By Ehud Would
So someone has dredged Gary North’s broken hayfork out of the stablemire in hopes of selling it to random passersby. And clutching the fractured instrument in soiled hands, brother J.B. Aitken leans into his ballyhoo, assuring us “Baptised Patriarchalism” is a service ready refutation of Rushdoony’s Familism.
For the sake of economy, I’ll only address Mr. Aitken’s points rather than the whole scope of North’s book.
Firstly, there’s the matter of the title. Baptised Patriarchalism suggests that Patriarchy — father rule — is innately malevolent somehow and that any validity or solemnity imputed to it in Christian thought is merely pretext to arbitrary tyranny. Impugning Patriarchy in this way can only make sense inside the assumption that male headship is categorically illicit. But such an assumption is at loggerheads with Federal Theology, the Fatherhood of God (which is to say, Trinitarianism), and the whole of special revelation. Because God’s Word was spoken chiefly to, and entirely through, male figureheads — fathers over family, church, and state. Christ’s election of only men to the office of apostle is not inscrutable. For it accords with the pastoral epistles which specify eldership as appropriate to fathers alone, and only those who rule their houses well.
Seeing then as how this a priori assumption that Patriarchy is innately malevolent cannot be justified from the scripture, it behooves us to ask where North and Aitken got it on their shoes.
As it happens, North’s college days (the 1960s) intersect uncannily with the Frankfurt School of Cultural Marxism’s takeover of academia. Cornerstone to the Cultural Marxist worldview, Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality (1950) introduced the thesis that Patriarchy is the intrinsic root of Fascism. Alternately stated, Patriarchy is the essence of Fascism. This was the gospel according to Adorno and Gramsci.
Of course, I expect Messrs. Aitkin and North would deny these as their presuppositions. But insofar as they hold to an anti-Patriarchal position, their fellow traveler status with the Frankfurt School is inescapable.
Mr. Aitken opens proclaiming North’s book on Rush’s Patriarchalism the reason Kinists and Recons refuse to discuss North. But this, as far as we can tell, is a figment of his imagination. Speaking as one who has moved in these circles for two and a half decades, I’ve never encountered a scenario where discussion of North was taboo, let alone prohibited.
But when he says Kinists hate North for his attack on Rushdoony, this one has some merit. This critique on Rush was, after all, the point of North breaking bad, taking up the Marxian Culture of Critique, not just against his father-in-law, but against the Christian worldview.
It was also petty retaliation for Rush having recently severed the working relationship between them when Gary’s writing began to echo the radical egalitarianism of the age.
Besides which, the thesis, as Aitken summarizes it — that “Rushdoony judicially and liturgically cut himself off from the covenant community” — is plain libel.
Fact is, he was harried out of the OPC by a cabal of liberal churchmen. As Mark Rushdoony explains, the expanding avalanche of charges levelled against his father in the OPC ran a surreal gamut including the “heresies” of Postmillennialism, the normativity of God’s Law as Christian ethics, denouncement of fiat currency as counterfeit (the OPC described this as ‘rebellion against established authorities’), Antisemitism (for his candor dealing with WWII figures), opposition to government schools (like Dabney before him), holding the Kingdom endeavor to eclipse the church sphere, teaching worldview classes after church on Lord’s Day, holding to a Six Day Creation, etc.
The OPC, the most conservative denomination extant, has nonetheless fallen into the grip of liberal apparatchiks. This is proven not only by their manic piranha-swarming against Rushdoony for his mundane and orthodox positions, but by the denominations’ overall acceptance of overt heterodoxy in each of his accusers. And if the most conservative denomination would not tolerate an actual Conservative scholar, then Rush’s eventual dissociation from the institutional church was not of his choosing. It was by circumstance of a backslidden institutional church.
But from these events Mr. Aitken derives the strangest oracles imaginable:
“God responded by imposing judicial sanctions on Rushdoony’s writings and thought. That’s why all of his books after 1973 are mediocre at best. Not one of them approaches the rigor of The One and the Many.”
