Baptized Patriarchalism (Gary North)

This is the book that got most hardcore Reconstructionists angry at North.  It’s a reason why Rushdoony’s disciples on Facebook often forbid any discussion of North. It’s also the main reason kinists hate him, too–and for the same reason.  It’s also one of North’s best books. It’s thesis is simple: Rushdoony judicially and liturgically cut himself off from the covenant community. He then gave communion to himself.  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.

Despite the title, this book isn’t really about the “Feminist/Patriarchy” debates.  Many who would probably agree with North might bristle and think he is defending feminism.  He isn’t. His target is the home church.

The background:

“Your snare was set in 1956. In that year, a woman divorced her husband, a pastor. I do not believe she had biblically lawful grounds to do so. Half of their children – the older ones – voluntarily accompanied her when she departed. His pastorate was undermined. He left the pastorate in 1962 to become a full-time writer. He has long refused to mention his divorce in public and rarely in private” (North viii).

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. North defines “Christian patriarchalism” as “the suggestion that a Christian father, as the head of his household, possesses the keys of the kingdom: the right to baptize his children and serve the Lord’s Supper on the basis of the marriage bond, not on the basis of his membership in the institutional church” (4).  

If the family has the keys of the kingdom, then the family can now bring to bear the judicial sanctions that rightly belong to the church: the Lord’s Supper and excommunication.  The church is now stripped of her legal basis.

The Tithe

  North writes, “There is an unbreakable rule in institutional theory: the source of the funding determines the structure of the system” (7). 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 church can excommunicate. The family (and state) cannot. Excommunication is declaring God’s judgment against a person.  It is the most fearful historical sanction.

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.

Another huge problem is the concept of the church’s boundaries.  What is its lawful jurisdiction? Rushdoony, by combining church and family, erased these boundaries.  In one sentence North summarizes the problem with Rushdoony’s theology: This is the heart of his ecclesiology: the 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 (36).  

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.

Point, Game, and Match

“He asserted the authority of the marital family over the two covenant oath signs: baptism and communion. He transferred the locus of authority over the covenant signs from the institutional church to the marital family, in which husband and wife seek to produce a blood line (procreation). 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. He forthrightly announced the centrality of the marital family as the covenantal institution on which the other two rest. Now he invokes the language of a blood covenant. But the judicial context of the marital family is sexual bonding! Therein lies the enormous theological danger” (49).

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” (68).

5 thoughts on “Baptized Patriarchalism (Gary North)

  1. Something I thought of while reading this: this turn to the family is the end result of a kind of anti-ecumenical (the good kind) and sectarian mentality. I think Chrysostom is right to say that the family is a micro church, and the father acts as a kind of priestly intercessor for it; but his context was that this family must always be linked into broader connections. The church is a family, but to cut yourself off from that, and collapse biological family into God’s family, is the path towards an inward facing degeneracy.

    But I have a peculiar sympathy for Rushdoony in this: the sanctified divisions, called denominations, which jostle and jockey for prestige and power at each other’s expense can launch intellectually competent, and personally charismatic, people into further divisions, further insularization, until all you get is the fetid environment of the home cut off from other deep social connections. I get why it happens, but it’s still sad.


  2. Pingback: Christian Reconstruction (Biography of Rushdoony) | Factory of the Soul

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