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F. Earle Fox
See also "Ordered Freedom" See comments by Rodney Stark on freedom and Christianity.
Biblical Principles of Civil Government and Biblical Government
Love and politics? Huh? What kind of fool would try to put those two together?
"The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free," said Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) Source: Slavery in Massachusetts (1854) Henry David is correct, EXCEPT regarding Biblical law. The law of God really does set us free, the very highest law being the law of love (of God and neighbor).
This seminar was given Saturday, December 1, 2007, at a Minuteman Muster at Camp Vigilance, near Boulevard, California, on the Mexican border, where I assist regularly, and have been adopted as their chaplain -- I being an Anglican priest. I will be giving it, or something like it, every time I go to Camp Vigilance, usually once a month.
I am delighted at the name, Minuteman, and especially at its origins in the beginnings of these United States, excepting only Israel, the most Biblically founded nation in history. The contemporary Minutemen (and women) have an opportunity to build on that Biblical beginning, recovering our original heritage, if we have the training, wisdom, and courage to do so. Many Minutemen are Christians, but most Christians are scared to death to say out loud that "Jesus is Lord" for fear of counter-attack, and being caught with their intellectual pants down, waving a rubber sword, unable even to describe their faith, let alone explain and defend it.
Most people to not change religions or political parties because they reason out the intellectual evidence. Rather they choose for that which seems to hold the moral high ground, that belief system which seems the most likely to do good for people. The Communists did not win so many supporters because the people were studying Marx, but because, in the minds of those people, the Communists were winning the moral debate. They were expected to do the most good for people.
But honest Judeo-Christianity would win hands down -- if Jews and Christians would regain their intellectual, moral, and spiritual credibility. (See Worldviews on comparison between Biblical vs. secular/pagan worldviews.)
I knew from my junior year in college (1955) that Christians would win the culture wars. You would not think so from looking at the West over the last two centuries. But I knew then that Biblical morality, i.e., with an objective distinction between right and wrong, said that that which is loving and helpful is the primary obligation.
That occurs only in Biblical religion. That is hard to beat for the moral high ground. There is no parallel to that in pagan or secular thought. An ethic of fundamental love, of self-giving, makes no sense in the pagan or secular worlds. Power struggle makes sense, not loving one's neighbor. Survival of the fittest. The pagan and secular worlds are eat-or-be-eaten because there is nothing in those worlds to tell anyone otherwise.
However, in the Biblical world, there is God, not only to tell us so, but to make it a realistic possibility by living it out with us.
So, if Christians can get their intellectual, moral, and spiritual wits together, we will begin to turn the tide, not only in the West, but all over the globe. It will not be done with sound bytes and bumper sticker slogans. It will be done with blood, sweat, and tears, with hard work -- intellectually, morally, and spiritually. It comes from dying to self (learning how to die well, die successfully) so that we can rise with Christ, right here and now.
And a good bit of that lies in the field of politics, government, i.e., bringing the use of coercive force under the law and grace of God. That is the legitimate role of civil government. Civil government is to administer the laws already given by God, not to make up their own. That was a principle commonly understood on both sides of the Atlantic at the time of the American Revolution. (See William Blackstone quote.)
A dictionary definition is "direction and control". The direction part is legislation, directing the use of control. We make laws only for one reason, to enforce or forbid some activity. So, in effect, everything government does, it does (as it were) at gunpoint. Because we generally agree with the laws, or because we are sufficiently cowed by the threat of force and comply, we do not usually see the gun. But if we do not obey, we soon will be confronted by the billy club, handcuffs, a ride in the paddy wagon, or some similar enforcement procedure. Maybe a gun. Deadly force.
George Washington remarked that government is not eloquence, it is not reason, it is force. Civil government has a near monopoly on coercive force, which leads us quickly to the question: How can we bring this powerful entity which holds such massive power to become the servant of the people rather than their task-master? Is that possible? Is it just a pipe dream? That was the overriding issue of the American Revolution -- our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution.
