If the church fail in its duty, the temporal lords may rightly and lawfully deprive it of its temporal possessions; the judgment of such failure lying not with the theologian but with the civil politician.
Imagine a nation where such is the fundamental presupposition for all church-state relations: The civil government officials keep the churches under scrutiny and judge if a church is doing its job or not, and based on that judgment confiscate church property in favor of the state. What would you call such a nation? Communist, probably, or socialist, or Nazi. What would a Reformed Christian, who knows his Covenant Theology, say about such a practice? He’ll say that this statement gives more power to the state than what God has ordained, and that the state has no business judging the church. A society where the state judges the spiritual health of the church is a dangerous society to live in.
The above words were written by the “morning star of the Reformation,” John Wyclif, in his treatise On Civil Dominion, written in 1376. Yes, the same Wyclif who believed in the ultimate authority of the Bible and wanted to make the Bible available to all, in the language of the common people. That same Wyclif not only believed that the civil government could evaluate the spirituality of the church and confiscate church’s property on that basis, but that it could evaluate the righteousness of individuals and confiscate the property of those individuals who were deemed unrighteous by the King’s officials. To add insult to injury, he also believed that the property of righteous individuals could be confiscated too, for the purposes of the state, whenever the King decides; thus presaging the modern concept of eminent domain, so dear to all governments today.
Not that he didn’t know better. The concept of the sanctity of private property was known to the Western Christianity since the time of Bishop Ambrose and his harsh rebuke of Emperor Theodosius when the latter threatened that he would come and seize his church:
It is not lawful for me to surrender it nor good for you, Emperor, to receive it. By no right can you violate the house of a private person. Do you think that a house of God can be taken away from Him? . . . If you hope for a long reign, submit yourself to God.
Wyclif knew very well that confiscation of property by the state amounts to theft and falls under the Eighth Commandment. He knew the story of Ahab and Naboth in 1 Kings 21. And he knew the principles transferred down by the Magna Carta, a Christian document which laid the foundation for the English liberties; and especially Article 1 of that charter.
So, then, what made this righteous man, learned theologian, courageous Reformer, entertain such totalitarian views so contrary to his better knowledge of Scripture and of Christian theology?
He overreacted because of overzealousness.
His reaction was against the Church as an institution, as fallen and as rotten as it could be at the end of the 14th century. So mad was he, he would call for another institution – the state – to overstep its boundaries and impose a tyrannical rule over the church. Which, of course, is the old pagan concept of the state as a priestly organization, and of the ruler as a pontifex. If the Reformation had started with Wyclif, we may have ended up with totalitarianism in the name of Christ much earlier than totalitarianism in the name of Marx. There was a reason why God postponed the Reformation for another 150 years. It is possible that by the time of Wyclif the historical memory of the evils of statism had faded enough for him to not worry about going to an extreme position in favor of it. In any case, Wyclif was advocating one un-Biblical social and cultural practice as an antidote to another un-Biblical social and cultural practice.
In our day in America, the danger of statism is obvious to all Christians, and the historical memory of a church that overstepped its boundaries is quite fresh. What is lost is the historical memory of the pagan character of the family/folk culture, which the early church had to battle and vanquish, in order to build a Christian culture. If Wyclif lived today, with his temperament, he would have probably swung the pendulum far to the side of the family, advocating family/folk culture as the solution to the social evils of our day.
And he would have been disastrously wrong, just as he was disastrously wrong more than 600 years ago.
But we don’t need Wyclif today to give us an example of overreacting due to overzealousness. We have Christians in our own time who look to the family as the institution which, if emphasized as the foundation and the center of our culture, will help us restore the cultural values we have lost in the last two centuries. The extended family, that is, as it is imagined to have existed before the Industrial Revolution took its toll on it.
