Rules for the Rule of Law

I am a firm believer in the concept of the rule of law. Most of my students seem ignorant of the concept, so I try to explain that if we don’t follow the law, we become a society that is ruled by the whims of whoever happens to be in charge at the moment.

Yet I am also a firm believer that there are times when we must obey God rather than men. How, then, do I reconcile this?

God & GovernmentI take my students to Romans 13 (which I can do because I teach in an evangelical university) and offer them a lesson in the rules for the rule of law.

The first part of the chapter makes a strong statement about obeying government:

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

At first glance, this might seem to say that government must be obeyed at all times, without exception. I’ll come back to that.

It also has been interpreted by some to say that every person who is in authority is a God-picked person—that whoever is ruling is the one God has chosen.

Be careful here. Do you really want to find a rationale that makes Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao God’s choices? Do you really want to say that all the millions they have murdered in the name of a godless ideology is what God wanted?

While there may be some who, in the light of their theology, are convinced that everything that happens is, in some mysterious way, God’s will, I am not one of that number.

While God may use evil rulers, they have chosen to be evil, and He does not approve of what they do. To believe otherwise would be to make God into someone who is in favor of sin. That is not the God of the Scriptures.

Gavel & ScaleWhat this Romans passage is saying, I think, is that God has established civil government and the positions in that government that people should obey, not every individual who holds one of those positions.

So this first part of Romans 13 makes it clear that government is to be obeyed—the rule of law is the norm.

Yet this first part is only that—the first part. There is a greater context. The apostle Paul continues:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.

Now we are given the mission of civil government: it is to be a minister of God, carrying out His will by punishing those who do evil. We are told that if we do good, we have nothing to fear from government.

That is true in normal circumstances. But what if the government is violating its God-given mission? What if a government is doing just the opposite of what God intended? What if it is, in effect, promoting evil and punishing those who do good?

Is that a government that is to be obeyed?

If we obey that kind of government, we have made this institution into “god.” We cannot do that. The government—i.e., those who are responsible for its actions—is also supposed to be under God, and it will be held accountable for what it has done that is contrary to His will.

Whenever civil government disobeys God, we are duty bound to resist that government action. When told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, the apostles told the authorities that they had to obey God rather than man.

Let’s bring it up to our time.

When the government says it’s just fine to murder innocent children in the womb, are we to go along passively with this atrocity?

When the government says homosexuality is good and acceptable and then redefines marriage, are we to submit without a complaint?

In both of these cases, government has overstepped its boundaries and violated its God-given mission. We can use whatever legal means are available to us to challenge these decisions, and we can raise our voices in the public square to convince others to join with us to overturn unjust laws.

Any man-made law that conflicts with God’s eternal law in inherently invalid.

What about other types of laws with which we disagree? Must we always be quiet about them and simply obey?

Christians & PoliticsWe have another recourse. Take Obamacare, for instance. There certainly is nothing in Scripture that tells us directly that this is an evil, sinful law. However, we do still have a Constitution, which is supposed to be the standard for our rule of law.

Any law, whether passed by Congress or decreed by the Supreme Court, that violates the authority given to the federal government in that Constitution is fair game for dissent on our part, and for public argument against it, alongside active measures that can be taken to overturn such a law.

So, as Christians, we have both God’s law and the Constitution as our guidelines for when we obey the government and when we do not.

I believe in the rule of law, but there are rules for when something is a legitimate law that we should obey. When a law is illegitimate, we have a Christian duty to do whatever we can—in the proper Christian spirit—to undo that law.

God’s law is paramount. Constitutional boundaries come next. We must always make those our priority.

Lewis: Modern Man & the Sense of Sin

C. S. Lewis 11C. S. Lewis’s “God in the Dock” essay exposes one of the biggest obstacles we face in transmitting the Gospel message: the unwillingness of people to acknowledge they are guilty of anything and are in need of a savior. What Lewis says in this essay has become even more conspicuous in our day.

He writes of what he learned when he spoke to Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) audiences during WWII. One of the first things he learned was that they were skeptical of anything historical. They knew about “the pseudo-scientific picture of the ‘Cave-man'” and had some “picture of ‘the Present.'” But between these, there was nothing. I can affirm that the current generation of students is somewhat similar to this, except they perhaps have no knowledge of the ancient as well. They kind of know what happened during their own lifetimes, and that is all.

Then we come to his discussion of the awareness of sin, or rather the lack of awareness:

The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin. . . . The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers . . . a sense of guilt. . . . Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

HumilityThis is a great deception, of course, and one we actively cultivate. I believe everyone does realize the problem, but we do our best to convince ourselves that we are, nevertheless, acceptable to God regardless of our shortcomings. We love to use words like “shortcomings” and “mistakes” rather than “sin.” They sound much less accusatory.

