Systematic Theology – Authority
Man’s Relationship to Authority
R. J. R. Rushdoony
[My comments are in bold, in brackets.]
The triune God is the source of all authority. But on the human scene authority can be exercised by man under God. God has not restricted authority and its boundaries to eternity, so that we must say that even more than the fact that authority can be exercised under God, it must be exercised under God. There are spheres of legitimate authority under God. Our work, our family, the church, state, a variety of things wherein we have, in varying degrees, authority.
Now to undermine Godly authority in all these and other spheres is to further anarchy and as a means of rebelling against God himself. But on the other hand if we overstress authority on the human scene, and arrogate to man or to institutions power that properly belongs to God, that too is a very great evil. As men do this, as men arrogate undue authority unto themselves they become demonic, they claim in effect to be their own Gods.
[There were times when the patriarchal head of a family claimed to be a god. There were times when a church hierarchy claims to be a god.
Right now, the State claims to be a god – “The Source of the Law” – but without the supernatural claims, as the supernatural realm is held to not exist.]
After all the scriptures that the devil is a believer in his own authority, encounter this in Matthew 4:9 and in Revelation 13:2 for example. Now authority on the human scene is very closely tied to status or position, but it cannot be equated with status or position. Let me illustrate. Parenthood is a natural fact, any idiot can be a parent, and a good many are. But the authority of parents is not derived from this natural fact but from God’s command.
[Genetics does not give parents lawful authority over children. God’s command does.]
Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord Thy God giveth thee. This is in the Ten Commandments, it is a law from God and it promises long life as a gift from God for obedience to this commandment. The commandment is to adults to honor, not to Children who as in Ephesians 6:1 are told to obey. This law has no true analogue in the world of nature.
[Even in the Bible, it is only children who are expected to obey, not adults.
The Secular State, obviously, has a far more expansive view of Required Obedience than God requires of children.]
Now this brings us to a critical point. One of the problems of our time is that parents are trying to command children naturally, not religiously. Mothers will take time to speak about the trauma of birth “all that I’ve done for you, how I’ve suffered, and what I went through, and you reward me with this.” And what does the child think? “So what? I didn’t ask to be born.” And fathers will go on at great length about how much money they’ve invested in their children, as though that gave them authority. It doesn’t register; the natural fact does not carry any conviction. It has inherent in it no authority unless we look at the religious fact.
[The natural fact that parents sire/gave birth to children does not automatically lead to obedience.
(Looks at the Southwest Airlines strikes, and that of Europe.)
There will come a day when the mere fact that certain men have badges and guns, will not be enough to compel obedience. And if a substantial portion – even as small as 3.5% of the population, in some cases – decide to ignore a law, that law ceases to have authority.
Keep an eye on the concept of delegitimization.]
And so if the religious commandment, God’s word, is left out there is a radical erosion of parental authority. It does not rest on the status of being a parent in the natural order; it rests only on God’s commandment. As a result we have to recognize that authority is a religious fact. Unless it is grounded Biblically it very soon disappears.
[Rushdoony is using a broad definition of ‘soon’ here. Still, he is a long-term postmillennialist, so I accept his basic point.]
This is what we’re seeing in our contemporary world. The authority of parents is disappearing because they were grounding it on the fact that they were capable of begetting a child. But the natural fact doesn’t suffice.
[IIRC, Rushdoony was speaking in the late 60’s-70s here. By that time, men had made the Welfare State their true heir, the one will take care of them in their old age.]
Or civil authorities will insist “we are the law.” But that has no meaning in a world that does not see law as coming from God, and the modern state has undercut that. As a result the modern state has created lawlessness, it has undermined its own authority. We see this in the church, as churchmen put more and more emphasis on position, on status and less and less on the word of God. And they feel they have to emphasis their authority by pomp and circumstance, by parading themselves as it were, and putting on the appurtenances of office, as though this constituted authority. It is ironic that in low church protestant denominations which historically were very hostile to Catholicism, where the church has forsaken its historic, protestant doctrine of Biblical authority they become a very poor imitation of Catholics. They put on robes and where crosses and genuflect as though the forms were going to give authority when they’ve destroyed the foundation of authority. Position and status in other words do not in of themselves in the natural order give authority. It is a religious fact, it is a supernatural fact and unless it is so grounded it disappears. Our understanding of authority depends on our awareness and acceptance of the religious foundations, not only of authority but of all life.
