Not Church, but Kingdom

Church Law
Rebuke and Excommunication
R. J. Rushdoony

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So we see first of all, authority; failure to exercise it, or contempt for it, is grounds for punishment, and second, doctrine which is false. The third area is the area of morality. Very clearly in the third verse of the 5th chapter, Saint Paul declares: “Honor widows that are widows indeed.” Now it is interesting to look at this verse in a modern translation, because sometimes we cheapen words with the passing of years. Today honor is a very trifling word. It has lost a great deal of its meaning. So that, when a statement is made about honoring someone, we very often fail to realize what it means, we think it is just a kind of general surface respect. Good manners towards someone. But Moffat for example translates this same verse very literally: “Widows in real need must be supported from the fund.” That is a very practical way of honoring people is it not? “Honor Thy Father and thy Mother.” What does it mean? It means that they are in need of help, they are to be supported in any and every way. This is what Saint Paul meant when he said that faithful pastors are worthy of double honor, double support. That is clearly an aspect of the meaning of honor, a very central one.

In 1st Timothy 5, the 4th verse: “If any women have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents, for that is good and acceptable before God.” Now again, as we look at Moffat, we get an insight into a very modern reading of this, which brings out the original meaning in contemporary language: “When a widow has children or grandchildren, they the children or grandchildren, must learn that the first duty of religion is to their own household, that they should make some return to those who have brought them up; in Gods sight this is commendable indeed.” So, children are to be taught their responsibility to their parents and to their grandparents. This is commendable in Gods sight.

Verse 8 in the King James: “If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” Well, this comes out in the English, Moffat renders it: “Whoever does not provide for his own relatives and particularly for his own family, has repudiated the faith; he is worse than an infidel.” In other words, is to be excommunicated.

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So we learn:

Honouring your parents is not only a matter of politeness and ceremony: there is a cash money aspect to it, as well.

Also, you can sing the Larger Westminster Catechism every day – and twice on Sunday – but it you refuse to support your parents, you are still worthy of excommunication and you have still repudiated the faith.

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Now very clearly, what Saint Paul is telling Timothy when he tells him the things that are to be punished in the church, is more than rules and regulations of the church, but rather fundamental matters of morality. Matters of authority. Matters of doctrine. Matters of family life and care for one’s own.

Just as honor means more than verbal respect, so requite in the fourth verse, and provide, means more than merely financial support. It means, in the 4th verse, when the widow has this obligation, that she must provide them with Christian education. One which will teach them their responsibilities to God and to their family, as well as to all men.

Now this seems like a big order to churches today, and they are very much disinterested in doing it. But let us remember that the early church, which was a persecuted church, which was a church regularly robbed, because it was an illegal body in the Roman Empire and Christians were targets for any kind of expropriation. That early church still provided for the widows and orphans who did not have relatives. That church also went through the streets of Rome at night, down to the river Tiber, where unwanted babies were tossed under bridges, and collected those babies and reared them. That was the early church. It cared for its own.

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You’ll have to hunt a bit to find a church that cares for her own… but actually, I’m confident such churches can still be found.

We need more of these kind of churches, though.

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Again, the 10th verse. [I Timothy 5:10] It speaks of lodging strangers. Now this is not an aspect that is relevant to us today, in the immediate sense. What it has reference to is this: as I have cited before, hotels in those days were also houses of prostitution. There was no feeling that there was anything wrong with prostitution, and so when you were provided with a room and a bed and a meal, the girl went with it, it was a package deal. The only question was, if you had other tastes, you could demand a boy instead. 

Now, this was the degeneracy of life in those days. And as a result a Christian traveler could not go to an inn outside of Palestine. In Palestine the inns were of a different character. But if he went to Rome, if he had no friend to stay with, he was really in a difficult position. And this is why when Saint Paul went somewhere, he attended immediately the synagogue, or called on a Jewish family, to establish a relationship so he could have a place. And the first convert he made, he stayed with them. and so there was the responsibility of lodging strangers, of providing for those who because of moral standards could not go to the Roman motel.

We do not have that problem today. But the point of this is still valid. Whenever there are situations and conditions where Christians have special and emergency needs, they should be covered by this requirement of lodgings to strangers, of providing hospitality, of providing emergency relief, of ministering to the relief of the saints.

Thus very clearly, the purpose of the church in scripture is not to build up the church as an institution, but to further the reign of God in the hearts of men, and Gods law order in society. Its purpose is to create a community where believers are members one of another, where they minister to the relief of one another. Where they are mindful that they are called under God to love one another, to defend their common faith, and their common household faith. To pray for one another in need, and to chastise those who offend against the body of Christ. This is rebuke and excommunication according to the word of God. Let us pray. 

Almighty God our heavenly Father we give thanks unto Thee for, the vision of Thy reign which is given to us in Thy word. We thank Thee that Thou hast called us first to be Thy people, and that through the blood of Jesus Christ Thou hast cleansed us from all sin. We thank Thee that in Christ Thou hast made us members one of another, and has given us so great a calling, to subdue the earth and to exercise dominion over it in Thee. Restore us oh Lord to this glorious calling, and grant that again churches flourish and abound, which seek Thy face. Which magnify Thy word. Which are indeed families of grace. Oh Lord our God, prosper us according to Thy word. In Jesus name, amen.

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We suffer from a somewhat differently-flavoured degeneracy at the moment. But we cannot heal the culture before we ourselves can accept the healing, chastisement, and discipline of the Lord Jesus for our own sins and perversions. And, obviously, we are still a fair way from that point.

Never fear: as the Body of Christ, we WILL get to that point.

“Thus very clearly, the purpose of the church in scripture is not to build up the church as an institution, but to further the reign of God in the hearts of men, and Gods law order in society. Its purpose is to create a community where believers are members one of another, where they minister to the relief of one another. Where they are mindful that they are called under God to love one another, to defend their common faith, and their common household faith. To pray for one another in need, and to chastise those who offend against the body of Christ. This is rebuke and excommunication according to the word of God. Let us pray.”

I like Rushdoony’s focus on the Kingdom of God, and not the Church as an institution. Keep your eye on the ball, the goal, the commandment. The Divine Demand for righteousness and justice, to disciple the nations under Christ.

Not on a religious bureaucracy, or a guild of certified experts, in charge of the sacred rituals and the sacred space. The officially-sanctioned, fourth-rate replacement for the Kingdom of God – His Law, His Justice – over all men equally, and over all nations.

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