First off, post hoc ergo propter hoc is still a fallacy. But that isn’t the only problem with Aitken’s chronology. See, Rushdoony exited the institutional church in 1970. Thereafter he would write that very rigorous work noted by Aitken, The One and the Many; and that followed by his magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law. So even if we granted Aitken’s tarot-like interpretation here, his conclusion still fails utterly. More than failing actually, Rush’s best work coming subsequent to his dissociation from the OPC would suggest it only invigorated (blessed?) his work.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, Aitken endorses North’s Ecclesocentrism:
“What is the central institution: the family? The Church? The State? Rushdoony said the family. Maybe “central” institution is misleading. A better one is which institution is a multi-generational, supranatural institution that continues into eternity? It isn’t the family.”
Er, sorry, fellas, the family is multi-generational by definition. And its covenant nature makes it thoroughly supranatural and eternal as well. So again, Mr. Aitken defeats his own argument.
But he’s right when he says the question of a central institution is misleading. Because Family and Church are interwoven co-ultimacies. The church is suffused by the family, as the family is by the church. Confusion on this topic comes by a lack of discernment between the visible and invisible church. The church came to mature expression visibly/institutionally, long after that of the church invisible, which is merely God’s elect. Adam and Eve may not have had an organized presbytery, but as believers, they were the church, nonetheless. A Patriarchal house church, if you will.
Institutionally speaking, church and state were embryonic in the first family. And they came to their administrative expression derivatively, of that first social cell. This is so both logically and chronologically. It is also why our Reformed exegetes have always seen a mandate to obey legitimate churchmen and statesmen in the fifth commandment to honor father and mother. Because, in the normal operation of human society and created order, our fathers are our first institutional shepherds.
Which contextualizes why in the New Testament eldership is defined by stipulations that a man be the husband of but one wife, and having reared faithful children. Which means the church institution relies on family for its own internal structure and definition.
Moreover, all language concerning the fatherhood of God, motherhood of the church, and Christian brotherhood rely upon the natural family as prolegomena to the church. And for the church to be conceptually derivative of, and therefore epistemologically dependent on, the patriarchal family in this way means that the patriarchal family is necessarily the central human institution. Again, both logically and chronologically.
But the functional question of whether the family or the institutional church alone bears jurisdiction to marry and conduct religious rites is a false dichotomy. While we do not mean to say that the church is a superfluous institution, under circumstance of extreme remoteness, sparseness of churches, or mass apostasy, its general functions can, of necessity, be resumed by the family. Apart from this recourse, the Christian settlement of America, with so many pioneer families scattered abroad, could not have happened. It was under the frotier circumstance where “Common Law Marriage” was taken for granted as a matter of Christian discretion. Neither could any nation be converted apart from that primitive stage of “house-churching”, which typically began with a single family.
Of course, this is a far-from-ideal circumstance, and only deferred to of necessity. As in the present case when so many Reformed Christians find themselves with no recourse to attend orthodox churches. Protestantism on the whole, is waning in America. Our sanctuaries are closing. Especially the Reformed churches. And of those that remain, almost all are Reformed in name only. And in the present milieu, the one thing virtually none of the institutional churches will tolerate is an honest Christian.
The OPC, for instance, while toiling long with adulterers, usurers, effeminates, pro-abort Democrats, Neocon warmongers, and anti-White communists stocking the pews, today have no tolerance for the likes of a Rushdoony. For that matter, as their dealings with Rushdoony proved, they would today run J. Gresham Machen (their own founder) out on a rail for violating their new magisterial view of church government; not to mention Machen’s social views like Segregation. Every OPC man knows this to be true, but they still somehow boast in the gravitas of the brand Machen built; even whilst repudiating most everything the man believed concerning Christian society.
None of which “strips the church of her legal basis”. Rather, it establishes it. It also establishes the fact that the Church is more durable and more essential than her visible expression and clerical administration.
As regards the Tithe, Mr. Aitken says, “God requires the family to pay the tithe to the church and taxes to the state. The family is not superior in that sense to either covenantal institution. But with Rushdoony’s disciples we see something else: they pay the tithe to whomever (or whatever) they see fit, and almost never to the church.”
The first time I withheld tithe to a church it was an RCA. And I came to that resolve only upon learning that they sent a portion of every tithe to Marxist guerilla groups in South America — groups who killed Christian missionaries, incidentally. This, and upon reading the denominational bylaws which stipulated that every RCA congregation must set aside a portion of the tithe to fund abortion clinics and, in cases of unwanted pregnancies in the congregation, pay for individual abortions.
