Rushdoony on the Assembly of God


Systematic Theology – Church
The Assembly or Congregation
R.J. Rushdoony

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Our scripture this morning is from 1 Peter 2:9-10., and our subject is The Assembly or Congregation. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar (or purchased) people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”

The most common word for the Christian community in the Bible, in the New Testament, is ecclesia. It means assembly, congregation, or, as it is most commonly translated, church. It comes from two Greek words, ek, meaning “out of,” and kesia, meaning “a calling.” So it means that one is called out of something into something else, out of the world to Christ.

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Out of the failing world of the First Adam, to the growing world of the Second Adam.

From a merciless world, to a merciful world.

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Now, the word ecclesia is used in politics throughout the world of Antiquity, a very common term. It describes the coming together of citizens to discuss the affairs of the city-state in a legal, empowered assembly. We have such a usage, for example, in Acts 19:39, where the town clerk says to the citizens who had been rioting and carrying on in an unlawful assembly, but if ye inquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. Thus, the word we have in the English as church means an assembly, a gathering together of a legal body which is a governing body. This is very important to realize, because that same word ecclesia is used in the Septuagint, that is, the Greek version of the Old Testament, which was most commonly in use in our Lord’s day, to translate words that mean the people of Israel, the ecclesia, Israel as a nation, as an assembly, as an entity.

Now, the New Testament usage of ecclesia continues that usage that was common to the world of the day of Paul and of our Lord. It is a legal assembly. It is a group that comes together and has ruling functions. It is the congregation, the assembly of the people of God, the covenant community of the Messiah. One German scholar, Ethelbert Stouffer{?}, has said that the ecclesia is the most basic term in the New Testament to describe what the early church regarded itself as being. They saw themselves as God’s ruling assembly.

Moreover, they recognize that the assembly was not called together by men, but by God. An assembly is a called group. The calling is from God. Men do create covenants and assemblies, and have throughout history, but they create them in opposition to God saying, as did the builders of the Tower of Babel, “Go to now. Let us build us a city.” And we have, throughout history, what St. Augustine called The City of God on the one hand and the City of Man on the other, or we could say the assembly of God and the assembly of man.

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One of these assemblies have a future. The other does not.

Also, note that “church means an assembly, a gathering together of a legal body which is a governing body.”

As Stephen Perks would point out – Latin has a vast number of words that fits the mystery cultic worship, words that would not challenge the legal authority of Rome. But the writers of the New Testament carefully avoided those terms, and chose the word that would anger Rome.

The word that would imply that there was a more powerful legal authority than Rome. That there was a higher king than Caesar.

Of course these “Churches” are not what the New Testament means when it talks about the ecclesia. The institutional Churches are networks of mere Christian mystery cults, not communities of God’s people living as a Christian social order and discipling the nations by modelling to the world what true society should be. The word ecclesia is a political term, not a cultic term. There were words that could have been used in the first century to describe the meetings of Christians as essentially devotional mystery cults, which is what the Churches are today. But the Bible avoids these terms like the plague, and uses instead an intensely political term that was guaranteed to provoke the Roman political authorities like a red rag to a bull. The ecclesia is the assembly of the demos  (the people) for political purposes, in other words it is the parliament of another political order, the kingdom of God.

The Church has become a second rate alternative to the kingdom of God, and Church planting a third rate alternative to the Great Commission to make Christian nations. Jesus never commanded us to make disciples of all nations. He commanded us to make all nations his disciples.

All men and nations must and one day will bow the knee to Jesus Christ and acknowledge him as the ruler of all nations. Our job, our Great Commission, is to seek and work for this now on earth. The Lord Jesus Christ will not return until all nations have submitted to him and this vision has become the reality of life on earth.

“Go therefore and make all the nations my disciples [i.e. disciple all the nations], baptizing them [i.e. all the nations] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them [i.e. all the nations] to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20).

“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).

This is the alpha and omega of eschatology.

 * An Inquiry into the Original, Nature, Institution, Powers, Order, and Communion of Evangelical Churches in Works (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust [Goold Edition, 1850–53], 1965), Vol. XV, p. 224f.