Even though we are the ones who are to be condemned for our rebellion, we use all manner of twisted logic to make God the one who should be ashamed of Himself. As Lewis notes,

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man in on the Bench and God in the Dock.

What hubris. What obnoxious vanity. What utter illusions we create. What we really need to do is humble ourselves before the Lord of all, devastated by the knowledge of our supreme selfishness, and earnestly plead for His mercy. For some reason, He loves us anyway and pours out that mercy on the most undeserving. He is not a God who should be in the dock, rebuffing our accusations. We should be eternally grateful He is willing to listen to us at all.

Lewis: Do We Want Vision or Virtue?

C.S. Lewis 9Is there a moral law to which all men are subjected, or do men create whatever morality exists, according to their own lights? C. S. Lewis says that the second proposition is a disaster. Unfortunately, it’s where we are, to a great extent. In his essay “The Poison of Subjectivism,” Lewis states,

Many a popular “planner” on a democratic platform, many a mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last resort, just what the Fascist means. He believes that “good” means whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences by . . . state education and mass propaganda.

When we do that, here is what happens:

But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation.

In other words, the politicians and educators (may we add the news and entertainment media here?) determine right and wrong for the whole society, apart from God’s right and wrong. They, in essence, set themselves up as gods who are not subject to the laws they impose on others.

Lewis then brings this down to earth and thinks about what this means when we vote in our elections. What do we look for in our candidates?

Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion. While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial—virtue, knowledge, diligence and skill. “Vision” is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.

Think about it. Aren’t we much more attuned to those who promise “vision” and who come across as “dynamic” than those who simply exhibit personal virtue and have the skills necessary to the task? When we focus on the former, we get the ideologues who lead us astray. When we focus on the latter, we get the kind of people of whom God approves.

Precedent Based on Eternal Law

Last week I wrote about the Magna Carta as part of the background of English law that the American colonists depended upon. When they took issue with the Mother Country about their rights, they had that document as a basis for their concerns.

English Common LawThere are other aspects of English law that also were part of colonial America. One of these was the English Common Law. When a case came before a judge, and there might not be a precise statute that provided a solution for a case, the English Common Law prevailed. What was it?

First, it was based on the “common” or traditional unwritten beliefs about right and wrong. This means society had a code of conduct that was accepted as a consensus. The judge would then decide a case after taking into account precedent (what has been decided previously in such cases) and those traditional beliefs emanating from the Common Law.

Here’s the key: those traditional beliefs were based on Biblical concepts.

Just like the Magna Carta, the Bible was the cornerstone of this Common Law. Nothing was supposed to be decided in opposition to the Biblical basis for a person’s rights.

Notice that “precedent” was also a part of the decisionmaking. That can sound scary in our modern practice. One of my complaints, along with other constitutionalists, is that our courts today simply look at the latest decisions made in similar courts and base their judgments on what others have done, regardless of the Constitution’s clear limitations on federal government authority or the Biblical basis for law. So what’s the difference?

It’s simply this: the English Common Law was not precedent divorced from eternal law, but precedent based on eternal law.

In other words, our Founders lived in a world in which Biblical right and wrong were always the bottom line for how judgments were to be made. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth nowadays.

When Jamestown was founded, the Common Law was part of the heritage that came with this new settlement. If you go to Jamestown today, in the church that still exists on that original site, there is a plaque on the wall celebrating the Common Law as “the cornerstone of individual liberties”:

Jamestown--Common Law Plaque

Whenever anyone tries to talk about how we have “progressed” as a society, I like to remind them that divorcing ourselves from a Biblical foundation is the opposite of real progress.

Magna Carta: The Biblical Basis

Last week I wrote about the principles at stake in the American War for Self-Government (a.k.a., the American Revolution). What we need to realize is that the American colonists didn’t formulate these principles in a vacuum. There is a long history of British documents related to limited government and the rights of citizens. First on that list is the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta-King JohnWritten in the 13th century (1215, to be precise), the Magna Carta was a response to King John, who had decided that tradition didn’t bind him, and he could rule arbitrarily, even to the point of forcing taxes without any representation from the nobility in the land. They rose up to guard their ancient rights and forced the king to sign this particular document. It didn’t grant anything new; it was merely a statement of what already was.

What we have with the Magna Carta is the first written document identifying the rights of individuals. These rights had been handed down from one generation to the next orally; the Magna Carta signified a transition from orally transmitted rights to those written down for posterity.