The history of the world has been a history of contrary assumption. It has been almost universally assumed that the strong man has the right, indeed the obligation, to rule the weak. That has been the consistent pagan view of the matter, stated clearly by intellectual and philosophical leaders such as Plato. And stoutly illustrated all through pagan history.
What would we be looking for? How would we know if we had found the foundation for a free people?
It would not be anarchy, total unrestraint. We human beings are too fragile and too self-centered to survive in such a situation. We know that we need a kind of order to our freedom so that we do not self-destruct. But what might the order be, and who would impose it? How do we keep that which began as legitimate order for a free people from becoming yet one more tyranny? How do we keep our constitutional order from disintegrating into totalitarianism? How do we keep government limited and just?
Generally we are looking for a freedom ordered so as to have the least amount of centralized control, a guarantee, as far as possible, of maximum mutually cooperative freedom -- the maximum freedom of individuals where all those individuals can co-exist. It would imply a mutual respect for each other's freedoms. But it would also require a sufficient power to enforce certain basic standards.
Question: How can freedom and control co-exist? What are the basic principles of such an ordered freedom? It sounds like a good idea, but is it realistic? In all of human history, it has never been produced and sustained. America produced is, but we are not sustaining it.
To find whether this is realistic, we must trek back to about 30 A. D. Jesus had been asked the meaning of the law (Matthew 22), to which He replied: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:34 ff.)
Jesus was a Jew talking to Jews. If they were alert, they would have understood that the Law was the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, which contained not just laws, but the panoramic sweep of creation, and that the Prophets were most of the rest of the Bible. Jesus was saying that these two commandments were the highest laws over all the created order, including moral, legal, natural, and cosmic law. The law of gravity is in place because it is part of God's plan to create a cosmic stage upon which the Kingdom community of love will take place. That particular law of gravity helps make the cosmos inhabitable. Love drives everything. All contrary morality comes of ignorance or rebellion.
The cosmos is created for the community of love, agape love, self-devoting and self-giving love, where each person...
is of ultimate worth, because of the love which God has bestowed upon him; and,
is obligated to support every other person to attain to the good life.
These principles describe a community rooted on and directed by love, the Hand and Voice of God. Love is not the sentimentality imagined by most people. Love is tough and demands high and great things of us. It has the sort of strength upon which to build a civilization -- such as the Kingdom of God. Agape love is promoting the fullness of life for another, even at great cost to oneself. These two commandments are unique to the Bible. Why is that so? Why is there no parallel in the pagan world?
It is so because only a Creator God can form moral obligations at all, and thus only a Creator God can obligate us to obey our governments, or obligate our governments to be our servants (see two worldviews). Our reason for existence is the only basis for objective morality, a morality which is true whether or not anyone agrees, and which applies universally to all persons, at all times, in all circumstances. God alone, being the creator of all that is, can give the universal purpose-for-existence of all that is. We acknowledge these principles in our patent and copyright laws.
All legitimacy of civil government therefore relies on that prior and higher moral code from God. Civil government can obligate us only because God has already obligated us for our own good. The law is made for man, not man for the law. That is the impact and meaning of love being the two highest laws in the cosmos.
God gives us laws because He cares about people -- who are vulnerable and needy. Laws help create order out of chaos -- as against the secular/pagan closed-circle cosmos. Life and love cannot continue in moral chaos. Our laws, then, all of them, are to be ordered by love as defined by God. That is our ordered freedom.
These Biblical foundations drove Western history for the next 2000 years to shift the pagan principle that "the strong should rule the weak..." to the principles that:
all persons are of equal value under the law and grace of God;
all persons are thus equal before human law;
all persons have the right (given good behavior) to participate in their own government; and,
all persons have the right to ownership of the fruits of their labor and clear-title ownership to land and other physical property, which they are free to use, barter, or sell as they see fit, or to invest in income producing enterprises -- so long as they are consistent with the ordering of love.
