Rushdoony: Introduction to the Church

Systematic Theology — Church
Professor: Dr. R.J. Rushdoony
Subject: Systematic Theology
Lesson: Introduction to the Doctrine of the Church

[My comments in bold brackets]

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Our subject for some time to come will be The Doctrine of the Church, and this morning, we shall, in essence, deal with some introductory matters, so that we can call this an Introduction to the Doctrine of the Church. Our scripture will be from Genesis 2:15-17. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

There are two problems in all theological discussions. Two attitudes which color a great deal of theological writing to the detriment of theology. These two perspectives are reductionism and abstractionism. The two are very closely related.

[That is quite true: reducing the church, and the faith, into a meaningless triviality is a commonplace in Christian thought.]

In reductionism, what we see is that the essence of the faith is reduced and narrowed to the point that the faith largely is gone. There are many, many in the church today who insist that the essence of the faith is simply to be born again. Now, we cannot quarrel with any of these people with regard to the necessity of being born again. The problem however, is that they reduce the Gospel, they reduce the whole content of scripture to being born again. I believe I have told some of you of the fact that more than a few churches have seen evangelicals compromise on such issues as homosexuality, abortion, the ordination of women to the ministry, and much, much more. This has been true also, seminaries that purport to believe the Bible from cover to cover. Their self-justification for such a compromise is that one should be concerned with only the heart of the Gospel, and make their stand on being born again. In the process, however, they have destroyed the faith. 

[Reducing the Christian faith to the smallest amount of possible meaning, the least possible impact on the world today… then blowing it off with a puff.

A design Progressives and Atheists could only approve of, with beaming smiles.]

Reductionism is all too common today. Indeed I have heard men who are ostensible leaders in the Reformed faith and in evangelical circles say such things as, “I believe in the infallibility of scripture, but I don’t believe we should discuss it, or argue about it, or teach it too heavily, because it is a potentially divisive doctrine, and others who are insistent that it is a mistake to try to expand the meaning of scripture into the full-orbed faith it once was. For to talk about such things, for example, as biblical law, or to talk too much about the specifics of creationism, six-day creationism, is taking on too many battles when all we need to try to defend and propagate is the simple Gospel. Now, this is reductionism. It is very prevalent today.

Abstractionism is related to this, but in abstractionism, out of the richness and the life of the faith, a few concepts are abstracted as though these represented the faith, and the result is that instead of the full-orbed faith that scripture presents us, we have a minimum faith, a minimum Christianity presented as though it were the faith.

I’m going to cite two examples of reductionism and abstractionism, but first let me say, the origins of this kind of thing are in Greek philosophy, and in the influence of Greek philosophy upon Christendom, because in Greek philosophy, when you looked at reality, the truth was not in reality as such, but in ideas, in universals which you abstracted from reality, and you reduced the richness of reality to these ideas.

[For WAY too long, Christian thinkers have been cringing before the statist pagan Greeks.]

Now, to give you two examples of this kind of thing in the church. One is the five points of Calvinism. The five points of Calvinism, in one sense, represent a triumph of doctrinal thinking in the history of the Reformed faith. It is not that they are wrong. In fact, they are emphatically right. They represent a development of the Reformed faith in a particular area, and a victory of a very real sort, but what has happened? For too many people in the Reformed community, the richness of the Reformed faith has been reduced to the five points, but the five points do not give us the Reformed faith. They give us some victories of the Reformed faith in a particular and limited sphere, but today, you have many five-point Calvinists who have no connection with Reformed faith, because the Reformed faith historically has been the most vital social force the world has ever known, but none of this is apparent in the five points. 

We’ll return to that subsequently, but the five points of Calvinism are a shorthand expressive of one aspect of theological development, but we can never reduce the Reformed faith to the five points, as all too many have done in our society today, with the result that the Reformed faith has been devitalized, has been made a retreating, provincial thing that has no relevance to the world around it. So, without disputing the truth of the five points, we have to say five-point Calvinism is not really true Calvinism.

[Powerless immaterial abstractions may well please theologians.

It does not please God.]