Church Planting – Totally Cockeyed!
Stephen Perks

OK, back to Rushdoony, who uncovered this fundamental truth the institutional church worked diligently to corrupt and destroy, with its love of sacraments, magic, and unBiblical religious guilds.

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Isaiah speaks of this fact, and says that the ungodly say in effect, “We have made a covenant with death and with hell, are we at agreement,” Isaiah 28:15. God’s people are a called people, not a contracting people. They are called by God. They do not come together in terms of their own understanding. The covenant community, the assembly goes back to Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Israel, and the new assembly is the called people of Christ. We have repeated reminders of the meaning of this call throughout the Bible. For example, in Leviticus 26:11-13, God says, “And I set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you.  And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.”

God says it is entirely my act. I took you out of slavery, out of a situation of bondage, and made you my people. The same statement is made by God in Ezekiel 37:26-27. “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” We meet with the same statement in Zechariah 8:7-8. Thus, the church is not only created by the act of God, by God’s covenant grace, but it is also protected and blessed by the covenant God. It moves out into the world with a power from beyond this world. It has a power that is more than man’s. It is the power of God in history, and this power is dependent upon faithfulness to the covenant God and his covenant law.

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A church that refuses to submit to God’s commandments, that deeply despises the Law of God, is a church that will most certainly be ground into the earth as tasteless, worthless salt.

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Now, the early church very early saw that this promise was fulfilled in itself. Paul declared this indeed to be the case in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, saying, “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” But this is not all. As our text, 1 Peter 2:9-10 says, when God calls us, he not only frees us, who are slaves in bondage to sin, but he makes us a royal priesthood, a holy nation. He makes us royalty and he makes us priests.

Our idea of royalty today is a very poor one, because when we think of royalty in our modern world, we think of Great Britain, and we’re thinking then of a figurehead, someone who functions in a ceremonial manner, but has no great power. The idea of royalty has been cheapened in this age of democracy, but it was not so in Bible times. Royalty then had total power and wealth, whether in Greece or in Rome, or in the areas beyond the boundaries of the Empire. In Egypt, Partheon{?}, and elsewhere, royalty was all powerful.

Moreover, the Jewish concept of the king, of royalty, was equally great, if not greater, because their concept of royalty was associated with the Messiah, with supernatural powers, so that royalty for them represented not only all the power that men could have and exercise, but the power of God as well. Thus, Christians are a royalty. They are princes, our Lord says, “By the adoption of grace, ye are my friends,” he says, “if ye keep my commandments,” and the word friends, as we have seen previously can be translated either friends or princes, as royalty, by the adoption of grace. We are called to rule, we are told by Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:1-10. He declares also in Romans 8:37 that we are more than conquerors. Thus, we are royalty called to rule, and the purpose of the assembly is to rule.

We are also priests. In paganism, as well as in scripture, the priest is a necessary person. IN fact, his personal holiness is a social necessity. We know of this in that, among the Romans, the vestal virgins had a priestly function, and for them to transgress in any way meant immediately the death penalty for that vestal virgin.

Now, in scripture, our great high priest is Jesus Christ. Our priestly work in him is the work of intercession, to intercede with God, to become intercessors for the whole world, and to bring before him all men, all peoples, and to plead for them with God, because as members of the royal family, we have the ear of the King of kings.

Moreover, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:13-15, our Lord says something which has a real echo of what the priestly function was. Our Lord declares, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” Now here, two priestly functions are very clearly described. A priest has a preservative function. He holds society together by making intercession with the throne of God, and a priest has a light-giving function, in that he makes known the light of God, the word of God, to all men and peoples. So, we are given a preservative function, a light-bringing function, and a ruling function when we are called an assembly, and the assembly is God’s chosen generation, a royal priesthood.

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God expects of His people great things.

And with the Holy Spirit within us, we can be who God wants us to be.

