“I was talking with a friend from church about theonomy1 this past weekend. . . . He took me to the Wikipedia page for Gary North and asked about one of the quotes: ‘In winning a nation to the gospel, the sword as well as the pen must be used.’ (Christian Reconstructionism, p. 198.)2
“Do you have the book or know the context of that quote? That was K.’s concern.”
This is from a letter I received a couple of weeks ago from a dear friend of mine, a member of a Presbyterian church.
K. is the typical American Presbyterian. He has certain presuppositions concerning the Gospel, the Bible, and the Christian faith. I say “presuppositions,” but the more exact description should be prejudices or taboos. There are certain things that are “no, no” to him. For example, an American Presbyterian cannot use the word “sword” in relation to the word “gospel.” They just can’t go together in the same sentence, except in opposition to each other. The opposite of “preaching the Gospel” is “using the sword.” That’s what the modern Presbyterian religion says.
The problem for K. is that he doesn’t realize that he doesn’t have an issue with Gary North. He has an issue with Apostle Paul — if he ever paid attention to what Paul wrote. Paul uses the word “sword” with the phrase “deacon of God” in Romans 13. He explicitly says that the civil ruler is a deacon of God, and for that very reason he has the sword. He executes God’s wrath upon criminals. The Gospel tells us of God’s wrath against sinners. The civil ruler’s responsibility is to “preach” that wrath by punishing those who commit public sins as prescribed in the Law.
Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues the same topic in 1 Timothy 1:8–10. There he says the Law is good to punish crimes, and then he lists crimes that require capital punishment under the Law. And what is Paul’s legal foundation for insisting that the Law be applied in its full force? The Gospel! He finishes the sentence in verse 11: “ACCORDING TO THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL with which I have been entrusted.”
But like most Presbyterians today in America, K. doesn’t read those verses. They surely don’t apply to modern America where the Gospel is limited to one sentence about individual salvation and nothing more. Surely a modern righteous Presbyterian cannot take these verses for what they mean.
The sickening irony of this is that K. and his fellow Presbyterians live in a nation founded more than 200 years ago after a long and bloody war known at the time as the “Presbyterian War.” Previous generations of Presbyterians, obviously not as holy as K., took up their swords — and muskets — to defend the liberty God declared in the Gospel for every Christian. They didn’t have any “concerns” about it. They did it in obedience to God and His Holy Word. They sacrificed their life and property to get that precious liberty to worship God — and to pass that liberty to their posterity, part of which is K. himself. K. is the beneficiary of their sacrifice — and he uses the legacy he received from those previous generations to have his pious “concerns” over their belief in the use of the sword in obedience to the Gospel.
K.’s life, liberty, and property today are well protected, and he doesn’t have to fight every day for the right to keep what’s his own. He can afford that because even today America still maintains a certain form of that original consensus, that the sword must be used ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL in order to preserve the social order in our land. Even today there are still Christian men who are not reluctant to pull a trigger in obedience to Christ. Even today there are still sheriffs and judges who believe in the original mandate handed down to us from those early Presbyterian ministers who enjoined public servants to serve as unto the Lord. K. enjoys the fruit of their beliefs, their courage, and their labor; and then he has pious “concerns” about the theology that gives moral justification to those beliefs, courage, and labor.
The sword is just a tool. And like every tool in human hands, the sword — or the musket, or the surgical scalpel, or the M-16 — preaches some “gospel.” What “gospel” it preaches depends on what use it is put to. It can preach the Gospel of Christ by fighting the British, or executing criminals, or shooting robbers. Or it can preach the “gospel” of death by torturing political enemies, or dismembering unborn children, or cutting the life support from a hospital patient, or burning a persecuted Christian family. The sword will always be there in any culture before the Final Judgment, and the sword will always preach some “gospel.” There is nothing magically or intrinsically bad about the sword. If a Christian doesn’t use it according to the Gospel, a pagan will use it against the Gospel.
K. is safe here in America. He hasn’t moved to a nation where the sword is NOT used according to the Gospel so that K. doesn’t have to have any “concerns.” His family is safe, his possessions are safe, his whole life is safe. He won’t change places with a Christian in a foreign land where the sword is used according to a rival “gospel.” If K. was serious about his “concerns,” he should leave this nation founded upon the premise that it is righteous before God to kill enemies of God according to the Gospel. He should change places with a Pakistani or Iranian or Chinese Christian. Let him live there for several years, and then come back. I’ll ask him then how “concerned” he is about the sword used ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL.
K. is a PINO: Presbyterian In Name Only. He doesn’t keep the spiritual legacy of his Presbyterian ancestors. He has become an Amish Presbyterian: One who believes that the sword itself is intrinsically bad. He has limited the Gospel to a small portion of it, a set of a few pietistic statements that never address the whole man, and the whole world. He has forgotten the comprehensive Gospel the early Presbyterians taught and fought for. He is as self-righteous and limited in his view as the Amish are, and just as culturally impotent. He has committed the sin Moses warned the Israelites against: He has taken his security and his prosperity for granted. He doesn’t have to fight for them anymore, he doesn’t have to pull the trigger in obedience to God, therefore he can frown at those of us who still believe in the good old courageous Reformed — Presbyterian, Baptist, and Congregationalist — Christianity that gave us America, and liberty and justice for all.