One of these Christians is Israel Wayne. His views on the importance of the family/folk culture as the supposed “Biblical” alternative to the modern popular culture can be found in his article, “Family Culture vs. Pop Culture.” I hate to have to criticize Israel, for I know he is a crystal pure character compared to me, a much better Christian in all respects, and a man I would be glad to give my life for. Unlike some other Christian authors I criticize, I can safely vouch for Israel that he is honest and sincere. But Israel is wrong in this article, his theology is going in the wrong direction, and I have the obligation to correct him as a brother, for his theology, if developed, will create monsters, just as Wyclif’s theology would have created monsters if God allowed it to develop. And unfortunately, Israel is not alone. Many more Christians have bought into the cult of the patriarchal family culture, mistaking it for a Christian culture. A Christian culture it surely isn’t; to the contrary, it’s origins are decidedly pagan. And in order to build a Christian culture, we need to understand the true nature of the family/folk culture, and understand how it differs from the Christian culture.
Israel deplores the moral state of our time, he observes that we have lost that old extended family environment where all uncles, aunts, granpaws and granmaws, cuzns and nephews and nieces and little Johnnies lived together in an idyllic serenity and peace, in the same geographic place, and everything was just dandy until the Industrial Revolution came around and men left for the cities to “join the workforce,” and thus the old social model which was so family-friendly was lost. Now we have the machines, the factories, and the father doesn’t stay home all the time with his family because he has to go to work. In the old days, if the family wanted to play music, they made their own instruments, and played together, and there were no long-distance instant communications to break to pieces this dream way of living. But we now have our pop culture which has nothing to do with “accountability, community, resourcefulness and creativity,” as the old family culture. This new pop culture is all about “liberation, autonomy, spending aimlessly, and consumerism.”
Before I get to the theological analysis of that view, a few logical and factological problems with Israel’s article must be pointed out.
First, of course, he typed his article on a keyboard, and published it on an Internet site. He didn’t scratch it on birch bark to read it to his uncles and aunts and gramps and nieces. This should be enough to show how much he values that old lifestyle.
Second, he admits that this new “pop culture” has given us a lot of good economic “time-saving” resources which the old family culture couldn’t produce. One wonders how is it that “accountability, resourcefulness, and creativity” failed to produce such good things, while “spending aimlessly and consumerism” could produce them. I mean, he may be right about the imagined values of the old culture but what exactly did those values produce, so that we know that they indeed existed in the old family culture?
Third, Israel needs to learn some history. The breakdown of that old clannish culture happened much earlier than the Industrial Revolution or the War Between the States. It happened as early as the 1500s in Calvinist Netherlands, and then in Calvinist Scotland, and in Protestant England, and in Puritan New England, when those men, armed with the new doctrines of Calvin, went out to the ships to traverse the oceans and trade extensively in order to increase their own wealth and the wealth of others, as all Reformed confessions and catechisms required. The same impulse of leaving your extended family to follow the call of God was present in 1620 among those settlers who landed in Massachusetts from Mayflower. The breakdown was under way when the sons of these first settlers refused to abide by the rules of the old towns, took their brides and moved west to settle new lands. It was happening between 1680 and 1870 when millions of young men – Christian men, not pop culture deadheads – led their Conestoga wagons through the Cumberland Gap, across the Plains, and all the way to Columbia River. That breakdown was in action when the original 300 families of Texas left the security of the valleys in the East and challenged the scorching Texas sun, the Comanches, and the Mexican government. It was the wilderness in the West, not the factories in the East, that destroyed Israel’s idyllic world. The Western Frontier broke extended families much faster and more effectively than anything the Eastern industry could offer.
Fourth, Israel should keep in mind that the claim that the Industrial Revolution broke families is monstrously fallacious. Rural England remained demographically stagnant for centuries; it was the Industrial Revolution that created an unprecedented population boom, and that boom was in the cities, not in the countryside! Contrary to the modern perceptions, it was the British industrial workers who valued family more than anything else and married young and had many children. It was the British industrial workers who were the largest audience of preachers like Charles Spurgeon, leading Friedrich Engels to admit that of all men it was Spurgeon he hated the most. The countryside was lagging behind the cities, both in weddings and in procreation. Israel needs to learn his history before he makes his claims. Not only didn’t the Industrial Revolution destroy the Christian family, to the contrary, it gave it a boost stronger than any other social factor since the 1st century AD.
