If The Foundations Are Destroyed
by Dr. K. Alan Snyder
A principle is the source or origin of anything; it is a general truth, that is, a truth that is so broad and sweeping that many other truths can be considered offshoots of it. The idea of general truths that apply to all of society formerly had wide endorsement in America. The Declaration of Independence speaks of self-evident truths and goes on to list the basic rights God has given man.
One can legitimately question whether American society today still adheres to an unalterable body of truth. The onset of evolutionary philosophy and the pragmatism to which it has given birth has led us to think more in terms of expediency than principle. People sacrifice principles to that which is less troublesome. Standing on principle can be wearying when no one else seems to care or understand what you are doing. Yet God calls Christians to make His principles the foundation of all they say and do.
Christians get in trouble when they conform to the world’s thinking and allow principles to slide. They are tempted not to cause waves, forgetting that the world already is a turbulent place and that men are seeking—whether they realize it or not—for the stability of fixed principles. These principles can come only from the Christians, from those who base all decisions upon Biblical truth.
A recognition of the uniqueness and purpose of each individual should be a requisite for civil government. Throughout history, though, recognition of this principle has been spotty at best; the opposite has been the norm.
People who understand Biblical individuality should acknowledge both the importance of the individual and the need for civil government to safeguard this special creation of God. Government should exist for the individual, not the individual for government. Unfortunately, the latter has been true most of the time.
Once men forgot the true knowledge of God and degenerated into polytheistic superstition, the civil government became a substitute god. In all the early Mesopotamian civilizations and in Egypt, the individual was considered the servant of the state. The situation did not improve in ancient Greece and Rome. In the political theories of Plato and Aristotle and in the actual practice of the Greek city-states, the individual had importance only if he made a significant contribution to his city. Rome developed a system of civil law that appeared to safeguard certain “rights,” but it considered the government, not a creator, to be the grantor. If the government gives rights, it can take them away.
Both Greece and Rome displayed callousness toward the individual in another way—in their practice of abortion and infanticide. Abortion was commonplace and infanticide excused as long as the newborn did not have a name. The baby, without a name, was not considered a real person.
Christianity stood against this practice. A mid-second century document called the Didache, or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, plainly declared, “You shall not procure an abortion or kill the newborn child.” Although the Christian message suffered corruption during the Middle Ages, basic respect for the individual remained intact. The Reformation continued the early abortion beliefs, and a Christian framework of thinking dominated until the onset of the evolutionary philosophy.
The United States, in its founding document, the Declaration of Independence, declared God to be the Creator of man and the giver of man’s rights to life (the value of the individual made in the image of God), liberty (self-government—see the next chapter), and the pursuit of happiness (happiness defined in that day as the will of God for each individual, not as “do your own thing”). The type of government set up by the Constitution respected the individual and acknowledged certain guarantees for his protection. After the abolition of slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, it appeared that the principle of individuality was secure. But things changed.
As more American colonies were established, self-government expanded. Royal charters gave permission to set up local assemblies to pass laws. Self-government became the norm for each colony. In fact, self-government became so prominent that the political establishment in England grew alarmed at the possibilities—resulting in what historians usually call the American Revolution. I use the term “American Revolution” simply because it is recognizable to most people. A more accurate title, however, would be “The American War for Independence,” or perhaps, “The American War for Continued Self-Government,” for self-government was the primary issue.
The British government, by the 1760s, was concerned over the population explosion in the American colonies and the potential for complete independence, thus depriving them of a rich source of natural resources and creating a new commercial competitor in the world. These colonies had to be kept under control so they could be managed effectively from across the Atlantic.
The decision to tax and regulate the colonies was entirely inconsistent with the situation. Some of these colonies had been self-governing for more than a century; they were mature politically and did not need oversight. They followed the policies of the British Empire as a whole but had almost total control of their own spheres, electing their own representatives and making their own laws. On occasion, the king might veto a legislature’s law, but this was the exception. They were a people experienced in self-government.
When the British Parliament, for the first time in the history of its relationship with the colonies, began passing laws to tax them, an uproar resulted. The colonies lacked a voice in Parliament, thereby making these laws an arbitrary confiscation of personal property. Colonial leaders protested through every legal means offered to them by British precedent.