The second example of reductionism and abstractionism is the common definition of the church, which defines the church in terms of the faithful preaching of the word, and the proper administration of the sacraments, and discipline. C. John Miller has added an excellent fourth aspect to these: the fruits of the Spirit.

Now, we cannot quarrel with these four points. They are sound. Again, it represents a good shorthand definition of the church, but again, it is highly defective, highly limited. If we look at scripture, we find it does not give us what scripture speaks of as a very real and living church. You see, a correct church is not necessarily a living church. In our day, we’ve had several groups that have broken away and ostensibly have set up a correct church, but they have not set up a living church.

In the Bible, we have the church at Corinth. There is no way you can say this usual definition of a true church can fit Corinth. Let us consider some of the problems as Paul deals with them in his two epistles, in the church at Corinth. Immorality. In fact, they were proud of it as freedom. Factions. Conflicts. Lawsuits. Associations with ungodliness. Problems concerning the status of women, serious problems. Differences concerning the gifts of the Spirit. Doubts concerning the resurrection of the body. Disorders in communion services, and law. Now, no contemporary theologian who cites these points defining the church would call Corinth a true church, if he were to meet it down the street, but very definitely, Corinth gives us an example of a church, a living church, because for all these sins, very serious sins, the church at Corinth had the ability to grow in grace and in knowledge. It was alive. It was a living church, and it is this quality that is absent in many that pride themselves on their correctness. So you see, the definition does not comprehend the fact of life, the fact of grace and growth. We could say the same of other New Testament churches which were obviously very defective. 

[Living churches are not mystery cults.]

Another factor we need to consider as we go into the doctrine of the church is the very word “church.” Our English word “church” is an unfortunate rendering of the Greek word “ecclesia,” which we have, in ecclesiastical. Our word church, as well as Kirk, comes from the Greek “kuriakon doma,” meaning house of the Lord, referring to a building, and secondarily, the institution, but the biblical word which is rendered into English from the Greek, as church, has a very different meaning as we encounter it in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. Its meaning is “congregation” or “assembly,” but inclusive of many things, including the entire nation, the army of the Lord, the redeemed, and essentially has reference, one could say, to the kingdom of God. It means all those who are called of God. So that the church, in the biblical sense, is the called of God. Not the institution, not the building, but the called of God. This is why the older Reformed divines, for centuries, began every treatise on the church with a citation of Revelation 17:14. “These shall make war with the lamb and the lamb shall overcome them. For he is the Lord of Lord and King of Kings, and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful,” so that the word “church” is defined by the older Reformed divines as the called, the chosen, and the faithful. 

[Good catch, Rushdoony! God is proud of you, at least here..]

As a result, very commonly, the older writers began their study of the church with the calling of Abraham. In Bannerman’s{?}, the scripture doctrine of the church, we have a like beginning. The calling of Abraham is the calling of the church, but one might ask with justice, why not with Adam and Eve? They were called, brought into being, given a calling. Why not with them? Now, it may seem an insignificant point to say “We’ll begin with Abraham rather than with Adam,” but there’s a great deal at stake. For example, the origin of the state is seen by many, especially those in the Lutheran tradition, as beginning after the Fall. So that the state then is a remedy for sin, but if we see God’s purpose for Adam and Eve in the Garden, the establishment of God’s rule, which is God’s kingdom, then the state has not merely a negative function, to be as Luther said, “God’s hangman,” but its function is justice, righteousness, God’s order, which is a very different thing.

[The Kingdom of God long predates the state, as both King and Law was in force before Adam broke the Law. And the Kingdom of God will be here long after the State is so much dust and ashes: after all, the State at its best exists to restrain sin and punish the wicked: and if there is no sin, there is no need for the sword of the State.

There will still be a need for good judges, though, even after sin is no more. Some men will still rise to natural leadership positions, even when all living men are sinless, immortal men. And there will still be a need for some just code of law — that is, God’s Law — even when there are no criminals.

That is why we need the Law of God to be inscribed onto our hearts, forever.]