And fifth, Israel’s description of the “women’s liberation” movement is rather shallow, and it doesn’t even touch the true nature and reasons of feminism. The truth is, feminism wasn’t a reaction against the Christian order for the family, and its goal wasn’t to get the woman to the job market. Feminism was a reaction against the quasi-patriarchal order established on the ideas of the Enlightenment. Yes, you read that correct: The Enlightenment created a patriarchal order which kept the woman in the home and deprived her of the ability to apply her gifts and skills in the society. The women’s liberation movement was a reaction against this patriarchal order; and the reason it went in the wrong direction was that the Christians weren’t there to lead the charge against that patriarchal order. R.J. Rushdoony explains the problem in his Institutes, Chapter 7, pp. 349-353.
But let’s get to the theological problems in Israel’s thinking.
To start with, Israel seems to have problems understanding the Biblical view of culture. His view of culture is tribal; he says that culture is “the accumulative sum of the beliefs and values of a people-group.” The central point here is the “people-group,” and that’s why Israel can speak of a “folk culture,” a culture that has something to do with the genetic proximity of people. The beliefs and values are secondary, since he talks about the “accumulative sum,” without really stopping to think that one can not “accumulate” just any kinds of beliefs and values. Such definition of culture is essentially materialistic for it defines culture by material factors (people-group, folk) while the spiritual factors (beliefs and values) are simply lumped together into an amorphous mass called “culture.”
This view is absolutely contrary to the Reformed view of culture. The Reformed view was summarized beautifully by Henry Van Til in his book, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture: “Culture is religion externalized.” From beginning to end, culture is the product of a faith statement. We all act according to ultimate beliefs, no matter what our family connections are, and no matter what our genetics is. The culture we build comes not from our “folk” or our “people-group” but from our fundamental beliefs about God. Different religions means different cultures, even if the people come from the same “folk.” That’s why in Israel a family-member was divorced or disinherited and turned over to the authorities in case of idolatry; he was of a different culture now. The same religion means the same culture, even if the family origin is different. That’s why Salmon could marry a Canaanite, and Boaz could marry a Moabite: By placing their faith in God, Rahab and Ruth were now of the Hebrew culture.
To make it simpler, according to Israel, the boundaries of a culture coincide with the boundaries of a “folk,” and whatever beliefs and values are in that “folk,” are mixed in one “culture.” According to the Bible, the boundaries of a culture coincide with the boundaries of a religion, and whatever peoples, families, tribes are within that religion, are mixed in one people. This means, contrary to Israel’s idyllic view of the folk and of the family, that there can be many cultures within the same family, simply because there can be believers of different faiths within the same family. There is no way the extended family can preserve cultural identity or pass on cultural identity, simply because, first, the extended family is not a carrier nor an agent of such cultural identity, and second, within the same family there can be multiple cultural identities, depending on the faith of the individual members of that extended family.
I don’t know the personal circumstances of Israel’s life, but I would suppose that his idyllic view of the extended family is based on his personal experience as an American, in a nation where there is historical memory of a Christian culture, and therefore his extended family is at least nominally Christian, if not necessarily self-consciously, creedally Christian. From such cloistered perspective, of course, it is easy to idolize the extended family as a carrier of culture. The picture, I’d venture to propose, wasn’t that rosy for some other Wayne many generations ago who decided to break with the pagan faith – and therefore with the pagan culture – of his “folk” and to accept Christianity which was becoming the popular culture at the time. I’d like to see Israel explaining to that earlier Wayne how important it is to reject the popular culture and stick to the extended family and its family/folk culture. Or I want to see Israel go to those early Christians in the Roman Empire who were persecuted because “they didn’t adhere to the traditions of their own ancestors,” that is, they weren’t happy with their family/folk culture and had accepted that popular fad, Christianity, with its modern cultural ideas. Actually, there is no need for Israel to go back in time. He can go to the Balkans, or to Africa, or to Latin America, where the family/folk cultures are laden with paganism, occultism, and barbarity, and the popular culture is influenced by the West and by its nominally Christian worldview. And of course, even the modern family/folk culture in the US, while nominally Christian, is not necessarily truly Christian, and I would say, there isn’t necessarily much there that deserves to be preserved or cherished.