Some of the key rights identified in this document were:

  • No tax can be imposed except by common council of the kingdom
  • Fines are to be according to the degree of the offense
  • Personal property cannot be taken without the consent of the owner
  • Witnesses are needed for indictments against individuals
  • No death sentence, imprisonment, dispossession, or banishment without due process of law

Why were these the traditional concepts upon which England operated? Where did they get these ideas?

Back in 1965, a scholar named Helen Silving wrote an article in the Harvard Journal on Legislation that brought to light the basis for the Magna Carta. Here is what she wrote:

An old document such as the Magna Carta is not only that which it “was” at the time of its conception, but also that which it becomes in the course of history. In this sense, undoubtedly, the Magna Carta stands for the idea . . . of subjection of the King not to man but to God and the law, an idea rooted in the Bible which has dominated Anglo-American thought. At this time it may be sufficient to point out the strong possibility that historically controversial old documents of the Western world, as well as some quite modern constitutional ideas, have their origin in the Bible.

The roots of this foundational document are found in the Bible. Yet even in 1965, this was a controversial statement to make, as she notes:

It is remarkable, indeed, and has an interesting bearing on the nature of our reactions to the Bible, that this has passed unnoticed, while efforts have been made to connect our constitutional documents with Greek and Roman ideas.

Whatever influence Greece and Rome had on the development of Western civilization, there was another influence far greater—the Biblical foundation laid for centuries after Greece and Rome had disappeared as empires. It was this foundation, primarily, that guided the thinking of the American colonists as they fought the battle of ideas that led ultimately to a break with the Mother Country.

I’ll provide more of this legal background in my next post in this continuing series that offers a Biblical perspective on American history.

Baltimore: The Deeper Issues

Baltimore is burning. What, exactly, is happening? There are many layers to this; most people focus on the superficial ones, the ones most clearly visible, but there are foundational problems that have led not only to this particular incident, but to an atmosphere like this that is sweeping our nation.

Freddie GrayThe top layer has to do with the arrest and death of a young black man, Freddie Gray. We still don’t have all the facts about what occurred. The investigation is apparently still ongoing. However, the lack of information is part of the problem. No one knows what led to his arrest in the first place. By all accounts, he was not actively involved in wrongdoing. Yet because he ran away from the police, he was arrested. While in the police van, something happened; he was so severely injured that he died shortly afterward.

Yes, that’s suspicious beyond question. Yet there have been no formal accusations against the officers, no explanation as to what took place in that van, and this gives the appearance, at least, of a coverup.

Stephanie Rawlings-BlakeProtests began peacefully, but by last Saturday, they began to change. As violence broke out, another top layer to this episode was added. Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in her desire not to crack down immediately on the emerging violence, actually made a public statement that she had ordered the police to give “space to destroy” so that the protesters wouldn’t be harmed. Since when does a government provide a license to destroy? Later, she angrily insisted she hadn’t said what she really said, and that the media were misinterpreting her statement. Well, if that’s the case, the protesters who easily turned into rioters “misunderstood” her as well, and decided they had the “liberty” to turn this into large-scale violence.

Suspect Dies BaltimoreYesterday, that’s exactly what happened. As the school day ended, students, urged on by comments in social media, began to riot. Police were attacked, many were hurt, with one policeman described as “unresponsive.” I haven’t yet heard an update on his condition. Businesses in the community, largely owned by minorities, and the places that provide jobs for the people in the community, were torched. Police cars also were set on fire; wholesale anarchy prevailed.

The police simply weren’t prepared for this. Did that have something to do with the attitude emanating from the mayor’s office? We now hear they were told to stand down, to hold a perimeter, but not get too involved in stopping the looting, burning, and outright riots. Mayor Rawlings-Blake was missing in action for many hours before finally facing the media. Utter chaos reigned, and the entire city is now on a virtual lockdown.

Those are the facts of the top layer of the problem. But it all goes so much deeper.

Naturally, some want to turn this into a racial issue. Yet keep in mind that the mayor is African-American and the police force, unlike in Ferguson, Missouri, is nearly half-black, half-white. No, the problem is greater.

One has to know history and government philosophy to realize what has happened over the decades to lead us where we are today.

Losing GroundAs well documented in Charles Murray’s superb book that was published in the 1980s—Losing Ground—the black family was intact prior to the policies of the Great Society, which pledged to end poverty in America once and for all. Government largesse began on a large scale, making the government the source of sustenance for the underprivileged, and replacing the father in the home. Marriage in the black community was practically destroyed. Statistics now show more than 70% of children born in these minority communities grow up without a father. Some people don’t mind that; they think that’s an “improvement.”