Yes, that’s real. And it was the most conservative church in the area. And I daresay, no genuine Christian, knowing these budgetary earmarks, could in good conscience tithe to such an institution. And today most churches have similarly compromised agendae for the tithe. In which case, they deserve the attrition and ultimate closure of their congregations.
The scripture warns us not to lay hands on a man hastily for the commission of an elder lest we partake in his sins. How much more so when directly funding those sins? The notion that Christians should ignore the evils wrought with the tithe today, and contribute anyway, is an unconscionable return to Romish superstition and magisterial thinking. A tithe committed to the works of darkness cannot, by definition, be a legitimate tithe. Because such are not being tithed to God and His Kingdom, but another.
And taxes? Please. To the extent that Christians can circumvent Leviathan’s extortion without jeopardizing their families, we are obliged to do so. Presbyterians used to know this, and fought a few wars of independence on the principle.
“The church can excommunicate. The family (and state, per Erastianism) cannot.”
Another obviously false statement. The family absolutely can excommunicate relative to matters of its own jurisdiction via divorce, disinheritance, and the general expulsion which accompanies them. Even the myriad admonitions to believers to not keep company with the wicked, nor enter unequal yokes, assumes the priesthood of all believers to hold a discretionary power to dissociate from (excommunicate) offending persons. And neither does the state bear the sword in vain. The magistrate is vested with jurisdiction to arrest, gaol, and execute criminals. All things which remove offenders from the community/communion.
But perhaps the strangest leap of logic lies in this statement:
“North proves the family is covenantally subordinate to the church in the case of Melchizedek. Abraham, the family, paid a tithe to Melchizedek (25). This is the death-knell to the home-church movement.”
This is plain fruity.
All theories of Melchizedek’s identity aside, Abraham’s family, the germ of Israel, represented the singular administration of the visible church in that time. Melchizedek, by contrast, appears but once, and without patent, nor office in that institutional church, he stands for the church invisible and its priesthood. Abraham’s allocation of tithe to him, therefore, does not in the least parallel the tithe model for which North and Aitken are otherwise arguing. In fact, that punctiliar act on Abraham’s part, moved by faith and recognition of what we might call a “para-church ministry” denotes Rushdoony’s conception of the tithe, not North’s.
“Rushdoony, by combining church and family, erased these boundaries.”
Actually, it is only by the authority delegated to Christian families to withdraw support from a heretic-run institution, that the jurisdictional boundary between family and church is maintained. This subsidiarity veto is an in-built check against the Prelatic dream of arbitrary ecclesiastic power; as well as against the Statist dream of total atomization. Apart from this bottom-up and essentially Protestant delimiter on ecclesiastical (and statist) authority, fathers would be denied the right to protect their own families from interloping heretics and tyrants in vestments. In truth, North’s ecclessiocentrism effectually abolishes the family by subsuming it into the church.
Hence his rank Alienism which posits the church as our real family. Which is but the newest iteration of gnosticism come through the conduit of Cultural Marxism.
“[T]he substitution of broad kingdom functions for specific church office. Why? One reason is money. Once he switches from judicial office to function, and persuades the reader that the sacraments are not a monopoly of the institutional church, he then lays claim to the tithe. The underlying practical issue is access to the tithe.”
Yeah, leave it to North to posit cash nexus theory as the missing piece to everything which puzzles him. Typical economism. And basic bitch Marxism.
But this simply ignores Rush’s central proposition concerning the tithe — that it belongs to God, not heretics nor prelatic pretenders who have infiltrated church government and now demand total obedience to their imagination. Such men invalidate their own authority. For pity’s sake, this was the penultimate takeaway from the Reformation.
“Other problems for the familialist: there is no means of covenant renewal, save perhaps the sex act. In this case, it becomes ritual fertility. It looks like Canaanite religion.”
This brush tars not just Rushdoony and his students, but the whole of the Reformed world. Fact is, Covenantalism has always conceived natural fecundity to be the primary means of evangelism, discipleship, and kingdom advancement. Which is why the Puritans described the Book of Life as a tome of genealogies.