In any case, the family is not a culture in itself, and can not be trusted at all times to provide a healthy culture; Jesus emphasized it many times (Matt. 8:21-22; 10:36; Luke 8:21; 14:26). Our Christian culture is not a family culture, it is a creedal culture, and the family has only a limited jurisdiction in it, just as the church and the state have limited jurisdictions. The family – extended or nuclear – must itself be judged by the creedal standards of the Christian faith, and if it falls short of them, its “culture” is just as destructive as are the cultures of statism or of churchism, and that culture must be rejected. The family/folk culture has no intrinsic value in itself, and more often than not in history the family/folk culture was pagan culture, vehemently opposed to Christ. (Read Fustel de Coulanges’s The Ancient City to learn about the pagan origins of the familistic-patriarchal social order.)
The Biblical social order is not based on the extended family. Romanticized descriptions like the following are not to be found in the Bible:
Imagine with me, if you can, a culture where you are surrounded with people who know and love you. There are parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, grandparents and even on occasion great-grandparents. Living, working, playing and worshiping with these loved-ones creates a wonderful sense of security and stability. You know who you are, to a great extent, because of your relationships with those of your surrounding family. Family can serve as a fixed reference point, linking you to geography and to the past in a way that no other friendship or community can.
Absolutely not. The only fixed reference point is the faith in God. The extended family isn’t, and is never mentioned as such. The Biblical family is always the nuclear family. The only family romantics in the Bible is the relationship between a man and a woman. Read the Song of Solomon. There are no uncles, cousins, and gramps there. The Bible is full of heroes who – much like those American settlers of old – left their extended families to settle in another land, and looked for their purpose and place under God in self-sufficiency and independence from their extended family connections. Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah, and father, Lamech, were both alive when he started building the Ark, and nothing is mentioned about an idyllic picture of four generations (from Methuselah to Noah’s sons) working in harmony on the Ark. Abraham was commanded to leave his family. Jacob fled from his father and brother. Joseph fulfilled his life’s purpose by being sold away from his family. Moses learned to obey God and be a leader away from his folk. David, at an early age, spent long months away from his family, and thus learned to fight bears and lions. Rahab was blessed for betraying her folk, and Ruth was blessed for abandoning her family culture. Jesus, of course, is the prime example, both when, at 11 years of age, He stayed back in the Temple, and when later took up a ministry that had nothing to do with his extended family. None of these, of course, is to declare the family unnecessary or worthy of disdain. But all these examples must warn us against elevating family relationships above their proper place in the creedal culture of the Bible. The family is not a fixed reference point, contrary to what Israel claims in his article. Faith is. And in that Biblical faith, only the nuclear family has any covenantal significance. The extended family, even if it’s beneficial economically or relationally, has no covenantal significance, and therefore has no cultural significance. We love our grandparents and uncles and cousins; but as far as the Biblical culture is involved, their significance is only marginal. Faith is what matters ultimately; and as far as the institutional arrangement of that faith culture is involved, our spouses and our underage children are all we need. And the church. Clannish collectivism separates us from the Biblical culture just as much as churchist or statist collectivism does.