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So, what this term means as it is used by the early church in the context they use it, is that in the midst of a dying world, God created an assembly, a ruling force, which throughout history, was to dominate the world. Now remember, I cited at the beginning Acts 19:39, assembly, ecclesia, or church, or congregation, is the terms applied to a ruling body, a civil government. So, when the church is called an ecclesia, when the epistles of Paul used this term, when our Lord uses it and says, “I will build my ecclesia upon this confession,” what is its meaning? Why, Rome did not misunderstand. If tomorrow you gathered together a group of people and called them the congress, it would have an immediate impact, would it not? And you would say this is the real congress, the real ruling body here in our midst. You had better believe that Washington would take notice as you began to form assemblies with governing functions all over the fifty states. Now, that is what it meant for the church to call itself an ecclesia. The early church saw that function.

St. John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers said, “The church does not exist in its walls but in its rules. When attending church, do not go to the edifice but to the light. The church is not in the walls and robes{?}, but in the faith and life.” He went on to say that the government which the church represents is more important than the imperial government. Now, do you think the Roman Empire liked that kind of talk? He said, “What then is the government? More dignified than that of the Empire which they who enter here receive.” He said why, it begins with your salvation, your ability under God and by his Spirit to rule yourself, so that you go forth into the world as men of power, and he continued, “For what profit is there pray, in purple, and raiment wrought with gold, and a jeweled crown, when the soul is in captivity to the passions? What gain is there in outward freedom when the ruling element within us is reduced to a state of disgraceful and pitiable servitude?” They were called to rule. They were called to be an ecclesia, an assembly of those whom Christ governs, who are called to govern the earth under God.

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Christians are not to be a mere Roman mystery cult.

Christians are to bring the power and authority of God into the world, by our lives and our teaching.

Christians are to teach the nations of the world how to rule: by obeying Christ, and by upholding His Law and His authority.

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Now we saw how the church had, for centuries, at times losing it, at times gaining it, the structure of rule by elders, the hundred court and the Shire, the thousand court, the dean as one who was head over ten pastors, later ten monks and then ten university professors. The assembly, too, had powers. When the French Revolution took place, one of the things which the French assembly struck at immediately was the power of the assembly, the ecclesia, the church. What was the assembly in France? Why, it was the meeting of all the elders, the head of every family within the congregation. They met when they were called after the last mass on that particular Sunday, and what were the assembly’s legal powers? I quote a French historian, Albert Babo{?}. “They determined the sales, purchases, exchanges, and rentals of the commons. The repair of the church, the presbytery, the public buildings, the roads, the bridges. In addition to their syndics, they names their schoolmaster, their herdsman, their sergeant, their hayward, their tithe collectors, the assessors and collectors of the tale (that is, the rents or taxes). Sometimes, they fix the conditions of the wine harvest. In certain circumstances, they even set the rate of pay for day laborers and the prices of certain products.” The French Revolution did not bring in democracy. They destroyed it, and when a revolution broke out on the Vondee, it was among the very simple people who recognized that they were robbed of government when the assemblies were abolished.

Of course, in this country, we have the same kind of thing, did we not, in the Colonial town meetings in New England? You see, the assembly, the ecclesia, was a government, and what we have seen since and what the French Revolution did was to take power away from the assembly of the people, God’s people, and put it into a few hands, and in the Vondee, the peasants who rebelled said, “Power belongs now to a handful up there, away from us,” and they protested against it. Moreover, at the same time, the care of the poor was shifted from the pastor and the assembly to some remote civil authority.

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Just the way our then-Deist, now-Darwinian Government-God Betters like it.

Let’s not pretend that their rule is anything but lawless slavery, their promises anything but hollow lies, and their authority over us anything but a punishment for our own contempt for God and His Law-word.

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Now, this is not to say that the church or assembly is the cure-all for all problems. It can be as corrupt as a congress or a parliament, but it is God’s pattern, and when it is linked as Chrysostom made clear, with regeneration, with men who are elders who have their responsibility for their families and together come to be responsible for their communities, it creates a power, self-government under God, and whenever it has prevailed at any period in history, its effect has been remarkable.

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It is time to regain the liberty, the authority, and the dread of the Lord that we have lost.

