Pastors or Politicians: Who is Right and Who is Right with History

Posted on August 6, 2010

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The debate on the central doctrines in the making of our country is making the rounds of pundits and blogs with incredible speed and much authority these days. Everyone has the ability to pontificate publicly, and sometimes it seems everyone does.

At the core of the debate are the principles and doctrines by which we govern ourselves.

The “Founding Fathers” did not invent the morality or laws which went into our Constitution. Some seem to think so, crediting Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington, or Benjamin Franklin with this or that: freedom of religion; separation of church and state; basic liberties (first ten amendments to the Constitution) such as free speech and the right to bear arms.

But these are just expressions, manifestations, of deeper law and traditions which came to us through—granted—some pretty profound thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes in the English-speaking tradition. Then, let’s add Jonathan Edwards and John Winthrop to that group and we are moving closer to the underlying bases of the laws and moral principles which govern us as a people.

By now you should be getting the drift of the message. The doctrines and principles which we hold as absolutes were inherited through our Judeo-Christian heritage, filtered by a long experience with a Church which meddled and poked into everything. That Church was the Roman Catholic Church until the Reformation, then we can add the Puritans, Presbyterians, Church of England, Methodists, Baptists and all the rest.

Let’s briefly examine some of our core principles. Take one for example, the equality of all individuals. Perhaps we think of this as some secular precept, born in the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century through the mind of someone like Jean Jacques Rousseau or Baron Montesquieu.

But, as the Apostle Paul wrote the Galatians: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) I am well aware that doctrine from the Bible cannot be derived from simply one text, but this one is confirmed over and again. All are equal before Christ.

This is not an equality that comes when you die and go to heaven, or hell as the case may be. This is doctrine meant for the living, not the dead. All are equal. It gets rewritten and expressed very elegantly by Jefferson, “All men are created equal,” but is it simply reaffirming what Jefferson knew very well: that Biblical precepts and principles were at the core of civilization as it was known in the West.

How, you should ask, did the Church get so separated from the State in our Constitution? The answer is both simple and profound. Churchmen, taken by their understanding of the true source of power—the message of Jesus Christ—corrupted that understanding and it morphed into the exercise of power across the entire spectrum of the human experience.

A state governed by churchmen, a theocracy, proved disastrous to liberty and freedom, both essential to a true grip on the Gospel. So the Founding Fathers turned to some other principles—the separation of powers for example—to ensure that no tyranny could arise in the land. In essence, they were incorporating the hand of God into the framework of the Constitution, for God often stepped into the lives of the Hebrews to ensure their obedience, to bring them back from tyranny and sin.

If things became unbalanced—worshipping of idols, human sacrifice, prostitution, carnality—the Lord stepped in through the prophets and other agents and made corrections.

The Founding Fathers understood these principles and knew the Bible well. It was not something they studied extrinsically, but something they lived and breathed. Man is corruptible. Indeed, after the Fall, man is born into sin. He will gravitate to power, seek self-satisfaction, ignore the needs of the poor, the sick and the widows, and take care of himself.

So a system of checks and balances, not exactly described as such in Scripture, but there in principle, evolved and was written into the Constitution.

There is more we need to consider, but this is enough for one reading. Don’t be fooled by the ill-informed who ascribe our roots, our laws, our traditions, to a secular set of laws and traditions. It’s not true. Keep turned for more.

Posted in: History