‘Ritual fertility’? ‘Canaanite religion’? Where’d you get that, from one of those New Atheism websites? Shades of Richard Dawkins, there. It’s the same presuppositional set that connects the Christian Communion table featuring bread and wine with the rites of Dionysus and Demeter.
If certain cults fetishized fertility it does not follow that fertility is somehow pagan. Rather, the scripture everywhere underscores that fertility is an inherently religious matter, a blessing to Covenant peoples, and the central means of dominion taken for granted in the conversion of the world.
“Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.”
(Psalm 128: 3-6)
But Aitken cites North as saying, ‘He self-consciously and explicitly challenged the church’s entire history regarding the sacraments. He did not cite a single creed, .confession, or theologian to defend his position.’
But North was mistaken. In the very first couple places I looked where Rushdoony touches the subject he drew upon Calvin’s work treating communion as a family-centric ordinance just as in the Institutes of Biblical Law where he repeatedly cites Bingham’s Antiquities of the Christian Church confirming that communion was originally a family meal. And with respect to the sacraments as a whole he also appeals to the Apostles Creed . Though he wrote much more on the subject, those three examples suffice to disprove North’s accusation that Rush hatched the notion entirely in his own mind. And sloppy ham-fisted mistakes like this on North’s part confirm that he simply ignored Rushdoony’s case on the subject without consideration.
North’s ominous hyperventilations against the “blood covenant” (Biblically speaking, both family and the family of faith are blood covenants which dovetail together.) are argued not from scriptural systematics, but from the Postmodern methodology of innuendo. Therein truth claims are evaluated not in terms of their veracity and conformity to revelation, but on their approximate likelihood to facilitate another holocaust*, rescindment of civil rights, or any deescalation of liberal hegemony. This Shoah-centrism is the Rosetta Stone by which zeitgeist, North, and apparently, Aitken approach the question. According to that lens, anything which smells of a pre-war Christian conception of society is condemned.
And for Western man, this distemper of mind — Postmodern methodology — is confluent with certain distempers of affection. In the fallen state of man’s psyche and all of its disordered peregrinations, many odd phobias of the normal and benign have arisen — fears of everything from birds to balloons. But North’s conspicuous syngenesophobia — fear of relatives — and oikophobia — fear of the familiar — are some of the oddest. But for Postmodern man, they are par for the course. For those Whites reared in the shadow of WWII, amidst the cultural revolution, have been bombarded with visceral Culture of Critique programming; which, by this point, our Reformed literati have convinced themselves is the same thing as Reformed “Negative Apologetics”.
But Aitken ultimately closes with these resolves:
“What should we do? ‘Here is a my recommendation: go to church, tithe to it, and take the Lord’s Supper. Not too radical a conclusion, is it? Warning: don’t start your own home church. Don’t ordain yourself. Above all, don’t serve communion to yourself.’”
This is frankly an argument against a position which no one holds. Patriarchalists, i.e., non-Feminists/ vanilla Christians, resort to home-churching only when nearby institutional churches make the alternative impossible. This typically comes about either when the parochial church has resolved itself to follow zeitgeist to the point where they are unrecognizable as a legitimate church and (as in Rushdoony’s case) run the orthodox families out, or the head of house concludes that for the sake of doctrine and the Kingdom, it is better to regroup to a house church than continue lending aid to the subversives occupying the local presbytery.
As such, the house church is not an end in itself. Every house church has the ultimate ambitions of either growing into an institutional church itself, or biding time until the institutional church extant casts off zeitgeist and returns to biblical faith and practice. Which is to say, all those home-churching Patriarchs are desirous of a return to the institutional church, just not at the expense of truth.
One such truth being that the local Presbytery does not supercede the authority of a Christian father in his own family. Another being that a Christian will not suffer his tithe to fund Communist or like anti-Christian causes.
Most ironic that so many supposed mantle-bearers of the Reformation have, incensed by a taste of bureaucratic power, taken the old Roman position against the Reformers. Clearly, this new Ecclesiocentrism is antithetical to basic principles of Protestant subsidiarity in the Priesthood of all Believers and Federal Theology.
So, all due respect to Mr. Aitken, but the only thing Gary’s hayfork can pitch is a fit.