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Thus, the word that we have, church, is in the New Testament, ecclesia. It signified government, government in terms of the whole word of God. To be a government under God, the church and its members must first of all be ruled by the governing law-word of God. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank thee that thou hast called us to be thy people, thy church, thine assembly. Give us grace step by step to move towards thine intended purpose, that we may indeed govern ourselves and extend thy government into one area of life after another, taking over again education, welfare, health, and every other ordained area, that the kingdoms of this world might indeed become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. Bless us to this purpose in Jesus name. Amen.

Are there any questions now? Yes?

[Audience] It looks in the English as though dean and deacon come from the same root and maybe have a similar meaning. Is that the case?

[Rushdoony] No, they’re somewhat different. Deacon is another word which means literally “servant,” and deacon was someone you had in the house who took care of all the chores, and the deacons were called to take care of the needs of the Christian household, the needy members, and that’s the office of the deacon, very important office that has been neglected. Once it was a very significant office in that it was through the deacons that the welfare and other like needs in the community were met. Yes?

[Audience] {?} the church movement is very popular, and yet it doesn’t show any of the characteristics that we’ve been talking about. Is it, are some of its roots more in false democracy, or hope-ism, or what?

[Rushdoony] Yes, the local church doctrine has become very popular. Well, let me summarize it this way. There are three kinds of polity: Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Congregational. The local church doctrine, of course, is very prominent in the Congregational, or Baptist, element, because mostly Congregationalists today are Baptists. Congregationalists have surrendered their Congregationalism, to a great extent in most cases. Now, the pattern we see developing, let me just say this because we’re going to be returning to this subject at a later date, does show the centrality of the local assembly, very definitely, but what we have to see with that is the centrality of the function of every man as an elder, head of a household, and then elders of tens, and so on. But then, what we also have to recognize that the office of elder, which Presbyterianism has stressed, is very important, too. It’s basic to this pattern, basic to the local assembly, and it has been taken out of context and no longer has the function that scripture {?} for it. Then we can say that there is a great deal of truth to the Episcopal pattern, in that when you have the thousand Shire, for example, the Shire, or the thousand, you have an elder there over all those below, and an appeal to him, which is the Episcopal pattern. Each of these three has taken a fragment and developed it, and suppressed or downplayed the other.

Now, let me add a further word. The Church of England attempted to make the nation and the church identical. In other words, you were a member of the church because you were an Englishman, and you were a member of the English state because you were a member of the church. So when you joined the one you belonged to the other. Well, of course, what they were doing was to jump over the fact, as the Puritans saw clearly, of regeneration and the necessity for that, but they also saw that the assembly had to be a ruling body in both, that basic to the whole pattern was the eldership, but they eliminated that because they moved from the Shire pattern to the county plan, to centralizing things under the crown. So that the settlement that the Church of England represented, what was a royalist perversion of the biblical pattern. So, all these forms have taken one aspect of the biblical pattern and tended to drop the others. Any other questions? Yes?

[Audience] You mentioned that the Septuagint was the Old Testament, in common use in Christ’s time. Why was the Septuagint needed? Weren’t the rabbis in Jerusalem satisfied with the books and the writings they had?

[Rushdoony] Yes, why was the Septuagint used? Well, what had happened was that Hebrew had changed in the intertestamental period. It had become what is known as Aramaic. It was thus very difficult for the average person to follow the Hebrew. It was a little difficult, just as, let us say, Chaucerian English today would be difficult for the average American, both in the writing and in the pronunciation. For example, {?} you see? That’s English, but and what I was saying was, it was a part of a passage from Chaucer, “When the night had finished his story, all the group began to make merry.” Well, you can get something of the sense of Chaucer by looking at the original, but not much unless you have studied it. Well, thus it was with the Hebrew, perhaps not as much as with Chaucerian English, but still it was antiquated. It was not the natural every-day language of the people, and the language of business, the language of the Empire, the second language of almost all peoples was Greek. So that even the Roman Empire conducted its imperial business in Greek, to a great extent. So it was quite natural and logical to translate the Bible into the Greek that was a kind of international language. We don’t appreciate the fact that in many parts of the world, people quite naturally learn two or more languages, because those are so common to so many currents of peoples and businesses, government, and the like. As a result, in some parts of the world, people are more than bilingual. They’re trilingual, and they grow up with that, but because of the greatness of the United States geographically, we do not have that bilingual background, but it was common to the world then, and therefore, Greek was the natural language for a great many people.