Representatives met together to discuss the measures and drew up petitions requesting that the British government refrain from invading the realm of local self-government promised by their charters. When the government did not listen on that ground, they switched their argument to a higher plane. Self-government, or liberty, they proclaimed, was a right granted by God, not government. That argument also was ignored.
A country such as the United States is made up of diverse peoples, most of whom are not Christians. Neither can they be forced to accept the Christian way because that would violate liberty of conscience. All historical attempts to “create” Christians by force have only bred hypocrisy. Christians and non-Christians live under the same government. They all have the same rights, and liberty of conscience must be respected.
Yet consciences can be educated and influenced. Christians, whose liberty of conscience is just as sacred as that of non-Christians, should be free to influence others toward the Christian worldview. All societies have a standard. Christians can raise their standard and use all legitimate educational and political means to promote that standard for their country. Non-Christians are free to do the same.
Pluralism is a different concept altogether. The basis for modern pluralism is moral relativism. Those who advocate pluralism usually don’t believe in absolute truth. They say that all views receive equal treatment, but there is a concerted effort to censor any view that promotes absolutes. In the guise of pluralism, Christian influence is denounced as “trying to legislate morality.” The assumption is that morality cannot be legislated. Is that true?
What is a law? Every law is a statement by the political community declaring certain actions to be wrong and others to be right. Lawbreakers receive penalties. Obviously, these laws are not simply suggestions. Whenever one is dealing with right and wrong, morality is the issue. All laws are moral. Even the stop sign on the corner is a moral statement: “Refuse to stop here and you will be penalized. It is wrong to drive past here without stopping because the community has deemed it unsafe to the lives and property of other individuals.” Therefore, it is wrong not to stop.
The idea that morality cannot be legislated is a smokescreen for a hidden agenda: the replacement of Christian principles of government and society with humanistic principles. The Christian response cannot be to force the Christian viewpoint, but it can be a wholehearted attempt to reeducate society in Christian principles.
The initial step in the formation of unity in the colonies came from God. It was called the Great Awakening. The Awakening was a revival of the Christian faith that began sporadically in the 1720s and extended into the 1740s. It began in local self-governing communities, as the Spirit of God reawakened people to their individual accountability for salvation.
The climax came in 1740 with the arrival of evangelist George Whitefield, who came ashore in Georgia and traversed the entire eastern seaboard, preaching the Word of God with powerful effect. Through Whitefield, the Awakening became a multi-colony experience. Whole cities came to a standstill to hear him. Even Benjamin Franklin, who never became a Christian convert, was impressed with the results of Whitefield’s time in Philadelphia. Franklin commented, “From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”
Historians have disagreed over the actual results of this Awakening. Some point to denominational splits and conclude that it did not create unity. Yet I believe the general effect was positive. Many new colleges started, colleges dedicated to Christian scholarship and to applying the Christian faith to all walks of life. Princeton, Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth all trace their beginnings to the Awakening.
Although some critiqued the Awakening’s external methods (British colonials were not used to emotional religion), many were shaken from their lethargy concerning the need for individual salvation. The message of personal response to God was preached in every colony and the Awakening became the first truly “American” event, shared by every colony. It created a sense of American unity of spirit that prepared the way for eventual political unity and union.
Individuality that does not recognize God’s purposes becomes an excuse for eccentricity. Selfish self-government is rebellion. The right to hold property, lacking the stewardship concept, becomes an avenue to greed and materialism. The unity upon which a union is founded may have a selfish orientation, as in the illustration of the Tower of Babel. A catalyst is needed.
The break with Britain was as much about character as self-government and property. The Declaration of Independence speaks of the prudence and patience of the colonies contrasted with the “long train of abuses and usurpations” perpetrated by the king. George III sought “to reduce them under absolute despotism” and establish “an absolute Tyranny over these States.” A list of specific abuses concludes: “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.” Character is paramount in the concluding sentence: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
The men who signed this document became marked. Their lives, families, and property became targets for the British, who wished to teach these traitors a lesson. They suffered tremendous loss during the prosecution of the war, but they had pledged to continue—it was a matter of faithfulness, a matter of character.