They are wrong.

Poverty increases exponentially in single-mother homes. Lack of discipline in the lives of the children becomes commonplace without a stable environment that is based on a two-parent family. Couple this with an education system that no longer educates, and the problems increase.

On the political side, what is now occurring in Baltimore is hardly the fault of conservatives or Republicans. That city, as most cities in America, is, and has been for many years, controlled by the Democrats. What we see is the fruit of policies promoted by the philosophy of government championed by progressives. In one sense, Baltimore is the progressive utopia. It should be a lesson to us all.

Biblical WorldviewBut now go one layer deeper still. Why do we allow all of this? What is the root cause? It’s simply this: we have abandoned our Biblical basis for thinking and acting. Our culture—led by the media, the entertainment industry, the education system, and the progressive politicians—has rejected eternal concepts of right and wrong delivered to us by God. We have set up our own gods, devised our own morality, come up with our own “solutions,” and promised our own version of heaven on earth.

When a society abandons that which is designed to preserve it, last night in Baltimore is one example of the result. The Biblical principle still holds: we reap what we sow. And we have been sowing some poisonous seeds for quite some time.

So, yes, let’s do what’s necessary to handle the top layer of issues: indict anyone, policeman or rioter, who has violated the rights of another. But we cannot stop there; we need to return to our Biblical roots. If we don’t, we will only be putting bandages on the cancer that is eating away at us. We are a culture in distress, and only the pure Gospel message will change that.

My Ideal President

Presidential SealLet’s talk about an ideal world, where we have someone residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. that we can trust. Having the right president is not the solution to our national problems; those problems go much deeper, since they are spiritual in nature. But it can make a difference who the chief executive is.

What am I looking for in this ideal president? I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve surveyed the field of candidates for 2016. Here are the characteristics that I want.

Dedication to Biblical Principles

This is the starting point. Our president should understand that God’s law is the basis for man’s law, and that anything in man’s law that contradicts God’s law is invalid and should be changed. He or she needs to be someone who honors God above everything else, realizing that public opinion is not the final judge of one’s actions.

This president would advocate for the sanctity of life, the Biblical definition of marriage, a limited role for government in our lives, and private property and free enterprise. The rule of law would be this person’s hallmark, overturning the rule of man that has characterized the current administration.

As I said, this is the starting point, but it’s not enough.

Christian Character

I could give a whole laundry list of character traits I would like to see in this president’s life, but I can summarize with these three, which I believe might encompass many others: integrity, courage, and humility.

Integrity means this president would be a person who does what he/she says, and acts with complete honesty, above board and truly transparent. This president must be a person who has the kind of courage that will tackle the knottiest of issues, regardless of the personal cost to one’s popularity, which is fleeting at best anyway.

As an aside, what we have witnessed the past few days in Indiana and Arkansas is lack of courage on the part of the governors in those states. The so-called Religious Freedom Restoration acts eventually signed into law in those states are worse than useless now; they actually may be turned against Christians’ freedom of religion. That kind of spinelessness at the national level would ruin us completely.

The courage I seek in the ideal president would be coupled with a genuine humility. This president needs to acknowledge that he/she is not the “savior” of the nation, but merely a servant who is fulfilling God’s command to do His will. There is no room for arrogance; pride leads to destruction.

Strategic Wisdom

It’s not enough to simply believe in the right things and have the proper character. This president must know how to make things happen to turn the country around. There might be any number of candidates who fit into the first two categories, but who lack the wisdom to carry out the correct policies. How do we get where we need to be? Not everything can be a frontal attack. Politics is a tricky business. This president will have to know how to manage the system for good without compromising principles or personal character.

Excellent Communication Skills

My ideal president will be a great communicator, in the style of Ronald Reagan, who knew how to connect with the people. Unfortunately, Republicans often choose a candidate who is marginal, at best, in being able to help citizens understand the principles that the country needs to be based upon and the policies that flow out of those principles. We need someone who can articulate those principles and policies clearly.

There may be other traits necessary, but if those four exist, I will be ecstatic. I think that kind of candidate can win this next election. Who is that candidate? I’m still evaluating the options before us. I see solid principles in some; I resonate with the character of many; I have opinions about the strategies they have used in the past and about their ability to communicate effectively.

One thing is for sure: the mainstream media will hold Republican candidates to a level of scrutiny that they will not apply to Hillary Clinton.

Media Bar

I’m holding the Republican candidates to a high bar also, but it’s not the same one the media is interested in. Let’s make our decision for the best candidate based on the kinds of traits I’ve listed above. This next presidential election could be the most crucial in our nation’s history.