These principles have come to their fullest fruition in the America of 1776 (Declaration of Independence) and 1789 (the Constitution). They unleashed the period of greatest human freedom and economic growth in all history. Every man became a potentially self-employed entrepreneur and capitalist. America came closer than any other nation to producing an economy and society united from within by a common devotion to a loving God, not united by the coercion of civil government.
These principles actualized in our government the Two Great Commandments to love God and one's neighbor, and so produced early America.
But the forces of centralization and control began to assert themselves immediately, leading to:
government control of education, replacing and destroying our enormously successful freemarket education;
a central bank with fiat money, the Federal Reserve;
an unconstitutional and confiscatory tax system -- the IRS; and,
the welfare state replacing family and church as the welfare system.
Today an apathetic secularized, and consumerist Christian community has been sidelined from public discussion, has lost its intellectual, moral, and spiritual credibility, and is unable or unwilling to stand on the ground of its own faith, unable to say that "Jesus is Lord", leaving us with only the pseudo-option that "civil government is lord".
Civil government is unable, not only unwilling, to stay "limited" because it has no moral base, and thus no higher authority to which it is accountable. Because it lacks a moral base, it relies on coercion as a substitute. Might makes right. Or, as Mao Tse Tung is alleged to have said, "Morality comes out of the other end of a gun barrel..." Civil government takes over the God-role, to decide the meaning of morality. A fatal step.
Question: How, then, does one successfully limit government to its rightful area?
Civil government must always be "under God", for a God-less government will always centralize control, not disperse it;
The form of government must be a republic, not a democracy;
There must be a separation of powers (he who holds the gun of enforcement may not decide how the gun will be used -- and he who decides may not hold the gun);
The voting citizens are the highest Officers of the State.
Democracy was universally rejected by the American founding fathers as a "tyranny of the majority". If the majority has the final say, with no restraints, then the majority can plunder and control the minority at will. And usually does.
The best move to solve problems of government which will not listen to the will of the people is not to govern by "initiative" or referendum. Such means are good for polls, but not for government decisions. The answer is rather to elect Godly representatives who understand the mind and heart of God for government. The answer lies in a spiritual renewal which will produce both Godly electors and Godly candidates.
The American Constitution has already provided for Congress to discipline recalcitrant executives and judges. We lack the kind of representatives who will stand up and do so. Americans must raise up Godly children by passing on their faith from generation to generation.
Westerners have a pathological fear of "theocracy", partly because some people want to use that fear as another club with which to beat Biblical civilization, but even more because Christians have lost the capacity to defend their faith with reason and grace in public. Theocracy is linked automatically to totalitarian government.
Death by Government, by R. J. Rummel, indicates that we would do much better to fear secular rather than Biblical government. The track record of 20th century secular government is far, far worse than that of Biblically based governments. Books by sociologist Rodney Stark (For the Glory of God; The Rise of Christianity; and, The Victory of Reason), tell the same story. Just about all that is admirable in Western culture, including a government for a free people, has come out of the Biblical, not primarily the Greek or Roman tradition.
The Church has committed atrocities, but overall, the only consistent and significant force for limited government and a free people has been the Judeo-Christian community, including (as Stark shows) the Inquisition. Only God can successfully limit civil government. He does it through His people who understand the Two Great Commandments, and how to implement them. For Godly people, love and government work hand in hand. Love is the very foundation of all legitimate government. God has a defining interest in civil government because He means to put the use of coercive force under His law and grace. Only a Creator God can successfully tame the use of coercive force under the law of love. We humans on our own are incapable of doing that.
The unbelievers therefore have serious dilemma: they want something (a free people under limited government) which they can have only at the cost of something they are unwilling to grant -- the sovereignty of God.
Government is coercive force -- as my dictionary says, "direction and control". Direction is established by legislation, the set of rules governing what will be mandated or forbidden. Control is established by the Executive branch, which wields the gun (sword, billy club, etc.) of enforcement. The judiciary decides who has violated the law and the appropriate punishsment.
The separation of these three "powers" of government is the key to taming government so that it will be a servant of the people, not a task master.