Similarly, if we start the history of the church after the Fall, again we see it as a remedy for sin, and for all too many theologians, the state is God’s hangman and the church is God’s chaplain at the foot of the gallows, but Adam and Eve had a calling. Now granted, if we begin with Adam and Eve, there was something added to the function of the church after the Fall: salvation. But apart from that, the basic function remains, a positive function rather than a negative one. Instead of being the chaplain at the gallows, it has a calling which is positive. What is that calling? Well, our scripture, as well as Genesis 1:26-28, give us God’s calling to Adam and Eve. They were called into God’s service and given the task of dominion, to exercise dominion and to subdue the earth. They were also given the task of knowledge, the responsibility of knowing, understanding, defining, classifying all of creation, and “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them, and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof, and Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field,” so that Adam had a calling to knowledge. 

There was also a calling to holiness, “Of every tree of the Garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou shalt eat thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Adam and Eve were required to separate themselves from sin, unto God, and to dedicate themselves to holiness, to the service of God. They were called to righteousness, to justice by means of work and obedience. They were put in the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it, and to be faithful to God in their calling.

[Justice and righteousness existed before sin. And justice and righteousness will be blessed long after there is no more violation of the law, not even in the thoughts of the wicked…. as they will be in too much agony in the Lake of Fire to even think an evil thought, for all eternity.

That’s a LOT of never-ending agony, by the way.

Best if you avoid that bitter, blighted, truly damned place.

Best if you claimed Jesus Christ as your Lord and God, Saviour and King NOW.]

Well, when I describe the calling of Adam and Eve, I have described the image of God, knowledge, righteousness, holiness, with dominion. Very definitely, man’s calling is related to the image of God in him, and the work of the church is to bring into clear focus that image of God in man to restore it through salvation, and then to direct it through the preaching of the word. So that the task of the church since the Fall, is to restore fellowship with God through the salvation of man, and then to apply every aspect of God’s image in man, knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion, so that man might indeed fulfill his calling under God.

In other words, the church is an armory. It is an army, a training camp where men are prepared to go forth and to do God’s work, to fulfill their calling from the Lord. All men therefore, are called to exercise the image of God as prophets, to set forth the word of God and apply it to every area of life and thought as priests, dedicating all that they are and all that they do to the Lord, and as kings, to rule over all things in the name of God. 

[Seeing the church as armoury and training camp, building up soldiers for Christ to expand His Kingdom, is not a bad start.

Certainly, it’s better than some kind of navel-gazing centre of ritual and magic!]

Thus, when we begin the history of the church and the doctrine of the church with Adam and Eve, we do justice to the triple office of man in Christ. We do justice to the positive aspects of the church. We then are able, as the Reformed faith was able to, in the 16th and 17th centuries, to have a full-orbed ministry to the totality of life, to have a world and life view which sends us forth to be more than conquerors in Christ’s name.

In other words, if we begin with an abstract and a reduced definition, we end up with an abstracted church from the world, and a reduced calling, and a reduced dimension in the life of the church, which is exactly what ails the supposedly Reformed churches of our time. This is why a great deal of the vitality of the Reformed faith now is not in the ostensibly Reformed communions, but in many of the independent and especially the independent Baptistic churches. Why? Because these churches have ventured forth into at least one area. Christian education. Christian schools. Others have taken a further step into one or another area of their calling in Christ, and they are concerned with applying the fullness of the faith to the totality of this world.

As a result, we see the power of the Reformed faith much more in evidence among these than in many who pride themselves on their correctness in terms of say, the Westminster standards, but do not have the vitality of the faith. Life is lacking in them.

It was our Lord, after all, who declared not only in Revelation 21:5, but in Isaiah, and repeatedly in scriptures, “Behold, I make all things new.” The life of the church is essentially related to that task, making all things new, and a generation that does not see its responsibilities in terms of the image of God, in terms of the making of all things new in Christ, is going to fail to understand what the meaning of the church is. Let us pray. 

[Christ is making all things new… NOW.

His work in redeeming the world is not complete. So, let us who are called by His name follow His example, and expand His Kingdom with the lawful ways, fields, and methods God has assigned to us.]

Our Lord and our God, thou hast called us to be members of thy body, of the church of Jesus Christ. Make us living members, faithful in word, thought, and in deed, given to making all things new in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Bless us to this purpose, we beseech thee. In Jesus name. Amen.

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