To give credit where credit is due, the comparison with the Amish doesn’t do justice to the Amish. Amish are better than K. They at least try to create and maintain their own culture, with its own comprehensive set of laws and rules. It is a parasitic culture, of course, it depends on the existence of Christian “outsiders” that are “less holy” than the self-righteous Amish. Those outsiders should be willing to use the sword to protect the Amish themselves. Where such Christians have disappeared — in Europe, for example — Amish communities have also disappeared. The parasite dies when its host dies. They can survive only in America because there are true Christians who are willing to put their life and property on the line to protect the Amish. But at least the Amish try to be consistent to the bitter end in their limited, self-righteous religion, in their small closed communities.
In a very real sense, K. is also a parasite. He lives off the blood of thousands of Christians before him. They didn’t have any “concerns” about using the sword for the Gospel. Tacitly, by expressing his own “concerns,” K. judges their beliefs as “unrighteous.” But unlike the Amish, K. doesn’t build a culture. There is no comprehensive culture-building coming out of the Presbyterian churches today as it was in the early days of the American colonies and then the American Republic. Modern Presbyterians have completely blended into the prevailing pagan culture. Their churches are no different in function than pagan temples, dispensing “religion” on Sunday morning while the rest of the week is completely immersed in whatever the surrounding culture feeds them. If there are still traces of Christianity in today’s generation of Presbyterians that are not entirely obliterated, they will disappear in the next generation of Presbyterian children who will be educated in government schools.
Because K. takes his liberty and prosperity for granted, God has a surprise for him. K. has allowed his senses to be anesthetized to the real meaning and purpose of the Gospel. God has allowed wolves in sheep’s clothing to creep into his church and parade as shepherds. Sometime ago I mentioned Tom Stein, a PCA pastor, who called for government control over Christian parents. Tim Keller, another PCA pastor, calls for government redistribution of wealth. And they are only the tip of the iceberg — there are many more like them, parading as “conservative Presbyterian” pastors. K.’s safe world of liberty and justice for all is being destroyed by those very shepherds who are supposed to protect it. Because K. is critical of the theology that created America — using the sword for the Gospel — he now has pastors who are actively preaching against everything America was created to be. The Amish in Europe disappeared when their host — the Christian civilization that believed in their protection — died out. When the religion of the early Presbyterians dies out — because K. and his fellow Presbyterians have “concerns” about it — K. and his world will also disappear. K. has embraced a religion of truncated “gospel,” which denies that every tool — including the sword — must be used for spreading the Gospel of Life. God is responding by placing the sword in the hands of the pagan state, and makes that pagan state strike against the liberty, security, and justice that K. takes for granted. And with a Divine irony, God is giving K. pastors and elders that are helping that unholy crusade of the pagan state against K.’s life, liberty, and property.
In 1776 the British officer Adam Ferguson said the following about the American rebellion: “We have 1,200 miles of territory occupied by 300,000 people of which there are about 150,000 with Johnny Witherspoon at their head, against us. . . .”3 . That “Johnny Witherspoon” was a true Reformed Presbyterian, not an Amish Presbyterian like K. That true Reformed Presbyterian knew very well that there comes a time when the men of God will have to use the sword to defend the Gospel and to spread it. And when Witherspoon recognized the times, he didn’t hesitate to call his fellow Americans to arms, speaking, preaching, admonishing them from the pulpit. That’s why Witherspoon presided as spiritual leader and father over the founding of the freest nation ever existing on the face of this planet. True Reformed Presbyterians always build a City on a Hill, and when in the process of work, they “carry their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon,” and when building, “each wears his sword girded at his side as he built” (Neh. 4:17–18). That’s because unlike Amish Presbyterians, true Reformed Presbyterians were not and are not selfishly obsessed with the salvation of their own soul, or with the perfection of the minutest details of their personal feelings and reactions. They have a greater goal to set their eyes on, the Kingdom of God manifested on Earth, a civilization that is to become a City on a Hill, for the glory of Jesus Christ.
In comparison, the Amish Presbyterianism of K. and his fellow modern Presbyterians is a dead religion. It lives off the courage and the sacrifice of those early true Reformed Presbyterians, while rejecting their faith and convictions. It doesn’t build a culture or a civilization. It only devours the wealth left by the “Johnny Witherspoons” of the past, without building anything of value. The end of it is death, spiritual and cultural.
- From the Greek words theos (God) and nomos (law): The application of God’s law to all of life. See Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard.(↩)
- I am not aware of a book with the title Christian Reconstructionism. There is the book Christian Reconstruction: What It Is. What It Isn’t., co-authored by Dr. North and me (Gary DeMar), but the cited quotation does not appear on page 198. There are numerous internet sites that attribute the quotation to Gary North and some to Rousas J. Rushdoony (and sometimes “Rushdooney”), but I am unable to track down the original source. So I called Dr. North and asked him what he could have meant by the statement. He said it would apply, for example, to the “the Hindu practice of suttee (‘faithful wife’): burning alive a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. . . . The suppression of suttee was Victorian English Christianity’s coercive suppression of a Hindu religious tradition. It was a political act against a religious practice.” (Gary North, Judgment and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on First Corinthians, vii). It’s not enough just to write (the pen) about the evil of certain practices. There are times when the sword is necessary to put an end to them. Gary DeMar.(↩)
- Quoted in J. David Hoeveler, Creating the American Mind: Intellect and Politics in the Colonial Colleges, 312.(↩)