We at the Parbar are reading through R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law and plan to take his work and deliver it to you either by way of summary, extension, or digging down deeper. This is the first installment of that endeavor.
Donald J Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the next President of the United States. This election has men throwing punches (literally), fire bombing political headquarters, and a host of other anti-social behavior. One of the favorite whipping boys in the media cycle is the “The Religious Right” and “Evangelicals.” Whether it is from secular quarters or friendly fire, they are in the crosshairs.
What one quickly realizes in the current political discussions, including the Church’s participation, is that there is no clear, common confession. There are many lords and many confessions, and each is jockeying to be the almighty. And Christians seek a place at Democracy’s Table with appeals to “the common good,” even if no one agrees on what it means to be human, what the good is, or what human flourishing is. Ironically, it is this point – our attempt to be neutral and COEXIST – that we lose our ability to shape the culture. If culture is, as Van Til says, “religion externalized,” then how are we going to shape the culture by setting aside our religion?
So, amidst all the criticism of a segment of the Church – “Religious Right,” “Evangelicals” – and our political engagement (many of them more than valid), it really boils down to this – we deny that Jesus is Lord!
When Jesus gave the Great Commission he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. GO…” Basically, Jesus says, the world is a theocracy and I’m the King, go and bring everything under my rule. That’s really it. That doesn’t sound right. It sounds like heresy to the average ear, but this is where R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law comes in and provides clarity.
The purpose of the Institutes is to “revers[e] the present trend…the modern heresy that holds that the law of God has no meaning nor any binding force on man today.” To that end, the Introduction of the Institutes is a tour de force.
First, Rushdoony demonstrates the current validity of Biblical Law. He does this by rooting man’s current role as a continuation of God’s call to Adam (the Dominion Mandate) in Genesis 1:28 – “ordered him to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it.” This call of Adam is central to all Biblical Theology, including the work of the Last Adam, Jesus. If you can see the relationship from the call of Adam to Noah to Abraham and Israel on down to Jesus, then you can begin to see the continuity of the Biblical storyline and how the Great Commission is intertwined with the “Dominion Mandate.” Why did God create the world? Well, yes, for His glory, but to the end that man would be “fruitful and multiply,” spreading God’s image/glory over the whole of the earth under the rule of God. The first Adam failed, as did his descendants, but the Last Adam, Jesus, has succeeded, is succeeding and will succeed where the First failed. Once the Law and commission of Adam are reestablished in the Messiah, then Rushdoony moves to discuss the covenantal nature of the Law.
This section is worth the price of the book and needs to be meditated upon by every Christian until the covenantal nature of the world is firmly imprinted into his being, rather, until the image of God is fully restored in Him. Each paragraph could be a book of it’s own, but Rushdoony’s logic is tight and forceful. The first thing he recognizes is that “law in every society is religious,” because “it is a reflection of ultimate concerns in a society” (religion). In light of this, “the source of law is the god of that society.” If law is derived from the “demos,” then the people are god, determining right from wrong, good and evil. This is, partly, the crisis of the current age. We are in a transition from one god to another, but we are not “epistemologically self-conscious” of the new god, at least not the man on streets or pews. This ties into Rushdoony’s third point: “in any society, any change of law is an explicit or implicit change of religion.”
This is where the Religious Right is off. They haven’t grasped that the god of our culture has changed. We cannot “conserve” what is no longer the source of power in our culture, and we definitely cannot do it by enlisting the god of the culture, the State. New gods have been installed and appeals to “dead, white men” is an appeal to a serpent’s head to be bruised. You cannot regulate a people above their Faith.
Fourth, in light of our current change in religion, we need to recognize that “no disestablishment of religion as such is possible in any society.” And fifth Rushdoony points out that “there can be no tolerance in a law-system for another religion.” Biblical Christianity is contrary to modern egalitarianism, so a Christian view of man, male and female, is seeking to be replaced and “disestablished” at every point. The remedy cannot be found in politics per se, but in a return to worship of the True God. It’s fundamentally religious problem, not a legal problem. The legal problem is a fruit of the religious problem.
So, what is Biblical Law? The Law is revelation, treaty, and the means of dominion. Since the Law is revelation from God (Paul says “god-breathed and profitable”), then there is no basis for despising God’s revelation. As revelation it is a treaty or covenant – “a sovereignly dictated order of life.” And, finally, it is the means of dominion – Adam was to exercise dominion under God’s Word, as were the Israelites, and, now, Christians as we seek to teach “all nations” to “observe all things I have commanded you.” So, Jesus has revealed his will, made a covenant with us, and given us the means of dominion.
Finally, Rushdoony points out that Biblical Law comes in broad principals, and then the Scriptures provide case studies, and is for the purpose of “the restitution of God’s order.” The Introduction to the Institutes provides enough meat for man to meditate on his whole life, because he lays out in broad categories why God created the world and the conflict in the world between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. He ends the introduction with this swift kick, “The creation mandate was precisely the requirement that man subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it. There is not one word of Scripture to indicate or imply that this mandate was ever revoked. There is every word of Scripture to declare that this mandate must and shall be fulfilled, and ‘scripture cannot be broken,’ according to Jesus (John 10:35). Those who attempt to break it shall themselves be broken.”
I do think Rushdoony errs at one point, at least, and it’s when he says, “Man’s justification is by the grace of God in Jesus Christ; man’s sanctification is by means of the law of God.” Regarding “sanctification,” I think the proper answer is “yes & no.” Sanctification is by the Spirit and grace in conformity with the law – see Romans 8:4.