God is interested in the government of the world and is concerned that men follow His laws. He has given guidelines for the form of government best suited to fulfill His purposes.
A form is a manner or system, a stated method or practice, or an appropriate arrangement of parts. A Christian form of government would be a Biblical manner or system of government [control and direction]; a Biblical method or practice of control and direction; an appropriate Biblical arrangement of the parts of government to achieve control and direction. What manner or system, or arrangement of parts, did God ordain?
The first governmental institution established by God was the family. He gave the husband authority over the wife, and children were to obey their parents. Information on civil authority before the Flood is sketchy; it seems that the family, or tribal, structure predominated. The same pattern can be seen post-Flood in Abraham, although kings became predominant.
The first time man attempted centralized government power was the Tower of Babel. We already saw how God reacted to this attempt. When He scattered the people, He decentralized authority.
Specific instructions on civil government began when Moses led the children of Israel toward the Promised Land. First God gave them the Ten Commandments as a basis for all their laws. Then He allowed a certain form of government to be set up.
Moses tried to judge all the people by himself. His father-in-law, Jethro, warned him that he would wear himself out and that he needed others to share the burden with him. So Moses told the people, “Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.” After the people of each tribe chose leaders, Moses appointed them “leaders of thousands, and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers” for their tribes. They were to judge cases at their various levels. If a case at the top level was too difficult to handle, they could bring it to Moses. When they eventually entered the land, they continued this pattern, with Moses’ role being taken either by a priest or a judge called specifically by God to serve in that capacity.
Israel in the days of the judges was a federal republic. This assertion may surprise some people, but whenever power is diffused throughout different levels of government, where each level has its own sphere of authority, and where the top level does not involve itself with local governmental affairs unless asked to do so, the structure is federalism. It is an effective protection against tyranny. In addition, the people chose their leaders; representation is the key ingredient for what political thinkers have always called a republic. The system in early Israel was therefore a federal republic.
The problem with any federal republic is that it calls for a high degree of self-government. If the people are unwilling to abide by the law, the structure breaks down. Those who refuse to be self-governed need a strong external governor to control them. This was the case with Israel. The phrase that keeps recurring throughout the book of Judges is, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Reading the book of Judges can be discouraging. The people begin with their hearts right before God, they fall into rebellion, God allows a foreign enemy to oppress them, they cry out to God for deliverance, and He sends a deliverer. For a while they remain true to His law, but then the cycle repeats: rebellion, oppression, repentance, deliverance. They never learn. Throughout this sad spectacle, God tries to teach them to be responsible and accountable, but they keep turning away. Moreover, they begin looking at the government of other nations and long to have the same type of government themselves.
Evolutionary pragmatic philosophy has affected law and government profoundly. Pragmatism changed the concept of law from its eternal basis to a transitory, process-oriented, ever-changing basis. Law no longer starts with the commands of God, but with the needs of men. This is called sociological law, revealing again the links among the various strands of thought.
If there are no eternal truths and no absolutes, it is necessary for government to step in and decide right and wrong, thus fitting in nicely with Ward’s vision of social engineering.
Christopher Langdell, who began his tenure as Dean of the Harvard Law School in the 1870s, introduced the case law method of teaching. He based this method on the evolutionary, pragmatic belief that law was an evolving process, constantly rewritten in the opinions of the judges. In case law, one looks at previous judicial decisions and uses them as a precedent for deciding a current case. The use of precedent was not new; what was new was the divorce from eternal truths and the emphasis on using more recent precedents. Devotion to the latest decisions, no matter how far removed from the original understanding of a law or the Constitution, became the rule.
The impact was to make the Constitution a “living document,” according to sociological law advocates. The Constitution, they say, should be looked upon as an “evolving instrument,” to be redefined according to the need of the moment. Why be bound by a previous generation that did not anticipate the needs of the future? Through the case law method, new generations of judges were taught to stretch the Constitution whenever necessary, to the point that whatever the judge says is law, not what the letter of the Constitution may say. It would be wrong, they complain, to hold to the letter when the spirit calls for a change.
They seem to overlook the fact that the Constitution allows for change through amendments. If enough states in this federal republic want a specific change, an amendment can be passed to make it legal. Sociological law, on the other hand, is an illegal and unconstitutional use of the court system.