Thursday, July 07, 2005

On the American Revolution

Note: This is a response that I wrote as part of a recent email discussion about the validity of the American Revolution. The person to whom I responded had just cited the doctrine of the "lesser magistrate". Since his text is not my property, I'm not including it here, but you can probably get the drift from what I've written. For the record, I agree with the "lesser magistrate" doctrine. However, this is not the justification that was given for the Revolution. Here's the verbage from the Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This isn't the doctrine of the lesser magistrate. This is Lockean political philosophy. The doctrine of the lesser magistrate rests on the fundamental concept that all authority (including that of the civil government) is from God. Therefore, obedience is to be rendered to those in authority as an act of obedience to God. However, a lesser magistrate may enforce the law against a superior, because he is executing his office. As a result, aiding a lesser magistrate in the carrying out of his duties is not an act of rebellion but one of submission. But this is not what the Declaration say. Rather, the Declaration asserts that the authority of the civil government comes from the people and, as such, they may retract their consent if they deem necessary. Vox populi, vox Dei. This is not a Biblical conception of authority. Certainly, tyranny is to be fought, but it is to be fought in the way that the Bible says. Consider 1 Peter 2:13-25
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Peter is speaking to Christians who are undergoing persecution from evil authorities. Consider his words to slaves or his instructions to wives in the following chapter. Peter instructs these Christians how to live a life of freedom and how to fight tyranny. He does not say, "Take up arms." Instead, he says, "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God." (vs. 15-16) They were to fight tyranny by loving their enemies, praying for those who persecute them, and, by doing so, silencing the ignorance of foolish people. Peter then appeals to the example of Jesus, Who also suffered under the tyranny of a Godless rule which culminated in his unjust condemnation and execution as a rebel[1]. However, Jesus was *not* a rebel; that is precisely Peter's point. Rather, when He suffered under tyranny, He entrusted Himself to the justice of the Father. This is the pattern that we are to follow as Christians suffering under tyranny. Now, I have heard various arguments justifying the Revolution. However, we need to begin by evaluating the reasons that the Founders *actually* gave, not those that were mentioned by other apologists for the Revolution or those that we wish that they had given. The Declaration's justifications for the Revolution fail to pass Biblical muster. As a result, we cannot assert that the Revolution was right or proper. Why is this such a big deal for me? Quite simply, I think that the methods that the Founders used to establish this nation have poisoned it at the roots. Problems that were addressed peacefully in other nations have only been settled here after conflict or violence. Consider the following examples: --the ratification of the Constitution, which was essentially a second (albeit bloody) revolution. The Articles of Confederation spelled out quite clearly what it took to amend them. What actually happened here was the successive secessions of the thirteen states from their original confederation. Quite interesting in light of the later War Between the States. --the issue of slavery. England managed to abolish the slave trade peacefully, through the actions of various Christian abolitionists. In the United States, however, slavery brought about Bloody Kansas, the caning of Senator Sumner, and the War Between the States, which was one of the bloodiest wars that the world had known to that point. --the issue of secession. I believe that the South was within its rights to secede from the Union. I also believe that the entire situation could have been handled more peaceably by the South. Was the shelling of Fort Sumter really necessary? Or was this the result of South Carolinians spoiling for a fight? --the issue of racism. This *still* provokes violence. Just consider the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict, let alone the various outbreaks of violence during the civil rights movement of the Sixties. --denominational proliferation. James Jordan notes that the medieval Church suffered only one split during its 1000-year history, despite the numerous wars that raged through Europe. However, the American Church has found it quite easy to divide. As just one example, the War Between the States split the American Presbyterian into North and South camps, a division which lingers with us to this day. It would be naïve for me to assert that the Founders directly caused all of these problems. However, I do believe that we have modeled ourselves after the pattern that they have given us: when the situation gets too bad, we have the "...right, [we have the] duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for [our] future security." I believe in freedom, but American independence is at war with the way of freedom as laid out in Holy Scripture. Seth [1]Sidenote: crucifixion was the penalty for insurrection. The man Barabbas was not a "thief" because he stole. Rather, he was a rebel against Rome, guilty of murder and insurrection. (Luke 23:18-19)


Blogger Fritz The Grand said...

Since I do not feel like arguing:



7/08/2005 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger MacAvram said...

I believe you rightly say that the Declaration of Independence poisoned America at the roots. A large part of this is due to the fact that the document contains a religious confession which forms the basis for declaring independence. It confesses a belief in "Nature's God".

This confession was a product primarily of Jefferson & Franklin who were unitarians, at best. The god they confessed was not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
as presented in Scripture.

This means that trinitarians who signed it were making common confession with unbelievers - confession in a god supposedly common to their respective religions. As representatives of Christian states, they affixed their official signatures to this ungodly confession.

This is the root of American Civil Religion which bids us pledge our allegiance in the name of a common-denominator god. It makes all faiths equal with no faith, and it is the apostasy which has divided the loyalty of the American Church from our nation's inception.

7/09/2005 05:19:00 PM  

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