The question is who will make the decisions about how coercion will be used, and who will wield the mechanism of control? In ancient monarchies, typically, the monarch held all three roles, which made him like God, unchallengeable and accountable to no one on earth.
So the essence of the "separation" is that he who makes the decisions (legislative and judicial) on how the gun will be used may not hold the gun, and he who holds the gun (executive) may not make the decisions. The person being limited is the one holding the gun. In all cases, he is held down by the chains of the Constitution to obedience to the representatives of the people. But legislators, who decide how the gun will be used are also limited. They may not hold the gun, i.e., to coerce the vote. They must win their argument in open and candid public debate. That is the first and primary limitation of civil government, helping to ensure that coercion will be used only as we, the people under God, allow.
God trusts His people at large to make the decisions about His will, not those who, by their very position, are under temptations at the center of the power-structure. That is why the Continental Congress, short on all war supplies, voted to spend money to purchase 20,000 Bibles.
This separation and limitation are routinely violated today, primarily because of the destruction of America's moral and spiritual foundations in the Bible, i.e., our trust and obedience to God. The founding fathers understood the Biblical notion that the human race is fallen and not to be trusted with unlimited power. No human should be given that kind of power.
But with the 1962 Engel vs. Vitale decision, the Supreme Court told God that He was not allowed to speak to our children on government school time, nor they to Him, that prayers were "unconstitutional". Prayer was arbitrarily (tyrannically) declared unconstitutional.
That was a deliberate falsehood. Engel vs. Vitale was the first Supreme Court decision in history for which no precedent was given -- because there was none. Every relevant Court decision right up into the 1940's, had supported the notion that America is a Christian nation, bound under the law and grace of God. The decision flew in the face of history and law and common sense logic. Why should not that be called treason?
But an oblivious American public allowed the Court to eviscerate the Constitution of its legitimacy under God and to establish the Court as a tyrant oligarchy.
The Court was not really concerned about "prayer", but about who was the ultimate authority over America. The Court decided that neither God nor the people were, and that the Court itself was. We have heard from at least one Supreme Court justice, "The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means." What is the difference between that and tyranny?
And the Church said..... nothing. At least, not so's you'd notice. The Christian Church has all but lost its sense of duty toward the public arena, in which it had for centuries been a powerful contributor.
When the Biblical base is gone, freedoms erode. That is true because civil government takes on the God-role. There is no longer any authority by which government can be held accountable. Then a centralized government becomes able to enforce its own monopoly on force, and then we have no more 2nd Amendment.
Jews and Christians MUST recover their intellectual, moral, and spiritual credibility, and learn how to explain why theo-cracy is not the same as church-ocracy, and why tough love is indeed the foundation of politics. Both State and Church are under the rule of God, and as such are not to interfere with each other's role (the real "separation" of Church and State).
On the "decide-coerce" scale, government is on the coercion side, and the Church is on the deciding side, teaching the people how to make moral decisions under a tough-loving God. So government may not use the gun to coerce beliefs on the Church (or anyone else), and the Church may not hold a gun to enforce its beliefs. Beliefs and policies, both in Church and State, must win their way in open public engagement of ideas and values.
That is the ideal upon which the American Constitution was written. We had a legitimate pluralism, at the very foundation of which was "the good", which the law of God alone makes obligatory upon both government and citizen.
So, the State is limited to being the referee for society, and very little elses, and the Church is to be its conscience -- two separate roles. The God of the Bible and His law of love are the keys to the limitation of government, the freedom of the people, a freedom ordered by the law and grace of God.
Pray that Christians will recapture that vision and so preach the Gospel of freedom for the public arena as well as for our interior spiritual lives. We do not need the socialist gospel -- which requires massive government control of us all, nor the anarchist ungoverned freedom. We require the Gospel of Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords. We do not want the ungoverned freedom of the few who control the rest. We require freedom for every human being, guaranteed and underwritten by the law and grace of God. God gave us His law for our benefit, to guarantee our freedom, both personal-spiritual and corporate-political, freedom to be ourselves and to live freely in a mutually supportive and faithful society -- that is, under the law of love.
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