[The religious foundations of the West has been properly broken up, and grounded to dust. ‘Soon’, the other forms of public and private authority will give way: I suggest, about 10 minutes after the welfare checks and the government pork runs out.
The Empire cannot be saved: but perhaps, your town or county can be. Having local officials who are seen to be lawful, legitimate officers in God’s social order is going to help a lot in preserving the Rule of Law in your area.]
This is why the story of the centurion, our text, is so important. The Centurion saw this clearly and our Lord said unto him “verily I saw unto you I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.” The centurion had a very sick servant whom he loved dearly, so when he heard of Jesus he sent the elders of Israel beseeching Jesus to heal him, which they did saying that “this man loves our nation, he has built us the synagogue here in Capernaum, not a small synagogue, a considerable thing.” And they said he was worthy for whom he should do this. Now a centurion, until Rome began to decline, was usually a man of the nobility, an aristocrat of some sort. He was often a man of considerable wealth, in fact all the legionnaires originally were important people, it was privilege to be a member of a Roman legion, and to be an officer thereof indicated a man of great importance, and often of very great wealth as was the case with this man. But this man who said “I also (the man under authority) having under me soldiers and I saw unto one “go” and he goeth and to another “come” and he cometh and to my servant “do this” and he doeth it.” Made clear that he recognized the nature of authority; it was only his name that carried weight. Because as a centurion he did not have to go to every man personally, he sent the word and said “this is what the Legionnaires’ centurion ordered.” And it was done. And he recognized that Jesus was at the very least a great prophet, he spoke of Him as Lord, and he recognized that here was supernatural power and authority, his person, his physical presence was therefore not necessary, and he made it clear that he did not feel that he was deserving of the attention of a physical trip to his house. Therefore our Lord spoke of him as He did, a man of faith; and because he was a man of faith he understood authority.
Thus he recognized the supernatural nature of authority, that it was not merely a material fact. No more than the authority of a parent over his child is simply a material fact, a product of begetting. It is a supernatural fact, and here in Christ there was the essence of supernatural authority and therefore speak the word only and my servant shall be healed.
[The authority of class and wealth bent the knee to supernatural authority. And wisely so: all the centurion’s swords and money and political connections could not buy the healing of his beloved servant.]
Let us look now at authority in the church. One of the sad facts is that the church very often over governs and in many quarters today where the anarchy in the church has become apparent, and the lawless, some have developed a gospel of excommunication. Now what our Lord declares Matthew 28:19 when he sets forth the great commission is the duty to teach or to disciple all nations. Discipline comes from disciple; it does not mean punishment nor excommunication, but discipling. That’s the meaning of discipline it means leading someone into the life of faith, it requires a reliance on the Holy Spirit, not coercion.
[The love of excommunication is hardly seen today. I suspect that it was a last gasp of a handful of conservative clerics, now ready and able to fight a war that was lost a century before Rushdoony was speaking. See Crossed Fingers for details.]
Before continuing with this important subject of coercion, excommunication, its relationship to authority let us look briefly at the nature of theocracy. A great many people assume that a theocracy is the rule of man, but it is not. In the Bible there is virtually no state, it is minimal. Government is under God and through His law, and divided into many spheres. In the book of Judges the civil government is minimal and the ups and downs in the book of judges is in terms of apostasy. When men depart from the faith they cannot govern themselves nor can they govern anything. In those days, the author of Judges tells us, there was no king in Israel, God was not the king, and every many did that which was right in his own eyes, there was no authority. When there was authority there was recovery. Where faiths wanes, theocracy wanes. The essential government is the self government of the Christian man.
Now it is a fact that the United States was best governed when it was governed least. Not because less government was the essential ingredient, but because there was then Christian self-government, and when self government waned then the state had to take up the slack and we have the controls that prevail now. So that to remove those controls we have to re-establish government at the seat of government in the lives of men, to take it back from the state. Men have yielded it to the state, they have surrendered it to the state. Now it’s going to take a little fighting to get it back. Statism always follows the decline of self-government.
[We Christian Americans placed chains around their necks, and gave the leash to Our Betters, in return for safety and stability.
The first priority is for us Christians to again take responsibility for our own lives, to again learn the laws of self-government. When enough of us have done so, and progressed a good way in governing ourselves well and teaching others the ways of responsible liberty under God, we will find more and more cracks in the feet of the Power Structure.
And a mysterious number of crowbars, close at hand.]