[Audience] Why was it put together in Egypt? I think that’s the case, isn’t it?

[Rushdoony] Yes. Because there were a great many scholars there. You see, with the Babylonian captivity, sizable colonies thereafter began to develop. Hebrews throughout the Middle East, and in many areas they became very important as cultural centers. They became prosperous through trading and they developed centers of learning. So, there were many, many parts of the Empire with very important Jewish colonies. Any other questions or comments? Yes?

[Audience] When you read that long quote about the assembly that got together and made these rules, I don’t remember what country you said that was, but was it a separate civil government at that time?

[Rushdoony] Yes, there was, but the congregation, this was in France, or assembly, did most of the governing. The powers of the state were at a minimum. What the French Revolution did, of course, was to concentrate powers in the state. Since then, the powers of say, the French government, are such that they would have been undreamed of by Louis XIV. In the days of Louis XIV, one man, with a few advisors, could run the county. There wasn’t that much for him to do, and Louis XIV could go to mass daily, spend a great deal of the evenings with gambling or dancing, because they had the whole court there, all the nobility, and they entertained themselves in the evenings with all kinds of things. There wasn’t that much to civil government. Yes?

[Audience] Why then was there so much hatred, apparently, of the Marquis, that the Revolution could succeed? Were the people not starving?

[Rushdoony] The question is how could the Revolution succeed, and there be so much hatred if the power of the state was so small. Well, first of all, you had a tremendous concentration of people in Paris. When you have a disproportionate amount of people in one place, in an urban center, that center can govern the country, especially if someone seizes that center. It means, therefore, they control the army, the navy, the state, and so you had an element that worked to control Paris, to subvert all authority, and the king was unwilling to do anything about it. Louis XVI believed that, since he was a father to the people, it was wrong for a father to order troops to fire on anybody, any who were his children. So, he could have wiped out the Revolution very early. Paid mobs, hoodlums were paid to demonstrate and to carry on. However, behind that there was also a social fact which led to a great deal of bitterness and discontent among peoples so that they were ready to see something happen and sit by and do nothing while the country went from disaster to disaster, as a result of the rioting and demonstrations. That fact was inflation. Inflation had wiped out a lot of people. A paper money inflation, created by John Law of England. John Law, whose economics is now the reigning economics of every country in the world, a paper money economy, fractional reserve, banking, the whole works. Well, with that kind of a radical erosion of wealth and of property taking place as a result of inflation, there was a great deal of unrest in the country, a great deal of discontent and a hostility to the civil government, because Louis XV had been a playboy monarch who had turned over the authority to others, and the whole country had been eroded, destroyed in its prosperity by inflation.

Now, rarely in the history of this world has any civil government survived a radical inflation. So this should be a warning to us today. Inflation is what preceded the fall of the [Shah,] and that is something that no one has published. It was inflation that overthrew the [Shah.]

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Certainly, high levels of inflation can destroy a government, a nation, a way of life.

And often, that’s exactly what does.

“Just saying.”

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[Audience] Who paid these mobs in Paris?

[Rushdoony] There were various groups within the country who wanted power, and each in turn took it, had it for awhile, and then lost it. Various conspiracies, but once you start the forces of erosion, it’s difficult to stop them, and so it was that even the leader of all of these, Robespierre, wound up with his head on the guillotine. An excellent book going into this sort of thing is Otto Scott’s, Robespierre, The Voice of Reason, which is carried by Ross House Books and Otto Scott is one of our Chalcedon scholars. It’s eminently worth reading. Any other questions or comments?

Well, if not, let us bow our heads in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we thank thee that thy word is truth, and that thy word provides us with the answer to all our needs and problems. Grant, O Lord, that in these days of inflation and unrest that we establish ourselves upon thy word, upon the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ, and that we become thine assembly, the means to reconstruction, in an age of revolution. Grant us this, we beseech thee, in Jesus name. Amen.

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