Much of Scripture is given to us in types and metaphors. These images teach because they are of powerful, often violent scenes which our cartoonish Sunday school images often avoid. The Exodus, Noah’s flood, and Jonah’s deliverance all teach us of God’s salvation, but they involve horrific scenes.
The use of lordship, kingdom, and law also once carried very negative connotations, for the experience of the ancient world with these things was almost universally a negative one. Law was arbitrary and served the interests of the few. Political order was to serve the king; individuals mattered little. When God by grace rescued the Hebrews from Egyptian despotism, one of His first provisions for their future blessing was the giving of the law. It constituted a grace in itself, the gift of a law that represented not the arbitrary and abusive will of a political-religious oligarchy, but the justice system of a merciful God.
Biblical revelation often replaces negative connotations with superlative ones. God restores by making all things new. He offers us a Kingdom, “not of this world,” with Himself as King and commands us to pray that this Kingdom come in its fullness.
Having this command to recognize His Kingdom, we must address the issue of the law of the king. A king without authority is a figurehead. No kingdom is without law. Chalcedon has frequently used the term theocracy and theonomy. These terms describe more theology than political philosophy. Theocracy means, literally, “the rule of God.” It recognizes that God reigns through Jesus Christ, to Whom “all power” was given “in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). Theonomy, on the other hand, means “God’s law,” as authoritative in His Kingdom. The alternative to theonomy as God’s law is either a denial of theocracy and the “rule of God” or to propose that Christ’s Kingship is as a figurehead or at best a spiritual one. The first position renders the image of the King misleading, as there were no such monarchs in the ancient world; the later renders it weak because it means the King and His Kingdom are limited in jurisdiction.
If we accept that Christ is now King (theocracy) and that His law is authoritative (theonomy), then we will view it as man’s rules of Kingdom citizenship. When we travel abroad, we assume each nation has laws for its jurisdiction which bind citizen and foreigner alike. They also bind the law-abiding citizen as well as the rebel. They are, in fact, most obviously needed to control “the lawless and disobedient” (1 Tim. 1:9). There can be only one law in a kingdom, and this is particularly true in the Kingdom of God because all God’s laws are, by virtue of their source, moral laws.
We must also ask ourselves where God’s Kingdom is located. The pietistic tradition of subjective dispensational eschatologies suggests that it is in suspense until the return of Christ and that the “church age” has no part in the Kingdom. A popular trend in some circles is to limit the Kingdom of God to the church, the secular world actually referred to as a separate kingdom.
Church versus Family?
Amongst those who hold to the present rule of Christ (theocracy) and the law of God (theonomy) as the authoritative codification of the Kingdom law, there has been a difference of opinion as to the relative relationship of administrative duties. The question has centered on whether the family or the local church is the primary human sphere of and authority over Kingdom activities. Neither position denies the legitimacy of the other sphere, but how one answers this question dictates the emphasis and means whereby Kingdom work is pursued.
Though Chalcedon has historically come down on the side of the family on this question, it has never intended to weaken the church, but to strengthen the emasculated family.
The weakness of the church in our day is, aside from the general decline in faith in the West, largely due to its own retreat from the world into that of mere spiritual solace. Those modern churches that encourage dominion actively find their impact is pronounced.
The faithful church, moreover, has demonstrated that it can survive persecution. Often, in such troubled times, its message has been heard as most earnest and needed. The strength of the church is the Word of God itself.
The family is different. Its strength, even when faithful, necessitates both authority and capital. The Hebrew commonwealth was tribal, that is, family based. This is to say the basic government of the Hebrew society was the family. The great imbalance today lies not between church and family, but between family and state.
The modern family is now equated with the nuclear family rather than the patriarchal, tribal family that represented generations of wealth and wisdom. In the economic sphere we can see the modern family as emasculated. Each generation is decapitalized by inflation, debt, taxation, and inheritance laws alone. This is a revolutionary blow that is repeated with each generation. In a Biblical social order, family wealth would be accumulated and passed on, while today we expect each generation to capitalize itself. Recent Asian immigrants have followed older family-friendly strategies by living in crowded conditions while accumulating capital with which to purchase businesses and homes debt-free. Their emphasis on the family has caused them to go to great sacrificial lengths to create their own power-center. The increase in the power of the family we wish to see, likewise, would be in its authority and self-government, which is encouraged by economic power. If this replaces any other sphere of authority, such power would rob the state, not the church.
For the institutional church to add to the pressure on the already weakened family by attacking the necessity of stronger families involves a blow to an already weakened unit. Let the statists be on guard. Stronger Christian families will make for stronger churches. What pastor does not want to see that homeschooled family of six, eight, or ten visit for the first time?
The Larger Issue
The larger issue is not the relative roles of the church and family but theocracy, the rule of God itself. Thus, the more fundamental debate is that of theonomy versus antinomianism, that is, whether the law of God applies or not.
If there is no applicable law, there can be no theonomy as there is then no rule of God for men to follow. This creates problems. If obedience to God is subjective, there can be no objective disobedience, a very convenient result for sinful man. Moreover, no subjective obedience can be enjoined on another. The result of antinomianism has always fluctuated between lawlessness and arbitrary rule-making.
In our day there is a great expanse of open ground in need of Kingdom pioneers. If we acknowledge the law of God, then the question ought not to be what the godly church or family takes from the other, but what both can take back for the Kingdom. Ideally the church should be encouraging stronger families and families should be building up their local church. The government of the Kingdom is upon Christ’s shoulders, not any of its administrative departments.
Who’s in Charge?
The supremacy of God is the key to a distinctly Christian view of authority and this is what references to the Kingdom of God, the law of God (theonomy), self-consciously do. Because of a misunderstanding of the relation of the law and grace, many refer only to the Word of God. If Jesus is God and the Lord in Whom we profess faith (Phil. 2:9-11), then His Great Commission to teach men “to observe all things whatsoever” He commanded involves teaching all that Word including the law.
Antinomianism is also anti-Trinitarian because it assumes that what Jesus commanded was different than what the triune God declared in Scripture. Trinitarian thought demands that the Word of God is the Word of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It demands that Jesus would not command, nor the Holy Spirit lead us contrary to that revealed, authoritative Word.
Theocracy should be the norm in our thinking, not as an ideal future, but as the present context for all of life. Sin and rebellion should be viewed as aberrations that will not last. We need to think in terms of the absurdity of sin and unbelief.
The “rule of God” means the sovereignty of God and this precludes that of the state, church, or family. The sovereignty of God requires the authority of His law-word as the standard for all spheres and all men. If we do not call the world to God and His law, then we call the world to God and imply that they can defy His law.
A man who refuses to believe in gravity has a problem. He must not be pandered to; he should be warned of the certain laws of physics and the consequences of ignoring them. Likewise, a society (or church) that refuses to believe in God’s moral law must also be warned of the consequences of its violation. Such a message is not substituting law for salvation; it is giving unbelieving man the whole gospel of the Great Commission, one which is not only of redemption but restoration and fellowship through obedience. We must preach both faith and faithfulness.
As the second person of the triune God, Jesus spoke of the entire Word when He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15; see also v. 21; 15:10) and “whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).
Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony is president of Chalcedon and Ross House Books. He is also editor-in-chief of Faith for All of Life and Chalcedon’s other publications.