s law:
That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged … And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deut. 6:2, 7)
There is no mention of priests here. The fathers provide this didactic role as they make the law portable by including its discussion during the mundane daily activities of communing in the home, eating, going to bed, waking up, and traveling. The obvious meaning is the comprehensive application of God’s commandments. Such a wide and detailed application of the law through a father is best exemplified in the repeated openings to many chapters in the book of Proverbs:
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother (Prov. 1:8); My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee (2:1); My son, forget not my law (3:1); Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father (4:1); My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings (4:20); My son, attend unto my wisdom (5:1); My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee (7:1).
It is fathers who must bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). In fact, as Proverbs shows, fathers must embody the law as covenantal representatives. This is demonstrated by Solomon’s constant exhorting of his son to hear the law of his father. Although this is no endorsement of hyper-patriarchy, it does reveal the imperative role that fathers play as the source of Biblical instruction to their children. The key is that fathers must prepare their children for self-government in terms of God’s law, not a lifetime of obedience to their parents.
The Knowledge of God
Returning to the inspired discussion of the New Covenant in the book of Hebrews, we see the direct benefit of the inscribing of the law upon the heart and mind is that all would now “know” the Lord:
And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. (Heb. 8:11)
The subject of “knowing God” has suffered much abuse at the hands of Christian movements. For example, the knowledge of God is often misconstrued as an overly spiritual knowing of God through prayer and spiritual exercises. Charismatics tend to lead in this pietistic focus. It’s not uncommon to hear them reference Psalm 103:7, “He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel” (emphasis added).
The Charismatic claims he desires to know the ways of God, yet the Charismatic theology emphasizes spiritual power and demonstrations, i.e., “acts.” The ways of God become something spiritual—hidden under the plain reading of the text—which is often why they need an army of modern-day prophets to interpret and reveal this supernatural way of life. Yet, the writer of Hebrews in his citation of Jeremiah is clearly showing that the knowledge of God is tied directly to the law being written upon the heart.
The Mirror of God’s Law
Knowing the ways of God as Moses did is contingent upon knowing the laws of God that Moses was given. But Israel could not penetrate the cloud that hovered over Sinai. Therefore, she would forever view her relationship with God in terms of thundering, lightning, manna from the sky, and water out of a rock. She would only know His acts and despise the law written by His finger. The parallels to modern Christianity are overwhelming.
In order to know the way God does something, one must first know His law: “I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways” (Ps. 119:15). Therefore, our pietism and spiritual exercises should be dedicated to the contemplation of God’s law (cf. Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2; Ps. 119) as a means to the total application of God’s law-word to every sphere of life. Although the law is written upon our hearts and minds, we are given the written text of God’s law to help us define and personalize that law:
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (James 1:22–24, emphasis added)
We deceive ourselves by our failure to obey God’s law-word. The written law is to serve as a “mirror” in order that we do not forget what we look like. You are sure to have a messy man who never views a mirror. He can only make proper adjustments to his appearance when he daily reviews his reflection. We have the law written within our being, but we must daily review our appearance in the mirror of God’s law-word for the sake of comparison and improvement.
This is the heart of living in a theocracy. It is tremendously personal and begins at childhood. It’s also to be perpetuated through succeeding generations by faithful families. This simple yet powerful system also controls those who do not embrace it, for one can never escape “the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). By their failure to honor and obey God’s written commands, the unbeliever and the unfaithful Christian suffer historically as well as eternally. Their aversion to theocracy is a costly one.
My hope is that this trend can be somewhat reversed by a better definition of theocracy. To the secularist, the threat of theocracy is symbolized by the enthronement of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, school, or public place. This is why they deem the removal of Judge Roy Moore’s monument as a victory for the theocratic resistance movement. However, theocracy is rather the enthronement of God’s law in the heart of the believer as all human mediators, whether in church or state, are removed and the direct rule of God is placed over the self-governing man. Theocracy is not coming. Theocracy is now! In my home, relationships, and work, I do not function in terms of democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, socialism, or communism. In all areas of life I must be governed by the direct rule of God (theos-kratos) through the writing of His law upon my heart and mind.
Though I may live in a non-theocratic society, I am still compelled to respond immediately to the rule of God over my life, family, and vocation. Even the liberty I seek is the liberty to serve God more faithfully. If I do become politically involved, it is only to better preserve that liberty.
Rushdoony fought for theocracy. His writings exhaust the discussion of the centrality of the family and the individual as set over against the institutional church and the state. He traveled thousands of miles to countless courthouses to defend the rights of families to provide their children with an explicitly Christian education. He dedicated his life to the exposition of Biblical law, and he never sought political office. He was a theocrat living in a world dominated by the humanistic state. He was in the world, but was certainly not of it. Let us follow that example and seek evermore the Kingship of Christ.
1. Gary North, Tithing and the Church (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1994), 91.
2. Ibid., 93.
3. R. J. Rushdoony, “Christian Reconstruction as a Movement” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on Reconstruction in Church and State, Vol. XIV, No. 1, Fall 1996, 9.
4. Ibid., 7.
- Christopher J. Ortiz
Christopher J. Ortiz is a freelance writer and independent communications specialist servicing churches, ministries, and publishers.