It may come as a surprise to some modern Christians, but not only the Bible is full of examples of people of faith leaving their extended families, the Law of God actually contains economic provisions for the break-up of the extended family. First, there is God’s promise to Israel to multiply them in the land (Deut. 30:5). Second, there is the system of inheritance which required that the land was divided between the covenant-keeping sons in a family (Deut. 21:15-17, see also R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 180; and Gary North, Inheritance and Dominion, Vol. 2, p. 592ff.). Third, there was the Jubilee regulation which prohibited the Israelites from selling permanently the family inheritance in the land; at the end of the 50-year period, the land had to return to the original owner (Lev. 25:13-17, 27:24). The combined economic effect of these three would mean that over time, the heirs of the original families would have grown in numbers to the point where the allotted land to each son would be insufficient to feed him and his wife and children. He couldn’t sell the land permanently but he could lease it out for up to 50 years to another person in the family, if that relative wanted to consolidate a few properties for efficient agricultural production. The owner, then, would have the funds to move with his family either to a city, where he could start a new career in a non-agricultural business (like Joseph, who was a carpenter), or buy land outside the borders of Israel where the Jubilee regulations didn’t reach, and the land could be permanently sold or bought. The economic pressure would force the nuclear families to leave the extended family (Joseph’s extended family was in Bethlehem but his business was far north, in Capernaum of Galilee) and to expand their area of dominion, either technologically or geographically. The Jewish Diaspora in the antiquity was the largest movement of nuclear families away from their extended families, and it was copied much later by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, who originally were patriarchal societies. (Not to mention being copied by the American settlers between 1620 and 1890.) Important to mention that the social and cultural result of the Diaspora was not new clans nor new extended families, but the synagogue.
Indeed, historically, family-and clan-centered societies have never exercised dominion. They have remained stagnant and have disappeared from history even if for a short time they have achieved military or technological successes. There isn’t much left of the old clan societies of Germans and Celts. The clannish-tribal structure of the Native American tribes not only made them powerless to oppose the Christendom’s nuclear families’s assault on the American West, it was also a source of constant internecine wars and acts of savageness and brutality of natives against natives that kept their population numbers and economic endeavors at very low levels. China, a stable civilization for several thousand years which made many of the technological discoveries that built the West, was exactly the same in 1911, socially and economically, as it had been 2,000 years before. Some clannish societies managed to survive for a longer period of time only because they gradually evolved into statist societies; for the natural evolution of a culture based on the extended family, see Fustel de Coulanges’s book, The Ancient City. Islam, after the initial conquests, also stagnated because it had nothing comparable to the Biblical Law but instead incorporated old tribal and patriarchal laws. The Ottoman Turks were able to continue their conquests only because their old tribal system evolved into a statist/collectivist system very early.
The only cultures that were able to exercise long-term dominion – geographical, scientific, technological, literary, educational – were the Old Testament Judaism and modern Christianity (and especially Protestant Christianity). They followed the Biblical model: nuclear families, united not by the extended family but by the institutional church (or the synagogue), in a creedal culture where the only fixed reference point is faith. Our modern industrial capitalism and economic globalization, with its unprecedented technological and economic growth, is not a force that developed independently of Christianity, neither is it a force hostile to Christendom and the Christian culture. To the contrary, it came as a direct result of Christianity and of the Biblical worldview. Industrial capitalism and global trade and communications are the Christian economic and social model, and they stand or fall with Christianity, not war against Christianity, contrary to Israel’s assumptions.
There is a good reason for the historical success of the nuclear families and the stagnation and decay of clannish societies. The nuclear family is oriented toward the future; the extended family is oriented toward the past. When the family is defined as only a man and a woman and their underage children, the purpose of the family and the whole life of the family is naturally focused on bringing up these children and making them independent of their parents so that some day they fulfill Genesis 2:23-24:
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
Since the Biblical culture requires nuclear families as over against extended families, we should expect it to be focused on parents teaching their young children for the future, not on grown up adults trying to conserve the past by hanging around with their relatives. Indeed, the Book of Proverbs is all about a father teaching his young son how to prosper righteously as an independent man. From the very beginning the book assumes that time is coming when the son will be independent and will be in an environment of sinners where he will have to make his own decisions (Prov. 1:10); the father, obviously, doesn’t share Israel Wayne’s affection for the extended family, and therefore doesn’t advise his son to remain back home on the porch where no enticement from sinners would come. The son’s independence and his leaving the family and going into a foreign, spiritually dangerous environment are taken for granted. In fact, without such assumption, the whole Book of Proverbs becomes meaningless for a young man. A young man today who follows the advice in Israel’s article would only read Proverbs as an intellectual exercise; it won’t have any practical significance to him – unless, of course, we assume that the extended family is full of sinners who are enticing their own relatives, in which case Israel’s thesis becomes absurd. This anticipation of that future time when the son will have to leave the home and face the spiritual challenges of life as an independent, self-sufficient man, places a heavy emphasis on preparing for the future. The past is only for learning, not for returning to it.
The extended family, on the other hand, by trying to stay together, is bound to only conserve the past. In fact, that was the motive of all clannish societies: extended families stayed together only because change was demonic, dangerous, and the future held all kinds of unspeakable horrors for man. The motive of preserving the past was dominant in all pagan societies; the future had to be fended off by any means. The idea of progress originated with Christianity; pagans had no such idea. And preserving the past was possible only by making everyone stay back home with their family; and, naturally, when the clan failed to preserve the past and to stop history, the state was charged with this role, and the Emperor/King proclaimed to be the Father of a greater clan, the state. The official reason of the Empire to persecute the early Christians was that they “had abandoned the beliefs of their own ancestors.” When a young man’s main concern is how to please his ancestors and find a fixed reference point in his extended family, the result is inevitably idolatry of the past, and neglect of the future. The patriarchal society is by nature and essence a stagnant society. Israel Wayne’s family/folk culture has been defeated in our modern times exactly because by its very nature, it is powerless to foresee or prepare for the future. It will die out naturally because it is not a Biblical culture.
The Biblical culture, instead, is one based on faith, instructed by the church, and driven by nuclear families who break out from the clan. This is the only culture that can exercise dominion successfully, and conquer the future. The past can teach us principles but we can’t return to it. As Joel McDurmon said in his article, “Freedom in Education: How to Get It Back,”
When we talk about restoring freedom, we have to be careful not to be too romantic about the past. It is one thing to survey how things used to be free, and lessons we learn there we can certainly apply to modern times; it is another thing, however, to think that the goal is to return everything to the state it was in back in 1776. We can’t return to that world, socially, technologically, culturally, geographically, demographically, economically. But there are certainly, as I said, many ideals we can take from then and restore for today. After all, ideals such as liberty and neighborliness do not change; the highest morals and ethics of Christianity do not change; the ideals of life, liberty, and property do not to change. The ideals don’t change: rather, it is how committed we are to the ideals that makes changes in society.
Don’t be romantic about the past. Paul said in 1 Cor. 3:21 that the present and the future belong to us. He missed one thing: the past. Let the dead bury their own dead (Matt. 8:22; Luke 9:60). You take your wife and your children, get out, and go find your own 160 acres to till, or your own carpentry shop to build. This is the Biblical standard. And as you go, train your children to be independent and self-sufficient to survive alone among wolves, for they will have to, if they are to obey Genesis 2:23-24. Staying with the extended family may seem fun and idyllic and safe, but it doesn’t conquer the world. It will only make you stagnant, and eventually you will be either wiped out from the map, or made a slave to the state as the biggest extended family.
In conclusion, I am sure that Israel Wayne is sincere in his desire to find solutions to the spiritual evils of our day. But his article is a good example of over-reaction to the evils of our pagan times by trying to swing the pendulum back to other, long-forgotten pagan times, when other pagan social structures dominated. The extended family was the norm in the old pagan societies – as it is the norm in many pagan societies today – and Christianity fought against this social structure because it was hostile to the faith. The nuclear family is the Biblical standard, and our modern industrial capitalism is not only not hostile to the Biblical culture, it is itself a product of that Biblical culture, and in itself encourages righteous dominion by faithful Christian nuclear families. There is no spiritual value in returning to the imaginary idyll of playing family music on the porch with family-made instruments. That idyll never really existed in the first place (otherwise young men wouldn’t leave their homes to settle new lands), and as an ideal, it is stagnant, unproductive, past-oriented, and ultimately self-defeating. The obsession with the past is essentially a product of a pagan worldview, not of a Biblical worldview. The Biblical Christian forgets what lies behind and reaches forward, taking from the past only the faith of his spiritual family, that is, the Church, and not the beliefs of his extended family, the clan.
This was the legacy of the Early Church, and this is our legacy from the Reformation.Share on Facebook